Bekah woke me up with a smile and a laugh. I think she had food for me. She might have been returning something to me. I don’t remember why she came by. If I asked her right now, if I turned to the right in my chair and looked across the office to the chair where she sits with her computer, working, and I asked her why she came on this day, she would tell me. I can guarantee it was to help me somehow, but I was so focused, so embattled all the time, I don’t remember this. There is a lot of that. Put a pin in it and we will get back to it. For now, let’s focus on what she gets when she walks into my room.
The scent of urine hits her and she says nothing about it. She sits on the floor by my bed and I pull the covers off to expose that I have pissed the bed. I have a hangover, but those don’t last very long. I sit up and see the bed, the sheets and the covers and I don’t even care. I don’t care what it says to her, I don’t care that it happened at all.
I was drunk. So drunk I could hardly see when I stumbled to bed. I remember a knife and holding the phone. More on that later, too, I promise. But for now, I am getting up. Ignoring the piss stain on my bed and stripping out of my boxers and getting dressed.
She is talking. Her family is coming in to town and she wants to know if I want to come to dinner with them.
I look at her like she is crazy. “They don’t want to see me,” I grunt.
“I want you there and do you remember how Christmas went? We all had fun. This will be like that. Come on. It’s a free meal. Please.”
I hear it in that final please the yearning and the desire to see me. To feed me and watch me take care of myself. I agree to it, and I get my broom. I brush my bottle out of the floor and unscrew the cap.
“Are you hiding that?” she asks.
“From everyone,” I said. I tip the bottle back and drink the first three hits of the day. They take the hangover away and settle the nerves. They upset the stomach but my first vomit will not come until after the coffee, so I have a little bit more time on that. That vomit will get me right and ready to move on. For now, though upset stomach, and I’m rolling the bottle back under the bed.
“From everyone?” she said. “Even me?”
“Does it look like I am hiding it from you?” I said. I can’t tell her why. I can’t explain to her that someone has to see the horror I am living in. The constant attack and the body blows I am suffering. Someone has to hurt for me, to worry about me and to think of me first. If I hid all of this from her, who would watch as I burned?
She looked at the glass on the night stand. “What’s the glass for?”
“It got in the way. I go straight from the bottle now.” I winked at her. “Faster anyway.”
I’m dressed and walking into the living room. We talk for a while. She hugs me a few times. I think she did that more for her than for me. She could see that no affection was getting through. Nothing could soothe me or make any of it any better. She would hug me to let herself know she was giving me all she had. She would hug me to try to pump what little life she could back into me. She would hug me or she would lose her mind.
We talked for a while. Johnson and I laughed and when Bekah had to go to school, I watched her from the doorway as she crossed the street and disappeared around the corner. I wondered if she would be able to get past it when I died. If she would ever be the same when it finally came time for me to end this forever. Would she walk around wanting another hug for the rest of her life. Would I be able to give her one from the grave when I haunted her for the rest of her life?
The ghost haunts its home. It haunts the place that meant the most to it in life. Well, back when I had a life, she was my home. I wonder if I will haunt her. Just a wisp of a ruined spirit fighting to drape its tendrils across the only thing that ever loved it.
I walked over to our tank and I looked at our fish. Johnson had a tiny blue fish and a tiny orange fish when we got to this house. They were great but they seemed like a waste to me. If you are going to have a pet make it a cool one, I always thought. Rottweiler. German Shepard. Python. Okay, the python was never going to happen, but you see what I mean. Well, when his fish died, we went out and got puffers. They were small and roundish with yellowish green skin and dark green and white spots. They were cute and the store told us that they were carnivores so we bought a few rosies for them to eat.
Rosies are feeder fish. They breed fast and they die easily. We grabbed a bunch of rosies and tossed them in to wait for the show. Any moment now the puffers would tear into the rosies. Any minute now, the bloodbath. But nothing. There was no bloodbath and finally we wandered away, annoyed.
Every day or two, a few rosies would die and all the while the puffers would ignore them. It got down to one. One stubborn rosy that was healthy and growing. It was surviving in an environment where it was the hunted. Surviving in an environment where it should be eaten alive but it wasn’t.
“I love our rosy,” I said to Johnson.
“He is stubborn,” Johnson said. “And kind of a badass. Fearless.”
I looked at Johnson and pointed at the smaller tank. “We ought to take him out and put him in the other tank. I would hate to see them fall on him and rip him to pieces one day with no warning.”
We pulled him out and put him in the other tank and went about our day.
I had no classes that day, which is a way of saying that I could not go into public that day. So, I stayed home. Johnson went to class and when he got home, we looked at our lonely little rosy and he said, “We took him from his home. From his family for no reason. We ought to put him back in.”
We gently lowered him into the tank.
Instantly the puffers chased him down. They grabbed him and tossed themselves in wild thrashing and tore off a perfect bite. Half circle of flesh gone and the ripped rosy ran to hide. But there was nowhere to hide. They were on it again and Johnson and I watched in horror as they began ripping off pieces of him. The look on the rosy’s face was the same as it had always been, fish don’t emote, but we saw horror as this innocent creature ran nowhere fighting to get away as it was eaten alive.
There was a cold spot in me that was spreading as this creature was being ripped to bits by the ones it used to live with, and love. A cold spot that was icing over my heart.
I burst into tears.
Johnson was freaking out, yelling and pounding on the glass, but there was no saving him. They had him and he had nowhere to go.
