I'll be on the five o'clock train.
You'll be on the five o'clock train?
I think so. I'll try to be.
What would stop you?
I don't know. Traffic. The guy might keep me waiting.
Can't you just make it a point to?
Where are you now?
Almost into London.
I don't want to be out here alone. I hate being out here alone.
I know. I'm reading the paper.
Where are you now?
We're stopped. We're waiting for another train to pass.
Why couldn't I have come with you?
I won't be that long. I thought you'd rather work.
I'd feel better if I had come with you.
I'll be back at six. You can pick me up at six.
It's dead out here. It's a dead zone.
You'll get some work done.
And you'll be on the five o'clock train?
I'll try to.
I could tell by the way he was walking that something was wrong. I could tell the way his head leaned. It leaned to the right when something was wrong. Like something he had to hide was heavy. It weighed his head to the side.
Where'd you go? I had turned around and he had disappeared.
I went to get magazines, he said, and flowers. I saw my friend at the magazine stand. He's an ex addict. He's funny.
Where are the flowers?
They didn't have any good ones.
You were gone for forty-five minutes.
We were shooting the shit.
His eyes go hard when he has something to hide, close up like a camera lens to keep the light out. His eyes normally are liquidy and soft and turned down at the corners, a Southern look, I always thought. A soft Southern-boy look, fluid and gentle. That part of him.
Something's wrong, I said. You're acting weird.
I am not.
You're all jazzed up or something.
Let's eat. Are you hungry? I'm starved.
We went off through the crowd, him walking ahead of me, his head to one side.
Isn't she beautiful? he said, and went closer to look. I had never seen a dead person but I'd do this for him. I'd do that. See her long fingers, like his, her nails just done, her blonde hair. She was the one, I was thinking, the voice I heard over the phone, the Southern voice. Speaking to me. Asking me to call her, tell her where her son was. I remember staring at the message machine. Where is he, she wanted to know, she who had set the whole terrible thing in motion.
Across from the funeral house was the schoolhouse where he had gone, where she had gone too, I think. His little town where he'd first learned to run, got his first pair of shoes, there where his feet first began to carry him away, send him around corners and down streets eventually, up stairs and down into subways and out again, into cabs, through doors; disappear. That's where he first got the idea.
She's beautiful, don't you think?
She was a piece of work, somebody said in town; she'd chew you out for no reason. Chew you out for some two-bit piece of jewelry. She left rings and bracelets to her friends. Diamonds. She loved diamonds.
She threw things, he said. He was looking at her. If I asked for something to eat, she'd throw it and the pan across the room. She liked to dress me up, he said, show me off. She liked to lay out and get a tan. She liked her red convertible. Nobody could sit in it but her. She looks just like she's sleeping, donít you think?
And I looked in again, thinking that I had inherited something.
He had closed the downstairs bathroom door. I ran a bath upstairs. Dusk had come to the windows, trees, cherry blossoms pink as the sky brushing across. Ten minutes went by. There was too much silence. He was never silent. I knocked.
Are you OK? But there was a strange smell coming from under the door. I pushed it open. He looked up at me, the hard look, even his hair standing up wiry.
It's just a little, he said.
A tube of foil was at his fingertips, a plastic water bottle, a cigarette lighter, his mouth black like he had sucked coal.
It's just a little, he said.
Call somebody, I yelled at him. Call your sponsor, call somebody. I can't believe you've done this!
I'll call somebody, he said, standing up.
Then it was raining. Then the cherry blossoms were against the windows, drowning. I walked in circles. He looked at me, stupid.
Call somebody!! I screamed. I hate you!!
Just talk to me, he said. Just talk to me a little. I won't do it again. I'll never do it again.
I put my coat on and went out, him behind me, hitching up his pants like he does. He followed me out and down the street.
I love you, he said.
The first place was beneath the sidewalk, but perfect he said, really chic, the best address in London. Anyone would want to live there. I couldn't see where I was. When I came out I blinked like a mole. I didn't know east from west. The river was in the wrong place; the city; not the right waterform anyway. I never did know which way the city was. In the flat were just legs passing, canes, umbrellas. Tires. Children. They looked in and saw me.
It's a great address, he said, the best.
I never knew where I was. I never knew which side of the street the traffic came from.
But he did. He who couldn't wipe himself when he went to the toilet. He knew where he was. He looked good. Bought flowers, candles, incense. Turned heads. Knew how to get across town. What fabric to tell his tailor to make his suits of, what leather he wanted for his shoes. I fell over cracks in the sidewalk. My hands were always bloody.
I wanted the Pacific Ocean, which I knew was west, which I knew was a boundary, an end where you can turn back.
I had fallen. I had blood on my hand. We were standing in line for him to get his driversí license, one he wouldn't get until the third try because he couldn't read those kinds of things, they made him nervous. But he looked good. Looked perfect; hair, jacket. Shoes. Everything. I never looked good.
We were going to a meeting afterwards, across the street. AA. He liked me to be with him. He had thirty days. Before that sixty, ninety. Two thirties. I was holding his "chips."
Congratulations, the man in line next to us said to me.
There were bags in the car, rotting fruit, vegetables, bottles of wine, ten or fifteen. A dozen bags, more in the trunk.
I wanted to write checks, he said.
They let you? I said.
Always, he said. I got hit on, he said. A gay guy.
I looked at him. Completely fucked up.
There was a hotel across the street.
I can go there, I said to myself.
I'm fucked up, he said. You have to help me.
Where are you? I was crying.
King's Road, he said. At a place.
A motel. A terrible place. Can you come get me? I need you.
I don't want to come down there. I don't want to go into one of those places. Why did you do this?
I don't know, he said. I didn't mean to.
What do you want me to do?
Just come get me. I'll wait outside.
Where's your car?
It's here. I can't drive, he said. I'm fucked up. I need you. This is the last time. I love you.
I knew King's Road. I'd been there a hundred times. But now it looked different. Now it would never be the same. Nothing would ever be the same. Like in the song. It used to be our town.
Past the Italian restaurant, Safeway, past the furniture store, past The Center of The World building or whatever it was. Hotels, the big church, or temple, full of figures I'd never seen before, never knew were there before. Passed it a thousand times; people on corners I'd never seen before. Now it was another place. Now there were shadows. Now the motels for tourists were dark places. I knew someone who stayed in one once. Ugly suddenly, someone missing. Not visitors to see Buckingham Palace. To this day, I don't look at motels.
Upstairs, in a room, someone said, over there, upstairs. I'll get him for you. He's OK. He'll come right out.
He came out, but started to go back in.
I'm leaving, I said. I won't come back.
His pants were undone, Iíve never asked why, have slipped it into my memory where it lies dirty. His mouth was black, the sucking coal mouth. His big Southern teeth. Black. His eyes, nobody I knew. Nobody who loved me.
There's a river. Someone is in it. Drifting away. The current too strong. A head drifts swiftly, tilting. Going down. I catch him, catch his hand. I have him. I've saved him. I've caught him. He's heavy. Slippery. He slips away again, I catch him again, by the fingers. Barely. But I have him. I have him. He slips from me again. And goes under. The head goes under. Too heavy. I've lost him. I don't see him anymore.---------------------------
Kathleen Wakefield's stories have appeared in SALMAGUNDI, THE ALASKA QUARTERLY, WILLOW REVIEW, WEST BRANCH, TABULA RASA, WESTWORD, THE PINEHURST JOURNAL, and many others. She is presently working on a novel, a play, and a screenplay; she lives both in Los Angeles and the Northwest.