Forty-three

Later that day, I was lying on the dusty coverlet of my bed, thinking about nothing, when a cat jumped up onto my legs.  Even though it was commonplace in Lexi’s house, the sudden flurry of motion startled me, and I looked over my shoulder to see.  It was Amy-Ann.  She regarded my legs, ass, and back as part of the bed, and began walking slowly up my thighs, orange eyes on me the whole time.  I lay still.  I didn’t want her to jump off.  A free cat-massage was a good thing.  I put my chin back on my arms and closed my eyes.  Paws pressed carefully against my butt, then the small of my back, and then Amy-Ann sat down just north of my kidneys.  Perfect.  I hummed in pleasure.  The cat shifted once, twice, then settled in and warmed my spine.

The stairs creaked as someone (other than Lexi, obviously) came up.  I followed their progress up the hall.  They paused at my door.  Out of the corner of my eye I could see that it was Martin.  He leaned in the doorway.  “Comfy?” he asked.

“The cat feels good there,” I said, “so I’m not moving until she does.”

“You’re braver than I thought.  I hate cats.  How did you break your back?”

“I’d rather not talk about it,” I replied.

“Sorry.  Did you lose someone?”

He was more perceptive than I liked in a stranger.  “I think said I’d rather not talk about it.  I’m pretty sure I said it in plain, sixth-grade level English.”

Martin came in and stood next to the bed.  I turned my head enough so I could see him.  He was wearing his coat.  “Guess that’s my cue to change the subject.”

“Astute.”

“Oh-kay then, how long have you and the doctor been stuck up here?  All winter?”

Had Eddie told him different?  I wagered that he hadn’t.  “No, just a few weeks.  We’re the relief care team,” I said.  “Is this unscheduled stop going to mess up your job?”

“Nah.  I called my manager, and told him what’s going on.  Gray called her boss, too.  We’re just taking the good with the bad.  Extending our vacation.  Do you think we should give Lexi some money, for letting us stay here?”

He didn’t sound remotely sincere.  I wanted to ask him what Gray did, to see what kind of job he made up for her, but I didn’t.

“Sort of a blessing in disguise,” he continued when I didn’t say anything.  “Too bad Gray doesn’t like the house much.  She’s not really into old drafty houses.  Gray’s more the condo type, you know?  Plumbing, Jacuzzis in the bathroom, track lights, et cetera.”

I raised my eyebrows as a response.  The idea of Taiisha taking time to enjoy a hot tub was almost funny.

“I think she grew up in a big old house, so it’s nothing special to her.”

“I guess it wouldn’t be,” I said absently.  I wondered again how old Taiisha really was.  Maybe she had grown up in a house this old.

Martin reached for my back suddenly.  I flinched, but he was just petting Amy-Ann.  I felt the cat’s purr against my back.  “Sorry,” he said.

“Didn’t know what you were going to do,” I said, putting my head back down.  “Lack of human contact makes me edgy.”  I realized as the words came out of my mouth that he was going to take it as flirtation.  Fuck.

“You sure you don’t want a back rub? I promise to be gentle.”

“I’m positive.”

“So, where are you from?”

“I’m not from anywhere,” I said. 

“Your family from nowhere, too?”

“I didn’t say I was from nowhere, I said I wasn’t from anywhere.”  I thought of how Lexi might answer the question.  “My family is from Czechoslovakia, though.”

Martin didn’t take hints easily.  He shrugged, making his coat crinkle.  “So are you and the doctor, you know, hooked up?”

I turned my head to look at him.  “What kind of a question is that?  I don’t know you.”

He took a step back, probably unconsciously.  “Sorry.  I was just asking.  No offense.”

“No, we’re not.”  I didn’t want him getting the wrong idea, anyway.  “We’re not sleeping in the same room, are we?”

“That doesn’t mean anything.”

“He’s a little too old for me.” Irritation laced my voice.

“Some people might say you’re protesting too much,” he said with a smile that was supposed to be charming.

“Some would say you’re being an asshole.” He was reminding me of Eddie in his more annoying moments.  And I only needed one Eddie in my life.  “You ask too many questions, and crack wise like you know me well enough to make jokes of the answers.  Lexi’s doing you a favor by letting you stay here.  Don’t insult her hospitality by pissing off her other guests, okay?”

“Well, pardon me–“

“Get out of my room, please,” I said, and put my head back down.  I turned my face away from him.  He said something else as he was leaving, but I didn’t pay any attention to it.  I wanted to tell him I knew who Taiisha was, and to ask him if he knew.  I didn’t think he did; Taiisha seemed to prefer working with exceedingly stupid men, and Martin wasn’t.  Since he likely wasn’t a friend of hers (not more than a few days’ acquaintance, anyhow) I held my tongue.  Better to play clueless.

