41 (rough draft)
Dark clouds seamlessly pushed the sky down, rain washing the landscape in torrents. Cold, like winter. People huddled under a canopy, the canopy heaving with the gusts, threatening to break its mooring.
Brigantine, her arm around Candice, other hand wrestling a large red umbrella, stood off thirty feet, up the rise with Maynard.
Approaching unobserved, Amaretto came up behind. “You’d think they’d cancel these fucking things due to weather.”
“Apple!” Candice and Brigantine said in unison.
“Don’t be stupid, App,” Maynard bit. “They don’t have rain dates for funerals.”
“Fuck you, asshole,” Amaretto bit back. “And, get lost.”
Amaretto stepped up, pushing Maynard’s shoulder. “I said, get the fuck lost, asshole. This isn’t about you anyway.”
Maynard blinked repeatedly. “Brig and I are friends, Candice my sister –”
“I’ll give you a couple of bucks. You can go down Hunter’s and get yourself a cookie.” Wrapping fists full of jacket at his shoulders, Apple pushed Maynard back until he lost his footing, falling. She pointed. “Don’t fuck with me. I’m not in the mood.”
Crab-walking, he took a couple yards, stumbling to his feet. “Okay, App. You’re a weird bitch.”
“Thanks for the breaking news,” she snarled to his back as he melted away.
“Do I want to know what that was about?” Brigantine asked, Amaretto turning.
“It’s good to see you guys,” she answered. “Really good to see you guys. I might cry if I did that sort of thing.”
They shared a three-way embrace.
“They did warn us that things were going to change once we started in our new school,” Brigantine said, Amaretto breaking.
“Sorry I went dark,” Amaretto said.
“Dark?” Candice asked.
“At least you called,” Brigantine answered.
Amaretto shrugged. “No word?” she asked, looking at both.
“Nothing,” Brigantine answered.
“I’ve been by the house everyday. Locked up. Mail’s collected. I’ve not caught by who.”
“Her father, you think?”
Amaretto watched down the rise, the funeral in progress. “I can’t even guess.” Of course, her father, or an emissary, she thought.
“Who’s that?” Brigantine nodded over Amaretto’s shoulder, a figure twenty feet off, a statue at parade rest in the rain, watching, not seeing.
Amaretto did not turn. “John McIntyre.”
“If you must slap a fucking label on every-fucking-thing, sure.”
Candice glanced. “Why’s he over there?”
“Same reason I kicked Nard in the ass.”
“It’s us.” Brigantine gave the wide eyes.
“What’s that mean?” Candice asked.
“October.” Amaretto closed her eyes, pulling a deep breath. “October brought us Casey, putting him in our faces, demanding we accept him as one of us.” She opened her eyes. “Casey was not one of us, not even fucking close.”
“But, he was –”
“No, Abby, not even fucking close. We have a decade living in each other’s lives. No one can just step into that. Sure, October was crazy-in-love with him, which doesn’t make him one of us.”
“One of us,” Brigantine said. “I’m not sure what that means.”
“If you have to ask the question, you’re not going to understand the answer,” Amaretto bit hard.
“Take a breath, Apple. Take a breath. I know we’re a something, I’m just not sure how I can define that.”
“I love Ockie about a million times more than I love Abby and I stood in the fire for Abby, still have the scars on my hands and arms to prove it.”
Candice drew a hard breath.
Amaretto put a hand softly to Brigantine’s cheek, drawing near. “I’d walk in the fire for you, too.”
“We’d do the same for you,” Candice let out on a breath, the pounding of the rain on the umbrella almost stealing her words.
“We’ll see when the time comes,” Amaretto promised. Turning, she looked down the rise. “I guess they threw you out.”
“They made it clear we weren’t welcome.”
“Assholes. They hated their son and now.” She shook her head. “Good thing it’s raining. The rain is real, their tears are not. I bet that asshole of a father even said with a face like that, Casey is lucky he’s dead.”
“You think?” Candice asked, her eyes going wide.
“Human beings aren’t complicated,” Amaretto answered. “Casey was a train wreck. A blind guy driving by fast could see that. It wasn’t about his face. It was about his anger. October had this stupid idea if she loved him hard and fast enough, her love could save him.”
“She said that?” Brigantine challenged.
“She didn’t tell me that a cloudless sky’s blue or the rain’s wet, either.” She rolled her eyes. “You don’t know what he did.”
