Take Care of Her – The End

Chapter 11 – The End

“Ow,” Gretchen said, plucking a white strand out of the part of her hair. There were so many white hairs now. She put the tweezers down. It was silly. Let it go. It had been years. The woman had become older and achier and heavier. The little girl hadn’t changed. Still five. Still wearing her bikini with the woman’s green t-shirt as a dress. Still only seen inside their home.

Their apartment was tiny now. Three rooms. They stayed close to home most days. Gretchen had found a job at the convenience store down the block. No one minded that the little girl came with her. Or if they did, no one said anything. The girl still liked to play in water. They left the city with the museum. She never got to play in the fountain again. There was a tub and the girl played in that. They walked to get groceries. They read books in bed. They saw no one but each other.

“Can we have pancakes?” the girl asked.

“Are we ever going to have something besides pancakes?” Gretchen asked.

“No,” the girl said. Then she laughed. It was the high, free giggle of pure happiness. Gretchen couldn’t help but laugh with her. But the work of laughing showed on the woman’s lined face.

“Honey, I’m tired. Is it okay if I lie down for another minute?”

“You won’t be too long?”

“I won’t be too long.” Gretchen shuffled down the hall to her bedroom. Her head ached. It did that a lot these days. They girl was sweet and tried to keep quiet when the woman needed the lights off. That lovely girl. Gretchen didn’t change clothes. Didn’t even take off her robe. I took all her strength to stand, so she lay down in bed, on top of the covers. The little girl was hunched on the edge of the bed. She always liked to stay close.

“I love you,” the little girl said.

“I love you,” Gretchen said. “I’ll see you when I wake up. Just a few minutes.”

The little girl scooted from the edge of the bed up to the pillow. She didn’t lie down, but sat up, holding Gretchen’s hand. The woman had squeezed the tiny hand once. It was tight. Too tight. Then the fingers relaxed.

When the men came to take the woman away in the black bag, there was no one else in the apartment. It took them hours to stomp around the tiny home. They talked too loud and were nosy. Everything got moved. The little girl stayed in the bed, still and quiet. No one saw her. Once they were gone, the little girl climbed under the covers and waited for the woman to come back. She hoped it wouldn’t take long. She didn’t like being alone.

Take Care of Her – Chapter 10

Chapter 10

When Gretchen woke up three hours later, she was lying on a hospital bed. The little girl sat on a chair in the corner of the room. Gretchen’s matted eyes opened and she smiled through her haze. The girl ran to her and collapsed against the stiff patterned gown. Gretchen cried and wrapped her arms around the small shaky body.

“Hi,” Gretchen said.

“I missed you,” the girl said.

“I missed you. Bunches.”

“Can we go home? You were asleep so long. I don’t like it here.”

“Me neither,” Gretchen said. “Let’s go.” She pulled down the covers and swung her legs over the edge. Her muscles pricked and pounded. She kicked and squirmed against the neural torture. The girl copied her spastic movements with twitches of her own squishy legs.

“Good morning,” the voice said as the nurse entered the room. “I have your meds.”

The little girl shook her head. She tucked herself behind the chair and started whispering. “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. If you take those, then I have to go away. For more than a long time. For longer than you were asleep. For forever. I don’t want to go away. I want to go home. I want to stay with you.”

The nurse handed Gretchen the pills in a small paper cup and a tiny plastic cup of water. Gretchen took them and hid them in cheek, then took a pretend drink of water. After she put down the water and the empty pill cup, she coughed into her fist.

“Hard to get those down,” she said, showing the lady in scrubs a wide-open and empty mouth.

Good job,” the nurse said. “Doctor Brandon is going to be in later. Ring if you need anything.” The nurse left and the room was quiet.

The little girl crept out from behind the chair. There were tears in her eyes. Gretchen showed the girl her hand. In her palm were the pills. Gretchen threw them across the room and they plinked against the linoleum floor. The girl smiled. Gretchen looked around the room. There was a cabinet in the corner. The girls ran to the door and inside in a pile were some regular street clothes. Gretchen pulled them on and shoved her feet in the shoes. She wasn’t sure that anything in this room was hers, but she didn’t care.

“Let’s go. Quick and quiet as you can now. Let’s see if we can sneak out without anyone seeing us. Think we can do it?” The little girl nodded with vigor. Gretchen squeezed the girl’s hand and they left.

They did it. They left together and went home. No one saw them.

Take Care of Her – Chapter 9

Chapter 9

The red dots on her phone never went away.  Gretchen hadn’t taken a call or acknowledged a voicemail or text in almost two weeks. She just couldn’t bear it – couldn’t fathom spending the day, or even an hour away from the girl. It was a life better than Gretchen ever imagined. Until one night, when the girl started crying.

