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NaNoWriMo-novel

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									<b>Clare Obscure</b>

<b>Prologue</b>

There was a flicker of flames, red and gold and amber, surrounded by heavy darkness, and the
harsh burning heat of smoke in her mouth and deep in her lungs that wasn’t just from a minor
flaw in a fireplace flue. She nearly panicked and pulled away, afraid of being caught again in a
barbed-wire spider’s web of death, pierced and held by another’s pain and anguish, till a
different taste hit her throat: the wood-tinged peatiness of an Islay scotch.

No one would be drinking a single malt as they burned to death, surely? Or, if they were, maybe
it was worth sticking around to appreciate them before they left this world entirely. And the
smoke seemed... familiar.

<i>“Katie, that smell from your sister’s room. That’s not just cigarette smoke, is it?”</i>

<i>“Mommmm! Like I’d know?”</i> The look of anger on her older daughter’s face. Such
resentment and self-disgust, it had made Clare flinch inside, and drop the question. Once again
she’d hurt her daughter’s feelings without meaning to, without considering all the connotations
of consulting her “un-cool” bookworm teenager on such a topic.

It was that sort of smoke, yes. Probably the combination of the drug and the alcohol was what
had let her inside, had left -- him? her? -- open to Clare’s intrusion. A man, she decided, and a
careful relaxing of her own barriers to submerse herself more deeply in the host’s awareness
confirmed it. And he was someone who seemed very used to these particular mood-
enhancements. There wasn’t the slightest touch of tingled excitement over doing something
dangerous or illegal. So that’s what had let her in. What had drawn her here in the first place,
she wasn’t sure of, not yet at least.

The flames flickered in time with the background music, because they would. She’d noticed
before that the physical sensations of sight and sound and touch and taste weren’t always those
of the actual body, but filtered and mutated by the host’s mind into an occasionally surreal state.
Sometimes they were just more intense than reality had ever been. Sometimes they were lacking
entirely if the mind was too distracted by its own interior processes.

“Did you miss me?”

The sultry voice came in as more of a promise than a query, and if, at the first instant, it seemed
to have a slightly petulant whine to it, maybe that was just from the mind’s automatic defenses
against interruption of such a relaxed state. The internal echo of the fireplace’s flames turned to
a more diffuse glow, deepened to crimson intensity with a heady musky scent, and a single line
of dark gold, the exact color of the whisky, went soaring through it, looped around something
and drew it close, and a warmth enfolded her that had to be an actual embrace.

Uh oh.




                                                 1
Still, it had been a long time. And it wasn’t as if anyone knew she was there. And this would be
much, much better than merely watching a movie. Clare smiled to herself and settled in.

**********

<b>Interlude</b>

“See, she’s smiling! She knows I’m here! Mom, Mom, it’s me! Angie! You’re going to be
okay, you’re going to be fine!”

“Please, Mrs. Daley --”

“Angie, just call me Angie. You guys are going to see a lot of me and I can’t handle that ‘Mrs.
Daley’ stuff. That’s for my mother-in-law.”

“Um, Angie, then. Didn’t Dr. Reynolds talk with you about your mother’s state?”

“Yeah, yes, of course he did. But he told me that no one really knows what’s going on in her
head, right? And that hearing is the one sense that seems to be there most often? Or could be
there, which is the same thing.”

“It’s, ah, not quite the same. There are ways to determine the degree of responsiveness, through
various scans --”

“Oh I read up on those! Someone who could play tennis in her head, and everyone -thought- she
was just a vegetable but they were wrong!”

“Please, Mrs. ... Angie. We don’t consider your mother, or any of our patients, to be vegetables.
I was about to say that the results from the latest MRI should be available tomorrow, and I’m
sure Dr. Reynolds will contact you as soon as he has a chance to examine them.”

“Yeah, sure he will, if I call him up and ask!”

“Yes. Well. Otherwise, I have to say that it’s more or less a wait to see if your mother can come
out of this on her own. She did come out of the coma.”

“I still don’t understand about the coma. She was fine in the ambulance, I’d heard. Talking to
everyone! Why would she get worse only at the hospital? People shouldn’t get sicker here.
You -were- looking out for her, right?”

“Dr. Reynolds didn’t talk to you about... I see. He really should be the one to explain all the
complications in your mother’s case. If he didn’t cover your questions sufficiently, perhaps
you’d like to arrange another appointment with him? He is the responsible clinician. I’m only
on general coverage for the floor this week.”

“He’s a prick. You know it, too!”



                                                  2
“I... I really can’t comment on that, Mrs. Daley. I’ll have his office get in touch with you.”

**********

<b>Angie’s Story</b>

Yes, that’s right, I’m Angie. The full formal name is Angela Amelia Sachs Daley, but who on
earth can wrap their tongue around a name like that? So I go by Angie, like Angie Dickinson,
but you’re probably too young to remember her. She was great! Really sharp, she didn’t take
anything from anybody. Oh, that was in her show, a TV show about cops, what was it? “Police
Woman” and she played a character named “Pepper” and she was as feisty as pepper, too. I
forget when it was on but it was way before “Law and Order” or “CSI”. Do you watch those? I
love those shows! I watch all of them, whenever I can. They’re kind of disappointing
sometimes, you know, because the bad guy doesn’t always get caught, or if he’s caught he
doesn’t always get convicted, but most of them are great. I mean, I know that sort of thing
happens in real life, sure, but you expect fiction to come out better, don’t you? But anyhow,
nowadays, I guess most people think my name must be short for Angelina, like Jolie. As if! But
I’d love to look like her, even if everyone knows those lips aren’t real.

To go on, I’m married to a great guy and I have three wonderful kids, all boys. And let me tell
you, that’s a challenge! I mean, I know I gave Mom some grief sometimes, but that’s nothing to
having three teenage boys. You just can’t stop them from going out and drinking and doing God
knows what, but as long as they come home safe, then it’s enough of a blessing. I knew there’d
be a car crash someday, and an ambulance, and a frantic trip to the hospital. Of course I knew; I
had a dream about it. More than one dream, too! But I didn’t expect it to be Mom, never did.
She drove faster than some people liked, but she was a very good driver and don’t you let Katie
tell you otherwise. And the police report was very clear: it said it was all the other guy’s fault.
He’s the one that ran right into the rear end of her car, full speed, like he’d never even noticed
the flashing lights. You take your life in your hands going on that highway after dark, let me tell
you. People just think that because it’s less crowded, they can go zipping along at 80 or 90 miles
an hour, when the speed limit is only 55. I mean, no one does 55, of course. Did you ever hear
that song, “I Can’t Drive 55”? That was by that guy that joined Van Halen but his name was
something similar. Hagar, that’s right, Sammy Hagar. You know James Taylor had a song like
that too, something about driving, but I don’t remember the words right now. I love James
Taylor, but God, he looks so damn old these days. He should fix himself up better. It’s not like
he doesn’t have the money, you know?

I guess I don’t look so young myself, but that’s what three boys will do to you, and I sure don’t
have the money. My husband still doesn’t mind. That’s Rick, but his real name is Richard
Daley. Yes, just like the Chicago mayor! His dad loved that man. I know some people say he
was a really corrupt politician but if you go and talk to the people in Chicago, they still
remember all the good things he did. Sometimes it seems you need to have someone who goes
outside the law a little, to really get stuff done. And they never caught him on anything, so there.
And all that stuff at the convention? That was -not- his fault. Those people shouldn’t have been




                                                 3
there in the first place. No one wanted them, and they were just there to make trouble so what a
surprise, that’s exactly what they did, and then other people got blamed for it.

Anyway, I’m married and we’ve been married for nearly 20 years. We were thinking of going
off on a second honeymoon to celebrate, but I guess that’s out of the question now. We were
going to leave the boys with Mom, after all. Maybe not exactly leave them with her, but ask her
to come stay while we were gone? Yeah, I know, they’re teenagers but you still need to have
someone around to make sure they get fed and off to school okay, and to call if there’s any
trouble. Will’s at college but he lives at home. It’s so much cheaper, you know? And he’s still
not sure what he really wants to do, so it makes more sense for him to go to a local school
instead of spending a ton of money to send him off to some fancy place elsewhere and then have
it turn out that he wants to change majors and so needs another year or more to do it. Or drop
out completely, like the Richardson’s girl did. Now I did hear that she might have had other
reasons, but I’m not going to say because it might be totally wrong and one shouldn’t spread
gossip unless you know it’s true. Because then it’s news and not gossip, right? But George is
still a senior in high school, and Danny is just a sophomore, so of course they’d need someone to
look after them, and it ought to be a relative, and Rick’s parents live too far away.

Katie? Boy, you really don’t know us yet. Katie would turn me down so quick my ears would be
ringing for a day and a half from the slammed receiver. Except, you know, with cell phones you
don’t get that. And everyone uses cell phones these days, though you really sometimes have to
juggle them quite a bit to get good sound from them. A friend at work lent me her cell phone the
other day and I swear I couldn’t hear a damn thing. She tried to show me, but I told her never
you mind, I’ll just go and make the call from the pay phone, even though they charge you an arm
and a leg for that these days, if you can find one at all.

Don’t get me wrong. She is my sister and I love her dearly, and she loves me, or at least she
keeps telling me so. But frankly, I’d be scared to leave her alone for a week with the boys even
if she did agree. She’s not a bad person, it’s not like that. She’s not evil. But she’s just too
damn particular about things and, at times mind you, she’s not like that all the time, but she can
have the absolute worst temper tantrums that I have ever seen. She has issues, that’s for sure.
But will she get help? Of course not! She thinks she’s fine. But she’ll go around and tell
everyone that Mom is getting too old for this and too forgetful for that, and act as though the
poor woman had one foot in the grave when till now she was in better shape than either of us. I
mean, I have a weight problem. Well I guess you can see that right off! But Katie has her own
problems even if they’re more psychological than physical. And she’s nearly fifty years old
now, so don’t tell me that she doesn’t have some physical problems too. She won’t talk to me
about any of them, though, even if I am her own sister. She has a couple of close friends, I
believe, and I hope she talks to them because everyone, I mean everyone, needs to get things off
their chest now and then or it will weight them down till they can barely drag themselves around
the house, much less go out to a job. And she has a very good job, that’s certainly true. Though
don’t ask me to tell you what, I just know she’s always working late.

Of course, none of those close friends are men friends, if you know what I mean, unless they’re
really just friends. There were a couple of men along the way, but like I said, she’s too particular
and that’s why she never married. There was one very nice man just about three years ago, a



                                                 4
Rob or Bob or something like that, and I thought he was just right for her. He was very
particular, too, and it was all I could do to keep from laughing out loud the way they looked at
each other when they first caught sight of the mess in my house, when they came over to visit for
the family dinner that Easter. Usually those are at Mom’s house, but she’d just had knee surgery
-and- there had been a problem with the dishwasher. She’d left it running when she went off to a
doctor’s appointment and then to a movie or something like that, and I don’t know what
happened but it was as if a whole damn water main had exploded. There was water and soap
spread all over the kitchen, and it was there long enough that the whole floor was completely
ruined. Of course Katie thought it was a sign that Mom was losing it, and must not have shut the
dishwasher door tight, but I think it was just too old and broke all on its own.

We’d just had our own kitchen redone, and I told Mom that the guy we’d used was real cheap
and the flooring was just as good as anything I’d seen elsewhere, but she must have been too
upset by the way the water had soaked through the seams of the linoleum and she insisted on this
really expensive sort of Italian stone tile instead, the kind that’s set in real cement. That’s what
it’s in, cement? Whatever it is, it took forever to get it done and of course it wasn’t ready for the
holiday, so we had to eat at my place instead because Katie’s little apartment wouldn’t have fit
more than half of us. I mean, yes, she keeps it perfectly pristine, but come on! She’s by herself,
and not living with four males who think that the floor is just some sort of extra big shelf for
dumping their clothes and books and tools and anything else they can’t be bothered to find room
for elsewhere. I fought long and hard enough to get them to remember to put down the toilet
seat, and they do, most of the time anyway, but I’m not going to waste my breath correcting
every little flaw that happens to upset my sister. She can do that at her own place, and I guess
she did, because Bob didn’t last much longer. I really am sorry for that, but what it comes down
to is that you reap what you sow. You have to treat people with kindness to get them to be kind
to you, and I don’t think she ever really learned that.

Where was I? Mom, yes, right! Mom is just amazing. She slowed down a little just when
Daddy died, because of course you could tell how much that hurt her. I mean, they were married
for, what was it? At least 45 years because last spring would have been their fiftieth anniversary
and Daddy died about five years ago. But she didn’t fall apart. She just kept going, and didn’t
hide herself away, and after a year or so she was right back doing all the things she used to do,
traveling and going to concerts and museums and all the other things she does. She’s always had
a ton of interests and her house was never that neat when we were growing up, so I don’t know
where Katie got this bug in her ear about a few piles of stuff stacked up in the corners. It’s not
like you can’t get through my house at all, you know? But Mom made it through that and she’s
going to make it through this, too, just you wait and see. The doctors don’t know everything and
there’s plenty of stories around about people who came out of this kind of thing completely
unexpectedly and were perfectly fine afterward. You just have to have faith.

**********

<b>Out of Body Experiences</b>

The first time, she nearly died.




                                                  5
She hadn’t been fully awake since shortly after the accident. She knew that much. She’d tried to
push herself to consciousness and felt for a time that she’d succeeded, but there was still a gray
leaden weight over her mind like the radiation protection blanket they still kept insisting be put
across her lap when they took dental x-rays, despite her child-bearing years being long gone, and
this one she couldn’t budge. The limbs wouldn’t move at her command, the eyelids wouldn’t
open, and the only sounds were muffled to incoherent noises that only drove her mad with
frustration when she tried to assign structure and content. Sometimes they seemed to mock her,
taking shape as small grinning gremlins and she would whack at them with an oversized broom,
for if she could tumble them down and hold them with it, she might be able to force them to give
up their meanings.

<i>This is insanity,</i> she said, and again, <i>I’m going mad.</i>

When it happened that she was too tired of fighting, she sank down further into her mind,
beneath the blanket’s reach. A noise drew her, another noise that made no sense, but this one she
knew was all inside and so no sense was needed. That was how she found it, a crack in some
sub-basement of her mind. Maybe it was from the accident, but for all she knew, it had always
been there, unnoticed and unregarded. A hot-cold sirocco of a wind (wind? in a basement? and
yet there was... <i>because obviously my mind -is- cracked,</i> she told herself in bitter jest)
blew past the opening with a harsh sibilant whisper, the wind strong enough in force to suction
her out if she let herself go with it, and eventually she did, slipping out because she was
desperate for anything that would keep her from slipping back into deeper somnambulance. The
blanket would keep the rest of her safe. Not knowing, being absent, how the blanket seemed to
settle further down, heavier in place, with her absence.

She’d always loved windstorms but this one scared her a little. It buffeted her hard, so she was
not just a soaring soul-kite but one that might be ripped and shredded by the abruptly shifting
cross-currents, and now, now she became aware of the cord that anchored her, that would lead
her back to her own body, and the fear of having that torn became enough for her to seek a
respite, a resting place, dipping out of the screamingly strong winds and coming down --

-- to a place where the screaming was even louder.

It was dark and dank and she couldn’t breathe except for the shallowest of gasps because
something was too tight at her chest. The air that she did manage to pull in was thick with the
smell of spilt fuel and burnt rubber and burning white-hot iron, because there was a forge nearby,
there surely had to be, because she could hear the pounding past the screams, a heavy rhythmic
echoing clang, and with every clang the taste of iron surged through her mouth. There was a
dark water rising around her, ink black in the night. A stabbingly bright crimson light pulsed
with the same rhythm of the forge but there was no reflection of it on the surface of that water.
She’d have liked to believe the light was from an ambulance, but somehow knew otherwise.

<i>Who... what... where...?</i> She used the beat of the forge herself to shape the thoughts and
drive them through the darkness around her, repeating them with increasing urgency because the
water was now up to her chest.




                                                6
“Mom? Mommy! Oh mommymommymommyithurtshurtshurts!”

<i>I’m here, I’m here, I have you, I’m with you, it’s okay, it’s...</i> It wasn’t one of hers. That
first spectre of horror slunk away, sank again into the water, but it was -someone’s- child. Or not
a child, but this bond was still the most important one, a bond that the mind was desperately
grabbing for in its overwhelming agony. Which could mean anyone. She got the impression that
it was male, he was male, and not really that old. Whether he’d been the driver or a passenger,
that, too, wasn’t clear. She tried to gather herself into a smaller lump, into only a corner of this
mind, so that she could see what was happening without being so much a part of it, and suddenly
she was given a form not her own, the form of a middle-aged woman with dark blonde hair. The
face felt odd, inappropriate, and she hurriedly forced the sneer away, and went down on one
knee, holding out her arms as one would, as one must, to a child in pain. <i>I’m here, I love
you, I’m sorry for anything I did.</i>

Something filled her arms and she hugged the shadow close, rocking it, and kept murmuring the
words that were needed. It was cold and shivering, so cold, but the words and touch seemed to
warm and ease it and gradually it stilled. The screaming became weaker, stopped, and the beat
of the forge slowed, too. The pulsing light didn’t pulse as much, but grew to a more brilliant and
steady glow, red fading away and leaving only a searing white. The black water had risen so far
that if she lowered her head just a little she could drink it, could soothe the thickness in her
throat, except that it didn’t feel wet. She could sink beneath it instead, and then the bright light
would be gone, wouldn’t hurt her eyes so much. The weight in her arms grew lighter, and so did
she, and the water was still there but not holding them, and there was a choice. Her borrowed
form began to dissolve as the soul in her arms slide away and she gave it one last hug, one last
infusion of strength, to carry it wherever it chose, and felt an answering caress that she hoped
meant she had been forgiven the deception.

The water stayed, though no longer rising. The light stayed, though seemed farther away. The
choice was still there. A wave of weariness washed over her and she started to let herself sink
beneath the surface of the non-liquid, but there was something twisted around her that prevented
it. The cord. But she could fix that, give it just a little extra tug, and it would break.

An infinity of time passed. Finally she sank, not into the water, but back through the cord.
There was no wind, not in this direction. With a sigh, she settled her self again under the heavy
blanket and curled into a foetal position as she tried to forget what had almost happened, what
still could happen, what certainly one day would happen, and what choice she might make then.

The grey heaviness continued for days, weeks, years, minutes.

<i>Sensory deprivation does odd things to one’s mind,</i> she told herself, and, <i>It might
have been all in my own head.</i> And she uncurled enough to extend a mental hand, an
imaginary fingertip, to test the crack and see if it was still there. It was.

She kept close this time and looked for brightness instead of dark, for silence instead of screams.




                                                 7
The place had those, certainly. Otherwise, it confused her. It didn’t feel like another mind, for
instance, for there was no sense of inner presence, no impact of outside influence, nothing there
at all. She even kept her own shape, as if there were no other form to inhabit. There was a blank
whiteness at first, and then when she blinked, not sure if she were blind here somehow, or still
able to perceive, it shifted slowly to a sere sandy desert under an over-bright colourless sky, the
formless white reshaping itself as she watched. No sun, though, and hence no shadows, and even
the sand was still too white, a dried salt-flat perhaps instead of true sand. She bent down, easy to
do in a merely mental shape, and picked up a handful to let trickle slowly through her fingers. It
felt like sand, and flowed like sand, but as it fell it took on a pinker, browner hue, the color of her
own skin. When she noticed, she stopped abruptly and shook the rest from her hand, rubbing the
hand against her leg after to be sure all of it was gone. It didn’t help. The flesh color spread
from the fallen grains through the rest of the sand till the desert matched her own shade, as she
stood aghast at the unmeaning effect she had had on the landscape.

Unmeaning…

She paused, and grew more thoughtful. She picked up another handful of the supposed sand, and
concentrated, staring hard at it, willing another change as she let it again fall slowly from her
hand. The grains darkened and coalesced as they fell and the rich earth that mounded up beneath
started to sprout pale green shoots. She stepped back and looked around guiltily, as if someone
might appear and chastise her for the changes. But no one came.

It was tempting to keep going, to see what she could make of this world, whosever world this
was, but she’d probably interfered enough, more than enough. And she could almost, at the edge
of her awareness, start to feel the body that surrounded the mind with which she’d been playing,
and that couldn’t be good. The true inhabitant would wake, and God knows what the mind
would then become. With a lingering faint regret, she willed herself away, and afterward
wondered how many of her own dreams, and which, had been caused by similar intrusions, and
if her mind had been so blank a canvas for their work.

**********

<b>Reflections</b>

I’ve never believed in the prescience of dreams. It seems to me that dreams are more likely a
badly done sort of housekeeping, the mind shifting through elements of what happened during
the day, what happened in the past, what is scheduled to happen tomorrow and might happen in
the future. Take the pieces, shatter them, combine the shards with random pebbles and bits of
broken glass from movies, books, television shows, and mere imagination, and build bizarre
mosaic pictures from them, and pretend to look for possibilities, to see if anything new is
revealed. But the mosaic isn’t set in any binder material, and when you wake, when you rise, all
of the little pieces fall out of place and into the dustbin. And so, the workspace is swept clean,
ready to be used for another day’s worth of activities.




                                                  8
Not that examining your dreams isn’t a good idea. It could at least give you some psychological
insight, in noticing what sort of mosaics your mind tends to create, and most people are so
unaware of their own thought processes that any minor insight would help.

That lack of awareness is no longer a problem for me.

I should have kept a dream journal. It would help tell me if any of this is real, or if it’s just what
I’m prone to imagine. Are these all dreams? Can you dream if you never sleep? Or do I sleep?
Without the passage of light and dark, without the steady tick tock of daily activities, time has so
little meaning. Get up, get dressed, get breakfast, get lunch, get dinner, get undressed, go to bed.
Intersperse with work and play and errands and chores, and sprinkle in the variations that
distinguish one day from another. That day, I did the grocery shopping and had soup for lunch.
The other day, I went to a movie and had popcorn for dinner. Don’t tell the girls that last bit.
Kate would say I’m being irresponsible and worry about my nutrition, and Angie would say it
sounds like fun and she should do that with her boys, whose nutrition -I- sometimes worry about.

Now, it seems, I have almost no sense of what’s happening outside, to my body. I believe I’m
still alive, because there’s a “here” here, a place that seems to be my own. I think, sometimes,
that I can tell it’s brighter outside than at other times. I think that the random noises vary in tone
and volume and insistence, and sometimes, it seems to be that I feel oddly jerky, like a
marionette on a puppet master’s strings, and I wonder if someone is doing some sort of physical
therapy on my poor body, trying to keep its muscles from atrophying. But it’s all thoughts and
feelings and “seems” and nothing I can grab hold of, nothing that I can say means that the
snapped strings are reconnecting, and that someday I’ll become my own puppet master again.

I’m stuck in a dream world, without the luxury of knowing that I’ll wake. Or maybe I’m just
stuck in my head, without dreams. Or a swirled mixture of both, unable to distinguish between
the two because there is nothing anchoring my mind to my body except this damnably thin cord,
and maybe that’s just part of one of the dreams.

Interesting thought. What if the cord is anchoring me to the dreams instead, and breaking it is
what would release my mind to contact the outer world? But I only seem to be aware of the cord
when I’ve left my body, or rather, to be more precise, when it appears to me that I’ve left my
body. And if I’m wrong… what would happen then?

There was that choice. Oblivion, or some sort of continuance, unless that was only a dream, too.
But the choice hasn’t always been present when I’ve left, or not as clear. Would cutting the cord
reveal it again? Or was that a special circumstance, and would I simply become an unattached
spirit, a ghost, until my body died on its own, or maybe even after that unfortunate but eventually
necessary occurrence.

Angie believes in ghosts. I don’t. She says openly that she has seen her father’s ghost, in our
house one evening, in the upstairs hallway. That makes no sense to me. There’s nothing in the
hallway which would demand his presence, which would make him linger there. I would be
surprised to find out that he wanted to stay around the house at all. And I certainly haven’t seen
anything. I told her so, and she said it must be that I need to let myself become more open to the



                                                  9
possibility. If being “open” means to take any chance reflection from a picture frame as an
actual ghost, then I’m not prepared to be that way.

Or, that was how I used to feel about the matter.

But now it looks as though I’m quite prepared to be a sort of ghost in other people’s minds. It’s
far better than going mad inside my own.

Unless, I’m already mad. There, it’s happened again, it all comes down to the self-referential,
the circular problem of how to tell what is really happening or not when I can’t see anything
objectively because there -is- no objective way to view this! “Give me a fulcrum and a place to
stand, and I will move the earth.” Even when I think I’m standing outside myself, I can’t be
sure. I’m the earth as well as the mover and the fulcrum, and I can say “it moves” and no one
will contradict me, because there is no one else. There are the minds I seem to visit, but there is
no proof that any of them really exist.

**********

<b>Interlude</b>

“Why, hello there! I didn’t expect to see you here!”

“Oh thanks. She is my mother, too.”

“There’s no need to get snotty at me. Please, let’s try to get along, for Mom’s sake? It’s just
unexpected, seeing you here, on a work day, you know? I mean, you’re always saying how you
have a ton of meetings, all the time. I guess I just understood your work was too important.”

“I arranged to take the morning off. I know I don’t seem to be here as much as you are --”

“Oh please! Of course you can’t! I completely understand! I mean, you did show up really
regularly when Mom was first hurt.”

“Yes. Well. Of course I would.”

“And now, you know I’m started to wonder if the doctors have just written her off entirely? And
now they want to move her out of here! To a nursing home! But you know they tell terrible
stories about those nursing homes, and she can’t even speak! How would we know if they were
treating her badly? We wouldn’t! We couldn’t!”

“But, Angie, you know we can’t be sure how they’re treating her here, either?”

“But it’s a hospital. They have standards. They have people watching and double-checking
everyone. They have to. A nursing home is just on its own!”




                                                10
“Angie, please. Nursing homes do have certifications and guidelines they have to meet, too, and
I’m sure we can find a reputable one. A trustworthy one. Dr. Reynolds has given me a list and
I’ll --”

“You’ve talked with him!”

“He is Mom’s doctor. Of course I’ve talked with him.”

“I don’t trust him.”

“He’s doing the best he can. There just isn’t that much he can do? She came out of the coma,
but that doesn’t mean as much as getting out of the state she’s currently in, and you have to face
facts, Angie. Not everyone comes out of it.”

“Mom will. You can’t tell me she won’t. She’s a very strong willed old lady and she won’t give
up.”

“It’s not a question of her giving up. She may not even be aware of anything at all. Dr.
Reynolds said that he did talk to you about the outcome of the scans?”

“It might have been a bad day for her.”

“They showed very minimal activity, Angie.”

“You can’t tell me that she’s just a vegetable!”

“I’m not trying to tell you that! I’m just trying to have you look at this realistically, and not as if
it were some inspirational bestseller where everything comes out perfectly for everyone at the
end!”

“It’s a better way of looking at things than the way you look at them! I swear, Katie, I almost
think you’d have them pull the plug on her!”

“There isn’t any plug. She’s breathing on her own.”

“The tube then, whatever, you’d have them starve her to death!”

“Angie --”

“What?”

“We do need to discuss what the resuscitation orders should be.”

“That’s clear. They should do anything and everything they can. No matter what!”

“I… disagree.”



                                                   11
“That is because you are a pessimistic, narrow-minded, wizened-hearted, mean-spirited dried up
shell of a woman, Katie Sachs! And God and Mom both know it! She is damned lucky that I’m
here, too! And I will not let you murder her!”

*********

<b>Kate’s Story</b>

I do not want to murder my mother. Let me at least make that clear, before Angie has everyone
else in the world believing it of me.

I love my mother. I even, somewhat, love my sister, though God knows we’re as unalike as any
two siblings could ever be. My father used to say that Angie had gotten all the Irish blood and
I’d gotten all the German, though the coloring is completely the other way around. She’s blonde
and plump and very pink-cheeked, and I’m black Irish, with dark hair and pale, fair skin. But
she’s the emotional one, always on a rollercoaster of sky-high hopes and deep dark dreads.

I don’t understand why people like that. They do, they must, for they like her, even the ones that
look down at her, that think she’s more or less a fool. She isn’t. But she can come across that
way.

For one thing, you can’t reason with her. Logic has no imperative that she will ever recognize.
An argument must appeal to her emotionally, it has to “feel” right, otherwise she won’t bend,
she’ll keep holding on to her own opinion regardless of what expert knowledge you bring to
bear. If you try to convince her otherwise, she’ll turn it into a persecution. And the persecution
will be of her, not of you, because obviously she’s the one that’s being badly abused by your
insistence on something she’d rather not comply with. With which she’d rather not comply, I
should say.

