Shadows of the Mind
The alarm clock blares and I groan. I don’t want to get up, but I know I need to get out of bed, at least so I can turn off the alarm. I open one eye and look at the clock sitting across the room. It’s too early. The alarm always sounds too early. This is the time of day when people should be sleeping. It’s the time of day that I’m not sure should be part of the night or part of the morning. I glare at the clock that is still insisting that I get out of bed. I roll over onto my side and let the waterbed rock me a moment. I close my eyes and imagine that I’m being rocked back to sleep. Then I swing my feet over the edge of the bed and dig my toes down into the thick carpet. I get up and turn off the alarm. The silence is deafeningly immense.
I move out into the kitchen. I flip on the TV and begin making coffee. I shuffle my feet along the cool tile floor, happy that some part of me feels cool. I sit down and wait for the coffee. The air conditioner hums quietly but doesn’t seem to be working. I look over my shoulder at the thin black hands of the clock. It’s 7am. The sun just recently came up but the heat is already intense. The weatherman drones on about how it is going to be in the eighties today. I’m not really listening to him. I watch him gesture at a meaningless map for a few minutes, then turn off the TV and stare at its blank screen. At least the TV is now honest. I don’t want to think about how hot it’s going to be. It’s hot enough now. I don’t want to think at all, but I don’t know how to make my mind go empty and still. I wonder if that is what death is… mental silence.
I take a sip of my hazel nut coffee, and hold it in my mouth. The cup has sat long enough that the coffee is now cold. That’s all right; it is refreshing in this warmth. I don’t remember pouring it. I stand up, carrying the coffee with me, and cross the room again. I stand in front of the sink and stare out the small window. The view is boring. I can watch my neighbor mowing his lawn. I pour the coffee out into the sink and watch it spiral down the drain. Nothing seems real. Not even the coffee, but it tasted good.
I can hear the upstairs neighbors beginning to move about as they get ready for the day. No one should get up this early. I’m sure it’s bad for their health. It’s the time of day when only hot coffee and fluffy pig slippers can make a person feel human. It seems the coffee is cold and the pigs are missing in action. I’m not very human anyway. I’m sure it’s the time of day that no one should be allowed to be awake and that nothing wholesome can come of any efforts being expended.
I turn off the coffee pot, cross the room and turn the TV back on. I glance briefly at the weather map before I return to my room. I unplug the alarm clock and pat it apologetically. I get back into bed and cover with the blankets despite the heat. It’s my day off…
Again sound blares and I groan. I’m not getting up! I don’t need to get out of bed! I open an eye and scowl at the blank face of the clock. I look around my room, still not awake. I see the slim black phone’s screen blinking its little orange light. I roll over and sit up, but the phone falls silent. I flop back, my feet still hanging over the edge. I wonder who was calling and what time it is. I get up and move around the bed and into the small bathroom. My pajamas are damp with sweat and stick to me, bunching up as I move. I sit on the toilet and tell myself again that I should buy a small clock for the bathroom. The phone rings.
“Damn it!” The caller is going to have to wait. They can leave a message, that’s what the machine is for. It rings its usual 4 times before it goes silent again. I get up and wash my hands. I leave the bathroom, cross through the bedroom and go back into the kitchen. The TV is too loud. I turn it off. I then go over to the coffee pot and pour a cup from it. The air conditioner is a waste of money, so I turn it off too. It wasn’t making a difference anyway. I take my coffee with me out of the kitchen and into the living room. I glance at the thermostat: its eighty degrees. Why is the weatherman only right when he’s predicting weather I don’t want? I look down at my phone and answering machine. Sure enough, the message light is blinking away.
The phone rings and startles me into sloshing my coffee onto my feet. I grab the phone.
It’s Brian. My brother only calls when he wants something. I sigh. “Yeah?”
“What the hell are you doing?” he yells at me.
“Stop yelling at me.” I rub my right foot with my left, trying to get rid of the coffee that is slowly drying and sticking my toes together.
“You’re late,” he said.
“It’s my day off,” I answer.
“No, it’s not.”
He’s been changing my schedule again. I wonder again why I work for him. It’s not like he pays me a lot or offers great benefits.
He sighs. “You can’t just make it your day off so you can go back to bed.” His voice is softer now and I know that he’s done being angry. Good. How does he expect me to know when he’s changed my schedule if he doesn’t call me?
“I really need you to come in,” he says. “We have a lot of customers and are already backed up.”
I sigh. “What time is it?”
“Really?” I turn to look at the clock sitting between the windows. He is right.
“Alright, I’ll be in,” I say.
“Get here as quick as you can, Heather.”
I hang up. He always calls me when work gets that way. The way he sounds, you’d think photocopies were a matter of life and death. I suppose the business is what pays my bills, so I better go save it again. I peel off my pajamas as I move back through the kitchen towards my bedroom, dropping them onto the floor as I go. I pull out a pair of jeans and a crumpled T-shirt and quickly get dressed. So, much for my day off!
I walk through the kitchen and out the front door. It’s even hotter out here. It feels like the sun is trying to peel off my skin. I step off the porch and walk over to my little car. It’s a short drive to work. The parking lot is full. I step into the front door and sure enough, it’s a zoo. There are several people impatiently waiting in two lines while Ann scurries around on the other side of the counter. Brian is at the counter with his wire rimmed glasses barely perched on his nose scribbling down what a woman is screeching at him. I pass the people in the lines and go to the little door in the counter. Brian looks up at me.
Ann turns around and smiles, “Thank God!”
I go over to Brian, push his glasses more securely up onto his nose and smile at the woman talking to him. It is the woman from the theater. She comes in at the beginning of every month for new posters.
“Good morning.” I flash her my best smile.
