Bruce pulled the door shut while passing through and tapped an empty bottle against the side of his leg without thinking much of it. He rubbed at the back of his neck with a deep breath and set the bottle on the counter beside the sink. He took another from the refrigerator and struggled to open it with his hands. Bruce found a tool from the drawer and wrenched it open. The clock on the stove was a few minutes fast.
“I hope Shirley will be back soon. I can’t… I’ll never remember when it is she gets off work.”
Taking a swallow, Bruce stepped back toward the garage door but stopped and shook his head. He kept a few pictures of the three of them, from when Melissa was still alive. Thinking about it put him off balance. The front door opened and he looked around, but there was only Rubin turning the lock. He stood with a grimace, and had not yet seen Bruce..
“You got yourself fired, didn’t you?”
“Leave me alone Bruce. I’m not in the mood.”
“She should have known you wouldn’t be able to keep a job.”
“Just shut up, will you? I didn’t get fired.”
“You don’t talk to me like that kid. Not in my own fucking house.”
“This isn’t your house Bruce, and I don’t have to-”
“I told her not to go for a lazy, stupid one like you. I must have-”
“Knock it off. I’m sick of hearing this shit from you.”
“Do you think you can order me around? Not a sniveling spic like you. Never.”
“What did you call me? You need to knock that shit off before I fucking make you.”
“Are you going to kick my ass, huh? Are you going to throw me out of here?”
“You’re a son of a bitch Bruce.”
“She was only ever with you to make me angry. You must know that. It’s been obvious-”
“Fucking save it. I don’t need to listen to this bile from you. I’ve already had enough today, so just get back in the garage and leave me alone.”
Rubin took a water bottle from the refrigerator and left his keys on the table. He walked out of the room without another word.
“Walk out like a pussy bitch. That’s all I expected from you. Goddamn useless illegal scum.”
Bruce took a deep breath and another swallow of beer. It felt powerful to walk into the garage now. He set the bottle down beside his old pinball machine and pulled back the arm. It was old with spidery lines of rust, especially thick along the underside. It was good for him to play and connect with the old machine. It had taken a lot of work and money to get functional after unearthing it from that shop years ago.
After several games passed and an indeterminate amount of time, Bruce heard the front door again and Shirley’s voice. He left the machine, letting his ball roll unfettered between the plungers. Bruce stopped though as he heard her talking with Rubin. He stayed by the garage door and listened, resting one hand just over the knob. He waited until a minute after Rubin was gone, then pulled it open and headed out to see her.
“How was your day?”
Every time it was an unpleasant moment to see how she had changed from the photos with her mother.
“It was alright. Just the same as ever.”
“That’s good. Good day… I’ll just go back now, I think.”
Bruce took out another beer and walked to the garage.
“Are you sure? You don’t have to stay in there all the time.”
“No, I’ll be okay in here.”
“Okay then. It’s good to see you.”
Bruce took a few drinks just standing then tried to continue his game. A flash of anger slammed one hand against the side of the machine and then he turned around sharply. The air was dark in the garage, filtered in through one covered window.
“Rubin, Rubin… Fuck. It’s you changing her… Goddamn, my hand hurts. Fuck… Why can’t anything be like before. We were… Difficult but it was happy, not like this. Shit it hurts… Motherfucker… I… I wish you were still here Melissa… It was different with you, but now I have to see him ruining everything. I miss you.”
Shirley knocked at the door and called his name through.
She cracked the door open and leaned her head into sight.
“Are you sure you’re doing alright in here?”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“Can I get you anything.”
“No, I have what I need.”
“Okay. I’m going out with Rubin in a few minutes, so you can call us if you need anything.”
“I will. Thank you.”
“Do you remember the numbers?”
“You can call me or you can call Rubin.”
“I’ll call you if there’s anything wrong.”
“Okay. I love you dad.”
“I love you too Shirley.”
The door shut and Bruce didn’t move. He only listened to their muffled voices and movements. Somebody said his name before the front door shut, then the car started and they were gone. Bruce felt like shaking but he carefully lifted the bottle and took another drink.