Amaretto released a breath. “He broke into Markus’ house, trying to frame him, which only blew back on October.”
“How did I not hear about this?” Candice asked.
“I only heard because Casey was bragging.”
“But, why would he do that?” Brigantine asked.
“He wanted to be a hero.”
Brigantine narrowed her eyes. “Rumor has it that you attacked Markus in the hallway.”
Amaretto shrugged. “I guess it’s only rumor, else the cops would have collected me by now.”
“Brig and I were both called to the office, asked about you,” Candice said.
“Fools. They have no idea they’re in over their heads. I still owe Fisher for smacking me in the face and I owe Markus for haunting Ockie.” Amaretto snickered. “Markus dropped like an elephant to a big game hunter’s gun.”
Candice gave Amaretto the wide eyes. “That’s true then? You attacked him in the hall?”
“I wasn’t even in the building.”
“Anyway, Apple,” Brigantine said. “Expect to be ambushed when you come back to school.”
“I look forward to it.”
“Speaking of elephants,” Brigantine said, an eyebrow waving up.
Amaretto pursed her lips, swiveling her head side to side. “I can’t even guess.”
“But, eh, he was, well.”
“Not my boyfriend, no, not even close.”
“But you guys hung out?” Candice asked.
Again, Amaretto rolled her eyes impatiently. “Bly was crushing, really fucking creepy. I blew him off with extreme prejudice –”
“Huh?” Candice asked.
“I told him in strong terms I didn’t want anything to do with him.”
“But, you guys hung out?” Candice pressed on.
“October. October thought it’d be nice if I were nice to him.”
“Sounds like October.”
“Sounds like a big mistake.”
“Why would he even think he could get away with robbing a bank in the middle of the day with two dozen witnesses?” Candice asked.
“I can’t even guess what he was up to,” Amaretto said.
“What were your arrested for?” Brigantine asked bluntly.
Amaretto snickered, looking at Candice. “George didn’t tell you?”
“Tell me what?”
“There’s a country cop, Daryl Kay. He and George had a pissing match. I’m the one that ended up pissed on.”
“Meaning?” Brigantine asked.
“Kay had me locked up to piss George off.”
“That’s abuse of authority,” Brigantine said.
Amaretto shrugged. “Abuse is what authority is all about.”
“Come back the house with us?” Candice asked.
The landscape flashed with a white light.
“Great,” Amaretto said, waiting, the thunder shaking the air a few seconds later. “Things to do. I’ll be in touch.” She nodded, triggering John McIntyre in motion. “Brig, Abby, Non-apple”
“Stop it, Apple. John,” McIntyre said, nodding to each, presenting Amaretto with a white carnation.
“I kind of like Non-apple. It’s a sweeping indictment of all that’s wrong with humanity.”
“John,” he reaffirmed to Brigantine and Candice as Amaretto turned, moving down the rise.
The rain pelted her face, a second flash of lightning behind her, followed by oppressive thunder.
Teddy Little was not a large man. Amaretto knew him immediately, the resemblance to his son remarkable. Little quit the huddled sheep under the canopy, moving as if expecting the intrusion, blocking Amaretto’s path fifteen feet from the grave, the coffin as if floating above the hole.
“Stop,” Little said, a firm hand to Amaretto’s left shoulder. “You’re not welcome here.”
Carnation in her left hand, she met his eyes, holding, lightning dancing behind her, she counted three, the thunder singing in a long sigh. “Obviously you didn’t get the don’t be an asshole memo,” she said as if ordering a hot dog, bringing her right hand to his neck, lighting up her Taser, Little crumbling to the rain soaked grass.
Up the rise, McIntyre put an arm across Brigantine, stopping her forward advance. “If she needs us, she’ll let us know.”
Amaretto stepped around Little, to the grave, blinded by the rain, people under the canopy watching on, not sure what they saw. She tossed the carnation, the flower skipping on the wet wood, dropping out of sight. “Figures,” she said to herself, turning, once again stepping around Little.
Amaretto, wearing just a towel, working another towel on her hair, entered the kitchen. “You didn’t have to do that.”
John McIntyre, aproned, straightened from wringing the mop. “It’s my philosophy that the kitchen floor should be scrubbed at least every ten years. I’m planning on attacking that oven next.”
“I need you to go.”
“Let me just put this shit away.”
“Okay. No questions?”