Finally, we grabbed the rosy from the tank and dropped it on the table. I pulled a knife and with one swift slice I cut that poor beast in half. It was dead instantly and I stared down at it, looking at the mercy I had given it and craving the same mercy for myself.
When I had embraced the idea completely, the phone screamed and Johnson stopped hugging me long enough to hand it to me.
“Jesse?” a tiny voice said.
“Who are you talking to?” was screamed in the background. “I didn’t tell you you could call anyone!”
“Gem? Is that you?”
“You better put that phone down, who is that?” Horrid was getting louder and closer.
“It’s me.” Gem, my little sister, sounded sleepy and haunted. “I just wanted to hear your voice. Are you going to come see us soon?”
“I’ll be there in a few hours, honey.”
“You better hang up that phone right this instant! Who is that, anyway?”
“You’re coming?” she said. “Really?”
“I’m on my way.”
“Hello?” the phone was snatched away and Horrid was talking. “Who is this talking to my daughter?”
“It’s me, Horrid. I told her to call me anytime she needed anything. It seems she needs something,” I said. “What is going on down there?”
“Nothing. She just doesn’t feel good.”
“Not good enough. I’m on my way,” I said.
“You don’t have to come up here. We are fine,” Horrid said, but she sounded scared. Every time she had talked to me since I called the cops on Grasp, she seemed scared. She did her best not to show it, but she was.
“I’ll be there in a few hours,” I said. “Expect me.”
I called Bekah. “We are going to Waynesville,” I said.
She had just gotten home from school. “Why?”
“I am needed. Gem called and something is wrong.”
“I’m on my way.”
“You want me to come in with you?” Bekah said.
“No, I’m fine. I’ll call you when I need you,” Guardian said.
“What are you going to do?”
“Whatever needs done,” Guardian said.
He walked into the house without knocking. Dogs everywhere, cats everywhere. Whippy had a cat hugged to her belly and was dragging a dog by its back paw. Star ran up to me and hugged me.
“Jesse! What are you doing here? It’s not even a weekend.” She was all smiles.
“I don’t know why I am here yet, but it’s great to see you. I have to go check on something but I will find you and see how you are doing soon, okay?”
“Okay.” She hugged me again and bounced away.
I went looking for Gem. I found her on the couch. She was hugging her knees, staring at the TV, her eyes swollen from crying, her hair a sty. Her eyes had dark circles around them and she looked to be wearing filthy clothes.
I went to her and dropped down next to her.
She didn’t look up. Just kept staring ahead.
I wrapped an arm around her and she looked up at me. She smiled a wan smile. “You came.”
“Always,” I said. “You look tired.”
“I haven’t slept in a few days,” she said.
My hate was bright and angry. Horrid had not even noticed that her daughter had not slept in days. I wanted to burn the woman alive but I kept my focus. All that mattered was the girl.
“Well, why don’t you sleep right now?”
She shook her head a look of sheer terror crawling her face. “Bad dreams.”
I picked her up and put her in my lap. I grabbed a blanket off of the couch and wrapped us both in it. I looked around, seeing and hearing running dogs, yelling sisters, and a screaming mother. This was an impossible sleeping environment. I picked Gem up off of my lap and carried her to the front porch.
“What are you doing, Jesse?”
“I just want to make you feel safe,” I said. “Do you feel safe?”
She laid her head against my chest and nodded. Before she could answer she was asleep.
So, I held her.
When she whimpered in her sleep, I kissed her forehead. I hummed to her and I held her closer. By the end of ten minutes, my back was screaming but it was working. She was sleeping and I would not interrupt that.
So, I held her.
She began to snore very lightly. Began to twitch a little in her sleep. But she was sleeping. Every time she began to get upset; I would show some expression of love to her. Kiss her forehead. Stroke her hair. Hug her closer. And she would sleep.
So, I held her.
By the end of eight hours my back was screaming. I was exhausted and I had scared Horrid and Mumble away twice. It was dark and Star was sitting beside me on the porch whispering to me about school and the dogs. About Whippy and how she was driving her crazy. About her mother, in low tones, and how she didn’t know what she was doing wrong to make her mom so mad all the time. She said a lot of things and I commented in tiny whispers that no one else could hear.
When I had held Gem for eight hours she woke up and stretched. She looked at me and smiled.
“You’re going to eat dinner now. Aren’t you hungry?” I asked.
“Well we are a little late to dinner but you are going to eat, then I will put you to bed. You need more sleep.”
“Okay.” She hugged me and we wandered into the kitchen.
“You missed dinner so—” Horrid began.
“So, I will warm some up for her,” I said, stepping in Horrid’s way. “Sit at the table, hon. I’ll bring you some dinner.”
“I can cook for my own daughter, Jesse,” Horrid snapped.
“Good. I can watch.”
Horrid glared at me and I glared back. She looked away and I kept staring at her. I was trying to find the evil thing that lived within her. I was trying to figure out if I could reach a hand in her and grip a fistful, could I pull it away and make a good person out of her?
But I knew I couldn’t. I knew that this woman would die an evil bitch.
I watched Gem eat. I put her to bed. I said my goodbyes and I called Bekah.
I told Bekah all about what had happened on the way home. I can’t remember what she said. I wish I could. I wish you guys could see what she is doing for me at this point in my life. But you can’t. You can’t see it because I was blind to it. Blind to her kindness and her support. I was trapped in a trench digging and fighting and I had no time to look up. I thought the whole time she was flying above me and I had no time to look up at her.
Actually, she was digging beside me. Handing me the shovel and handing me my rifle. I just couldn’t see it.