Posts Tagged phone

Excerpt 140


He didn’t flinch, but took her hands and nodded.

“I thought I wasn’t going to see you again,” he said.

“How long was I away?” She asked, and then stepped away. “Never mind, I don’t want to know.” Finding out the days she lost would make her angry and she had to focus. “Emmanuel could be coming back today for all I know. Let’s just get out of here.”

“Go get your stuff together.  I’ll take care of everything else.”

Ala went from room to room, folding clothes she forgot she owned and stuffing them into her suitcase.  She was so relieved to be leaving this house. Danno stacked all of the mail and left it on the kitchen counter.  He then put on a shirt and started up the lawnmower, a cigarette dangling from his lips.

She left hot water steam the surfaces of the bathroom before getting in the shower.  Even though someone had bathed her at Bruce’s house, she had not felt clean in what seemed like weeks. She coated herself in soap, scrubbed until her skin was red and lathered up for a second time.  Her wet hair felt foreign in her hands, as it was a third of the length she was used to.

The lawnmower died down as she toweled off and dressed in clothes that hung on her svelte body.  Her stomach gurgled and even though she wanted to go to the airport as soon as possible, she feared fainting in the security line. She also wondered if she should let Gertrude know her plan to leave.

She sat down at the dining room table to begin a note to leave for Emmanuel.  She would have to say that someone in her family died and she was leaving town.  But then he would inquire with her parents and they would all know she had lied.  She needed another excuse.

Her phone rang in the bathroom and she answered without checking who was calling.

“Hello?”

“Ala, it’s Gene,” he said quietly. It sounded like he was holding the phone away from his face.

“Oh,” she sat on the edge of the tub. “What is it?”

“I need to talk to you. Can you come outside?”

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Excerpt 136


Ala left the kitchen. She didn’t want to hear anything else the senile lady said.  She didn’t want her own enervation and passivity to be mistaken for compliance to stay in this house. She didn’t want anyone to think that she was fine with Bruce bringing her here instead of straight home, as he said he would.  She didn’t want to admit to herself how reckless she was for getting into a stranger’s car.  She hadn’t had much of a choice after fleeing the fire, but as soon as she had woken up, would have been the correct time to get out.

Swiftly, she walked down a shadowy hallway, the wood under her feet giving with every step, threatening to split and send her falling to the floor below. She pushed thoughts of what could be under the house, out of her mind. The hall became wider and grand dusty oil paintings hung on either side, all old fashioned portraits. Under ordinary circumstances, she would have stopped to take a look. Whenever observing art, she would try to compare the subjects to people she knew or recognized.  Her parents had taken her to a gallery held in an estate in the outskirts of Memphis a few summers before.  While there was no likelihood of any of the portraits featuring her ancestors or friends, Ala roamed from room to room, squinting at each cracked face, fixed on recognizing one.

She reached a cluttered parlor that acted as a dead end. The windows were very high up and there were no doors to be found.  To avoid wasting energy in this maze of a house, she found her way back to the room she had slept in and closed the door tightly behind her.

Pressing her back into the wall, she let her feet slide out in front of her and the gnarly area rug felt warm against her bottom. She caught her appearance in a mirror hanging across the room and was alarmed that there were no signs that she had been part of a fire.  Crawling closer, she noticed her hair was brushed soft and glossy, her skin was clean and smooth, and her fingernails had been filed.

They had bathed her in her sleep.  How could she have slept through a bath?  Bruce must have drugged her. She thought of the cookie missing from the chicken shack receipt.  She pulled the nightgown away from her chest and looked down.  Her whole body was fresh and gleaming.  They had seen her naked. Those ladies, Bruce and most likely others had seen all of her.

The nightgown was making her skin crawl.  She opened the closet to find that is was empty, besides a folded quilt, and continued to the bureau, which was filled with folded sheets.  She looked under the bed, trying to find something else to wear. She didn’t want to speak to the women again.  She would not eat the blood sausage. She would not interact with them.

