Five Minutes More
by Donna Gagnon
The first thing he did when he walked into Jessica's kitchen was crank the volume to nearly max on her CD player. Track one on the CD she'd left in there was Iggy Pop's “The Passenger”. Daniel cringed at distorted bells, upsetting drumming and the annoying regularity of the guitar strums.
He didn't turn it off. Just stood in the middle of the room with Iggy's mad voice in his ears, picked at a speck of dirt on his black leather jacket and stuck a finger under the too-tight neck of his sweater. After a moment, he began to absent-mindedly examine things in the kitchen. Small notes and pictures stuck to the fridge with magnets. He opened her cupboards and then closed them. Lifted canister lids. Closed his eyes.
Daniel returned to the stereo and turned it off. In the blessed silence, he sat at the kitchen table. It was covered in magazines, books, and papers. Not touching anything, he tried to breathe and listened to the loud hum of the refrigerator until it stopped.
“Damn it, Jessica.” He slammed the table with the strong palms of his hands. “This place is a mess. Vanity Fair, National Geographic, Elizabeth Rex, If We Are Women.” He picked up each item in turn and dropped them on the floor, one by one. “Bills, bank statement...” He looked at this closely for a moment, whispering 'god' before tucking it in his pocket. “...steel roofs, Bigley shoe sale, Stratford...” Daniel continued dropping stuff on the floor until all that remained on the table was one quilted placement, an opened bottle of red wine, two crystal glasses and a candle.
He pushed away from the table, took off his jacket and draped it over the back of the chair. Rolling up his sleeves, he ran hot water in the sink and began to do the dishes.
“I hate this. It's so wrong. How did this ever happen?” The refrigerator began to hum loudly again. “Stop it!” He banged the fridge with the side of his wet hand. There were tears in his eyes.
Weeping, he finished washing the dishes, put them all away in the cupboards and sat back down at the table, wiped his wet face with the edge of his sweater, and fished into the pocket of his hanging jacket for a lighter. He lit the candle.
“Maybe in this light you'll never really be gone. You always lit candles. And I never paid attention.”
The front door creaked open, slammed shut. Jessica came into the room, carrying a bushel basket full of freshly picked apples.
“Hey! Did you leave these out on the porch? There's supposed to be frost tonight, ya know.”
“Who? Jessica...?” Daniel slowly stood up.
“That rain. It's brought all the leaves down. The road's are really slick.” She turned to Daniel.
“Here.” Collecting himself, he moved towards her and hugged her tightly.
“You're all sweaty. Did ya just get here?”
“I washed the dishes.”
“Ah, honey. Thanks! Did ya cook too?”
He stared at her. Gently touched her hair.
“Ooooo, guess not! Howz about an appetizer then?” She kissed him.
“You're... so warm.”
“Hot flash.” Jessica laughed and gave him another, bigger, kiss. “Well,” she told him, pulling away from their embrace, “Let me make you some supper.”
“There's a drip.”
“In the sink.”
“Oh, yeah. Been that way ever since I moved in.”
“And the refrigerator hums.”
“It's really quite loud.”
“Daniel, this house is full of creaks and groans. When the wind blows, it's kinda like you're on a ship in the middle of the ocean. Many a night's I've gone to sleep feelin' like I'm on a boat. It's kinda cool.”
“You never had a nice place.”
“A nice place? Ya mean with triple paned windows and aluminum siding?”
“And a furnace so ya don't need to worry about the price of electricity goin’ up?”
“You never had enough money.”
Jessica laughed. “Money? What the heck is that?”
“I could have given you that...”
“What are you talking about? Drips, hums, money? What did you do today?”
Daniel looked at her strangely. “I came to clean up your house.”
“You? Clean my house? What's wrong with yours?”
“Where's your car?”
“In the driveway.”
“No. It's not.”
“Yes it is. I drove...” Jessica frowned.
“Where did you go today, Jessica?”
“And then what?”
“Then... I opened the store. There's this huge crack in the front window, ya know. Some kid smacked it with his bike last week and John hasn't had it fixed. I'm afraid it's gonna spread.”
“So. Busy day?”
“Not really. After Labour Day, traffic really drops. No more tourists.”
Daniel blew out the candle on the kitchen table. “Jessica.”
“You had a car accident.”
“Two days ago.”
“No, I didn't... two days ago?”
