It’s five past. The bookstore owner with the crooked back eyes me as if I’m a suspicious character. Sinister I wear like a Brooks Brothers suit. Not suspicious.
Six past. If I’d been thinking, I’d have sent these things UPS. If I’d been thinking, I would have dumped her majestic, manipulative ass a year ago. If I’d been … with Lauren, there’s never been a lot of …
Nine past. There’s little worse in the world than a three-piece suit and a tie in the middle of a July heat wave in Queens. And women with crooked backs.
I’m wearing a pleated black skirt, Mary Jane heels, a white turtleneck because Jonathan likes a girl in a turtleneck. He likes his girls in white.
I’m running, in heels, down a street I hope is Tyrell. I’ve asked three people for help. None even stop to hear my question.
Something drips down my cheek. Not sure if it’s sweat or tears or both. It hits my mouth. It’s salty. I lick my lips.
It’s fifteen past. He will not wait.
I rest my fingers on a spoon centered on a violet linen napkin, take a New York City breath. I’m here, but she’s here too. And, right now, she’s with him.
IRENE WESTER, PROPRIETER, WESTERDAY, 13 TYRELL STREET
I’m an old widow who sells old things: books mostly, furniture, clothes. I know things. Like this thing stalking outside my store for 20 full minutes scaring off customers, a gargoyle.
Comes inside. Pulls out a silk hanky, wipes his forehead with it all dainty-like.
Wanders here and there, touches everything, careful. Uses the smallest surface area of skin contact possible, like it’s all infected with the plague. Keeps eyeing the door. Has some smart-ass ideas of not putting books back where they go.
I eyeball him then. “No, sir. We do not.”
Grimaces. Brings a stack of books, a money clip, on top, with a devil creature face, pulls a hundred dollar bill. Goes right back outside to stalk my front door.
“It’s twelve fucking thirty.”
Her hair is hanging against her red cheeks like thin, wet snakes.
Pants turn to sobs. On a public sidewalk, she throws herself at my feet. Screams a word I do understand: Daddy.
Through the glass, I make unfortunate eye contact with the scowling old bookstore owner. I look away, to the voluptuous 33-year-old howling at my feet on a sidewalk in broad daylight.
I hail us a cab.
Three cups of coffee and five chapters later, I pull out my phone. An hour. He told me half that, tops.
The blonde 20-something waiter hovers, faithfully attentive to my coffee cup covered now with my palm. I offer him a sweet tea southern smile. Any more caffeine, and that smile’s going full-on smirk.
I’m the good girl. I cannot risk a smirk.
“Little one, I’m going to require some patience. Been a bit of a snag.”
I hear the ache in her breath.
“At the end of the block, there’s a vintage toy store with a carousel. Pick out a doll. Daddy will buy it in half an hour.”
“Daddy, I don’t feel well.”
He’s got a frown.
“Where’s my pink sheets, Daddy?”
Daddy used to wrap me in pink sheets, tell me bedtime stories. He slept inside with me.
“I’m going to lie down on the couch.”
I feel all bad inside.
“Wrap me up in the pink sheets, Daddy.”
“You’ve done your best,” Tricia tells me, holding her Little Red Riding Hood doll bribe in the kitchen. “She’s faking.”
I nod. “I know.”
“I don’t think you really believe she’s faking. We both know that you’ve derived a lot of,” Tricia’s choosing her words, “pleasure from this idea of her multiple personalities.”
I contemplate an argument, but Tricia deserves the truth.
“You’re right. Part of me still wants to believe. Part of me has this,” I cringe, “weakness.”
I hear Hannah crying. Not Lauren. Hannah. I have an impulse to find her pink sheets and wrap her in them. Pink sheets I threw out three weeks ago.
“She’s in there talking to someone,” I’m realizing I am trapped in an apartment with a crazy person.
“She’s just babbling,” he says casually. “She does this.”
Maybe more than one.
“It really does sound like she’s talking to somebody.”
“Tricia, who in the hell would she be talking to?”
That’s a very good question, I think. Say nothing.
“I don’t think she’s talking to anybody.” He goes to check though. Just in case.
ROSCOE PATTERSON, EMT, QUEENS EMERGENCY MEDICAL SERVICES
We receive a dispatch at 3:59 p.m., 225 Andrus #14, woman caller. Report is not unusual: “They’re killing me.” An unidentified male intercepted the call, said the woman is delirious. Police are inside when we arrive.
A woman’s on the floor, kicking, screaming. If she were a child, I would say “having a temper tantrum.” Most definitely adult though. Early to mid 30’s, guess.
Mr. Jonathan Braxton (the resident) tells us that Ms. Hawthorne (the screamer) is his confused guest. Complained of dizziness, exhaustion after moving some items.
We discuss options. Ms. Hawthorne quiets herself. She’s sits up, criss-cross-apple-sauce, wide-eyed, like a little girl watching adult making decisions.
“Do you need to go to the hospital?”
One of the two officers speaks to her. Mr. Braxton fidgets.
“Tricia get her some water. I think she’ll drink it now.”
Ms. Hawthorne nods.
The officers look at us with a shrug. Whole bunch of nothing.
“Kinky fuckery of the beautiful and the demented,” my analysis to Ray on the way out the door, off to more craziness with an uglier view.