There was a bible on a shelf under the nightstand. Ala needed to write to Danno to let him know what happened. The back of her mind warned of no postage or envelopes or pencils in sight, but she tore out a blank page from the back anyway.

She opened to the middle of the book and sped-read the page until finding the letter “H”.  She had not been for years.  Her parents stopped attending church when her grandparents had passed away. The last time Ala had seen a bible was in college, when classmates ripped out clumps from the Old Testament to use as rolling papers. What she was about to do felt indecent, but her temples buzzed and she felt her body trying to brace for her completely losing her mind.

She had to communicate. She had to try to connect.  She folded the page and carefully tore out the letter. She bit her lip as she moved on an “I”, ripping slowly. She licked each dot of paper and stuck them to the blank page.  She continued ripping out letters.  When her hand slipped and a letter was torn, she found a substitute and took it out from another section.

Her eyes began to cross after a few minutes, but she was resolute in putting together enough words to complete a thought.  She needed to leave what had happened to her on paper behind in case she didn’t make it out.

A quarter of the way thorough, she coughed, sending a whole sentence fluttered across the page.  Tears well up in her eyes and she yelped, punching the wall with her fist, drawing a thin dotted line of blood across the knuckles. Taking a deep breath, she continued to work.

The room had blackened without her noticing.  The letter was complete.  The story began with her going for a run and ended with her sitting in this dark room.  She could not fold the page, as the saliva was not enough of a binder to keep the letters in place.  She gingerly lifted the paper flat and laid it on top of the bureau.  Danno would not be able to read it, but she had to hope that someone would tell him what happened.

She picked up the marred bible and closed it placing it back on the nightstand.  She whispered to herself that she would not go to Hell for ripping the it to shreds, because God knew that she needed to arrange her thoughts in order to survive.   It was the only book in the room and she used its words to find her own.

She opened the door and walked into the hallway.  She was going to get out of the house now.  She had already killed a man to save her own life.  Even though it was an accident, he died by her hand. And while she never wanted for a life to be cut short by her doing, she knew she was capable enough to follow through.

She could not leave without her phone.  If she didn’t have a phone, she would have to hitchhike, and refused to be in a position of feebleness again.

She opened each door on both sides of the hallway.  There was a sewing room with a wedding veil draped over an armchair, an office with stacks of atlases on a marble desk, a nursery with a mobile of dainty lambs; each room beckoning exploration, but Ala kept going.

The last room at the end of the hall had the ostentatious door with a shiny gold knob.  She opened it and walked inside.  The bedroom smelled of musk and burning wood. Bruce was on a king sized, gold rimmed bed, lying on his side reading a book. His face looked pink and puffed in the firelight, as if she was recognizing him through drunk eyes during a party. There was a tray of food at the foot of the bed and his shoes were lined up next to the mantle.

“You’re awake,” he said, smiling.

She wanted to straddle him and strangle him and poke out his eyeballs with her thumbs.  She smiled and nodded as he closed the book and sat up. He was still dressed in the clothes he had picked her up in.

“My mother said you weren’t hungry.  And my sister thinks you’re pretty,” he said.

“I wasn’t hungry,” she said.

“Maybe you’d like to eat now.  I have some cream of mushroom soup that Hannah brought up,” he said, gesturing to the tray.

“No.  I don’t think so,” she said, gaining bravado from the deflated look on his face.  Who gave me a bath?”

He stood up slowly and walked past her, closing the door.

“My mother did.  Look, I’m sorry, but you were shivering.  You needed some cuts cleaned up and something warm to wear.  We couldn’t put you to bed in the condition you were in.  I promise, I didn’t see anything.” She spotted her phone on top of the mantle.  The screen was dark, but she was certain of the shape and size that it was hers. “All I want to do is save you,” he said.

“Save me?”

“I know you’re a sinner.  That fire, I heard about it on the radio.  You running in the night, practically naked. I don’t need to know about the girl you were before I found you, I just want to help you.”

“Why didn’t you bring me home?” She said, hearing her voice escalate.