“Me asking you to go?”
Turning the bucket up in the sink, McIntyre said, “There’s a leak under. I’ll fix it tomorrow.” He leaned on the sink. “I got a hard look at myself, Apple. You know, with the Bly thing. Picking on a kid that can’t defend himself.”
“He hit you in the face.”
“Only because you told him to. That’s loyalty, huh? I wondered what it was about you that could inspire such loyalty in someone.”
“It wasn’t about that.”
He turned. “I heard the gunshots. I ducked, ready to drive off. You ran into the bank.”
“October was in there.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Apple. I don’t want to be you. I want to be a human being like you.”
“Great, another stalker.”
“If I were a stalker, I’d be across the street.”
“Maybe looking in the window.”
“Stealing your underwear.”
“Should I search your pockets?”
She rolled her eyes. “There’s something I need to do tonight, since the rain has stopped.”
“You don’t need my help.”
“I need you to go.”
“I talked to Morgan.”
“It’ll be awhile. I told her the cops are by everyday.”
“I love how you can lie like that.”
“She, and the circus, will be back once the heat dies down.”
“Well, until then, then. I’ll be back after school tomorrow, with your school work and a pipe wrench.”
“Leak under the sink.”
“Leak under the sink.”
Starting with Deep concealer and then applying Soft Sable foundation, she finished with Tawny loose powder, carefully setting her makeup. Satisfied she’d be mistaken for black at first, maybe second and third glance, she applied subtle mascara and eyeliner, a soft shadow and gentle pink to her lips. The blue scrubs she found among the abandoned clothes scattered around the house were a size too big, threadbare, worn and lived in, which was perfect. Her mother’s black low top sneakers fit.
Amaretto applied concealer, foundation and powder to the exposed flesh of her forearms and top of her hands. Also, among the clothes, she found a hip length jacket, brown, which belonged to Marvin Beal. She nodded to the full-length mirror hanging on the back of her bedroom door.
She left the house, bracing against the chill of late October. She felt oddly like other people: Beal, an imagining black woman of her creation and the woman that left her scrubs behind. Amaretto recalled the woman, one of the few travellers through the house with a needle habit. The woman shot Morgan up a couple of times. Amaretto had hoped the woman of the scrubs would die before she killed Morgan.
Amaretto only saw one person die as a direct result of drug abuse, either an overdose or bad drugs, no one cared to follow up. The victim convulsed for a few moments, then was dead, just like that. Eight-year-old Amaretto watched on, watching the eyes, the eyes looking the same in death as in life. Uncle Jack and another carried her out, Amaretto learned, to leave her in the Emergency Room waiting area.
Amaretto followed the local news for the next few days, curious about the fate of the woman, finding nothing. No one in the house cared. No one cared. Years leaked by, Amaretto watched the owner of the blue scrubs inject Morgan, wondering if Morgan would then convulse and die. Walking in the night, the air swirling around her carrying leaves and a song, Amaretto wondered if the owner of the scrubs was dead, nameless in a grave somewhere.
Amaretto wore Marvin Beal like a coat, his coat. She hadn’t seen him in the bank, Amaretto focused on getting October out of harm’s way. Morgan told Amaretto as soon as Amaretto entered from the sunlight, Beal had Morgan on the phone. “If getting arrested is all I had to do to get you to clear the house out, I’d have gotten myself arrested long ago,” Amaretto said to the sidewalk.
Passing across the front of the hospital, Amaretto walked along the alley, dropping Beal’s coat in the landscaping just as she came up to a row of dumpsters. “Hey,” she greeted three young people dressed similar to her.
Nods and grumbles returned.
“Who’s got a smoke? I left mine in my locker.”
The taller of the three, a man just in his twenties, held a cigarette forward, accepted by Amaretto. “I’ve not seen you around, new?”
She took the cigarette. “I was going to ask you the same thing.” With a quick read of a badge, Amaretto said, “How you been Sally? You been off a couple days?”
The taller man held a lighter forward, Amaretto lighting the cigarette.
Sally, a pleasant woman still in her teens, narrowed her eyes. “Just yesterday.”
“One of these days you’ll get a whole weekend off to spend with the fiancé,” Amaretto said, making assumptions from the ring on Sally’s finger.
Sally nodded slowly, drawing on her cigarette. “This is Rick,” Sally said.
“Tanya,” Amaretto offered, taking Rick’s hand.