She recognizes me and smiles back.
“Your usual?” I ask.
She nods at me and hands me the original. I take it and look it over briefly before I take her money. I hand the cash to Brian and head to the machines. I lay down the original and punch in her order. The machine purrs and begins to spit out the small posters. I return to the counter.
“It’s going to be about 15 minutes. If you’d like to take a seat, I will call you up when it’s ready.”
“Thank you,” she says as she turns to sit down.
I continue with the next person in line. I know him too. I get his photos started and move on. It doesn’t take long before I have all the machines purring and humming and all the people either out the door or waiting for their orders.
Brian comes over to me and says, “Thanks for coming in.”
“No problem,” I answer.
“You make it sound like she did you a favor.” I look up, even though I know whose speaking. It’s Brian’s wife, Jennifer. She’s a bitch and I don’t know why Brian married her. He’s too good for her.
Brian just sighs and turns away from us. He goes into his office and his wife follows him. They are gearing up for a fight.
“She really hates you,” Ann says.
I shrug. “Who cares what she thinks?”
Ann goes over to the machine closest to Brian’s office. I can tell that she can hear them.
“Heather can you help me?” she asks.
I go over and look at the machine, it isn’t even on. We listen to them.
“You need to let her go,” Jennifer says.
“Don’t!” She slams something down on his desk with a dramatic thud. “She’s neverhere on time. She takes breaks whenever she wants them. She doesn’t even work half the time we pay her for!”
“She really saved us today,” Brian says.
“If she had been here on time there wouldn’t have been a problem to start with! It’s her fault that things get crazy like that,” Jennifer yells.
“Jen, you can’t treat her like everyone else; she different.”
“It’s because she’s your sister.”
Brian is too quiet to hear a few moments then I hear him say, “-and she always pulls through. That has to count for something.”
I’m tired of listening.
“You want to go grab some coffee? The shift is almost over anyway.”
“You’re going to leave?” Ann asks.
“Fuck it; I can always work some where else.”
I knock on the office door and open it. “I’m going to take Ann over to get some coffee. You want a Latte?”
Brian shakes his head without looking at me.
“Alright, I’ll see you in a few!” I slam the door behind me.
Ann and I head out the front door and into the parking lot. We get into my car.
“You have class?” I ask.
“Then let’s get coffee from the Oakes Room,” I suggest.
The drive is even quicker then it was to get to work. We walk up the library steps and into the front. It’s a little cooler in here, but the air feels heavier. I wave to the guy sitting at the small counter by the door. He smiles and waves back. That has to be a boring job. I wonder if it’s any worse then prints and copies. Probably pays better. The smell of coffee is strong and hits me as soon as I walk in the door. I look at the menu, but I already know what I want. Ann mutters to herself a moment before ordering.
“I’d like a small iced hazelnut and some biscotti please,” she says to the young man behind the counter. She hands him her card and he swipes it while the woman behind him starts making the coffee.
“I would like a snickers latte please,” I say as I hand him the money.
Ann shakes her head and giggles. “You always get that. Even when it’s hotter then hell.”
I smile. “It’s really good.”
The room is busy but not overly crowded. We make our way through the people to an empty table in the back. I sit with my back to the room and try to ignore all the other people here. Ann sits down across from me. I stare at her. Ann is beautiful. Her long golden hair curls gently around her face. I want to brush the locks from her forehead, but I don’t. Instead, I hold onto my coffee mug with both hands. She is talking about work, but I’m not really listening. I like the sound of her voice; its different then most women’s voices, it’s deep.
She’s too good for you.
I look over my shoulder at the men sitting behind us.
“She questions everything I do,” Ann said.
I assume she’s talking about Jennifer. “She’s stupid,” I say.
I sip my coffee, trying to ignore all the noise. “Don’t worry about what she thinks.” I silently tell myself the same thing. After all, Brian was on my side today.
Ann laughs. It’s a quirky sound: a little chuckle and a snort. It always makes me think of pigs.
“What are you thinking about?” Ann asks. She brushes her finger tips across the back of my hand.
I smile. I can’t tell her that she sounds like a pig… “Your laugh makes me think of piggies,” I say.
She smiles and laughs again. “Well, I hope you like pigs.” She dunks her biscotti and nibbles at its soggy end.
“I love pigs,” I say. I feel stupid. Why did I tell her that? But she isn’t angry.
“Good, then go out with me tomorrow night,” she says. “There’s this great bar I’d like to take you to. At seven they have this cool event where people can read their poetry or play music or whatever.”
“It really doesn’t sound like my kind of thing,” I say.
“I know! It’s just what you need; something excitingly different.”
I laugh. “Not everyone needs things to be different.”
“Of course you do, you just don’t know it yet.” She points at me with the dripping biscotti.
“So you’ll come?” she asks.
“I can’t. I already have plans.” I look at my cup.
“Oh? Where you going?” she asks.
“No where. That’s what I always do. I stay home and I like it that way,” I say and shrug.
The men behind me seem louder now. I wonder if they are fighting.
“You’re sure you’re not going to be bored?” Ann asked.
“What classes are you registering for?” one of them said.
“I haven’t decided yet.” the other responded.
“My mother called me and wants me to come home this summer.”
“What did she say?”
“Heather?” Ann tapped the back of my hand gently.
I look up at her. “Yeah?”
She laughs lightly. “Lost you there for a second.” She winks at me.
“I’m sorry, I’m tired,” I lie.
Her biscotto breaks and crumbles into the cup. She fishes after it with her spoon.
I laugh, pointing at her cup. “You’re going to have nothing but mush at the bottom.”
She sticks her tongue out at me. She scoops a wet gob from the coffee and eats little bites of it off the spoon.