“Honey, what is it?” The girl shook her head. “Tell me. Please. I bet if we talk about it you’ll feel better.”

The little girl sniffed into her pillow, burrowing herself deeper into the big bed. “I’m afraid you won’t be here.”

“What?” Gretchen asked, her heart sinking. “Baby, no. I’ll always be here.”

“I’m alone sometimes. And I get scared. I don’t like to be alone.”

Gretchen wrapped the girl in her arms. “You’re not alone. You’ll never be alone. I promise you. I will always take care of you.” The girl trembled and Gretchen felt the tears on her own skin. They cried together. Sometime in the night, they both fell asleep. Together. In the morning, they both went to see Rachel.

“I’m glad to see you. You missed appointments. I was concerned.” Rachel sat in the chair, notebook in her lap.

“I should have come earlier,” Gretchen said. “As soon as she came. I should have brought her in. Should have made you take to her. You didn’t believe me and I should have fought harder. This has to be so scary for her. I wasn’t a good enough mom.”

“It’s a great initiative you’ve taken. Really embracing this concept of caring for your inner child. You should be very proud of yourself.”

“This isn’t about me. It’s about her.”

“Yes. This of it this way, that by protecting and empowering the child of your inner self-“

“No. Stop your therapy shit. Her. Right there. I brought her in today. You have to work with her. She’s afraid. I want you to help her.”

“I’m not sure I understand.” Rachel leaned in to Gretchen. “Explain it to me.”

“What am I not explaining? Her. I know she’s struggling and I want you to help her.”

Gretchen turned to the little girl. “This is my friend, Rachel. I talk to her sometimes. And she helps me. I wanted her to meet you. Maybe you’d like to talk to her.”

The little girl shook her head. “You. I only like talking to you.”

“Gretchen,” Rachel said, “what’s going on?”

“I want you to talk to her. She doesn’t like me to leave, so I have to stay in the room. But maybe we could all talk-“

“Are you requesting some role play, or some dissociated-“

“I’m requesting that you acknowledge, that you look at and talk to this little girl. Right here. Right now.”

“Gretchen,” Rachel said, “we are the only ones in this room.”

“What is wrong with you? This beautiful little girl, who is scared and needs help and you’re acting like she’s not even there.”

“There is no little girl, Gretchen. There’s only you and me.”

Gretchen kneeled on the floor so she could be as close to the girl as possible.

“I don’t like it here anymore. I want to go home.” The little girl looked up to Gretchen with tears in her eyes.

“We’re going home,” Gretchen said. She stood and took the girl by the hand.

“Wait. Please,” Rachel said. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t listening. Can you give me a minute? I’ll help. I just want to get something. Something for her. I’ll be right back. I promise. I’ll help.”

Rachel left the room. Gretchen squeezed the girl’s hand.

Take Care of Her – Chapter 7

Chapter 7

Gretchen maneuvered her car into the tiny space. She almost got it, but swore under her breath when her back tire bounced off the curb. The little girl giggled and the bright tinkle echoed. Gretchen couldn’t help but laugh with her.

“Are we going there?” the girl asked, pointing across the street.

“Yup.”

“Are you sure? Mommy never lets us go there.”

Gretchen swallowed. “Today, we’re going.” Both of them ran from the car.

Outside the museum hung bright swatches of fabric that billowed from the roof to the sidewalk. The swaying designs looked like dancing kites. In the courtyard outside the entrance, there were dozens of holes in the ground. Scattered in between those, were flat colored lights, designed to shine up to the sky. The little girl ran to where other children were playing. They darted around the building’s pillars, playing hide and seek. She gasped when the lights flickered on and sent blues and pinks and purples onto her skin. And then she squealed. Jets of water erupted from the holes in the concrete, sending cold sprays onto her warm skin. She jumped and splashed and clapped, throwing her head back with laughter and blinking when she squirted her own eyes with water.

Gretchen looked on and smiled. She had always wanted to do that as a kid. Never had the chance. The little girl bobbed in and out of the jets, circling the other kids. She chased them, coming close but never fast enough to tag any of them.

“So you’re one of the nutty ones too?”

Gretchen turned to the question.

“I used to line the car with garbage bags for the ride home. Anymore, who cares? Gonna get wet and dirty again tomorrow anyway.” The woman was a tall pixie-cut slice of cool mom calm.

“For sure,” Gretchen said. “Which is yours?”

“Pink shirt. Rain boots. Pants only. Pajamas,” she said, ticking off and pointing to splashing kids.

