Made It Way Up
part 11: Essa
by Ian Donnell Arbuckle
Part 10 appeared in issue 93.
I knocked on the door just to see the look on his face. The only light in the room came from his machine’s monitor; he always looks better in those flesh drenched photons than in real day light. He clicked a few times, replacing the warm glow with the dull black of his wallpaper, before putting on a yawn and turning to me.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“Getting late. I’m going to lock up. Just making sure you weren’t planning on going out again tonight.”
“Nope. Not tonight.”
“You going to bed soon?”
“In a bit. I was going to talk to Perch if she’s home.”
“I’ll be done here in a while.”
“Take your time,” I said, closing the door. He usually left it open, so I wouldn’t get suspicious. I could feel my lips curve into devil horns. The door made a heavy click; everything in this tired old house is connected to everything else. Close the oven and the toilet flushes; knock on the door and the smoke detector goes off -- or would if there were batteries in it. Lean too far back in your chair and the windows break. When I shut the door, the soft light behind it came on again, shining through the crack by the floor.
It was just too cute.
I left the kitchen light on as I locked the front and back doors. I posed in the reflections, standing in the windows in nothing but my bath robe. I let it slip open so the sides of the V were balancing on my breasts. When I slid the chain across the front door, my nose inches from its mate, I caught my nail in the catch. It didn’t break but hurt like hell. I pressed it tight into my palm to suffocate the ghosted pain.
Things were getting pretty cold outside. Windows don’t keep much of that out; I felt a breeze passing through the molecules and hitting my cheek, passing through my cheek and out the other side.
First time I tried Perch’s number it was busy. Second time, she answered laughing, fighting her own giggles to say, Hello.
“Hey, giggle butt. It’s me.”
“Essie!” I could hear other people in the background, shouting for ale and whores.
“Got a party going on?”
“Just the usual crew.” I could almost make out a guy’s voice rising. “That was Todd,” Perch explained. “He says, Hi.”
“Tell him he’s a bastard.” She did. There was familiar laughter and it hurt. They were having fun, talking about Derrida or Dorcas, pushing their brains over beer and party games of their own devising. “Bad time?” I asked her.
“No no, it’s fine. Just let me escape here.” The din faded to a sussurration, then to the isolated slam of a door. “So,” she said. “Tell me about stuff.”
“Not much to tell. Lane finally got his boat built.”
“Is he still on that kick?”
“As zealous as ever. Thanks to his efforts, humanity will once again be afraid of bursting all their capillaries in the inky blackness of... .” I couldn’t keep it up. I needed air and more words. Perch was laughing enough already, anyway.
“I thought he’d be over it by now,” she said.
“Not a chance. Read anything good lately?” I asked, eager to change the subject. I was tired of thinking about my husband and his obsessions, even if they made hearts lighter from one end of the state to the other.
“Have I ever! Todd got me hooked on this fantasist that I think you’d really like. His name is...”
“Don’t have time to read?”
“No. Well, sort of. I just don’t have a brain for names.”
She sniffed, then laughed. “That’s right. The flash cards.” She was thinking about our room mate days, when she’d come home late from a party and find me stopping up a bloody nose with tissues and bending over a desk full of white papers, names on one side and definitions on the other. She was thinking about whatever it was Todd had just said to make Ruth do her witch cackle so loudly.
I didn’t want to be bitter. But now that bitterness was in sight, there was no avoiding some awkward flailing descent into its grasp. Either I would ignore it, so baldly obvious in the attempt that Perch would try to be comforting, or I would give in to it, la dee da.
I made plans to come and visit the next time I had a chance. I lied and said that Lane was thinking about coming back to the teaching business, so we might move back to the coast. She said that was wonderful news. I fidgeted with a pen and stabbed it into her beautiful baby blue eye because they were heading out to the Thump later that evening and she still had the tiny camisole and skirt combo I let her wear to our last homecoming as undergrads. She’d even had it dry cleaned.
As I was saying bye, Lane came out of his study. He had on his dirty flannel and jeans from the day. Copper shavings clung to his knees. He stopped with a hand on the catch and stared at me. I crossed my legs and felt a fresh stab of memory pain in my finger nail. I hung up the phone.
“Wear a coat,” I said.
“It’s not that cold,” he said.
“It will be.”
He went outside and the phone rang. It was Kelly.
“Hi, Essa. Can I have a drink of water?”
“Where’s your dad? Can’t he do it for you?”
Copyright © 2004 by Ian Donnell Arbuckle