“What’s wrong with mush? It still tastes the same.”
I shake my head at her. She does the strangest things with her food.
“What time is it?” Her head jerks up and she scrambles through her purse.
I look at my watch. “Four.”
“Shit! I have to go! I’m going to be late for class.” She scoops up her purse and gets up.
“I don’t have your number.” I think I do though.
She pulls out a pen and a dollar, and then scratches her number out on the face of the president. She hands it to me.
I watch her go. She bumps into people and steps on their feet as she tries to hurry through the room. I smile after her. She’s beautiful, but not a swan. I don’t think I’m a swan either. Swans seem to be a rare type of person. I’m not really sure that they are something that can really be found. I move in my chair so that I’m facing the room and I scan the people here. I don’t see any swans. There seems to be plenty of ugly ducklings. I turn back to my table and my coffee. I take slow sips and enjoy the sweetness of it.
I look up. “Oh, Brian!”
He sits down across from me where Ann was sitting.
“What you doing here?” I ask.
“I had to get out of the store for a while. Jennifer is driving me nuts,” he says.
“Ann and I heard you fighting with her,” I say.
“I’m sorry you had to hear that.”
I shrug. “Thanks for sticking up for me.”
“You want me to get you something?” I ask.
He runs his hands through his hair. “Yeah, I could use some coffee.”
I smile at him. “Sure thing.”
I work my way over to the counter and order another snickers latte. The guy at the counter looks at me funny, but he takes my money and gives me the coffee without saying anything. I carry the coffee back and hand it to Brian as I sit down.
“You and Ann have been getting coffee together a lot lately,” Brian says after he takes a careful sip.
“Yeah. I like talking to her,” I answer.
“I thought you were going to kill her the first time she insisted on going with you.” He laughs.
“She can be pushy!”
“But you like her.”
“Yeah, I do.”
He smiles at me.
“Other than you, she’s the only person who ever listens to me. Everyone else treats me like I’m a freak or something,”
He laughs. “A regular side show.” He winks at me.
I remember how Brian and I used to pretend that we were part of a circus. We would dress up as strange monsters or weird people and laugh at each other. We used to play the dumbest games together. Sometimes, it feels like it was just yesterday that he and I were learning to ride our bikes together. What ever happened to those two crazy kids?
I jump when someone from behind me taps my shoulder.
“I didn’t me to startle you.” It’s the boy from the counter.
“It’s alright,” I mutter.
“We need to close, ma’am. Would you like another coffee to go?” he asks.
“Close?” I look at the large round clock on the wall with its thick and heavy hands. It’s 8p. “Right, sorry.”
I get up and pick up my coffee. I can’t believe Brian let me fall asleep and just left me here. I pick up his cup. It’s still full. He couldn’t have drank more then a sip or two. I walk through the now empty and quiet room. The woman behind the counter watches me oddly. I drop the cups into the trash bin, coffee and all. I leave the Oakes Room. There isn’t anyone sitting at the library’s lobby counter any more. Most of the lights are off. I leave the way I came and walk through the parking lot to my car. I drive home, wondering what happened to Brian. I’m angry that he left like that, but I can’t help be worried about him too. He’s not normally like that. The fight he had with Jennifer must have really shaken him. I’ll call him. I flip on the light as I step into the kitchen. The apartment is very quiet. I turn on the TV and turn it up loud. I walk into the living room and look at my answering machine; just the messages from earlier today. He didn’t even call me. I pick up the phone and dial his number. It rings several times before Jennifer answers.
“Hi, Jennifer. Is Brian home?” I ask.
“Yeah.” I can hear her talking to him, but I can’t understand what she is saying.
“Hello?” Brian says.
“You alright?” I ask.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Why?”
I’m stunned and am not sure what to say.
It’s because of Jennifer.
I nod my head in agreement. “She’s changing you.”
“Who? What?” he asks.
“Damn it, Brian. I was worried!” I slam the phone down, hanging up on him.
She’s controlling him, making him be that way. You know he’s never been this way to you before. And you heard how she was talking about you, like you’re worthless. Don’t worry, you’re his sister and will be long after he divorces the bitch.
I delete the messages from the machine without listening to them. I’m his sister. I run my hands through my hair and sigh. Why does everything have to be so complicated? I wish I could go back to when Brian and I were close, when we ran through the sprinklers and picked mother’s roses. Things were so much easier then.
I walk back into the kitchen and make some coffee. The can is almost empty. I’ll have to pick some up in the morning. I go into the bed room and undress, dropping my clothes in a pile next to the bed. I pull pajamas out of the top drawer of the dresser and put them on. I don’t think I can sleep right now. I walk through the kitchen and back into the living room. I turn on the light. I sit in my recliner and put my feet up. I turn the TV on with the remote. I glance at the shadows behind me and watch them a moment. They seem to be flickering the way shadows do in candle light. I look at the ceiling, but the light is steady.
The phone rings and I jump.
Bill collectors, they want your money. You haven’t paid the rent yet. Kirk will be calling for his money soon! Why hasn’t Brian paid you this week? No one ever calls unless theywant money!
Brian calls when he wants me to work. I don’t want to answer the phone. I’m tired of explaining that I’ll send the money as soon as I have some and I can’t work tomorrow, I worked today. It rings again. I look at it, thinking it might be something important. I could always hang up if it wasn’t someone I wanted to talk to. Another ring. I couldn’t hang up on Brian though. One more ring and the machine will pick up. I lay my hand on it, wishing I could afford caller ID. It rings and the machine picks up. I listen to my voice explain that I can’t come to the phone. It beeps.
“Hey, Heather. It’s Ann.”
Ann! I scramble at the phone and turn off the machine.
“Hello!” I yell into it.
“Oh, hi.” She laughs.
