Short Horror Fiction
147 E. 9th Street
The woman was moved in slow motion, steps and half-frames. She watched, in fractions of centimeters, the door frame scrape the skin from the knuckle of her middle finger. She didn’t feel the blood surfacing above the skin. It seeped first in tiny, segmented pixel dots until they multiplied and then assembled into a line of red that crept to her wrist. Every time she turned her cheap key copy in the lock of her boyfriend’s apartment, she banged her knuckles. Every time. But she had never been in this much of a hurry. And yet somehow, she moved as if she was stepping through a river of silt. The key fell from the lock and crashed onto the welcome mat. A drop of blood fell on the jumble of silver and gold metal. Curling her hands around the pile of dropped jagged edges, she scooped them up and jammed the key back into the lock. Through the window she could see him. Shawn. Slumped in his chair. Wrong. Crooked and stiff. He looked immovable. Not drunk. Not sleeping. He looked trapped in his own locked body. Finally, the door gave way and she pushed her way inside to him.
Her mind went blank. They had only been dating a few months, but it seemed a lifetime. It had come on hard and fast between them. She thought she had played it cool, making him wait until the third date to sleep with him–only to come flying into his bed seven hours and twenty minutes later. By the end of the second month, she’d met his mother and had a key to his place. She knew she wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. But right now, she realized knew nothing about this man.
“Shawn. Shawn!” she yelled. He didn’t flinch. She dropped to her knees in front of him. His neck was extended back, his eyes not just looking to the ceiling but past it. His arms were fully extended, fingers gripped on the chair. She shook him. His body moved in one steel piece, not in any fleshy segments. His phone was on the floor by her knees. The screen was black. Dead. She ran to her bag, searching. She gave up and turned it upside down, crawling into the pile of purse debris.
“SHIT!” she screamed, skidding change and mints and a tampon across the floor as she flailed her arm. Somehow her wrist crashed down to her hip and she felt her own phone, jutting out of her back pocket. It took her four tries with as many deletes, but she finally dialed 911, and someone on the other end of the phone started talking.
She didn’t remember saying anything in response to the words she heard. The phone was somewhere near her and she tried to listen. It was the strange, calm voice of a woman. It was telling to put her ear to his chest and listen for breathing. She couldn’t hear anything. The sound of her blood pounding in her ears was louder than the world. A tiny pair of wheezing lungs had no chance at being heard. She stopped listening and tried feeling. She put her hands on his chest. Breathing? Shuddering? Anything? The woman’s calm voice said more words. Where was she? His apartment. Where was his apartment? She wasn’t sure. She left him to run back to the front door. She couldn’t remember his apartment number. No, she didn’t know if he was epileptic. No, she didn’t know if he was diabetic. Or allergic to cilantro. No. she didn’t think he took drugs. Did she know? No. She just knew it looked like he was dying in front of her.
A voice called out. She leaned in to Shawn. He was immobile. His mouth was rigid, lips separated, back teeth clenched. The voice wasn’t his.
“Ma’am? You have to stay on the phone with me, okay?” It was her phone. In her hand.
“Yes, yes, It’s Shawn.”
“Okay, ma’am. What is wrong with him?”
“I don’t know. He’s breathing. I think. But he’s just lying there. He’s not moving.”
“Okay. We’ll get him help. But first, what’s your name ma’am?”
“Who am I talking to? What’s your name, ma’am?”
She stared at Shawn. He hadn’t moved. Maybe he wasn’t breathing. “I don’t think he’s breathing. I looked closer and I don’t think he’s breathing. Oh my God.”
“Where are you?”
She had just looked and she still couldn’t remember. She had walked, taken a cab and usually the R train more times than she could count in the last weeks of her life. But she couldn’t remember his address. Where was she? She was just at the door. She scanned the room. There was mail on counter, spilling onto the stove. Half of it spilled to the floor when she reached. She hit her knees and pulled out a bill. Shawn Crown. 147 E. 9th Street.
“Shawn Crown. 147 East Ninth Street,” she almost screamed into the phone.
The voice interrupted her own cracking voice. “Okay, ma’am, I need you to check and see if he’s breathing. Can you get close to him? Is it safe?”
She stared at him. Safe. “Yes, he’s breathing.”
“Is he conscious? Can he hear you?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
The voice wouldn’t stop. “Is he taking any medication? Does he have a cardiac history? Does he have seizures? Illegal drugs? Has he been drinking?”
“Didn’t we just do this?” Maybe they hadn’t. Maybe she just thought they had. “I don’t know,” she said, her voice had finished cracking and started breaking.
“That’s fine. Just stay there with him. I’ll be on the phone until the ambulance arrives.”
Then the chair twitched and creaked. She put down the phone. Or dropped it. She grabbed onto the leather, needing to get closer to him but afraid to touch him.
Bent into jarring angles in the cushions, Shawn’s joints flexed and with a few subtle motions, he turned human again. His shoulder lowered and his head maintained its own support. His eyes had never been closed, but they had never seen. He blinked and looked at her.
“Ayn zawjati? Mayar. Ayn zawjati?” He saw her. The girlfriend with the light brown hair standing in front of her. He may as well have been looking through a microscope at a petri dish of scabies. He studied, curious and searching, but found nothing of what he thought he would find.
“Shawn?” she asked. Because now, she really didn’t know. She heard knocking and the open door catch on the hall runner as the door was pushed to the limits of its hinges. She watched a man and a woman in baby-blue shirts and navy cargo pants kneel beside Shawn. She stepped back, out of the room. Their black boots left sprinkles of dirt on the floor. She’d have to sweep that later. Shawn hated when people wore shoes in the house.
The ambulance crew loaded him onto the tiny collapsing wheelchair, belting him in like a toddler in a booster seat. New York City meant transport chairs instead of stretchers. He didn’t say anything else, but kept his eyes open, staring around the room as if he had never been there before. The two in blue were fully upright, rattled words and observations back and forth, talking to each other as if no one else was in the room. They were jolting him out the door before one of them mentioned over their shoulder, that she could follow them if she wanted.
And then it was silent. Her purse laid on the floor, empty, with its inside bits strewn for yards. A plastic mint container had been crushed under a boot or a wheel and white powder dotted the floor like rained-out sidewalk chalk. Something on the chair where Shawn had been trapped when she found him was wet. Her first and only thought was that she had to clean it.
She went into the kitchen and looked under the sink. Nothing expect an empty mouse trap. The peanut butter on the foot plate was hardened into a plastic knob. On the sink, there was a bottle of dish liquid. She grabbed that and a handful of napkins from the top of the refrigerator. She turned on the faucet and ran everything in her hands under the water. Fully dripping, she then ran back into the living room.
Turning over the dish liquid, she covered the wet spot on the chair then dropped to her knee. Circling with the napkins, she managed to turn it from a wet spot to a white, nubby, frothy spot, speckled with bits of paper. She turned over the napkins, to see if any color had come away with her rubbing. There was nothing. Just soap and wet. Without thinking, she smelled it. Soap and wet and something else. But she had no idea what. She dropped the napkins and stood. Why was she cleaning? He was on his way to the hospital and she had to get there. She had no idea which one. She had no idea where to start.
Had to get outside. Get to the street. Find markers. Living in the city. Look up. Look around. Figure out where she was and then maybe where he was. She had no idea. Might as well have been a decade ago, when she moved here from Florida. Phone. Where was her phone? She looked down and her hands were empty. She ran back inside and saw it, sitting on the wet spot on the chair. She grabbed it and swiped it across her jeans. She hurried back outside and looked up again. Nothing. She typed, reduced to asking the internet for help like every other tourist.
St. Mary’s. Closest. Probably where they took him. She could get there. Taxi. She could get a taxi. She remembered how to do that. She thought. And then she did. And she made it all the way out of the lower east side and toward, whatever neighborhood was next. St. Mary’s. But he wasn’t there.
Walking up and down the sidewalk in front of that hospital, she realized she could have called. Either the hospital, or even the ambulance crew. But she has no idea what ambulance service it was. And she didn’t think it was protocol to call 911 back and ask. So, where the hell was he? Then she felt the pressure of a pair of hands and the warm, wet rolling down her back.
“Sorry. I’m sorry,” the boy’s voice said. She turned and saw two college-aged kids standing behind her. The girl of the pair had no shoes, bloody hands and was leaning forward at the waist, puking onto the sidewalk. Her mind slowly informed her what had just happened to the back of her shirt. She started gagging.
“Yeah, she’s…sorry,” the boy of the pair said. He straightened his partner, to a more or less upright position, and walked her inside.
All her brain was good for at the moment was to tell her that she needed to get home, shower and try this whole thing again. She did not do medical and fluids and…no. Home. Taxi. She could do that. Then find him.
It took longer than her brain had told her. Her keys were not in her purse. They must still have been sprawled somewhere on Shawn’s floor. She waited for fifteen minutes to get the super out his door and up the two flights of stairs.
She flung off her shirt and threw it in the kitchen sink, on top of the cereal bowl. She yelped when the spoon spun out and hit the stainless steel. Then it was quiet. Pristine quiet. Why was she standing in the sink in just her bra? Yes. Shawn. Hospital. Vomit. Blood. Shower.
Tepid shower. Hot shower was not in the cards. She let the water run, and run, hoping that the water temperature would somehow circle around from lukewarm to cold and back to hot. It didn’t. She got out but couldn’t find her clothes. And then there was a fumbling at the door. This time, she heard a key turning in the deadbolt. Then she heard the door opening. So she ran. Right into him. And screamed.
“Carolyn!” Shawn held her at arm’s length.
“Oh my God,” she sank down to her knees and he held her up, his hands slipping against her wet, naked skin.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he said, settling next to her.
