The Broken Line, Chapter 36: Last Survivors

(Missed the last chapter? Go to 35: Fight the Power)

The Broken Line Chapt 36AFTER I LEFT UrgePool, I drove back to Stuart Avenue. Almost 6:00 p.m. on a Saturday night. Buddy’s was jumping so, of course, no parking. I ended up leaving my car in the lot at Bitterbach and Chang, again. I knew Leigh, the office manager, from college—saved her ass once, in fact, during a long, alcohol-soaked weekend. When I’d bumped into her last year and she found out where I lived, she said any time I couldn’t find street parking late at night, I could park in their lot.

I locked the car and headed toward Bee’s Pub, my home away from home. Since it was walking distance, I could drink as much as I wanted, provided my two feet could propel me home afterward.

At Bee’s I planted myself in the middle of the bar and ordered a double vodka cran. I’d only had two drinks at UrgePool, despite what Walt might think. Unctuous prick. I wasn’t drunk. Hadn’t been since before my dad died—probably the night Branson and I had taken Light—but I intended to get that way now, and with all possible speed.

Bee’s is one of those classic Fan pubs. Dark wood and brick under high tin ceilings. Store-front windows looking out onto Robinson Street. The bar ran along one side of the narrow room, booths on the other.

Bee, the owner, traveled extensively. Years ago she’d started gluing her leftover foreign currency on the wall around the bar mirror. The patrons had contributed, too, and now the wall was a mosaic of money, a potpourri of potentates. I wondered how it would feel to have your face on a bill—talk about being part of the establishment.

A couple of women I knew from around the club scene came in. One of them had recently broken up with her boyfriend, too. We had a lovely bitch session about the frailty of men, and then moved onto to reminiscing about old Richmond bands and clubs. The next thing I knew, it was closing time and I had a solid buzz on.

Despite the mountains of doom and peril that loomed on either side of me, I drifted home in a haze of vodka-fueled nostalgia, weaving down the sidewalk between my intoxicated brethren coming out of the bars along Robinson Street.

As I stepped onto my front porch, I noted with relief that my living room furniture had been moved. I let myself into the house with my key. As the front door vibrated shut, I got the same tingly, pressurized feeling I’d had when I’d pulled up to the house that afternoon, as if I’d just passed by a sleeping rattlesnake.

Granted, I was a tad drunk, but in that moment I felt absolutely certain there was something out there that was not human, not animal—or leastways not any kind of animal you’d find in a zoology textbook. It felt as tangible as slip-slide of a snake across your leg, the skitter of a bug in your hair, the pressure against your flesh from an unwanted touch.

The voices.

I held my breath, expecting to hear them warning, berating. And then it dawned on me—I never heard the voices when I was drunk. In fact, that’s why I had started drinking at the age of fifteen. The story I’d been telling myself—that the voices had just started with the migraines—was a big fat lie.

I’d run away from home at seventeen, in part, to escape them. In the squats there’d always been distractions: talking, music, drugs, booze. In college I’d kept myself busy all day in classes, all night waiting tables, studying, going out to clubs, falling into bed exhausted and then waking up to do it again.

It wasn’t until I graduated and started working—staying in on work nights, and generally trying to become a more introspective person—that the voices had become impossible to ignore again.

Standing there, back against my front door, I knew. The migraines were nothing but the sizzling, painful effort of my brain to resist and deny what had been there all along. The truth. I heard one of the soothing voices, faint as an echo behind the static buzz of alcohol, and then it was gone.

The truth about what? I wondered. Then I was distracted by a sound in the house. A scuffle, a creak of old floorboards. “Hello?”

Maybe it was the heat of the house after walking through the crisp night air, but suddenly I felt dizzy—too drunk. I grasped the railing of the stairs and dragged myself upward.


IN THE BATHROOM, I drank a giant glass of cold water from the tap, splashed some on my face and brushed my teeth. Much better. I planned to fall into bed and sleep a long time, hopefully until my appointment with the psychologist a week from Monday. Only eight days to go.

I went to plug my cell phone into the charger on my desk in the hall. As I passed the spare bedroom, I glimpsed my living room furniture, neatly arranged; paintings and photos on the wall. Dorothy. She’d recreated my sanctuary.

