In the Heat of the Night
(based on true stories)

Walking downstairs from her dorm room, Kali Madrone paused to sketch the lobby from the raised perspective of the stairwell. She had a few hours of sunlight left before her next class. In the months since the fiasco at Hilda's Christmas party down in Georgia, Hilda and Kali had been expertly avoiding each other, dreading the inevitable confrontation. Being roommates didn't make this easy, but so far they'd been fairly successful.
Kali's focus suddenly shifted from the visible to the audible as she became aware of a man yelling downstairs. She struggled to make out the words, but they were cut off by a high scream and the sound of glass breaking. Kali rushed down the stairs. The man's voice came again, with a distinctly Southern drawl. "You've cursed your own name with these disgustin' acts!" A door slammed. Kali leapt down the last three stairs and skidded into the lobby.
Her roommate sat half-through a glass table, surrounded by jagged edges and piles of shards. Kali stared at the gashes all over Hilda's arms and flung the door open to catch her attacker, but the courtyard was empty.
Turning back, she saw that Hilda was still sitting there, making no effort to staunch the cuts on her wrists. Kali knelt down and shook Hilda gently. "Are you all right, hon? Come on, you've got to get out of that table! You're hurt!" She sat back on her heels and scanned the woman's face. Hilda's pupils were almost completely dilated. Kali waved her hand in front of Hilda's eyes. "Hello? Hilda?"
At the sound of her name, Hilda shuddered violently, and burst into tears.
"Oh, Goddess," Kali muttered, putting her arm around her roommate's shoulders. "Let's see... keep the victim warm, do not move the victim, call for help...." She grabbed a phone and began dialing 9-1-1, trying to think how many Southern men she knew. The only ones who came to mind were part of the LaVyrle clan she had met at Hilda's party, but which one? She thought back to the party....

Hilda's uncle saw her coming and lifted the champagne bottle in a salute. "Wayull, here's our li'l twenny-one year old!" he boomed. "Bet all'n yore boyfriends've been pressin' mint juleps into those pretty hands of yours while you been away at college."