“What are you doing here? I was trying to get to the hospital. I didn’t know where you were. I didn’t know where they took you. And I went to the wrong place. And I didn’t know if you had epilepsy or did drugs-“
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “You should never have seen that.”
“I thought you were dead.”
“I’m sure. Shit. I’m sorry.”
“Why aren’t you in the hospital? What-”
He knelt on the floor in front of her. “I didn’t stay. Honey, I am…I can’t tell you how sorry I am that you had to walk in on that.”
“Stop it,” she said. “Just tell me what happened?”
Shawn blew all the air out of his lungs and ran his hand through his hair. “All right. First, I don’t have epilepsy and I don’t do drugs. What you saw was, okay, I wish I had a better answer for you. But I don’t know. It’s just something that happens.”
“So why the hell wouldn’t you stay in the hospital?”
“Because there’s nothing wrong.”
“How can you say there’s…” She looked down in her lap.
“Are you okay?”
“I don’t have any clothes on.”
“I know,” he said.
“Go,” she said. She stood and motioned him in front of her, toward the bedroom. Inside the room, she pointed to the bed and he sat as instructed. She reached into a laundry basket and pulled on an oversized t-shirt. She sat next to him on the bed. He ran his hand over her hair.
“I’m sorry,” he said. He leaned in and kissed her. She kissed him back. He slid his hand along her thigh, under the hem of the t-shirt. She stood up and took his hand.
“Not yet,” she said and led him out of the room.
They sat across from each other at the dining room table. She held up her hands. “You need to say something.”
“What if I don’t want to? Ok, Lynnie? What if this is my shit and I don’t want to say something? I get that we’re together. And I get that means that I don’t leave the toilet seat up and that I can’t bring home girls from bars- “
“Unless I’m here and she’s really cute.”
“I’m serious. Just because we’re doing this doesn’t mean that I have to let you into every single corner of my world.”
Carolyn went silent.
“Maybe I thought this was something else. Something it wasn’t. I guess I was wrong.” She stood up. He countered.
“No. You don’t get to do that. I was just in an ambulance and you were trying to come find me in hospital. At least I hope you were. I’m not exactly at the peak of health. I feel like someone threw me into a cement mixer. It’s fine and I’ll be okay. But you don’t get to turn this into a pity party for you. It can’t be some “my boyfriend doesn’t open up” bullshit gripe session. Because that’s not what this is. Now, I’m sorry if I scared you. But, you don’t need to know about this.”
“You won’t tell me anything?”
“There’s nothing to tell. I’ve had these, whatever, episodes, since I was about fourteen. I had the tests. They’re not seizures. I’ve seen lots of doctors, they don’t know what it is. That’s it. Doesn’t happen a lot. But every once in a while, I fall asleep and I have a bad dream. While I’m there, I see horrible things. My body goes completely mad, and then, after a while, I wake up. The end.”
“Your accent just got stronger,” she said.
“So, it’s a really bad nightmare? Like a night terror?” she asked.
“Maybe. Not that simple.”
“Have you seen-
“A shrink? Sure. Two handfuls. And a priest. And a Buddhist monk. And two different reiki body workers. And an Ayurvedic healer who was obscenely weird but she had this really awesome lavender oil. I still have some.”
“It sounds awful,” she said.
“Absolutely not. The lavender is brilliant,” he said.
Carolyn scowled at him.
“What’s in your medicine cabinet? Since we’re sharing.”
“Nothing,” she said.
“Rubbish. You have nothing at all in your cabinet? And you don’t have to tell me? Not my business. But you see where I’m headed.”
“Probiotic. Which I never remember. Sometimes I take this hair supplement. But I usually forget that too. I don’t take anything on purpose.”
“I take a lot. Every day. I always remember.”
“I don’t- “
“Yeah. You don’t know what to say. That’s why I didn’t want to talk about it. This bloody thing, it takes over everything. It’s why I had to move from the country to London. And then here.”
“I thought you liked the city?” she asked.
“It’s fine,” he said.
“So, what do I do? If it happens again, do I call the ambulance? Is there a pill or a smelling salt or something I need to make happen?”
“You’re sticking around for when it happens again?”
“I am. I don’t scare easy.”
“I know. That’s why I bought you that awful drink in the first place.”
“Okay,” she said, “Gin is not an awful drink.”
“Awful. Just bloody awful”, he said. He closed his eyes and reached for her hand. By the time he took his next breath, he was sound asleep, head lilting to his shoulder. She nudged him gently. He moaned without opening his eyes. Taking him by the shoulder, she guided him to his feet and then step-by-step, got him back to her bedroom. She tried to pull back her covers, but he slumped onto the bed before she could. The corner of the comforter was nudged under his neck and head like a sad, flat little pillow. She squatted low and lugged his long legs up onto the bed. He mumbled. Then shivered. She folded the other half, her half of the comforter over him. He mumbled again. She stared. Not taking her eyes off him, she back up to the corner, kicked a laundry basket out of the way, and sat. He breathed. She watched.
The computer blinked at her. White background with dark text. Then blue. Then black screen of death. Then white screen of what could not be called afterlife, because there was nothing but white light coming from the screen, even if she tried turning the forsaken thing off and back on again.
“Fuck me,” she whispered.
“Don’t worry, baby. I got you,” came the voice from the other side of the felted cubicle partition. Carolyn wheeled herself back away from her desk. Dae wheeled herself back as well. They touched knees in a passageway behind their office boxes. A hallway so small, claustrophobic and convoluted that it tapered at the coffee room at the very end. At least that’s what Dae and Carolyn had decided. And then one day a few months ago, they measured it. Full four inches shorter at the far wall. No one knew why.
“What’d you do?” Dae asked. Carolyn shrugged. “Did you lick it? Were you looking at pictures of Gary Oldman and got wound up and loved up on the screen and got sick, white girl germs all over it?”
“White girls don’t lick our computers. At least I don’t think we do. Are we supposed to?”
“Like I know what white girls do,” Dae said.
“And Gary Oldman?” Carolyn asked.
“Boy was all kinds of hot in True Romance,” Dae said. “Move your ass and let me see.” Dae stood and kicked her chair back into her station and walked around into Carolyn’s tiny square space. A picture of Shawn sat on her desk, next to her computer, where the screen was now flashing between darkness and bright white light. Dae picked up the photograph, still punching out letters on the keyboard with one hand.
“How many beautiful black Idris Elba-Queen’s English speaking-push-up doing boys are in this city?”
“Thousand. Probably more,” Carolyn said.
“Lucky if there’s three. And you got one of them to wake up next to you. You’re a lucky pale bitch.”
“He’s usually up first. Morning yoga.”
“Dae. You don’t like boys,” Carolyn said.
“That, my privileged girl, is not the point,” Dae said. She handed Carolyn the picture. “I said move your ass. Damn.” Dae sat in Carolyn’s seat and stared at her spasming computer screen. She pounded the keys with conviction. Then stopped.
“Fuck me,” Dae said.
“You have something truly rotten wormed up in this thing,” Dae said.
“I shouldn’t. I haven’t pulled anything out or put anything on.”
“Something got through.”
“Shit. I bet I lost my whole piece,” Carolyn said.
“Your girl will find it. Don’t worry. Go get me a latte. Almond milk. Not soy. Not skim. Not any other lactose-free trash they try to pass off. Almond milk. I’ll have it figured by the time you get back.”
“Thank you. Again. Like always.”
Thirty minutes and two coffee shop stops later, Carolyn stood at a condiment counter, spilling a big shot of cream into her coffee. Real stuff. Thick half and half. Her phone beeped. She splashed cream on her hand as she tried to squash the lid onto her coffee. She sucked off the white drops as she pulled her phone from her pocket. It was a text from Dae.
‘Your shit is fucked, kid. I got pulled in on something else. I’ll get back on it tomorrow.’
She texted back.
‘Might as well head home. You can’t do anything else here today. Take my beautiful coffee and enjoy.’
Carolyn put her phone back in her pocket and using her hip to jar open the door, she stepped out onto the sidewalk carrying both hot—very, very, intensely hot—coffees. She walked.
An hour later, she was sitting in Madison Square Park. Her beautiful Idris Elba-Queen’s English-speaking boy appeared and kissed her cheek. He was carrying a cup of ice and a thermos.
“I knew it wouldn’t be hot anymore, so I brought this to make it somehow drinkable,” he said, handing her the ice. “And I brought this,” he held out the thermos,” If you wanted to try again with a proper drink.”
“Thank you, love,” she said, taking a drink from the thermos. Her face tightened and her eyes blinked but she smiled. “That’s not tea,” she said.
“Course not, lovely girl. It’s almost five on a Friday. It’s a gin and tonic with a copious, just this side of an almost offensive amount of lime,” he said.
“Thank you for accepting my frailties,” she said, taking another swing from his delicious, toxic thermos while he poured coffee over ice for himself. “You’re done early.”
“I am. My last appointment cancelled. And, I am free all weekend.” He took a long drink of coffee, then leaned in and kissed her. It turned into a deep one. One that drew her back on the ground, with him, his weight and his intensity heavy on her chest. She loved that feeling. Not that she couldn’t breathe, she could, but she had to think about it. Had to push her lungs into action, using his chest and stomach as a counterpoint. For as shallow as her breath was, she pushed into his kiss deeper, running her hands into his hair. Feelings the spines and knots of the twists in his hair. She reluctantly broke the kiss.
“Everyone’s watching,” she said.
“I know they are, beauty. And I like that,” he said.
“Let’s go home.”
“Let’s go home,” he said. He held out his hand, and helped her to her feet. He kissed her again when she got there. Her breath caught again.
