A happy ending is not a destination, or anything that can be intended on a desirable landscape. It is best likened to an interloper, and with a view toward myth, understood in the guise of an uninvited wedding guest:
Such a person is by all accounts the first to arrive at the reception, where he lingers beside the punchbowl without conversation. His tuxedo is ill tailored; his ruffled cravat, ungodly; and he never dances except to step on the hems of bridesmaidsí dresses. The other guests will remember him as an afterthought, and perhaps with a warm laugh; but no one will recall ever having met him before.
This is the genius of a happy ending: to endure in the mind long after everything else is forgotten.
In truth, beginnings and endings are not fixed points at all. They are askew doors that do not properly close. We walk through them with barely a nod to the defect, and remember it only in hindsight, like a limping roadside stranger we passed in our undistracted journey. Still, nothing but memory flows unbroken from the first to the last, and what is recalled with fondness in the middle of it, in the small place we call our living, is how the Monster charmed us, and became an Angel without us noticing. ~Omar
It was all Aloysius could do to keep her from taking him to the hospital, yet he appeared to be in a state of stupefaction. His attention centered on the woman’s shimmering tail fins covering her feet in the dark floorboard. It was too alarming to suppose that, by his expectation of what foot was on which pedal, the car was either moving or standing still.
An electrical blackout complicated these conjectures. It appeared to range widely over the city. The new resident did not know the surface streets well enough to give directions to his house. Moreover, he never bothered to memorize its physical address; the young lady, who was profusely generous, did not seem concerned about this.
Arriving at a tenant house, the two walked around to an efficiency apartment at the rear. A bowl of hard candy sat on a table inside the doorway, yet with no electricity for the porch bulb, it was doubtful trick-or-treaters would partake of it.
The nurse lit a scented candle while her guest stumbled in behind her. Boxes, half-packed or half-unpacked, crowded the small apartment; numinous statues, in advance of preparations, sat on a multipurpose kitchen counter. This indeterminacy was set aside as an existential question when the nameless woman began lighting every candle in view.
She was buoyant and familiar with him, and appeared to live alone. On returning from a cupboard with rubbing alcohol and a cotton bandage, she noticed that his pants leg was ripped from the pocket seam to his knee. A candle was brought closer to reveal a yellow and purple bruise covering his thigh; he felt its warmth in the very spot of the discoloration. He warned her, “It’s best you do not find any more injuries, or you really will have to call an ambulance.”
The nurse smiled, and the alcohol stung. “Do you have a lawyer?” she asked.
He thought of Omar, but shook his head no.
Her look was suddenly grave and disapproving. “You need a good lawyer.”
“I will be alright.”
She pressed the swab harder into his thigh, making him winch. “No,” she stressed. “There will be medical bills, and pain, and suffering.”
He was not sure why she was dredging up this dreadful list.
“You may need therapy.”
“I don’t understand,” he answered with muddled sincerity.
“You are a sweet man,” she observed. “I can see that. A gentle soul.” A piteous look replaced the hard look she showed him seconds before. “I am a therapist,” she informed him, and tossed the wad of cotton into a kitchen pail, which smelled sourly of banana peels. He did not inquire after the nature of her therapy, though presumed it was already mentioned. His trousers were handed over without argument.
These were removed to the bathroom and draped over her shower curtain rod; something hard landed in the claw-foot cast iron tub below it. This was evidently nothing knocked over but fallen from his pants pocket. Another candle was lit and provided enough light for her to retrieve the item, which was placed on the sink.
She flittered about with her back turned until, in reaching under an armpit, the sequin-scaled costume was unzipped. It was only then that she closed the bathroom door. When she reappeared, she wore a modest robe, although the candle left on the bathroom basin threw a shadow over her like another disguise. She apologized, “I would make tea, but have no power.”
A bright keyhole winked in the vicinity. He glanced into a closet where a nailed-shut door formed a back wall. Someone on the other side of the partition passed in front of a light. The woman stepped up to her wardrobe and placed the mermaid outfit on a hanger, blotting out the ill-favored star. A blanket, strung over a make-do curtain rod, was drawn across the door-less closet as added insurance. “A monster lives here,” she reported gloomily. “A monster who peeps in on me.”