Hilda laughed. "Ain't touched a drop, Uncle Mike, ah swear!"
He acted shocked. "Never tasted the nectar of the gods?! Never charged yore soul with fire-water?" Winking, he raised a long, svelte flute glass high and deftly poured a waterfall of champagne into its open crystal mouth. He handed Kali the glass and poured another one for Hilda.
They smiled at him and moved away as he greeted another family member just as raucously.
Kali laughed, mimicking his accent. "'Charge yore soul with fire-water'?"
Hilda grinned. "Yeah. Uncle Mike's just an ole romantic at heart. Prob'ly mah sweetest relative."
"And the only one who wasn't staring at me as if I were a zoo display!"
Hilda looked at her, surprised, and then nodded slowly. "Yeah, that's probably true. This ain't the big city.... 'round here, even Protestants are a curiosity." She sighed, rubbing the back of her neck. "Ah'm sorry they're doin' that. If it makes you uncomfortable, we kin go somewhere else... the woods're real nice at this time of night. You can see all the stars."
Kali shook her head. "No, that's okay. It's nice right here."
Hilda smiled at her. "Anythin' you say." She nodded towards Kali's champagne glass. "Y'all want refills on that?"
"No, I'm fine."
"Okay, then, ah'll be right back." Hilda headed back to Uncle Mike, reappearing in a moment with a newly filled glass, the contents of which disappeared at an alarming rate.
"Hilda, good grief!" Kali remarked. "That's not exactly 'Southern champagne', you know!"
Hilda giggled, draining the glass. "This tastes much better than Diet Coke!" she announced.
Kali smiled slightly, but the smile turned into a strained frown when she spotted another of Hilda's relatives heading straight for them. "There's that woman who's been staring at me all night," she said, touching Hilda's elbow.
Hilda looked around and identified the woman immediately, groaning, "Aunt Beulah. You don't want to meet her, believe me."
"I think I'd better disappear before she tries to see if my skin color rubs off, or asks how many toes 'my people' have!"
"Ah'll see y'all later," Hilda called over her shoulder before being accosted by a shriek of "Ohhhhhhhh, Hildegarde Marieeeeeeee! How you've GROWN!"
Kali wandered back towards the house, and ran into Hilda's Uncle Mike. "Enjoyin' the party?" he smiled broadly.
Kali found herself smiling back. "Well enough," she replied, glancing involuntarily across the garden at Aunt Beulah.
Uncle Mike saw the look. "Pay no attention to them. Mannerless blaggarts, every one," he declared with relish.
Kali laughed. "Mannerless whats?"
"What are they teachin' y'all at school that they haven't mentioned the mannerless blaggarts of the world?" he remarked in mock-amazed tones.
Kali considered this for a moment. "You mean mannerless blackguards, maybe?" she suggested warily.
Uncle Mike looked thoughtful. "Could be, could wayull be," he agreed, knocking back the rest of his drink and changing the subject. "So, y'all're mah niece's roommate, are ya? Declared a major yet?"
"Poly Sci. I'm aiming for a career in law. Hilda and I have most of our classes together."
Uncle Mike frowned. "How kin that be? Ah thought Hilda was majorin' in Home Ec. or somethin'."
Kali wondered if she could continue this discussion without getting her roommate into trouble. "Women's Studies," she said hesitantly. "She's doing an interdisciplinary major with Political Science and Women's Studies."
"Women's Studies, right! Ah knew it was somethin' lak that."
Kali shook her head doubtfully. "Right."
They drifted apart into the warm Georgia night. Kali walked towards the trees at the edge of the vast property, listening to the crickets and skeeters singing. She saw her roommate's back through the trees, walking rather unsteadily through the forest. Hilda had obviously had one too many glasses of champagne. Well, one drunken night wouldn't hurt her, and the party was so large that a few spiffled guests would probably go unnoticed.
Rose LaVyrle flitted from guest to guest with determined charm glowing out of every thighmastered, jazzercised, silk-encased pore. Her $150 suede heels tick-tacked away the distance between groups of chatty in-laws as she liberated an over-eager champagne glass from one guest, asked after another's son, and generally prided herself on being the motor oil that kept the pistons of her party running smoothly.
The Chinese lanterns glowed like fireflies above her, illuminating the party dramatically. Rose paused on the verandah, taking it all in, fully aware of how well the scene framed her.
Hilda came towards Kali, giggling at some private joke. She tripped over a rock and nearly went flying, grabbing her friend's shoulder for support at the last moment. Kali shook her head, laughing. "Hil, how many glasses did you have?!"
Hilda appeared to think deeply. "Thurshday," she declared.
Kali frowned, trying to decipher this. "Thirsty?"
"No, Thursssss-day. Orrr eight or so," Hilda enunciated.
"Goddess, you really are pickled, aren't you?"
"Ah only haid three glashes of champagne," Hilda slurred. "An' a handful of rum 'cause ah was freezin'!"
Kali winced as Hilda, draped around her shoulder, managed to trip again, nearly knocking them both over.
This set Hilda off into another fit of giggles. "Everything has haloes around them!" She peered at Kali with drunken myopia and seemed about to say something, but instead burst into raucous song. "When roses are red they're ready for pickin', An' girls of sixteen are ready for high school...." Hilda let go of Kali's shoulder and waltzed drunkenly away, still humming bawdy tunes. She ran into a tree, getting entangled in its branches, and laughed up at it, "Why, sir, ah haid no idea y'all felt this way!"
Kali smiled in spite of herself, coming to free Hilda from the tree's embrace. "It's just a tree, Hil. It doesn't feel that way about anyone."
"Trees are people too!" Hilda shouted. She turned to the oak pleadingly. "Y'all love me, don'cha? Tell me ah mean something to ya!"
Kali guided her gently to a wide stump at the edge of the garden. Hilda sat down heavily, covered in Spanish moss, and stared at her hands. "So young an' so many regrets," she muttered, suddenly growing sober. "'Gather ye rosebuds whal' ye may, ole Time is still a-flyin', and the rose that blooms today, tomorra will be dyin'.'" She turned to Kali.
Rose glanced at her Seiko. It was nearly three a.m. The party had boiled down to a group of the most hardened party-goers, determined to dance and talk the night away. She debated the merits of taking down a few lanterns as a gentle hint to her untiring guests. Maybe it was the quality of the liquor, but they seemed more... merry this year than usual. She hoped Aunt Lollie hadn't spiked the punch again.
She stopped suddenly, almost bowling over a herd of teenage cousins. A terrible, low, protracted giggle made her turn her head slowly.
She discovered, to her horror, that her daughter was not sitting around wearing white gloves.
That scream would be burnt into Hilda's memory for the rest of her life.
She sprang away from Kali, gasping. Leaping up, she reached for a branch to steady herself, missed by five feet and fell to the grass out cold.
Mrs. LaVyrle looked grimly over her shoulder at her approaching husband. "I think Hilda had too much to drink. Bring her up to her room, could you?" In an undertone, she added, "We need to talk about this later."
Turning to Kali, she raised a thinly plucked eyebrow. "Perhaps you'd better leave," she said, and stalked across the lawn to the house.