“Right, Tanya,” Sally repeated.
The third woman, Sally’s age, pursed her lips. “You don’t look familiar to me, either.”
“They have me mostly on first shift.”
“Well,” the third girl proclaimed, swishing at the air, “That does explain that.”
Amaretto smirked. “Sorry you’ve been here a couple years and can’t get first shift and you think because I’m black they give me privilege. It really doesn’t work that way.”
“Oh, I’m so sure.”
“Marcy,” the Rick interjected, “It really doesn’t work that way.”
Amaretto shrugged. “Maybe my father is on the board. Did you ever think of that?”
“Oh, that’s even worse!”
Turning, Amaretto dropped her cigarette, stepping. “I have to get back to I.C.U.” Hooking Sally’s arm, she added, “Walk me.”
Over the next eight minutes, Amaretto convincingly faked her way through hospital gossip, sure that Sally believed them to be old work friends.
She had hoped Richard Bly would be in a private room. The absence of an armed police officer surprised her, pleasantly. The I.C.U. was a large, circular room, the administration station at its center, round, like the room. Curtained areas radiated on the circumference, about half populated with patients.
One person, a young woman sitting behind the circular desk, occupied with her phone, her thumbs dancing, staffed the ward. She glanced at Amaretto, nodding, Amaretto nodded back, Amaretto walking meaningfully as if sure of her destination. Bly was easy to spot because of his size. She entered the curtained area, glancing back.
The reports in the newspapers were vague. Amaretto gathered they didn’t think Bly would survive his injuries. She shook his shoulder, three times.
“It’s me, Apple.”
Bly opened his eyes.
Bly’s arm curled, taking a fistful of scrubs at the shoulder, Bly unable to speak, a tube down his throat.
Amaretto glanced back again, the slip of an opening in the curtain revealed the nurse facing away, working on her phone. Amaretto took the tube in firm fingers. “I’ve seen this on TV. I need you to push, cough it out.”
Bly choked, coughing, the tube sliding free, far from easily like on TV. Bly sucked air deep, a horrible, inhuman sound. With the fistful of scrub, he pulled Amaretto to him, her ear to his mouth.
His words, raspy, grunts. “I get anal now.”
“What?” Amaretto asked.
“Kill Casey. You give me anal.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Banner. Cop. Told me.”
Amaretto tried to unclench his hand and couldn’t. “A cop told you to kill Casey?”
Bly sucked deep again, the horrible, inhuman sound. “Yes.”
“Why?” She struggled with the hand.
Richard Bly would not let go.
Amaretto worked her right hand up, palm over his mouth, pinching his nose shut, watching his eyes. “Let me go,” she whispered.
He shook his head, determined to hold on, struggling, unable to get free of the death grip, his injuries too grave.
Then, he was dead, his eyes, like the junkie, no different in death than in life. Able to remove his hand, Amaretto stood, brushing herself off symbolically, once again glancing the station, the nurse, facing away, thumbs working on her phone.
The absence of alarms surprised her.
Wiping on her scrubs where she touched the tube, she puzzled at Bly. In retrospect, his actions were predictable. “I didn’t much like Casey and didn’t think him any good for October,” she whispered. “However, your solution is going to hurt October more than Casey ever could.”
Quitting Bly’s curtained area, Amaretto stopped at the counter. “Another night in paradise, huh?”
The nurse looked up. “Yeah, huh?” and returned to her phone. “Did you get everything you needed?”
“Yes. I believe I did.”
Still in her phone, said asked, “Did you sign the log?”
Amaretto twisted a smile. “Indeed, I did.”
Once outside, she passed a different group of smokers near the dumpsters, nodding a greeting, getting grunts in return. Beal’s jacket was where she left it, thankfully, the night cold, wind wiping up.
“Apple,” came the greeting once she hit the sidewalk.
“Non-apple. I figured you’d follow me.”
“Someone has to watch your back.” He took her hand.
“In this, I didn’t need a back-watching.”
“Then, I’ll just be company on that long walk home.”
“How was your experience as a black girl in a white-centic world?”
“I interacted with about a half dozen people and only one came at me because I’m black.”
“She thought I was getting special treatment because I was black.”
“You do know you must forget all this, right?”
“I think you should let me in, so I can better protect you.”
“I think you not knowing puts you in a better place to protect me.”
“I’m not a good liar, but I’m learning.”