“We need to get you back on the right path,” he said softly, removing a thin gold pocketknife from his pants pocket.  He flipped the small, but sharp, blade out. “One girl we saved turned out to be my wife.”

Ala was not frightened of the knife. All she wanted was her phone. She knew he would not stab her, because he could have done so in the car, or anything else he wanted.

“What do you want me to do?” She said.

“Lay with me,” he said, climbing back on the bed.  She followed and lay down next to him on her back.  He turned on his side and pushed her hip up so that they were spooning.  He traced a circle around her belly button with the blade. “Start by telling me what you’ve done to soil your reputation.  All the nasty things.”

“Where is your wife?” Ala said, trying to keep him in a humane state of mind.

“She died a few weeks ago,” he said, caressing her stomach with his fingers.

“How?”

“Drowned.  When we were baptizing her, she forgot to hold her breath.”

“That’s terrible,” she said, wincing.

“I know,” he said.  “All we wanted to do was save her, and her child. His voice trailed off. Ala could smell liquor on his breath.  He would be asleep soon.

“What were you doing driving around that night?” She said.

“Looking for girls to help.  There are a lot of junkies around there.  A lot of loose ones. So many to save before it’s too late.”

After another minute, his hand stopped and she looked back to see his eyes closed.  She wanted him to be in a deeper sleep, but didn’t have time to waste.  She lifted his arm from her torso and got up.

The wood creaked under her as she went to the dresser to retrieve phone.  He turned over and muttered in his sleep.  She could not risk walking across the room to open the heavy door.  And even once back in the hallway, the house was winding, leaving no point of reference as to where the front door could be.

She pushed some gingham curtains out of the way from the window, and discovered that it was unlocked. She pushed the window open slowly and stuck her leg out into the chilly night air.  She noticed that the gutter pipe ran the height of the house, but looked flimsy and If she used it to support her weight, it would collapse and wake everyone.  Relief came in not knowing how many stories up she was, because the only option was to jump.  The nightgown did not have pockets and while her instinct was to hold the phone in her mouth, she knew that her teeth would break upon hitting the ground.

Holding on to the sill, she brought her other leg out and let go.  She tried bending her knees before hitting the ground and while it was not a perfect landing, she was able to get to her feet and walk.  She paused, anticipating barking from a hefty beast, foaming from the mouth.  There was only quiet though.

She picked up her phone, which now had a shattered screen, and turned it on.  The reassuring blue beamed like lightning through the cracked glass and she jumped up and down with gratitude. Only a sliver of battery remained, and she could not risk going to Bruce’s car to get the charger.  Not to mention there would not be an outlet to plug the charger into, so she had to choose her phone call wisely.

She crept around the house to the front lawn, which looked normal enough, strewn dandelions and rosebushes.  The front gate was open and out she went into the street, trying to contain the brimming adrenaline from escaping and jumping out of a window.

She could not call the police and risk linking herself to the fire and the manslaughter.  Bruce now knew she was connected, but that wasn’t something she could concern herself with now.  She could not go into any diner or even gas station wearing the nightgown and no shoes.

She walked to the corner of the residential block. She would not call her parents, paralyzed with fear that they would not answer the phone. There were no people or cars in sight.  The clock on her phone read that it was around four in the morning.

She tapped Danno’s number and waited.  He answered on the first ring.

“Is this really you?” His voice was all of the single earrings, the doll clothes, the lipgloss, the socks; the treasure trove of everything she had ever lost in her life, coming back to her.

“Yes,” she cried in between gasps.

“Tell me where you are and then hang up. I’m sending a car.”

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Excerpt 103


She went to the wall, and ran her fingers over the  nails.  She looked in between the sofa and the wall, knowing that the painting did not fall, but still hoping it did. She clutched her bag to her chest and walked into the kitchen.  Everything was as she had left it before leaving for Boston; accept for a plate in the sink, now covered in water with crumbs floating to the top.  She remembered Danno eating a slice of toast that morning.  The snipping outside continued, but she could not see the gardener through the window.