* * *

....Kali shook her head, snapping out of the acrid memory. They were in the emergency room, with Hilda having the slashes on her hands, arms, and wrists sewn up. She had stopped crying in the ambulance, instead staring silently down at her gory hands. Kali persuaded the doctor to discharge Hilda after treating her for shock, and took her back to their dorm room.

She guided Hilda to the bed and turned to get Hilda a glass of water. Hilda grabbed Kali's arm with a panicked sound, then dropped it as pain shot through her. Kali sat down next to her friend and stayed, stroking her hair quietly, until Hilda fell asleep. She got up and closed the doors firmly, glaring at a clump of giggling freshwomen across the hall.
Hilda lay unconscious on the bed. The shock to her system and the hospital's drugs would probably keep her out the rest of the night. Kali paused, looking at the sleeping woman, then kissed her lightly, experimentally, on the cheek. Hilda didn't move. Kali stepped back, plucking at her arm hair with a worried look. She slid her defenseless roommate's Birkenstocks off and covered her with a blanket, then headed down to the cafeteria for a late dinner.
On the bed, Hilda's eyes twitched behind closed eyelids as she slipped into REM sleep and began dreaming about what happened after the party....

* * *

The next afternoon, hung over, under, and out to dry, Hilda had decided to tell her parents everything - from her newfound religious ideals through her feelings for her roommate. Acid met base, and when the dust from the resulting explosions had settled, Hilda's father was threatening to knock some sense into her, her mother was in hysterics, and they were both pulling her out of Marymount Manhattan at once to be deprogrammed.

Hilda escaped upstairs, locking the door behind her and shoving an armchair up against it. Downstairs, she could hear her parents driving off to pray for her soul. She curled up in the armchair, clamping her hands over her ears, and rocked back and forth. She couldn't get trapped here again -- she had been trapped here for nineteen years -- they would wreck everything that she'd built, her self-confidence, her education, her life -- and re-program her and turn her into her mother....
Her thoughts finally stopped scrambling around, and Hilda just let her mind drift, slowly rubbing her temples with a tranced-out expression.
She passed about fifteen minutes in this position, then rose and began picking her shelves apart. The Southern belle pulled an old suitcase out of her closet and began stuffing it with random belongings. Zipping it shut, she pulled a notebook over and wrote a letter to her brother.

Dear Josh,
I'm writing to tell you why I'm never coming back home again. I remember how betrayed I felt when Kevin ran away. He had been my best friend for eleven years, and I couldn't understand why he was leaving me.
You and I haven't been as close as Kevin and I were. I think that's partly due to our parents: when Kevin left, they transferred a lot of their anger to me as the next kid in line, and the only girl, and you became their "golden boy". It's hard to get along with someone who can do no wrong in our parents' eyes.
The point is that you know our parents and our community as well as I do. You know that if you don't fit in, it's impossible to live with the whispering behind your back, and the rudeness to your face, and the constant, constant pressure to conform. I'm never coming back, not for another family reunion, not for Christmas, not for anything. This shouldn't be too much of a blow to you, because I've been at college most of the time for the past year and a half already, and I don't think anyone's going to blame you for this. I just wanted to explain why I'm disappearing, and remind you that I love you and I'll always be your big sister.
Love, Hilda.

Hilda chewed on her pen, spinning it between her teeth as she wondered how to leave unnoticed. Suddenly, she saw the outside of the house, the pipelines and windowsills climbing it, and remembered a much younger version of herself escaping.
She'd been sent to her room in disgrace, and decided to climb down and run off to play with her brothers until her parents forgot she'd been exiled. It had looked so easy in her imagination! The nimble ten-year-old had almost made it to the ground before her foot caught on the rose trellis and her hand slipped from the windowsill -- but the bruises had been worth it, until her parents found out what she'd done.
Hilda stood up and crept into her younger brother's bedroom, slipping the letter under his pillow. Returning to her room, she swung the window open and looked down, wincing at a rush of vertigo. There was nobody in sight.
She took a deep breath, looking around the room one last time. A large, ratty, pink teddy bear caught her eye. With a flash of determination, she grabbed it, flung the suitcase open, wedged Peeky Bear in, and willed the zipper to shut again. Out the window it went, and out climbed Hilda.

