Irene turned at the door and screamed so ferociously that bloody spittle flew from her mouth, chasing the words. “You’re a bitter old hag, and I hate you!” She slammed the door and threw herself on her bed, sobbing her heart out.
Her mother, Diane, sat serenely on the middle of the couch, leaving the cushions to either side of her undisturbed. She blinked in the direction of Irene’s room, but that was the only indication she gave of having witnessed the outburst.
After a moment, she uncrossed her ankles, rose from the sofa, and walked swiftly to her own room, where she lay on her back and crossed her arms over her chest. A single tear tracked a line through the layers of makeup coating her skin.
While Diane lay calmly in her bed, Irene’s rage grew and grew. Distressing thoughts began to intrude on her, and she couldn’t push them away this time, like she’d always been able to do before.
Thoughts of pain. Thoughts of vengeance. Thoughts of murder.
Eventually, each of the women fell asleep in their beds. The silence echoed through the house all night long until the morning, when it was broken by the alarm on Irene’s phone.
Irene dragged herself out of bed and to her bathroom where she regarded her swollen eyes with anguish. It would never do to show this face in public. She quickly texted her best friend that she wouldn’t be at school, and she went back to bed without waiting for a response.
The school would call her mother, true, but Diane probably wouldn’t answer her phone anyway. Irene knew that she was well under the limit of unexcused absences, and she also knew that she wouldn’t see her mother for at least three days. The older woman always hid after a fight of that magnitude.
Irene thought back to the words she couldn’t take back: I’m not worthless, you are. You would be nothing without me. You won’t even walk to the mailbox, so you can’t even send out checks to pay the bills. They tasted flavorful enough, but they could have used a bit more seasoning.
After all, what is the proper response when one’s own mother calls her only daughter, a straight-A student, a worthless imbecile with the wrong priorities, someone who will never amount to anything in life no matter how hard she tries? Irene felt that words a little stronger would have been quite in order.
Last night was my second night at my new job. I showed up knowing that I was the only closing driver, but what no one had told me was that I was the only driver from five until close.
So I started off easy, but then it got a little busier. I took a single run, then a double, then a triple, then another triple with another triple waiting to be cooked.
When I pulled up at my eighth delivery, I got out and started to trot up to the front door. I heard someone calling, but they weren’t near enough for me to make out what they were saying. I looked around, and I didn’t see anyone. I ignored it, because jeez, I’m in a good sized neighborhood around dinnertime. There’s all kinds of hollering going on.
I hopped up the steps and knocked on the door, and I heard it again. It sounded like they were possibly talking to me; I heard a woman’s voice calling ma’am, ma’am. My customer hadn’t answered the door yet, so I turned in a circle, scanning up and down the street.
Half a block away and across the street, nearly hidden behind a blossoming tree, I finally caught a glimpse of someone in a dress, outside with a dog. Help me. Was she struggling with the dog? I couldn’t see very well, since the tree was in the way. She started walking, slowly.
I watched the girl stagger out into the street, and I could see that she was splashed with red stains. She was holding her left arm out in front of her body, and there was a large dark stain near her wrist. It felt like I was watching the scene unfold on a screen before me; I mean, who hurts themselves inside and then comes outside for help? Phones are inside. She wasn’t running; she wasn’t acting at all like a person had hurt her. She wasn’t afraid of someone catching up to her and doing worse to her.
None of this was making sense.
My customer, an old woman walking with a cane, opened her door as the girl began calling again. Ma’am. I asked if she had her phone with her, as I had left mine in my car. I said it looked like the girl was covered in blood, and that I thought calling 911 would be a good idea. My customer shuffled out onto her porch and peered around the corner.
“No, I didn’t bring my phone with me to the door but–” Her eyes widened when she saw the girl. “I’ll get it.”
I was still standing there, holding the pizza like an asshole.
The girl was coming closer, the dog with her. She paused every few steps to call the dog back to her. When the girl was on the sidewalk next door, the dog broke away and ran up to me, on the porch, and tried to get into my customer’s house. She shooed it away with her cane, and I blocked it from the doorway while she talked to the emergency services dispatcher.