Shirley took a bite of the casserole and looked at Rubin for a moment, then back to Bruce. The air was thick with heat from the oven.
“So Dad, how was your day?”
“I didn’t do very much, but I guess it was okay.”
“Did you get that bumper working again on your pinball machine?”
“Yes, I just needed to work it loose after all.”
Bruce glanced at Rubin who continued to eat without acknowledging him.
“That’s good. When you said so I thought it might be that. Rubin?”
“There was some trouble at the office, but we managed to sort it out.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“Nothing very interesting. We just found that one of those temp workers had been misfiling everything for a couple weeks now so Eric and I needed to redo everything she had done.”
Bruce watched his mouth move and thought of the life before this intrusion. It wasn’t so far back as to be unimaginable, when Shirley was still young and needed him. He thought it could be that again, but now was sitting at a quiet dinner table alone as Rubin looked up infrequently with hard glances at him.
“What the hell are you looking at?”
“I’m not doing anything to you Bruce.”
“Of course not now you piece of shit, you don’t think so.”
“Hey! Dad, just leave him alone.”
“No, I can’t stand living with him.”
“But Dad, he hasn’t done anything to you. Rubin never tried to do anything except-”
“I don’t want this son of a bitch living in my house. Ordering me around, like he’s ever done anything. It makes me sick.”
“Goddammit, Bruce… We just need to talk this out. It’s just going to get worse if we leave it alone, so tell me everything that bothers you and we can try to sort it out.”
“Don’t talk to me like that you filthy wetback, as if you’re better than me and I can’t think at all. I’m a man. I know what I’m doing.”
Shirley shook her head and stood sharply, but turned around and said nothing for a minute. She took her plate and Rubin’s and began to clean up.
“Shirley no, I’ll take care of it.”
Rubin held one of the plates and touched her arm.
“I don’t see how you could spend your time with a bitch like him. The boy can’t even stand-”
“Just stop it Dad! Leave him the hell alone. Get out! I don’t want to fucking look at you now. Go to the garage, somewhere else. Just leave us alone.”
Bruce retreated with a start and couldn’t say anything. Shirley yelled again and something twisted in his gut. Bruce turned down the hall and shut the door behind him. The garage looked smaller in grating silence.
“This should be mine goddammit… My home, but now I can’t do anything… I’m not welcome, not in my own fucking house… I can’t just stay in here. I can’t spend the rest of…”
Bruce took a step toward the door but stopped and turned around, headed back and forth beneath a furious indecision. He shook his head and clutched at the empty bottle on his machine, but could not go back to the fridge now. He couldn’t stand them looking at him now.
“That piece of shit. I need to do something. This is all him. I need to do something.”
Bruce turned around into the half dark garage and wrung his hands together violently, grimacing in thought. He growled at the walls and shook his head.
Shirley lay back against the pillow while Rubin brushed his teeth. Her stomach felt tight thinking of the confrontation earlier. Rubin didn’t want to talk about it. There was nothing new to say. It was all old frustration with no clear way past. He lay down beside her and took a deep breath.
“I get it. I know…”
“But I don’t know what to do. We can’t keep on like this forever.”
“I still don’t know if there’s anything that we can do.”
“It’s just getting worse though.”
“Are you going to kick him out?”
“No. I don’t know what-”
“I don’t either. We can’t afford anything else, this is hard enough. I don’t know.”
“Are you sure we’ll figure something out?”
“We have to. We will. Let’s go to bed It was busy today and it’ll be worse tomorrow.”
“I’m sorry for how he is.”
“You didn’t make him this way. We just need to deal with it..”
“Yeah… I love you.”
“I love you too. Let’s get some sleep.”
Later she awoke to a noise in the hall and Rubin’s side of the bed was empty. Shirley stopped before saying his name and froze to listen more carefully, then snaked one arm under the bed for an aluminum baseball bat.
Shirley took a breath and headed for the door, pulled it open quickly and moved past into the hall. She recognized Bruce grappling in the darkness. Rubin fell against the wall and a picture frame snapped off its wire. She dove between and pushed them apart. Her father was snarling and panting. Rubin stumbled backward and fell through the open bedroom door.