And then I saw her, huddled in the dark. A slim shadow trembling on the couch.

“Aunty?” I entered and my hand went reflexively to the light switch.

“Don’t, please.” Hunched over, Dorothy appeared no bigger than a child. I could tell from her voice she’d been crying.


“He’s gone,” she whispered raggedly.

“Who?” I sat down on the couch next to her.

“John. He’s gone out with that woman,” she said with a half-sob.

“What woman?”

“The woman he goes out with when we fight.”

“You never told me….”

“You, you don’t know what it’s like. I’m always making him mad. I don’t mean to. I just want to help.” Dorothy rocked back and forth.

“I know you do.”

“She has a handicapped van with a chair lift, and sometimes she shows up, or John calls her, I don’t know. Maybe she’s from the nursing service we used to use when he first got injured. I don’t recognize her. Or maybe I do. It’s been so long, she could have dyed her hair since then. It’s ghastly red. She’s beautiful though. He’s probably in love with her. He’s probably—”

“Aunty!” Her rocking and rambling, monotone voice worried me. “Did you take something?”

“Oh, just a little sleeping pill. I’m so tired, so tired. My back hurts so much, ever since I threw it out last year. The pain medication that doctor gave me isn’t working a bit. Not a bit.”

“You took sleeping pills and pain medication?”

She plucked at one of the throw pillows.

“Honey, you can’t—it’s dangerous to mix those.”

“Oh God, I’m a terrible person!” Dorothy burst into sobs and flung herself backward against the cushions.

Startled, I reached out to stroke her arm. “Come on now. S’okay. Just wanted you to know.”

“Not that … it’s … it’s John … I ….” She was sobbing so hard she couldn’t talk. I put my arms around her and held her as she cried it out. Looking around the room, I started to feel as desolate as she sounded. Although it was full of all my things, the shadows fell differently than downstairs. It looked wrong, somehow.

I remembered the shadows moving independently at UrgePool, swallowing up the girl with the blue Mohawk. I shook my head, trying to push the memory away. My paranoia had advanced. And my voices would be back, no doubt. I couldn’t stay drunk all the time.

As Dorothy’s sobs quieted, I asked, “D’you wanna to talk? You know you can tell me … tell me anything, right?”

She pulled out of my arms and put her hands over her face. “I need a tissue.”

“’kay.” I pushed myself unsteadily to my feet.

When I returned with a box of tissues, Dorothy blew her nose and sighed deeply a couple of times.

“Gonna to turn on the small lamp,” I said. “Light’s dim. Okay?”

“Okay,” she whispered.

In the warm amber glow of the lamp, the room looked cozy with its pale green walls against the aqua furniture. I took a deep breath, feeling steadier in the light. My things looked familiar again.

I curled up on the couch and took Dorothy’s hand. “Come on, tell me.”

She sighed again. “It’s embarrassing. I have everything. I have no right….”

“Stop that. Keeping everything inside isn’t helping.”

“Oh, Legacy. You’re such a strong independent woman. I’m proud of you. But I don’t think you can understand how unhappy I am. I don’t even understand it myself.”

“I’m not strong,” I said. “And you haven’t been happy. Nervous, losing weight….”

“Really?” Dorothy sat up. “You can tell?”

“Yeah. You can’t weigh a hundred pounds!”

“That herbal supplement must be working. I really can’t tell. John won’t let me buy a scale, but I still have cellulite on my thighs.”

“You lose anymore you’re gonna vanish!”

“Oh, you’re sweet.” She sighed and blew her nose again.

I hadn’t meant it as a compliment, but I let that go. “Wait. So you’re taking weight loss supplements, pain pills and sleeping pills?”

“Oh, the supplements are herbal, all natural. It’s been a lifesaver this week, I tell you, with all I’ve had to do, I needed the energy. I just take it in the morning and at lunch and I can go all day.”

“Oh, God. Okay. We’re gonna look at… ingredients. John know?”