A minor example: the name I prefer to go by is “Kate”. Not “Katie”. I decided this back when I
was eight years old. Naturally, I didn’t expect my four-year-old sister to understand the
difference, and so I allowed her to continue to call me by the nickname she knew. I waited, very
patiently, till she was older, and then pointed it out as a simple request. But instead of having her
agree, I was turned into the one who was being unreasonable. A blank stare and a “Why are you
making such a big deal of it?” was the mildest refusal, followed then by a silly smile. “Oh,
lighten up, Katie!”

I tried calling her “Angela” instead of “Angie”, but it didn’t work. She just let it slide off. I tried
not answering, but she would roll her eyes, and if she then called me “Kate” it would be in a put
upon tone of voice with such exaggerated grievance that it grated far worse than the more
childish version of my name. And so, after about ten years, I gave up. She won. And I’d
learned, from that and other things, not to ask anything of her, not to rely on her for any
understanding, not to share anything at all of myself, if I could help it, with someone who had
such little appreciation for my desires or point of view.




                                                  12
So I’m sure that, even now, she feels that all she has to do is wait it out, stubborn and un-moving,
seeing only what she wants to see, and the world will turn her way and everything will come out
just as she wants it to. I suspect that’s how she manages most of her life. She doesn’t want to
believe that her precious sons could possibly have turned out badly, so she doesn’t see how rude
and obnoxious they are, how lazy and unmotivated. She loves her husband, so of course he’s
worthy to be loved, instead of being an arrogant ass that regularly quarrels with his superiors
and, so, rarely stays more than few years in any one job.

She does keep that family going, I’ll grant it. The place she works at seems to like her, and she
hasn’t had any trouble working there. She’ll even pick up extra part-time work when their
finances require it. That’s why her eldest is going to the local state college, you understand. Yet
another company didn’t value her husband’s efforts as fully as he felt they should, and so the
more prestigious college, the one that the boy had somehow managed to be admitted to, was
deemed too high an expense.

I don’t know how she’s managing to visit Mom so often. I won’t ask. It’s very good of her, and
I have no quarrel with that at all. But I don’t care for her assumption that because she’s the one
who’s doing the most visiting, then that means that she’ll be the one to make all of the decisions.
I have as much right in this as she has.

We need to talk to Mom’s lawyer. I’m sure there’s a will, but since she isn’t actually dead, I
doubt that Angie bothered to contact him and I certainly didn’t. Things have been too uncertain
this last month. We need to find out if she made any sort of “living will” with any directives in
case of this sort of injury. I can say, truly and honestly, that I don’t believe she would want to be
kept alive in this condition. My mother was too active and vital a person to want to be bound to
a bed without any real awareness of her environment. But if I say that to Angie, she’ll deny it
out of hand. If there -are- any recorded directives, it will make it all so much simpler. She won’t
be able to deny Mom’s own words. She’d better not!

This isn’t easy for me to face either. Please don’t think that it is. Angie seems to think of me as
a cold, uncaring person, but I’m not. I just prefer holding my emotions inside, keeping them to
myself, rather than blurting them out for all and sundry to pick over. I do laugh, I do cry, I do --
yes, even that -- fall in love and do silly things. And I do get angry and lose my temper
sometimes. That’s the emotion that seems to come out most often when I’m around Angie, and
so she thinks I have a problem with anger management. A more objective evaluation might note
that if I often get angry around Angie, then maybe Angie herself has some blame in eliciting that
particular emotion? But no, of course not, I’m the one with the problem.

I’ve never married. For some reason, she counts that against me, too, as added proof that I’m not
an easy person with whom to get along, or as evidence of my supposed self-centeredness, if not
outright selfishness. I’ve had lovers, though, and she doesn’t know all of them. I’ve even had
two proposals in my life, and she certainly doesn’t know of those, for I’ve never told her. One of
them, I didn’t love, and it was easy to gently let him down, to explain that he would be far
happier with another. The other -- I did love him. I was madly in love with him. But love isn’t
everything, regardless of what people like Angie believe, and I knew he was only asking because
he was tired of his life and wanted a change to it. Marriage is rather an appealingly dramatic



                                                 13
change, isn’t it? All the fuss and ceremony. But I knew that after a while, he would be tired of
marriage, too, and want yet another change, and I wasn’t prepared to enter into such a
relationship with the awareness that it would be only a temporary state. Angie, of course, would
have denied the possibility of eventual defeat, and maybe if I were more like her, I’d have taken
the chance. And maybe, if I could manage the way she holds on to ideals with all her claws dug
in, I could have kept him from leaving. But it wouldn’t have been a happy marriage.

But maybe we were both spoiled by the example that our parents set. They were deeply in love,
each with the other, during their whole marriage. I’ll tell you a secret thought from the past: that
if the house burst into flames during the night, they would first have made sure that the other was
safe, and rejoice in the safety, before they remembered that they had children in the house, too.
Maybe that’s not very realistic, but it’s how I felt back then. We grew up in a time when
children still expected to be spanked for misdeeds, but the only time I was ever afraid of my
father was when he caught me back-talking my mother. I can’t recall what had precipitated it,
but I wasn’t a happy teenager and for whatever reason, I was being quite sarcastic to her. He
grabbed my arm, very tightly, and he didn’t raise his voice at all. He just looked at me very hard
and very intently as he told me that I was never, ever, to speak to my mother in that tone of voice
again. There was no spanking. There didn’t need to be.

I nodded, I think. I doubt if I could have spoken. I left the room and went off on a long bike
ride, and it’s a wonder I didn’t get run over by a car because I was crying too hard to see a thing,
and barely able to keep to the road at all. But it was a quiet suburb, and there was less traffic in
those days.

I don’t know if anything like that ever happened to Angie. If so, of course, she’s the sort that
would have burst into tears immediately, in front of him, and then forgotten about it an hour or
two later. But maybe he never spoke to her like that. She was always happy around Mom. The
drugs and drinking, she kept private, usually off with friends. Of course it wasn’t hard to figure
out what was going on, but apparently it didn’t carry the same weight of opprobrium. He was
disgusted with them, true, but I never saw or heard him intervene with anywhere near the same
sort of intensity.

It nearly killed Mom when he died, just from having him gone, and it seemed like she’d aged ten
years all at once. Angie denies it, as Angie denies anything unpleasant, but I think she never
really recovered. At least the circumstances themselves were a blessing. He died in his sleep.
The autopsy said it had been a massive coronary and he wouldn’t have suffered at all, no pain,
just a sleep from which he didn’t happen to wake. He had retired only about six months before,
so there was some business left unfinished but not much. There wasn’t the anguish of a lingering
illness, the uncertainty of whether he’d get better or not, the false hopes of temporary
improvements, the frustration of renewed deterioration, the constant hospital visits and knowing
the discomfort that all their tests and procedures must necessarily involve. A good death, a quick
death. I hope that’s how I go, when I do.

Not like Mom.

**********



                                                 14
<b>Portrait of the Artist as a Young Jerk</b>

They did not have sex. It was extremely disappointing. Clare did keep in mind that it was
probably disappointing to those other than her, but still...

They could have had angry sex, after the argument, and that might have been even better because
she would have been completely free of any responsibility for the argument. The cause was a
little hard to follow through the fog of alcohol, pot, and (she only picked up on this later)
physical exhaustion that was her host’s current condition, but it seemed to be connected to a
refusal on his part to paint his partner.

At first, when the first few words penetrated, her own mind couldn’t help coming up with the
image of a literal painting session, pigment on flesh. Though she immediately realized the
meaning was otherwise, she was too enamored of the idea, and held on to her first notion for a
while longer, mischievously flipping the internal scenario from finger paints to spray cans to
wall-painting rollers.

Alright, maybe there was some blame to her for the evening’s denouement. Her host started
snickering, then chuckling, then laughing helplessly.

<i>That’s not from me, is it? But oh, she’s not going to like it,</i> she winced a little in
anticipation of the storm, and dropped her playful mood. Too late. The golden bubbles of
effervescent laughter erupting around her were being targeted by a futile barrage of white-hot
darts, black-tipped with venom, but those grew smaller and started buzzing around like nothing
more than a minor fly infestation as the host pushed away any concern for the angry words now
being directed at him, though the woman’s emotional state kept rising from pouting pleas to full
blown rage.

“Forget it! Yeah, forget you, too, you bastard! You know who’s been asking me to model for
him? Jeffrey! How do you like that, huh? And he’s a damn sight better artist than you’ll ever
be!”

The name came through loud and clear and the bubbles popped all at once, all on their own, in
explosions of fiery sparks that wiped out all the flies. Clare sank deeper into protective darkness,
drawing it over and around her like a blanket. She thought of going back through the cord, but
this was still too interesting and she stayed there, peering out through a shifting hole in her
blanket like a child spying on its parents.

“Jeffrey’s a hack and everyone knows it! He’ll make you look beautiful, doll, sure he will. Just
like a doll, doll, all plastic and shiny.”

His sneer was soot over burning coals, pretense that she hadn’t gotten to him, though his self-
approval at his own cleverness, in the way he’d played with his pet term for her, added a lilting
sweet-scented breeze of satisfaction for a passing instant. Clare shook her head a little at his
obtuseness.



                                                15
“Fine! You think I’m just a doll? Then go buy a blow-up one to replace me because I am so out
of here!”

The world turned blacker than her concealing blanket, and the slam of the door had a deep
finality that would have made any sound engineer in Hollywood turn puke green with envy, and
steal it for the dungeon door of his next horror film.

<i>Ouch.</i>

Clare sighed, and started to dissolve, only to pause as the laughter returned, even though it was
strongly tainted with a bitterness that ruined the last lingering traces of whisky. Tentatively, she
peeked out from the blanket. The world was still black, but was turning, had turned, a richer,
more velvety black, a cut velvet with patterns beginning to emerge from the nap. The laughter
subsided to a purposeful humming, and the body must now be moving because there was a
sudden starburst of brilliant electric-blue light, a sharp whiff of ozone, with an accompanying
violent curse, as he banged his bare foot into the edge of some piece of furniture.

Clare snickered, she couldn’t help herself.

There was a pregnant pause, and the heretofore fading light of the starburst gathered and
coalesced into a spotlight that swept across the inner scenery, a searching, if somewhat less
focused, intelligence behind it. Clare held her mental breath, and tried to be one with the
darkness. The spotlight slowly died, dispersed, separating into dots of light that moved
randomly for a moment or two and then attached themselves to the patterns, outlining them in
sequin sparkle. The humming resumed.

<i>Good thing he’s still so out of it,</i> she thought, very, very privately.

Something was going on. The black was lifting and she had to keep adjusting her protective
coloration to match. Soon the only true blackness left was in the lines of the patterns, but they
kept shifting and shimmering so she could never grasp the whole of the design, as if the only
echo in his mind were the sections on which he was currently working, and even those were
being constantly re-worked. The frustration grew. Slowly she let herself relax out of her small
corner, let her perception flow softly, silently, she hoped imperceptibly, through his mind.
There, she could feel the subtle undercurrents of concentration and irritation and pleasure when
something came out right. There again, and she could start to feel the pull and play of muscles,
but she drew back from that, afraid of accidental interference that would reveal her presence.
Another tendril in another direction and the humming became clearer. Yet another easing, and
there, finally, she could see through his eyes, catching his vision just where the impulses leaped
from neurophysical synapses to psychological perception, before they became too warped by
mood and memory. <i>And the drugs,</i> she reminded herself, <i>and the drink.</i>

It was a picture of a woman. A beautiful woman, who was still beautiful even though her perfect
oval face was surrounded by writhing serpents of all sorts and shapes and lengths. Narrow little
twisting asps formed ringlets at her forehead and at her temples, and decorative coral snakes



                                                 16
curled beside them. Larger vipers looked at first glance like thickened dreadlocks behind the
rest, and the spread hoods of cobras formed an uneven crown around the top of her head. She
didn’t seem to notice, though. If anything, the expression was that of someone slightly hurt (in a
somewhat petulant fashion, as shown by the protruding bottom lip, though it was still a very
beautifully shaped lip) by the obvious terror shown in the posture of the stone statue in front of
her, the one whose arm she was trailing her fingertips across as if in supplication that he stop
playing such awful games with her, and turn again into his mortal form.

Clare stared in fascination as the artist’s hand drew swift, unerring strokes with the charcoal to
shade the sketch. <i>You’re very good!</i> She couldn’t stop herself, forgetting her intent to
remain hidden. <i>Is that her?</i>

The charcoal broke in two as the hand clenched on it, leaving a jagged dark streak where subtler
tones had been planned. The humming stopped, and the host drew in a slow deep breath that
should have been invigorating but only felt to Clare as if she were being encased in a pressurized
container, trapped, not daring to try to make a run for it, for fear of making it all worse.

“You know,” he said, staring at the sketch thoughtfully though Clare knew his concentration was
elsewhere, she could feel the spotlight searching again. “I think I’m pretty good, too.
Sometimes I even tell myself so. But I’ve never had to ask myself which person I’m drawing.”

He reached for one of the erasers that littered the side of the drawing desk, and gently removed
the erroneous streak, using light enough pressure that the underlying outline of the drawing
wasn’t too badly compromised. Then he carefully corrected the base drawing, and started
shading it again. He even started humming.

Clare wasn’t fooled. The spotlight was still searching. Her heart would be beating loudly in her
throat, if she had a heart, or a throat, and she squashed the thought quickly before her mental self
developed either. She stayed silent and kept quieting her own mind as much as possible, an extra
layer of ghostly presence, true, but so thin, so translucent, that surely he wouldn’t find her. He’d
think it was just --

“I’ve been way drunker than this. I’ve been way more stoned than this. I’ve been both, together,
way more wasted than this. Oh, yes. Yes, indeed. And by now, God knows, I’m used to bitches
like her walking out on me.” His tone was casually conversational, just a man talking to himself
as he worked. “So I gotta ask myself, what’s going on here? I say to myself, self, are you alone
in there? Or what?”

Damn. She could feel herself want to start laughing and clamped down on the feeling as hard as
she could. This was becoming a game, a game of hide and seek. She’d always been good at
those except when it reached the point that it just seemed too silly to continue.

“Now this picture, you’re right. It’s a picture of Michelle. Isn’t she a pretty girl? But if you’ve
been hanging around a while, you saw the real thing.” He paused. Clare could feel the searching
light dim as he started considering the implications. “Except if you had, you wouldn’t have been
asking who it was. But you said, ‘her’.” He puzzled at it a bit longer, then shrugged, and started



                                                 17
shading again, putting the final touches on the sketch. “Okay. Let’s say you knew about
Michelle without knowing her. Not very omniscient of you. Kinda clueless, really.”

That did it. Clare made a tiny snerking sound as she tried to stifle what was either going to be a
snort or a snicker. Enough attachment to his physical awareness remained that she was pretty
certain that a corner of his lip tugged to the side in satisfaction. The searchlight turned a warm
golden hue, and vanished. But the pressure remained. And the last of the swirling sweet-scented
fumes of weed and whisky were going, going, gone.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are.” He chanted softly as he put the charcoal down, as he
wiped off his hands on the once white piece of cloth that had obviously seen more than a few
days of similar use. So she wasn’t the only one who’d been thinking of it as hide and seek. Upon
reflection, she decided to keep the tenuous connection she still had, through him, to the outside
world. Just in case he started to pick up something to beat his head in. Artists were such a
volatile lot. She cleared her throat, and so had one now, since it was needed. <i>Ahem. Don’t
panic, please?</i> As the words came cautiously out, she tensed. She had more influence than
she’d thought. His throat had involuntarily cleared when she’d only imagined that she was doing
her own.

The pressure in her, in -his- head tightened drastically. “Don’t. Do. That.”

<i>I’m very sorry. I didn’t mean to.</i> She tried to project additional wordless apology,
cinnamon and brown sugar flavored to make it easier to accept, apple pie spiced, something
homey and soothing and very much unthreatening. She could swear his nose twitched.

“I’m hungry,” he said abruptly, and shoved the rolling chair back to give himself room enough to
stand. “Maybe you’re a hallucination from lack of food. It’s been... hell, I don’t know. Just
those stupid snacks.” He sauntered towards what seemed like a very small excuse for a kitchen
in so large an apartment and bent his head to peer into the nearly empty refrigerator. She could
feel the cold. He kept it turned much too low.

Her curiosity was aroused. <i>Doesn’t the milk get icy?</i>

“Yeah. But it keeps the beer at the right temperature,” he grunted, and pulled out one.

<i>That’s not food.</i>

“What are you? The ghost of my mother?” He grimaced. “Forget that. She’s still alive. I
think.” He considered that, and shrugged. “And you don’t sound like her.” He popped open the
top of the can and started drinking as he opened a few cabinets, pulling out a jar of peanut butter
(extra crunchy) and a half-used loaf of bread that should have been stored elsewhere. Some of
the slices were green. He threw those pieces away, picked out the best two of the remaining
choices, and then threw the rest away. He rinsed off a knife taken from the sink, without
bothering to clean it with soap, and began slathering the peanut butter on top of one slice of
bread. “Michelle wasn’t very domestic,” he said succinctly.




                                                18
<i>And neither, it seems, are you. Do you always eat like this?</i> Surely sane people didn’t
really live this way. Well, yes, of course they did, but she’d never expected to inhabit one. She
swallowed her astonishment, remembering in time to keep the action from going any further than
her own self, and then tried to withdraw even more, pulling back the links to his body before she
was forced to taste what couldn’t be good for him. The beer was already annoying enough. She
didn’t like beer. How could he follow single malt scotch with beer? Did he have any sense of
what he was doing at all?

“No, I don’t!” With a sharp flick of his wrist, he sent the still-laden knife flying back into the
metal sink. There was a ringing clang, and the knife promptly bounced out again and flew across
the open room, falling eventually to the floor with a more subdued clatter before sliding under an
old overstuffed chair whose better days must have been many years past. A spotted trail of
peanut butter marked its path.

“Damn.” He stared. “I thought the peanut butter would make it stick.”

The wonderful thing about it was that it wasn’t her problem at all. She couldn’t even retrieve the
knife for him, not even if she’d wanted to, not even if she felt any obligation to, not in her
current incorporeal state. Clare laughed.

“Okay, you are definitely not my mother,” he grumbled, and turned his back on the mess.

<i>No, I’m not,</i> she agreed cheerfully.

“She would have gone off on a tirade.”

<i>Most mothers would,</i> she agreed again.

He’d crammed half the sandwich into his mouth and was consequently incommunicado for a
while, until enough had vanished down his gullet to allow a swallow of beer to chase down the
rest. “You started out sounding motherly though.”

<i>A bad habit I picked up somewhere.</i>

He snickered. “Right, sweetcheeks. Stick around and you’ll pick up a lot worse. You’re with a
grand master of bad habits, if you haven’t noticed already. And ‘sounding motherly’ doesn’t
begin to make the list.”

Clare’s good humor continued enough that she saw his bragging as amusing instead of the
annoyance it probably was to others. But maybe it was better to change the topic.

<i>Why wouldn’t you draw her before, when she asked?</i>

His mouth was again blocked with bread and peanut butter as the second half of his dinner went
to join the first. The inner vision, though, was of Michelle slamming the door, the whole drawn
in heavy strokes of flat color that softened and shifted to a drab olive green grisaille before



                                               19
fading out entirely. It took the rest of the beer to clear his throat. “A superstition. If I draw
them, they’ll leave.”

<i>Oh.</i> There didn’t seem to be much else to say that wasn’t incredibly obvious.

He threw the empty beer can in the sink, though she could tell that he’d gone closer to it first,
and didn’t throw the can nearly as hard as he’d tossed the knife. It stayed in. He sighed, and
rubbed at his face. “I’m beat. Stay if you want, but I gotta crash.”

<i>I hope things turn better for you.</i>

The twist of his lips was a bitter thing, and Clare couldn’t escape it even as far as she’d now
withdrawn. “Yeah. Tomorrow is another day, and all that rot.” He fell face first down on the
couch in front of the fireplace and, one-handed, without looking, groped for the wool blanket that
was across the back cushions, and drew it over him.

Clare stayed a while, silent, as the mind faded to an endless empty grey, and then silently slunk
back to her own grey shell.

**********

<b>Detailed Patient Assessment Form</b>

Patient is a 76 year old white female who was brought to the ER by ambulance as a result of a
motor vehicle accident (rear-end collision). Patient was transported on back-board with neck
restraint. Oxygen was applied via face mask but no intubation due to possibility of spinal cord
injury. Ancillary injuries were reported to right arm and leg. At the time of transport, the GCS
score was determined to be 13-14, with little to no evidence of severe head injury. Due to the
patient’s age and the type of accident, a CT was ordered. Before it could be administered, the
patient suffered cardiac arrest. Subsequent to resuscitation from the coronary event, evidence
was found of subdural hemorrhaging and ischemic stroke, possibly due to blood clots from other
injuries. Patient entered coma state and remained comatose for 2.5 weeks before showing signs
of recovery and was then reclassified as vegetative state. Final determination of injuries from
accident, confirmed by MRI: intercondylar humerus fracture of right elbow, chondral fracture of
right patella, cervical herniation at C3,4 and C4,5, lumbar herniation at L4-S1, and lateral wedge
lumbar compression fractures of L3 and L4. Fractures of the limbs were treated and stabilized.

Prior general medical conditions:
(1) rheumatoid arthritis: moderate, treated with celecoxib, 200 mg. BID
(2) osteoporosis: moderate, treated with calcium supplements and raloxifene, 60 mg. QD
(3) elevated blood sugar: borderline, treated with dietary changes
(4) hypertension: mild, untreated

Prior neuropsychological conditions:
No evidence of dementia reported by the primary care physician or the patient’s adult daughter.
The PCP reports past treatment for depression with a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor



                                                  20
(SSRI) for a period of eleven months immediately subsequent to the death of the patient’s
spouse.

Prior medications other than directed treatment
(information supplied by A. Daley, patient’s daughter):
(1) aspirin: 81 mg., daily
(2) multivitamin tablet: brands varied, daily
(3) vitamin C: 500 mg., daily

Current diagnosis and medical conditions:
Vegetative state due to hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy with cerebral trauma secondary to
motor vehicle accident. Patient does not require artificial respiration. Patient does require
artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH) via percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG) tube
(changed from nasogastric tube approximately five days prior to release). Patient also requires
urinary catheterization.

Current medications: See chart.

Assessments at transfer, administered at initial acute care facility:

EEG: slow wave activity, no higher functioning noted

Glasgow Coma Scale: Score was 8
Eye opening: 4 (patient opens eyes spontaneously)
Verbal response: 2 (patient makes only incomprehensible sounds)
Motor response: 2 (patient reacts to painful stimulus with extension posturing, decerebrate
rigidity)

Rancho Los Amigos Scale: Score was at Level 2
Generalized response only. Limited and inconsistent responses to external stimuli regardless of
type or location; gross body movement, non-purposeful vocalization, non-focused eye opening,
physiological changes of increased or decreased activity; responses may also be significantly
delayed. Total assistance required.

Assessments administered upon admission to skilled nursing facility:

Western Neuro Sensory Stimulation Profile (WNSSP): Score was 11
I. AROUSAL/ATTENTION
1. Arousability: 3 (patient is spontaneous awake at times)
2. Wakefulness: 0 (awake state persists for less than10 minutes)
3. Eye Contact: 1 (eyes open but not focused on examiner)
4. Attention to Task: 0 (visual or other attention to task less than 50% of the time)
II. AUDITORY RESPONSE
Localization:
5. Voice: 0 (no response within 20 seconds to introductory remarks)




                                                 21
6. Sound: 1 (undifferentiated response to non-verbal sound of music, bell, clicker, tape recorder,
sneeze, door slamming, where objects are outside of visual field)
Comprehension: response to verbal command:
7. “Shake my hand”: 0 (no response within 20 seconds)
8. “Open [or close] mouth”: 0 (no response within 20 seconds)
9. “Stick out tongue”: 0 (no response within 20 seconds)
10. “Close [or open] eyes”: 0 (no response within 20 seconds)
11. “Raise eyebrows”: 0 (no response within 20 seconds)
12. “Move [body] part”: 0 (no response within 20 seconds)
III. EXPRESSIVE COMMUNICATION
13. Vocalization: 1 (best response is non-meaningful vocalization of moaning, sighing, crying,
other vocal noises)
14. Facial/Gestural expression for communication: 0 (only random grimaces or reflex or
involuntary behaviors)
15. Yes/No response: 0 (neither response observed, either verbal or non-verbal, to three verbal
questions)
IV. VISUAL RESPONSE
Tracking, Horizontal:
16. Horizontal mirror: 0 (no response within 20 seconds to mirror moved across visual field)
17. Horizontal individual: 0 (no response within 20 seconds to person walking slowly around
bed)
18. Horizontal picture: 0 (no response within 20 seconds to large, brightly colored picture of
familiar personality, greeting card, or family member)
19. Horizontal object: 0 (no response within 20 seconds to brightly colored puppet or snow globe
with moving parts)
Tracking, Vertical:
20. Vertical mirror: 0 (no response within 20 seconds to mirror moved across visual field)
21. Vertical picture: 0 (no response within 20 seconds to large, brightly colored picture of
familiar personality, greeting card, or family member)
22. Vertical object: 0 (no response within 20 seconds to brightly colored puppet or snow globe
with moving parts)
Comprehension: response to written commands (examiner may say “read card and do what it
says” and point to card, but do not read card)
23. “Open [or close] mouth”: 0 (no response within 20 seconds)
24. “Stick out tongue”: 0 (no response within 20 seconds)
25. “Close [or open] eyes”: 0 (no response within 20 seconds)
26. “Raise eyebrows”: 0 (no response within 20 seconds)
27. “Move [body] part”: 0 (no response within 20 seconds)
V. TACTILE RESPONSE
Localization:
28. Touch: 1 (undifferentiated response of reflexive posturing, hyperventilation, blinking, or
chewing, to non-painful tap on shoulders, or stimulation of body parts with brush, rough towel,
or comb)
29. Oral Stimulation: 1 (primitive reflexes of chewing, sucking, phasic bite, or rooting, to
stimulation of external surface of upper and lower lips with cotton swab)
Object Manipulation: examiner to give the command “This is a - . Show me how you use it.”



                                               22
30. Manipulation spoon: 1 (holds and releases object)
31. Manipulation comb: 1 (holds and releases object)
32. Manipulation pencil: 1 (holds and releases object)
(Examiner notes that the holding and releasing were very inconsistent.)

JFK Coma Recovery Scale - Revised (CRS-R): Score was 7
Auditory Function Scale: 1 (auditory startle; eyelids flutter or blink occurs immediately
following the stimulus on at least 2 times, but no localization or movement to command)
Visual Function Scale: 1 (visual startle; eyelids flutter or blink occurs immediately following
presentation of visual threat on at least 2 trials with either eye; no fixation, pursuit, reaching, or
recognition)
Motor Function Scale: 2 (flexion withdrawal of at least one limb under application of noxious
stimulation)
OroMotor/Verbal Function Scale: 2 (vocalization/oral movement; at least one episode of non-
reflexive oral movement and/or vocalization occurs spontaneously or in response to sensory
stimulation)
Communication Scale: 0 (none; no discernible verbal or non-verbal communication responses
occur at any time)
Arousal Scale: 1 (eye opening with stimulation; tactile pressure or noxious stimulation must be
applied at least once in order for the patient to sustain eye opening during the length of the exam)

Treatment Plan:
Patient assessments were slightly higher at admission to this facility than at the acute care
facility, though note that different criteria were applied. Assessments should continue on a
weekly basis for the first three months. Physical therapy methods should be re-evaluated and re-
started on a schedule of at least three times per week.

**********

<b>Reflections</b>

My life was never lived so slovenly, not even as a child.

We were “lace curtain” Irish, in a time when that term was still remembered and still understood.
Maybe we didn’t have that much more income than the “shanty” Irish, but we had pretensions of
dignity and propriety. And for us, there was enough money, certainly enough for all the
necessities if not for much in the way of luxuries. Not that my mother would have allowed
luxuries, anyway, not unless she could find some excuse to change that category to “necessity”
instead, which I’ll admit now was done more often than it probably should have been. A very
Irish way around the problem, when I think of it.