The girl was now in front of the house, pacing back and forth, talking more, shifting her complaints in rotation. It hurts. I can’t feel my hand. Please, my dogs are killing each other. I’m moving. It hurts. My dogs.
My customer and I encouraged her to sit down right where she was, as she was beginning to sway. Another neighbor from across the street came outside and I reassured her that my customer was on the phone with 911. The girl was begging someone to call her dad, and the neighbor ran to get her phone and call the girl’s father.
I opened my trunk to see if I had any towels, old shirts, anything to apply pressure to her wounds. I found a small dishtowel, but I estimated that it was large enough.
I was finally able to get a good enough look at the girl; she was definitely in shock. She’d been bitten quite badly on her left forearm, at least twice, but the bleeding on one had stopped long enough to have dried, and the other was oozing slowly. Her palms were both the dark maroon of dry blood and gray and white bits of fur were plastered to them. Her dress was bloody and furry. She was crying again that her dogs were killing each other inside her house and would someone please go stop them.
Obviously none of us were willing to go deal with those dogs, seeing what they’d done to her.
My customer was still on her porch, leaning on her cane, hollering advice, trying to calm the girl down, and pointing out that she’d ordered a Dr Pepper with her pizza. I’d forgotten her Dr Pepper in my car, so I brought it to her. She put it inside the door and slowly made her way down the sidewalk.
I stepped back out into the street to see if anyone was coming yet. A police officer had just turned onto the street, so I waved to let him know where we were. I told the girl that he was coming. When he pulled up and got out, her dog ran straight up to him, and I felt a moment of panic when he reached for his gun.
The girl screamed no, the dog turned to run back to her, and the cop relaxed. The neighbor took the girl’s dog and dragged it back towards her own home, to keep it out of the way.
Sirens sounded nearby, so I looked back up the street and the fire truck was turning our way. They slowed at a corner a couple blocks up, checking for addresses, so I waved to them as well.
The cop asked what happened, and she told him that her dogs were fighting. The fire truck pulled up and the EMTs rushed to surround her. The cop took a step back so I grabbed the opportunity and asked him if I needed to stay, because I was at work. He took in my hat and shirt and nametag, furrowed his brow, and asked, “You’re at work?”
I told him yes, that I was delivering here, and pointed at the house. I continued my synopsis: while I was at the door, this girl came out bleeding, and I asked my customer to call you since my phone was in my car, but you’re all here now, and well, I actually have another delivery in my car that I’ll need to call the store about if I need to stay.
Since I hadn’t made the 911 call, he agreed that there was no need for me to stay. He wrote down my name, birth date, and phone number and thanked me.
I hope the girl is okay.
At my next stop, my customer made a joke that they hoped I hadn’t gotten in an accident with their pizza; they’d heard the sirens. Yeah, ha-ha. Good one.
Alison rifled through the detritus littering the bottom of her purse a moment longer before giving up and dumping the whole mess on the coffee table.
“I can’t find the tickets to save my life, Liza, I’m so sorry,” Alison apologized to her friend. The tone of her voice was contrite, but the fury with which she continued to shuffle through her belongings betrayed another, overbearing feeling of discontent. “Let me check my wallet again.”
Liza leaned back into the waiting comfort of the couch and continued to watch the scene unfold, feeling completely disconnected even though without her presence, Alison would still be asleep. She kept her mouth shut, knowing better than to waste her breath on sentences that Alison would never hear in her current emotional state.
“Ta-da!” Alison called in a sing-song, bursting with pride to have found the tickets that she was sure she’d thrown in the trash with the series of receipts that marched constantly through her belongings. “I was positive they were in there!”
Liza smiled mildly, more amused by Alison’s reaction than impressed by the actual discovery of the tickets. She pulled her feet back and stood up, arching her back in a stretch that popped her back three times in a row, like gunshots in the new silence. “Let’s go then,” she said.
Alison cocked her head to the side. “Don’t you even want to know what we’re going to see?” she asked her friend.
“Nope. It’s more fun when it’s a surprise. And besides, even if it turns out to be some horrible hypnotist, if I don’t know who we’re going to see, I can blame all of my discontent on you.” Liza smiled again, more sweetly this time, but with a hint of venomous honesty.