She checked the back door and found that is was secure.  She made her way around the island and down the hall toward the office.  The door was closed, and she knew she hadn’t closed it earlier.  She slowly turned the knob and let herself in.  The window across the room was wide open, the navy blue sheers blowing inward and tangling themselves.  She quickly went to the window to close it and the corner of her eye caught what was gone from the wall.  The painting of the bowl of fruit having sex was not there.  She knelt down and tried to steady herself.  She felt pressure in every orifice and tried to focus on breathing.

Ala crouched on the floor for several minutes before forcing her hand into the space in the wall.  She felt around for the magnet and grasped as soon as she felt the smooth circular disc.  She brought it to the pick sand and let it hover above until the biting shine of the key drifted up.  She let out a celebratory breath of gratitude. She grabbed it and unlocked the bureau drawer.  She found the birthday page in the book and looked at the combination.  It was strange that she had no recollection of it, even though she had read the numbers so recently.

She stubbed her toe against the desk leg and cried out.  The scorching pain whizzed all the way to her heel as she eased herself down in front of the slate box.  She dialed into the keypad and waited to hear the lock releasing.  She pulled the lever and swung the door so wide that it hit the back of the desk.  Kneeling forward, she stuck her hand inside the hole in the floor.  There was nothing there.  She leaned forward so that her top half was practically stuffed into the safe and stretched her arm further.  She frantically swept the filthy underpart of the house with her hand, trying the will the money to be there. One of her legs cramped up and she pulled herself out.

Emmanuel was robbed of at least two paintings and cash.  She had no idea how much had been in the safe, but knew it was a lot more than the ten thousand dollars she was supposed to be making this summer.  Vomit rose in her throat and she swallowed deep to push it back down.  She closed the safe and pushed down on it to lift herself up.  She took her phone from her bag and dialed Danno’s number.  She listened to each ring tone, letting them hypnotize her, the purring reverberating in her ear.  He did not answer.  She shoved the phone back into her bag and closed the door to the office.

She walked through the kitchen and looked into the backyard.  Bruno was now on the other end of the pool, trimming the azalea bush.  She didn’t know if she should tell him what had happened.  She left through the living room, closing the front door and locking it.  She needed to be able to process what exactly had happened.  Obviously, art and money were missing.  But she had no idea how much. Calling Emmanuel at this point was out of the question.  Calling the police seemed to seal in that fact that a robbery had taken place, and that this wasn’t any kind of coincidence that she could easily make sense of.  Every decision at this point seemed so final, not to be taken back or undone with explanation.  And she couldn’t face that conclusion yet.

The porch light was on at her parent’s house and she walked slowly, the nausea still threatening her limbs.  The front door was open and she called out to see who was home.  There was no answer.  She considered that she could be losing her mind.  That she was the last person on Earth and that no on else existed anymore. She remembered Bruno in the garden and had a hint of relief, like putting an ice cube to a third degree burn.  She climbed the stairs, clutching the railing with both hands.  The job was so simple.  All that was expected of her was to watch the house and the possessions inside.  A child could have done that.  And she failed.

She went into her parent’s bathroom. It had been cleaned recently and smelled of the orange scented disinfectant her mother preferred.  She locked the door behind her.  Slitting her wrists was not going to happen.

“Cowardly baby,” she said in the mirror, realizing that there would be no suicide tonight.  She knew in her being, somewhere, that this would be ironed out, most likely with the help of her parents, because she was not brave.  She did not know how to correct her mistakes.  She only knew how to run away.  She decided on Demerol, that she knew her mother had in the house, and a bath.

She opened the medicine cabinet and amongst the mass of white, stood the hot pink sparkly toy.

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Excerpt 96


Ala received a call while Jase drove them to the hospital.  She noticed he was cutting through neighborhoods by using alleys and figured he did not want to face any stop and go traffic. She answered in a whisper.

“There you are,” Gene said with a nervous flick at the end of “are”.

“Hi.”

“I called you and didn’t hear back.”

“I know.  I meant to call.”  She could see the light bounce off the of the corner of Jase’s eye.  He was watching her talk and did not want her to know it.

