At the sound of a motorcycle roaring, Laura Hapley moves the curtain aside and looks out the window. Instead of passing by, the machine stops. A tall person dressed all in black swings their legs off and gently places their helmet on the seat. The light of the setting late September sun surrounds the apparition with a halo of gold. Laura lets the curtain fall.

A moment later, the doorbell rings. Laura hesitates, then opens the door.

“Mrs. Hapley?”

“Yes?”

“And Wally Hapley?”

“My husband, yes. And you are?”

The woman is tall, very tall. Broad shouldered, dressed in black leather from boots to gloves. She hands Laura a business card. “I am sorry to trouble you, Mrs. Hapley. My name is Arch. Michaela Arch.” The business card carries name, email address and telephone number, and a logo in gold showing a sword stuck through a dragon. “Could I speak to Mr. Hapley, too, please?”

Laura looks at the business card. A faint smell of something like incense emanates from it. “He is busy. What is this about?” She glances towards a door in back.

The tall woman produces two envelopes from her jacket, cream coloured, also with a golden logo, this one showing wings. The backs are closed with a red seal.

“I need to speak to you and him together. There is a request for you to read these documents in my presence.”

“Laura!” A voice from the back. “What is it!”

Laura looks over her shoulder, moves towards the voice, hesitates, returns to the door.

“Please.” Her voice is low and urgent. “I will tell my husband. He cannot be interrupted right now.”

“I do apologize for inconveniencing you, Mrs. Hapley, but unfortunately he will have to come out.” The tone is firm, friendly, polite. “It is important. It cannot wait, I’m afraid.” Ms. Arch smiles at Laura, a friendly, warm beam.

Still smiling, she shouts, “Mr. Hapley?” She does not have to raise her voice much. Deep and resonant, it carries easily.

“Laura! I’m busy!” Laura’s eyes open wide, flicker, then close.

A little dog appears behind her. It curls around her legs like a cat, looks up at the stranger, does not bark. Beside the entrance stands a small table, on it a vase with flowers. Lilies and sunflowers – an odd combination, but beautifully arranged.

Ms. Arch briefly bends down to pet the dog, whose tail slowly begins to wag. She straightens and looks down the hallway. “Mr. Hapley, we need you here, could you spare a moment, please!”

A thump and out from a door down the hallway rushes a man in his early seventies, his hair almost white, well groomed. He carries himself with a professorial demeanour, sure, apparently, of his importance. He shoots a look of great annoyance at Laura, then the tall woman.

“Who let you in?” He turns to his wife. “Laura!” Laura’s eyes dart to Mr. Hapley, then the vase. The little dog’s tail disappears between its legs.

“Whoever you are, I’m busy and you’re trespassing. Leave or I’ll call – “

“– the police,” finishes the woman. Her black leather crackles faintly as she takes a small step forward. “That would be quite alright. Suit yourself. In the meantime, Mr. Hapley, Mrs. Hapley, I have two documents that I have been asked to witness you read in my presence.”

“Who asked you?” Mr. Hapley steps forward, too. “Move!” he hisses at the dog. Laura flinches, starts to bend down to the dog but with a glance at her husband, just gently shoos it away with her foot.

“Please open and read these documents. This is yours, Mrs. Hapley,” the woman extends one to Laura. Wally snatches it. “I can read both. We are a married couple. We have no secrets from each other.”

The tall woman takes the envelope from Wally Hapley and returns it to Laura. Laura looks at Wally, a question on her face. “I’ll read it later,” he snarls, “I’ll probably have to explain it to you, anyway.”

A low, quiet, growl emanates from the woman dressed in black. “That will be enough, Mr. Hapley.”

Laura Hapley slowly opens the letter, hands shaking.

Wally Hapley tears open his envelope, throws it towards the little table. It slips to the ground.  

Wally, years ago when the doorbell rang, you opened and the man said, ‘if you ever lay hands on Laura again, I will kill you.’ It is time to remember this now. You were spared. But now you need to remember. Each time you are about to raise your hand against Laura, remember it, and act accordingly. Each time you are about to raise your voice against her or threaten her. Each time you are about to raise your hands or voice against someone or something who Laura loves, or threaten them, remember. Remember, act accordingly, and you will live in peace. If you need help to carry out this request, contact Ms. Arch.

              Laura reads her letter:

Laura, years ago when that doorbell rang, it filled you with both hope and dread. You kept both alive. Sometimes hopes bears fruit; here we are, your protectors. You are a beautiful, creative, wise and compassionate woman. You may not be fully aware of it yet but it is never too late to realize. You are not alone, and you are more powerful than you think. Please remember that. If someone, anyone, raises their voice or their hand against you, or threatens you or someone you love, remember you are not alone, remember you have protection, remember your power, and act accordingly. Do that, and you will live in peace. If you need help, contact Ms. Arch.

 

Four hands tremble. Two rest folded, relaxed, strong.

The stranger looks at Wally until he returns the gaze. “You understand?”

Wally nods, hypnotized.

“If you understand, say, ‘yes, I understand.’”

Wally clears his throat, mumbles, “Yes, I understand.”

The tall woman looks at Laura. Her eyes are already trained on Ms. Arch. “You understand?”

Laura nods. “Yes,” she says, her voice quiet but steady. “Yes, I understand.”

“Please shake hands.”

Their hands reach out towards each other. One thin, elegant, olive brown, moving one inch, then another, perceiving, as hands do and as the conscious brain rarely notices, the small change in the atmosphere as the other hand approaches – a tiny rush of air movement, ever so much more warmth – and a bigger hand with a few stray hairs on its back, a bit bony now in older age, shaking a little, with a bead of sweat appearing in the life line crease. They touch. And grasp. And hold.

“Apologize.”

“I apologize,” both say, simultaneously.

“You know who needs to apologize.”

Laura looks at the stranger, then her husband. Wally’s head is bent. Slowly, he lifts it.

“I apologize,” he says, almost whispering.

Michaela Arch nods and returns to her motorcycle. The little dog runs along for a moment. Nobody scolds it as it lets out a happy little yip, wagging its tail in the wake of the quickly receding tall woman in black leather.

 

About the Author

Isabella Mori (Vancouver, BC) has written two books of and about poetry, A bagful of haiku – 87 imperfections, and isabella mori’s teatable book. She won first prize in poetry in the 2018 Cecilia Lamont Literary Contest  and has just finished Simon Fraser University’s The Writers StudioMori also writes fiction and non-fiction, and was a translation contributor (from English to German) in Reading Canada, a profile of Canada’s diverse literature commissioned for the 2017 Frankfurt Book Fair.  Recently, she began working on a project that combines fiction, interviews and research on the themes of mental health and addiction.