Thinking of playing dumb made me think of Lexi again.  It wasn’t a big jump to wonder how much of her flighty silliness was real.  Eddie had given up acting like a doctor around her.  She might as well have been the absentee proprietor of a somewhat run-down bed and breakfast.  I wondered again if I could trust her with my secrets.

Forty-three

I did it, I did it, I did it!  Gray is trapped, and I am not dead!  I lean my head against the door, right near where Gray has just started banging on it.  In a few minutes I’m going to have the second biggest charley horse in the history of man, I think.  It’s hard to breathe, in a running-too-much kind of way.

“Get away from the door,” Lexi,” Doctor Edward says.  I am happy to oblige, and slide off of the fridge.  He has a bit of an argument with Nikki, but I don’t pay much attention to them.  I stare at the ceiling, and the light, which has gotten very jagged around the edges, like everything’s vibrating.  Nikki and Doctor Edward’s voices seem to vibrate, too, it used to get like this sometimes before I knew Ren, it’s a panic attack.  I wade through the shrieking air, find the counter, and lean against it.  Gray’s trapped, I’ve actually done what I needed to do, and now I can be terrified about the danger I was in, about the danger I’ve been in.  It all hits me at once.  My knees go all wobbly and it’s hard to breathe and everything gets fuzzy and brittle and I start to curl up, thinking that Ren will come and hold me and knowing on some awful level (third floor, Reality and Grief, watch your step as you leave the elevator please) that he won’t, he never will again.  

The door cracks.  Doctor Edward has a gun and it’s pointed in that direction.  That’s too bad.  I liked that door.  It’s not going to hold Gray, though, so I unplug the toaster and wrap the cord around my hand. 

Gray breaks through a moment later.  She looks terrible, what with the burns and flour and bloody scratches and all of the other mean things I did to her.  Her nose is swelling up and one of her eyes is almost puffed shut, and I feel really terrible about all of that for half a second.  Then she comes through the door like a Rottweiler and jumps on Nikki.  Nikki falls down, not a surprise considering her shot leg, and the two of them tussle on the floor not three feet from me.  Gray gets the upper hand quickly, literally, she rolls Nikki over and gets up on her knees with a fist in the air, about to descend, and I let her have it with the toaster right before she lets the punch drop.

There’s an awful but satisfying jolt of impact, and Gray tumbles off of Nikki.  Before I can repeat the performance though, she’s taken it away from me.  I expect to get my face stove in with it but she starts hitting Nikki with it instead.  Ye gods, that’s not what I wanted!  I grab Nikki’s hands, which are flailing, and start dragging her backward, away from the attack, and then there’s a sort of WHUMP-WHAP and my chin and cheek and the top of my head go numb, and I’m looking at the ceiling.

I have a moment of clarity and I hear Bill Murray say, “The bitch hit me with a toaster,” and it should be funny because it didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would.  But it’s not funny, because I was wrong, it does hurt as much as I thought it would, more even, I think she actually hit me twice and it’s the kind of hurt that makes the rest of the world go away for a while, even though someone’s firing a gun over your head.

I look up after the first BLAM.  The fight’s still going on, never mind the ringing in my ears and the fact that I can feel every single one of my teeth singing a song of pain in a different key.  Did I bite my tongue off?  Nikki’s still in danger, curled up hurt on the floor.  Gray’s not looking at her, she’s looking at Doctor Edward and his smoking gun.  I grab Nikki and drag her away again.  Oh, glorious my head hurts.  There are loud noises and flashing lights and the kitchen seems to have come apart in big pieces around me; I see overturned chairs, I see the lights, I smell ozone, I’m kneeling on the floor in the dining room and Nikki is next to me, trying to push herself up, and she’s saying something but I can’t make out the words.  Am I conscious?

My head is bleeding.  It hurts.  I look at the floor and don’t think about it.  I feel a squeeze on my shoulder, like my father’s hand, but when I look up there’s nothing there and I’ve moved my head far too fast, the world takes a big jump to the left and a skip to the right and I don’t want to do the Time Warp again. 

Suddenly Malice is there.  She bumps my hand with her head, and I let her onto my lap.  The cat makes the world go away a little bit.  It’s not enough but it’s a start.  I want some hot chocolate.  I tilt my head so I don’t drip blood on Malice.  Gray is lying on the floor, on her face.  Did I do that?  I don’t remember it happening.  Eddie and Nikki lift her to drag her away, and she’s limp.  The blood running into my eyes and running out of her hair makes it look as though her face is sliding off.