She’s laughing at you. She thinks you’re stupid. That’s how she laughed when you told her about her little piggie laugh.
“I thought you were a bill collector,” I explain.
“It’s awfully late for a collector,” she says.
What does she know? Maybe our collectors call later than hers do!
I look at the clock. It’s ten at night.
“Yeah. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
She laughs again and I imagine her bright smile. How could she be laughing at me?
“Well, I’m not looking for any money,” she says.
“That’s good, since I don’t have any.”
“What you doing?” she asks.
“Not much,” I answer. I turn off the TV and lean back in my chair. It’s good to hear her voice. I wonder if she’s in her pajamas too.
“Want to come over and watch a movie? I rented this great anime.”
“I’m already in my pajamas,” I say.
“Alright, then I’ll bring it to you. You won’t even have to get dressed!” Ann said.
She can’t come over. The apartment is a mess. What would she think of you then?
“The apartment isn’t clean!” Don’t tell her that! I am feeling stupid again.
She laughs. “Mine isn’t either.” I think I hear a toilet flush. I smile. She’s in the bathroom.
“Cleaning is for days when you can’t get together with a friend,” she said. “So, do you want me to come over with the movie or not?”
“Yeah, come over,” I answer.
She lives really close! You won’t have any time to clean!
I get up and move through the house quickly. I scoop my pajamas off the floor and drop dirty dishes into the kitchen sink. Why did I tell her that she could come over? I am beginning to feel like the first time she came with me for coffee. The door bell rings.
I open the door. Ann is standing there with her light robe open, wearing her pajamas. She hasn’t even put shoes on. She’s wearing blue fuzzy slippers instead. I shake my head at her and gesture for her to come in. She’s carrying a bag with her.
“You’re in your pajamas,” I say as I close the door behind her.
“So are you.” She winks at me.
I lead her into the living room.
She wants something from you. People don’t wink unless they’re tricking you! Why would she wink at you? You know you’re in your pajamas. What’s wrong with that?
I watch her go over to the couch. She’s pulling stuff out of her bag.
“Oh! I got you something!” She turns to me, holding something behind her back.
I don’t know what to say…
She pulls a small stuffed pig from behind her back and waves it at me. Its little ears and curled tail bob. It seems like its little black eyes are pleading with me to take it.
She doesn’t like pigs! Look how rough she is! Quick grab the poor little guy before she bashes its brains to bits inside its skull!
“You’re going to make the poor little guy sick.” I take him in my hands and laugh.
“You said you like pigs, so I had to get him when I saw him at Wal-Mart,” she said.
“Thank you. He’s cute.” I pet his fuzzy little nose and laugh again. “I’m going to name him Buta.” I turn the pig around in my hands so he’s facing Ann and make him wave a pink little hoof at her. “Hi, my name is Buta!” I say in a higher tone.
She laughs and shakes hands with him.
“What movie did you bring over?” I ask.
“Noir,” she answers.
“What’s it about?” I tuck Buta under my arm and walk over to the couch.
“Two hot assassin chicks.” She pulls the movie out of her bag and shows me the cover. It looks cool.
“Sounds good,” I say.
Hot assassin chicks… That sounds brutal. Why does she want to watch a movie about killing people? You should kick her out before something bad can happen!
“You want the 50 cent tour?” I ask.
“Well, this is the living room.” I feel stupid again. Why am I always saying dumb shit when she’s around? I open the door to the computer room, reach in and flick on the lights.
“This is the computer room,” I say.
She steps past me and looks around. She leans close to the picture I have hanging on the wall.
“Brian gave me that,” I say.
“I love it!” she says. “It’s a really interesting idea. It looks like the fairy is surprised about seeing a dragon. Imagine one make believe creature meeting another and being surprised to find out that magical creatures are real!” She laughs.
I lead her back into the kitchen.
“This is the kitchen,” I still feel stupid. What are you supposed to say to people when you give them a tour? Doesn’t everyone have the same rooms in their house anyway? It’s not like I’m showing her my dungeon and throne rooms! I lead her into my bed room.
“This is my bed room.”
“You have a water bed! How cool!’ She pushes down on the mattress and watches it slosh. I look at the tangled mess of sweaty sheets. I told her my house was a mess! Why did she just invite herself over any way?
I go to the bathroom door. “And this is the bathroom.”
“This is a really nice place,” she says. “I like the curtains.” She points to the heavy red curtains hanging from my bedroom windows.
“So, have you seen this movie before?” I ask.
“Well, it’s really a series, but I haven’t seen it yet either,” she answers.
We move back through the apartment to the living room. It’s safer having her out here. It’s too intense to have her in my bedroom.
She puts the movie in and sits on the couch next to me. I like having her so close. She kicks off her slippers and draws her feet up so she’s sitting in a butterfly stretch. It doesn’t look comfortable, but I know she’s more flexible then me. The movie starts playing, but I keep watching her. I want to kiss her.
It begins with a haunting melody and I watch it. It is like nothing else I have ever watched before. The art is beautiful and compelling. A silhouette crosses the blue screen and is shot several times before he falls away to reveal the shooting pistol, but not the shooter. The intro song is sung in Japanese and I can’t understand it, but I read the subtitles. A drop of blood splashes down on the blue screen and ripples into waves of red. Coppelia’s casket… A glass of wine tips and spills over, showering its contents down. The flowing tears have already dried up… The city stretches out in darkness, with winking city lights. The silhouette of a woman passes by. Solitude starved for blood… A female body: her face, then her legs. Then both women are together. Death dances, smelling of angel down… She is running through a blue hallway through sprays of yellow sunlight. In a town where the black sun never sets… The blades of a fan slowly revolve and a woman is framed behind them. Everyone works silently with an air of deception… I cannot meet you… I cannot meet you here… God, our savior… Coppelia’s casket… People are dolls tired of dancing… The lamb on the altar… Where is the mechanical dream headed…? Coppelia’s casket… Light awakened from the darkness… The lamb on the altar… Where is the dream with the broken spring headed? The pocket watch opens and begins to play its haunting music…
“So, what do you think of the first episode?” she asks.