* * *

Kali woke up and rolled over to see how her roommate was doing. Hilda was still asleep on her own bed, curled up in last night's fetal position with one arm trapped underneath her. Kali swung her legs over the edge of the bed and stood, looking down at the sleeping woman. She looks so vulnerable, Kali thought, reaching out to brush a handful of blonde hair out of Hilda's eyes. She pulled her hand back halfway there, frowning, and quickly walked out of the room.

The sun was barely visible through the trees. Kali zipped her coat up and pushed her hands deep into the pockets. She ambled across the quad, oblivious to the few students sprinting by, late to their first classes.
Her footsteps gradually sped up to match the pace of the questions brawling inside her head. She soon reached the coffeehouse. Her ears burned from the sudden gust of heat assaulting her as she entered the lively, noisy building. Scanning the menu quickly for something healthy, she bought a bag of muffins and two mochas. As she left the cashier yelled after her, "Ma'am -- ma'am! You forgot your change!"
"Oh, keep it," she called over her shoulder.
"But this is a fifty-dollar bill you gave me!"
Kali doubled back, balancing the mochas in one hand and clenching the bag between her teeth, and stuffed the wad of change into her pocket. As she headed back outside, pulling the bag out of her mouth to balance its weight better, a smooth voice caught her ear. She recognized it, but just barely, as the voice she'd heard screaming downstairs the day before. Kali froze in her tracks, listening closely.
The man was walking along with the Dean, nearly jogging to keep up with her. "Look, Ms. Newman, if you found out that your children were livin' with, say, members of an established cult, or people with dangerous criminal records, wouldn't you be worried about what they might be learnin' from those people? They might turn out to the be the nicest people in the world, ah'm not sayin' that, but wouldn't you say there'd be a possibility of your children bein' drawn into an undesirable life there?"
Kali craned her neck to see who it was and nearly dropped the muffins. It was Hilda's father!
The Dean looked irritated. She stopped and turned to face him. "Mr. LaVyrle, I don't know what charges you are trying to bring against Ms. Madrone, but I assure you that they cannot be great enough for me to remove your daughter from Marymount Manhattan just on your say-so. It does not work that way here, Mr. LaVyrle! Now, if you will excuse me, I have a meeting to attend." She swept past him.
Kali broke into a sprint, pounding across the quad towards the dorms. The mochas slopped around inside their paper cups as she hurtled up the stairs and into their dorm room.
Hilda was still asleep. Kali dumped the breakfast on her desk and shook her roommate's shoulders. "Wake up!" Hilda's forehead wrinkled and she blinked her eyes open slowly.
Kali moved next to her, helping her sit up. "How do you feel?"
Hilda leaned forward, rubbing her forehead. "Mah haid hurts," she said slowly. "What happened?" Flexing her palm against her forehead, she pulled it away with a sharp gasp and stared at the cuts. "Ow!... ohhhhhh," she said. "Oh God, ah remember now...."
Kali picked up one of the mochas, feeling it warm her hands, and passed it to her groggy friend. "Careful, it's hot."
Hilda took a long drink, feeling it almost scald her taste buds. Lowering the drink, she shook the hair back from her eyes, sighing. "Kali, what'm ah gonna do?"
Kali swallowed. "I saw your father out there. Did he -- was he the one who --"
"Pushed me through the coffee table? Well, he didn't mean to...."
Kali stared at her. "The man pushed his only daughter through a glass table and then didn't even stick around to see if you were okay! This is not a healthy relationship!" Hilda didn't answer. "This is insane! Is this the first time he's done anything like this, or what?"
Hilda glared at the mocha. Kali waved her hand in front of the sullen woman's eyes. "Hello? Hilda?"
"Don't call me that!" Hilda screamed.
They stared at each other, frozen. Hilda looked away first. Kali exhaled slowly, reminding herself that Hilda had been through a lot in the past twenty-four hours. "Why not?"
Hilda looked down at her hands, running her fingers lightly over the cuts. "You heard him. He cursed mah name."
Kali rolled her eyes. "Well, what do you propose to do about that?"
"Change mah name, ah guess," Hilda shrugged.
"You can't be serious!" Kali turned away, frustrated, and caught sight of Hilda's father striding across the quad towards their building. She stepped back quickly, hoping he couldn't see her, and watched him intently.
