Lilly Cecilio takes her books to the checkout desk. The librarian looks at her for a moment. “I can help you here, Mrs. DeGrassi.”
Lilly frowns. “Ellen, I was here first.”
The librarian takes Mrs. DeGrassi’s books and begins scanning them. “Going to be a cold one tonight. Record lows and a foot of snow at least.”
“Ellen,” Lilly said. “I run your book sale every year.”
The librarian slides the books to Mrs. DeGrassi. “I can help you, Mrs. DePaul.”
Everywhere she goes, Lilly meets with the same. The pharmacist turns her back on her. The salon owner spits on her shoes. And a woman Lilly doesn’t know approaches her on the sidewalk. “My boys’ education is in that fancy house of yours.”
“Is it in the furniture?”
“Is it in those plush carpets you step your pretty feet across every morning?”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know…”
“You didn’t know? What kind of a wife doesn’t know what her husband is up to? Are you blind?”
All her life Lilly has been identified in relation to someone else. First her father, former State Senator and recently-appointed diplomat. Now her husband: Venture capitalist. Suspected felon.
“Give me your name. I’ll send you a check.”
“You don’t have any money. Government’s got it all tied up in knots.”
The woman turns away and Lilly heads to her pretty house upon the hill.
It used to be, Lilly thinks as she slips into a pair of old sweats and a baggy sweatshirt, that she enjoyed walking around town, basking in the recognition of the townspeople, people looking upon her with a mixture of admiration and jealousy. But now that she’s known as that bastard’s wife, she finds recognition painful. She longs to be invisible.
She folds back the sheets and falls asleep with the lights on.
* * *
She is awakened by a beeping. She reaches to the nightstand and hits the alarm. The beeping persists. She picks up the telephone. The beeping continues.
She smells smoke.
She runs down the stairs and out the front door. She stands barefoot in the snow watching her house burn down. In the distance she hears the sirens. The snow falls thickly around the house, melting into droplets that do little to stay the tongues of fire.
A blanket is wrapped around her shoulders. She’s led to a pickup truck. She watches her house burn to the ground.
The fire chief slides into the driver’s side. “Can I call your family, ma’am?”
She shakes her head. Her father had distanced himself following the arrest.
“A friend, then?”
“I have no friends.” She gestures at the house. “This was no accident.”
“The bank froze the assets.”
The chief puts the truck in gear and drives down the center of unplowed streets.
* * *
He pulls up to a church. A sign in the grass reads: Code Blue Shelter.
She’s pointed to a cot, handed a thin blanket.
A woman one cot over smiles and breaks her sandwich in half. “Hungry?”
“Starved. Thank you.”
“You been on the streets long? I don’t recognize you.”
Lilly smiles to herself. At last, she is not her father’s daughter. At last, she is not her husband’s wife. “Not long.”
“What’s your name?”
“You got a last name?”
“Just Lilly.” She likes the sound of her name untethered from her husband’s. She feels lighter. Freer.
The woman smiles. “I understand. Some things you have to keep to yourself.” She looks through the window. “Awful night out there, Just Lilly. Coldest night on record.”
“But spring is just around the corner.” And Lilly would live up to her own name in the spring, blooming and growing and stretching herself to meet the sun.
“Just Lilly, I like your style.”
And Lilly smiles, basking in her anonymity and the kindness of a stranger.