Mineral Springs started as a platted settlement at the junction of two stagecoach lines. Unlike other Iowa towns of the same start, Mineral Springs didn’t vanish into the landscape, but hit a streak of tremendous good luck, when a deep seam of coal was discovered in the hills rising above the Possum river. As the mineral deposits played out and the industry looked for cheaper options, a local miner located a mineral spring. The coal boom morphed into a spa tourism boom. Lavish hotels were constructed around the springs and a marketing campaign promoted the healing waters of central Iowa. Spa treatments and colonics and saunas to treat all that ails during the roaring twenties and went bust in the early years of the Great Depression. The low squat building that now housed the Furry Friends League inhabited the old pump house that once fed mineral water into the spas along main street and the affluent houses on the hills above town.
The pink had faded from the cloud bellies as the sun advanced across the rolling Iowa landscape toward more exotic Western locales. As a child, spring had been her favorite season and she still marveled at the changes. The northern hemisphere tilted toward the sun and its rays grew more powerful and able to burn her winter pale skin in a matter of minutes, yet the cool breezes made her reach for a jacket. And the breathless anticipation that at any moment father winter could pull back the blankets and sprinkle the world in ice and snow.
Stella pulled her eyes away from the Furry Friends Rescue front door to her white knuckle grip on the Subaru’s steering wheel. She’d been staring at the door, willing someone to open early as if by sheer power of thought the local dog catcher would forgo his morning coffee to allow Stella to adopt an animal and right the karmic scales. She sought to salve the deep hatred in her heart and caused her chest to ache. She unfurled her fingers from the steering wheel and dropped her aching hands into her lap. She leaned back against the headrest to avoid staring at the building again, but instead spied the mounds of black trash bags that filled the backend of the Outback wagon. She’d stripped all the sheets, pillows, and blankets off her bed. She wanted to take all the bags and even the mattress out to her aunt’s farm and light it all on fire in her burn pit in an ultimate–but fruitless–act of catharsis. She knew that watching her bed clothes burn wouldn’t absolve or heal her.
Out of habit, her left hand traced the scars that disfigured her right hand and wrist. With one sharp nail she traced the pink waxy skin elevated and swollen above her translucent flesh. Stella scratched at her scars as she sat in a daze. She stopped and held her hands straight like she was putting on mittens. If she wasn’t directly involved in a task that kept her hands busy, she often wore mittens to prevent this anxious habit. Instead of continuing to dig her nails into the scars in a bizarre unconscious attempt to reopen the wounds that Kevin had caused. Without a direct task, she moved from one anxious habit to the next, like a drunk that keeps changing his bar order.
She clutched at her chest, and rapped her sharp knuckles against her sternum. Three, strong taps. But the hate wouldn’t come up. She wanted to cough it up like a ball phlegm and expel it from her body, but it remained tucked in her chest like the ravages of pneumonia awaiting the next minor illness to reclaim dominance of its host.
Out of the corner of her eye she caught movement from across the parking lot. A tall man waved to her from the police station. She squinted at him until recognition flickered in her memory. The cop that had been there that night and testified on her behalf: Reggie, Officer Byers, or was it Detective? He strode toward her car as the physical embodiment of her victimhood. She pulled down her rolled up sleeves and got out of her SUV to meet him in the middle of the empty parking lot: a wide open spot where she couldn’t be cornered.
“Morning, Chef.” Reggie’s broad smile lit up his face, but didn’t mask his weariness. Deep lines rimmed his dark, hooded eyes. Reggie stooped with his arms open. Stella stepped into the hug but did not return the embrace, instead tucked her head into his chest for a brief moment. Although he looked rumpled and his unshaved face pulled at her hair, he smelled of fresh aftershave and mouthwash. She felt him relax into the awkward hug and exhale deeply before stepping back.
“It’s great to see you out.” Reggie asked and looked over her shoulder at her car. Yet another reminder of her failings. Even law enforcement knew of her reclusive nature. His brow furrowed for a second, but quickly returned to the passive expression of a seasoned interrogator. “Whatchu up to?”
Aside from an occasional trip to McCue’s Market for curbside grocery pick up, Stella hadn’t left her home since her divorce court proceedings six months prior. She wasn’t going to let small talk keep her from her resolute mission. “Thinking about getting a cat.”