“I really liked it.” I can’t get the watch’s music out of my head.
“Me too,” she says.
I watch her mouth move.
“I want to kiss you,” I whisper.
She looks at me and smiles. “Then why don’t you?”
I look at her. She touches my cheek gently and kisses me.
This time I don’t feel awkward taking her to my bedroom…
I wake and stare up at the ceiling. I hear Ann’s light breathing beside me and smile. We didn’t watch the rest of the episodes, but last night was fun anyway. I sit up and run my fingers through my hair. I look at the clock.
“Shit!” It’s 11:30am. I was supposed to be at work at 8am! I get up and go to the phone. I pick up the receiver and dial work. What do I say? It’s ringing.
You should lie to him. He won’t like the truth.
“Hello?” It’s my brother.
“Hi, this is Heather.”
“Nice of you to call,” he says.
“I over slept, but I’ll be in shortly,” I explain.
“No, Heather, don’t come in. I think Jen is ready to skin you alive. It’s not really busy. Why don’t you and Ann stay home today?”
Jennifer will have your hide for it. She won’t care that he told you to stay home. She will try to use this as leverage against you.
Leverage with whom? Brian? He’s not going to fire me!
“Are you sure?” I ask.
“Yeah, it’ll be fine,” he says.
“You’ll call if you need us, right?” I ask.
“Yeah, I will.” He laughs.
We both know he always calls when he needs me. That’s what family is about. We know to call.
I hear Ann moving behind me. I turn and look at her. She’s bent over pulling on her pants. Her long blond hair spills down to cover most of her face and arms.
“Brian must be pissed!” she says as she stands and pulls her pants up over her narrow hips.
I smile at her. “It’s alright.”
“Did you call him?” she asks.
“Yeah, I just talked to him. He said the store has been really quiet. We don’t have to go in.”
She sits on the bed, smiling. “Really?”
“Yeah, really.” I step over to her and take her face in my hands. I look down at her and say, “I’d rather stay home today.” I kiss her. She wraps her arms around me, pressing her breasts against my stomach.
“I’ll make you breakfast,” I say.
I pull away from her and move to my dresser. I can feel her watching me, but I don’t look at her. I fish out a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, I pull them on. I return to her and give her another kiss before I go into the kitchen. I hear the water bed sloshing as she moves in it. I turn on the air conditioner. The heat is oppressive. My T-shirt is already sticking to me. I turn on the TV. More of the same: heat, heat and heat. I start up some coffee. How can I serve a breakfast without coffee? After rummaging in the fridge for a few moments, I find some eggs, cheese and milk. I carry the stuff over to the counter next to the stove and get to work.
Noir: It is the name of an ancient fate; two maidens who govern death. The peace of the newly born, their black hands protect!
The watch opens and I begin to hum the music as I cook the eggs.
Ann is so beautiful. I smile down at the broken omelet in the pan.
Then why are you out here in the kitchen?
Someone has to cook breakfast and this is my apartment. I chuckle under my breath. I do have to feed her at some point. I can hear my neighbor mowing his lawn and can’t help but wonder how much the grass could possible have grown since yesterday.
The phone rings. I move the pan off the burner and hum to myself as I go to the phone in the living room.
“Hello?” I say.
“Heather, this is Brian.” He sighs heavily.
“You need Ann and me to come in?” I ask, disappointed, but not really surprised. It was nice of him to try giving us a day off together.
“Is she with you?” he asks.
I laugh. “Yeah, she’s still with me.”
“I really need you guys here. It’s been really crazy all morning and I can’t keep doing it alone. Jen was so angry that you guys didn’t show that she walked out on me.”
“Why did you tell me to stay home then?” I ask.
“If things have been so crazy and Jennifer walked out, why did you tell me to stay home?”
“I didn’t tell you to stay home. I’ve been trying to get a hold of you all morning. I’ve left you tons of messages!”
I look down at the answering machine and watch the little red light blinking. I hit the message button.
“You have 12 new messages,” the machine informs me.
What the hell?
“I just called you,” I say.
“When? Did you call me here?” he asks.
“Brian, that isn’t funny!” My chest feels tight and tears threaten to spill.
“Look, it doesn’t matter. Can you and Ann come in or not?” he asks.
I wipe my eyes. “Yeah, we’ll be there.”
He hangs up without saying anything else. I put the phone down and stare at the red light. I push the message button.
“You have 12 new messages,” the machine repeats.
I push the play button.
“Wednesday April fourth at eight AM,” the machine says. Then Brian’s voice “Hey, Heather, where are you? Call me.”
I push the delete button.
“Wednesday April fourth at eight thirty four AM.”
“Heather, it’s me again. I really need you to call me.”
I push the message button again.
“You have ten new messages.”
I pick up the small black machine in my hands and unplug it. I carry it into the kitchen with me and drop it into the trash. What a piece of shit. Seems I’m always wasting my money on things that don’t work right.
You have 12 new messages.
“There are no messages,” I say.
I go into the bed room. “Ann, Brian just called. He says we have to go in after all.”
“Damn, I knew it was too good to be true.” She got up and finished getting dressed. “Did Jennifer bust his balls or what?”
“She walked out on him,” I answer.
“She left him at the store by himself?”
“Damn, she’s such a bitch.”
We go into the kitchen together. I dump the half cooked omelet in the trash.