“Are you alright?”

“I’m fine.”  She couldn’t stand talking on the phone using half of her voice. It felt like her throat was being squeezed shut.  She didn’t like lying to Gene.  Even though she hadn’t yet, she could tell it was coming. Jase sped up just as the light turned from a rusted amber to red.  He nearly collided with a car that had the right-of-way.  The brakes screeched as the car lurched forward. Ala clasped her chest as the strap from the seatbelt dug into her collarbone. “Jase!”

Panicked, Jase looked both ways and behind them.  He was breathing heavily.

“You’re with Jase?  Is he is town?” Gene said.

“No, I’m in Boston actually.”

“Boston? What for?”

“I had to come visit for a little while.”

“I’m mixed up.”

“It was a quick trip.”

Jase pulled over and got out of the car, slamming the door behind him.  Ala saw him pacing on the sidewalk.  

“Are you there?” Gene sounded irritated.

“Yes.  I just am in the middle of something.  Would it be alright if I called you back?”

“Sure. If you remember.”

“Gene-” He had hung up.  Ala shoved her phone back into her bag and let herself out of the car.

Jase stopped pacing when he saw her.  

“Why don’t you let me drive?”

He nodded.  She climbed into the driver’s seat and adjusted the height.  He closed the car door and put on the seatbelt. He put his hand on her wrist.

“I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

She shook her head and they pulled away.  Slamming on the brakes and cutting off her circulation with the seatbelt, while knocking the wind out of her, didn’t hurt as much as them splitting apart had.  

Fortunately, they were only a few blocks away from the hospital because Ala could not take the severe depression oozing from Jase.  They had nothing to say to one another and the silence was thick and smothering.  

When the elevator door opened, a lady who Ala recognized as one of family neighbors stepped out. She wore a large red hat with pink roses dangling from it and a tight cream suit that zipped up the back. She hugged Jase and patted his cheek.  Ala stepped away to avoid hearing what they talked about.

Jase stepped into the elevator and Ala followed.

“Stupid cow.”

“Jase-“

“Please.  Do you know she’s sleeping with my father?”

Ala looked down and the dented scuffed linoleum.  She heard recognizable voices as they made their made down the long hall.  She averted her eyes from looking inside of the rooms. 

The room Jase’s mother was staying in was bright and sterile.  There were large pink and purple floral arrangements on every surface, along with all of the latest magazines, paper coffee cups and half empty water bottles.

Jase’s sister-in-law, Coffi, sat bouncing a fat infant on her lap while his brother talked business on his phone, while looking at the parking lot out the window. Jase’s younger sister was wedged on the bed with her legs half dangling off next to his mother.

His mother’s silvery blond hair was twisted up in a tortoise shell clip.  It was flawless along with her light makeup.  Her green brocade robe was placed over her shoulders, as if she had the slightest draft and her satin slippers hung from her tiny feet.

“Ala,” she said, her eyes turning a brighter blue as she held out her tan hand. “My dear.”

Ala walked over slowly and touched her warm hand.  She bent to kiss her cheek and noticed that her skin felt more dry than she had remembered. 

Jase’s sister smiled up at her.  They hadn’t been close, mainly because she had spent years in rehab while Ala and Jase were dating and they never really were able to form a relationship.  Jase’s brother looked over and nodded.

“Abigail, I brought you Jasmine,” Jase’s father said while entering the room.  He nearly let the cup of scalding hot tea fall from his hand when he saw Ala.

“Hello,” Ala said and got up quickly to greet him.  He wrapped his arms around his waist and gave her a strong hug.

“I’m glad you came back,” he said into her ear. 

 

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Excerpt 93


She took a step back, putting all of her weight on her right heel.

“Who?” She said, hearing him the first time, but wanting to buy any moments she could to process the name he had given.  She had waited for this call, obsessed over how she would act when she spoke with him again.  Whatever part of her being that held memories and bittersweet thoughts was ripped wide open.  She felt cold hard droplets of sweat behind her ears.