It wasn’t a large family for an Irish Catholic one. There was myself, my two younger brothers,
and my sister, the youngest in the family. “Bookends,” my father called us girls, and he always
made sure we were posed that way for the family photographs. The term suited even as the boys
outgrew us, because bookends don’t have to be as tall as the books they support, and, once my
sister had caught up with me, we stayed in matching height, within an inch of each other,



                                                 23
throughout our teens and into adulthood. I don’t know if the nomenclature had anything to do
with it, but we two turned out to be the most stable in our lives, and my brothers have received
more than a little support, financial and otherwise, from their “bookends” through the years.

I wish I could talk with her again. We weren’t bosom buddies, but we were fairly close as
sisters, sharing some, if not all, of our secrets with each other. So very unlike my two. I have no
idea what happened to keep Angie and Kate so far apart. They are flesh of my flesh, blood of
my blood -- and Gerald’s too, of course. But I’m the one that pushed them out, and once out
they became themselves, and two such very different selves. Angie... I’m glad she has enough
now in her life to hold onto, enough to anchor her so she doesn’t go floating too far off into the
aether (I’m the one doing that now!). Kate... dear Kate. What made her so wary of the world
that she keeps herself from fully living in it? Angie acts more childish, but I think Kate is the
one that’s never really grown up, that refuses to do so, because she’d need to face all her
thoughts and feelings and desires, no matter how petty. People should be allowed a little
pettiness in their lives. Kate holds herself to too high a standard, and so sometimes seems to me
like a little girl in dress-up clothes, modeling in front of a mirror, only pretending to be the
serious businesswoman that everyone thinks she is, because they might not like the little girl
inside.

I don’t think that’s from me. I hope not. I love both of them. Even when I know I don’t fully
understand, even when I don’t necessarily like certain elements of their personalities, I still can
love the whole, and do. But maybe that didn’t come across strongly enough, often enough.
We’re only given one chance in our lives for completely unconditional love, unreserved and
undeserved, and that is from our parents. Forget romantic love, it comes nowhere close, there’s
always the underlying negotiated settlements there, the give and take required to meet the other’s
inner needs and still satisfy your own. It’s only parental love that comes, or should come, with
no strings attached, no selfishness, hidden or overt. Not every parent can give that, and even
those that try might not succeed, but it seems to me that most often it’s in the expression of it,
and not the intent, where we screw up. And so we’re left on one side of a glass wall, mouthing
“but I do love you!” to those on the other side, who can no longer hear it, who can no longer
fully believe it, who read other words from our lips that we never meant to say.

But I tried to let my children know they were loved and to give them the best that I could
possibly manage. That’s why I made the agreement with Gerald, that I wouldn’t make a fuss and
he wouldn’t provoke any arguments in front of them. Children need to feel secure. They don’t
need to see their parents quarrelling. As far as I know, they both still believe that Gerald and I
had a wonderful, solid marriage.

We did, too, in a way. He had his long business trips, with his business affairs and his other
affairs, and I got to stay at home with only a part-time position elsewhere, and only because I
really wanted it, and otherwise spend his and my money however I saw fit. It was a very nicely
negotiated settlement once we got past the screaming and crying and shouting and throwing
things phase. Luckily, Kate was only three and Angie was still in utero when I found out the
depth of his perfidy. Oh, and a little of the depth of his perversity, too, because he’d brought
back the wrong damn suitcase, the one that was meant to stay at work or safely in some locker
somewhere. Pregnancy always made me feel more domestic, so, helpful me, I opened it to do



                                                24
his dirty laundry, and found... well... his dirty laundry of a different sort. At first I didn’t even
understand what I was seeing. Nowadays, of course, those sorts of “toys” are all over the
internet, available to anyone, anywhere, but back then I wouldn’t have know where to begin to
try to buy them, and I would have assumed that Gerald had the same degree of unawareness,
except that obviously he didn’t.

It’s a good thing we didn’t have visitors. I picked up one of the oddities and brought it out to
him, to the living room, to where he was reading a storybook to Kate as he always did first thing
when he came back from his trips, the two of them curled up on the couch together in such a
classic “happy family” pose, to ask what it was. I blush now at my own naïveté. He dumped
child and book together from his lap and rushed to grab it from my hand, but for some reason I
held on tight, and he snapped a command to let go, in angry, frustrated words. Kate looked at us
wide-eyed, with the expression of a child who wanted to cry but was unsure if that would make
the grown-ups turn even more scary, and maybe this was just pretending and she was supposed
to laugh instead. I let go immediately then, as soon as I read her face, and put on a quick smile
as I went over to cuddle her into contentment again. I didn’t look at Gerald. I didn’t need to, for
he’d gone quickly to the bedroom to remove the offending articles, the ones that hadn’t really
offended but should have. For the rest of the afternoon and evening, till after Kate’s bedtime, we
both acted as if the whole scene had never happened at all.

Then, we talked. He told me I shouldn’t have touched -his- things. I asked what they were. He
told me I didn’t need to know. Maybe that worked in his family, between his father and mother
in their staid German ways even after so many decades here, but it got my Irish up. He hadn’t
wanted to tell me, I knew it then and know it now, he’d meant me to live in blissful ignorance, to
provide a warm, loving home that he could return to whenever he wished, whenever he wanted
to bask in that role of noble husband and father that he loved to play, but that wasn’t enough for
him. But I can be very persistent when I want to be. I made him tell me everything. And then,
of course, I made him suffer for it.

Well, no, I didn’t. I made a deal. He could have the pretense here at home, as long as we both
recognized it was pretense. Now I wonder how much I really loved him, that I was willing to
make that sort of deal. But it was important to both of us. His business was a sensitive one, and
the appearance of stability mattered a lot to his promotions and raises. The times were only
starting to change. For me, I was still enough of a good Catholic that divorce was unthinkable,
and my main concern was for the child I’d already had and the one I was carrying, that they have
a father and mother who would look after them. Gerald was a good father, even afterward. He
loved both girls even if sometimes his temper was a little brittle, especially after we’d been
“negotiating” again. We still seemed to be married in fact as well as fiction, and I received
numerous compliments from my married friends over how sweet it was that we still couldn’t
take our eyes off each other. We didn’t dare. We both kept watching to see if the other were
breaking, or somehow subverting, the arrangement.

He never offered to stop. That was what hurt. He could have promised, and failed to keep his
promise, and I would have understood. Though, yes, I’d probably have left him then.




                                                  25
We continued to sleep in the same bed. A king-sized bed is very large, you don’t have to touch
each other at all. You barely notice anyone else is there. So, when he died, I didn’t notice. I got
up on my own side of the bed and went off to make coffee, to make my breakfast, to collect the
paper, and it was only after I’d read through the whole of the newspaper that I realized he hadn’t
gotten up yet, and went to check if I should put the breakfast things away or not. And he was
gone.

I know people would wonder why we’d continued at the sham even after the children were
grown and out of the house, even after times changed so very, very much, and divorce was
practically expected now from any marriage. But he didn’t really want to leave. He didn’t want
another marriage, he just wanted to play around in a variety of ways, and the chance of someone
else allowing him that degree of freedom was, he recognized (for he was a very intelligent man),
rather slim. We were so used to it by then, so used to each other, and the house, and it was all so
very civilized that it would have been a shame to pull back those lace curtains and show the
underlying rot to the world.

So if this fellow thinks he can scare me off by claiming to be such a bad, bad boy, he’s very
much mistaken. His particular choice of vices may be unknown to me, but I’m well used to
living in moral decay.

**********

<b>Interlude</b>

“Well that’s it, then. It’s quite clear. She didn’t want to stay around in this condition.”

“It says a ‘coma,’ Katie Sachs, and this isn’t a coma anymore!”

“Dear God, Angie, what more do you want? It says ‘in a coma-like state and unable to respond
to my environment.’ She can’t respond to her environment! So it’s technically not a coma, but
it’s certainly a coma ‘like’ state and it’s still what she wanted to avoid. Don’t you agree, Mr.
Hagerman? You were there, you approved the wording.”

“Ah, Miss... that is, Ms. Sachs, to be quite clear I did not ‘approve’ the wording, I only reviewed
it. Your mother was the one who made up the wording, and, as you can see, the document is in
her handwriting, signed by her, with myself and my secretary, Mrs. Wright, as witnesses.”

“It does not say ‘vegetative state.’ It doesn’t.”

“Angie, leave it. And come now, Mr. Hagerman, as a lawyer, you have a certain responsibility
to keep your clients from making unclear statements, don’t you?”

“I am not a dog! Don’t you dare talk to me like that!”

“Alright, sorry! I didn’t mean it to sound that way. I apologize. Satisfied?”




                                                    26
“I do have such a responsibility, of course. Which is why I advised your mother upon her
seventy-fifth birthday to put together a formal living will, when I realized she did not have any
such document on file with us, and when she said she’d made no such provisions elsewhere.”

“And is this what you advised?”

“No, ma’am! I provided her with copies of three different versions that have been used by our
firm or by other reputable firms, and that are in compliance with the general direction of national
standards, and that, therefore, should hold up in a court of law, should it come to that.”

“You mean I can fight this?”

“Angie!”

“Oh, really, Katie, I’m just asking!”

“Mrs. Daley, even if your mother had filled out one of the more complete forms, why yes, you
could have contested it in the courts. That option always exists. Though I’d like to think that
your own lawyer would have cautioned against it, should your mother have assented to my
recommendations.”

“She refused? Then what’s this?”

“This is what your mother wrote while sitting in my office. She was apparently quite concerned
when I brought up the lack of directives and wished to put something on file immediately. She
then claimed she would take the other forms, look them over, and return them to me within two
weeks.”

“Which she didn’t do.”

“No, ma’am.”

“She’d changed her mind!”

“I’m afraid I must register a dissent with that conclusion, Mrs. Daley, for if so, then she should
have contacted me and asked that I destroy this initial document.”

“Angie, please, you know Mom. She probably put the papers aside and forgot about them
completely.”

“You make her sound senile. She wasn’t! She was just busy, with lots of things. Maybe
planning another trip.”

“Mrs. Sachs never seemed to have any mental impairment that I’d noticed, I will say. She
seemed quite intelligent and focused.”




                                                 27
“Of course you’d say that. Otherwise anything you did at her direction wouldn’t hold up. We
should check the house, though. Maybe she’d started filling those other forms out, and just
hadn’t finished, or had even finished but hadn’t gotten around to contacting you again. Would
those count at all?”

“They might not count in a court case, but they would certainly give you more indication of your
mother’s intentions?”

“I’ll look!”

“Probably it would be best if we both looked together, Angie.”

“It still says twelve months, you know? Even if we’re stuck with this one, it still says a full year,
Katie, and don’t you forget that part. And it hasn’t been nearly that long!”

“No, it hasn’t.”

**********

<b>The Lawyer’s Story</b>

My name is David Hagerman. I’m an attorney at law, and I manage Mrs. Sachs’ accounts, and
have for the last five years. Before that, I believe they were held at her late husband’s firm. I’m
not sure why she switched them to me. I confess that I was not particularly proud about the
occasion of our first contact, and I cannot see that she would have been happy either. In fact, I
know she wasn’t, because she took it very badly indeed. This was in regard to certain provisions
that Mr. Sachs had made, through various private accounts, which had, it seems, never been
brought to her attention.

I do completely understand why those particular affairs – ah, that is to say, those particular
arrangements -- of her husband’s had not been handled by his own firm. There would have been
no certain way to ensure that lower level associates and clerks wouldn’t have seen, or guessed at,
the connection. Here, even given the collegial insularity of the legal profession, it would have
been a much safer secret. I didn’t learn of it from its beginnings, myself. But when one of our
long-time partners retired, it was necessary for others to take over the management of his
accounts and clients, and so this was assigned to me, in recognition, I would like to think, of my
general reticence and ability to handle things with the utmost discretion. That these are coming
out now is only due to the necessity of the circumstances.

It seems that Mr. Sachs had been engaging in, to be blunt, extramarital encounters. This fact by
itself did not appear to shock Mrs. Sachs. Apparently she had known about it for years. I must
say, I admired her poise when telling me so, and I appreciated it greatly, for such things are
difficult and somewhat embarrassing to bring up to a recent widow, even if they are being
discussed strictly as part of a legal matter. The part that she had apparently not been made aware
of, was that there had been issue from three of these encounters and that on-going payments were
still being made to the offspring of those encounters, or had been made up until the occasion of



                                                 28
Mr. Sachs’ demise. One of the three had not yet reached the age of maturity, and so, by law, the
support payments were still mandatory. With the other two, it seemed to be a matter of
generosity, or guilt, or, perhaps, of ensuring there would be no contact other than that which Mr.
Sachs himself would allow.

The great problem, and one that I can’t explain how Mr. Sachs could not have foreseen, given
the most excellent reputation he had as a lawyer of the highest standing, is that no mention was
made of these offspring in his will. It’s known to quite a large segment of even the general
public, that unless explicit mention is made of deliberately disinheriting an acknowledged child,
that there could be grounds for that child to seek some share of the estate. The law allows this to
cover such eventualities as a child being born after the will has been made, but the parent dies
before changes have been made to redistribute assets in accordance with their newly increased
family state. You might be surprised to know how long it can take some people to make such
changes. I certainly was, when I first became involved with estate planning.

I am not, in fact, an expert in that area. However many clients insist on using the same lawyer
for all their legal needs, and so I have had occasion to deal with such things. In this case, though,
I made sure to first consult with those in the firm with full experience in the relevant sections of
the legal code, before, with their agreement and advice, deciding that Mrs. Sachs should be
informed of this unfortunate possibility. It was felt that this took precedence over the directive
by Mr. Sachs never to contact his wife, nor his two daughters by marriage, with anything to do
with these monetary distributions to his less than legitimate offspring.

 Mrs. Sachs did not take the knowledge well. She is, was, a woman of great personal dignity, at
least as far as I have ever observed, and therefore, of course, did not make a scene. We are
prepared to deal with scenes. Mrs. Wright, my secretary, is quite adept at providing tissues and
smelling salts and even minor or not-so-minor first aid (she is qualified in CPR), and can,
surprisingly quickly, arrange for cleaning services or office repairs on little or no notice. I have
reason to believe that she even keeps an extra woman’s dress of stylish but somewhat smock-like
nature, with belt, as well as a man’s dress shirt, with jacket and tie, of largish size, around in case
of need, ever since one couple got into an argument just before a court appearance and threw
their still very full coffee cups at each other. Those who care about gender distinctions may be
interested to hear that it was the man who threw first. In any case, Mrs. Sachs did not require
tissues, nor smelling salts, nor did she throw her coffee at anyone or anything. But she did seem
rather pale and, truly it was only to be expected, angry.

There followed a series of meetings over the next few months involving Mrs. Sachs, myself,
additional lawyers from both this firm and her late husband’s firm, and, eventually, those
representing the interests of the aforementioned unprovided-for offspring. It was generally
agreed by all that the systematic disbursements set up during Mr. Sachs’ lifetime constituted a
legal acknowledgement of parentage, however it was also noted that the fact that he had gone
beyond the minimum of what was required by law might prejudice a court, especially should it
go to jury trial, by the appearance of unwarranted greed by said offspring if they should file
actions seeking additional compensation. In the end, settlements were arranged that were
mutually acceptable to all concerned.




                                                  29
 By the end of it, Mrs. Sachs was looking rather tired and worn. She told me once, though she
did not ask me to hold it in confidence, so I will assume it is not a breach of either etiquette or
professional ethics to pass it along, that others had noticed, but of course had assumed it was
merely (merely!) due to her husband’s recent death, and she did not dissuade them. The irony in
her tone of voice was very evident. I will tell you without qualm that it precipitated quite a
change in my own attitudes towards marriage, and I vowed to ensure that I did not leave my wife
in such a fashion that there was ever any other reason for her appearance of mourning on the
occasion of my death, than that she truly missed me.

I would not have been surprised if, at the ending of this debacle, or what might have been so
without entirely too much intervention, Mrs. Sachs had chosen never to see me again. Instead,
she moved the management of her own funds and those she had inherited from her husband, to
my firm and my care. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was a desire to end all ties with her
husband’s associates? Or it might have been the excellent Mrs. Wright, who has a most
marvelous memory, and not only manages to remember the way in which each of my clients,
individually, prefer their coffee or tea, but also, I’ve noticed, provides additional cream and
sugar, and in actual containers bearing real cream and real sugar, for the surreptitious alteration
of the supplied beverage into what some people might feel inhibited to order directly. Mrs.
Sachs, for instance, turns her coffee in what some might say was more accurately called a coffee-
flavored beverage consisting in the main of over-sweetened creamery products.

It was with great regret that I learned of her current condition. There is not even the normally
natural outlet of seeking recompense, of suing for damages, from the gentleman responsible for
her state, since he died in the crash and a minor amount of investigation showed that his estate
was such that, had any degree of reasonable damages been awarded, which surely would be
expected given the totality of blame on his side, one would be extremely unlikely to collect even
a fractional amount. Her daughters have little recourse except to be content with the pitiful
amount of mandated accident coverage required by the automobile insurance codes of this state.
I am, of course, helping to arrange funding from Mrs. Sachs own assets, for the skilled nursing
care facility to which she has been transferred, for anything above and beyond what her medical
insurance will cover. I am sure her daughters bless the fact that their mother was wise enough to
invest in long-term medical coverage. I recommend it to all my clients, regardless of age.
Otherwise, should the funds have needed to come solely from her estate and should they have,
given that, still decided to wait out the full twelve months, I must say it would have reduced the
accounts significantly, though possibly not have wiped them out entirely.

We will, of course, hope that a full recovery occurs, regardless of how it is funded.

**********

<b>Going Mental</b>

There was an itch. It was terribly distracting. She supposed that she ought to be somewhat
happy about it, that it was some sort of positive sign of some sort of possible recovery, a marvel
that she could once again register an external sensation. It was, after all, the first time since the
accident that she’d felt any connection with her body at all. But she couldn’t scratch. The arms,



                                                 30
the hands, still didn’t move, or not when and where she wanted them to go. There wasn’t even
any damn way of letting other people know that she itched so that they could scratch it for her, or
remove whatever was causing the infernal annoyance.

And there was a side effect to it that was even more maddening. Its insistent hold kept her in her
body, jerking at her consciousness much like a nervous owner tugging on a dog’s leash, when by
now what she most wanted to do was to go off and explore all those fascinating scents outside
the too-known, too-boring, too-restrictive confines of her own head.

There had been several such explorations by now, and she’d begun to learn both the possibilities
and the limitations of this unusual back-door travel. She’d tried more than once to see if she
could get to her daughter’s mind, either of them, in the hopes of making one of them aware of
her, too. But there was no way to search them out, or not that she’d discovered so far. The
winds carried her away and wouldn’t bend to her direction. The most she’d done is find out that
certain currents and eddies seemed to have their own stability despite the general gusting, and
when she identified one, she could follow it more than once to the same ending place.

That’s how she’d found herself back in the empty desert, by managing to recall the particular
shifting patterns that had brought her there before. It was a shock to see it so much the same, and
when she thought about it later she realized she’d expected the host mind to have eradicated the
scene, replacing it with something of its own. But instead, it had remained a desert. It had not
reverted to the white blankness of its original state, but nothing had advanced further and there
were some signs of retreat. The sands were paler, bleached out by the harsh bright light to
remain somewhat the color of her skin but now of her skin at the end of winter instead of what
she still thought of as its current color, its warmer autumn hue. What caught at her most, though,
was the sad little pile of dark brown earth she’d played at creating, at the end of her visit. No
better than fecal droppings now, in use as well as appearance, for all the small green shoots had
withered to dull dry deadness, shriveled and barely noticeable. The guilt overwhelmed her, the
guilt for bringing into this world what she hadn’t stayed to see, or help, survive, and she did not
linger.

She had found a truck driver’s mind, instead, down a different set of winds. Dirty brown and
grey swirls of diesel fumes and the smoke of a cigarette that wanted to be a cigar. It would have
given her a headache if she’d faced it in reality. But there in a part, still part of the rest, was
cleaner air and a more golden glow with a tourmaline sort of iridescence to it, dappled with
shadings of purple and green and a pinkish rose.

“… rose, toes, goes, flows, doze, hose…”

An insistent beat made the glow pulse a little and when she noticed it at the beginning she’d
thought it was yet another indicator of the host’s own heartbeat, as before, until she also noticed
that there were long pauses in the rhythm. When she let herself connect more with the mind, it
was still very strange.

“… strange, mange… mange… range!”




                                                 31
Very strange indeed! The connection let her feel the rumble of the road as the eighteen wheeler
roared along the highway, and gave her the background awareness of what the rumble meant at
all. Her first guess was that he was trying to keep himself from falling asleep.

“… asleep, leap, creep, deep… Bo Peep…?”

This -was- starting to get a little creepy. Nursery rhymes? Surely he wasn’t trying to come up
with ways to entice a child?

“… child, mild, wild… uh…”

<i>Dialed. Riled. Defiled.</i> Her mind chimed in, not quite as silently as perhaps it ought to
have done, but soft and low and she hoped with enough ambiguity in tone to be mistaken for a
voice of his own, from his own mind. She was just too curious and maybe playing along with
the word game would give her further clues as to its purpose.

“… yeah… dialed, riled, defiled… tiled… smiled!”

He’d picked it up and continued, without any questioning of the source, so maybe this time she
was still safely hidden and anonymous despite her intrusion. He didn’t seem a bad sort. The
mind wasn’t decorated with blood spatters or torture devices or weird scary toys. Clare paused
and gave herself a mental tongue-lashing, the only sort of torture in which she normally
indulged. Very much to herself, she chided, <i>Stop it! You have absolutely no reason to think
anything wrong of him!</i>

Now and then there was a sort of sparkle inside the glow, and an increase in the cozy warmth of
it, but now and then there was also an anti-sparkle, a darkening, and a feeling of something being
rejected, tossed away. She pushed further into the connection. That was the only sure way of
finding out what was going on. With the added closeness came new clarity. The glow became a
spiraling golden sweep of words and phrases, and with each pulsing beat, new words appeared in
the center column. Some flew to the end of the Christmas tree string of lights with an added
sparkle as they were bound to the others, though most were left to languish in the center till they
faded out on their own. Every so often, one of the new words would fly to what already seemed
a filled in section of lights, but one of the existing ones there would blink out, leaving a dark hole
for only an instant till the new light filled the space. Sometimes, and this was obviously more of
a problem to the continuing growth of the column, the sparkle of appreciation for one of the
newly formed words seemed intense enough to cause an entire section of the previously created
pattern to go black, as if blowing a fuse, and the whole column would falter in its motion, its top-
like spinning slowed and turning cockeyed and lopsided, till enough of the missing lights in the
string had been filled in, evened out, so that it could regain its balance.

A poem, she realized. <i>He’s making up a poem, in his head, that’s what this is!</i> She felt
oddly stupid at not having guessed beforehand. There was an underlying suspicion that it was
rest, the dirt and grime and (she admitted the use of the term because it was the most true to what
she saw as her assessment of him, and therefore the key to her failing) the low-class nature of the




                                                 32
rest of his mind, which put the idea of poetry so far removed from her expectations that it hadn’t
been considered at all.

“You know I love you, that’s what you say,
But I want to show it more each day.
There’s too much time we are apart,
In miles and days, but not in heart.
I wish I could send you a bright red rose,
All fancied up with ribbons and bows,
But you might think it very strange,
Because it’s way outside my range,
Not the kind of thing I’d usually do,
But I’m that much in love with you.
I would put it on your pillow as you sleep,
While you are off in dreams so deep,
Looking like a little child,
And I could watch you as you smiled,
And then I’d lean and kiss your cheek,
Because I’d be too happy to speak.
If I was there, but I’m far away,
But I still love you more each day.”

Alright, it wasn’t exactly a Shakespearian sonnet. More like a greeting card and not a “hall of
fame” one at that, but the verse did have an honest sweet sentiment. Still, she couldn’t help
prodding a little at it. <i>’Yet’,</i> she murmured with soft intensity, eyeing the first word of
the last line as it came spinning around again, to see if it would have any effect on the overly
repetitive phrasing. There was a brief twinkle of the light.

“’Yet I still love you more each day.’ Yeah, that sounds better.”

A collaboration! Now, what else could she -- Clare stopped herself in time. This was -his-
poem, not hers, and collaboration was not likely to be wanted on something so obviously
personal. Besides, if the woman in question knew him well at all, and it certainly sounded as
though she did, or should, she might wonder more about the inspiration and source of a finely
crafted and polished literary offering, than she would wonder at a mere prettied-up rose.

Instead, Clare went looking for other glowing places in his mind, searching to see if he had any
other poems completed or underway, curious to see if this was an aberration or his usual practice
on the long distance runs. Something with a silver shimmer over sea-green drew her attention to
where it lay beneath the smoke and grit. This swirl was stagnant, flattened down to the slow
useless spin of a record on a turntable without the needled tone arm in place. <i>And that dates
me,</i> she thought ruefully, though she still considered her analogy an accurate one. The “tone
arm” would be his attention, his concentration, which would bring the words to active life. She
examined what was there, giving it more of her own concentration. Gradually more
understanding sunk in. The spin of it, slow as it was, did mark the work as something not
complete, that some part of his mind remembered as something that needed to be looked at again



                                                33
somewhere along the way, he just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. He might even choose to
discard it entirely, in which case presumably it would stop spinning and disappear. Was it worth
keeping? She poked a mental finger into the mass of words and let it run along the spiral.

“The moon is very big and bright,
Even though it’s not quite night.
The grass still looks very green,
The shadows still are not seen.
Except if the moon is really bright
Why aren’t there shadows? This isn’t right.
And grass doesn’t look green under the moon,
It’s a lot greener more like noon.
At night it’s just a sick sort of gray.
I should put this off till another day.
‘Cause right now it’s coming out pretty stupid,
And nothing rhymes with that but ‘Cupid.’”

Her eyes, should she have had any, would have sparkled with suppressed laughter. Now here
was a fellow with a good sense of humor and the rare edibility to turn it on himself, too. Surely
it wouldn’t hurt to play with this one. After all, she’d had the experience herself of setting some
sort of thought aside and coming back to it later to find it much more complete than she’d
remembered leaving it. Where to start? Well, what was he trying to say? She concentrated on
the general color and taste of the words instead of the glint of the individual lights. Okay, it was
all about the way the moon, the full moon, looks when it’s floating over a sea of grass in the
twilight gloaming of a summer day. This guy was pretty damn sensitive under the gray coating
of cigarette ash. He was too caught up in rhymes, though. What if she tried turning it into a
haiku?

<i>White ship of the moon
Sails over a green grass sea;
Trees toss it higher.</i>

She silently whispered the words into the spin of the disk, letting them drop down through her
finger as if through the same sort of intravenous tube that probably lived in her real arm, and
listened again to the poem, watched the effect. The poem gained a sheen of alien glitter which
rose to the surface and spun off into the darkness. The words barely changed.

“The moon is very big and white,
Even though it’s not quite night.
The sea of grass looks very green,
The shadows of the trees are seen.”

Doggerel still, damn it. <i>But, okay,</i> she conceded, <i>a little bit better doggerel,</i> at
least in her opinion, and further conceded, <i>Maybe haiku is too much of a change all at
once.</i> But that “quite night” needed to go. She stirred the word pool again, trying to catch




                                                  34
that particular, and particularly elusive, fish, and the other words shifted and twisted to get out of
her way, one of them managing to slip back to its earlier form.

“The moon is very big and bright,
Shining on the edge of night,
The sea of grass still has some green,
Where shadows of the trees aren’t seen.”

Stilted, very stilted, but acceptable enough to leave it for now. As she evaluated the changes, she
couldn’t help but notice, with a small amount of trepidation, that the swirl had increased in
speed, the words starting to glow a little more strongly with a bit more sparkle. It looked as
though her meddling had stirred up attention from the host, though it seemed still unfocused,
below his active consciousness. <i>I wonder what he’ll think of the changes when he
notices?</i> Clare smiled to herself, but, discretion being the better part of valor, she didn’t stay
to find out.

She’d meant to go back in a day or so to see what had happened to the poem, if anything. That
was with the assumption that she could find her way to his mind again, of course. But the
itching kept its hold on her for more than a week before it finally subsided.

**********

<b>Interlude</b>

“Hey, Janey, how ya doing?”

“Mike! You made it in okay?”

“Yeah, love, no problem making the time. Traffic was real good.”

“So you’ll be heading back... when?”

“They’re setting up my schedule now. I’ll let ya know soon as I get it. Oh, I got something for
ya too.”

“You do? You’re so sweet!”

“Hey, come on! You’ll make me blush and I can’t do that in front of the guys, ya know?”

