Purgatory
A Short Story

By Adele Portnoy



I was born Maria Antonia Gomez, but in the mid-Eighties I legally changed my name to Eve. I shed my family name and my ethnicity as easily as a snake sheds its skin. I became Eve, Earth Mother, searching for my own Garden of Eden in this chaotic world. My only companion was my darling daughter, Janey.

Having escaped my smothering family and abusive husband, my child and I traveled as nomads, aimlessly drifting from one place to another, living off the generosity of my dwindling friends.

The weather had turned cold and a blustering November wind ripped through our insufficient clothing. We sought refuge in a decaying building. Following the sound of voices, we discovered a dimly lit room filled with angry, shouting people. Holding Janey firmly by her hand, we made our way to an empty seat. Janey sat on my lap. Hungry and cold, my three-year-old promptly fell asleep. I buried my face in her hair to avoid the hostile stares of the strangers seated near me.

The shouting suddenly ceased as a man strode across the makeshift stage and gripped the sides of the podium. He was tall and slim almost to the point of being skeletal. He pushed back a shock of unruly, jet-black hair and began to speak in a melodic cadence.

My eyes opened wide. I gasped. I glanced at the others. Everyone appeared to be in a hypnotic state. The entire audience focused on the speaker. He looked in every direction. He paced, he stood perfectly still, he stretched out his arms with his palms lifted upwards, he punched the air with his fist, and he shook his finger at no one in particular. He spoke non-stop. He spoke directly to me. I could not concentrate on his words. I heard only fragments of his scorching speech.

"America has to wake up. America has to be taught a lesson. The government is strangling us. We are governed by rabid dogs!" He raged, and then spoke quietly, then raged again.

I was on a crest of a wave one instant, then drowning in a sea of words the next. My eyes became heavy and I dozed off.

“Mommy, wake up, wake up!” Janey was tugging at my sleeve. I awoke in an empty room with Janey at my side and the fiery orator staring down at me. “I’m sorry my speech bored you.” His tone of voice was curt and his flashing black eyes frightened me. I backed away.

“Oh, no, I wasn’t bored. I was cold and tired. Please don’t be offended. It was a great speech.” I prayed he wouldn’t ask me to repeat anything he had said. He helped me out of my seat. The touch of his hand sent vibes through my body that I had not felt in years.

“Is this your daughter?” His voice softened, and without waiting for my reply, he asked, “Where is her father?”

“In hell, I hope,” I answered.

He laughed. “There are far worse places than hell.” He touched my daughter’s cheek. “And what is your name?”

“My name is Janey.”

“That’s a very pretty name. What is your mother’s name?”

“Her name is Mommy.”

I couldn’t help smiling. “My name is Eve.”

He gazed intently into my face. “I will call you Lilith. You have a devilish sparkle in your eyes.”

I was at a loss for words. He waited. I was mute.

“Do you have a place to stay?” he asked.

“Not as of now,” I mumbled.

“Then you and Janey will be my guests for a while. I live in a loft a few blocks from here. I have two other females visiting me at this time. You’ll be perfectly safe. The Christmas holidays will soon be here and I’m planning a big blowout in a major shopping mall the day before Christmas. You can be part of it. Are you game?”

I nodded. I was completely under his spell. He swept Janey into his arms and walked toward the door with me in his wake. I followed him out of the building, through the streets and, eventually, to Purgatory..

White: stark white walls, floor and ceiling

Bare: void of furniture and windows

I sit on the cold tile floor in the center of the room, bathed in a single beam of light directed downward from the ceiling. Cross-legged, head lowered, hands clasped on my lap, I sit waiting.

There is a door tempting me out of my isolation. I view it apprehensively. I feel anchored to the floor, immobilized. After an interminable period of time, I am compelled to rise and open the door.

On the other side, the area is dimly lit. A musty odor assails my nostrils. I find myself alone in a deserted shopping mall. I walk down the corridor. My thoughts are as dull as the scuffed, brittle, black and white marble tiles beneath my feet. The window mannequins are nude and their shadows appear ominous in the gloomy light. The floor is strewn with dusty remnants of Christmas tinsel and holiday wreaths. I finger the rusted remains of a children’s carousel. A life-size marionette of Santa Claus stands near the amusement ride; his dismembered head lays lopsided alongside his frayed boots.

Screen Shot 2014-01-17 at 7.53.12 PMI walk on aimlessly. Suddenly, I am in a toy store. Everything is in disarray. Toys, electronic games and stuffed animals are smashed beyond recognition. I see a mutilated doll lying on a dusty shelf. The right side of her face is crushed. One leg is missing. An arm is grotesquely twisted. I quickly clutch the doll to my breast. Tears well up in my eyes. “Janey, my baby, I’m so sorry! The bomb went off prematurely. Please try to forgive me.” I gently place the doll back on the shelf and stumble out of the store.

I am bone-weary, but I trudge on. Finally, I come to the end of the mall. I see an exit. Excitedly, I run toward it and open the door.

White: stark white walls, floor and ceiling

Bare: void of furniture and windows


Adele Portnoy was born in the Bronx, N.Y., married, migrated with her family to Long Island and eventually retired in Florida. She won numerous short story competitions including honorable mentions in The Writer's Digest and The National League of American Pen Women. She has also taught a creative writing course for two years in Florida.

Photo Credit: Don Henderson

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