“Jase. How are you?”

A couple ran past her to see what was going on that required sirens to be blaring as a patrol took over the parking lot.  

“I’m fine.  I didn’t think-“

“It’s so loud wherever you are.”

“I know.  There’s some kind of, I’m not sure what’s going on.”

“Are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m just trying to see.”  She craned her neck and stood on tiptoes but only saw the backs of heads.

“I miss you,” his voice sounded strong, but she could hear a higher pitch left behind after he said his words, which usually meant he was over-tired.

She closed her eyes.  Even if she did miss him, and she was sure she did, somewhere, it wasn’t in the same way that he meant just now.

“Is everything okay, Jase?”

“It’s my mother.  She’s very sick.” The phone fell from her hand and onto the pavement.  When she picked it up, she noticed a small thunderbolt shaped crack in the upper left corner.  She ran her finger over it. “Ala, you there?”  She was terrified to get back on the line.  

“I’m here. What is it?  What does she have?”

“Ovarian cancer. The doctor said…” his voice cracked.  Ala bit her tongue.  “He didn’t know how long, but there’s nothing else to do.”

“Oh Jase.” She heard him hitting the side of his head like he did whenever he cried. This was from growing up with his veteran father who was cold and cruel. He had called Jase a “sissy” several times in front of her.

“I didn’t mean to do this.  I just wanted you to know,” he started to sob.  She cried too.  She felt the sticky gobs of mascara on her cheeks.

“I’ll be there.  I’ll come soon. Alright?  Just, go to sleep. Please. Get some rest.”

She hung up and wrapped her arms around herself, crying in the now dark entryway of the clubhouse.  

“Ala,  there you are.”  Danno came up and hugged her. She shivered and he pulled back to look at her. “Are you good? Sorry I was gone for awhile. This place really lit up.” She nodded and put the phone back into her purse. “We wont’ be having dinner here.  One of the cooks put a dish with tinfoil on it in the microwave. Nearly torched the whole place.”

“I’m not hungry,” she said, letting him hold her.  “I actually have to leave.  I’ve gotten some very bad news.”

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Excerpt 83


She rinsed out the coffee cups and put the coffee tin away.  She went into the living room and gathered all of the clothes that had fallen out of her suitcase.  She folded them into a pile.  She got an old paper from the front proch and carried it to the recycling bin.

When she came back inside he was standing in the same spot from when she was on the phone with her mother. This was goodbye. She held her breath.

“My business is done for today,” he said, which sounded just as certain as his statements always were. He did have some hairs out of place, but otherwise looked completely collected.

Ala leaned against the doorframe.  It was foolish to keep him in the house, when she had been told not to have guests.

“How about the track?” He said, looking out at the beautiful day she was silhouetted against.

She thought he was joking. She had visited Pikington Park this summer more than she had in her entire life.  She knew nothing about horses or racing.  She knew nothing about placing bets.  It seemed like a waste of time.

He sensed her disappointment.

“All right, some other time.  How about something more dangerous?  Like a hike?”

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Excerpt 82


She hung up and turned around.  He was leaning against the archway.

Heat seemed to seep from her pores out of embarrassment.  She tried to think of a way to explain that she was being checked in on by her mother.  The look on his face did not seem to have concern for that issue, however.

“Ala, is there somewhere I can make a phone call?”

“Sure,” she said, realizing she had no idea which rooms had phones.  She started to lead him down the hallway. There was a small den to the right that had some beige armchairs and an acrylic coffee table in it with a phone resting on top of it.

“Thanks,” he said, “Something just came up.”

“Of course.”

She walked back into the kitchen and waited.  This was it.  His way out.  He was surely talking with a dial tone right now, making up some story, just in case she was standing outside of the door listening in.

Of course the whole situation could not have been real.  She was the person who followed a line, did not go on either side of it, jump ahead or lag behind, just stayed on the line.  And normally it felt satisfactory.  She could not get hurt by staying on the line.  But nothing like him ever happened on the line either.  He would be hard to forget.

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