“Will it come with another of your poems?”

“Maybe. Maybe not. ‘Cause you’re probably sick of ‘em by now, right?”

“Don’t you think that! I love your poems! No one else’s girl gets anything like that!”

“Ah, geez, you’re not showing them to anyone, are you?”



                                                 35
“Just Angie? You know I tell her everything. Okay, not EVERYTHING, but you know what I
mean.”

“She probably thinks they’re pretty stupid.”

“No, she doesn’t! She thinks you’re very talented, and so do I.”

“Yeah, well, this is okay, I guess. It’s how I feel about you. Maybe don’t show her this one,
okay? It’s kinda sappy.”

“I love sappy. But if you say not to share it, then I won’t. I won’t even mention it to her, how’s
that? It’ll just be private, between the two of us.”

“Aw, thanks, love! Um, I’m kinda working on another one, too, but I don’t know. Kinda
coming out fancier. Maybe you can show her that one, when it gets done?”

“Oh, Mike, that’s great! What did I tell you, I told you they were getting better! You should
send them in to some magazine or something.”

“Come on, Janey, don’t talk like that! It’s just for fun, ya know? And really, I kinda do them
just for you, ‘cause you like ‘em so much.”

“Oh I do love them! And I love you for wanting to give them to me! I just don’t think it’s that
wrong to want to let other people know how smart you really are? But, okay, okay, I won’t
push it on you, sweetie.”

“Thanks, babe! As long as ya, ya know, keep willing to push other stuff on me, hey?”

“Mike!! Now -I’m- blushing! But you just wait till you get home and I’ll show you how much I
love you, in any way you want, what do you think of that?”

“I think they better get me home damn soon!”

“I’ll be waiting, love.”

“Let ya know, soon as I hear. See ya soon as I can, hun!”

**********

<b>Angie’s Story, Continued</b>

I tell you, that Janey Stubbs is the sweetest person you’d ever want to meet, and that’s no lie. Do
you know what she did the other day? She brought over a homemade apple pie, just because she
thought I could do with a bit of pie, with all the stress I’m under. And I’ll swear, what did me
better than anything was just sitting and talking with her for a couple of hours, over pie and



                                                36
coffee. The pie was still warm, too, and we had it with some vanilla ice cream on top. Now
that’s just heaven, warm apple pie á la mode. You know what that means, right? It means “in
the fashion,” which is kind of funny, really, as if that’s some special, fancy, Fifth Avenue way of
eating pie. But I guess once upon a time, it was! The boys each had a big slice, too, and I think
one or more of them must have snuck back into the kitchen for more after I went off to visit the
nursing home, because there wasn’t a morsel of it left for Rick when he came back to the house,
which didn’t please him much, but I could hardly have saved any for him if I didn’t know they
were taking it, now could I?

I think Mom is better, I really do. She smiles more, and sometimes I can see her muscles
twitching like she’s just about to be ready to move them on her own. I know they say she’s still
not focusing on anything when she has her eyes open, but I’m just about sure that they’re wrong,
that there are some times when she does see me directly and knows it’s me, too. And even the
nurses admit that those noises she makes, the little sounds and murmurs and such, why, they’re
right on the edge of speech and you can practically make sense out of some of them. Katie says
no, but Katie doesn’t seem to know a damn thing these days. I don’t understand why I was ever
intimidated by her. So what if she has this big fancy high powered, high paying job? That
doesn’t make you generally smarter than other people, it just means you know more about one
particular and, really, pretty damn unimportant, thing, which just certain people happen to want
to pay you for knowing.

I mean, take Rick, for instance. He is a very smart man. You’d think that people would be
falling over themselves to hire him, wouldn’t you? But no, they claim they need people who
know all about this thing or all about that thing, and there’s no room at their company for
someone who is clever enough to be able to do anything at all they wanted if they gave him just a
little bit of extra training to get him started off right. And someone like Rick could help them in
a whole bunch of other ways, too, instead of only the narrow little piece of work that they’d be
hiring him for, but these people probably wouldn’t even appreciate that, because they obviously
haven’t got an ounce of brains in their bodies and so he has to keep slogging from one interview
to another till someone comes to their senses. It’s enough to make you scream. Not that he or I
ever would, of course, but I certainly don’t blame him for spending a little time at the pub with
his friends come evening so that he can relax and forget about how badly he’s being treated by
all these supposedly high-class businesses.

Janey says that her husband, Mike. could get him some work, but Rich would need a new sort of
driver’s license. I can’t see why, just to push a truck down a highway. I know how often Mike
is away, too, and I’d rather not have a marriage like that, thank you very much. I like someone
in bed with me, not off on the road with who knows who. Not that I think Mike is cheating on
her, but you never do know, do you? Though that would be a real shame, because Janey is such
a nice girl that I can’t think anyone in the world would want to hurt her that badly. But not every
marriage is like Rick’s and mine, and every time I hear about yet another couple getting
divorced, I count my blessings and say a thank you prayer to God that we get along so very well,
just like my mom and dad did, and may it always be that way, amen.

I’m doing a lot of praying these days, that’s for sure. For Mom, of course, but, and this is
probably going to surprise you, but also for Katie, that she comes to a more peaceful place and



                                                37
just accepts that we are never going to know exactly when Mom is going to get better. We just
have to trust that she will. It’s not like there isn’t money to keep her, you know? I mean, that
would be awful, if we had to make a choice between some god-awful sinkhole of a nursing home
and... no, I won’t even say it. But this place seems real nice, and they do take good care of Mom,
I’ve seen it. In fact I made damn sure to be there watching them as much as possible those first
few days, just to be sure we’d found the right sort of place.

But Katie is still going on and on about directives and living wills and Mom’s wishes and finding
those damn forms, when really you can’t be sure exactly what anyone would say when it came
right down to it, could you? I mean, it’s real easy to say “oh I wouldn’t want to live like that”
but it’s not the same as saying to someone standing right there “yes, you go ahead and pull that
plug and take out these tubes.” There are a hell of a lot of people who would say “I’d never, ever
want to live in a wheelchair” but how many of them go ahead and kill themselves if they end up
that way? Damn few! And I’ll tell you why, too. Because life is a gift that we are not supposed
to throw away just because we don’t like the way it comes wrapped at the moment. Every living
creature on earth knows this. It’s only people who get confused, because they think too much
and expect too much. Have you ever heard of any animal committing suicide? Of course you
haven’t, because it never happens. If we could just learn that we should handle whatever God
gives us, if we trust in Him that He will never forsake us, then we can leave it in His hands with
a quiet spirit and a clear conscience, because we know it will get better in another world if not in
this one.

I read somewhere, in some book where the author was talking with people who’ve died a little
and came near to judgment themselves, that they somehow felt like the only sins that were too
black to be washed away were suicide and murder, because those deny the right of God to any
intervention in the life that was destroyed. It’s like saying that you know better than God about
who should live and who should die, and when it should happen. Now, I’m not sure I agree
about those two being the only sins that are so horribly bad, or the only ones that God won’t ever
forgive, because I do think God could forgive anyone anything if He so chose, but they’re sure
up there with the absolute worst things possible that anyone could do on this earth. And Katie
wants us to be a part of that? I don’t think so!

She doesn’t go to church any more, you know. Oh, it’s not because of what happened to Mom.
She just hasn’t been to church in years, probably since she went away to college, except for the
times when she came home to visit and the whole family was going. I mean Mom and me,
because Daddy rarely went to church and that’s only fair because he never did convert. He was
raised Lutheran, and Mom was raised Catholic and raised the two of us as Catholics, too. Well I
guess she had to, because that’s certainly what the priest told me and Rick when we married, that
if I wanted to be married in the Catholic Church then I had to promise to make sure the kids
stayed in the Church, too. I did exactly that, but let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. I mean, you try
getting three growing boys up and dressed and out to Mass early on a Sunday morning? At least
we didn’t have to bother with the CCD classes, because even Rick agreed that the Catholic
schools were better than the local public ones.

Anyhow, Mom and Daddy were married in the faith, I know, I’ve seen the pictures from the
wedding, and she looked gorgeous, too. She always looked good in white with her dark hair and



                                                38
blue eyes, and still looks good in it even if her hair’s gone all grey now. Katie’s got about the
same coloring, but her hair has a more reddish tone, at least it does these days, but come to think
of it, I bet she colors it and that’s why it’s changed. I can’t wear white, it washes me right out,
though of course I wore it for my wedding because you have to, or people will start all sorts of
silly rumors.

I never had any problem staying Catholic myself, not like Katie. Now, I’ll admit I don’t follow
everything they say you have to believe, but come on! There isn’t any Catholic in the country
that really, truly, believes that birth control is wrong, or if you find one that does, it’ll probably
turn out that they’re crazy on other issues, too. And I suppose that, yes, there are some cases
where I might believe that it’s okay to get an abortion. But I do not like the way that people are
getting them these days, without hardly thinking about it at all, just because it’s not convenient
for them to have a child and because they were too careless or stupid to use those birth control
devices in the first place. It’s just too easy, and that’s wrong.

Mom thinks the same way I do. She doesn’t agree with everything the Church teaches, but she’s
not like Katie, who thinks that means you have to stop being Catholic entirely. It’s true that I
don’t think Mom goes to Mass as often as I do, but she does go. She probably goes on
Saturdays, but I wouldn’t see her there because we’re in different sections of the city now and go
to different churches. Saturdays are when I go, too, now that I’ve given up trying to get the boys
to go with me, because it’s real convenient that way. Afterwards I just go and do my grocery
shopping for the week, and it leaves the house free for the boys to watch all those Saturday
afternoon sports games they like so much. But I don’t know when she last went to confession. I
mean, the priest has been to visit at least three times now, and I guess that counts as good
enough, but it’s not like she could confess anything to him.

She can’t have much to confess, though. I always have something minor, like envying
someone’s new car, or getting mad at one of the kids and yelling too much at them, but Mom has
such a quiet life these days. Oh, God, that sounds awful, I can’t believe I said that, but I didn’t
mean right now! I meant -before- the accident. After the two of us girls were gone, well, that
would be after Rick and I finally moved out to a place of our own, she was all by herself most of
the time, because Daddy still had his business trips till he retired, and that wasn’t until just before
he died. And then, of course, she really was all alone in the house. I offered to have her move in
with us, but she said no. We’d have had to get a bigger house, of course, but we could use a
bigger house anyway, and I would have done it just to make sure she was taken care of. She did
have a cleaning lady start coming in, once a week, to do the kitchen and bathrooms and some
dusting and vacuuming, so she didn’t have to worry about that part of it. She never did like
housework. I guess you can tell I really take after her in that! But she did a lot of reading, and
by “a lot” I mean a ton of reading. She could go through three or four books in a week, if she got
going. She didn’t watch much television, which I couldn’t understand. I’d love to be home all
day to catch up on those soap operas. Every now and then I get a chance to see them, and they
will just blow your mind away with how much they cram into those stories these days.
Abortions and babies switched at birth and marriages and murders and mistaken identities and,
good Lord, the number of affairs! And the details! I tell you, those are the absolute raunchiest
shows on television these days, and I’m including all those cable channels except maybe the ones
you have to pay a lot extra for and that we won’t get while the boys are still in the house.



                                                  39
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t that she didn’t watch television at all. She had some favorite
shows, I know, but those were nighttime ones. She did some knitting and crocheting, which she
tried to teach me once but my hands just aren’t clever at that sort of thing, not like hers. She
used to take some classes at the community center, I remember that, in drawing and painting and
photography, and some other stuff. She even took some of the photographs and had them
enlarged and framed, and they’re hanging in the front hall now. They look real nice, just like
professional work, though she’d taken other pictures that I wish she’d picked instead. She’d
taken some very pretty pictures of summertime flowers and trees in the fall, with gorgeous
colors, but the ones she chose to hang up are these kind of odd ones of broken toys and empty
lots full of trash. Katie pretends to like them. I guess they’re pretty artsy, but I know what I like
and I liked the other pictures better. Mom likes artsy stuff though, and she used to go to
museums and galleries a lot. She’d even get a bunch of these invitations to special gatherings,
because she’d sprung for the annual membership, and she’d go out to those, too. The mail is still
full of invitations of that sort. And requests for money, from the museums and from other
charities, because apparently she’d given to some of them, and, you know, once you give to
anyone then they sell your name to a bunch of other lists and then, forget it, you’re on a ton of
mailing lists for absolutely forever. But I keep the greeting cards and address stickers, because
you never know when those will come in handy, and that’s legal, too, even if you don’t send the
organization anything, because if someone sends you something in the mail that you haven’t
asked for, then it’s yours for free.

We’re trying to deal with the mail the way we think Mom would want us to. The bills, Katie
takes those to the lawyer and he arranges to pay them. The junk mail we can just throw away.
The museums and such, I guess at some point we should contact them and let them know to get
her off their mailing lists. There’s only been one or two personal notes, because no one writes
these days, they just phone or e-mail, and the ones that came were from relatives (we could tell
by the names and return addresses) and so we just called them to tell them about Mom in case
they hadn’t yet heard. And of course it turned out that they’d heard right after they mailed the
card, because that’s the way things always seems to happen. Both of the notes, and one was a
baby announcement and the other was a thank-you card, were from those on Daddy’s side of the
family. Mom’s side has better communication. Katie calls them the “Irish Mafia” because of
how much everyone knows and talks to everyone else, which is not very nice at all, but Katie
always thought they were too pushy, and of course, they always thought she was too stand-
offish, which is true. I get along fine with them and I don’t know why she can’t. They’re on the
other side of the country, after all, so it’s not like anyone’s going to show up on her doorstep and
demand a hug and a kiss and overnight stay. Or help in dumping a body!

But now all the relatives should know what’s going on, and I’ll keep in touch with them enough
to update them on any changes. I wish I could report more good news. I do think I’ve seen
some progress, like I said, but it’s been five months now and it’s still so sad to see her just lying
there. Of course five months isn’t really that long. when you think about it in broader terms.
Heck, a baby takes nine months to be born, right? So maybe, it could, it will still get better.
Relatives keep saying I should tell them if there’s anything they can do, but of course there isn’t,
not from so far away, except to keep praying for her. I do keep asking them for that. I know




                                                 40
Katie won’t, but even if she doesn’t believe in the power of prayer, you never know what might
help and it sure won’t hurt.

Katie did do something nice for Mom the other day, though. She brought in one of those little
tiny music players and a small speaker setup that the player fits into, and it turns out she’d gone
and put a bunch of Mom’s old CDs on it, the ones by the stereo at home that were out and looked
like they might have been played the most. I thought that was a very clever and kind thing she’d
done, and told her so, and you know what? I swear it seemed like she was angry at me for giving
her the compliment. I just don’t understand that woman, even if she is my own sister. But it was
still a very nice thing to do.

**********

<b>Smiles of a Whatever Night</b>

When the itching started to die down, she was still suspicious of a recurrence, and didn’t want to
be caught half-way through a literary critique or, more likely, intervention. So, no visit to the
truck driver, not quite yet. Instead, she continued the test her memory of streams and currents by
seeking out the artist again.

There was a more selfish reason for finding him, too. So far, he was the only one (the only one
still alive, she reminded herself) to whom she’d dared display her presence, and he’d accepted it
fairly well. Somehow she thought the truck driver would not react with nearly as much
equanimity. <i>He’d probably run the rig right off the road,</i> she grumbled privately, with
mixed feelings of sympathy and annoyance. <i>Instead of just snapping a piece of charcoal.
Well, the equivalent of that.</i>

The gusts seemed to be blowing harder today. Maybe it was the enforced idleness that had
softened her mind, weakened her mental musculature, and so made the gusts harder to withstand.
She fought to slip into what she thought was the right stream, to use that sudden dip right there,
giving it a little extra impetus to drop even further, down into the next flow, and then there was
that twist, with a bit of a corkscrew sort of turn at the end... but the wind roared and spun her
sideways from the final turn, and she was someplace else.

“Just give me my damn stuff!”

It was not a happy mind. Clare had to bend herself into a sort of very advanced yoga position to
avoid the spikes. Luckily, her mind was a lot more flexible than her body. There were definite
advantages to leaving the aged flesh and bones and creaking joints behind.

“Hey, it’s out of here. I called you, I told you, I put it all outside this morning just like I said I
would, and, if you’ll remember, I even told you that you’d better come by between 9 and 10 to
get it.”

“You fucking liar! Yeah, you told me all that, but there was nothing here!”




                                                   41
“Before 10? You came by before 10?”

“I was here at nine-fucking-thirty! Maybe a couple minutes later but no more than that! And
there were NO boxes, NO suitcases, NOTHING!”

And there was definitely no need for hearing aids. The woman was not only yelling on the
outside (she had to be) but she was yelling it inside her head, too, so absolutely clear and certain
was she in her words and their truth. And she was being so picky about the guy’s words, poring
over them to look for hidden insult, that all of those were coming through loud and clear, too.
Clare had a perfect seat, if not an exceptionally comfortable one.

“Oh, now, sweetcheeks, I didn’t say the stuff would be in boxes, did I?”

“So what the hell was it in?! And don’t think your stupid retro endearments are going to get you
out of this! If my stuff got stolen because you put it out too early, you owe me for every fucking
thing that went!”

“I left the loft at five minutes to 10 and it was still out there, darling. So who’s the liar now?”

“THERE WAS NOTHING THERE!!!”

Clare yipped and flattened herself to paper thinness, origami folded, as a new flurry of spikes
jutted out of the surrounding mindscape, with a poisonous yellow cloud, sulfurous in both color
and odor, suffusing the area around them. She held herself ready to bolt, but the inadvertent
sound she’d made was drowned out by the screaming.

“They were there. Three bags full. Baa, baa, black sheep. Hey, they were black, too. How’s
that for appropriateness, little lambkins?”

“I’M GOING TO KILL YOU! Or maybe even SUE!”

“Michelle, ma belle, you wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in court, lovely as your legs are. I told
you the stuff was going out, I told you the time, you came by, the stuff was right there in plain
sight and what happens? You. Did. Not. Pick. It. Up. It’s not my fault if the garbage men then
carted it off.”

“GARBAGE MEN?!?!”

“Three black plastic bags. Right there on the sidewalk, sitting in my garbage cans. Garbage day.
Such a pity they made that mistake, but, heck, mistakes happen, right? Like you and me.”

“YOU THREW OUT MY STUFF IN THE GARBAGE!”

“Ah, no. I put your stuff in nice clean plastic bags, to protect them from rain and dirt. I put the
bags in the cans to keep the canines and rodentia from worrying at them. I made sure to tell you




                                                  42
where the stuff would be, and to tell you to come by before collection time. If you couldn’t
figure out what and where it was, you could have rung the bell and asked, now couldn’t you?”

“I TOLD YOU I NEVER WANTED TO TALK TO YOU AGAIN!”

“And yet, here you are! Isn’t it odd how things work out?”

Clare felt a wave of laughter building inside that she was hard pressed to keep there. The man
was so totally evil! But it was still so funny. She wished she could see the expression on poor
Michelle’s face. From the blinding flashes inside, the woman must be about to -- well, she was
already screaming. Throw something, maybe? If she couldn’t see Michelle’s face, maybe she
could still tell more from the face of the other. She let her inner sense of self, the boundaries that
defined her apartness, dissolve and dissipate so as to sink further into the other’s consciousness,
as she’d been able to do before, in order to pick up the sensory perceptions directly.

He wasn’t openly smirking. That sort of surprised her. Yes, it’s true, a half-smile played on his
lips, hop-scotching from one side to the other, but his face was otherwise calm and his eyebrows
were slightly raised and the overall expression was very close to gently sympathetic with a touch
of mild concern. Until one looked more closely at the eyes and the hard glint in them, wariness
there, too, being coldly self-critical of how far to push it, not because of any care for the woman
but because of the mess it might be to clean up afterward. It was hard to watch those eyes. Well,
it was literally hard to watch those eyes, because Michelle was being very foolish and not paying
nearly as much attention to them as she should have been, and Clare didn’t dare interfere enough
to force her. The woman was severely out-matched.

“YOU THREW IT ALL OUT!”

There was a gentle sigh. She admired the lovely delicate balance of it: just loud enough to be
quite noticeable, but soft enough that no one could in any honesty call it theatrical. It rubbed like
garnet sandpaper along Michelle’s already raw nerves.

“Darling, we agreed, the both of us, and it’s done. If it went wrong, too bad, but I only did
exactly as I said I’d do. Just like always.”

“You are such a SHIT, you bastard!”

Clare felt herself, Michelle that is, starting to sob. That wasn’t good. She ran a quick assessment
through her host’s mind and her heart sank under even worse news. There they were, the little
pins pricking out of the corners, sharp glitters of focused light, sure signs of calculated effort and
effect. Michelle thought a crying fit would soften him. The girl wanted to cry anyway, from
anger and frustration, but Clare had serious reservations about the likely results. From where she
sat, from her point of view, the woman was only going to get very, very hurt if she tried this
gambit.

“You never really cared for me at all, did you?”




                                                 43
And there it was, the little heart-breaking catch of breath at the end of the words, an utter cliché
in the timing of it. Clare was tempted, and fell, letting herself sink down into even more a part of
her host, wanting to get the full experience of the coming drama. Oh, perfect! Her, their, bottom
lip was trembling now, and the large doe-like eyes (if she remembered them correctly from the
drawing) were downcast and blinking hard to hold back the expected tears. Though, more
precisely, from Clare’s intimate knowledge, they were blinking hard to try to generate tears that
were a little too reluctant to appear on their own. Clare sympathized with them.

“Something in your eye? Do you need a tissue?”

He sounded dryly amused as he supplied the standard dialogue, knowing exactly what he was
doing.

“No, no... I’m... I’ll be fine. I just... Please, could you answer the question? I need to know if...
if there was really nothing there... ever at all... ?”

Her words were coming out in tiny broken phrasings, as if Michelle were trying very hard now to
be brave, to hold back her hurt. It was a pity that the real cause was the effort needed to keep
from dissolving, not into a puddle of emotional pain and despair, but into another screaming fit.

“Hmmm... No. No, I don’t think I will answer. If I say ‘no, I never loved you’ then you’ll let
yourself feel completely victimized, which is a damn lie but you’ll have all your friends
believing you. But if I say ‘yes, I did love you’ then, my dear little ex-girlfriend who is even
now playing with idea that it may not have to be all ‘ex’, then you’ll try something stupid.”

He grinned slowly, a smile without any mirth but with a great deal of venom.

“In fact, given that, I’ve got to go with the ‘no’ answer. That way I spare myself the pathos,
excuse me, bathos, of your play-acting and enjoy the idea you’re making those asshole friends of
yours suffer it instead. You know, it’s really pretty dreadful, babycakes.”

Her host froze. Oh dear. Apparently this girl was supposed to be some sort of actress? Clare
couldn’t quite figure out the background, but it was clear he knew exactly the right place to slip
in the knife. She, they, took a deep breath.

<i>Oh, no, not again!</i> This was ridiculous. Without thinking, Clare clamped down on the
vocal cords before the torrent of screamed abuse could pour out. Michelle gagged as if choking
on a lump of meat. She grabbed for her throat, the color draining from her face and her eyes
widening in shock. Clare let go immediately, a little scared by what she’d done, and Michelle
gave a shuddering gasp with a small mewling sound tangled into it like that of a kitten caught in
a sudden downpour, drenched and stunned.

The artist stood watching her, unmoving and apparently unmoved, his whole expression shut
down and only the wary eyes looking on, assessing the degree of duplicity involved.
Manipulative as Michelle had been, there was no call for that now. The girl was legitimately
terrified. Clare took over again to glare at the man, and had the satisfaction of seeing the gaze



                                                 44
flicker and falter before she dropped back to a spectator role, chiding herself for having elicited
another set of whimpers from the girl that broke into a wail of “Look what you’re doing to me!!”
once she had full control of her own body again.

This, of course, wasn’t fair either. But any more meddling would be bound to make it worse.

The girl was now too upset to be thinking clearly at all, and without closer connection to the
physical senses, Clare was stuck in the same thundering fog that clogged the rest of the mind. It
seemed as if it took several tries for the words to penetrate, dropping like mottled stones, the
ripples eventually reaching a part of the brain that was still able to make sense of them and echo
them back to Clare.

“Here. Take it. It’s half. Half of what’s in the account. I need the rest. There won’t be
anything from the show for at least a month.”

The fog cleared surprisingly fast. Not all of it, true, but it was amazing how quickly the one
piece of paper fanned away enough of the fear and confusion for her to see the large tarry bubble
of muck rising in the middle of Michele’s consciousness, one that popped reluctantly when he
continued, “And don’t think you’re getting anything from that!”

Despite the popping, the bubble took its time dying down. “Why not? I helped!” Clare prayed
that the girl wasn’t pouting, but she didn’t have high hopes of it.

“By getting underfoot the whole time? Okay, don’t start looking like that, no more scenes,
please! Michelle, it’s over. We both know it. Take the check and let the rest of it go.”

It was damn hard not to try to see what things looked like more accurately than the interpretation
she was getting. She could see the words, but they kept swirling around, recoated in a new color
each time, since the girl couldn’t decide if she preferred to think of him as talking to her with
regret and remorse, or cruelty and sarcasm, or just inhuman unfeelingness. Clare pleaded
silently for the girl to leave, but only to herself.

“We could have something, you know. Something really great.” <i>If you weren’t such an
asshole.</i> The internalized added insult was loud enough to make Clare think it external, for a
moment, and then breathe a sigh of relief when she realized it wasn’t. They might just make it
out of here without one of these two killing the other.

“Yeah, sure, doll. But that’s the way the fortune cookie crumbles. Have a nice life. With
Jeffrey, or whoever.”

Not helpful. But apparently, luckily, not something Michelle wanted to get into discussing.
There was a sense of movement, of shifting environment, a brief physical warmth that sent a
chilly wind blowing through the mind to clear out the last of the cobwebs, and then a silence. On
the edges of the silence, Clare started to pick up the faint noises of traffic as the girl took absent
notice of her surroundings before crossing the streets, and in the center of the silence there began




                                                 45
a faint hum of calculations as the amount of the check was divided and sub-divided into all the
things that were wanted. Clare left her to it.

**********

<b>Reflections</b>

Those two very nearly deserve each other. But I suppose many would have said the same about
my husband and me, would have said we deserved whatever unhappiness came from our
marriage because we never took any steps to change it.

I don’t know how unhappy Gerald was because I never asked him and he never spoke to me
about such things. We talked daily, but it was all minor chit-chat about news and weather and
friends and family, with occasional deep intense conversations about something to do with the
girls. Angie was the subject of many of those. Her “rebellious” period, which in retrospect had
rather little to do with rebellion and more to do with her native inclination to rationalize anything
she wants as something she absolutely ought to have or do, and anything she doesn’t want
anymore as something utterly evil and beyond the pale. We told her not to smoke cigarettes
(though her father continued to smoke now and then) or drink alcohol (which I certainly did),
but it was meaningless parental noises because her high school friends trumpeted it as a badge of
freedom, and so it became that for her, too. Until a girlfriend became heavily involved in the
“tobacco companies lied to us” backlash and drew Angie into it, and then suddenly anyone who
smoked was a victim of corporate greed and intentionally planned addiction and should throw off
those shackles. Gerald somehow resisted her attempts at educating him, and eventually she gave
up.

The drugs, again, weren’t really rebellion. They were “enlightenment.” We were most earnestly
informed, often rather patronizingly informed, of how many other cultures in both the past and
present have used mind-altering substances to reach a deeper understanding of reality. The
reality that it was still damn illegal here didn’t seem to be a strong enough argument against it.
Neither was grounding her, lecturing her, punishing her by taking away privileges and even
items (Gerald’s idea, not mine), or bribing her (my idea, not Gerald’s, I’ll admit that). She went
off most of it when she started going out with Rick, which to my mind was one of the few points
in his favor, even if the reason he didn’t indulge was that he was sufficiently satisfied, i.e.,
wasted, by a case of beer. But I honestly don’t think she stopped completely till she was
pregnant, and that’s when she stopped drinking, too. If true, that would be yet another reason
she blames herself for that first miscarriage. And of course, once she decided not to drink, she
stopped to the degree that she will never touch any alcohol, not a sip of wine, even now. I have
to remember not to add anything to the eggnog ahead of time, and I soon learned never to tell her
the full ingredient list for most of my special dishes unless I could claim all the alcohol had
evaporated during the cooking time. And it ruined the fruitcakes, though I continued to give her
one each Christmas and only made the rum and brandy versions for others.