I don’t want to move, but the floor is wobbly and I feel like I’m moving anyway, so I might as well.  I look for the teapot so I can make hot chocolate.  It’s in the corner, where it bounced after I threw it at Gray, and then…oh, right, the stove blew up.  The burners are scattered everywhere, and the pilot light is out, and there’s oil all over the floor and wall.  I almost slip and fall.  Stupid fucking stove.  Stupid fucking house, stupid fucking fake Eurotrash girlfriend.  I’m the one whose life has fallen apart, and people can’t be bothered to leave me alone so I can deal with it.  It’s not as though they didn’t ignore me before Ren died, what’s so special about me now?  People are attracted to tragedy like flies on shit, and it makes me mad.  They want your money, or they want your body, or they want a crack at your goddamn inheritance, or they want everyone else to see how wonderful they are for helping you, as though they need references to get into heaven.

I think I’ve said some of that out loud.  Oh, well.  God, my head hurts.  The world goes away for a moment, and I blink it back into focus.  I want hot chocolate.  I need to make hot chocolate, and then I need to clean up the goddamn kitchen.

There’s a plate on the counter, unbroken.  It’s a white plate with a wide black border, with a pattern of brightly colored fruits in the black.  Ren and I picked them out, we pretended we were shopping for a registry and wanted to annoy his mother by registering at K-Mart.  I suddenly can’t stand the sight of the thing, and I grab it and throw it on the floor as hard as I can.  The plate explodes on the hardwood and it’s a wonderful noise, a wonderful sight.  I see another one, and send it to its death, too.  And another.  They’re scattered all over the counter and I want to destroy them all, I don’t ever want to look at them again.

“I should just burn this house to the ground and start over again,” I hear myself say, and my voice is all syrupy with crying, my face screwed up and miserable, I’m sure.  Nikki is looking back at me, her expression miserable and guilty and frightened.  “Myself, too.  I wish I could see the right ghosts.  All the wrong ones keep showing up.”

She snatches the next plate out of my hands.  No, wait, it’s Doctor Edward.  He steers me away from the counter.  I pull away from him, spin back and kill another plate.  He doesn’t fucking understand, I don’t want to look at them any more and he’s lucky I’m not throwing them out the window, they’re not allowed in my goddamn house any more.

I’m shouting.  I’m shouting so loud my throat hurts, and I really can’t stop.  Crumbs.  On some level I’m aware that I’m a mess, both physically and emotionally, but I don’t care, I’m not finished and they’ve got to let me finish, because then this can be finished, the angry-snake is alive again and this time it wants to take me with it.

When I realize this, I get very frightened.  Doctor Edward offers me a glass of milk, and I don’t refuse it, even though I can see the swirls on the surface that mean there’s probably a pill in it.

Yeah, there is.  This is the last one then; I’m shoving the next one up the ass of whoever offers it to me.  But maybe it’s a good thing, for right now.

Swish-click. I’m driving a Range Rover that doesn’t belong to me, with Doctor Edward riding shotgun and Nikki in the back seat and dead folk in the back.  I ask Doctor Edward about possibly keeping the Range Rover, when we’re through, but he makes some good points about it belonging to international spies who might track me down.  Driving makes the pink cloud go away enough that I won’t run into anything, but nothing that I’m saying seems to stick, only the general gist of the conversation stays with me. 

Swish-click.  Something nasty just happened, something involving a stump grinder out back of Sir William’s house.  AUGH.  Birthday party, cheesecake, jellybean, boom, I’m angry at Doctor Edward for giving me a pill, but at the same time, I’m grateful.  Maybe I’ll forget this.

Swish-click.  I’m at the wheel of the Range Rover again and I’m following Doctor Edward (who’s driving Sir William’s mid-Fifties-vintage International pick-em-up) through the dark to some mysterious place.  It’s snowing again, and I plow through a halo of fat snowflakes, drive up a tunnel through all the white, following the little red taillights of Sir William’s old truck.  Has this night been going on forever, or does it just seem like it has?  For a moment I feel like there’s someone in the truck with me, two or three someones, and then they’re gone.

Swish-click.  Home again.  Bed.  Do you want to wash your face Lexi.  I ignore the question, the only thing that matters right now is finishing Ren’s car, I can wash my face later.  I curl up on top of the covers and dream of intubation, masturbation and evisceration.