Twenty

The front door opens some time near dark and Ian comes in.  He brings me a tasty-looking bowl of applesauce complete with a swirl of cinnamon, before he even takes his coat off, and I’m so touched that I’ve eaten half of it before I notice the nasty pill-taste.  “What did you have to go and do that for?” I ask him.  “You could’ve just given it to me.”

By this time Dr. Zheng has heard Ian, and he starts banging on his door again.  Ian looks up, with a frown.  “Charlie called me and said you threw something at him.”

“Of course I did,” I tell Ian.  “He shot me up with some kind of drug that knocked me out for two days.  Take him with you when you leave, or I’ll throw something else at him.”

Ian looks at me with a half-smile, like I’m kidding, but I don’t think I am.  He goes upstairs to free the doctor, and I stay in the wingback chair and wait for the pink clouds to come back.  I hope they don’t, but they do.  Yarbles.

Swish-click.  I’m still in the chair, and it’s even darker outside.  There’s a big crack-crash upstairs, and the sound of coins falling all over the floor.  I laugh a lot.

Pink cloud time.  I dream of Marion again.  I’m standing on a hill in the woods, probably somewhere behind my house where there are seven hundred acres that belong to Marion and now, presumably, to me.  She’s kneeling on the ground, which is covered by years’ worth of fallen leaves, and she brushes some of them aside to reveal a stone square in the dirt.

I kneel to see also, and see that it’s not stone, it’s mortar.  Old, old mortar.  Marion brushes at the dirt and leaves around it, and it falls away like sand to reveal that it’s the top of a chimney, sticking out of the ground.  I look into the chimney, but it’s full of dirt as well.  I open my mouth to ask her why, why there’s a chimney buried in the ground in her (my) woods, but nothing comes out and the dream breaks up.

Still in the chair.  My legs have fallen asleep, but it’s daylight again.  The clouds are angry and solid gray, like they’re full of snow.  They probably are.  The library is cooler than usual, and I have a disconnected thought about getting some kind of weatherproofing for the windows.  The thought is sucked down into pink goo.

I hear voices in the kitchen, so I get up and walk through the TV room and down the back hall to hear them.  It’s Ian and Dr. Zheng and two voices I don’t know.

“What did she do?” a female voice asks.  It’s a whispery voice.

“She was twirling in the ballroom, as if she thought she was in a nightclub.  Perhaps it would have been more constructive to ask her why she was doing it, but at the time I saw that she was out of control and she was going to hurt herself if she continued.  I restrained her.  When she woke up, she attacked me,” Zheng says.  “She’s talked threateningly before, but this is the first time she’s become violent.  She threw a wrench at me.  When I went to my room to get another Thorazine shot for her, she locked me in.”

Thorazine?  He gave me Thorazine?  I almost get mad all over again, but my pink cloud keeps the angry-snake hidden and asleep.

“She jammed pennies into the doorframe,” Ian says.  “It wedged the latch in so tight I had to knock them loose with a hammer and chisel.”

The other unfamiliar voice, loud and very everyone’s-buddy like John Goodman’s, says, “I’ll keep an eye on my loose change.”  He sounds like he’s trying not to laugh, too.

“Your car keys, too.  She stole my car Wednesday.”  That’s Dr. Zheng.

“I thought she was on downers?”  That’s the new voice.

“She is.  She got about five miles before she wrecked it.  I wish I could stay, to work with her some more.  I’ve got a journal article partly written, but I’m afraid that her hostility toward me is going to make it impossible for me to do any further study.  If you could send me updates though, I’d appreciate it.  I’ll leave her file and my notes, so you can read through the patterns that that I saw.  I’m not sure what caused her to finally turn on me, but maybe you’ll see something that I didn’t…”  That’s Dr. Zheng again.  It’s getting hard to follow the conversation.

“As long as she gets her pill, she’s fine,” Ian says.  The female voice asks another question, and he answers it, but I lose track of what they’re saying until Ian says, “The plan is to get her out of this house and closer to Detroit.  I’ll be able to care for her better there.”  What?  I don’t want to move closer to Detroit.  Not that I don’t like Detroit, but I like my house, too.  When did I agree to move to Detroit?  I don’t think I did.  They seem to drop into mumbles again.  “Help yourself to anything in the fridge,” Ian says.  “I can tell you how to get to the store.  We have a lot of the basics already, but you should stock up before the snow really sets in.”  He’s right about that.  I look out the back windows at the steely storm clouds again.  Ren and I moved up here partly because of the snow.  I hope for a brutal, evil snow.  A snow that’ll wipe out the whole world, figuratively.

“It’s already snowing,” the woman says.  “A little late to tell us.”

“No, it’s barely started.  It’s supposed to be a bad one.  We’re leaving tonight, so we don’t get snowed in.”

Amy-Ann brushes past my legs, rubbing her scent on me, and then goes into the kitchen.  Ian and the new guy say something about touring the house, and I hear three sets of feet clump off toward the foyer, then upstairs.

When they’re up, I go all the way back around the house, through TV room and library and foyer and ballroom and dining room, and enter the kitchen from the opposite side.  The woman whom I heard talking is sitting at the table.  She’s tiny, with short dark hair and cool low-budget goth-girl clothes and makeup.  She turns to look at me and her eyes are a wonderful deep dark blue.  I think she’s close to my age, but with her small frame and round face and big eyes she could pass for anything between thirteen and thirty and I like her instantly.  I want to say something to her, but the pink goo makes it hard and that’s kind of frustrating.

She gets the first word.  “Hello, Miss Crane.  I’m Nicole.  I’m Dr. Sharp’s assistant.  We’re going to be replacing Dr. Zheng.”

That makes me smile, and she smiles back.  There’s something funny and contradictory about a smile on a goth girl, but it works.  I also like that Ian is getting rid of the rotten doctor.  “Welcome…to my little winter wonderland,” I say.  “That would make me…Alex.  Alex in Wonderland.”