“I swear, Liza, I’m through apologizing for that lackluster son of a bitch that we wasted nearly a hundred bucks on. That was three years ago, for crying out loud, and he was so highly reviewed in that Examiner article. You can’t put all the blame on me. I won’t take it.” Alison was so upset that she was mangling those poor abused tickets in the hand fisted at her side. Her purse swung loosely from her shoulder, empty of her belongings.
Liza scooped up Alison’s wallet from the mess on the table. “Put the tickets in the change compartment. I’ll grab your keys.”
Alison’s jaw dropped when she realized that Liza was utterly refusing to rise to the occasion and fight about the ventriloquist they’d seen at the Lake Theater. It would have been the fourteenth time they’d fought about it; two more and Alison would probably have paid Liza to drop the whole thing once and for all. But she didn’t consciously understand that. It was more a feeling of poison ivy, itching just behind her right temple every time Liza brought up that spectacularly failed girls’ night out.
A reflected flash of light blinded Alison as Liza paused at the door, swinging Alison’s keys around and around the first finger of her left hand. “Get it, girl. Shoes on, show’s starting.” Liza winked and walked out of the apartment without bothering to make sure that Alison was following instructions.
Alison slipped into her pumps and trotted obediently behind her friend, locking the door behind her on her way out.
Lester lay in his bed, flat on his back, staring blankly at the water-stained ceiling. His thoughts, however, were far from this small room. Just about thirty-four miles from there, in fact.
His hands gripped the sheet and began to pull, as his mind imagined that it wasn’t his sheet he grasped, but his next victim’s dress. Maybe she would be a dancer. He hated dancers. Lester smiled to himself. Perhaps the next one would put up a fight. He hadn’t had a good fighter in a long time.
He drifted off to sleep, the sheets tangled and twisted around sweaty fingers.
I look around the circle of faces, but no one in the group was remotely familiar to me. The doctors tried to shove it all under the rug of amnesia after my accident, but somehow, I know better. This is more than just a bump on my head. A lot more.
And they won’t listen. Such gloriously educated and highly respected medical professionals, and they just won’t listen to me. Because I’m nobody.
I’m nobody, who are you? Are you nobody too?
Every now and then a whisper rings true, a faint tickle on my temporal lobe. It’s like the prophetic dark clouds hovering over me, eagerly awaiting the right moment to release their rain droplets. And then it’s gone, like nothing ever happened. Like the only things I’ve ever known are the things that I can remember now.
These precious few.
Sometimes when I close my eyes there’s a shack in the woods. I don’t know if I lived there or not, if I built it or not, if it’s real or not. Sometimes when I close my eyes it’s all darkness, and I have to open them again and turn on all the lights or else I’ll scream and scream and scream.
Silence. I forgot that I was in group therapy right now. They must be waiting for me to talk. I hate it when it’s my turn. I don’t have anything to say. I don’t remember if we’re still doing introductions. Did I already say my name today? Not that it matters anyway, not in a group for a bunch of people with brain damage.
I stand up.
“Kristy Patterson, 26, car accident.”
I sit down.
They’re still looking at me. We must be past the introductions and on to some topic or other.
“I don’t remember what we’re talking about.”
This is the only place I can say that and nobody makes me think about why I don’t remember. Nobody wants to know what I was doing with the few brain cells that still work instead of paying attention to whatever it is I’m supposed to be paying attention to. It’s the little things that comfort me. The few secrets I have left.
I guard them with my life.
Somebody’s talking, trying to catch me up on the conversation, but I’ve already tuned them out again, closed my eyes to explore the cabin. It’s there this time, not the darkness. I open the door and enter.
It’s like I’ve stepped onto a movie set. Bearskin rug in front of a roaring fire in the stone fireplace. Ancient plaid couch covered in handmade quilts. The smell of hot cocoa creeps softly into my nostrils, and I inhale deeply. I’m home.
Someone’s shaking me. I open my eyes to a stranger’s hand on my shoulder. I brush it off forcefully, and he stumbles back a bit, not expecting me to react as I have. What kind of a person just touches somebody else and shakes them when they’re obviously busy?