“Four?” Gretchen asked in awe.

“I like sex,” the mom said. “Yours?”

Gretchen pointed to the little girl. “Green t-shirt. It’s mine.”

The mom squinted her eyes, but didn’t see a little girl in a green shirt.

“I’m Gretchen.”

“Felicity.”

“We’re across the river. South. You guys near here?”

The mom nodded. “Their dad teaches. Some romance language that doesn’t pay a lot.”

“That must be nice,” Gretchen said.

“It is,” the mom said. “Except the days when it’s not.”

In the background, another woman’s voice bellowed and the handful of kids at the perimeter of the water scattered. The only kids remaining were the pink shirt, the rain boots, pants only and the pajamas. The mom stared at Gretchen.

“I just love watching them play,” Gretchen said.

The mom ran into the water. “Let’s go, gang. Come on.”

“Aw,” Gretchen said. “Maybe we’ll see you here again sometime.”

The kids huddled together, banging off elbows and knees as the mom hovered over them, trying to keep physical contact. She practically ran them into traffic hustling them all across the street.

Gretchen watched them disappear into the crowded sidewalk. “The kids left,” she heard.

“I know,” Gretchen said. “That’s disappointing.”

“You play with me,” the girl said.

“Oh…honey…I don’t,” Gretchen started. The girl frowned. Gretchen flipped the girl’s pigtail, then took off her shoes where she stood and ran into the water jets with the little girl.

Take Care of Her – Chapter 6

Chapter 6

“Why do you think you had the dream?” Rachel asked.

“I’m telling you,” Gretchen said. “It wasn’t a dream.”

“Okay. What do you think it was?”

“It was a girl. It was me. It is her. From my picture.”

“Why do you think-“

“I’m sorry, but this wasn’t my idea.” Gretchen said. You told me. You suggested this idea of taking care of myself. Of her. She’s here now I’m taking care of her. ”

“Do you think it’s reasonable, for a capable woman like you, to be so eager for a solution to her grief that she would invent this? To not think of caring for an inner child as a metaphor, but to start believing in a created-“

“She was always here. I don’t think my grief had anything to do with it.”

“She was there. I don’t think my grief had anything to do with it.”

“Is she here now?”

Gretchen was silent.

“Can I see her?”

“She’s right there.” Gretchen gestured to the girl in the corner, her legs in a ring, her fingers playing twiddle games. The register in the wall behind her kicked on and she jumped when the air hit her skin. She giggled and her pigtails shook when she laughed. Gretchen had put them in crooked, but neither her nor the girl seemed bothered by that.

“I don’t see her, Gretchen,” Rachel said. “It’s only you and me in the room.”

“You don’t have to make fun of me.”

“I’m not. I’m really not.  I’m concerned. I’m trying to map out what this coping strategy is. If it’s the best avenue for your work and energy now.”

Gretchen wished she could make Rachel see the girl. She’d love to show her that she wasn’t crazy.

Maybe she was.

But, for now, Gretchen chose to play along. Yes. There were only the grown-ups in the room. Yes. It was just a dream that crossed a boundary. Yes. She would come back in two days to talk again.

Until then, she decided that she wanted to really play for a while. So she left. And she took the little girl with her.

Driving through the city calmed her. Not the bridges. The bridges themselves were fine, but the crossing lanes and jockeying frazzled her. The neighborhoods, she liked. Her hands and feet steered on autopilot and she watched the brownstones and the people on their stoops pass her windows.

“You took a long time,” the voice said from the back seat.

“I know,” Gretchen said. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m glad you left. I didn’t like that lady talking about me. It made me sad.”

Gretchen glanced in the rear-view mirror and smiled. The little girl was there, still in her oversized green shirt. Her legs bounced the front passenger seat as she talked.

“That’s why I left,” Gretchen said. “I didn’t want you to be sad.”

“Are you tired?” the girl asked.

“No. Why? Are you sleepy? Do you need a nap?”

“I don’t like naps. They make me sad too.”

Gretchen smiled.

“You like to take naps. When you come home.”

“What would you like to do?” Gretchen asked.

“Play,” the little girl said.

“Okay,” Gretchen said. “Let’s go play.”

147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 13

New horror fiction.

147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 13 – The End

 

Chapter 13

 

“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.”

“Carolyn…”

“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.”

“I want-“

“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 dark novel Drowning Above Water is now available at Amazon. 

147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 12

New horror fiction.

147 E. 9th Street – Chapter 12

 

Chapter 12

 

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.

My new dark novel Drowning Above Water is available at Amazon.