Jessica turned away from the kitchen counter and stared at him. “What are you talking about?”
“On the highway. You hit a deer. The car rolled. Sit down.”
“But... this is crazy...”
Daniel grabbed Jessica's arm and pushed her roughly down into the chair he had been sitting in. “You're not supposed to be...”
“Here!” Daniel paced behind her chair. “Look. I called you. Two days ago. At work. Remember?”
“Yeah. You said we'd meet at McKeck's.”
“And you never showed up.”
“What? Of course I...”
“No! I sat there until the place closed. Ryan started vacuuming. Hardly let me finish my pint. I was angry. Really angry.”
“But I know I...”
“No, Jessica. You never showed up.” Daniel went to the kitchen drawer, opened it and pulled out a roll of duct tape.
“This is insane. If I said I'd meet you there, then why...?”
He pulled off a long piece of tape from the roll, tore it roughly, stood behind Jessica and smacked it over her mouth. “Just be quiet! Quiet!” He grabbed her hands and held them behind the chair. “I don't want to hear you. Just stop!”
Jessica struggled and mumbled.
“Just sit there. Still. I don't want to hurt you. I only want five minutes more. Okay?”
Jessica nodded, her eyes huge and frightened.
Daniel opened a lower cupboard and dragged out a length of nylon rope. He began to tie her hands. “I'm going to talk and I don't want to get interrupted. Now. Here's what's happening. You died, Jessica. You were driving home from work. Coming to meet me at the bar. It was raining. And the road was wet, it was windy. The leaves were wet and they all came down on the pavement. It was slippery. The curve over by the Hydro station, you went around and there was a deer. You couldn't have known... you didn't see it. And you hit it. The car flipped over. Twice. It was in the ditch. Way down in the ditch.”
He paused. Poured himself a glass of wine. Drank.
“And the next day, it snowed. And I was so mad. You never showed up. I thought you had left me again. I went home from the bar and I drank some more. Passed out in the chair. I didn't know... I called the store. You were already dead. They knew. I didn't.”
He poured another glass of wine.
“They didn't even know who I was. It's like... Jessica, I came here... three days ago? Rented that horrible place next door. It's got bats. Bat shit stinking up the walls at night. It's cold. All the heat gets sucked right outside. I hate it here. But I came back for you. My wife, my kids... they think I've gone mad.
“Japanese food, remember? Where you and I had dinner the first time? Kirin beer and sushi. I absolutely loved the way you frowned at all the stuff on your plate! But you ate it. Your kiss... I could taste the wasabi...
“I've been such a fool all my life. I moved, sold our house once ’cause the stupid dog next door kept barking every minute. It was either move or get a gun. I woulda shot the little... and I lied. To my wife, myself... but never to you. Never! It took me too long to tell you but what I said was true.”
He put both hands around Jessica's neck.
“I love you. Nothing else has ever been so real. You are everything. My heart, my hands...”
Daniel squeezed and Jessica began to struggle.
“You wouldn't listen to me, would you? Not when I told you. Not when I promised I'd take you anywhere. You just ran. Away.”
He loosened his hands and Jessica was still.
“And now you're dead. Gone. Leaving me here. Alone. Trying to sleep in a bat infested...”
Daniel dropped to his knees beside Jessica and placed his head in her lap. “I can still feel you. The heat. This is home.”
He jumped up. “This is insane. I've gone mad.” Striding back over to the CD player, he hit the play button and “The Passenger” began booming through the room again.
“You're not here, dammit. They told me you were dead. And I’m here. Why?
“Yes! I brought apples! We always talked about apples. You liked them. And I promised, didn't I? And that wasn't a lie.”
Daniel pushed the basket of apples closer to the table and whispered, “The Yeats poem.”
He removed an apple from the basket and placed it in front of Jessica. He began to recite:
Though I am old with wandering
and slammed a second apple down on to the table...
Through hollow lands and hilly lands.
and another apple...
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
apple after apple crashed onto the table following each line he spoke from the poem...
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
His voice hoarse from yelling above the music, his hands sweet and sticky wet from smashing apples, Daniel turned up the CD player even more and walked over to stand in front of Jessica. He stared at her and the mess of apples, reached over and tore the duct tape off her mouth. Her scream could barely be heard.
“Five minutes more, Jessica. That's all I wanted. Five minutes more.”
Copyright © 2006 by Donna Gagnon