I stand up and make a fist. He starts to say something to me, so I punch him in the face. Serves him right, touching my shoulder without considering how I might react. I could be missing the part of my brain that’s in charge of impulse control.
It was a good hit, if I do say so myself. He staggers back a step and reaches up to wipe the blood from his mouth where I’ve split his lip on his row of straight white teeth. I don’t need teeth like that telling me what to do.
I sit down and close my eyes again. Just for a second, just to finish exploring the living room of that little house on the prairie. In the woods. But the door’s locked this time, so I open my eyes again.
I should know better by now. I really should. Every time, it’s the same damn thing. I do remember things since I woke up here just like everyone else does, you know. And here they are, just like every other time I hit somebody.
Two techs, a man and a woman, rush in the group room, the man holding a syringe. It feels like only seconds have passed since I punched that jerk in the mouth, but his shirt is a bloody Rorschach now. I could have sworn that he wasn’t bleeding badly enough for that. Maybe this time someone will press charges and I’ll finally have my ticket out of the hospital and into the world, even if it is jail.
But no dice. I pull my shirtsleeve up for the syringe and follow the woman to the same room I always go to. The man follows me, but they should know by now that I’m not going anywhere I’m not supposed to go.
I just wish people wouldn’t touch me. If he hadn’t touched me, his shirt would still be just fine and dandy. Swear.
I curl up on my side in my bed and pull the blanket up as the world begins to slow down and the colors begin to swirl together.
When I close my eyes, it’s the screaming darkness, but I’m too drugged to escape it.
The scream echoes in my head forever, and I can’t wake myself up.
I think it all started with the possum.
Our yard backed up on actual nature, so naturally, we had a lot of wildlife show up in our yard. Raccoons, possums, even deer. And so I made friends with them. Polly was a possum that came to see me the most; she would even hop on my shoulder, and when she did, I would give her a kiss. Well, I’d let her give me a kiss.
Patrick hated that. He would spend hours ranting and raving about rabies. I didn’t care, of course. I knew Polly was fine. It got to the point where I let her kiss me just to spite Patrick. This was one of those times.
He screamed and yelled at me. I have no idea why he had to do that. I mean, he hated me by then anyway. I don’t know why he didn’t realized he would have been better off had he just watched me get bitten and contract rabies, or make friends with an armadillo and end up with leprosy. At that, I’m lucky that I never did get Lyme disease. There were so many ticks in our yard. I can’t stand ticks. So disgusting.
Anyway, Patrick screamed. And that day he did something he’d never done before: he threw coffee in my face. Fortunately, Patrick is a little bitch who drinks coffee with so much milk in it that it’s barely lukewarm by the time it gets to his shitty little mouth, so it didn’t physically hurt me. But only physically. I swore to him that if anything like that ever happened again in our lives together, he would lose an integral part of himself.
Yeah, I stay up nights thinking of threats to hit him with. In my room. Which is separate from his room. You may ask why, if things are so miserable, if our marriage is so miserable, if we’re both so miserable, why we stay together. This was the first and last day that I actually asked myself that question. I know it’s hard for someone outside the situation to understand, but I promise, it’s different when it’s your life and your marriage.
For us, those vows that we promised in front of our whole family, in front of the masses of our friends who had assembled for the sole purpose of hearing us speak those vows, well, that meant a little more than it apparently does to the average person. For me. I know the vows meant more to me.
I’ve finally realized that it was always and only me. Just me. Patrick never cared enough to start divorce proceedings. He never cared about anything. He never cared about the vows, or the marriage, or me. He only ever cared about himself. I married the most selfish man I have ever met.
But I‘m getting ahead of myself right now.
I’m trying to tell you about the possum, and how one wild possum ended my marriage.
The possum that never gave me rabies.
The possum led to harsh words, the harsh words led to coffee being thrown, the coffee led to threats, the threats led to anger, the anger led to pain, and the pain led to divorce.
Patrick took his empty coffee cup, and he put it in the sink, without saying a single solitary word. Then he turned around and he picked up his briefcase from the table next to the front door, the place where he always kept it, and he opened the door and left, slamming it shut behind him. I faintly heard his car start in the driveway, followed by the sound of his tires screaming against the road as he left in furious anger.