“I’ll get you breakfast later,” I promise.
You know I can’t let you live.
“What?” I ask, looking back at her.
“I said: don’t worry about it.”
I nod at her. We walk out together and get into our cars. We drive to work separately. I don’t want the company right now. I wish I could stay home and think about some of the weird things Brian has been doing lately. Why is he being such an asshole?
The store was even worse then it was the day before. Customers were openly angry and hostile. They were still standing in the two lines, but they were yelling at Brian freely. The machines purred and hummed in the back ground, but Brian was obviously not keeping up with them. I moved through the group of customers and went behind the counter. Ann follows me.
“People, please!” I yell. The room quiets and they look at me. “You’re not helping things. We’re sorry you’ve had to wait, but the more you yell and bicker with each other, the more difficult it is for us to help you. So, please, be patient with us and we will get everything taken care of.”
Many of these people were facing deadlines and others were here on their lunches. They all felt the press of the clock and forgot that they come to us for a reason. I tossed my bag in the corner and dove in. Brian said nothing to us, unless it was about the work. But soon the customers had thinned greatly and only a few machines were working behind us while a couple people waited. I look at him, wanting him to say something to me to justify everything he’s been doing. He scowls back at me. Like all this is my fault.
“We need to talk,” he says.
I nod. “Yeah, we do.”
He leads the way into his office. I’ve never been in his office for longer then a few moments to tell him something or the like. Now, I sit down in the small chair in front of his desk and watch him sit down on the other side of it.
“What’s going on with you?” he asks me. His face has softened.
“With me?” I ask. “What about you?”
“Your attendance at work has been getting progressively worse. You’re showing up late, if at all and then I usually have to call you and beg you to come. I can’t run a business this way,” he says.
“I am always here when I’m scheduled to be!” I shout. “You keep changing my schedule and expect me to know when I’m supposed to be here like I’m some kind of mind reader.”
He stares at me a moment. “I haven’t been changing your schedule.”
“You think I don’t know what days I signed up for?” I ask.
“Do you really think I’ve been changing your schedule?” He looks hurt and worried.
“Well, someone has been! Jennifer! She hates me! She must be doing it!” I point at him.
“No one has changed your schedule,” he says softly.
He pulls a stack of papers from his drawer and lays them on the desk in frontof me.
“Those are your sign up sheets for the last three months.” He points to yesterday. “You signed up for the eight to four shift, but you didn’t come in. So, I called you and you came about eleven thirty. Then you left with Ann at three.”
I stare at the sheet. It looks like my handwriting, but it isn’t. It can’t be, because I didn’t sign up for yesterday.
“She forged these,” I say. I feel the tightness in my chest again.
“No, she didn’t, Heather.”
Everyone works silently with an air of deception…
“You too,” I whisper. I let my angry, hurt tears fall. I get up.
“For what, Brian? So, you can show me more of your false documents and so you can tell me more bullshit?”
“Heather, I want to help you.”
“Then stop this!” I scream.
“Heather, you need help. I think you should see someone.”
“I don’t know, a doctor.”
“I’m not sick. You’re the one who’s been lying and manipulating me. You left me at the coffee shop and then act like you don’t know where I was!”
Death dances, smelling of angel down…
“What are you talking about?” he asks.
“Yesterday, Ann and I went to the coffee shop and then you met me over there, but then you left me there alone! And you didn’t even drink the coffee I bought you!”
“I didn’t go to the coffee shop, Heather,” he says softly.
I scream at him and knock the pictures off his desk and onto the floor. Jennifer smiles up at me from her portrait and I stomp on her face.
“She’s turned you against me!” I scream as I smash the picture frame and glass.
He reaches his hands out to me, but then pulls them back and steps away from me. I storm out of his office and run through the store, ignoring the perplexed looks from Ann and the customers. I run out to my car and get in. I start it up, but my hands are shaking. I lay my forehead against the steering wheel and sob. Why does he hate me?
Someone knocks on my window. I look up. Ann smiles at me. I roll my window down and look at her, I can’t say anything.
“Let me take you home,” she says.
She opens the door and I move over so she can get behind the wheel.
Even when I was in a crowd, I was always alone.
Even Brian has left me alone.
The soft touch finally made me realize how cold my cheek was…
I look at Ann.
Like waking up in the morning and hearing the birds chirping for the first time. Suddenly, I don’t know anything yet. What my heart was seeking, I don’t know. I was always looking up at the sky, like this, since who knows when. I would send my thoughts to right below that cloud.
I press my finger against the glass of the car window and trace the outline of the large fluffy cloud hanging in the sky. It is a light, white cloud that won’t bring any rain. Maybe that’s what we need, a little rain to cool things off.
Ann parks the car and I get out. I’m still shaking and have trouble unlocking the door. Ann follows me up the walk way and onto the porch. She takes the keys from me and opens the door. I go inside. I walk through the kitchen and go straight to my bed. I flop onto it and sob. I hear Ann close the door. She comes into the bed room and lays down next to me. Her arms feel so good around me. I can almost forget all the terrible things Brian has done. I close my eyes shut and bury my face in her shoulder…
I wake and stare at the ceiling a moment before I remember everything that happened yesterday. What happened to those two kids?
Everyone works silently with an air of deception.
I get up and go to the bathroom. I sit on the toilet and wonder what time it is.Why don’t I have a clock in my bathroom? I think other people do. I stand and pull up my jeans; they’re damp from having sweat in them while I was sleeping. I wash my hands and face with cold water and pat dry with a rough green hand towel. I go into the kitchen and am surprised to see Ann sitting at the kitchen table staring at a pile of job applications and piles of lines paper.
“What time is it?” I ask, thinking I should plug my alarm clock back in.