“He… stabbed me.”
Shirley felt her hands were hot and slimy. The metal bat was slick in her fist.
“What did you do? Why? Why would you do this?”
Bruce leaned back and forth panting with the kitchen knife still clutched in one hand.
“He’s dead. I’m-”
Shirley dropped beside to check Rubin was still breathing, bleeding but the pulse continued.
“He’s gone now.”
“No. He’s alive. I just need to get him help.”
“He will be dead soon.”
Bruce ran past and over Rubin’s body, into the bedroom. Shirley looked up and watched him snatch their cellphones from atop the dresser.
“No. Give me my phone! I need to-”
“Everything is ruined with him here. It was better before, with you and your mother, but-”
“Give me the goddamn phone Bruce!”
Shirley lunged with an arm outstretched, but Bruce raised the knife halfway and she flinched back.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry to point this at you but I will put it away when he is-”
Shirley snapped the bat across Bruce’s wrist and the knife tumbled aside. He dropped the phones and crumpled backward screaming. She searched across the floor and dialed for an ambulance with Rubin’s phone. Her body trembled with ragged breathing.
“Nine one one operator. What is your emergency?”
“I need help. My husband is hurt.”
“I think my arm is broken.”
“Can you tell me where you are?”
“My house. I’m… 5563 South Turney.”
“I can’t get up. Shirley, I’m stuck…”
Shirley hobbled back to Rubin and choked out her answers, struggling to speak clearly through terror. She put a hand on Rubin’s shoulder and tried to steady herself past waves of shock and nausea. He murmured something without making a real sound. Bruce kept talking but Shirley wouldn’t listen, and the sirens grew nearer before she could think to speak. She answered the pounded door and led them to Rubin.
Jess drops her hat over the side of the boat, followed by her shoes and wedding ring. It’s been an hour from land and already two of us are laughing drunkly about different secrets. David struggles to keep smoking while his shirt comes off. He tears the last two buttons and throws it over. A tattooed ribbon of hearts connects his shoulder to hip diagonally.
Beverly dangles her bare feet over the side, pants rolled up and bunched. She puts bullets into her brother’s revolver and counts as each goes in, but somewhere has already lost the progression and mumbles to the end. She laughs then snaps it shut, leans her forehead against the gleaming chrome rail.
“What the hell are you doing over there?”
“Eating. I’m hungry. Is there something wrong with that?”
“But tell me why you’re doing that. It’s stupid.”
“I haven’t eaten since yesterday. That’s what he said, not to eat the day before.”
Austin is crying and laughing to himself alone, but won’t say a word to the others. Jess keeps on at me, eyes shallow and a mean-lipped words forced ahead. She starts to take her shirt off and mumbles while exposing a ragged orange bra.
“It won’t work in your stomach if you eat.”
“I already took it all though. And I’m starting to feel it too.”
“You won’t die if it’s sitting on food.”
“She’s right asshole. You’ll end up between.”
“Jesus Christ, this too! I expect this when you’re drunk, but anything?”
Beverly lifts herself to stand and moves very slowly in our direction, gun swinging by her hip like a party favor.
“I’ve suspected it was psychological for a while now.”
I shake my head and take a step back from Jess. Her breasts are out now and she seems ready to attack. David has stayed by the rail, arms crossed beneath him and staring down at the water.
“It’s too much. He didn’t say it would be like this.”
“You just need to calm down and let it have you.”
“I don’t think I want it anymore.”
Austin is shaking his head and choking. He leans back halfway as if to pass out, then recoils forward onto his knees. He gags more and vomits out tinted blue bile then wipes his fingers through the puddle.
“Erin, I- Is it gone? I don’t see it.”
David turns around and burps. His eyes are red but he is smiling.
“It’s probably too late. Your body soaked it up by now. You’re with us.”
He laughs, and then Jess is laughing too like a pair of devils. Austin coughs and slides his hands around the vomit some more. He starts crying. Beverly clicks the revolver back and shoots Austin in the shoulder. He falls over onto his back, starts gasping and gagging like a panic attack while mixing blood with bile on his chest.
“I’ve always wanted to do that.”
