It was early Saturday morning. Jude’s favorite cartoons would be on in an hour. The air was damp, the fog hadn’t lifted, it was just warm enough to take a bike and ride and ride and ride, jacketless, breezy, and cool. Jude was in the living room marking her exit, which meant steering clear of pizza boxes, candy wrappers, newspapers, beer cans, and a snoring man flopped the couch, whose name she wasn’t told. In fact, he’d told her that. He’d laughed and told her she didn’t need to learn another name.
Jude’s mother was snoring in the back bedroom, more loudly than her boyfriend Denny. The evening had been full of harsh laughter, drinking contests, music trivia games and scary quiet pauses. At each pause, the ones that had a little length, Jude would cautiously exhale, her seven year-old muscles would begin to relax and, just as she began to drift, someone would hoot, or laugh and once a glass broke. Jude didn’t remember falling asleep.
The birds woke her. She’d left the window open to listen to the rain. Her clothes were laid out and there was an apple, some sliced cheese and a snack bag of pretzel sticks in a quiet cloth shopping bag. Jude liked pretzel sticks. She sucked the salt off first, then bit them in half, then ate. She could make a bag last a long time.
With her breakfast in her hand and the front door in sight, Jude stepped with each honking snore and paused when the nameless man exhaled. Turning the knob was easier than expected: no one had latched the chain or secured the bolt. All that stood between Jude and a dreamy morning was an expert twist of the knob, of which she was an expert. Jude knew the slight angle that left just enough room get her out, but did not elicit the creaking noise that occurred when fully opened. And, while it was startling, the couch man’s violent lurch and grunt propelled Jude out the door, fast and furious and perfectly sleek. She felt like a warrior, an athlete. She had survived enemy territory. The road and the day were hers.