After too many minutes and an impatient ride home, she pushed him against the wall and closed the door with her heel. Shawn was still holding the thermos of gin. He leaned over to drop it on the table, but not too far that he loosened contact from her mouth. The thermos held on the lip of the table for a second and then toppled to the floor. Neither noticed. She took his hand and led him to the bedroom.
An hour later, they laid, wrapped, with arms and legs looped around each other. Always the same. Both on their left sides, her right leg between his, his right hand loosely holding her left breast. Their home position. His hand trailed from her breast to her stomach, slowly rubbing his palm across her slack flesh.
“Don’t start something you can’t finish, Mister,” she said.
“Wouldn’t dare,” he said. “But I was thinking of something else.”
“Were you now?”
“I was thinking of us. Having a baby,” he said.
She rolled out of home position to face him. “A baby?”
“Cute little, chubby one. Cinnamon skin. Lots of drool.”
“Do you want a baby?”
“Yes. It’s why I brought it up, isn’t it? Do you want a baby?”
She thought. Really stopped and thought. “I don’t know. I never thought about it as an actual, real, maybe-happening thing before.”
“You should,” he said, rubbing his hand across her stomach again, kneading and rubbing her skin. Then, he grabbed her stomach. Hard. His fingers curled toward each other, until soft flesh spilled between the angles. The cells flattened and squeezed until top and bottom were approximating. She tried to pull away, but his grip had locked. “Stop, baby. That’s too hard,” she said. He didn’t respond. His grip didn’t lessen. “Seriously, Shawn. That hurts. Stop.” She flattened her palms against his chest and pressed as hard as she could. Trying to push him away, to pry herself away, to make this pain that was bringing tears to her eyes stop. He said nothing. Then she looked at him.
His body was as rigid and columnar as it had been that day at his apartment. But that had been months ago. Almost a year. Before they knew they were a real thing. Before they moved from two homes into one. Before there were drops of blood dripping to her hip, where his uneven nails had dug into her pelvis. It hadn’t happened since.
She moved both her hands to his wrist, and tried to pry his hand from her body. He was immovable. Her voice started making sounds against her will. Her skin had flattened to the width of paper and it felt like only seconds until he would completely pierce through her flesh. She brought up her knees and wrapped them around his arm. Throwing all her weight forward, she pulled herself up and over and knelt on him. Countering against that pressure, she leaned back as far as she could, yelling as she finally broke free of his grip.
His body lay on the bed, still and stony. She didn’t know she had scuttled away from him, until she felt the closet door bang against her back. What was she supposed to do? She pulled up her shirt and examined her ribs and stomach. There were scratches and streaks of blood. It wasn’t deep. No real damage. It only felt like she’d been slashed with a chef’s knife. She looked up from her own skin. Shawn was still lying flat on the bed. She stood up, but stayed flush against the closet door. His limbs were motionless but his chest was rising and falling. Craning her neck without breaking the seal against the door, she focused on his neck. There was the smallest hint of an undulating peak and valley just above the crease of his collarbone. His heart was fine. So, she sat down, still firm against the door. And did nothing.
Another hour later, the twitch of her chin against her collarbone woke her. She blinked and then registered the irritant. Not a bug or a stray fiber of clothing. It was his hand against her shoulder. She felt the smooth stroke of his fingers, and the momentary catching of the callous at the base of his middle finger. He was back.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Right as rain,” he said, stroking her hair, wrapping his hand around the back of her neck. “Hope it wasn’t too frightful.”
She smiled. “Say frightful again,” she said, murmuring it into his chest. He leaned into her neck, his mouth moist and soft against her skin. Goosebumps raised themselves and her shoulders shivered as he ran his finger down her vertebra and whispered.
“It wasn’t so bad,” she said, shifting under the uncomfortable ache on the skin of her belly.
“Sorry,” he said.
“I thought maybe those were done,” she said.
“Would be nice,” he said. “I’m famished. You want to get a curry?”
“When have we ever gotten a curry?” she asked.
“Always a first time. Come on. Pants, young lady.” He held out his hand and pulled her to her feet. When he kissed her, before he swatted her down the hallway, she saw the bright, red bloodshot tracks in his eyes.
The apartment door slammed shut, but she didn’t hear the deadbolt. He always turned the deadbolt. Even if he was just grabbing the mail or picking up their Thursday night avocados. Or limes. He never, ever remembered to get limes. This was something that was adorable at first, then bugged her to no end months into to their coupling. She had eventually accepted and come to find endearing that he would forever forget the limes. Because he secretly didn’t like them. But he always remembered to bolt the door.
“Baby?” she called. Their place was not exactly the biggest. Their place. She still stumbled over that one. Their bed, in their place, was at the top of an unforgiving ladder that could only be called “stairs” in the most generous of circumstances. But for two bedrooms in the East Village, you made compromises.
It was quiet. Maybe it wasn’t their door she heard slamming. Probably the Indian couple next door. Those boys could bang some doors. She leaned over the bed, remembering this time that she couldn’t stand fully erect to put on the clean pillowcases, or she would bruise her forehead on the slanted back wall. More East village compromises. Then she heard the door close again. Definitely their door. And then their lock clicking. She put down the still-naked pillow and walked downstairs. As she cleared the last two steps, facing towards the wall and clinging onto the railings on both sides for support, she heard the door unlock and swing open.
“Shawn?” she called. But she knew he wasn’t there. No way. She walked toward the door. When she got within two steps, she felt the air exchange inches from her face. She realized she was sweating. Phone. Needed her phone. It wasn’t in her back pocket. Bed. Pillows. Upstairs. She slipped and cracked her shin against one of the steps. Blood dripped on the dark, faded wood. Get upstairs. Get the phone. She finally got to the top. It wasn’t by the pillows or anywhere on the bed. Then she heard it vibrating from downstairs. Back down, slipping on the last step. Finally upright, she ran across the room and grabbed the first and biggest thing she could hold. Smashing his guitar over the head of whoever was opening and closing her door wouldn’t do much, but she felt better having it in her hand. Where was her phone? She heard it vibrating. Maybe on the counter but the door, she ran to it and grabbed it. She looked up when the door slammed shut again. Full-view, eyes open. She saw the door. It was closed but then it independently swung open, paused as if someone stopped it with their foot and then kicked it shut. Her phone stopped vibrating. And it was suddenly in her hand. Everything was quiet. Then her phone rang.
It was a song she knew, but couldn’t name in this moment. Old and tinny. Something from a black and white movie with fainting girls and men in fedoras and waistcoats. Then it faded, the notes dimming. They were replaced with the sound of a child, young, when boys and girls have the same voices. The child was talking. The same accent as Shawn.
“Hello. Are you there? Someone? Can anybody hear me? I don’t know where I am. I’m…I need my mummy. Is she there? Mummy?”
Carolyn stared at her phone. The screen was black. Nothing. She pressed the power button, the home button, nothing. The phone stayed dead.
“Mummy, I’m so tired. I want to go to sleep in your big bed. Rub my hair so I can go to sleep. Tell the scary goblins not today. Mummy…sleepy…” The child’s voice stopped.
“Carolyn,” she heard, and she finally looked up from her phone. It was the same accent, only a grown man’s voice. She jumped and screamed when she felt the hand on her shoulder.
“Love, what are you doing? What’s the trouble?”
She spun and saw Shawn standing over her. She grabbed him, wrapping her arms around him and squeezing. “Someone’s here. In the house.”
“Who’s here? One of your work mates. Is it Dae?”
“I don’t know. I can’t see them. They are here. And there’s a little boy on my phone.”
He took the phone from her hand and examined it. He pressed the home button and the screen lit up, showing apps and a wallpaper photo of a rosemary scone she had baked in their kitchen. Like there always was.
“There’s no boy on your phone,” Shawn said. “And I don’t think anyone is in the flat.”
Carolyn grabbed the phone from him and put it down on the table. She rubbed her hand on her leg after she dropped it.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Why don’t you go lie down? I’ll bring you in some tea.”
“Fuck your tea. I’m not staying here,” she said.
“No,” she said. She walked past him to the next room. He heard her scoop her keys up from the table. Then he heard them drop onto the floor. She swore again and picked them up. Pushing beyond him in the doorway, she walked past the table where her phone was lying. She looked at it, but refused to touch it. She didn’t feel Shawn pulling at her hand as she rushed out the door.
“Johnnie Walker Black. Rocks,” Carolyn said to the bartender. She sat at the bar and waited. She didn’t know where to look. It had been years since she had been anywhere alone without her phone. She saw an ancient and possibly apocryphal black phone on a lower shelf by the bartender with the long braids. Who would she call? She didn’t know anyone’s number. And she was too stunned to do anything but look straight ahead, seeing her pale reflection in the mirror behind the bar. The woman she saw looked like a ghost.
The word sounded ridiculous. Ghost? Is that why her doors slammed and a make-believe girl hijacked her phone? She stared past the bottles to the mirror behind the bar. Her face. Her short hair. No crazy horror movie blood streaks. No absent reflection. No forced reflection of a goblin or bewitched little girl scout with poisoned Samoas. Just her and her drink. And the woman who was now sitting next to her.
“Johnnie Walker. Neat. You got blue label?” the woman asked. The bartender raised his eyebrow.
“I know,” she said. The bartender shrugged and walked to the back of the bar, reaching on tiptoes for the blue-labeled bottle on the highest shelf. “Every time,” she said. “You think they’d start keeping it lower.”
“Maybe they don’t want it to get broken,” Carolyn said.
“Then they should tread more carefully,” the woman said. “It’s really fucking good scotch.”
“Yeah it is,” Carolyn said. And she didn’t know why she said that. Or why she had even ordered it. She never drank scotch. But she was now.