I’m in the kitchen. Refrigerator door’s open. Close to the living room as I can be — with an excuse. He’s screaming at her. This anger sounds delicious. I want a taste. If he surprises me while I’m standing here spying, I’ll reach for the red and white paper boxes of Chinese food. We haven’t had dinner. I’m being thoughtful. He’ll kiss me on the forehead.
Hannah’s asleep. Tricia’s asleep. I’m awake contemplating hanging myself from pink sheets.
I wake up in half light/half dark, unsure where I am. I remember, soft and slow, walking, getting lost, Daddy. Hannah? Oh, Hannah.
Tricia wakes me, breakfast in bed. “Did I burn the toast too much?”
“Tricia, you know, I like it burnt.”
Any other day, I would punish this amateur-hour incitement of praise. She’s been through a lot, though, little one. I feel compassionate. Write down the date.
“Now, get dressed because we have a special date this morning.”
It’s Alice in Wonderland, Queens Theatre in the Park.
The bathroom door is stuck. I push. It doesn’t move.
He appears in the hallway.
“The bathroom door is stuck.”
“It –is- stuck. What in the hell?”
He kicks the door. It budges. We hear a groan. He kicks again. It opens enough I work my way inside. Lauren is on the bathroom floor, her body lodged against the door.
“How were we to know we were hurting you, Lauren? You’re not even supposed to be here. Tricia and I will be out. When we return, we expect you and your things to be gone. Is that clear?
She bats big blue eyes at me, Hannah’s eyes. Though this is not Hannah. This person I want to slap. She pouts, Hannah’s lips. I want to do it twice.
“I’m sorry,” she whines, “to mess up your plans by passing out in my weakened condition.”
This is Lauren. I want no part of this person. Not sure I ever did. She was the cost of Hannah.
MONICA WRIGHT, TICKET TAKER, QUEEN’S THEATER IN THE PARK
In line, there’s this man. You can’t help but notice him.
It’s his hands, toying with two tickets. Rubbing them rhythmically between mesmerizer’s digits as he talks quietly to a miniature woman in white with braids.
His hands are massive, broad across the palms, twice the size of mine. Delicate, long fingers, powder pale, absolutely blank, as unmarked as a newborn. Nails protrude past the fingertips. They’re shaped into points.
I’m holding myself back from stepping forward, towards those fingertips brushing stray hairs out of my eyes while I smile – the way the woman with the braids does. She isn’t even that good looking.
His eyes fix on me, the smallest fraction of time I can imagine. They hold me still like an enchantment until I’m dropped, and he returns to his clueless companion.
Do you remember cornflower blue, from the 48 crayon box? His eyes are cornflower blue.
“Tricia, I don’t want her anymore. She’s dead to me. Do you understand? Lauren, Hannah, everybody. I don’t want any of it anymore.”
The woman with the braids looks at the ground. She doesn’t seem happy. He hasn’t said he wants her.
“This is your weekend, Tricia. The rest will go as planned.” He touches her on the nose. My nose tingles in sympathy with the current of that touch. He turns to me with the tickets. I take them. A shy peek into cornflowers makes my cheeks burn.
“Thank you, child.”
Our fingers touch.
Thank you, child. Huh.
Key in the lock, Jonathan pauses. As the door opens, I hear wet words, blubbers and gurgles.
Lauren left at noon. Hannah took her place.
I’m hiding in my own kitchen.
Rubbing fingers over that alabaster babydoll wrist, I raise it to my lips and kiss the delta of veins that meet at her wrist.
“We’re not going to do a thing. We’re going to sit here and let her rot on a couch. When we’re tired of sitting here, we’re going to go on about our day as if that rotten corpse has been carted away, and we never even noticed it was there.”
I speak it theatrically. Little Hannah, in the living room, knows where she stands.
Mean. Why’s he so mean? He said forever. He said, “I will love Hannah, forever.” He wants me to die here. I won’t die here. He’s a bad Daddy. He tells lies. He said forever. He said it inside the pink sheets.
He’s making dinner reservations. Looking across the kitchen at me, I see, for the first time since Lauren arrived, a smile.
Then his eyes change. It’s Hannah. Running at him, fists in the air, drool on the side of her face, like some large, round dog. Gone mad. He drops the phone.
Aaaaaahhh’m noooot gunna duh aye
I kick her in the stomach, gut reaction of a student of the marital arts. Attack what is attackable; defend what is defendable. She folds in two, falls, a thud of bones and flesh against kitchen tile. Out of some strange sympathy, I fall, too.
I’m wearing a shapeless blue knit shift, comfortable shoes, sitting in a waiting room of a health clinic in Atlanta. Near me are a few crying children, a teenage girl in a miniscule spandex dress, a couple of women who look like me. My name is called.
ALICE WAYNE, OB-GYN, EAST ATLANTA HEALTH SERVICES
33 year old female, Caucasian. Black hair. 5’5”, 140 pounds, Lauren Hawthorne.
Gynecological examination following a miscarriage after a fall down some stairs. I notice substantial bruising on thighs, upper arms, abdominal region of the patient.
I inquire about support regarding her loss. Informed partner does not know that she was pregnant.
Too many falls down stairs you hear, in my occupation, to be statistically viable.
“Ms. Hawthorne, for what it’s worth, you and stairs don’t seem to do each other much good. The stairs don’t care either way; you should.”
95 in Queens. A lot can depend on things like weather. Sometimes it’s the biggest, baddest wolf of all.