portion of the artwork for Tim Raymond's short story

The Lucky Ones
Tim Raymond

It could have been one thing, or all of the things. Or I held her too close, or not close enough, or close enough but not often enough, or too often. Or it started before she was born, or after that but before she was old enough to crawl. Or after that. Way after. I came home from work one night to find the police in the living room. My daughter was crying. She’d gone knocking on all of the neighbors’ doors to ask if there was news she hadn’t heard about. “What news?” I’d said. The police didn’t know, and Lucy didn’t know. She was 15. She was shocked I was alive.

“You were late,” she said. “And you didn’t answer your phone.”

Or before that, too, when she still needed babysitters, and screamed in their faces, or cried, or paced for hours. I used to say that I understood, which was true. I used to tell her to bring Tylenol to school, just in case she got a headache. I gave her other medicines, too. I called the babysitters too often. I told Lucy to wear a coat, even when the sun was out. I held her hand at the mall, and told her kids got stolen there. I burned the chicken, just to make sure she didn’t get sick from it.

I bought gas when I still had half a tank. I made her pee before going anywhere. I didn’t let her play outside if the sun wasn’t out, or sleep with her door closed, or eat anything from a food-truck. She checked my moles to make sure they weren’t getting bigger. She felt my bumps, my lymph nodes. She saved her money, like I did.

I was guilty of all of it, I’m saying.

And, anyway, so was she.

And then last year, she killed herself.

After, I read these books that said kids learn their problems from their parents. I also read some books that said kids are born as worriers. Then I talked to this doctor who said it could be both, and that no one really knows for sure, and that whatever the case I shouldn’t blame myself. I asked him if he had kids and he said no. He asked me if I wanted to schedule regular sessions and I said no.

Maybe I should have, or maybe nothing and no one ever changes. You’d think something like a daughter’s death would trigger some shift, at least one way or the other. I’d be inspired and healed and no longer spiral into panicked searches on the Internet about the pain in my jaw. I’d stop coming back into the house to check the stove every time I go somewhere. I’d stop counting to get to sleep.

Or I’d count more and check the stove twice and crumble every time I turn a new corner. You’d think that. You’d be wrong.

She was in her dorm when she did it. I’d suggested Casper College over and over, because then she could have lived at home. But she was determined. Determined to get better, I now think. They found pills in her room, which I didn’t know she was taking. They found the note, which I’ve still not read. I never will. I keep it in the lockbox, with the other important documents.

I don’t mean to be misleading. She lived on the seventh floor, and jumped out the window.

There’s nothing a person can do about it. You blame yourself and read the books and say you don’t blame yourself anymore, but you do. You call her disorder what it was, and yours what it is, and you say you can’t blame yourself, but of course you can. And you do. And you quit your job and sell the house and rent something smaller and eventually work for a local phone company doing mostly filing in the back, so you don’t have to face people anymore.

My name is Paula.

* * *

My apartment complex is generally quiet, which is why I chose it. It’s isolated, set between the more residential neighborhoods and downtown, where the college is. The tenants are mostly older, or anyway past college age, and don’t have families, and just work and come home and then go elsewhere if they want to get loud or crazy. I have a parking space reserved for me, and at the end of the day that kind of thing makes me feel calm. Lately, there’s been a little more excitement than usual because, somehow, a tenant in the B building got robbed. The police came and questioned a bunch of people, but they didn’t catch anybody. It seemed weird to me from the start because who would come all the way down the hill to our complex to look for something to steal? Plus, there’s a gate with a security guy. Plus, it wasn’t just valuables stolen, it was stuff like microwaves and comforters. It didn’t make any sense. Then another person in B got robbed, and I thought it was another tenant from the building breaking into neighbors’ places, as perhaps a prank. Then someone in C, my building, got robbed, that tall kid across the hall, and I paid the maintenance guy to install another deadbolt on my door. The police made a joke about all my locks when they came to me to ask questions. I was breathing my words at them.

They still haven’t caught the guy. It’s annoying, and troubling, but I’m trying not to think about it. You know I’m not sleeping.