The bartender placed the really fucking good scotch in front of the woman. And not gently. The liquid tilted and swayed in the glass.
“He’s a shitty actor. I saw him in Medea in some trash theater in DUMBO. He was a lousy Jason. No wonder she killed his kids.”
Carolyn was quiet.
“That I can forgive. Not everyone has talent just because they want it. But not taking care of good scotch? That’s inexcusable.”
Carolyn smiled, still not wanting to talk.
“You’re not an actor, are you?” the woman asked.
“No,” Carolyn said.
“Pam,” the woman said, holding out her hand. “I know. Nun’s name.”
“Are you a nun?” Carolyn asked.
“Yes,” Pam said. Carolyn stared at her.
“Get out of here,” Carolyn said.
“Sacred sisters of booze and tobacco,” Pam said. “So, not an actor. Are you a nun?”
“Not yet,” Carolyn said. She rubbed her shin it was still sore from the crack it took earlier.
“You from the neighborhood?” Pam asked. Carolyn nodded, not giving anymore. Creeped out or not, she was still a minimal-information New Yorker. “Me too. Haven’t seen you here.”
“Look. Before you…I’m not interested.”
“I’m not asking,” Pam said. “But I’m interested.”
“Okay,” Carolyn said.
“Okay,” Pam said. She nodded to Carolyn’s drink. “Phone’s ringing.”
“No, it not mine. I forgot mine-“ Carolyn stopped. Her phone was on the bar, next to her drink. She knew she hadn’t brought it with her. She knew it. But there it was. And it was ringing. A standard old-fashioned phone ring.
“That’s not my fucking phone, “Carolyn said.
“Nope. Not a nun,” Pam said. “Well, honey, it ain’t mine.”
“I could have sworn that I left it-“ She stared at the phone. It stopped ringing. Carolyn took a swig of her drink, draining half of the glass.
“I like you. Too bad you’re not interested,” Pam said. She slowly sipped her own drink. A drop lingered at the corner of her mouth. Pam licked it away with a tongue so dark it looked purple.
Carolyn held her glass in two hands. Gripping the glass helped steady the shaking. She raised it to her mouth, then stopped. The phone next to her started ringing again, but not the old-fashioned ring. Now it was the tinkling, pecking music she had heard before at home.
“You should answer it,“ Pam said. “They really want to talk to you.” The music continued playing.
Carolyn stood. “What are you doing?” she asked.
Pam took another deep drink from her glass. But this time, she didn’t raise the glass to her mouth. She held it in her hand by her chin. From there, she stretched out her long tongue, definitely a deep purple, and dipped it into the amber whisky. She held it there for moment, then curled it back to her mouth, bringing a splash of the drink with the long, spiny tongue.
“They want to talk to you,” Pam said. “They’re going to talk to you. Now answer the fucking phone.”
Carolyn was terrified. She knew that if she tried to run, tried to even move, this woman would hurt her. That tongue, with its points and barbs would be down her throat, ripping the soft tissue and filling her mouth and lungs with her own blood. The plunking of the far away piano continued.
“Answer your phone, Carolyn” Pam said. She put down her drink and turned, facing Carolyn directly.
Carolyn had no choice. She put down her drink and picked up the phone. It looked exactly like hers. The chip out of the top right edge. The rainbow crack curving over the left lower corner. Pam stared at her.
“Hello?” Carolyn rasped.
“Mummy!” the young voice called to her. “Mummy, are you coming to get us? It’s so dark in here. We miss you so much.”
“Who is this?” Carolyn said through chattering teeth.
“You have to go home. You have to take care of Daddy,” the child’s voice said again. “We’ll see you there later.”
“WHO IS THIS! What are you doing?” Carolyn yelled into the phone. The bartender with the braids looked up at her. Just as quickly, he looked back down at the pile of pages he was reading. The voice in the phone was gone. She could only hear darkness.
“You’d better get home then,” Pam said. She reached past Carolyn and took her drink. She downed the rest of it in one swallow. She licked her lips. “Don’t worry. I’ll get your drink.”
Carolyn looked at her hand. The phone was gone. She looked at the bar. It was barren except for her empty glass.
“I’ll keep this. Don’t worry. You’ll see me again when we need you,” Pam said, smiling. “Kiss that handsome man goodnight for me.”
Carolyn didn’t think. She just ran out of the bar. She looked back as she passed through the door. The woman was gone.
Carolyn stood in the doorway of her bedroom, her legs frozen. Her phone sat, quiet and still on her bed. Not in the center, but on her side of the bed, where her lower back would be if she was lying there. But there was no way. She had been in that bar. The phone had been in her hand. She had heard the phone ring and the child’s voice that came through when she answered it. It couldn’t have been here the entire night.
“You going to bed?” she heard the voice behind her ask. Her breath stopped. She clapped her hand over her mouth, trying to stop whatever air was left in her lungs from escaping. Without willing it, she bent over at the waist and collapsed to her knees, curling both into herself and into the ground. She felt arms around her, keeping her from sinking completely into the carpet. The arms lifted her up and walked her to the bed. She let them sit her on the edge. Her edge. She saw the phone and her body reared back. She kicked, her heels digging into the comforter, until the phone fell off the bed, landed on the floor, and bounced under the bed.
“Lynnie,” he whispered, trying to calm her. “You’re okay. You’re okay now. Come here. Come here with me,” he soothed. He eased her to her side, wrapping himself around her like a thick, weighty blanket. She always folded right into him when he held her. But tonight, she fought. She didn’t feel safe enough to fall. He felt her body, tight and rigid and leaning away from him.
“I’m sorry,” he said, easing his grasp and giving her space. “I know you’ve been in your head. About me. About what’s going on.”
“I don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “I just needed to get out of here. And I went to that bar on Second, and this woman, and her mouth, and the phone rang- “
“Nothing. Nothing is going on,” he said, drawing long ovals on the back of her arm. “You fell asleep and you must have been dreaming. You’ve been here all night. Not talking to me, granted. But you didn’t leave.”
“What are you talking about?” she yelled. “I went to the bar, and she said I had to answer the phone, and that little kid’s voice. Oh my God, Shawn…”
“Baby, oh my poor girl. There wasn’t any bar, or woman and her mouth. Although, now I’m wishing there was- “
“I’m serious. Jesus Christ, I was scared to death, the voices, they were just babies, they said I had to get home to you and- “
“Look at me,” he said, resting his hands on her shoulder. “I promise you. Absolutely promise. You have been here with me all night. You’re safe, my girl.”
She stared at him and her whole chest tensed, her triceps muscles bracing. He kept circling, light then more pressure. Her skin broke out in goosebumps. He continued. Her muscles finally relaxed under his hand.
“I fell asleep?” she asked.
“That’s my girl,” he said. “Yes. You just fell asleep. You were my tired cat.”
“I am tired,” Carolyn said.
“I know you are,” he said. His continued to work his hands across her neck and shoulders. She shifted lower, sinking in to the bed, under his touch. “There we are,” he whispered. Thank you for coming back to me.”
“Are you going crazy?” she asked, not wanting the answer nor ready to believe the one she might get.
“No, love,” he said.
“Am I going crazy?”
“Never. Sanest girl I know. You’re the strong one here, right? You know that,” he said. “I’d be lost and drowned without you. Truly.”
“But I heard that voice on the phone,” she said.
“If you say you did, you did. Of course you did,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it was real. Only means you heard it. Or thought you heard it.”
“I don’t know and I don’t know how. I need to know how.”
“Have you been thinking about…” he started, then trailed off, quiet and touching his lips to her back of her neck.
“Thinking about what?”
“Nothing, love, just a silly thought. You know how I get with you all soft and warm in bed with me.”
She peeled away from him, just an inch, enough to turn and roll in place so she could see his face.” What have I been thinking about?”
“Nothing at all- “
“Shawn,” she said, done being warm and soft.
He sighed. “Please don’t be angry about this. It’s probably just me. My stupid head. But, you said it was a kid. A little kid. Maybe- “
She rolled away from him, giving him her back again.
“See? I’m sorry. I’m an idiot. I can’t help it. I just know, when I’ve had my…troubles in the past, there’s sometimes something at the core. Something shaking me from the inside. I can’t help but think,’ he held her closer. “Maybe it’s just me. Maybe you’ve been unsettled with me being sick. Looking for a way out. But please don’t. You can’t. I’m coming back. Back to you. I promise.”
“I don’t think I even want a baby,” she said.
“And I love you for that, he said, kissing her cheek. “That doesn’t matter. One way or another. I’m happy with just you. Now, lie still, you. You’re a mess of knots. If I start now, I might have you sorted out by breakfast.” He knelt above her, wringing his hands firmly together. She nestled deeper in to the pillow. She wasn’t all there, not heart and mind, but she was willing to offer her what parts of her were there. He placed his hands on either side of her neck. They were muscled and expansive, wide palms and long fingers. He held them over her for a moment. She could feel them in the air inches away from her skin. Then he touched her, soft and light at first. Then he slowly started sinking in with more pressure. She sighed under his hands and started to move. His hands and fingers worked, rubbing, circling, kneading the anxious fibers of her back. She felts his fingers almost touch each other in the front of her throat. They lingered there for a moment, no pressure, just presence.
He delved deeper into her form, she closed her eyes and let herself drift. Away from the things she trusted completely and the things she couldn’t quite know. Under the bed, the phone laid in the strands of dust, forgotten after her displacing kick. It was still and silent. The battery had been dead for hours. But the indigo light from its keys glowed steady and unstopping.
“You look like helllllll,” Dae said, stretching out the word to crystalize her point. She was perched on Carolyn’s desk, her butt touching the keyboard, her legs spread, with Carolyn sitting in the middle.
