Wednesday, August 02, 2006
A little horror-gothic Fiction for your day (from 2004): Waiting
She waited for me by the car – frazzled reddish hair to her shoulders, dark circles under ice-blue eyes, and magenta fuzzy slippers that had stepped into too many rain puddles. The expression on her face echoed the tearing away of patience. I shoved my hands deep into the pockets of my faded jeans, hunched my shoulders to burrow into my sweatshirt, and looked across the parking lot reflecting the edges of dawn. I walked in the mist, ready for the big kiss-off, knowing I wouldn’t get it.
This was maybe the twentieth time she picked me up from a Los Angeles County emergency room: a flare-up of one disorder or another…a busted hand from a fight…the occasional overdose. Tonight’s diagnosis: failure to take medication in a timely manner.
I shuffled along cracked asphalt, counting the steps.
“Sixty-five. Sixty-six. Sixty…sixty-eight…oh, double-step…”
She hadn’t changed positions since step number twenty-two. Not a shifting from her right leg to her left or an adjustment of her arm or anything.
Leaning up against the car door, she waited as if there were the smallest chance this would be the last time. Waited, as if something different were going to happen tomorrow, next week, the week after. I wondered if she did it out of love or masochism. Maybe we’re all masochists in love with ourselves, with suffering. Maybe there are millions standing by their cars…waiting.
I looked like shit after more-than-a-few hours on a gurney recovering from the effects of having missed days of one of my epilepsy meds. Oh hell, it was the one series of pills I thought I could skip. Gets tiring, day in and day out, to take so many. A cashier found me behind Von’s having grand mal seizures. I knew something bad was happening when the color of the world altered and I started smelling funny things. Last word I remember: oops.
After I called Jory, after having been poked and prodded and given a CAT scan, I lay on my side imagining the process of her leaving. She’d drag herself out of bed, throw on clothes, and grab the keys she hid in the microwave oven. She’d walk down the three flights of stairs of our apartment building, and start up the VW bug. We got a 1968 piece of crap that barely runs – probably only had a little gas. There’d have been mild cursing when she read the gauge.
I hated dialing home. You wouldn’t think so. Guilt lived with me the way a slug lives in a garden: for the most part it’s ignored, but most likely it’ll end up mush under a muddy boot. So…why hesitate?
Her voice had told me she wasn’t awake. ‘Course not – it was four a.m.
“Hey, babe…I’m at the hospital…pick me up?”
“Shit, not again. Time is it…Jesus.”
She paused and had me hanging by my fingernails on a plank of hope…and worry. I could practically see the locks of hair in her eyes, her big pink t-shirt with red balloons that said, “Love my balloons too hard and I’ll pop all over you.” Underneath, she wore grandma-style, matching pink panties. No bra. The get-up was her favorite sleeping gear. She’d gotten ready to tell me to go fuck myself. I heard the scrunching up of her mouth.
“Yeah, okay…I gotta bring cash?”
Another sigh. “You all right?”
“Yeah.” She didn’t ask what happened, maybe out of relief that it wasn’t jail or the psych ward.
I reached the car in one hundred forty-three steps.
“Hey, beautiful,” I said, trying to sound normal, a chore for glitches in the norm. That's me, a glitch. I came into this life a “preemie” weighing ten pounds and measuring 23-inches…with a birthday six months from my parents’ wedding date. I grew up under the gaze of Nebraska Baptists who looked at me as if I were unfinished…a horrific miscalculation…sin itself. My parents probably felt the same way, going on to have more kids, each one a wonderful improvement on the last. In the end, they had one lawyer, one minister, a pediatrician, a veterinarian, and … someone they didn’t like to think about.
“Just get in,” Jory snapped. I slumped in the seat, fiddled with the heater. We drove in silence. Suddenly, she made a turn I wasn’t familiar with.
She didn’t explain, keeping her eyes on the road. She wore an old, no-longer-white ski parka we’d picked up in a thrift shop last year. Blue fake fur lined the cap and the color reminded me of a movie McDonalds whored itself for a couple of years ago, something about monsters running a corporation. That was it – she looked like a blue, fuzzy monster turned inside out. Or maybe more like she skinned a blue monster and now wore his fur as a token of triumph. I swallowed hard, thankful to have at least kept up the bipolar meds. Glancing down, I read the stickers Jory put on the glove compartment: Free the Whales, Life’s a Bitch then You Die, Put Christ Back in Christmas, I Don’t Break for Pedestrians.
I have one bumper sticker, and I usually affix it figuratively to my ass: boo fucking hoo.
“Just tell me where we’re going.”
“What about work? Isn’t old Bob gonna miss you?” Jory was an executive assistant, a nice word for a secretary. She got paid all right – not enough. I was too disabled to work or drive or do anything. I looked at Jory, wondering again why she put up with me.
“It’s technically Saturday. I don’t work on weekends.”