I wonder what it would take to get that artist off the drugs and booze. Michelle certainly
wouldn’t have been the one to do it. She struck me as the sort more likely to encourage him, in
order to make him more compliant to whatever she wanted him to agree to do for her. But that’s



                                                 46
right, it didn’t work. He didn’t sketch her, not till she’d already left. Maybe that’s what I’m
supposed to help with, if I’m supposed to help with anything. I still haven’t figured out if there’s
some higher purpose to this traveling, if that’s the reason I can only get to certain minds, or if it’s
simply a matter of compatibility or openness or just completely random. Kate would say
random, and Angie would say purposeful, but I’m not either of my daughters and I don’t know.
In general I prefer being helpful to others instead of hurtful, so I’ll probably do good by default
even if not under deific orders to do so. Besides, I wouldn’t get him off the single malt scotch,
just the cheap beer.

For a while, I drank rather too much, myself. I slowed down after, well, after the affair. When
that ended, I was afraid I might turn into a complete lush, drowning all my sorrows in drink, and
I didn’t want to be so utterly pathetic. I’m talking about my affair, of course, not one of
Gerald’s. His hardly counted as affairs. They were more like encounters or, frankly, business
transactions, even if there turned out to be aftereffects from some of them. Aftershocks.

I’d thought I was immune from sexual attraction by then, both from provoking it and from
feeling it. It had been years. My daughters were in their teens and I was of respectable matronly
age. Gerald’s long absences had first been filled with attention to the children, and then as they
developed their own interests and activities outside the need for my supervision, I’d found the
perfect outlet of volunteer work at a couple of the local museums. It was very suitable work for
the wife of such an influential and prominent lawyer. The people were interesting and generally
intelligent, the work had the marvelous touch of being both complex and easy, the surroundings
were fascinating, and there were even social gatherings at which our attendance was encouraged,
and which I could attend alone, without Gerald, even when he was in town, without anyone
batting an eye. A spouse was allowed to prefer to remain at home instead of attending the
opening of an exhibit of esoteric ethnic art or a newly interactive dinosaur display, no matter
how highly touted the occasions might be by the critics and press. Everyone understood that.

So I developed a network of friendships outside of those we’d formed during our marriage, those
where we still kept up the pretense of being happily married. Naturally the new friendships were
much less of a strain and maybe I was too openly enjoying of them, but maybe it would have
happened anyway. And it wasn’t enjoyment that precipitated the affair. There had been another
argument with Gerald about how to handle Angie, earlier that evening, and I was on edge
because of it, and generally tired from a long day, and then during the reception someone made
some catty little remark about the food, which I’d had the responsibility of selecting and
ordering. I felt my shell start to crack and quickly excused myself. I went to one of the little
courtyards that were accessible only from the side halls, which were well away from the party,
and collapsed on a bench there to weep out the frustration, till I could get my emotions under
control. He found me there. He must have seen, and followed. Of course I pretended at first
that nothing was wrong, but the evidence was too clear to deny it for long, and he talked me into
talking to him. So foolish, at such an age I thought it safe, a minor childish wickedness, to go
with him as he suggested, to have a drink and talk more, somewhere far away from the madding
crowd. We’d been friends, working together, for over a year by then, so what harm could it do?
We did talk. And there were more drinks on top of the champagne we’d already had, or at least,
that I’d already had. And still we talked, of so many things, and none of them in the least
romantic. But when we left, when we got into his car, when we were both sitting there in the



                                                  47
darkness, in the coolness of the very late evening, he looked at me and asked, quite simply,
where I would like to go. I was too far gone to be anything but honest. I said, “Not home.
Anywhere but home.”

That’s how it started. It ended two years later, when Kate broke her leg on a skiing trip and no
one could find me, and out of guilt I said terrible, horrible, unforgivable things. It wasn’t
because I’d put all the blame on him, either. It was that I’d blamed myself with words that made
it sound as though it had meant nothing to me, that he meant nothing to me, that this was just
some sort of cheap lark, an idiotic daydream to avoid the wake-up reality of our marriages, two
fumbling middle-aged bodies playing at grand passion and only enacting a derisible parody of it.
And similar words. I was always very good at coming up with words. I have much poorer
judgment as to when to use them.

The affair didn’t survive that. We did meet again, once, to talk, to give it the chance for me to
apologize, the chance for him to forgive, the chance for us to see if there was anything that could
be salvaged. But it was gone; I’d killed it by shining too bright a light on what we both knew
could only live in shadows. We parted friends. Each of us would probably claim that was so, a
minor point of honor, a ribbon to pin on the corpse of what we never quite called love. But we
never spoke again.

A different ending than these two. I hope he was right about the amount on the check. If it
bounces, there’ll be hell to pay.

**********

<b>Interlude</b>

“All of it?”

“All of it! Can you believe that jerk? And he had the fucking nerve to say I should have
KNOWN it was in the garbage cans!”

“God, kid, that really sucks!”

“Tell me about it. I’m NEVER gonna find boots that fit that perfectly again, ever! I am so sick.
I did get sick, too, can you believe it? I had some kind of freaking attack, right there in front of
him! Scared the shit out of me.”

“What happened? Did you faint? Oh, oh, oh, I know, I know! Tell me you threw up right on
one of his paintings!”

“Damn, I should have. That would have rocked! But no, it was nothing like that. I just got, I
don’t know, it was so weird. I couldn’t talk! I tried to talk and nothing, just nothing came out!
Like something was grabbing at my throat!”

“Shit, that sounds scary.”



                                                 48
“It was, totally! And you know what he did?”

“What, what?”

“Nothing. Absolutely fucking nothing. He just stared at me! I could have choked to death and
he’d have stood there watching it all!”

“You’re kidding!”

“Nope, absolute truth. And that just shows, you know, what a fucking liar he was. I mean, if
you love someone and they start choking to death right in front of you, you’d do something,
right?”

“Sure you would!”

“But he didn’t, so it was all just for the sex. If I wasn’t going to put out any more, I could just
drop dead.”

“That bastard!”

“He even tried to pay me off! As if money were all that mattered to me!”

“What a dick! I bet you threw it in his face!”

“Shit, no, I mean, he HAD thrown away my stuff, you know? But he ought to pay some other
way for all he did to me.”

“He should! I bet he didn’t give you nearly enough money!”

“I should list everything he threw away and add up how much it cost me. And if the check
doesn’t cover it, then I’ll march right back and make him give me the rest. I mean, hell, those
boots were close to two hundred dollars! And that silver bag was nearly as much, even if I did
get it on sale. But the sale price wouldn’t count, would it?”

“Naw, I think you should go for the full value. But, Michelle? You loaned me that bag,
remember?”

“I did?”

“Yeah.”

“Shit. Hey, but still, that means it’s not out in some landfill. I want it back.”

“But I -- damn. Okay. But I shouldn’t have reminded you.”




                                                 49
“Yeah, you should have kept your mouth shut and made him pay for it!”

“Ooooh that’s so evil! You really rock, girl! He should never have let you go!”

“Tell me about it! But, look, though, that attack thing --”

“He attacked you?!”

“No, no! The not being able to talk thing! You don’t think that’s gonna happen again, do you?”

“Has it happened before?”

“No. He just made me so fucking mad at him --”

“Then that’s it. Probably just stress.”

“Yeah. You don’t think it would happen on stage?”

“Do you get stage fright?”

“No! Well... sometimes. A little.”

“I still think you’ll be fine!”

“I sure hope so. But if he’s given me some sort of complex, he’s damn well gonna pay for that,
too!”

“Ooooh awesome!”

**********

<b>Kate’s Story, Continued</b>

We couldn’t find the forms. Not blank ones, not filled out ones, we couldn’t find any of the legal
forms, anywhere in the house. Which drives me up the wall, but Angie, of course, is perfectly
happy because it means she can continue to believe just what she wants to believe, that Mom
changed her mind about how long we’re supposed to try to keep her alive.

Everything always goes her way and nothing goes right for me. I know, that sounds
exceptionally juvenile of me, a prime sample of sibling rivalry, but I swear it seems to be so.
Take what happened with Rick, for instance, with their wedding. They were just going out
together for several months, back when Angie was still supposed to be trying to make her way
through college, but then Angie got pregnant. She claims the rubber broke, but I’ll bet Rick
wasn’t willing to wear one, or maybe just told her that, oops, he didn’t happen to have one with
him right then, and Angie was too nice, and too careless, to insist on it. With both families being
Catholic, there wasn’t any question of abortion, and there wasn’t much talk of adoption either.



                                                50
They were going to get married and, you will not believe this, but Angie insisted on it being a
proper fancy wedding, in church, with bridesmaids and a flower girl and the whole nine yards of
train on a, get this, white dress! Even if she’d be six months along by the time all of that could
be gotten together! She asked me to be the maid of honor and I just gaped at her. I still can’t
believe Mom and Dad went along with it. Rick’s family are just like him, all trash, so I wasn’t
surprised that they didn’t see the disgrace in putting on this sort of circus.

It should have been a disgrace. But two months before the wedding, Angie had a miscarriage.
Again, you’d think that they would have cancelled the whole affair, or at least have postponed it,
and taken the given opportunity to look at things more sensibly? No baby meant no one had to
get married right away? Of course not. Angie was in tears but, wonder of wonders, Rick told
her that he still loved her and still wanted to marry her, and, with a few more, and much more
appropriate, alterations to the wedding gown, it took place just as planned. Everyone said it was
such a beautiful wedding, with such a beautiful bride, on such a beautiful day. Oh, yes, that too.
The rainiest spring in years, and yet there were sunny blue skies on Angie’s special day.

If it had been my wedding, there would have been a hailstorm. Or a blizzard. Or both together.

Don’t get me wrong, I can deal with bad weather and I even enjoy snow, except for the idiots
that forget each year how to drive in it. I don’t go skiing though, not since my first attempt. I
am not what most would call particularly athletic, but I’m fairly well-coordinated and I’ve kept
myself in good shape and back then I was even more adept at picking up new sports. After a few
hours on the bunny slope, my friends took me up on one of the regular runs, though still a very
gentle one. I was taking it slowly and managing quite well, if I do say so myself, when this
hulking teenage boy rammed into me at full speed, totally out of control, and sent us both
crashing off the trail. He picked himself up and apologized. I was still lying there with my left
leg broken in three places. If it had happened to Angie instead of to me, I swear it would have
been the other way around. She’d have been the one who was perfectly fine, and would even
have been apologizing for the accident, for happening to be in the boy’s way.

That’s one of the uniquely maddening things about her. She makes totally sincere, totally “nice”
gestures, that are enormously irritating because they are so completely unsuited to the occasion,
and it often seems that I’m the only one who understands how unsuitable they are. Take the
CDs, for instance. My mother has always had an eclectic taste in music, some of which I also
appreciate. I recorded them and brought in a player to provide the sort of background music that
Mom might enjoy, something certainly more preferable to me, at least, during these interminable
visits, than the insipid Muzak that the nursing facility chooses to play, that seemed to make the
visits last even longer. I understand their need to make the most inoffensive choices possible,
but really, I’ve heard a better selection at the DMV. Angie made a great production over
thanking me for what I’d done, how sweet, how kind, how considerate I was being! Which, of
course, made it look as though no one would normally have expected any such kindness out of
me. You don’t make a big deal of thanking someone for what is generally done, only for
something out of the ordinary, that they went out of their way to do. I felt totally insulted. And
she obviously didn’t understand, not in the least. She’s never understood me.




                                                51
I’m not sure my parents ever understood me, either. I loved my father very much. In many
ways, he was like a best friend to me. We enjoyed the same books and movies and could spend
hours together talking about them with each other, or discussing the latest nonsense on the
political scene, nationally or internationally. But as soon as my mother walked into the room,
he’d stop and look at her and check first that there was nothing she wanted of him and nothing
solicitous that he could do for her, before he’d notice that I was still there, and resume our
conversation. I hated that but there was really nothing that could be done about it. They loved
each other that much. No one has ever been that concerned with my happiness, and really, one
shouldn’t expect it. A marriage like theirs is very rare. In any case, he never seemed to notice
how hurt I was by his inattention, and I, of course, would never have admitted it to him, for I
wouldn’t have wanted to be that demanding. Angie was the one who insisted on being the sort
of person, getting into the sorts of scrapes, that required everyone to drop everything to attend to
her, so I made sure to spare my parents from any further drama in their lives. I thought at one
time or other that my mother noticed my efforts, because she would say something kind about
my work or ask me about what was going on in my life, as if to draw me out, but usually before
I’d said a sentence or two, something else would distract her and once again I’d be left hanging.

Maybe that’s why I thought for a while about going to law school. After all, when you’re
arguing a case, people will pay attention to you. And at least some are required by law to do so.
I did take a few pre-law courses, but I was very much put off by the general run of students who
were in those courses with me. Half of them seemed to be there only because of their interest in
the most superficial aspects of law, their idea of being a lawyer formed from reading too many
crime novels and watching too many television shows. The other half seemed only interested in
how much money they could make at it, and how soon they could jump from being a lawyer to
being a state representative or senator, and then to higher positions in government. Those were
the worst, because when they found out who my father was, they pretended to befriend me, only
to pester me for introductions and plead with me to put in a good word for them when they
applied for internships at his firm. I never did, of course. People should be hired based on their
own merits and not on whom they know.

I found a much better class of people in the mathematics courses, people so incompetent at
interpersonal skills that they made me seem quite the social butterfly in comparison. That’s a
joke, you know. But they had several great advantages over the other college cliques. They
weren’t planning on imposing their views on the world either by demolishing the current
government or by buying into it. They weren’t focused on making a million dollars before they
turned thirty (though some of them did, the ones that drifted into association with the engineering
students who were starting their own computer companies). They weren’t romantics who were
going to sail through life on the strength of an undergraduate degree in art history or avant-garde
poetry. They didn’t have any falsehood or pretension about them, and that was very refreshing.
Of course, a simple degree in mathematics itself wasn’t very realistic, either. I graduated in
accounting, summa cum laude. Not that the honors really mean anything once past your first few
years of employment, but it did please my parents.

It would also have pleased them if I’d ever married, I think. But that’s too personal to leave to
the desires of others, and, as I’ve explained before, it just didn’t work out. I might even have
liked having children, for I must admit that watching Angie and her burgeoning brood of



                                                 52
rambunctious offspring as they careened through the years, leads me to believe that I would have
done a much better job of raising them properly than she, had the task fallen my way. I will say,
though, that I have never treated any of my pets as substitute children. That’s an appalling
stereotype into which I will never fall. My cats have always been treated as cats, as feline
predators that are expected to act that way even though I keep them quite well fed, and I do not
whine or whimper over a dead songbird or a partially consumed mouse, though admittedly I do
not appreciate the remains being left in the toe of one of my slippers, which, yes, has happened.

My mother should have had a cat, or a dog, to keep her company once my father had passed on.
I’m somewhat surprised she didn’t. She claimed she never knew when she would have the urge
to travel, and wouldn’t want the fuss of trying to arrange for boarding or for someone to come in
regularly to care for them while she was gone, even though I’m sure Angie would have been
happy to do so, and I might have found the time. She did enjoy traveling, and always had, often
wanting us to take family trips to rather unusual destinations instead of to the same family beach
house that my father preferred returning to each summer. I suppose those days are at an end.
I’ve talked to some people, to make sure that I understood all the connotations of her condition,
and the consensus is that even should she come out of this state, even if she should regain full
consciousness, it’s very unlikely that she’ll be able to return to anything like a normal life. Her
memory and other mental processes will probably be severely impaired, her physical control of
limbs and bodily functions is likely to be weakened or non-existent, and she may need to stay in
a nursing facility or, at the least, resort to private nursing care in her home.

I know, by her own hand, that my mother does not want to live in a non-aware state. I don’t
think my mother would want to live in that severely impaired a state, either. But I certainly don’t
think Angie sees that it may be best for our mother’s quality of life, if it ends here. And I don’t
see how I can explain it to her.

**********

<b>Beyond the Pale</b>

She needed to check on the truck driver first. She told herself that was her highest interest, and
made it so by her conviction of her belief. The poem had percolated nicely into a full bodied
brew that, though Clare wasn’t sure she’d have wanted to attach her name to it, still wasn’t at all
bad compared to standard quality imbibed in this sort of neighborhood.

“The moon is very big and bright,
Shining on the edge of night,
The sea of grass still has some green,
Where shadows of the trees aren’t seen.
There is no noise, there is no sound,
There are no people seen around.
Nothing keeps me from thoughts of you,
And how I wish you were here, too.
It is so empty in this place,
I might as well be out in space.



                                                53
But soon I must be on the road,
And in my truck a heavy load.
But my heart is heavy, too,
Carrying all my love for you.”

There was enough lazy spin to it to indicate that he was still musing over some of the words,
which meant that Clare was again tempted to play Muse. <i>Okay,</i> she thought, <i>Maybe
it could use just a little bit of minor modification?</i> Clare prodded at the word-lights. It was
hard to restrain herself, this really could be so much better, but the thought of what might happen
should he start to wonder at the changes did keep her under some small degree of control.

“The moon is…”
<i>… too plain, too childish, let’s find another way of… there we go!...</i>
“… beautiful and bright,
Shining on the edge of night,
The sea of grass still has some green,
Where shadows of the trees aren’t seen.
There is no noise, there is no sound,
There are no people seen around.”
<i>… nursery rhyme sing-song again, but I can’t see right off how to change it…</i>
“Nothing keeps me from thoughts of you,
And how I wish you were here, too.”
<i>… this won’t do, it’s horribly forced scansion, and it’s exactly the same rhyme as at the
end!...</i>
“Nothing keeps you from my mind,
I wish that you I would here find.”
<i>… no… no, that’s terrible and he’d never phrase it that way…</i>
“Nothing keeps my mind away
From thoughts of you, in every way.”
<i>… oh I give up… that will have to do…</i>
“It is so empty in this place,
I might as well be out in space.
But soon I must be on the road,”
<i>… YET! you can use ‘yet’ instead of all your ‘buts’... must be the effect of all that cigarette
smoking...</i>
“Yet soon I must be on the road,
And in my truck a heavy load.”
<i>… isn’t there something vaguely scatological about that? but she probably won’t notice…
we’ll hope not…</i>
“But my heart is heavy, too,
Carrying all my love for you.”

There. Definitely better, to her mind at least, and yet it still blended fairly well with the substance
of his own mind. She hoped whoever it was meant for, would think that, too. But if she stayed
longer, she knew she was bound to meddle more with it and so best to leave it there, and leave.




                                                  54
It was interesting how succumbing to one temptation made it so much easier to succumb to the
next. Back to the beginning, because you had to start from there or the cord might stretch too far
and snap, and then off into the winds again, with a soar and a swoop and a drop and a twist
around and around at the end, a little dust devil tail to the whirlwind. He’d probably feel insulted
by that description, but it fit.

Something smelled delicious.

The light was amber and mottled gold, olive green shot with red, and an brilliant orange-pink
sunset, all in swirling streams of silk and music blending into each other against deeper, more
intricate backdrops, like an exotic dancer in a Bedouin’s tent. Clare held up her hands in wonder
to let the flowing edges of light trail over them, and laughed quietly as her mind filled with the
tastes of saffron, of garlic, of a salt-sea taste that wasn’t salmon, oh, yes, shrimp! Apparently he
was right about stale bread and peanut butter not being his only sort of meal. And that ribbon of
forest green was a very nice wine indeed, which didn’t taste exceptionally green but somehow
threw echoes of that shade of light. Much better than beer. With a smile of satisfaction at her
choice of timing, she let herself sink more deeply into his perception.

It was take-out. She blinked at the white box with the fork balanced precariously across the top.
He hadn’t even bothered to put it on a plate! The glass of wine paused halfway to their lips as
some of her astonishment leaked through. Clare felt like sticking out her tongue at herself, at
him, in her frustration. The damn searchlight was back, cutting through the streamers of softer
warmer light. She could feel it inside her, his, mind, looking for her. Oh what the hell. <i>Yes,
I’m here again.</i>

“Christ!” Now that was a shame. It wasn’t just the glass that toppled, but the whole wine bottle,
as he jarred the edge of the table in jumping to his feet. The fork fell too, but that was a minor
clang and clatter lost in the mental scream of the other catastrophe. Clare automatically tried to
grab for the bottle, but her, his, arm flailed wildly as he tried to grab for it, too, their timing just
enough off from each other’s to ruin his coordination completely. When she realized what was
happening, she drew herself quickly back, far back, into a tight tense ball that tried to touch as
little as possible, and so bounced bizarrely for a time before it managed to stay suspended. He
cursed loudly and fluently as he chased the emptying wine bottle across the wide table with an
alacrity that he certainly hadn’t shown in following the peanut-butter laden knife. She tensed
further, hiding her eyes from the explosion that would come when it crashed to the floor.

It didn’t come. He must have caught the bottle in time. She cautiously uncurled a tendril of
awareness from the ball and looked around. The Bedouin’s tent had become a prison yard after a
mass escape. Barriers of massive stone or mere rubble or barbed wire were thrown up
haphazardly wherever she looked, and the searchlight had added a dozen of its fellows to sweep
the smallest corner with blinding light. Luckily her ball was hanging in midair and not in a
corner, and the mirrored surface had apparently confused things by confusion with the other
searchlights. She could hear a heavy rushing sound that she supposed was respiration, and felt
confirmed in her guess when the sound eased, because only then did the strongly articulated
words come through and they still kept pattern with the breathing.




                                                  55
“Okay. You. Whoever the fuck you are. You owe me one damn expensive bottle of wine!”

Really, he was as bad as Michelle. Clare sighed and uncurled further. <i>I’m sorry. I’d thought
you’d remember me better.</i>

It was odd as she realized the frantically focusing searchlights couldn’t tell where she was after
all, even as she took more of her natural shape. <i>I’m here,</i> she offered, and pulled the
light towards her.

“Damn.” He sat heavily, the respiration pattern catching before it continued at a somewhat
unsteady pace. “Okay. Ah. What do you want with me?”

<i>I don’t want anything!</i> She felt like wailing it; he was taking this entirely the wrong way.
What had happened to his ease with it, before?

“You’re not here to bargain for my soul? Or show me what the world would have been like if I
hadn’t been born? Or grant me... no, that’s a bottle, and the bottle’s empty, damn it all, thanks
to you.”

She imagined him looking at it with exasperation, in the same way she felt his mind looking at
her, or trying to look. Apparently she was still too amorphous. Maybe it was the uncertainty she
was feeling that kept her from projecting a clear image. <i>I’m not a demon, I’m not an angel,
I’m not a genie. I’m just...</i> Alright, how did she want to describe herself? <i>I’m just a
visitor?</i> Lamely, it seemed. She pushed on, trying to make it sound less strange even
though she knew that was pretty much impossible. <i>I was here before. You talked with me.
When you were drawing Michelle as Medusa, do you remember?</i> Now she sounded like
someone trying to presume on someone’s time based on a passing introduction at a party. I was
there, remember me, so-and-so’s friend, we talked about this and that, but of course you might
not remember because you were... Drunk. And stoned. No wonder he’d been more accepting
then. She should have waited till the bottle was emptied in the proper way.

“Medusa...! You’re the mommy muse!”

The what? Clare couldn’t speak for the shock, but that wasn’t a bad thing. It gave time for the
internal world to readjust around her, for the barriers to split apart and disappear, curling into
nothingness from the edges inward in an oddly two-dimensional fashion, as if paper put to a
match.

“The one that told me I should eat better. My conscience, given words, except my conscience
was never that picky.” Both words and tone were full of dry humor now, and she relaxed a little,
but only a little, for the characteristic sharpness lurked beneath. The humor continued into a
deliberately mournful complaint, “You didn’t approve of the beer. And now I find out you don’t
approve of wine, either? That’s harsh, mommy dearest.”




                                                 56
<i>I’m not your mother! I thought we’d established that? And I didn’t mean to make you spill
the wine, I’m very, very sorry about it. It was a good wine. It was probably a good beer, too,
except I don’t like beer.</i>

“Snob! Only snobbish people don’t like beer!”

Clare thought that in her case it had something to do with how she grew up, with seeing, and
smelling, the amounts overindulged in by her Irish relatives, but this wasn’t the time to bring that
up. <i>Then, yes, I suppose I’m a snob.</i>

“So am I. I hate beer. But it’s cheap, and if you keep it cold enough, you can’t taste it.”

<i>You’re an alcoholic.</i> Oh well. The accusation had just come out baldly, without
thinking, and the label he’d given her now seemed all too accurate. It was harder to keep one’s
mouth shut when one didn’t have a physical mouth.

“Probably,” he agreed without the least mental change of color or texture or mood. But then
there was the sense of physical motion, and the mood did change, rich colors starting to rise in
velvety drifts, and the scent of oak and apple and grapes. “But, life is good. We do not have to
resort to beer, not tonight. Though if you knock over this bottle, you poltergeist, I’ll have you
exorcised.”

<i>I didn’t knock over the other bottle. You did, when you jumped up.</i>

He snickered, she could tell that he did. “Yes, mommy. All my fault, and finding you in my
head had nothing to do with it, right?”

This was getting damn annoying. Almost annoying enough for her not to realize that he -was-
being at ease with her again, however that had happened. Probably it was just the anticipation of
more alcohol. <i>Could you call me something else? Anything else? Like, oh...</i> She could
choose whatever name she wanted, which stopped her as she tried to pick one.

“How about ‘Angelique’? I’ve always wanted to know an ‘Angelique.’”

 That wasn’t so bad, even if it was awfully close to her daughter’s name. But she wouldn’t have
called her ‘Angela’ if she hadn’t liked the sound, and it was definitely better than ‘mommy.’
<i>That’s a beautiful name, thank you. That will do quite nicely.</i>

“Angelique, Angelica, Angel, why are you here, angel?”

Because her own body was dying. Clare shivered. She didn’t know from where that sudden
conviction had popped up, and she didn’t want to examine its origins more closely, certainly not
right now. <i>A visitor, as I said. A sort of ghost, but not of anyone dead, you’re not being
haunted. But does it matter? Would you just prefer I go?</i>




                                                57
The colors grew more prominent, the Bedouin tent returning, the mind quite relaxed again.
“That is what you are, and not why you’re here. Why are you here, sweetcheeks?”

Maybe this was a case where honesty really was the best policy. <i>B-Because of your art.</i>
Maybe it wasn’t, at least not total honesty. ‘Boredom’ had seemed a very bad choice of wording
at the last minute, and she’d twisted the word as it came out to form something more palatable.

“My art. You’ve seen my art?”

<i>Yes.</i> She had. Only the Medusa sketch, but surely that counted.

“Where?”

<i>Here. When you were working on it.</i> Again, not a lie.

“You’ve seen the new piece?” A crystalline filter slid over the tent, edges coming into hyper
focus, awaiting her reply.

<i>Not that one, not yet.</i>

“Come on.” He jumped up again, more control and purpose to it and without jarring the table
this time. Not that it would have mattered, for the bottle and wineglass were in his hands to
come along, too, and he finished one glass and poured himself another even as he strode over to
the studio section of the loft apartment, pausing only to flick on a few light switches with the rim
of the glass to illuminate the area. To Clare, there was only the movement and sense of purpose,
and the infusion of warmth from the wine, and then a pause.

“There. What do you think of it?”

There was an image, but it was jumbled. He was thinking too much about particular spots that
might need changes, and not looking at the work as a whole. Could she explain without scaring
him again? But he seemed fairly intelligent, despite his volatility.

<i>Right now, I can only see it as, well… as parts of your mind are seeing it? If you want me to
see it clearly, I need to... to be more a part of you.</i>

The chill draft let her know he wasn’t happy about that, but he picked up on the meaning. “Like
when you jerked my arm?”

<i>I was trying to grab the bottle. I’m sorry.</i> It seemed she was apologizing a lot, but it also
seemed necessary, especially given that she shouldn’t be in his mind in the first place.

“At least I could hear you better then. Sounded like you were talking in my damn ear.”

Clare hadn’t considered that before. No wonder he’d jumped! But if that was how she sounded
then, she was curious enough to ask further. <i>How do I sound now?</i>



                                                58
He considered a moment, using the time to finish off the rest of the current glass of wine. “I
don’t hear you, not as such. I can tell what you’re saying, but not as words, so I might be getting
some of it wrong. It’s a multimedia sort of thing, like having images flash at me while I’m
licking Braille. If I knew Braille.” He shrugged and poured yet another glassful, and then
turned with a flicker of impatience towards the painting again. “So, are you seeing it yet or not?”