“I know,” Carolyn said. She felt like hell and agreed that she looked like it.
“What happened last night?”
“Went to a bar. Had a drink. Lost my phone. Came home and found it. Then I went to sleep.”
“You’re so old,” Dae said. “I’m embarrassed for you right now, you’re so old.”
“You’re four years older than me,” Carolyn said.
“Yeah, but I look good.”
“I only had one drink,” Carolyn said.
“Then I need to know that bartender,” Dae said. “I know you’re dying, but…you have those medical descriptions, right? Karl needs them. Now.”
Carolyn exhaled and smacked Dae’s ass to get her off her desk. Dae swung her legs around, clearing the keys but keeping her hips pointed to Carolyn.
“Why do women speaking Farsi need to know how to ask about a yeast infection?
“I’d imagine they have nasty cooters in Persia, like just they have downtown. But, I just dance the code, pretty. Making the world better one useless app at a time. And Karl needs your descriptions. Now.”
Carolyn fussed at the computer and then jabbed a final stroke. “Sent. Why does just doing that feel like I ran ten miles?”
Dae stared at her. “You all right? There’s not something…”
“I’m not pregnant,” Carolyn said.
“Didn’t think you were,” Dae said. “But apparently you did.”
“I didn’t. I have no idea why I just said that.” She jammed the heels of her hands into her eyes. When she dropped them back in her lap, there were tears on her cheeks.
“Honey, what the hell is happening?”
“I don’t know,” Carolyn said.”
“I’d say go home,” Dae said, “but I can’t. We really need to get started on the update for the travel piece. I don’t want to stall Darren again.”
“No, of course not,” Carolyn said. “I’ve been working. It’s fifty percent at least.”
“I need 75 as soon as you can.”
“Don’t worry,” Carolyn said. “I’ll handle it.”
Dae stood up from the desk and rubbed Carolyn’s shoulder. “You’re the best.” She walked away from the desk and Carolyn slumped into her chair.
Hours later Carolyn laid under all the blankets of their bed. Her neck ached. Her hips throbbed. Even her calves felt like solid cramped blocks, like she’d run a marathon in heel, and she’d been in nothing but flats for days.
Shawn peeked his head through the bedroom door. “Hey,” he said. “You getting on?”
Carolyn shifted the blankets away from her mouth but otherwise didn’t move. “Dae says I am.”
“You don’t look well, love,” he said. He felt her forehead. “No fever. Can I get you anything?” he asked. He sat down next to her on the bed, stroking her legs over the thick comforter.
She stared at him. He looked…good. Nothing specific. Just good. He always looked good. But this was exceptional. His skin was smooth and, not sweaty or shiny, but dewy. The way a young girl looks, freshly scrubbed after a warm bath. He was smiling. His lips were soft, moist. His whole face was bright. Even his body. He seemed lighter, like the forces working on his body were lifting his center to the sky instead of pulling it down to the earth.
“You look…” she said, trailing off, losing her voice in the covers below her chin. “Beautiful. Like an angel.”
“It was a good day,” he said, smiling and rubbing his thumb over her cheek. Even that. She could feel the roughness of her skin edges catching, disrupting the marble-smooth skin of his thumb. It felt like a wet cherry, rolling over fish scales. Two unexpected and exclusive objects meeting awkwardly. She never realized his hands were so soft.
“You sleep,” he said. “I’m going to pop out for sushi around the corner. Then I’ll be downstairs. Need me to bring you anything?”
“No sushi,” she said.
“Right,” he said. He tucked the blankets around her. “Well, then, my spicy roll. A bagel for you. I’ll be right back. Call me if you need anything.” He leaned in to kiss her. It had a touch more suggestion and passion than a usual popping-out-for-sushi-be-right-back kiss. She wanted to reciprocate, but she couldn’t. She could barely lift her head off the pillow. He left the room and she closed her eyes. She never heard him leave.
It was so hot. The blankets from their bed around her felt like a heavy shroud. Asphyxiating like the vest they drape over torsos during an x-ray. The wool was oppressive and binding. She could feel the sweat pooling between her breasts. Her shirt was soaked. Her hair was wet from the nape of her neck to the crown of her head. The room was bright and sharp and stinging light shot in through the curtains. She squinted, and she could feel a bead of sweat trail down her curled nose and forehead.
“Baby,” Shawn whispered. Carolyn opened her eyes, but they were leaden. Her eyelids drooped, leaving her eyes open just a sliver against the burning light. “Can you try to drink something?” She felt the bed shift when he sat down beside her. She pushed the blankets down to her stomach. It felt like she was trying to dig her hands through wet sand. Shawn’s hands brushed against her as he helped wrangle the covers.
“Here,” he said. She felt his hand behind her and he helped her get into a sitting position. More of a leaning, tired position. He handed her a glass. It was cold. It felt wonderful. Instead of drinking it, she held it next to her face. “Try to drink,” he said. “You haven’t had anything all day.”
“My legs hurt,” she said. Let her try to hold the glass on her own. She managed, although it did clink against her teeth each time she raised it to her mouth. He wrapped his hands around her calves and rubbed, them. She grimaced, the glass wobbling in her hand.
“Steady on,” he said, taking the glass from her.
She curled her knees to her chest. “My stomach hurts. Like something is squeezing me. Twisting my insides. Ugh,” she groaned.
“Baby,” Shawn said. “We need to take care of you.”
“No, I just need to sleep. And my deductible is too high.”
“It’s almost bedtime. You’ve slept all day.”
“What? Shit, I have to…work,” she said, trying to roll over in the bed. She flopped to her original positon on her back, out of strength.
“No,” he said, putting the glass of water on the bedside table and softy keeping her in bed. “No work. Dae texted this morning. You texted back.”
“Wha…” Carolyn said, trailing off into her pillow. “I don’t remember.” She pulled the blankets up to her chin, despite the rising temperature around her. “Just…want…”
Shawn kissed her forehead. “Sleep. I’ll see you in the morning, love.”
Two hours later, Shawn was sitting on the edge of the chair in the hospital room. Carolyn was on the bed, curled into a fetal position. Neither of them spoke. Shawn, usually so eager to touch her, to heal and relieve with his good hands, kept still, his fingers curled around each other in his lap. A man in tight-fitting scrubs, with tattoos down past both elbows, walked into the room. Shawn stood. Carolyn didn’t stir.
“I’m Dr. Curtis,” the man said. Shawn extended his hand and the doctor quickly shook it, but his eyes focused on Carolyn in the bed. “How you doing?”
“Been better,” Carolyn said quietly.
“Here’s where we are,” Dr. Curtis said. “You’re running a fever, but the blood work shows no real signs of infection. I’ll be honest, I don’t like it. So, I’d like to get you in for a CT scan of that belly. See what’s going on. Okay?”
“Do you have any idea what’s-“ Carolyn started. The doctor stopped her.
“I really wouldn’t want to guess until we know more. Can I get you anything?”
Shawn looked at Carolyn. She waved them both off with her hand.
“All right. I’ll be back,” the doctor said and he left the room.
Shawn paced back and forth across the small room. He turned quickly, sending a bin of tongue depressors and long cotton swabs onto the floor. The echo of the metal crashed reverberated in the small room.
“Please sit down,” she said.
He knelt down to gather up the scattered debris. He looked to the trash, and looked at the bin on the wheeled-cart, but her wasn’t sure where to put his handful. Frustrated, he dropped them all on the counter next to the sink. From the bed, Carolyn shifted her hips and released a muffled groan. Shawn left his pile and sat next to her on the bed. She grabbed his hand.
“We’ll figure it out. Figure it all out,” he said. He loosened his hand from hers and then took her hand in both of his. He cradled it like an egg. Supporting her hand in his, he massaged her wrist; circles of light pressure then a firm downward force with his thumb. He slowly moved his hands up her arm, then to her shoulder. Her breathing slowed. The tightness and the tension in her face relaxed by a degree. He moved his hand to the side of her ribs. Not reaching for her breasts; this was a healing touch, not a sexual one. He curved his hand into the space between her ribs and her waist, and then back to her rib. He gave firm pressure to a tip of a middle rib.
“This should help,” he whispered to her.
“Why does it hurt so much?” she said. “There’s something wrong. Something really wrong. I’m scared.”
“Shh. Don’t talk like that. We’ll find out what this is. Have you right as rain. You’ll see.”
The end of a gurney pushed into the room with a clank or metal and the squeak of old wheels.
“Carolyn Janus? Birthday 07/22/1988?” the woman in bleached-white scrubs pushing the gurney asked.
“Ok. We’re going upstairs to CT.”
“Should I…?” Shawn asked.
“No. You stay here. I’ll keep her safe. I promise.” The woman helped Carolyn shift from the bed to the gurney. Carolyn bit her lip and stifled a moan. The woman slammed the side rail of the gurney up into place.
“Get her right back to you,” the woman said, backing the gurney out of the room.
Out in the hall, the woman smiled as she pushed the patient on her stretcher. Carolyn could barely see the woman who was moving her down the hall. She looked above her at the woman in white. There was a tag hung around her neck. There were bright red letters, but the name that was stamped in the middle under a picture kept blurring out of focus.
“Remember me?” she asked.
Carolyn couldn’t think. It was the woman. From the bar. Pam. That was it. Nun’s name. With the drink. And the phone.
“Don’t worry, honey,” Pam said. “Like I told him. I’ll keep you safe. Both of you.”
Her head pounded. It hurt so much. Carolyn stood against the window of the hospital room and leaned her head against the pane. She wished for winter, but the glass was warm.