“Oh, I don’t know! I tell him things but he doesn’t listen. He tells me things, and then later he insists that wasn’t what he said at all. I feel like I’m going crazy sometimes. He gets mad if I cry in front of him, and he gets mad if I go away. He gets mad if I try to explain things, and he gets mad if I stay too quiet.” She lowered her voice. “Sometimes I make up errands just so I can get out of the house.” She clutched my hand and widened her eyes. “Don’t tell John!”

I squeezed her hand. “You can trust me. I love you.”

“Sometimes when I’m out by myself, I fantasize about what would happen if he died. I don’t mean to! It just starts running through my mind. I see him dead, and I see myself crying at the funeral, but then I have this feeling….” Her voice got so low I could barely hear it, “of relief.”

She looked at me with horror on her face. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. How can I have those thoughts? When I’m with him, I love him so much I feel like I would die without him. It’s like I’m two people.”

I thought of my extreme reactions to Dr. Grey. I thought of Branson, the one person I had though I could count on, dealing drugs and hanging out with Walt. “Relationships are complicated. Yours, even more ‘cause he’s disabled. It’s normal.”

Dorothy looked uncertain. “It doesn’t feel normal. Nothing is normal. Katherine made sure of that.” I detected an uncharacteristic note of bitterness in her voice, and then her gaze flickered up to meet mine. “I’m sorry, honey. I shouldn’t have said that.” I saw the mask of sweetness and placation start to slip back over her face.

“No!” I said with a rush of drunken feeling. “Don’t apologize for telling the truth. Not to me! If you hold it inside, you’re going to break!”

Dorothy looked at me for a long moment. “Sometimes I think I already have. I’m so tired. I can’t think, can’t sleep. Nothing I do is good enough. I think the world would be better off without me.” She held up her hand to forestall my protests. “I know it’s wrong to think that way. Cowardly. If John knew, he’d despise me even more than he does already.”

“Dorothy, s’not you. He’s a shit.”

“It’s not his fault.” She paused, twisting the tissue in her hands tighter and tighter. “Maybe I’m going crazy like Katherine. They say it runs in families.”

“Come on!” I reflexively brushed her concerns aside, but then wondered why. For all I knew, she was having a breakdown, just like Kat. Just like me.

Dorothy looked thoughtful. “I’m not homicidal, just more and more emotional. Erratic and forgetful. Eventually, I’ll drive him away. He’ll leave me for that red-headed woman, and that will be it. I can’t live without him Legacy. I don’t have it in me anymore.”

“Aunty, all the medications could be the problem. Promise me you’ll give it a rest. See how you feel without all that stuff?”

Dorothy gave a smile that wrenched my heart. “I’ll be fine. I can’t believe how worked up I let myself get, sometimes. John’s right. I really can be a ninny. Don’t tell him, please!”

I stared at her, conflicted. Of course, I wasn’t going to reveal her fears and insecurities to him, but I doubted John knew about the medications and supplements she’d been taking—and maybe he needed to.

Downstairs, the front door slammed shut. Dorothy jumped up, scrubbed at her face and gave another tortured smile. “I’m going to go make some chamomile tea. John and I always have a cup before bed. Would you like some?”

“No, thanks. You want me to come down?”

Dorothy gestured broadly like a vaudeville actress. “Whatever for? You go on to bed, honey. I’ve kept you up too long as it is.” She kissed my cheek and then rushed into the hall. “I’m coming, John!”

I sat staring after her a moment, then walked to the hall and stood listening to the sounds of their voices below. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but it didn’t sound like they were fighting.

I went to my room and flopped down on the bed, still worried about Dorothy. At least now I had a suspicion of what was going on—prescription drug abuse compounded by whatever was in that weight loss supplement. She didn’t seem inclined to consider the possibility that her anxiety and insomnia were being caused by her medications, so I would have to push the issue.

I felt like Dorothy and I were the last survivors of a horrible shipwreck, clinging to a floating scrap. We’d survived the crash, survived the rain and wind and sun, but I had a deep foreboding that we would not survive the thing coming for us now. Again, I felt it in my body—sliding across my skin, a pressure in my head. It was out there, making plans, getting ready to move.

Continue to Chapter 37: Miasma

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