We finally got on a freeway, and I saw we were headed toward Palmdale, toward the Mojave Desert, a delightful monopoly of sand and dirt and plants nobody would want in their backyard. I mumbled about how I was going to straighten up. I’d be as clean and as organized as the miles of smooth emptiness we were traversing now. Low traffic and blacktop lit by morning accompanied my chattering. The putter of the bug’s engine gave me visions of a tow truck coming to our rescue.
She pulled off an exit, but I didn’t catch the name of the street. I tried, craning my neck to see. She drove slowly, looking around even though there wasn’t much of a vista. The sun started to warm me, so I shut the heater off.
“There it is,” she said softly, taking a sharp right onto an unpaved road. The car bumped and thumped and jumped, forcing Jory to shift into a lower gear.
“Shut up,” she hissed.
“Hey, baby, I’m gonna change, you know?” It was hard to believe I actually said such incredibly distasteful, not to mention cliché, words.
“I know that – I’m gonna change, too.”
“What you talkin’ about, Willis?” I watched a lot of “Nick at Nite.” That Willis line was from this one show about a white dad adopting a witty black boy and his older brother. The youngest kid, the witty one, was…really short. I guess the program spoke to a universal problem – deep inside, we’re all…really short.
I did. I’d tried to clean up my act several times during our two-year relationship. Once I stayed in a rehab for two whole days. I didn’t like the food. She never overtly asked me to stop any of my doings. She ached over it, made faces at me of impatience, yet she never said, “Stop.”
She watched the road and slowed the car. Her closed lips stretched to the side in a satisfied grin, and she nodded while narrowing her eyes. We’d finally reached her destination: a large, abandoned, ranch-style house. The windows were busted, and once-decorative shutters hung like petrified flags that died on a windless day. The roof was flat with white and gray rocks scattered across the top, and the tan paint was peeling – a sunny day’s ruination. Tall, lanky stalks of dead yellow weeds emerged from an ocean of bulbous cactus.
Jory got out, stretched her arms, and said, “Isn’t this wonderful?”
“I don’t think so. Shouldn’t we get back?”
“No…this is your lucky day. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”
I think that line was on our freezer door. I argued, “Isn’t every day the first day? I mean, if you think about it…”
She pounced on me, “You don’t understand. Last night’s foray was your last.” She walked over to a planter that looked like an old well and pulled out a long rope. “Did you know I won first place for calf-roping when I was twelve?”
I ran like hell…except she got to me and within seconds I was…well, roped. I couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe – I panicked. She put her knee somewhere up near my shoulder – she was resting. My cheek pressed into sand.
“Whooo-wee…you’re a tough one.”
“Jory…what’s the matter? What did I do different?”
“It’s not that it was different…it’s that it was the same. You almost had me fooled. Last time I had to pick you up from urgent care was over two months ago. I almost thought you turned a corner.”
“But it’s our joke, babe…you know…I’m a recidivist. I thought you liked that.”
“Yeah…I got into the codependence, I liked rescuing you…I liked that you felt better around me. All your hurts would seem to fade away when we were together. Your smile was precious because you rarely showed it to anyone.” She bent low and whispered hotly in my ear, “You made me feel so special.”
“You are special…”
“You got that right.”
She stood and got a hold of my fettered elbow. Dragged me across the lot toward the front door. Once at the entrance, she pulled me inside. My shirt slipped upwards and my heaving chest scraped along what used to be nice linoleum. Gold colors, yellows, mustards. A 1970’s house gone bad. Sliding along the no-longer-shimmering lines, I realized I was being sacrificed. I was a slug about to be squashed.
Finally, I came to a rest. Jory sat cross-legged several feet away. She was in the middle of what used to be a kitchen. The stove, the oven, the fixtures, the sink were gone – even the cabinet doors were gone. There used to be a counter for food preparation or for putting vases on or for papers to get ready for sorting…the top had been sheared off. I supposed Formica had value on the black market. I looked at the sliding glass doors. Someone had spray-painted in black on the right-hand side, Junipero was here.
“Do you remember where we met?” Jory hugged her knees and eyed me.
“Intersection of Grand and Ninth.”
“You were completely lost. Delusional. You asked me if I was from Mars...then you decided I was an angel because of the halo.”
“You are an angel!”
“I remember coming to see you at the psych ward after a week or so. You were so much better. We had coffee after you got out, and you wrote a poem to me. I cried. We walked hand-in-hand…and you smiled…and asked me for my number. I wrote it on a dollar bill, the only paper I had. You walked away backwards, wagging the money. You affected me.”
“We met for lots of food. Lunches, breakfasts, dinners.”
“Yes…we fed each other. We became a pair…we had heart. You moved in, you took care of the finances – you helped make my shack a home. Then the hospital visits started. One year to the date. Once you had me in your grip.”
“You’re saying I set you up?”
“It took some time for me to figure it out. You slowly moved into my life – first the dates, then the clothes being left, then you – followed by the draining.”
“But that’s how ALL relationships go!”