“Why can’t we just leave? she asked. It wasn’t the first time she had said that in the last hour. This time no one was there to hear. Shawn had gone to get her an herbal tea. She hated herbal tea–in this moment, more than usual. She wanted a glass of white wine so cold that glass had frost. No. Not a glass of white wine. She wanted a bottle. And she couldn’t remember a time in her life when she had ever wanted white wine.
A nurse came in the room, pushing a computer on a wheeled-stand. At least Carolyn guessed she was a nurse. The woman in the navy scrubs never said.
“Marilyn?” the woman asked.
“Oh,” the woman said, starring into the computer screen. “Were you in a different room?”
Carolyn shook her head. Jesus. She would seriously kick this computer and its pusher down a flight of stairs for that wine.
“This place,” the maybe-nurse said, sighing and taking a huge slug out of travel mug that sat on the small ledge wrapped around the front of the monitor. The mug was orange and as big as the computer screen. The woman slurped down the coffee as she clicked, somehow all while staring out the room’s window. “Oh, no, here it is. Ok. Doctor signed off on your discharge. Go ahead and change and I’ll print out your papers.”
“Is anybody going to tell me what’s wrong?”
“He didn’t come talk to you?”
“No,” Carolyn said.
The woman sighed louder and swallowed another mouthful from her mug. “There is it. Follow up visit in two weeks. Number will be on the papers.”
“But-” Carolyn growled.
“If there was anything, it would be in here. But it’s not. So, I’m sure you’re fine.”
“Sure. Cause I feel fucking fine.”
“Your papers will be at the desk,” the woman said, pushing her computer out of the room.
Carolyn flung up her middle finger at the empty doorway. She yanked off the hospital gown, and walked over to the tiny plastic closet in the corner, wearing only her underwear. The elastic band adhered to the sweat on her back.
Shawn stepped into the doorway, holding her tea and wearing an eager, sympathetic smile.
“What did they say?” he asked.
The steam rose through the hole on the plastic cover of the drink. She imagined the liquid melting the cup, distorting it around Shawn’s hand. Hotter, and hotter and hotter, until the tea dissolved every molecule it touched, until there was redness, and pain and…
“Bloody hell,” Shawn yelled. He dropped the cup on the floor and the tea pooled by his feet, hot vapor rising like a mist. He stepped back and reflexively brought his hand to his mouth to cool it. “Don’t know why they serve it like that.”
He grabbed a handful of paper towel and bent to clean the mess.
“Leave it,” Carolyn said.
“No, I can’t. I’ve made a wreck of the place. Someone could fall or-“
“Take me home,” Carolyn said. “Now.”
“Hello!” Dae called from the doorway of the house. Carolyn shuffled around the corner, draped in layers of flannel, with a blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
“Hey,” Carolyn said.
“Damn you are a sexy bitch,” Dae said. She held up bags. “I used my key. Hope that’s okay. And I brought lo mein, about twenty spring rolls, tea and wine. Oh and porn. Something in here should help.”
“Thanks,” Carolyn said. “Just…put them in the kitchen. Or wherever.” Carolyn walked slowly to the living room and dropped into a chair.
“So…” Dae said.
“So,” Carolyn answered.
“What’s going on?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is it bad?” Dae asked.
“Maybe. I don’t think so,” Carolyn said. “But they don’t know. I’m supposed to see him tomorrow. Talk about the tests.” Carolyn rested her head on the back of the chair. “Shawn is crushed. Not that he’s acting like it”
“He is brighter and shinier than I’ve ever seen him. Hanging out with friends. Going to hear music. He started taking pictures again. Has more clients than he can book. Hasn’t had a seizure in a year.”
“No, sweetie, not why is he acting, like, some white frat boy. Why is he crushed?”
“If we go to the appointment, and it’s bad, then my uterus is officially off the market. Yanking it off the shelves. Expired. Done.”
“Shit,” Dae said, looking at the floor.
“But if you go in there tomorrow and they say, that’s it, baby is off the table– are you…”
“I didn’t know if I ever even wanted a baby,” Carolyn said. “I didn’t think so. You know that. I’m not a mom. Now, all I see is babies. All I hear is kids. Singing. Screaming. I can’t stop them.” The sound of tinny carousel music came from the next room. “See? My phone.”
“Oh. Go ahead,” Dae said.
“No,” Carolyn said.
“I can go get it,” Dae shifted to stand.
“I said no,” Carolyn demanded.
The women sat without talking. The music marched on for a few more seconds and then stopped. Carolyn hung her head.
“I hate to bring this up,” Dae said.
“Just say it,” Carolyn said. “I know that’s why you came.”
“It’s not,” Dae said. “I wanted to see you.”
“Bullshit. What did they say?” Carolyn said, picking up her head and staring pointedly at Dae.
Dae breathed. “They’re taking you off all your current projects. Raj is going to call you on Friday to formalize it.
“Fuck,” Carolyn said, letting her neck go slack and dropping her head to the back of the chair.
“They’re not firing you,” Dae said. “He is absolutely clear on that.”
“Sure as hell sounds like it,” Carolyn said.
“I’m sorry,” said Dae. “It sucks. But…”
“I don’t want to sound like a bitch. Yeah, I’m your manager, but I’m your friend first and after. The work still needs done. The ad buys are slowing down and we need the content. And besides all that, I think you’re a fabulous woman. But you weren’t getting it done when you were there. I’d rather you be here and get better.”
“He’s a massage therapist, Dae. You know what he makes, what we have. How are we supposed to make it on one salary? In New York?”
Dae pulled out an envelope and handed it to Carolyn.
“Pay me back when you can. I probably won’t be there much longer anyway. Looking at some new companies. Maybe try something on my own. When I do, you come with me.”
Carolyn hung her head and tears filled her eyes. “I can’t cry. It hurts.”
“Then don’t, you maudlin, moody bitch.”
Dae crouched down to the floor and wrapped her arms around Carolyn. They smiled. Then, Carolyn wept.
“I hate you,” Carolyn.
“I hate you too,” Dae responded.
Carolyn trembled as she exhaled in spurts and cuts.
“You’re okay,” Dae said. “Promise. You’ll get better and figure this out.”
Carolyn said nothing. Her tears stung her skin when they rolled down her cheeks. There was a twinge in her stomach. Then another one. And then a faint flutter. As soon as she felt that, she stopped crying. She knew what the tests would show. And she knew that they would be wrong. Only she knew what was happening.
The room was freezing. But Carolyn could feel her sweat, slick against her chest and upper arms, seeping from her armpits. She lay on the exam table, the white sheet digging in where it twisted under the back of her leg. She was wearing a hospital gown, flapped over itself and lifted, exposing her stomach. Her pants were unzipped and separated. Shawn stood behind her, quiet, his hand on her shoulder. The doctor rolled the ultrasound head over her abdomen and stared at the screen.
“Okay, those are the cysts. We knew about those,” the doctor said, pointing to blurry mounds on the monitor behind her. She moved the ultrasound head as she spoke. “One. Two. Three…and there’s the fourth.”
Carolyn and Shawn were silent. They’d heard the words but not seen the evidence live. Her ovaries, her fallopian tubes and her uterus were filled with strangulating cysts.
The doctor made a sound. It wasn’t a gasp. Nothing so big. But she took in a breath that the room could hear. “Wait…there’s something else here…I don’t remember seeing a fifth one before, this must be a new one.” She moved the ultrasound head again and adjusted a dial on the machine.
“What?” Carolyn said, lifting her head as far off the exam table and forward toward to the monitor as she could. “What’s wrong?” Shawn grabbed her hand. There was a brief percussive sound that came from the machine. A few beats and then another. Then, the muffled but regular sound of a heart beat filled Carolyn’s head.
“What is that?” she asked. She reached up and grabbed Shawn’s hand, digging her fingers into the flash of his muscular palms.
“I don’t know,” the doctor said. “I’m sorry. There must be another one. Small. Something we didn’t see before.
“No,” Carolyn said. “The sound…”
Shawn looked at Carolyn, then at the doctor, and then back to Carolyn. “What sound?”
The fast, regular pounding filled her ears again.
“It’s a heartbeat,” Carolyn said.
The doctor looked concerned. “Are you feeling okay” Faint? Dizzy? Nauseous?”
“No,” Carolyn said. “I’m fine. But I know what…is that a baby?”
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “It’s not a heartbeat. You might be hearing, it could be, sometimes when there is more mass, unusually calcified or misplaced, in the tissue space than is usual, the vibrations of the sound waves in the biologic fluid can- “
“I know what it is,” Carolyn said.
“It could just be you feeling unwell. Some dehydration, the beginnings of a migraine, vertigo, could all mimic a similar sound in your head,” the doctor said. “I’m not hearing anything. Carolyn, I need to be sure you understand. With four cysts of that size, all calcified, some precancerous, there is no way that this uterus could sustain life.”
“My uterus is sustaining,” Carolyn said.
“Darling, I’m sure…” offered Shawn.
The doctor turned off the ultrasound machine. “My first concern is for your health. Why don’t you get dressed and we can talk in my office?” The doctor smiled politely, and just a bit sadly.
“We can talk here,” Carolyn said, straightening herself up on the exam table. She smiled too. A real one. Ernest and eager.
“Lynnie,” Shawn said.
“Please. Go ahead,” Carolyn said to the doctor.
“I have to recommend a complete hysterectomy. Not emergent. But I’d like it as soon as possible.”
Carolyn smile flattened, but just a by a degree. “No.”
“Doctor McMillen,” Carolyn said, “I am not going to have a surgery. I am having a baby. So, that is what I’m going to do.”
“That is not medically possible,” the doctor said.
“That,” Carolyn said,” is not up to you.”
“I’m sorry, but I have to…Carolyn, you have to listen. Tell her, what happens if she doesn’t have the surgery,” Shawn said.