It was a few steps from there to her dusky bed, and with no furniture she was bound to sit on the corner of it; the dark-haired beauty was in no hurry to relinquish the anonymity of her smile. She turned, lifted her hand, and rubbed the wall closest to her where a black velvet painting of Jesus was tacked up. She referred to another apartment that abutted hers, and was under some rapture induced by the aromatic candles and religious paraphernalia. “Do you have nightmares?” she inquired. “Is that why you walk?”
It was easier for him to half an unknown distance than close it. “I have trouble sleeping.”
“I have Benadryl,” she said. The declaration bounced off cardboard boxes, pointing him in the direction of a medicine cabinet.
The bathroom candle illuminated a soap dish containing two identical plastic rings. This was where he saw her drop the item that landed in her tub, but he only heard one small object fall, not two. He did not know, in any case, how one ring came into his possession, let alone why she should have a duplicate. Something, regardless, was insinuatingly domestic in this coincidence: something that was both obstacle and obstacle-remover in this house of movable walls.
A glimpse was spared for the cabinet mirror, and invariably more injuries were noticed. The resident was spotted working busily behind him, rolling up a towel from her clothes hamper and wedging it as weather stripping against the doorsill to shut out chill in the powerless house.
Aloysius swallowed the sleeping tablet and, with little thought to its consequences or the evolving situation, found the young woman already in bed. The candles felt the way before him, and pressed softly against her bare shoulders and straps of a slip. She surely did not intend for him to stand all night in the chair-less apartment, so he quietly approached the small bed and slid into its covers.
When he was settled, she turned to face him. Little to no distance lay between them, and the tips of their noses flirted with notions of a caress. Worry, however, had returned to her face. “Why were you out there? Where were you going?”
“I cannot remember,” he confessed.
She spoke plainly, “There should be a railroad crossing at that juncture.”
“It was my fault...”
The railroad is at fault, and they should pay,” she concluded. Her voice then assumed a mother’s softer tone, “You are an innocent in this.”
Her judgment did not offend him.
Staying in this concerned vein, she fussed, “You are in pain because you are lying on your injured side.”
“I can’t fall asleep on my left side, anyway,” he told her.
Another broad expression leapt to her face, registering shock. He had no troubling reading her, as her Latin temperament made her every facial contortion a caricature. She crawled over him in the thin loose slip, where unseen parts of her dragged over him like a rake through a Japanese Zen garden. The patient was urged to the other side of the bed, so eye contact would be maintained. She appeared to wade out of an ocean of consequence upon resuming her reclined position, and the conversation continued. “All my winter blankets are packed away,” she explained.
Extra blankets would not be necessary.
Brushing her hand over his bandaged forehead, her smile retained its concern. Nothing in their communications, whether as a language barrier or in any other regard, would rise to a difficulty. Her brown eyes did not blink, and in wondering if ever again they would, she cupped his jaw and sent her head swimming over the lumpy pillow.
It was not a first kiss, but one that jumped ahead in line. Her tongue carved a furrow down the middle of his, and he tasted something of her grilled tomatillos from dinner. This species of nightshade proved to be its own narcotic, and upon withdrawing into the haze of the drowsy candle, her bemused expression was cemented as best murkiness could leave it.
She and told him, with disappointment, “Everything is still packed away.”
He did not understand what she meant, but she lifted her head off the shared pillow to survey the boxes in the floor, and began to speak Spanish, as if arguing with herself. He wondered, with a man’s rapid imagination, if she referred to inconveniently packed-away contraception.
Finally she turned away on the bed with a crooked smile, and it was in much the way she had left the bathroom door half-open while changing. Her lack of discourse on details did not distress him, as it had the appearance of something long settled.
His breath fell across the back of her neck, chasing little stray tuffs of hair that escaped her K-mart hair clip. Her heart rate slowed his, and his breathing came to mirror hers.
The floor creaked around the draped closet door: an ear, if not an eye, was in the room with them. “I can still hear the monster,” he whispered.
Only Jesus looked back from the wall; kneeling in prayer, his silent gaze was fixed on the ceiling.
The groaning timbers of the old house talked among themselves around their sinking bodies, but were of a divided mind on the subject of their being company.
He would tell her that he loved her in the morning and, together, they would make a plan.
Chapter Twenty-seven, Section Two/ Back/ Contents Page
Copyright © 2007 Michael Teague. All rights reserved.