She had it wrong. I hadn’t set her up. I just got comfortable, I started to be myself, someone who just happened to indulge in my essential uselessness. I expounded on the trait – built it up to an art form.
She left. I called for her. I heard her re-enter the room. Her furred feet stopped at my head, one foot lifting and then landing on top of the other. The whole thing made me wonder how she did that without falling over, forcing me to look up. I saw she had a sledgehammer to lean on.
“This house,” she said, “is your brain – devoid of furnishings, fresh paint, and love – no class. Oh there’s potential, but the end result is the same. The walls still hold nothing.”
She lifted the hammer above her head and slammed it down to my right. My heart raced, I breathed the breaths of a runner at the end of a sprint, I sweated the sweat of a marathoner – I couldn’t talk. I wanted to beg for my life, I wanted to say I’d paid for all my wrongs.
She lifted the hammer again and crashed it against the floor causing a vibration behind my eyes. Liquid leaked like helium out of a balloon. I expected her to start talking in a high-pitch voice…because my head was as fragile as expanded latex…certainly helium kept me standing normally.
Sniffling snorts answered her.
“You know, it would have been nice if even once you said, thank you.”
She lifted the hammer way above her head and the metal hunk landed near my ear. She moaned…almost ecstatically. She sauntered to the painted hearth and pulled on something. I soon saw thick, black hooks cemented into the mortared bricks.
The helium in my head started to pour out, through my nose, my mouth, my eyes. Liquid leaked into my jeans. Before long I’d be the remains of a kiddie party…red, popped latex…useless, used. I hiccupped in fear.
She dragged me across the floor in short, rough jerks. Pausing, she rubbed her chin with her hand then left again. I inched away from the looming, medieval hooks. Christ, how’d she do it? When? How’d she find the place? Sweet, angelic Jory…so delicate in the way she ate a bagel topped with cream cheese, biting down carefully to avoid a mess, licking the corners of her mouth. She had a strawberry tongue – round shapes would mark up the pink if she ate something that disagreed with her chemistry.
I was moving again, being dragged back into place. Another rope was wrapped around me. Suddenly, I was being lifted, heaved upwards. At last I was hanging, swaying. Jory worked some more ties until I could no longer move. I was cocooned in hemp rope and held in place by the hooks.
She explained, “Here you’ll stay, my dear, hopeless man. You’re now in a place where you can think on your deficiencies. You’ll be free to reflect on how you can better yourself – the many areas in which there might be room for improvement. In time, I’m sure you’ll feel remorse, gratefulness for the times I rescued you.”
Somewhere, I found my voice. “Jory, baby…I always appreciated the love you gave. Please, don’t do me this way. I’ll make it up to you!”
“I understand you can’t help the epilepsy…or that you’re bipolar. Your brain works against you. The system, our government, doesn’t help. They keep you disabled, remove your power. So many things are in your way.”
She smiled hugely, “However, I believe in you. I believe you can overcome. I believe in your strength as a person – as a man.”
I dribbled the remaining helium from my balloon of a soul, deflating. I thought maybe if I really became flat, I could fall out of the bindings. Such wasn’t the case. I’d be left…hanging on a string, leftovers from a party waiting to be trashed. I found myself wailing.
“Oh no. No, no, no. Don’t cry. What did you really have to look forward to? Sitting around our apartment watching TV, getting stoned on drugs, playing Russian Roulette with your medications, making fun of the neighbors?”
“That’s a kind of life!” I warbled.
She sighed. Picked up the sledge hammer and swung at the wall next to the brick hearth where I was, causing a shower of plaster from the ceiling. She danced around the room, smashing the other walls, whooping it up. As the haze from the dust cleared, I caught sight of something huddled in the skeleton of a cupboard. Ropes. Jeans. A red plaid, flannel shirt. They were very…sandy. I clapped my eyes on Jory.
“Jor…sweetie…you never told me what happened to your last boyfriend. You know, the Canadian paraplegic?”
She blinked. Smiled sadly. Shook her head.
“He was so ungrateful.”
The sun is now setting, and I’ve had no water, no food, no love or understanding. There’s no need to piss, because all the helium is gone. I’m deflated. The desert is a serene place. The house is far enough from the city so you can’t hear any evidence of civilization. Coyotes bark and howl their sad tales. Lizards scramble along the floor. The weeds and cactus plants are still and hum eternal tones.
I think of a future where I will wake up, take my meds, and dress. I’ll sit at our breakfast table with a bright yellow mug of coffee and eat a bowl of fortified cereal. Jory and I will chat about our love-making the night before, and we’ll dish the shocking political battle being reported on the radio. I’ll get up when we finish and help clean the kitchen. I’ll kiss her goodbye and whisper a “thank you.” I’ll walk to the stop where I’ll take the local to my next job. Or to an appointment with a counselor. Or to a place that will make me feel inflated…alive…valuable. I will thrive on my independence.
I picture these things. I think it’s possible…such a life. I’ll just have to wait for that time to come while I hang here, trussed.