“This is ridiculous,” Carolyn said. “Why would I even consider this? I’m, we’re having a baby.”
“I don’t care about that,” he said. “I don’t care if we never have any. I want our life like it is and that means you.”
“But I don’t-”
“Tell her what can happen,” he said, voice raising and patience lowering.
“Infection. Sepsis. Rupture. Death,” the doctor said, plain and firm.
“Is that all?” Carolyn asked.
“Listen,” Shawn scolded.
Carolyn slid forward and stood. Shawn stood beside her. The doctor rose to meet them. “Thank you so much,” Carolyn said. “We’re done here.” Her thin hospital bed gaped open, her breasts and torso exposed. She grabbed her t-shirt from a folding chair in the corner and left. Shawn dipped his head slightly at the doctor, then followed her.
An hour later, Carolyn walked to the corner of their kitchen. She threw the rumpled hospital gown she still had balled in her hand into the garbage can. Shawn waited until she turned around so he could look at her face. “We don’t have to do anything right now. I want you to relax. I’ll draw you a bath- “
Carolyn smiled. “Silly boy. East village apartments don’t have bathtubs.” He started saying this to her shortly after their first date. He offered to draw her a bath. His small apartment had none. He smiled and left the room. When he returned, he handed her a pencil sketch of a bathtub. He was good with his hands in so many ways.
“I’ll make you one: pop out, get a blow-up kiddie pool at Duane Reade, boil water in the kettle while I blow it up. Bubbles, lavender oil, salts, right as rain and then fast asleep,” he said. “Deal with this another day.” He stroked her forearm as he talked.
“You are wonderful,” she said, leaning up to kiss him. “I’m so happy.” He kissed her back and tried to wrap her in his arms. “And I’m starving. I will love you forever if you call out for a curry while I take a shower.” She pulled away from his arms and went into the bathroom. She closed the door behind her and he heard her click the lock. “Seven and a half,” she called to him behind the door. “I want it spicy.”
She stayed in the bathroom for a long, long time. The water in the shower had shifted from scalding hot, to warm to tepid, to slightly chilly by the time she was done. When she finally got out, she’d let go of the day and made her plans. and wrapped herself in a long, warm robe. She could smell the curry.
He was sitting with a pile of vegetables. There was a bottle of uncorked wine on the table. She took a bite of her curry.
“It’s perfect,” she said, her mouth full and her nose sniffling.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I told them medium. Do you want mine?”
“No,” she said. “It’s great.”
“I love you,” he said.
“Love you, too.”
“Here. Have some wine,” he said, grabbing the wine and pouring. She looked at him as if he was the most foolish boy. She walked to the sink and poured herself a glass of water. She took several long gulps still standing and then returned to the table.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” she asked. He pulled his phone out of his pocket. They tried to keep their phones away during their dinners.
“Clients until three,” he said.
“Perfect. Keep the evening free.”
“Of course,” he said. “What are you thinking love?
“I think I found a midwife. At the center off 38th. I e-mailed while I was in the bathroom. She’s lovely. We can look at the office tomorrow when you’re done.”
“She has a list of doulas that she recommends. I want to start interviewing as soon as we can. I want as much support as I can get. I know you’ll be wonderful but there needs to be another support. You can’t be my only pillar.”
He slammed the wine bottle back down on the table. Drops flicked onto his hand. “You’ve got to stop. I went along when we were at the doctor’s office but- “
“Look at me. Look at this belly. This isn’t me. It’s her.”
“No, Carolyn. It’s you moping around this apartment and eating and not moving. And I don’t care. I love you no matter your shape or size. I love you and your belly. You are still my most beautiful girl in the world. But there is no baby. And you have go to stop this. Or you will get sick, and then you will get sicker and then you will be my beautiful dead girl.”
“You don’t have to be a part of this,” she said. “We will be just fine on our own.”
Shawn stood, leaving the food and wine where it sat. He walked away from the table and she could hear the bedroom door slam from the other room. She took another drink of water to cool her mouth, and then she stabbed a forkful of his vegetables and ate them in one giant bite. Then she took another. It really was perfect.
Carolyn walked to the far back of the bar. There was an empty stool with a red drink sitting in front of it. Pam sat on the next stool.
“Cranberry,” Pam said, gesturing to the drink. “It’s fine. You’re allowed to be in a bar. No smoke. Easy crowd.”
“You knew I was coming here?”
“She told me,” Pam said, downing her shot of whiskey.
“He didn’t come with me today. To the doctor. Everyone thinks I’m crazy.”
“They’ll see,” Pam said. “You can already feel her, can’t you?”
“I can,” Carolyn said. She wrapped both her hands around the cranberry juice to steady her trembling.
“It’s early. But not for you. They say four months, but I always felt mine early.” Pam downed another shot. Carolyn took a careful drink of hers.
“It’s so cold,” Carolyn said.
“The cold helps. Trust me,” Pam said. “Especially in the morning. You’re showing. It looks good.”
Carolyn smiled. “I hoped you would be here,” she said. Then she lost her smile. “What do I do? About this? I don’t know what to do.”
“You don’t have to do anything. Actually, it’s better if you just let it go.” Pam lifted another shot to her mouth, but put it back down on the bar without drinking it. “Talking about it will only upset him. He doesn’t understand. None of them do. And it’s not their fault. They don’t have the capacity for it. But they will come around.
“What if he doesn’t?”
“Then he doesn’t. And she’ll still have you. All she needs. So just be still. Be quiet. Let it happen.”
“She’ll be all right?” Carolyn asked.
“She’ll be perfect,” Pam said. She finally took her latest shot. Carolyn took another swallow of her cranberry juice.
“This really is so good,” Carolyn said, draining the red juice. “Why is it so good?”
Pam nodded to the bartender, who set another full glass in front of Carolyn. Peering inside, Carolyn leaned down and almost touched her nose to the ice cubes floating on the surface of the drink. She inhaled. “It smells like a popsicle, on a scorching day at beach.” She drained half the glass. Her cell phone rang and she put down the drink. It wasn’t the canned carnival ring. It was her usual parred down symphony.
“Don’t worry,” Pam said. “You won’t get any more of those calls.”
Carolyn hesitated, but after a second refrain, she answered.
“Hello? Hi. I went to the bar on Fourth. I was just really hot. I did. Something red and cold. I’m not sure. Not sure. Soon. Yes. Ok. Love you too.”
“And there you go. What did I say? You’ll do just fine. No. He’ll be fine. You’ll be great.”
“Can I call you? If I get worried? About the baby? He doesn’t believe this. And I don’t have anyone to talk to.”
“I’ll be around,” Pam said. “Get him, would you,” she said, gesturing to the bartender. Carolyn leaned over to catch his eye. He walked toward her.
“What’s your-“ she asked, turning from the bartender back to Pam. The stool next to her was empty. There were three empty shot glasses on the bar. Her half-full cranberry juice was still there.
“You’re good,” the bartender said. “Tab’s paid up.” He cleared away the shot glasses and walked to the other end of the bar. Carolyn sat, staring at the red juice. She finished the rest of it in one swallow. She stood and shivered. When the chill stopped, she froze on her feet. What she felt in her stomach wasn’t goosebumps. It was movement. She put her hand on her stomach. Her fingers were shaking. She felt it again. The baby. It was her baby. And she was moving.
Shawn let himself into the apartment and dropped his backpack at the door. Puddles of water pooled around his boots and leaked in a trail to the bottom of his bag. He didn’t bother to move it. Neither did he bother to take off his boots or sweater when he walked into the kitchen.
He stood at the refrigerator, dripping on the rug, holding the door open. It was full of glass and plastic containers, which held all manner of foods. All of them organic. Most of them green. Normally, he enjoyed having these things around. Tonight, he just wanted a paper full of greasy chips. Instead, he settled for some sort of tan grain with olive-colored specks. He ate it cold, standing, his hair dripping into his dinner. Or was it lunch? He couldn’t remember.
“Here. Let me take your coat,” Carolyn said from the doorway. He didn’t look up. He kept eating.
“I’ll get it,” he said. He took a final huge bite, a few grains slipping out of the glass tub and onto the floor. He stepped to the sink and tossed the bowl in with a clank.
“Could you…” she said.
“What?” he asked. “What can I do now?”
“Nothing,” she said. “How was work?”
“It was long. I’m going to bed.”
“Oh,” she said. “Good night.”
She walked to the sink and turned on the water, full and hot. The steam rose and she felt it, loosening the tightness in her face. The calm stopped when a pain grabbed onto her. She gasped and put her hand to her side. They were getting stronger. She’d had them before. They were sharp and quick, but they faded easily enough. She hadn’t had one for a week, then had one in each of the past three days. She braced herself against the sink with her other had and tried to breathe as deeply as she could. It was coming. Closing her eyes helped to focus her imagery, picturing her rib cage widening to allow for more air in her lungs. She opened her eyes when she heard the water shut off in the sink. She’d forgotten that she had left it on. Shawn was drying his hands on a towel. Carolyn heard him sigh.
“Leave it,” he said. “I’ll wash it tomorrow.”
“I’ll do it,” she said. “I’m fine.” She rubbed her stomach as the pain started to loosen its bite.
He stared at her. “I can’t do this. I can’t look at you every day like this.”
“Like what?” she asked.
“Look at you,” he said, voice raising to an echo in the small space. He gestured with his arms and when they collapsed back to his sides in defeat, water droplets flew off his coat. “You are not having a baby, Carolyn. I don’t care what you say. You’re not. So, I don’t know what this is.” He yanked his coat off, catching it at his elbow. He grunted and struggled and finally threw it to the floor. “And I don’t know what to do. You won’t go see someone and I can’t help you. Something is wrong. It’s very wrong. And I don’t know what to do.”
