Image by Jenn Rhubright
A Close Call
Twilight, and things gold seconds ago have gone blue and hard to see.
I’m barefoot and running towards the front door of your place. Parked the car in the alley behind your building and ran. No one can get by. The car is still running and I am running to the door. Grandma called me as soon as you hung up with her. She said you and he were fighting and that she could hear Junior in the background, calm, placating. I bought her all this wine! he yelled so that Grandma could hear, over the phone lines that stretch up the interstate, alive and quivering slightly in the pink of the setting sun. On the phone, you told your mother not to worry. But you whispered it. She called me immediately. It doesn’t sound right. I left without shoes, drove fast and prayed for no cops. Then prayed for cops. Here now, the door gives way easily, it’s ajar and the dog doesn’t come to greet me. The living room and kitchen are empty. The only other room in the condo is your bedroom. The door wide is open. I tiptoe to it and his back is to me. The TV is on. I see it in the mirror behind your bed. An action film. Someone screams and a machine gun rapidfires bullets. Junior sees me behind him in the mirror and spins around. He has a steak knife in his hand. He’s a middle-aged boy, a cherubic face gone pale, eyes wide. The TV shrieks with bombs. Get out, I say, but I can’t be sure. I am not speaking but sound is coming through me. He sputters and turns to look at you, on the bed. Your hand is clasped to your ear. My right. Your left. You are coughing and with each convulsion, a thin jet of blood shoots into the air. I’m Sorry, you say, breathless and falling backwards. I shove him out of the way and am by your side, ripping the pillowcase into a strip and tying it around your neck. When your hand falls away, limp, I see a half a dozen small holes, and one big one, a heaving gill in your neck. Just a papercut, but for all this blood. I yank the knot tight against it. In minutes, your brain could die but you will keep your blood. Keep it all inside, I say. Keep it all inside, Mom. My hands flip open the phone, drop it, pick it up. Sirens wail on the television. I push four buttons, swear, hang up, and push three. Concentrate hard on the green button so I don’t miss it again. The time on the screen is still the same as it was on the dashboard clock when I pulled up outside: seven-fifteen. The hospital is at the bottom of the hill. I don’t let the operator finish. Sounds are made and I don’t know what they are. I only know Please and Hurry.
Let’s Do Better
The sun takes its time. A quarter to seven and the ocean and clouds are still sprayed violent pink. The shadows grow longer on the drive up the hill to your house. My boyfriend is with me. We were going to go to the fair. Devo is playing with the Psychedelic Furs. They’re too old to be good anymore, we reasoned as we drove away, even though we had been excited about going. We left because in the parking lot I’d had a feeling. I called you and you didn’t answer. That is, Junior didn’t; you don’t answer the phone anymore, and you confessed why, just last week when you got away from him for a while. He won’t let you answer it. Still, you’re both always home. And I had this feeling. How close we are, every second, to losing everything. We pull into a parking space near your door. Children are shouting from the pool in the courtyard and the stucco condos are pink and getting pinker with the setting sun. As we near the door, Chloe bursts out and stretches her long terrier legs against our thighs, bowing her back in a half stretch, half greeting. You are in the kitchen, chopping onions. I smell burning coals. You are sniffling, and you turn, surprised. Your face is swollen. You drop the knife and throw your arms around me, and I smell oxidized red wine, cigarette smoke, and cilantro. I put my face in your neck. You are an inch shorter than me. I can fold you into me completely. I whisper in your ear, Are you okay? He comes out from the bedroom, where he has been lighting the grill on the patio. Oh, hello there, he says. We’re about to have fajitas, you want to stay? You sniffle into my shoulder. No, I say. Mom’s coming home with me. I tell my boyfriend to get Chloe’s leash. He pats his legs and Chloe goes to him, her tail between her legs. Junior laughs. Why are you going, Deb? I got the grill started. He explains, She’s mad even though I bought her three bottles of wine at Trader Joe’s and I cleaned this whole place, you should have seen it before, and we rented some movies so I don’t know what she said but you know what, if you want to go, Deb, fine, I won’t stop you. Just can you come here a second? Can you come talk to me? But you push off of me and fly at him, jamming your little finger in his chest and saying, No more—you are controlling and manipulative and I want you out. Now. My boyfriend has the dog on the leash and he says, Let’s just go. The words surprise me, coming from him. They seem to surprise him, too. We four adults look at each other. I tell Junior, We’ll talk tomorrow. I think the best thing now is to just go and get some space for a while. Fine, Deb, he says, still looking at you. You go get some fucking space. He follows us to the car, taunting. You struggle against me, wanting to fight him some more. No, I tell you, wrestling you into the back seat where the dog is shivering, her tail coiled tightly around her legs. She nervously licks your face as I close the door. My boyfriend refuses to get in the car until I do, but I have one more thing left to do before we leave. I turn to face Junior.
Just Missed You
The sun sinks into the ocean while we wait for the locksmith in the parking lot. He shows up with a toolkit and I make some noise about forgetting my key at work and how you’re out of town. I show my driver’s license with this address on it. Satisfied, he jimmies the door. It is dark and cool inside. The blinds are down, which has been driving me nuts for two days. I got a message from Grandma as I was leaving the fair the other night, that she was worried about a fight you and Junior were having while she was on the phone with you. I went down that night but no one answered. Your car was gone—is still gone—and so is the dog. The dog goes everywhere with you. Glen, the drunk next door, told me that night you two often go to San Onofre or the desert to dry out. I’d called all the campgrounds. Where have you gone? The house is clean and still. Unusual. I used to live here, right here in this living room, but I feel like a sneak. A snoop. The door to your bedroom is closed. I pause before opening it. Nothing happens. I send my boyfriend to the bathroom to investigate and I open the vertical blinds that have kept me from seeing in for the last couple of visits, where I stood on the patio with Glen last night, trying to wrest the sliding door off its track. Long shafts of sulfuric streetlight stripe the bed, which is piled with covers and pillows. A duffel bag. Bingo. I pull the duffel bag towards me and there is a hand. Your hand hangs there, dumb and graceful, palm down. Pink. Brown fingers. A thundering boom from somewhere, everywhere, as if something open has been slammed shut. Sudden, awful tenderness follows.
No, I tell the hand. It stays, so I say it again, harder. No. It will not listen.
I bare my teeth. It does not flinch.
Arms are pulling me backwards, away from the hand. I lean forward with all that I’ve got, barking, barking, barking. And then a howl.
Let’s Try Again
I wait outside the front door, which is half open. Inside, in the kitchen, you and he are in an embrace. You drop the phone on the counter and cross your wrists at his back. You are so small inside his arms that I cannot see you. A broken glass is on the floor, red wine spilling out of it, staining the terra cotta tiles. I turn away and let you be.
Erin McReynolds has an MFA in Writing from Queens University of Charlotte, NC. Excerpts from her in-progress memoir have also appeared in The North American Review and Prime Number. She lives in Austin, TX, where she writes and edits for the Fearless Critic restaurant guides, and blogs about food writing, waitressing, wine, and trauma.
Read our interview with Erin here.