She let herself go shapeless again, an amorphous mist that seemed to be the self-image best
suited for this deeper merging with her host, letting the mist spread and sink into her
surroundings. And then there was light and a clear view of the work in question.

It was larger than she’d expected. The canvas was about six feet high and propped at least two
feet up off the floor, so he must need to stretch to reach the top edge. The width was much
narrower, about three and a half feet. Much of it seemed black at first, till she adjusted to his
eyes and could pick out the tones within the darkness. The window, though, and the light from
it, stood out at once. A stained glass window in deep intense reds, all sorts of reds, panes
separated by the lead into the seeds of a bloody pomegranate, leaking, dripping, blood and juice
down the wall and across the floor beneath. Her, his, eyes widened and she breathed out an
“ohhhh!” of appreciation, in his own breath, before she realized and let go quickly of that part of
him.

He took over again with a snort of harsh laughter, “I guess I like it!” He gulped the wine. It
burned her, his, throat when taken this way but she had an inkling of the control he was exerting
to keep calm under this sort of invasion and didn’t begrudge it to him. “It’s not mine.” The
touch of bitterness wasn’t from the wine. “The idea, I mean. It’s from a book. But I wanted to -
see- it. And so...” He gave a dismissive wave to the painting. “It’s mostly done.” He looked at
the work critically again. “Mostly. Tell me what you think.”

She was careful to keep the words away from his lips, his vocal cords. <i>I think it’s beautiful,
of course, with the light, the pattern. You’ve made it glow, astonishingly so.</i>

“That’s an easy trick. White underneath it, and gray beneath the rest, it works even when most
of it’s so dark. But you’re being facile. Tell me more.”

<i>It, ah, looks dangerous. Deadly. Like it’s bleeding.</i>

“It is. More.”

<i>I like the way you’ve kept the roughness of the brushstrokes in the darkness, but the pools of
light are so smooth, polished even.</i>

He made a frustrated growling sound deep in his throat. “Not the technique! Tell me about the
scene, tell me about the place, tell me what it says to you. Put yourself there.”

Clare looked again. It wasn’t difficult, he was staring fiercely enough at the painting himself.
<i>I suppose I would want to photograph it? To record how the light changes as the sun



                                                59
sets.</i> If the camera didn’t explode. There was something very, very intense about that light.
Blood calling to blood.

His lip curled as the frustration died to disgust. “Bland, boring, insipid little angel. You can’t
stay if you’re going to be like that. I had hopes. You caught the danger, but you’ve shoved it
away again. Coward.”

She wasn’t a coward. She’d faced more in her life than he probably had, or would, and if he too
blind to see what he himself had painted, then, alright, she’d tell him, and the anger fueled the
rush of words. <i>It’s not a place I’d want to be! It -is- too dangerous, there’s too much need
there. It calls out for someone to come and feed it. Where do you think it gets the blood? A
victim, a priestess, must come and dance to it, dance naked in front of it while the light burns on
her, and there’ll be music, some sort of music, driving music, with a beat no faster than the
human heart, but with enough insistence to it that by the end she must fall before the window,
panting and spent and broken, her skin so wet with sweat and perfumed oil that the last light
shines off her body like rubies, like red tears, like her own blood, but the blood is gone, sucked
out of her, as it all goes dark, all deathly still, all dead, and she’ll never move again!</i>

Clare stopped with a catch in her mind’s voice that was almost a sob, aghast at what had come
out. Where the hell had that come from?

His eyes closed tightly, but the painting was burning in his mind and she couldn’t escape it.
“What scent?”

<i>What...?</i>

The insistence was low but rough. “The perfumed oil. What scent?”

<i>What does it matter?! You can’t paint a scent.</i>

She jerked internally as his arm jerked and sent the glass smashing madly against a wall, as he
shouted, eyes open in blazing affronted anger, “Of course I can paint a scent, you little idiot!”

Maybe Michelle was well rid of him, instead of what she’d thought was the other way around.

<i>I... I don’t know! Something dark, dense, heady. Ambergris and musk, that sort of scent.
Or, who knows, the opposite if she wasn’t told what was going to happen? Something clean and
innocent. Or something narcotic, an opiate, if they were kind? But they wouldn’t be, would
they?</i>

He’d gone to the drawing table to grab a sketchpad and charcoal, erasers and the soiled cloth, but
then he went to the wider table to do the sketches, furious lines that showed the collapsed dancer
in a number of different poses, and, damn, but he was right, even from the lines alone Clare
could see which sort of perfume would, must, go with each.




                                                 60
“Alright, here, what if...” The ripped out sketches piled up around the table as they talked, and
they talked all night as he prodded her for opinions and ideas, though arguing against her
interpretations half the time or more. It was glorious.

But before she left, she made him clean up the broken glass.

**********

<b>Interlude</b>

“Can’t you give her some sort of sedative?”

“I’m sorry, but the doctor has left strict orders.”

“But she’s in pain! She must be, she keeps moaning and muttering. And you saw how her arm
jerked?”

“I can have the physical therapist come in and give her an extra session, if you’d like? It’s
probably just muscle tension.”

“Yes, please do that! And excuse me, but isn’t muscle tension often a sign of pain? People
don’t relax their muscles when they’re hurting.”

“Well, yes, it can be.”

“How kind of you to admit it. How the hell are we supposed to know if she’s in pain, then, if
you dismiss the only signs she can give?”

“Ms. Sachs, I really don’t have the authority to issue meds, in any case. You should talk with
her doctor.”

“I have! He doesn’t want to do anything. It’s still ‘wait and see.’”

“I know it must be very difficult for you and your sister, but it is the usual recommendation.”

“You have no idea how difficult.”

“If it will help, I’ve been here for a number of years now, and from what I’ve seen of Mrs. Sachs,
I would say that she’s not experiencing any significant pain? The sounds are not in that range?
At least not in the range usually used by those who’ve been able to say they’re in pain?”

“But she’s not them, and you can’t say for certain. You can’t extrapolate that far.”

“No, no of course not. But you understand that a sedative would depress her respiration? And
therefore it’s considered rather more dangerous for someone in her condition?”




                                                  61
“It wouldn’t matter. The important thing is that she should not be suffering. I don’t want her to
suffer.”

“I understand.”

“Do you?”

“Ms. Sachs, I understand that there is a DNR on the chart. As a nurse, that is all I’m required to
understand, and I assure you I will follow the clinical orders.”

“Do you think they’re wrong?”

“That’s not for me to say. I’m sure that you and your sister have gone over this in great depth
with Dr. Reynolds, and he would not have put that order on the chart otherwise, or if he himself
believed that it was wrong to do so.”

“Yes. Yes, I talked with him a great deal about it, and it’s the wisest course.”

“And he talked with your sister, too, yes?”

“Of course! But she’s taking it harder than I am, much harder. Not that I’m not devastated by
the need for it! But Angie keeps hoping Mom will just wake up and smile and everything will be
fine again. The DNR order... that was very difficult for her to accept and she’s still hoping it
won’t need to be invoked, even if she’s resigned herself to the possibility. Please don’t bring it
up with her, don’t rub it in?”

“Oh, Ms. Sachs, of course not! Once it’s on the chart, there’s really no need to discuss it
further.”

“Thank you.”

**********

<b>Reflections</b>

I feel like I should have known more about the perfumes. I’ve gotten enough through the years,
God knows, but I only knew them by name. It’s embarrassing to realize that I never bothered to
find out what ingredients made up the scents. Gerald always brought me some sort of gift on his
return from his business trips, at least at the beginning of our marriage he did, and it was often
perfume. Shalimar, Chanel No.5, Hypnotique… expensive perfumes. He stopped after I
discovered his little adventures, when after the next trip he brought home another bottle, another
gift, as if nothing had happened, and got to watch a hundred dollars or so of exotic scent gurgle
down the drain of the kitchen sink.

But there were still birthdays and Christmas and it would have looked wrong, would have made
the girls question it, if he hadn’t gotten me gifts for those occasions. And then as they got older,



                                                 62
the girls themselves would sometimes give me perfumes, the drug-store ones that were easier on
smaller purses and with the fresher scents popular then, the ones they might want to borrow, or
else the old-fashioned ones they imagined were suitable for a mother, and so the bottles piled up:
Charlie, Wind Song, the ubiquitous White Shoulders, and the rest. They never seemed to notice
how little I wore it. I never found a scent that spoke to me, that said it was mine. They all
seemed to belong to someone else and it was like wearing borrowed clothes that didn’t fit.

The grandchildren seem to avoid perfume, thank heavens, but maybe that’s because they’re boys.
They give me bath powders and candles, but that’s all, and what they give has the simple flower
or food scents of violets or vanilla, pine or pineapple, honeysuckle or honey, lilacs or lemons.

Claude never gave me perfume. Odd, maybe, for a Frenchman (well, a Quebecois) but he was
ever discreet. In the two years we were seeing each other, he only gave me one gift and that was
from his gallery. He was holding a show for an artist that made the most amusing works. They
were jeweled icons, but where one would expect to see the stiff flat face of a saint, instead there
was an animal dressed in the same medieval style. She’d made them in a variety of sizes and
shapes and there was a tiny round one, barely a hand’s breadth across, decorated with heavily
burnished gold and with sapphires and emeralds and rubies (all fake, of course, though the price
might have led one to believe otherwise), and showing an ermine in a Madonna’s robes of azure
blue and soft rose red, against a forest backdrop. I loved it at first sight, though I pretended not
to when he noticed. But he also noticed that my eyes kept returning to it, and he bought it for
me. He said it was me, with my pale fair skin and dark hair streaked with white (I was blessed in
how I went gray), so reserved, so restrained, so elegant. And then he winked and murmured in
my ear about the randy little weasel soul within, to make me blush, but only because he’d made
sure no one was around to watch. It was easy to claim I’d purchased it for myself, to claim it
cost much less than the true sum, to claim it was perfect for the room even if it didn’t fit at all
with the clean, crisp style in which I’d decorated the house. But I sat it in a antique stand on my
dressing table where I could see it every morning and evening, and I suppose it still sits there,
even though no one’s around to appreciate it. I don’t know what will happen to it. It meant too
much to me to mention in my will, to deliberately give to anyone else. It’s the only memento I
have of him. They won’t find any letters between the two of us, no cards, no photographs.
They’ll never know it happened.

There’ll be enough other things to clear out. There are all those perfumes and bath salts and the
other little gifts from children and grandchildren that have an emotional weight that you must
respect even if you never intend to put the gift to use. I meant this year to get rid of some of
them. I meant to donate the ones that were still unopened to the church fair, and to quietly
dispose of the rest. The boys are older than they were, they wouldn’t look or ask for what
happened to their gifts and even if somehow they found out, it’s not likely to have bothered
them. With the gifts from Kate and Angie, I’d have had to be more careful. Daughters are more
fragile. Which is why it’s going to be extremely awkward for some of what they’ll find, when it
comes time to empty the drawers, to go through my things and dispose of them. Oh, there will
be no evidence of an affair, not mine, not Gerald’s, but, well, Gerald had his toys, and I
eventually found the need for some, too. Only the simplest of toys and given the way they talk
about them these days on the cable channels, as if every woman has one as a matter of course,
maybe it won’t come as that much of a shock to whoever discovers them.



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I’m fooling myself. That’s a vain hope. It’s one thing to hear about them in the abstract and
quite another to find a number of them residing in your mother’s bedside drawer. Not that I had
a need for so many! But, honestly, I was curious about different styles, and what do you do with
them after? You certainly can’t donate -those- to the church fair! And throwing them out in the
trash seemed wasteful. It’s a shame I didn’t have anyone to consult about which to buy. I
thought a couple of times of confiding in Kate, but really, I’ve no idea what she does in between
relationships and I don’t dare ask. If she were a different sort of daughter, I could have broken
the ice by buying her one as a gift, and giving it to her while out to luncheon some day. When
she opened it, she’d have said “Mother?!” in a scandalized tone of voice, and thrown the napkin
over it quickly before the waiter noticed, and looked at me, somewhat shocked but with a fond
exasperation. And I’d have laughed, though apologizing for the laughter, and said something
revealing about the sort I use, and we could have fallen into whispering about such things over
our salads. And when the waiter came by to fill up our water glasses, we’d switch to talking
quite openly but still about the same topic, just with words that didn’t give it away except to each
other, and we’d try not to giggle at our naughtiness. But Kate isn’t that sort of daughter. If I’d
given her such a gift, done that to her, she’d have turned pale white or beet red, and hidden it
quickly with only a strangled, “thank you” that wasn’t true at all, that really meant “how could
you, how dare you!” because she would only have taken it as a cruel or callous jest, a caustic
comment from me on her apparent inability to acquire a permanent companion. She hurts so
easily. And when she was past the initial hurt, she’d probably rephrase it in her mind to be that I
didn’t really know what I was doing, and mark it down as yet another example of how I’m going
senile.

I wonder if she uses them. They’re not so wrong. They give a quick, clinical release that
sometimes the body seems to need. I’ve read articles that say the wrongness is that they’re too
good, that they make it too easy to obtain what should come through mutual passion and caring.
But sources of mutual passion and caring are not always available, certainly can’t be kept in a
bedside drawer. And it’s not as if anyone who’s had such love would ever mistake a mechanical
device for an adequate replacement. I know that Kate’s had at least one lover that she seemed to
care for. She must miss him. She can’t help but miss him. I wonder if she ever falls asleep as I
have done, in longing and loneliness, with my hand cupped around my face as if the hand
belonged to someone else, to a lover, the thumb stroking my cheek gently and wiping away the
tears. I would ask, and if so, I would try to say something to comfort her. But I can’t ask.

**********

<b>Angie’s Story, Continued</b>

I swear I am going to kill that woman, even if she is my own sister. “DNR” indeed! Do you
know what that means? I didn’t, not until that wonderful nurse pointed it out to me, just to be
sure I understood, and God bless her for doing so. It means “Do Not Resuscitate” and what it
really means is that if the patient has an attack of any sort, then you’re supposed to just sit around
and watch and LET THEM DIE. Right there in the hospital! Well, right there in the nursing
home. But it’s almost like a hospital. This is the sort of place that does have all the fancy
equipment and the people with the training to use them and we’re paying an arm and a leg to



                                                 64
keep her here for that very damn reason. I mean, her insurance and such are paying for it, not us
directly, God knows that would be impossible no matter how much we might want to do it. But
the point is, that since the whole point of this is to get her the best care we can, then what the hell
is that order all about, anyway?

Okay, I’ve talked with Dr. Reynolds. I haven’t talked with Katie, I’m too damn mad at her. He
says I agreed to it. He’s a lying snake is what he is. I would never have agreed to anything of
the sort, to anything like that, if they’d explained it properly instead of all their waffling around
their big words and their beating around the bush about how we should make her as comfortable
as possible (which of course I agreed with, totally!) and we should not cause her any unnecessary
trauma (and who the hell would argue with that, I ask you?) and that we should give her all the
best supportive standard care that we could (which they’d better! that’s what we’re paying for!)
but that in the end it was really in God’s hands and we should recognize and allow that. Well, I
tell you, I misunderstood completely and is it any wonder? I thought only that he and Katie
were finally coming to their senses and realizing that modern medicine, no matter how good it’s
become, just doesn’t have all the answers to everything.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s become pretty damn good at amazing things that no one
would ever have believed possible a couple of decades ago. You must have heard the stories
about how they can take an arm that’s been cut off the body, I mean just totally cut off, just lying
there on the ground, and they can sew that thing back on and it works! Right down to being able
to wiggle your fingers. That just blows me away. Do you know how many nerves and muscles
and blood vessels must be running through a person’s arm? I sure don’t, but I know there’s a ton
of them. And they can connect them all up again, one to the other, plugging everything together
again. It’s like a true miracle, and I suppose it is one, that God could have given us the brains to
figure out how to do something like that.

I know they can’t do that inside a person’s head, not yet at least. I mean, in there it must look
just like a bowl of spaghetti, with all the neurons and nerve cells tangled up in each other, and
hardly any way to figure out which is which. If they tried to mess with that, they might get
something screwed up and there you’d be, going to lift your right arm and kicking out with your
left foot instead, and wouldn’t that look silly! Except, I guess it would have to be your right foot,
because they do know which side of the brain controls which side of the body, don’t they? It’s
all backwards, the way I remember it. The right side controls the left side, and the other way
around, which doesn’t make any sense when you really think about it. I mean, why should that
be so? Why on earth would the brain develop that way? It’s like once upon a time someone
took hold of some prehistoric animal’s head, back before they really had heads at all, and twisted
it halfway around for the fun of it, and just left it like that. And ever since, everything’s been
crossways.

I’ve asked them about taking that order away. Dr. Reynolds says I should think about it more,
and discuss it with my sister and then come to him together with what we’ve decided both,
together, because of course Mom never registered anyone with the power of attorney to make
those decisions all on their own, for which I’m very grateful. Because it would probably have
been Katie, and at least this way I get -some- say in the matter. She always seemed to think
Katie was the more sensible one, and I guess she is when it comes to things like numbers and



                                                  65
plans and bills and money, but that isn’t everything in life, not by a long shot. There’s getting
along with people and understanding them and, you know, caring about what the hell happens to
them instead of looking down your nose at anyone who has a little trouble in their life as if they
should have seen it coming a mile away and just stepped out of the way, when it’s a lot more like
finding yourself in a subway tunnel instead of on train tracks, and there is no out of the way to
step, so there. Maybe train tracks on a bridge over a rushing river, maybe that’s more like how it
is. But if Mom had given anyone that much charge over her life, yeah, it probably would have
been Katie.

Daddy got along with Katie better, too. They could be in a room laughing and joking and talking
intently about something, and I’d come in, and I swear the temperature would drop like twenty
degrees and I’d be looked at like “what the hell do -you- want?” Okay, maybe not a lot of
laughing, because they probably would have thought laughing was too raucous and too low class
for them. Mom, at least, was better than that with me. I know she gave me a lot of benefit of the
doubt back during the time I was having trouble with maybe a little too much the wrong sort of
friends. I think that disappointed her a lot, but they were my friends, and you know, friends have
to stick up for each other and maybe I did go a little too far with them, but I was just a kid and
Lord knows kids don’t always make the best decisions. At least I had friends, unlike Katie. And
ever since Daddy died, I know that Mom loves it when I come over and talk with her, and we go
out to movies and such, sometimes, and we’ve been much better friends. I mean, I also know,
deep inside, no matter how much she tries to hide it for my sake, she really does not care for
Rick. But that’s okay. She does put up with him for my sake. I just wish she liked him better. I
know he’s not much to look at, and he’s had a lot of problems in his life with things not going
well, but it’s mostly just been a string of bad luck and nothing, really nothing, on his side,
because I know him, and I know he’s not like that. He’s a good man. Daddy was a good man,
too, but if I have to admit it I’d have to say he was rather, well, cold. Not to Mom, of course, he
loved her! And not so much to Katie, either, because they were two of a kind. Like Katie, he
did not have a lot of close friends, mostly just business associates, and you know how that’s
really all just pretending and nothing of honest friendship in it. Mom was more like me, because
she had all her museum friends.

A lot of her friends have been asking about her, too, which I think is wonderful and Katie thinks
is none of their business, which shows the difference between the two of us yet again. I don’t
know what the will says, because that lawyer won’t tell us till it’s time, but if Mom does leave
any sum of money to either the art museum or the science museum, then I really think they ought
to name something after her, like an exhibit hall or a scholarship or something, because she gave
so much of herself there. But they probably have some sort of stupid system where it all boils
down to cold hard cash, where you have to give X number of dollars to get your name on Y type
of stuff, and so forth and so on, when it oughtn’t to be that way at all. But that’s all anyone
seems to care about these days, just the money, even when it’s supposed to be a non-profit
organization. I mean, look at the way they charge money just to get into the damn art museum,
and let me tell you, it’s not cheap, it’s not just a buck or two, and that’s a pity and a shame
because art ought to be free for anyone to come and see, even a person without any money or
someone right off the streets. Now there’s something. I wonder how much money someone
would have to give them to make them stop charging people to get in? Okay, maybe not for all
the time, but just like for one day a week? Or even half a day? Because it’s not like there’s an



                                                66
enormous crowd always clamoring at the door to get in, let’s be frank about it. No matter when
you go, it’s very clear that there are a hell of a lot more paintings in that museum than visitors,
unless they bring in one of those fancy foreign exhibits that are only going to be there a real short
time, and those they charge extra for anyway.

We could look into that. I think even Katie would go along with it. It would be a really great
way to remember Mom when she… oh hell. I’m talking like she’s already gone, or about to be,
aren’t I? That’s the damn doctor’s fault, him and Katie both! She still could recover, you
know? You can’t give up hope, because despair is like the worst sin of all. It’s just that she does
look so small and tired and pale, lying there. She’s getting so thin that you can see all her bones
sticking out at the joints. I tell them they aren’t feeding her enough, but they tell me I’m wrong,
that they’re giving her as much as she’s supposed to get, but it’s all through that awful little tube
in her stomach and of course that’s not the way that people were really meant to be fed, so who
knows how much nutrition is being missed? I wish she could swallow. I mean, she does
swallow sometimes, or look like she’s trying to, but her mouth must be so dry and they say she’s
not aware enough, that she’d choke if you gave her anything because she’d forget she was
supposed to be swallowing and maybe just breathe it in, instead. But if she could swallow for
real, then I could help feed her, and maybe feed her something better for her than the stuff that
goes through the tube, like some good rich chicken broth. Rick’s mother makes the best chicken
soup. Now, I couldn’t give her that, because of all the vegetables and noodles, but I could give
her just the broth and I’ll bet it would help a lot. She needs something to help. She moves
around a little and she sometimes makes noises that still sound almost like talking, but there are
never really any words. I don’t admit that to Katie, but I guess I’ve admitted it to myself by
now. And it’s been getting weaker and fainter, like she’s going farther and farther away from us.
Just slipping away. I have to keep hope, and not let the others discourage me, or they’ll just let
her go. I don’t want her to go.

**********

<b>Once More Into the Breach, Dear Friends</b>

Clare had developed her own small circuit by now. There was the truck driver, Mike, who let
the more creative portion of his mind wander off and play earnestly at poetry, like a studious
child building sturdy office buildings with his blocks instead of fairy tale castles, while the rest
of his mind was concentrating on the road, and the wandering Clare was quite happy to help add
a little extra imagination to the imaginative process. There was Joel. She still hadn’t figured out
what Joel did for a living, or if he did anything at all. He might be homeless. There was an
impression of screaming within his head without any screaming going on, just whispers, but a
cacophonous kaleidoscope of whispers of all sorts of voices, all ages, all genders, all degrees of
sanity. At least, some sounded sane in their discussions and directions, but it was impossible to
tell without deeper orientation into Joel’s condition and body state, and that was something to
which she had been so far reluctant to commit herself. She knew his name was Joel, however,
for all the voices called him so. What kept her coming there was the nagging suspicion that one
or more of the voices might be someone like her, and not mere creations of his own damaged
psyche, shattered fragments of mirror each reflecting a warped vision of himself back to himself.
So far though, she hadn’t found the certainty of it. The voices shifted under her scrutiny,



                                                 67
vanished and reappeared in a different direction, twisted slightly so that it might not be the same
voice at all, and it was only the way that sometimes one seemed to laugh at her, to share a secret
smirk, that made it still possible that it another such soul playing the same sort of game. Worse,
maybe, but still something to investigate, was the possibility that it was an alien spirit of a
different sort than Clare. Demons and angels were beginning to seem more real, or something
that could be mistaken for such. Maybe not all spirits had a body to anchor their wanderings.
She’d already proven that she could control another’s body, even if only temporarily, even if
only when they were drunk or distraught enough to let her. Maybe demonic possession wasn’t
just a figment of misdiagnosed psychosis.

Stephanie was a safer target. A more depressing one, though, because the girl was so depressed
that Clare couldn’t help coming away feeling drained and discouraged, herself. She was much
too young to have two children, and both still in diapers, too young as in she wasn’t legally
entitled to the beer that she and her not-much-older husband shared every night. She ought to be
going out to parties, to movies, gossiping over a boy who might or might not like her, or whining
over how much homework the teachers had given this week, instead of fixing bottles and
cleaning away the spit-up of rejected strained peas. Her husband helped, a little, till the kids
were in bed, and then would take off to meet his buddies, “back in a while, don’t stay up, you get
some sleep.” Stephanie was sure he was seeing another girl, that he resented being stuck with a
family, and that he was really thinking, “get some sleep because you look like crap.” Clare
wasn’t sure that she was wrong in any of her estimations and so, didn’t try to change them.
What she did try to gently change was Stephanie’s habit of then crying herself into a stupor as
she stayed up too late, huddled on the cheap sofa and watching bad movies on the cheap
television. At least she didn’t keep drinking the beer, not when her husband wasn’t around.
There was a suspicion of more to her restraint than good sense, that the man wouldn’t be happy
to find too many cans missing from the case, but a plus was a plus and something to keep hold of
when there were so many other ticks in the minus column.

Sometimes things like this worked out, Clare told herself, when her first inclination was to write
the girl off as a hopeless cause. She did have the experience of Angie, her own daughter, but
Angie had been 21 and even if she hadn’t finished college, she’d at least had a couple of years of
it before deciding on marriage instead. Clare was uncertain if Stephanie had even finished high
school. That became part of her agenda, to find out as subtly as possible, and if it wasn’t the
case, to start hinting around at an eventual attempt at a G.E.D. Not right now, it couldn’t be
now, not with the two babies in tow, but maybe social services could help with that, could find
some day care arrangement. Unfortunately the means of communication were limited.
Stephanie seemed the sort to go off the deep end if she started hearing voices in her head, and the
girl was already barely keeping her head above water. The best Clare could figure out was to
concentrate on the television, to echo and enhance any lines of a program or advert that might
provide a little extra buoyancy to the girl’s life, and then help ease the girl to sleep on them. She
kept to positive messages only, for the mind was draped with black and blue shrouds, in shreds
and tatters, enough. But so far, there was little to show for it other than the fact that the girl had
not yet killed herself or her infants in the abjectness of her misery.

After visiting with Stephanie, Clare felt she deserved the treat of dropping in on the one she had
started to think of as “her” artist until she caught herself thinking that way once, and ever after



                                                 68
made sure to expand it to “her artist friend” even in her own mind. He hardly belonged to her.
He wasn’t the sort to belong to anyone. <i>And that,</i> she told herself, <i>is going to make
him a very lonely man someday.</i> He seemed to have very few friends. She’d never caught
him with any. He was almost always in his studio, alone, working. This had made it harder to
find out his actual name, because he wasn’t the sort to talk to himself in the third person, but
eventually she was talking with him, and watching through his eyes, when he started going
through his mail, which led to yet another discovery.

<i>You do business with them?</i>

“What? With Boucher Galleries? Yeah.” He snorted dryly as he started scanning the
communication from the business in question. “You know you don’t have to sound so surprised,
angel. Did you think I sold on street corners? Or maybe rented a table at the weekly flea
market?”

<i>Just… they’re good, aren’t they?</i>

He nodded absently, still reading. “Yeah. Take half, right off the top, but they’re good. People
pay attention to what shows up there. And they’d take more except Edouard thinks he owes me
still.”

<i>Owes you what? Money?</i>

“No, no!” His laughter was quick and brilliant as a crystal prism shattering light into rainbows.
“God, no! He’d probably love it if it were just money! No, dollface, it’s his reputation he owes
me, that it didn’t get spattered with nasty mud. And, look, don’t accuse me of any blackmail,
because I’ve told him again and again, every bloody time he hints at it, that it was nothing, and
nothing I’d ever talk about. Besides, his dear papa is dead as a doornail, now, and that’s the one
he was hiding it from, so he ought to be able to forget the whole mess. Christ, it was years and
years ago now.”

Claude was dead, she knew that, she’d known that. He’d died six years ago, a year before
Gerald had died, so she’d had to hide her mourning, reduce it to a level appropriate merely to a
valued colleague who’d often advised the museum on displays and artists, because in all the
years after the affair she’d still never given Gerald the satisfaction of knowing that she had
strayed, too. She didn’t like being reminded of his death, though, and hearing it with that sort of
flippancy grated on her nerves and in retaliation her reply became snappish. <i>If it’s a secret,
then just keep it so, and stop hinting at it with me!</i>

The papers were slapped down on the table and a whiff of sulfur assaulted her inner awareness.
“Have it your way, sweetheart. Come along for the ride or not, as you choose.” He grabbed his
jacket, a battered brown leather one (which was a surprise, she would have thought it ought to be
black), and circled back long enough to stuff the papers into a pocket. She recognized the mood
by now. Sullen and somewhat offended, as he got when a sketch that looked good on paper
refused to translate itself to canvas with the same degree of rightness, and. yes, that seemed to be




                                                69
considered a personal offense, that his talent should fail him in that way. Apparently she was
now expected to be similarly supportive.