“You think I’m crazy,” she said.
“I think you’re sick.”
“I’m not sick, Shawn. I’m having a baby.”
“You’re not having a fucking baby!” he screamed. “You are full of cysts and tumors and maybe even cancer. You’re going to die. And I have to watch.”
Carolyn leaned forward and picked up his wet coat. She grunted quietly as be bent down. He grabbed the coat out of her hand and kicked it out into the hall. “Leave the fucking coat.” Carolyn stood quietly, her hand protectively folded over and under her round belly. She did look pregnant. She had gained forty pounds, at least. Maybe more. But not everywhere. Only her stomach.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s all right. You just don’t understand. She said you wouldn’t.”
“Who? Who said I wouldn’t?”
“Pam,” Carolyn said.
“And who the bleeding hell is Pam?”
“She’s my friend. She’s helping me.”
“Well, she’s right. I don’t understand. But if she’s helping you, brilliant, because help is what you need. And I can’t.” He stared at her.
“I have to go. I’m sorry.” He stepped toward her and kissed her. It was habit and compunction, not compassion. “I’m sorry.” He hurried out of the kitchen. He scooped his wet coat off the floor of the hallway, slammed the door, and was gone. Carolyn turned back to the sink, and starting washing the dirty bowl.
The room was already bright when Carolyn opened her eyes. She was accustomed to waking up at dawn, when their bedroom still had slanted shadows. Shawn was always up before her. Sometimes making teas. Other days he mediated or did sun salutations quietly in the corner. On the best days, she woke to see him staring at her.
“I love you in the morning,” he had told her. So many times. “When your mind is quiet and calm and your face is naked.” He was the quiet, calm one. She was the one with the scattered thoughts. Racing. Anxious. Unsettled. Until now. She had turned peaceful. Preparing. He had become the one flustered and segmented and hurting. And he was the one who was gone. She laid in the bed alone. He had never stayed away from her without reason. Travel. Work. Visiting. But never like this. She stared at the empty side of the bed. Her heart hurt. And then the rest of her body hurt.
The pain felt like a sledgehammer to her pelvis. It folded her in half. She desperately tried to find a position that didn’t bring tears and allowed her to breathe. Her eyes were closed and she called out, “Shaw…” before she remembered he wasn’t there. She buried her head in her pillow and twisted onto her hands and knees. After a moment, the pain eased, but only by a degree. She managed to get to the edge of the bed, still aching through her ribs and stomach.
“It will get better,” she heard from the doorway. She opened her eyes, and for some reason, that made the pain worse. She closed them again. Pam stood, waiting for Carolyn’s pain to ease again. After a moment, it did.
“How did you know?” Carolyn asked.
“I just know. I’ve always known.” Pam walked toward the bedroom, carrying a huge bag over her shoulder. She talked as she worked. “I’m going to get the room ready.” She pointed to Carolyn. “You, sit. Save your energy. Going to be a long day.”
Carolyn leaned on her nightstand with one hand and the other sunk into the bed. Her legs were spread wide and she shifted her weight from her left foot to her right. The hand on the bed slipped and she lost her balance.
“God damn, son of a bitch,” she screamed. She didn’t fall but slumped onto the bed.
“I got you,” Pam said, gathering Carolyn around the waist and guiding her to sit on the bed.
“God damn…” Carolyn said, her breath breaking.
“Almost there,” Pam soothed. “Almost there. Let me look.” Pam reached her fingers in between Carolyn’s legs. When she drew them away, she held them up for Carolyn to see. They were covered with blood that dripped down to Pam’s knuckle. “Look, Carolyn. Keep breathing. Look at me.” Carolyn did, wincing. “Good girl. She’s coming. It’s time. I’m sorry. I wish we had a bathtub. Fucking New York. Come on. Into the bed.” Carolyn wobbled as she got from sitting and laid down in the bed.
“Why is…blood, why is there blood?” Carolyn said, her voice faint.
“Has to be born in blood,” Pam smiled. “That’s what it takes. That’s what makes it sealed.”
“Wha-“ Carolyn grimaced as her word turned into a scream against her will.
“You are a light,” Pam said. “Our light. And She will be our Beacon. The One to guide. Thank you.”
Carolyn tried to respond. There was nothing to be said. And after her next breath, there was nothing more to see. There was no more light. Only dark. And pain.
“Lynnie?” Shawn called from the doorway. The apartment was silent. “You home?”
He dropped his bag by the door and moved to the kitchen. There were cups and glasses scattered on the counter. No dishes. On top of all these, toppling into the sink, were handfuls of dishtowels and at least two bath towels. The pilling cotton looked like someone had spilled a bottle of red wine, maybe two, and tried using one after another to mop up the mess. Shawn didn’t see a wine bottle. He ran to the bathroom.
The tub was empty. The floor was bare. There was another wet, red dish towel in the bathroom sink. The faucet slowly dripped water onto it, forming a pink puddle in the folds of the fabric. Shawn ran to the bedroom.
Carolyn lay on the bed, alone. She was only wearing a t-shirt. There was blood smeared from her pubic hair to her thighs. It clotted on her skin. Her eyes were open. But she was gone. Even though he saw that, knew that in his heart, he jumped on the bed with her and tried to save her. He pumped, he breathed, he yelled to her, calling her name. But she was beyond all that.
Shawn climbed off the bed. His own shirt was now covered with patches of blood. He had to call. Someone had to take care of her. He reached in his back pocket for his phone. It wasn’t there. He touched across his chest and his pants, looking for it.
“I have to get my phone. I’ll be right back,” he said to Carolyn, who lay on the bed without breathing.
He ran out of the bedroom, past the empty bathroom and the kitchen with the towels he now knew weren’t stained with wine. He crashed to his knees by his bag he had dropped by the door, upending it. Clothes, linen sheets, bottles of massage oil and a knobbed roller flew across the room. “Where’s the god damn phone?” he yelled to the lifeless room. He spun around the room, searching, scanning. Finally, he saw Carolyn’s phone on the table. He raced to it and dialed 911. He didn’t remember much after that.
When he walked back in the apartment the next day, his bag and its contents laid scattered where he had left them. He dropped his keys on the floor among the chaos. He was so tired. His feet drug along the floor as he slunk to the bedroom.
The bloody sheets were still on the bed. He sat down on the edge of the bed, far away from the red stains. He pulled the phone out of his pocket. He was still carrying Carolyn’s phone. He dialed.
“Dae,” he said when she answered. “I’m all right. Just got back. No. It was the cysts like we thought. Ruptured. Bled and they lost her pressure. No. Not tonight. I can’t tonight Dae. Can’t do it. Come round tomorrow. We’ll look. Pick something. I know, love. Yeah. Ok. Bye.”
He threw the phone on the bed. He couldn’t stop looking at the blood on the ivory sheets. He grabbed anything within arm’s reach: the sheets, the comforter, the pillows, everything. Yanking them off and curling them to his chest, he squeezed them, rogue pillow cases dropping as he ran to the hamper to get them out of his sight. His eyes barely open, he slunk back to the bed and laid on the bare mattress. He curled his knees to his chest and closed his eyes.
The room was dark when he woke. The world outside the window was also dark. It wasn’t the light that woke him. He heard it again, music. Soft tune with sharp ebbs and flows. It sounded like music that might have played at a fair he remembered. One in May. It kept playing. He sat up and looked around the room. It was in the room somewhere. They didn’t have a radio. His laptop wasn’t on the desk. He still had no idea where his phone was, but if he did, that song wasn’t on it. He looked to the pile of dirty sheets in the hamper. There. He lunged at the hamper and pulled everything out, shaking and sifting their soiled life onto the floor. Then, he heard a dull, flat thud. Carolyn’s phone landed on the floor in front of him, still singing its organ-grinder ballad. He stared at it. He had lost his phone and was carrying hers. Why was her phone in the basket? Why was anyone calling her? Someone who didn’t know. He jabbed at a button to make it stop. It didn’t and instead kept playing. He stared at the screen, an image of him and Carolyn wearing plastic crowns. That’s when the music stopped and Shawn lost consciousness.
When he awoke, Pam was standing in the doorway. Shawn was lying on the bed, nestled in freshly-cleaned sheets. He started up in bed when he saw her.
“That one wasn’t bad,” she said. “You’ve had much worse.”
Shawn wasn’t afraid. He was alert and oriented enough that he knew he should be. But he wasn’t.
“Don’t worry yourself over who I am or what I’m doing,” Pam said. “She’s fine. And so is she.”
Shawn tilted his head.
“She. The baby,” Pam said.
He lilted his head again.
“They never want to listen to women. Always want to think they’re crazy. You started having fits and they didn’t think you were crazy. Just a little bug in the brain.”
“You have to take it back for a while. The seizures. They’re start again tomorrow. But Carolyn is fine. She did what she could. Did a good job of it. She’s happy now. And the baby.”
“No,” Pam said. “Can’t have that. Too late now. But we’ll be seeing you again. Soon.”
Shawn looked around the room. It was clean. Clothes folded, shelves dusted, and a navy suit was laid out over a chair.
“She managed to name him after you. Lucky girl.”
He stared at the suit. He remembered her buying it, but never wearing it. He teased her about stockings. That seemed so awful now.
“Is she…” Shawn asked, but the room was bare. The woman in the room was gone. He saw Carolyn’s phone in the folds of the bed. Grabbing it, he curled his hands around it. He laid on the bed and waited for it to ring again.
As he was drifting off to sleep at dawn, it did. When he picked it up, he heard a baby cry. Then he heard nothing. The seizure took over his mind and body. There was no more baby. Only dark.
My novel Drowning Above Water is available now in paperback and on Kindle at Amazon.