“No, I’ve never shot a gun before. That’s why I took it.”
“What about your brother? Trevor?”
“Yeah, that’s him. Fuck him. Who cares.”
Jess looks away past David, her skin has become transparent and papery in the last few minutes. I don’t know what I look like now.
“It doesn’t really count if you’re not shooting something alive. That’s what he says. Won’t ever go to the range.”
Beverly laughs again and turns around from us, leans her head back to see the sky. Austin slips in blood like an earthworm on pavement, up and down a few times then bolts across toward her.
She doesn’t have a chance to move before Austin knocks into her from behind and they both tumble over the side. A smeary blood trail marks that second and they are gone. Jess walks over to where they fell and casts a languid glance at the water.
“I’d have done it. She always was such a bitch.”
David laughs but I don’t know if this has anything to do with that. I go to stand beside him and look at the water. Our reflections shiver in the wind below. We look bad at this distance. His head nods forward then jerks to another second alert. He laughs but none of that is on his face.
“I never went back and tried that breakfast. Do you remember when we were in Arizona? I was so fucking sick then and said… but I didn’t.”
A shiny blade pushes through my neck from behind and it is difficult to stand while blood spurts out with the beat of my heart. It looks like a jet of red semen cast into the ocean rhythmically and sprayed over David’s impassive face. I don’t know where she got the knife, but Jess catches me for a moment then pushes my floppy sockdoll body over into the ocean.
“That was gross. I didn’t think it would be so gross.”
David doesn’t say anything at first, then smiles with teeth.
“It’s all over you and getting in your mouth.”
She walks away and starts to push blood off her stomach and chest, then wrings it out of her hair. Jess sits down where Austin had been and starts crying. A seagull lands at the top of the boat and then flies away a few minutes later. The sky covers over and soon it is raining.
David leaves her there and heads below. He looks around with rising desperation for something to eat. He lays down on the floor and tries to sleep into the end. Jess finds Beverly’s gun abandoned on the deck and fires the remaining bullets at seagulls in the air. When she heads down to find David he is dead with swollen tongue stuck out. She sighs and leaves the gun there with him before heading back up.
Alone, she takes off her pants and underwear and drops them over into the water. The cold and salty air feels good for a couple minutes, then it is painfully too cold. After that she smears around the crackling blood on her skin and doesn’t feel like anything. She finds the wheel and steers the boat around a little bit, but just feels an upset stomach.
After another ten minutes of waiting around, Jess coughs hard and there is blood in her palm.
“Good for me…”
I should be driving the car which spins out to send sparks over the divider. It is almost four and the sun is setting. Window glass scatters like spittle over the highway’s ambering surface. I raise a hand to shield my eyes from the passing knife breeze of cars.
This man will lose three fingers from his left hand and wear scar tattoos for the rest of his life. His daughter will jolt awake at night, reliving the same instant that I caused for a nudge ahead in traffic, but this wasn’t me. How I am the world. How I’ve caused aids and Taylor Swift and Solar Flares. We are the one nothing, together.
Anyway, I take his twisted bleeding fingers and haul away from burning oil then return for the little girl. I drop us far from the wreck and pant amid their gasping. I feel cold all over and the girl is starting to scream again but it is all very over.
I’m wrong about everything. I should have mentioned that before. He fumbles out a cellphone and starts telling Mark about the whole thing. He is sobbing too, midway through words and then sees his other hand mangled in half. There are pieces of glass inside his shoulders and torso and the man just sits down.
The police come and I talk. There isn’t very much to say. I was only there. It’s difficult to make my mind about this so I twist inside and go home afterward. This I the point, or it should be, but it still feels like so much vapid punctuation to my running journal. The sun goes down finally before I get home and there is left over stir fry in the fridge.
I think I should write this down somewhere, but it’s easiest to just remember and pretend a significance. It takes convincing to return. There is time for that.
The night after I meet my girlfriend at this burger place we know and order vegetarian. She asks how the last few days have been and I don’t bring that up because it feels gaudy to mention myself.
After a while she steps outside to smoke and I stay watching the hockey game in silent. Across the room another few people are talking close with nervous gestures. I look aback and tow of them are kissing heavily while the other drinks a slow beer.