<i>I’ll come.</i>

He wasn’t going to lose her that easily, wherever he was going. And if he were going to the
gallery-- well, it had been quite a while. She’d like to see how it changed, how Edouard might
have altered it when he took sole charge.

In fact, it hadn’t changed at all. The only shock was Edouard himself. She’d caught sight of him
once or twice at the museum, but not up close. After the end of the affair, she had made sure to
shift her volunteer work to other areas of the museum than those that Claude was likely to be
consulted on, and she’d kept away from that sort of work even after Claude’s death, though she
heard enough to know that Edouard had continued in his father’s stead. Up close, and with age,
the resemblance to Claude was striking.

“Alex! You bastard, what are you doing here?” The elegant manner and open smile belied the
roughness of the words and turned them into a lilting melody, the same way the outstretched
hand was only feinting at commonness, and instead drew the artist into a Gallic embrace.
“Didn’t you get the note? We’re not boxing them till Monday, and don’t worry, your darlings
will be safe, I assure you!”

“You’re the bastard! I thought you swore you were going to sell them all!” Well, that was a
relief. The sullenness was gone, replaced by an affable, if still low-key, sparkle of friendship and
purpose. The only remaining ill temper was sublimated in dry jest. “I ought to make you keep to
that, and buy them yourself!”

“You’d bankrupt me! You know how little I take out of this place, my dear boy!” The
lugubrious fall of Edouard’s face was obviously only for comic effect, and it switched quickly to
a grin as he tapped at Alex’s shoulder. “Besides, we did very well for you. You’ll get back
three, only, and it will not surprise me at all should you get a call from someone about one of
them, for a certain lady has been back more than once to look at it, though, to be fair, she’s been
looking at other works, too. In fact, I believe she’s here now. Do remember the contract though,
should she try to talk to you directly?”

The artist grinned back, just as casually on the surface and with just as much celerity beneath.
“Edouard, would I try to cheat you? Never crossed my mind!”

Clare wasn’t sure she was willing to attest to that, but couldn’t deny it either. There had been a
flicker of something crossing the mind, but what it meant wasn’t at all clear.

“Why don’t you show me to the little lady and maybe I can talk her into buying it straightway,
and that’ll put your mind, and your stomach, at ease again.”

“You’re too good to me, Alex! Remembering my ulcers when even my wife forgets, but why
should she be kind in that way when she isn’t in any other?” Edouard heaved the long-suffering



                                                70
sigh of a long-married man, and led the artist towards the galleries proper. Clare, still in place,
caught sight of the sign as they passed it on the way to another room. “Alexandre Evans: Blanc
et Noir.”

The lady was not so little. Maybe it was the stiletto heels, but she looked a good six feet. A very
good six feet, that being her only flaw in scale, with the rest, if anything, a bit overly slender in
proportion, at least to Clare’s taste. She also looked like a spider. There were problems in
seeing through another person’s eyes and some of it involved perspective and being able to
separate background and foreground and some of it involved the internal connotations of images,
because when you were just a mind, the mental processes had more than mere priority, and the
woman happened to be standing in front of what looked to be an enormous dream-catcher in
rusted steel and wire, and then she also had her rounded-lens sunglasses pushed up on top of her
very black hair as she turned to look at them with eyes nearly as large and dark as the glasses, the
presumably intended effect of a great deal of expertly applied make-up.

<i>She dyes her hair.</i> Maybe it was a bit catty, but Clare just wanted that noted. Though as
far as she could tell, the information was completely ignored.

“My dear lady, may I present the artist, Alexandre Evans, who told me that he simply must meet
someone so appreciative of his work!”

She smiled, slowly, and her eyes were only on Alex. “Such an honor to meet you. Theresa
Peters.” The woman held out a slim hand, and Clare had to grant grudging approval over the fact
that she’d taken her gloves off first. She was not as approving over the quick glance of the eyes,
the ones she was currently watching from, toward the ring-less left hand as the right one was
shaken. Thank God, at least he hadn’t kissed it.

The smile seemed only a casual one, but Clare knew the focus behind it. “You’re too kind. So,
would you like any more information about the pieces?”

“From the artist, himself?” She laughed softly and melodiously. “How could I possibly say no?
And I do have questions, so please, lead on. Would it be rude to start with you? Alexandre is
French, but Evans is not?”

Edouard made his excuses and returned to the front while the other two strolled towards the
exhibit. The query was accepted as not being rude. “It’s ‘Alexander’ when it isn’t art, but my
mother is French-Canadian and calls me her version of it. Edouard says it’s better for sales,
though, and I’d be a fool not to take his advice on the business side of things. The ‘Evans’ is
Welsh.”

<i>Now here, I’d thought you were Irish. And if your mother is Quebecois then there’s no
excuse for mistaking me for her.</i>

He smiled lightly at the woman, answering the voice in his head. “The Welsh are to the Irish as
the Irish are to the Scots. Twice as fae, and ten times the artistry. So I come by my talent
legitimately, no matter how often people call me a bastard.”



                                                 71
<i>Hmmph.</i>

When they entered the room and Clare caught her first sight of the works in question, more
information suddenly snapped into place. <i>That’s why you call people those pet names!</i>

He snickered before he could stop it, and then grinned at Theresa, covering it smoothly. “Sorry,
just remembering the amount of research I did for these, to put me in the mood. Enough hard-
boiled detective novels and films to make me start dreaming in Chandleresque dialogue.” He
waved a hand at the paintings, “Sometimes I wonder if anyone will get them, a hundred years or
so from now. But that’s their problem.”

“Oh I shouldn’t think it would be a problem! They’re wonderful just on their own.” The woman
moved to one that already had a discreet little card attached to the label to say it had been sold.
“I love the woman in this. Was she based on anyone in particular?”

“No, no, none of them are real people, and not from any given film either. Just based on the
whole film noir genre. Shadowed walls, alleyways, the tipped down hat to cover your face, the
hand cupped around a cigarette to light it, the spotlight from a police car that just misses the
target, the…”

“The blood.”

“Oh that. Well, yeah, you have to have some blood.”

The blood was just like the light from the stained glass window. No, of course, not exactly alike.
It was much darker, almost black, but it had the same polish to it, the same still-liquid feel, as if
touching it would leave a mark, doubly marked, both the canvas and one’s finger. The rest of the
scenes were in rougher blacks and a white that Clare would have called a pale grayish tan instead
of a pure white, but both with the texture of the canvas coming through in a way that was
perfectly evocative of a grainy movie print run through too many projectors. The scenes were
abstract though, patterns of shapes and forms and not a direct copy, as he’d been telling the
woman.

Who was now asking about something else entirely. “Mr. Boucher said that you painted on raw
canvas? I thought I’d heard somewhere that such works wouldn’t last your hundred years or so.”

Clare twitched, made uncomfortable under the internal glower, the ozone scent of an incipient
thunderstorm. “Ms. Peters, Monsieur Boucher is, and he’d be the first to admit it, a gallery
owner and not an artist. But I also know that he knows the difference between raw and sized,
and if he’s been telling people the wrong thing then it’s a damn miracle that any of them have
sold at all.”

The woman became distinctly chillier under the admonition, even if it hadn’t been directed at
her. “Perhaps I’m the one mistaken.” Mixed news: the chill seemed to cool Alex’s temper, and




                                                 72
Clare sighed, keeping it quite to herself. He was definitely interested. It hadn’t been that long
since Michelle, had it? Maybe it had been, for time was hard to keep track of these days.

“I’ll talk to him, just to be sure they know what they’re getting, but, yeah, to people not involved
directly it’s an easy mistake. Raw canvas gets sized, then primed with gesso to whiten and
smooth it. I sized it, so there’s the glue layer to strengthen the canvas and keep the paint from
actually sinking into the fibers. But no gesso, I wanted it rough and not too white, and it may
even discolor some over time, so it looks, well, like old film should.” He shrugged, generous in
granting a little control to the new owners. “There are ways to stop the color change, if they
want. But raw canvas, that’s just asking for trouble down the road, because the paint becomes
too much a part of it, and when the canvas goes, so does the painting.”

“Thank you for explaining. That makes a great deal more sense. You care about your work, I
see, and not just as a sale. That’s very admirable, and I do admire you for it, Mr. Evans, as well
as for your more noticeable talents.”

Now that was rather obvious, but it still went over well. Clare could tell from the rising heat that
had nothing to do with anger. This was becoming uncomfortable and a little annoying. She’d
rather talk about the paintings, but the conversation was becoming too layered with other
nuances. “Some high-powered artists use raw canvas. Jackson Pollack, some others. But yes, I
do care. About a great many things.”

<i>Why don’t you invite her back to your place to show off your etchings?</i> Now that was
catty.

He coughed in a way that almost sounded like he was choking on something. Theresa was all
concern. “Is something the matter? Can I get you anything?”

He waved her off, recovering his voice, “No, no, I’m fine. Just went down the wrong way.” The
explanation was given with a grimace of rueful apology, and without trying to explain exactly
what went wrong where, and was followed with a warm “But thank you!” in response to the
woman’s relieved smile. Inside, however, the storm had reformed and broken directly over
Clare with an initial lightning strike and thunderclap that forced her back from his surface
perceptions. When her virtual ears had stopped ringing she was able to pick out the message
attached, and it was also more than clear enough in the continuing threatening rumbles. Enough.
Good-bye. Leave. Go. Go, now!

<i>Alright, yes, going!</i>

How very annoying. But at least she’d gotten a chance to see more of his work, though she
would have liked the chance to talk to him about them in greater depth, alone. And that must be
the only reason for her depression.

**********

<b>Interlude</b>



                                                 73
“You’re here.”

“I can leave, if you like.”

“Oh, that’s okay, don’t bother, I can come back another time.”

“I wouldn’t want to put you to that trouble. You’re here, now. I’ve been here a while. I should
be leaving anyway. Get home, feed the cats, things like that.”

“Okay. How is she?”

“The same. Always the same.”

“She looked at me the other day. She did. I’m sure of it.”

“Angie-- Sure. If you say so.”

“You don’t believe me. You never believe me.”

“I’m not going to argue with you about it anymore. Won’t that do?”

“No, it won’t ‘do’! You and that doctor, you think you know everything, and now you’re just
humoring me because you think she’s.... She’s not dying.”

“She’s stable, medically. That’s what they claim.”

“She doesn’t look well. I’ll admit that.”

“I know.”

“Do you think her breathing has gone funny?”

“What do you mean, ‘funny’?”

“Like, oh, I don’t know. Like, maybe, she isn’t trying as hard.”

“We could ask them to check.”

“Would you do that? He listens to you. He’s decided I’m just a nutcase.”

“You’re not a nutcase. But, Angie, what if there is something wrong? They might say that the
only way to help would be to put her on a respirator. Do you want that?”

“Of course!”




                                               74
“I see.”

“And you don’t want it. I know. But Katie, it’s Mom! We need to do everything, don’t we?
Don’t you see that?”

“I wish Daddy hadn’t died so quickly.”

“Katie Sachs!”

“No, no, I mean, that if he’d had something like this, we could have seen what Mom wanted for
him. And that would help, now.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

“I’m sorry we don’t agree, Angie. We ought to be together in this.”

“Yeah. But we aren’t, are we?”

“We’re too different. We always have been.”

“But we’re still sisters. I love you, you know?”

“I know, yes. And, I love you, too, Angie. I do.”

“Then it’ll all work out. You’ll see.”

**********

<b>Reflections</b>

I’m back in my own body again. I don’t like it here and I won’t stay for long. I still can’t move
anything, I still can’t talk to anyone. There are flashes of light and dark but I still can’t see
what’s going on, I can’t make sense of it. There are noises that sound like talking and noises that
sound like music, but they’ve gotten fainter and they’re still so indistinct that I don’t know if I’m
even mistaking one for the other. Maybe the music is voices. Maybe the voices are music. The
weighty gray blanket is still there, coming down close over all the bumps and protrusions of my
mind, softening the form beneath to a even smooth stillness, only it’s grown tattered. No, not
tatters, for that would imply it was shredding and disintegrating and that would be a good thing.
It’s grown stalactites, downward drifts that leave even less room for me to be here, not yet
hardened into spikes to pierce me but that’s coming, I can feel it. It stinks, too. It reeks of
disinfectant, and worse, for there’s an increasing whiff of corruption, of mold, of decay, like the
underside of a rotting log. Except it’s myself that’s rotting. My mind will liquefy under the
pressure. The blanket will stiffen into a concrete shroud and there will just be a bit of me left, a
blackened stinking goo sloshing back and forth unheard, till it’s absorbed into the concrete itself.

Or I could go, and not come back.



                                                 75
I think that is possible, but I’m not certain. If I do try to stay away, if I break the cord, I’ll be
stuck in whomever’s head I chose and that’s a heavy, cruel thing to do to them. But I’ve tried to
slide from one mind directly to another and it just doesn’t work. As soon as I make the effort to
leave, I’m drawn back, retracted along the cord, to end up in my own body again, and the winds
simply aren’t there to carry me elsewhere. If the cord breaks, if the cord is broken, then I doubt I
could leave at all, not unless I found a similar hole in their mind to catch the winds again. I’ve
thought of that, too, and looked for it, but I haven’t seen another such crack in anyone else’s
consciousness. Maybe it’s only available for them, and not for visitors? Or maybe it was the
accident that opened it for me, and not something that people have by right.

I don’t have the right to another person’s mind. The only way that would be acceptable is if they
allowed it, if they knew what it entailed and freely granted me squatter’s rights. But I haven’t
dared talk directly to anyone but my artist friend, and he wouldn’t, I know he wouldn’t, and I’m
too proud to ask. It wouldn’t work anyway. No one would be happy to know that someone else
was in their head, constantly seeing their thoughts, reading their mind! Sooner or later they
would want me gone, and going would destroy me. And they would know it, and so that, too,
would become a burden to them, that if they give in to their dissatisfaction with the arrangement
and tell me it can’t work any longer, that they would be responsible for ending my existence.

Or I could die.

Honestly, openly, because there’s no use in hiding it at this point, I’m afraid of death. Yes, I’ve
been a Catholic all my life. Yes, I’ve been a moderately good Catholic, or by my understanding
and beliefs, I have. If it turns out that we were really supposed to believe and strictly follow all
that nonsense about fast days and birth control and being at Mass each and every single
weekend, then I’m sorry and I’ll do my assigned punishment (since I’ll have little choice!) but I
still will say it wasn’t reasonable to expect people to follow it. After all, take fast days. First,
one wasn’t supposed to eat meat on Fridays, in memory of the day of Christ’s crucifixion. Now,
it’s fine, except one isn’t supposed to eat meat on Fridays in Lent. But back in the Middle Ages,
one wasn’t supposed to eat meat during the entirety of Lent. So what has changed? Why was
something that used to be a sin then, not be a sin now? Because the Church bowed to the
changing times, to modern lives and modern sensibilities, that’s why. If they gave in on that,
they ought to be sensible and give in on the rest, too, but they’re too stubborn to admit they’re
wrong. The Ten Commandments should be followed as best as one can, and the Beatitudes
should be an inspiration on how to live one’s life. But Jesus himself said it all came down to two
things, to love God with your whole heart and soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as
yourself. Honoring and loving your God doesn’t necessarily mean the avoidance of eating meat
at certain times. If that’s how you choose to honor God, then so be it, but the Church doesn’t
have to say that’s the only way. Loving your neighbor means understanding their circumstances,
that they’re people and not perfect angels. Sex is something people do, that they’re driven to do,
and it’s far, far better that they be careful about the consequences of it than to stick your head in
the sand and say “just don’t do it.” Loving your neighbor as yourself means understanding that
you will sometimes fail in your best efforts and so will they, and you should give them every
forgiveness possible, as you’d want for yourself.




                                                 76
I don’t know if Angie feels exactly the same on this or not, but I suspect she’s made a similar
compromise between her religion and her beliefs. Kate, my dear Kate, who hasn’t a
compromising bone in her body, simply left the Church. I don’t fault her for it. A merciful God,
which is the only sort I want to have any dealings with, will forgive her, for she still does the best
she can to help others. I don’t know how He’ll treat me.

If the afterlife exists at all, it’s probably something far beyond our comprehension, so I shouldn’t
be afraid of it. The conventional view doesn’t attract me. I know they say there’s no marriage in
heaven, but so many look forward to being reunited with their departed loved ones. I’d want to
avoid Gerald entirely. My parents, I loved, but I’m sure they’re quite fine on their own and don’t
need me to check in on them. Claude... now that could be an embarrassment. He did have a
wife, after all. I wouldn’t want him to have to choose between the two of us. And now that I
think about it, I strongly suspect that I wasn’t his first or only affair outside of marriage. Yes,
much, much too likely an embarrassment to try to find him again!

There’s the convention of turning into some sort of guardian angel, to look out for those still
alive. I’m afraid there’s little that I could do in such circumstances, though, because I really
can’t imagine a covey of dead spirits jostling around and arguing over whose descendents
deserve to win any given lottery, and I can’t see how that wouldn’t be bound to happen if they
were allowed to interfere. But to be there without the ability to change things, to help, would be
so frustrating that they should be assigning that as a punishment instead of a privilege. I’ve
already done what I can to make their lives better after I’m gone, and I hope I’ve done the right
things, too, but one can never be sure. There’s money, quite a lot thanks to Gerald’s family and
his business and some luck of my own. No matter how sentimental one might get about the
value of other things, money usually helps make life easier. And I’ve made some other
arrangements, which may complicate some matters, but ought to simply a very important one.

I think it all comes down to the terribly obvious: I don’t want to die. I don’t want to disappear,
even if there’s the possibility of reappearing as something else. I’ve even had the awful, evil
idea of finding some newborn infant’s mind and seeing if it’s a mere blank slate that I could
inhabit without guilt, or, and this is the evil part, would my presence inhibit the development of
the child’s own mind and personality? What would happen if I’d made myself at home and then
found some other sense of self coalescing? Could I be noble enough to leave, or would I try to
keep hold and suppress the other, or could, possibly, we end up sharing the mind without anger
or regret, because the child wouldn’t realize that this was anything different from how life was
usually lived? But there’s evil in that, too, in letting them make that assumption.

This is so hard. And to think of it, if I hadn’t found out how to escape, there would be no escape,
and no choice but to sink to nothingness in my own head. It’s selfishness to want to keep going,
it really is. I should be happy with my life as lived because it wasn’t a bad one, and even if not
happy, I should be reconciled to the fact that very few people would probably be happy with the
final summation of their lives. There’s always those things you wish you’d done differently, that
you regret doing, or, and oddly more likely, that you regret not having done. I wish I could stop
feeling so strongly that there are still things I need to do, need to learn, need to accomplish,
before I can rest, before I should rest.




                                                 77
**********

<b>Kate’s Story, Continued</b>

She’s still in denial. Isn’t there a joke about that? It’s not just a river in Egypt, or it’s beautiful
this time of year, or something like that.

I’m making jokes and my mother is dying.

Dear God, can’t you slap Angie across the face and make her stop being so stupid? Because I
want to, and I can’t. If I did, we’d never, ever talk to each other again, and I don’t want the guilt
of that on my conscience, too. But I want a sister who understands what’s happening so that we
could comfort each other, so that we could commiserate together about the awfulness of it all,
and so, please God, we could share the burden of doing what needs to be done, when it comes
time to do it. But I can tell it’s all going to be on my head, the certainty and the uncertainty both,
the certainty of the necessity of it and the uncertainty of the timing, and Angie’s hands will stay
lily white and clean, and forever after she’ll be able to say that -she- wanted to keep Mom alive
and I’m the one that killed her.

I’ll bet she hasn’t made a living will for herself either. She’ll leave her sons and husband to
make that decision and once again she’ll be free of any responsibility. I told her that I love her,
and I do, I really do, because she is my sister and I ought to, but it’s just so frustrating. My will
is made. I made one as soon as we’d given up looking for those forms that Mom had supposedly
filled out, when I realized that unless things change drastically in my life, it will be Angie who
decides for me, who would undoubtedly decide to keep me “alive” in pain and misery long after
I’d want to be free. She can’t do that to me now. It’s quite clearly on file that no special
measures, not even the least of them, are to be taken to keep the shell of my body alive if there’s
any question about whether or not I’m still inhabiting it. And if I can’t communicate, they’re to
assume I’m gone. In the event, in any event that I can foresee, I would much rather euthanasia
came too soon than too late, and if I could, I would have specified that directly, too, that they
should just inject me with something to end my life if it’s that damaged, but Mr. Hagerman
recommended against it because he said there might be some overly religious judge who could
be persuaded that such a directive was essentially a request for assisted suicide and that might
prove me to be of unsound mind, overly traumatized by my mother’s condition, at the time of
formulating the directives.

He is quite a clever man to have considered that, and I was very grateful for such good advice,
and told him so, which seemed to embarrass him. He’s working with me on the rest of my will,
too, the actual bequests. It’s awkward when you have pets. I won’t do the silliness of leaving
money directly to my cats, but I’m not sure what other arrangements to make. David-- Mr.
Hagerman, I mean-- is researching that for me, looking up what other people have done and how
well it’s worked, so that I can compare actual cases and decide rationally and not from
sentimental assumptions such that my friends would step forward to care for the little beasts. My
friends have their own lives and I wouldn’t want to impose on them, but God knows I don’t want
them to wind up in an animal shelter either. Adult cats are so rarely adopted. People don’t




                                                   78
realize how loving they can be; they only see how long it might take to gain the animal’s trust
and so they aren’t willing to put in that much effort despite what might be significant reward.

Some people have said that when they die, they would like their pets put to sleep, and I can see
their point. When you take on a pet, you take on the responsibility for providing them with a
safe and secure life, and when you die, you can no longer be sure of keeping that promise. Mind
you, sometimes I think it’s a pity the law doesn’t allow that sort of disposition for children. If
Angie dies, those boys of hers are going to run wild and, to say the least, are very unlikely to
become useful and contributory members of society. Rick certainly isn’t going to control them.
To treat them as unwanted nuisances that might go feral and develop diseases themselves and
perhaps spread them to others, isn’t too far from what’s likely to happen, and it would be much
safer for everyone to simply put them to sleep. Yes, yes, I’m joking again, of course I don’t
mean it seriously. One can’t do that with children.

Angie told me about her idea to honor mother by setting up free admissions with the art museum.
I tried to be supportive, while also pointing out that she had no idea of how much money it
would take to influence them in that regard, but that it would probably take much more than we
could give. My sister has lovely ideas but hardly realistic ones, and if you don’t stop her she’ll
get too enthused about flying a project that can simply never get off the ground from its own
weight. I told her I would look into other options, though, and the other night after work I visited
the museum. They’re open late on Wednesdays, which made it convenient. It had been years
since I’d last seen the main part of the museum, and it was, frankly, larger and rather more
impressive than I’d remembered. My other visits had been either school trips, from very long
ago, or to see a particular exhibit. Those sorts of exhibits are usually overcrowded, overpriced,
noisy, rushed, and of less interest than all the publicity implies, but at a certain level of corporate
management one is expected to keep up with the cultural life of the city, or at least keep in touch.
Besides, it’s a useful ice-breaker for talking with business associates visiting from other areas.

It was quite different to wander through the halls on my own, and not be jammed into a roped-off
queue of gawkers or surrounded by a pack of yammering schoolmates. There were very few
others around, and I was able to look at whichever pieces I wished, for as long as I wished,
without feeling impelled to get out of the way to let others have a turn. It’s only then that you
discover a strange serendipity to the displays. You go to each glass case in turn, and look first at
the main piece, because it’s set up to make you do so, and if you’re rushed, you tick that case off
in your head as viewed and move on to the next. It’s only when you can linger that you really
look at the smaller objects and sometimes find a delicate gem of an object so much more
beautiful and appealing to you than the highlighted one. With the paintings, too, it’s only when
you really look that you can appreciate the expressions of faces in the background of crowd
scenes, or the subtle addition of an unexpected object in the corner of a landscape. I supposed
one could pick up this degree of appreciation with the abstracts, too, but I tend to prefer
representational art.

About an hour into my visit, and I hadn’t realized it had been a full hour till I looked at my
watch, so I must have indeed been deeply engaged in the art, I discovered one reason for the
sparse attendance in the exhibit halls. I heard music that seemed to be coming from a particular
direction rather than from the general distribution of hidden speakers, and I followed the sounds.



                                                  79
Eventually I found myself in atrium sort of area, the original entrance to the museum, a large
open space with a wide sweeping staircase leading up to the second floor galleries. The space
however was not currently open, being instead dotted with those appallingly uncomfortable little
metal folding chairs, most of which were occupied, set up for the occasion of listening to a string
quartet. A placard on the side noted what I had apparently missed before, that this was part of a
series of chamber music concerts given on the third Wednesday of each month. It immediately
occurred to me that this type of arrangement would be very well suited to subsidize in memory
of my mother. The music was also quite good, even if the acoustics were somewhat unsuited for
that particular instrumentation. I will be making sure to attend other such concerts, even if the
memorial plans don’t work out, and I’m sorry that I didn’t know about them earlier.

I don’t travel much. It’s hard, with cats. They don’t board well, and although I do have friends,
quite a few friends no matter what Angie seems to think, none of them live nearby and it would
be hard for them to stop in and care for the cats. Finding the concerts at the museum struck me
though as an indication of how little I’ve been involved in what’s going on in my own city
despite any pretense with outsiders. I’ve also hit a certain age that, in this case, has its
advantages. It would be considered odd for a younger woman to attend outings such as this by
herself. Well, not exactly odd. People would think they had a very good idea of why she was by
herself, which would be that she was hoping to end up not by herself. A more mature woman
can go places and only be seen as enjoying the music or food or art or whatever is being offered,
and if she happens to talk to others, it’s clearly only a casual acquaintanceship and nothing on
which to build further hopes. It would not be a bad thing to extend the range of my friendships,
or, mostly, to get out a little more, to try a few new things. Not too many. My life is really quite
fine as it is. But I am getting older. It’s hopefully-- I should say, I hope that it’s a long time
before I end up in a nursing home, even if in the standard decline of abilities and faculties that
generally lead to such an event, rather than my mother’s trauma, but it will happen someday. I
suppose I should try to get a little more out of life meanwhile.

But I must remember to talk to Angie about the concerts. She likes music, too, even if our tastes
are very different. I will, however, point out that the sort of bands she prefers would not really
be suitable for the limited confines of the museum’s space. Even if those groups do occasionally
play in very cramped venues, the museum is unlikely to be able to set up the requisite strobe
lighting, the folding chairs are not compatible with a “mosh pit”, and the smoke-filled room
effect would be damaging to the art works, no matter the type of smoke. Still, I do believe she
would like the general idea of it, and I will try to present it as just a suggestion and not as a
superior sort of put-down and correction of her own idea, even if mine is better. I might run the
idea past Mr. Hagerman, too. He might be interested in attending one of the existing series of
concerts, if he doesn’t already know of them.

**********

<b>Falling Apart</b>

She kept away from the artist as long as she could. There were the other minds, luckily, because
she couldn’t stand being in her own head any longer than the minimal amount of time necessary




                                                80
to regroup and reassess its condition and then to leave it to its own continued deterioration. But
even in other minds, things weren’t going well.

For some reason, Mike’s poems were becoming more and more resistant to her changes. She’d
poke a smallish sparkle of light out of the way and replace it with a more glittery word, but a
look around just a bit later would show the new word dead, the light out of it, and after a short
while the original little sparkle would return in its stead. It didn’t really annoy her, she told
herself, but there was a more than a tinge of exasperation to her actions when she decided to test
what was happening by replacing several lines at once. Like the first attempt at major changes,
so long ago, she expected the lights to be thrown off in a spray of rejected inspiration, but it
wasn’t the same. The spin of the word play faltered, slowed, as the balance and shifting patterns
of the words were tested and found strange to the native dance of lights. And then all of it went
dark and dead, collapsing and flattening and sinking into oblivion as the entire poem was
rejected, a baby bird handled by another species and so thrown from the nest, no longer his own.
Clare was stunned.

<i>It must not have been that important to him in the first place,</i> she told herself, to hide the
hurt and guilt. There were other poems still lingering. To prove it was a fluke, she turned to one
of the more lazily spinning ones, which she’d learned meant he wasn’t really paying attention to
them.