“Noon,” she answers.
“Damn, I guess I really passed out on you there.” I see she’s made coffee and pour myself a cup.
“That’s alright, you had a rough day.”
I sip the coffee. I sit down next to her.
“Thank you,” I say.
She kisses me. “You’re welcome.”
I stare at the coffee mug. It’s a large sixteen ounce mug that looks like a pig. It has two little black eyes and curled ears that stick out. I watch her scratch out a few notes and fill in a box on an application.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“I’m filling out job applications and writing a resume,” she answers.
“I see that, but why?” I ask.
She looks at me. “Jennifer called this morning and said that both of us are fired.”
“Brian didn’t call?” I ask.
“No,” she answers.
Everyone works silently with an air of deception. Brian is no different then the rest of them. You can’t trust him now. He and Jennifer are working together and she wants to destroy you.
I stare down at my coffee again.
Ann sets a little pink gift bag in front of me.
“What’s this?” I ask.
“Something to cheer you up,” she says.
I sigh. I open the bag and pull out the crumbled tissue paper. I’m not surprised by the pig looking up at me. I pull it out and look at it. It has a large pink bow around its neck. It is definitely a she. Her fur is long and very soft.
“She’s cute,” I say.
“What are you going to name her?” she asks.
Why is she in such a hurry to name the damn thing? We just met this little piggie, she needs to give a minute to get to know her better!
I shrug. “I don’t know.”
“How about Cutie?” she suggests.
“She is cute,” I say.
“It looked like a girl pig to me too,” she says.
“Sure, she can be Cutie,” I answer.
I carry the pig to the bed room and set Cutie on the shelf next to Buta.
Why does she buy them for you? We know she doesn’t like pigs. We’ve seen how she handles them, letting them flop all around.
I don’t know. She thinks they make me happy. I return to the kitchen, Ann is watching me.
“Don’t you like her?” she asks.
“Yeah, she great,” I answer.
“Then what’s wrong?” she asks.
Lie to her! She’s just like Brian. If Jennifer’s shadow can seep into Brian it can seep into anyone!
I can’t. I have to tell her the truth.
“If we don’t have jobs, we don’t have the money for you to buy me pigs,” I answer.
“It was only five dollars,” she says.
“We could have used it for a gallon of milk or some eggs,” I say.
“We, huh?” She smiles at me.
“I got you fired. The least I can do is help you as best I can. Maybe if we work together we can gimp through this.”
She touches my face lightly with her finger tips. “Sounds like a plan.”
I take her hand in mine. “Come back to bed with me.”
She looks down at the applications. I laugh.
“We can wait a day before we start freaking out about all that shit.”
She follows me into the bedroom. I undress her quickly and pull her into the bed with me. I kiss her and then hold her tightly.
“I want to hide in a hole,” I whisper.
We make love and go to sleep…
Someone is here!
I lay in bed with eyes wide and unseeing in the dark. My chest aches and my breathing is tight. I struggle to calm myself. I tell myself that the whispers I’m hearing are only in my mind. I clutch at the sheets, tearing them away from my neck and face. I hear foot steps. I squeeze my eyes shut with a silent prayer. I reach out blindly and grope until the light comes on. A few seconds of blinking allows my eyes to adjust to the light. Everything looks fine. Ann is still asleep in the chaos of sheets next to me. She snores softly. My small stuffed piggies smile back at me in reassuring silence. Their stitched little mouths all upturned and their black beaded eyes seeing no threat. I stare at them a moment longer and then turn off the light.
Someone is here! A silhouette crosses the blue screen and is shot several times before he falls away to reveal the shooting pistol, but not the shooter.
I toss and turn in bed a bit before I can find a nice warm spot against the small of Ann’s back. Then I hear the soft whispers and again stare into the dark. Then a fuzzy little piggy nose touches mine to reassure me that it is alright. I smile and reach my hand to pet my little friend, and then stop when I remember that I had not brought any little piggies into bed. I smack the stuffed animal away from my face and scream. I lurch back, falling half out of the bed. The larger lamp on Ann’s side floods the room into brightness. I squint my eyes at it.
She reaches out a delicate hand to me, but I ignore it.
Her pigs are attacking you! She and the pigs are the same as Jennifer and Brian. Everyone works silently with an air of deception.
I quickly glance over the blob of blankets around me and look for the two pigs. Then I see the one laying on the floor against the wall. It is Buta. He is sitting on his butt with his body tilting as if he were asking me a question. I imagine for a moment that he is also asking me what the fuss was all about. I point at him.
“What?” She looks at the offending pig, but he seems so soft now.
She’s on their side!
“Did you bring them to bed?” I ask.
I look at the empty space on shelf where they normally live. Cutie isn’t there either.
“I don’t know. Why?”
She’s lying to you! Her pigs are attacking you! Everyone works silently with an air of deception. She’s on their side!
I shrug. How was I supposed to explain to her the thoughts that had just been clunking around in my head?
“He fell on my face and startled me,” I say. I think that if I give her a piece of the truth, neither of us will notice that I haven’t told her the important part.
She leans in and kisses me. I hug her a moment before getting up. I pick up and then draw the folds of my velvet bathrobe tight across my breasts. I look down at my pig slippers and slide them to one side with my foot.
“Where you going?” she asks me.
Don’t tell her! Her pigs are attacking you! Everyone works silently with an air of deception. She’s on their side!
I run a hand through the tangle of my hair and look down at her. “I can’t sleep.”
“You want me to get up with you?”
She sent the pigs after you! Her pigs are attacking you! Everyone works silently with an air of deception. She’son their side!
“No, you have to job hunt in the morning.” I walk to her side of the bed and kiss her again before grabbing the pig. I shove him back onto the shelf. I wonder where the other one is hiding. I look at him and consider how I can get rid of him.