Behind her, Hilda pulled one of the muffins out of its bag and began picking at it. "They were gonna pull me out of school and re-program me, turn me into Daddy's li'l zombie -- Ah haid to hitch-hike to the airport and stay there overnight, hung over, and if y'all think it was easy to climb outta that bedroom window hung over.... And then ah got back here, an' ah was so depressed.... Mama said they were gonna disown me if ah didn't come back to mah senses, and ah didn't know what to do, so ah jest went from class to class, goin' through the motions till ah could think of some kinda solution... and then ah realized that someone was followin' me."
Kali turned away from the window and saw that Hilda was crying quietly, the blueberry muffin reduced to a heap of crumbs in her hand. She sat down next to Hilda and put her arms around her friend. Hilda hugged her, crying hard, high-pitched sobs.
"Why didn't you ask someone for help?" Kali finally asked.
Hilda shook her head, drying her eyes with the back of her hand. "Who would have helped me?"
"I would!"
Hilda scowled, a small knot of hope growing inside her. "Wayull, ah wish ah'd've known that." She abruptly leapt to her feet. "Did you just say you saw mah father out there?"
Kali glanced out the window and saw with relief that he was walking away from their building. "He was talking to the Dean, trying to get one of us expelled so you'd be out of my evil influence. I didn't want to worry you, but I don't think he's going to give up."
Hilda dropped her handful of crumbs in the wastebasket and dusted her hands off. "What am ah gonna do?" she repeated to herself.
Kali lost her patience. "You are such a mess, Hilda! Why don't you grow a backbone and face your father? You're going to have to face him at some point. If you don't, they'll follow you forever!"
Hilda rubbed the back of her neck obstinately. "Nothin' doin'. Ah am never seein' that man again. Like you said, this is not a healthy relationship."
"But you can't go through the next two years like this! Even if you could, there's gotta be some sense of closure or it'll haunt you for the rest of your life!"
"Kali. Up until now, ah've done exactly what other people wanted. Ever since middle school ah worked to try and be mahself when everyone around me told me to think and act and say and do the exact opposite. Now ah gotta find out who ah am and live mah own life. And facin' off with mah family just because you think it's the only way out is not the way to do this!"
"So what do you think is the right way? Homicide? Suicide? Either one would solve your problems!" Kali taunted.
Hilda wrapped her arms around herself. "Very funny -- That's it! That's brilliant, Kali!"
"Ah'm gonna change mah name, right? So ah'll fake mah own death! Make it sound like 'Hildegarde LaVyrle' has died, and go on living as.... 'whoever'!" Kali still looked confused. Hilda rushed on. "You know those places that'll print up a fake newspaper with an article you've written in 'em? Get one of those with a fake obituary page, clip it out, and send it to mah father -- we could even get some ashes somewhere, and an urn...." She saw Kali's face. "Look, yeah, ah know it's a li'l extreme...."
"A little bit extreme?"
"But desperate times call for desperate measures! When mah older brother ran away, it was for the same reasons. They consider him daid, and they'll declare me daid too -- we're just savin' them the trouble!" She sighed. "Maybe in a couple years ah kin go back and settle things, build up a good adult relationship with them. But for now...."
Kali squeezed Hilda's hand. Rifling through an old newspaper on the desk, she pulled out the obituaries page and spread them on the floor to use as a model. "C'mon. We'll do this together."

* * *

A few days later, the following announcement appeared in the LaVyrle mailbox:

LAVYRLE, Hildegarde Marie: Aged 20, died in car accident March 21, 1987. Devoted daughter of Rose and Carson LaVyrle, and sister of Kevin and Joshua LaVyrle. A memorial service was held at Washington Avenue Baptist Church on March 24. Donations may be made in her memory to the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, or sent to the scholarship fund set up in her name in care of Drami Jonson at Marymount Manhattan College.

Around the same time, devoted readers of the society pages of local papers noticed an unusual announcement for the "coming-out party" of one Drami Jonson. Those who dropped by the location given, curious to see what a coming-out party would be like, reported that nobody was there. But a small group of close friends could have told them that the party had been re-located to Kali's and the newly-named Drami's dorm room, and the festivities didn't break up until well past dawn, as they celebrated the beginning of a new life....