The cold sunset looks warm to me,
Because I’m heading home,
And soon it will be your face I see.
I wish I didn’t roam.

That wasn’t so bad. He’d definitely improved under her tutelage. The third line stumbled a bit,
though, on its extra syllable, and surely it didn’t really need that opening “And”. Clare reached
out mentally to push the extraneous word aside. It wouldn’t move. She couldn’t touch it. There
was a barrier in place, and when she pushed a little harder, the barrier sparked at her and sizzled
with a warning hiss of more dangerous reaction should she keep trying. She pulled back into a
ball of thoughtfulness. Apparently Mike was taking charge of his own imagination now, and she
wasn’t welcome. This was a good sign, of course it was. It meant he cared even more about the
poems, that he had a vested interest in keeping them his. Clare sighed. If only they were good
enough to keep -her- interest. But without the ability to meddle... well, she’d probably stop by
now and then to see what further progress was being made. But that would be it.

The voices in Joel’s head just laughed at her.

She slipped into Stephanie’s mind already depressed, and knowing that wasn’t a good idea.
Something had changed, though. The slowly waving curtains of blue and black, the ones that
now and then seemed to reach out as if to strangle her, or anything else going by, were utterly
still, their darkling hues turned lurid, streaked orange and red and purple by reflection. The
scented baby powder that used to fill the air, so that it was hard to breathe without gagging, had
precipitated into sparse snowdrifts melting under the heat, the source being the throbbing mass




                                                 81
taking up the center of Stephanie’s psyche, a crusted chunk of living lava, the black splitting
apart and rejoining as it tried unsuccessfully to bind the molten core.

<i>Oh God. Oh no, oh no, oh no.</i> Clare drew herself into the slimmest, most unobtrusive
shape she could think of, an extra curve in one of the curtains, as she tried to sense the cause of
the disruption, even while dreading what the cause might be. <i>Not the children. Please, God,
not the children. Surely she didn’t do anything to the children. She wouldn’t. She loved them,
she did love them.</i> But love wasn’t always enough.

There were tears, too, she realized. It was hard to think of them as tears when on the inside they
were so black, and sizzled a hole in anything they touched as they fell. The throbbing, that was
the pain. Mental anguish or physical, it was impossible at first to decide, because in the mind
they were so much the same. She had to know. Clare let herself merge further into the curtain
and the mind that had generated it.

Stephanie was curled up on the old couch. The TV wasn’t on and the reason was likely the large
hole through the screen. Empty beer cans littered the floor, and the dark spots in the rug showed
how little care had been taken to be sure that they’d been completely emptied. The girl was
crying but without sobbing, a disturbing effect, her eyes fixed open and staring at the hole in her
world as she slowly rocked back and forth, her breath going in and out in tight gasps and gulps.
Clare was scared now, but she had to find out, had to help if she could, and the only way was to
sink deeper into this fractured mind. The chanting started low, a male voice put on endless loop,
“...stupid... stupid... stupid...” over and over again, in time with the throbbing.

<i>You’re not stupid.</i> Clare whispered it, breathed it. <i>You’re hurt though. You need to
fix the hurt.</i>

Stephanie’s eyes flew open wider and she screamed, “STOP IT!” A wailing cry started in
another room and a second cry joined it a moment later.

Clare felt a knot loosen in her soul. The children were safe. Well, if not safe, still alive.

“Now look what you’ve done! I hate you, I HATE YOU!” The girl stumbled to her feet and
kicked the rolling cans to the side as she fought her way to the nursery. Making incoherent,
desperately controlled hushing sounds and promises of future treats, she tried to soothe the two
back to sleep, the baby and the toddler. She didn’t turn on the main light and the soft nightlight
was apparently too dim to let the children see her condition. Clare could feel it now, though.
The nose might be broken but probably not; there wasn’t any indication of leaking blood, and on
second consideration the pain was mostly from the neighboring cheekbone. There would
certainly be a black eye come morning. Her stomach hurt. Stephanie’s stomach hurt. He must
have punched her there, as well as the general slapping around.

<i>He shouldn’t have done that! You need to leave him.</i> Clare waited till the girl was out of
the room, on her way to get milk to complete the soothing, but it was impossible not to say
something about this mess.




                                                  82
The girl’s reply came in the animalistic snarl of a repressed shout, kept low only to keep from
scaring the children again, “You don’t know my life! Without him, I’m nowhere! I’m nothing!
They NEED him! I’ll do ANYTHING for them! I’m going crazy. I don’t care. Conscience,
God, whoever you are, get the HELL AWAY FROM ME!”

Clare went silent. There wasn’t anything else to do. The girl continued her muttering as she
warmed the milk. “It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have talked to him about needing someone to watch
the kids. Stupid idea. I can’t go back. My fault. Stupid, stupid, stupid…” Her fault, not
Stephanie’s, if she read it right. Another mistake. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

She stayed long enough to be with the girl as she brought the milk back, as she put aside the
sippy cup for a toddler who had already fallen back asleep, as she fed the still fussy baby. Clare
stayed with her as she held the baby in trembling arms that slowly relaxed under the comforting
weight, as the girl looked with pride and passion on the offspring of her own body, of what had
been love, her pain dwindling to insignificance in relation to what truly mattered in her life.
Only when the baby had fallen asleep in the mother’s arms, when the mother had gently set the
baby back in the makeshift crib and then, tired, too tired to care, sat down again and fallen asleep
in turn, only then did Clare leave.

But she couldn’t stay, not where the cord brought her. There was nothing there for her anymore
except an anchor point she wasn’t quite willing to give up. And after only a short interval, still
fragile from Stephanie, she went again to the artist. By now, it should be good again. Surely it
would. His temper was a shifting one; he couldn’t have stayed mad at her for that long.

There was a soft deep-rose and golden glow to the mind that wasn’t what she’d usually found,
and the scent of honey and cinnamon and cloves. She moved very tentatively into the glow,
keeping herself misty and amorphous as if she might be hit by something elsewise. The
temptation was to sink into his awareness and find out his current state that way, but, Clare told
herself, <i>Politeness is knocking. And if he sends me away again, I’ll go, and not come
back.</i> She cleared her non-existent throat, remembering to keep the motion of it only to
herself. <i>Hello?</i>

There was a lazy sort of twist to the consciousness and the glow intensified around her, though it
lost most of its warm color. “Why, it’s the angel again, isn’t it?” He kept the words below full
vocalization, below even a mutter or whisper, and by now, for he was too aware of it and so she
couldn’t help picking it up too, she caught the sense of the other body beside him.

Her self blushed with the instant capability of pure mind. <i>Yes. I’m sorry. Bad timing.</i>

“No, stay. Something, something I need to show you, sweetcheeks. Something you ought to
see, oh yeah.” He yawned partway through the speech, but still roused enough to slip out of
bed. The female form made a soft unfocused murmur of complaint and changed position,
grabbing more of the blanket to compensate for the missing warmth, before drifting into
unconsciousness again. He stalked quietly towards the studio on bare feet, not even bothering to
don a robe, though she suspected he wasn’t the sort to keep one nearby anyway. He did take a
detour to the kitchen to grab a beer.



                                                83
<i>You’re not serious. Beer at this hour?</i>

He chuckled darkly as he popped the top. “And the angel spake unto him and said, ‘Ewww,
beer?!’”

<i>That’s not what I said!</i>

“Close enough.” He swallowed half the can, gulping it down as if steeling himself for something
he expected to be unpleasant, before he spoke again, and by then they were in front of a new
painting that seemed to match the theme of the previous one. “There you go. Come tell me what
you see, darling Angelique.”

It was a challenge, not an invitation. Clare sighed to herself, but complied, making sure she
could tell exactly what was there before she dared to speak.

<i>It’s another stained glass window, but different. There’s a figure in the glass. A face,
smiling, and hands held out in blessing, like an angel, or a saint. It looks kind but, but not kind,
all at the same time. As if it were beyond such concepts as kindness. I would have said at first
that it was female, but maybe it’s beyond that, too. The light. The other was a setting sun, this
one is maybe rising? Or noon. All golden light, and it doesn’t pour out of the window like the
blood red light, it doesn’t drip, it’s in rays and spikes instead. Piercing. The figure, the dancer
below, it’s not...</i>

She looked more closely, and fought down the nausea in order to continue, though softer.
<i>There’s nothing there anymore. No mind. It’s a puppet, isn’t it? Yes. I see them now, the
lines coming down in the light, the lines of light from the hands. That’s... I don’t know what’s
worse, the dancer bled to death, or this one, so controlled.</i>

He smiled, and she felt nauseous again at all the inner connotations of that smile, and his voice
was as soft as hers. “It’s you, angel.”

<i>The puppet?</i> She knew that wasn’t so, but it was easier to ask it that way.

He snorted. “Yeah, right. No, dollface, not the doll. The angel in the window. The puppet
master. You.” The rest of the beer went down in a few rapid swallows.

She looked at the face again, at the aureole of white-gold hair, the pale skin, the golden eyes with
something odd about them. There it was. No pupil. The iris darkened to a deeper gold in the
center but there was no actual pupil. That was part of what made the face seem so abstracted, so
inhuman. It didn’t need an opening to let light in. It, itself, was the light. But it wasn’t a light
that anyone would welcome once they knew it.

She tried to keep the tone light, <i>You’ve made me prettier than I am, if so. But why so
cruel?</i>




                                                 84
“Aren’t you? Possessive, too. Pushing me away from Theresa.” He gave a slow grin and she
could feel the mental caress directed back towards the bedroom. “But guess what, surprise,
surprise, angel, it didn’t work, not this time. No strings on me, darling.”

<i>I just thought she wasn’t exactly right for you. But I didn’t mean to push.</i>

“Oh, she’s very right for me. Much, much better than Michelle. You didn’t fail there, though,
did you? Maybe I should even thank you for that.” There was a growing viciousness that she
didn’t care for at all, but she tried to keep calm. Someone had to.

<i>I sorry, but I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about?</i>

“You broke us up. I saw you, there in her head, when she was screaming at me. Don’t bother to
deny it, it won’t fly, angel.”

Oh, God. At this rate, she was going to throw up, and being enough a part of him to feel the
weight of the beer in her, his, stomach wasn’t helping. How could she explain?

<i>I-I was there. But I wasn’t making her scream at you! I was trying to stop her, really I
was!</i>

It was stifling. It was stifling her, and hurting too, the hurtful words coming with narrow bands
of heated metal that snapped out like sprung hoops, like metal whips, leaving welted burns.
“Sure you were. Bad, bad angel, trying to claim the strings weren’t there, that she couldn’t
control her little puppet. She stopped when you really wanted to stop her, didn’t she? Scared,
terrified, she was. I saw her face. Did you feel it? Did you enjoy it? Did you think, just a little
bit more and you could paralyze her entirely? Stop her breath? Stop her heart?”

<i>I can’t do that.</i> Clare could only whisper it past the pain. It had no conviction behind it,
either. She hadn’t though of that, she hadn’t tried it. Maybe she could.

“Sure, angel. And kinda stupid of me to say so, right? With you in my head right now and all.”

<i>I wouldn’t hurt you. I don’t... I don’t want to hurt anyone.</i>

The disgust was palpable. “Right, right, you just want to hang out in other people’s heads. It
amuses you. But you’d never, ever touch anything, never move anything around. Make me
believe that. Or do you claim you can’t do that, either?”

She’d done that. She’d played with other people’s minds as if she had a right to it. How could
she have done that?

“I don’t hear you, angel.”

<i>I-1 should go. I’m sorry. You’re right. I shouldn’t be here.</i>




                                                85
He looked at the painting, at the window and the warm/cold face in it, at the piercing, binding
streams of light, at the broken-bone pose of the figure beneath. “No. You shouldn’t. Go home,
angel.”

She fled, with a sob that she kept to herself till she was back, and then found she couldn’t let out.
Her own head was too stuffed with blanket, there wasn’t any room to let out anything at all.
Stifled, stifling, she couldn’t breathe from the pain that had stayed with her, the heartache in her
soul. and there was only one place left that she dared reach.

The desert had bleached out to an off, off white. The dirt was nothing but a slightly darker patch
of sand. Nothing else was there but the pain, still following her, still part of her. She wasn’t
going to escape it. She couldn’t go back, she couldn’t go anywhere else. Clare threw herself
down on the sand, in the vast emptiness, and started to cry.

The sky darkened. She sobbed in loud moans, as Stephanie should have sobbed but couldn’t for
fear of waking the children, and when that reason finally occurred to her, she stopped sobbing
and screamed instead.

Lightning flashed with her scream and that felt so right that she screamed again and a ring of
bolts came down around her, not touching her, but fusing the sand into blackened glass.

This was right. This was her place, her purgatory, her hell. She couldn’t hurt anyone here but
herself. She screamed a third time, a despairing desperate wail that drew on all the guilt and
anguish, fighting to focus it, and it came back at her, a single bolt larger than any of the others
and she threw the cord into its path.

It broke. The snap and recoil of the piece still attached shattered her form into an infinity of
fragments that she didn’t have the will to draw together. She let herself dissolve in the
downpour, weeping again as the world around her wept, blinded by the darkness, deafened by
the rain, the desert disappearing in the storm.

There were voices in the rain, the rain fading into the shouting voices. Someone else to shout at
her? Clare tried to huddle into a ball again, hugging herself, as the tears still leaked down her
face, but her arms wouldn’t move. That’s right, she didn’t have any. Except she did, she could
feel them, and she tried to move them again and this time they came when she called, stiff and
sore and something trailing behind them, but they came. And then other arms were hugging her,
voices calling to her, and they didn’t sound angry, true, though they didn’t sound very calm
either.

She tried to see what was happening, and that worked, too. Eyelids that opened, and beyond was
light, and in the light were faces and the voices were coming from the faces, and the faces were
crying and the voices were tight with tears, but it wasn’t bad, because they were telling her how
wonderful everything was, how wonderful she was, and that everything, everything would be
fine now and nothing would go wrong, ever again.




                                                 86
That didn’t sound likely but it wasn’t as if things could have gotten much worse. She felt
weakened, so weak, but she reached though her mind to see if she could sense it. No cord. She
was here then for good. She relaxed into the hugs, tried to smile at the faces, and hoped they
were right.

**********

<b>Interlude</b>

“Oh my God. Oh God, oh God, oh GOD! She’s not breathing! Somebody, someone HELP!”

**********

<b>The Lawyer’s Story, Continued</b>

“I, Clare O’Rourke Sachs, being of sound mind and body...”

The reading of the will went very well. There were no surprises, and to ensure that, I follow the
most excellent advice of a colleague, which is to talk with each of the main beneficiaries
separately, ahead of time, to give a preview of what is to come and discuss what might be seen as
any irregularities or biases or what might cause strained feelings. The important part of this is to
keep to the pretense that it is the other beneficiaries whose strained feelings might cause
disruption.

It is only a slightly unusual will, and all the legalities are in place. The estate is not an
insignificant one, mostly, of course, due to her husband’s prior demise and her subsequent
inheritance of the bulk of his own estate, comprised of his earnings and investments as well as
funds devolved upon him from his family. I believe her parents left fairly little, and that was
split among several siblings. Her husband’s will was unusual in its own way, in that it gave Mrs.
Sachs the full control of all assets left to her use, put fully in her name, instead of the more
common practice of setting up a trust fund to provide for her during her lifetime but the residue
to pass on to his children after her death. Allowing the spouse to receive all monies directly is
generally reserved for those with little to grant; people of substantial property prefer that it go to
their own children and not be shared with the children of subsequent marriages or splurged on
the upkeep of a second husband or wife. Nevertheless, and possibly due to negotiations to which
I was not a party, Mr. Sachs left Mrs. Sachs a significant fortune to do with as she would.

Given the circumstances, I believe she did very well. Her choice of investments during the
period after Mr. Sachs’ death were quite wise and the value of the estate increased accordingly.
Her choices for disbursement upon her death were also made with great care. There are the usual
allotments for charities, including the museums to which she devoted so much of her time.
There are some bequests of personal items and token gestures to certain friends and relations. I
am very pleased to say that Mrs. Sachs, unlike so many others, even those of her advanced years
who should be most aware of the passage of time, reviewed these bequests annually and made
the necessary adjustments due to prior demises and loss of friendships or general falling out of




                                                 87
touch. You would be surprised, or perhaps not, at the degree of awkwardness that can result
from failure to keep these sorts of things up to date.

Most of the funds, of course, were left to her immediate family. In this, she showed a touch of
genius to which I must only bow my head in admiration, for it was all of her idea and I can claim
no credit, much as I would like to do so. To wit, as follows:

The sum of ninety thousand dollars is left in trust to be given to Mrs. Daley’s issue, to be divided
at the time of first disbursement, and the actual term of disbursement is that the amount should
be given upon the occasion of the child’s graduation from a fully accredited four-year college or
university, or upon the child’s twenty-fifth birthday, whichever comes first. It is, you will note, a
very clever sum, for it can be divided among the three children currently in existence, or among
four or five, should Mrs. Daley have a very late pregnancy (which I believe is more subject to
having twins), or between two, should anything unfortunate happen to reduce the number rather
than augment it.

An equal sum of ninety thousand dollars is set aside for Miss Sachs’ issue, should she ever
decide to conceive or adopt. I know most might see this as being very unlikely, but Mrs. Sachs
wished to be considered quite fair in her treatment of her daughters by allowing for any such
possibility. If Miss Sachs has acquired no such issue by the time of her death, the trust will
reallocate the funds to Mrs. Daley’s issue.

The rest of the estate is to be split into thirds. One third will be given to Miss Sachs and one
third to Mrs. Daley, and those funds will be given into their full control. I should say that
although this is, in fact, the case, I’ve been asked by Mrs. Daley to avoid stating so except in
strictest confidence. As far as her husband and children are to be made aware, that money is also
in trust and she must apply for any use of it and I am now working with her in order to turn this
subterfuge into something closer to legal fact before “the cat is out of the bag” so to speak. It
really is a most interesting maneuver and not one that I would have expected from her.
Apparently her confidence in her spouse does not extend to his ability to handle such a windfall,
even one in her name.

The final third of the funds will be kept in trust and either Miss Sachs or Mrs. Daley can apply
for addition disbursements from the trust based on severe financial need. This also applies to the
trusts set up for the children, that in the case of severe need, they can apply for earlier
disbursement than the conditions set up initially.

There is a very clear purpose to this arrangement, should one know all the details behind it, as I
am pleased to say that I do. Mrs. Sachs does not, or rather did not, wish her daughters to think
badly of their father and did not wish to share the knowledge of his other issue with them, as he
himself had not wanted to share it. Yet, Mrs. Sachs was also fully aware that there are certain
medical circumstances where being able to contact half-siblings might prove the difference
between life and death. Such circumstances would, though, by their nature, be likely to provoke
financial hardship and so the trusts are authorized that should knowledge of such conditions
come to them, they may reveal the existence of these heretofore unknown relations. I believe
this is the most clever solution I have yet seen to the conundrum of keeping a memory sacred



                                                 88
while allowing for practical reasons why such a path might not be lead in the best direction for
those left behind.

All in all, I shall miss having Mrs. Sachs as a client. It seems, however, that both of her
daughters have found our services of such high professional quality, with such attention to all
proper courtesies and respect, that they will continue to be working with us. Miss Sachs has
already done the kindness of asking me to handle certain matters totally unrelated to the
disposition of the estate. She seems a most intelligent woman, much in her mother’s mold, and
I look forward to our association lasting for a long number of years. In fact, I do believe I look
forward to it greatly.

**********

<b>Epilogue</b>

They were fighting. It was glorious. In a completely childish “I was right and you were wrong”
sort of way, but that was appropriate.

“Alex, really, I don’t see why you can’t trust them to get it right!”

“Darling, dearest, light of my life...” He was not speaking kindly. “You are free to leave any
bloody time you please. But I’m staying till everything’s up.”

“We have reservations at six! And don’t look at me like that, you made them.”

“You, demonic being of pure pleasure that you are, are the one who wanted to go to such a
fucking trendy place that six was the only time available. To celebrate the new show, as I recall.
Well it’s not a new show yet, my sweet, and it won’t be till every picture is hung.”

“Your part is done! They’re finished, and finally so! Can’t you leave them now?”

“No.”

It was pure serendipity that she’d managed to sneak off to the gallery just at this time. Well, not
completely so. She’d called and asked about works by Alexandre Evans, and lo and behold, a
new show was about to open. Though, interestingly enough, the relationship between the artist
and Theresa seemed about to close. Clare grinned cheekily as she leaned against the wall to
watch.

Edouard, blast him, had other ideas that involved suavely steering away any audience. “Ah, a
visitor! Forgive me for not greeting you earlier, but as you can see, we’re in the midst of
opening a new exhibit. May I show you some of the other rooms? Or are you, perhaps, looking
for someone?”

The twinkle in his eye said that it was obviously the last. Why else would she be there?
Certainly not to make a purchase. Clare straightened up and smiled at him with all the wide-



                                                 89
eyed innocence she could stand to project. “I just like art. A lot. And you have the best here,
I’ve been told, other than what’s at the museum. Is it wrong to come by just to look at the
pieces?”

She had the enormous satisfaction of seeing him blink. Following up on her advantage, she
offered her hand, “I’m Jeanna Wheatley. You must be the gallery owner, Monsieur Boucher, is
that right?” She pronounced the French impeccably. After all, she was now in the honors
program. Her teachers were quite pleased, and probably secretly astonished, that she’d lost so
little ground in schoolwork during her coma.

Jeanna had drowned. Her family said “almost drowned” but Clare knew that nothing of Jeanna
had been left behind except her body. The doctors had tried to tell them that, too, but they kept
hoping. Like Clare’s body, Jeanna’s body had been breathing on its own, all of the automatic
processes still working, so it looked as if she was only sleeping. How could she be dead? The
doctors told them there was no higher brain function at all, but it made no sense to the family,
because they were also told that there was little indication of physical damage to the brain. If it
was all there, it ought to work. It would work. Just give it time.

They were ecstatically happy to be so dramatically vindicated, and the happiness more than
covered any dismay over Jeanna’s amnesia, her loss of the memory of any personal history prior
to the reawakening. Some of the memories even seemed to be coming back. (Clare thought it
very lucky that so many families had much the same sort of experiences.) And otherwise, Jeanna
was a very normal girl again. Clare didn’t tell them about the holdover from her mind-trips
because it was so mild. If the number four seemed green now, and the letter D was dark blue,
and the songs of Nickelback smelled like curry, it didn’t slow her in math or in reading or in her
appreciation of the music.

“Indeed, yes, I am the owner! And a great pleasure to meet such a discerning young lady as
yourself, Mademoiselle Wheatley.” Edouard bowed over her hand with a warm engaging smile,
sure that his elegant gesture would impress, and Clare tried not to laugh, because the laugh was
bound to come out as a giggle. Some things came too naturally to this body to suppress.

Meanwhile, Theresa still glared at Alex, who was now completely ignoring her as he got in the
way of the gallery staff. Clare motioned to one of the pictures that was already up. “I really like
this one. The angel’s face looks so kind. Like she doesn’t realize she’s pulling on him. What’s
it called?”

Alex picked up on the query and twisted quickly to the two. “Angelique. And she’s not kind.”

Clare smiled back despite the sting. “I guess you’d know.”

Something in her tone or choice of words made his eyes sharpen. A wicked mischief bubbled up
inside when she saw, and she turned deliberately to Edouard again with a light comment. “That’s
a really pretty name, though. Angelique. I always wanted to know an ‘Angelique’.” Daggers
couldn’t have dug deeper holes into her back.




                                                 90
Luckily, distraction came from someone not too bored to notice when another female was getting
more attention than she. “Alex! If you have time to talk to that child, then maybe you have time
to go to dinner?” Nectar couldn’t have been sweeter, or venom more poisonous.

He looked over at Theresa and studied her carefully for a long moment, as if planning a sketch.
Finally he sighed and pulled out his wallet. He started to open it, and then just tossed the whole
thing at the woman. “There. My treat. Enjoy.”

The wallet missed by a good three feet. Artist, not ballplayer. Theresa stared at it in shock, then
snapped at him, “And just what is that supposed to mean?” At least she wasn’t a screamer like
Michelle. Edouard was now too fascinated himself to usher Clare away, and Clare was careful to
do nothing to remind him.

“It means goodbye, my perfect pet piranha, my sadistic succubus, my tantalizing tarantula, my
most beloved millstone.” Alex shrugged and walked over to a just breached crate to inspect the
contents, continuing with off-hand casualness as if this happened every day. “Buy yourself
dinner, I owe you that. Buy yourself a treat if you like. Leave the rest in the studio on your way
out.”

Edouard coughed, and murmured, “License?” Alex shot him a dirty look for ruining the
performance, but sighed and went to retrieve said item, offering the rest of the wallet directly
now to Theresa with a sarcastic bow that mimicked Edouard’s one to Clare. The woman drew
herself up to her full height, eyes blazing with righteous anger from the multiple offenses.

“Keep your wallet and your money! You’ll be lucky to sell anything! You’re a shallow, pitiful,
talentless flop! In bed and here!” She waved sharply at the gallery walls, turned on a heel so
narrow that Clare was amazed it didn’t snap under the stress, and stalked out.

Edouard let out his breath in a silent whoof of appreciation for the dramatic exit. Alex started
laughing, softly at first and more loudly after the slam of the door. The two gallery minions
looked at their boss, and then at each other, and rightly decided to pretend they hadn’t seen or
heard anything out of the ordinary, and continued on with their work.

Clare felt like applauding but that might be going too far. She smiled instead, happy at the truth
of her prediction, and started to slip past the others. A hand on her arm stopped her. “Not so
fast, angel!” The sharp eyes belied his own smile. “Are you an angel?”

Clare dropped her gaze quickly to look at the hand and not the face, and pushed the words out
rapidly, as a nervous schoolgirl might. “I-I’m just me? Jeanna. Jeanna Wheatley. I’m fourteen,
nearly fifteen. I go to St. Bridget’s. I want to study art someday, maybe, I’m not sure yet. I’m
sorry about your girlfriend. Please let go.”

He let go. She risked a glance up and could tell that she’d confused him, that he wasn’t as
certain. Edouard coughed again, and Alex spun to face him. The older man said gently, “You
are distraught, my friend, and no wonder. So much activity! But here, let us allow this lady to
leave in a more usual manner than the other, and then you and I can share a bottle I’ve been



                                                91
meaning to open for some time now, but only with someone who I’m sure would appreciate it as
much as it deserves.”

Clare gave a small grateful smile toward Edouard. “Thank you, sir.” She looked at Alex, and
said softly, “I really am sorry. And, you know, she’s wrong. You’re very talented.” She picked
the words to be as bland and nondescript as she could, but she had to say something of the sort.

He still looked at her back at her with wary suspicion. “Yeah, thanks. Like you’d know.” Clare
bit her lip and even Edouard raised an eyebrow. Definitely time to go. She turned to do so and
the hand was suddenly on her arm again. “Wait. Will you come back? When the show’s fully
open?” Edouard’s other eyebrow raised. The artist continued, intently, “You say you’re
interested in art. I could tell you more about the paintings. How I did them. The techniques.”

She wasn’t sure how to answer, whether to take the obvious bait or not. What would Jeanna
have done? That was obvious, too, and so what if it matched her own desires? Clare turned to
smile happily at the artist, letting her face light up with surprised pleasure. “You’d do that? That
would be great! Thank you! I’ll call or something? And I’ll need to let my parents know. But
I’m sure they’ll say it’s okay, so yes, definitely, I’ll come back.” Yes, that fit. She ought to get
one of those bracelets: WWJD?

The flicker of confusion returned as he let go again, and she should go, now, before it changed
further. She smiled at Edouard for a last time and then slipped out. She would have skipped but
her legs weren’t up to that yet, not after so long a stay in a hospital bed, and besides, it might
have been overdoing the childlike image.

This might be fun. He was too old for her, of course, he had to be twice her age! But there was
Susan, her physical therapist. Such a nice girl, with a good sense of humor, and clever, too, and
not the sort to scream or snap at people. And he could use a good massage. Maybe it would
improve his temper.

She’d been able to find him easily enough. The others, the other minds and their owners, she
didn’t know where to begin and she wasn’t sure she should go looking. Eventually she’d arrange
to meet Kate and Angie, or at least she’d learn how to follow their lives from a distance. There
was time. She had her whole life ahead of her again, though this one would go differently.
Much differently. Life really ought to be much more fun.

Jeanna smiled, and kept smiling, all the way home.




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