Why does she buy them?
“Why do you buy me these damned things anyway?” I ask.
She snuggles back into bed and tugs the covers over her sleek legs.
“You like pigs,” she answers as she turns off the light.
But you didn’t buy any them…They’re her pigs…She’s on their side!
I shuffle out of the bed room, thinking to myself that I’m not sure I really like the pigs at all. They always seem to have malevolence in there stitched faces. I step out onto the cold tile of the kitchen and regret not putting on my slippers. I flip on the light and go to the fridge. I open the freezer and stare inside as if I expect there to be something new and exciting waiting for me. There never is. Maybe I should reconsider my grocery list. I pull out a package of coffee and a pint of chocolate ice cream. I take them to the counter. I fish through the drawer a moment before finding a spoon.
They’re behind you!
I pause, listening. My stomach turns and I suddenly feel like something is watching me.
“Ann?” I turn towards the bed room, but I see nothing in the shadows beyond the door way.
I turn back to my ice cream, pop it open and dig my spoon in deep. I need a double dose of chocolate tonight. I let the big chunk of cold melt on my tongue as I fumble with the coffee machine. I swear at it as if it cares that I dumped grounds on the floor. I get a cloth from the sink and pause again. The house is still silent except the muffled noises of Ann’s snoring.
I wipe the grounds up with the damp cloth and drop it into the sink. I pour the water in and turn on the machine, wishing I already had a nice hot cup of mocha to go with my ice cream. I turn and gape at the small stuffed pig sitting in the door way of the kitchen. His black eyes angrily flashing at me, reminding me of my earlier assault on him.
“Ann?” I took a step to the bed room, but didn’t really want to approach the cute pink fluff that was staring at me.
“Ann, this isn’t funny!”
The shadows from the other room crawled out across the kitchen floor. The tiny motes of darkness swarmed over the pig like a thousand insects. They crawled and scratched at its fur until they had dug down into it, hiding beneath its soft pink fluff. Jennifer’s shadow had reached here. He had been right. Ann and the pigs were just like Brian now.
The pig lurches forward, almost tipping it self over, then begins to glide across the floor towards me. I shuffle back until my butt hits the edge of the counter. Other pigs come out of the shadows, already swarmed with the wriggling darkness. I scream and turn to retreat to the living room, but there are pigs in that door way too. Where have they all come from? How had she hidden this army?
The first is already at my foot and I kick it away. It squeals, falling against the oncoming pink tide. They march upon me and look up at me briefly before they begin to grab at me with their squishy hooves and snouts. I swat at them and scream. The ones I strike fly through the air and bounce unhurt on the floor or table before beginning again their attack upon me. I grab one and cram it down into the garbage disposal before flipping it on. I hear an inexplicable crunching sound. I pull a knifefrom the block on the counter and stab at the pigs now climbing up my legs.
Ann comes into the kitchen with the sheet wrapped around her.
“Are you alright?” She looks at me and then at the pig I hold in my hand. I’ve stabbed it several times now and blood has spilled down my arm. She looks at it and then me again, as if unsure of what she was seeing.
“What are you doing?” She wades through the pigs and picks up one of the mangled bodies.
I don’t know how to answer her. How could she do this? I push her back away from me and kick at the pigs closest to me.
“Heather!” She touches my shoulder and tries to turn me to face her, but I can’t look at her now. She moves so she is standing in front of me and she calls my name again. A fat pig plops onto her shoulder and lets its insects unload onto her. She brushes at them briefly, as if it werea mere hair that was lying across her face.
I grip the knife tightly. It is all I have left; the only thing that can be done now. She is afraid, staring at the knife.
“Please-“ she whimpers and I want to hold her.
I don’t listen to her cry out as I lunge at her. I misjudge the distance, reaching the length of my arm before the blade really penetrates her body. The tip of the knife catches her right shoulder and tears down through the sheet and her skin. She stumbles back, her back coming against the wall. She has no where to go now. I step forward; wanting to be sure the blade sinks deep this time. I can’t stand seeing the pain in her eyes. She charges me, hoping to surprise me so she can get to the door behind me; loosing the sheet as she moves. I side step her easily and let her pass me. I shove the knife into her back; higher than I had meant to, but she is shorter than me. It doesn’t matter. The knife sinks to its handle. I jerk the knife out and as if the blade had been all that had ever held her standing, she falls forward. I stare down at her. I am not sure she is dead and feel stupid for not knowing how to tell. I kick her hard in the ribs. She gives no response. I kick her again and again. A part of me wants her to cry out. I decide she couldn’t have stayed quiet if she is still alive. Breathing is painful and it doesn’t seem like I am getting enough air. I have to be sure. I grab a fist full of her tightly wrapped curls. I lift her head back, bringing her up off the floor. I consider the impossible arch of her neck and see now that she was a swan after all. I consider the long white swan neck a moment longer before I draw the knife across it. Blood pours out. But it doesn’t spray the way it always does in the movies. I wonder if I have done something wrong. Have I some how missed the vital vessel? It doesn’t matter. There is already an enormous amount of blood on the floor. I turn from her, glad it is done. I feel strangely empty. I step out onto the porch and am glad to feel the warm sun on my face. I ignore the soundof the neighbors screaming. The burning need is gone. I look down at the bloody knife and wonder if there could have been another way. I look through the open door but can’t see her body from there. I can hear the sirens. It doesn’t matter, it is done. Without her, I am nothing anyway. I let the knife slip through my fingers and clatter down the steps. I feel so very tired. I sit down on the top step and wait. They will come for me and rightly punish me for her death. But I know I have released her from the shadow. I sigh. I miss her very much.