I find her outside just watching cars pass. She laughs at something but won’t tell me about it and keeps looking away.
In the darkness alone, hours later I breathe rhythmically and watch the ceiling. A strong wind keeps rising until my bike falls over outside. Still it takes longer to fade.
I peel apart another boiled egg and slip its shell piece by piece into my bag. The air has been getting colder all morning. The man across from me keeps looking at his watch and it makes me nervous.
“Next stop, North Baker Street and Moeller Avenue.”
Every few minutes I know less of the world. Eggshell sticks to my fingers and the voices are getting smaller. I want to close my eyes again and again. It smells like burnt popcorn mixed with sweat and too many people are looking at their phones, then just past me.
“Next stop, Clinton Street and Moeller Avenue. Grover Terminal.”
Their faces are loose and bored at phones or at nothing. I pick away the last few crumbs of eggshell and wipe my face on my sleeve. The other boiled eggs rattle in their tupperware.
“Clinton Street and Moeller. Grover Terminal. Transfer point to routes 72 and 40.”
Brandon peers in the front window and I shrivel, hands in my lap. I look down and there is food clenched in the back of my throat. I don’t move. He is standing beside the driver, staring back past me.
“Hey, I’m just trying to find-”
“Are you going to buy a ticket?”
“No, I just need to-”
“I can’t have you on my bus if you’re not going to buy a ticket.”
I choke down another egg, fingers shaking to grasp the peel, and I can’t see him anywhere. We start again and I sob and gag with the egg still firm in my throat. I’m quiet again two blocks later, too afraid someone will notice me.
“Next stop, Alden Street and Stoke Boulevard.”
The stop is empty. I move to another seat and tie my arms around a standing pole. Somebody gets off, walks around to take a bike from the front and I twist my hands together looking out every window. We move again. I take breaths and rattle out another egg.
Avery and the Water Runs Cold
Avery Freckle chewed her thumb before crossing the street to meet her uncles. It tasted like blood and rain began to scratch at the window before they finished talking. Yes, her father was dead but none of them felt very sad about it. Michael was the one who had pulled that trigger himself, so it didn’t much involve her. Anyway, it had already been six years since they last talked like a family or real people.
Later in her apartment, Avery fed the cat and stayed around for another hour with nothing in her mind, keeping busy. At 7:30 she took a coat downstairs to stand in the grass and twenty minutes later Mabel showed up with her greyblue truck. The bowling alley was mostly empty and the attendant didn’t make them trade shoes. It was losing money anyway and they bought dinner too.
Mabel stopped outside to call her sister and they argued about money for a minute and the truck while Avery stepped away to look at the sky. The air was very wet and she started to remember Michael from before the strange days.
“Hey, Mabel… Could you…? Yeah, uh. Want to go back to my apartment once you’re done with that?”
Mabel nodded and they watched the end of the hockey game before having sex. She left after another hour because Joanna needed the truck in the morning. Avery watered her flowers in the window and fell asleep listening to her cat eat. Michael drove his van down a steep hill fifteen years ago but his face looked more recent.
The waves were too big and there was a big dog standing by the water. Michael started turning left toward a cliff overlooking the water but they never reached the edge, only spiraled toward the setting sun and somebody laughed.
After work Avery met her uncles again for lunch. One of them had been crying and began to again once she mentioned the dream. They split the bill after 45 minutes and Avery walked a dozen blocks to the park where she met Mabel and Joanna. It was a quiet afternoon with empty streets. The nearest ocean was 200 miles away and colder than Michael had ever felt.
Joanna wandered off with someone named Eric and returned a little later. She told a joke they hadn’t heard before but Mabel didn’t like it very much. A firetruck drove by and they left soon after that. It was starting to get dark.
Avery’s neighbors were playing music while she said goodbye and that made it difficult to sit alone afterward, especially once it was quiet. She fell asleep after an hour or so and woke up once to the sound of a broken glass in the street. She didn’t have any dreams that night but awoke feeling very lonely. She called Mabel and they talked for a few minutes before work.