* * *

The tall kid isn’t actually a kid. He seems like he’s about 30. He goes to work around the same time I do, and returns around the same time. We don’t talk and we don’t know each other and if you asked me his name I’d not know it.

His apartment is bare now, though, so apparently things are changing.

“Sorry, hi,” he says, today, now, this Thursday evening, as we ride the elevator to the seventh floor. “We’ve never actually met.”

“Yeah, hi,” I say.

“I’m Austin.”

“I’m Paula,” I say.

He waits, and then the doors open and he asks, “Sorry, do you have an iron?”

“What?”

“They took my iron. I— They took my iron.” I don’t respond. He goes on, “They took a lot of stuff, and I’m trying to get everything again. An iron’s low on the list, but my boss is saying I look like, um—” He stops, and I look at his clothes. He’s right, they look rough. “Sorry,” he says.

“Well,” I say. “OK, wait in the hallway for a second.” When I come back with the iron, he takes it, then just stands there. “Ironing board, too?” I ask.

“Sorry,” he says.

I come back with it and close the door behind me. We don’t move at first, and then he nods.

“Yeah, I can do it now and get it right back to you,” he says.

“Thanks,” I tell him.

His apartment is a lot like mine. That’s how this complex goes. It’s even clean, too. The difference is his appliances are all missing. TV, microwave, coffee pot. He sets up the board in the living room, plugs in the iron, and heads to his bedroom. The iron’s pretty close to the edge of the board, and I move it back some, so it’s less likely to fall.

“It’s a nightmare, Paula,” he says, returning. “Have you ever been robbed?” He spreads a shirt on the board and sets to work.

“No.”

“Nightmare. And the stuff they’re taking. It’s ridiculous.”

“Yeah, it seems weird.”

“How long have you lived here?”

“Almost a year.”

“Almost a decade,” he says, “for me.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s your job?”

“Retail,” he says. “You?”

“I was a health inspector,” I tell him. “I work in an office now.”

“OK. That’s OK.”

He doesn’t have any pictures around his place. Same as me.

He does a few shirts, a few pants, then helps me carry the stuff back.

* * *

On Sunday, he knocks on my door, this time to ask about my car. “You have an SUV, right?” he says. “You’ve got that gray, boxy thing?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you busy today?”

“Why?’

“I need a ride,” he says. “I’m so sorry. They took my bike, and I found this good one on Craigslist, and it’s going to get bought any minute, I know it.”

“You have that red car,” I remind him. “I’ve seen it.”

“No space for a bike.”

“Friends?”

“My boyfriend’s busy,” he says. “My friend’s working.”

“I—” I start, but I don’t want to say the truth, which is that I don’t want to be alone in a car with a man whose last name I don’t know, even if he is gay. And I don’t want to go to some stranger’s house to look at any used items. And I don’t want to brave the Sunday traffic, the church traffic. I want to sit on my couch and do puzzles until the day’s gone.

“I get it,” he says. “But please. Neighbor to neighbor.”

“What’s your last name?” I ask, finally, and then he sighs and says it, and then we go.

Say it’s his sweet face, his sweet voice. Say it’s sympathy. Say I see someone who needs help and feel I have a responsibility, because of everything that’s happened. Say whatever. I don’t know.

But the house we end up at, 20 minutes across town, has a racecar in a rock-pile beside the garage. There’s a truck on the street. A bronco in the yard. A skeleton of some vehicle in the garage.

“Come with me,” Austin says.

“I don’t want to,” I say. “Sorry.”

“I can’t haggle,” he says. “Come on.”

“I can’t haggle, either.”

“Just, it’ll help me if you come with.”

“Why?”

“I don’t do well alone in these situations.”

Say it’s his honest face, his genuine tone. Say whatever. Out I go. A man in a tank-top leaves the house before we’re even halfway up the driveway. He’s wearing sandals and sunglasses and looks tan. “Austin?” he says, and Austin nods. We follow the guy into his garage.

It’s dirty, for one. And there’s grease. You can see the dust and the silk from the spiders’ webs dangling from the rafters. There’s camping equipment stashed up above. There’s tools and all kinds of stuff for sports. And the bikes. He pulls one off some hooks on the wall and bounces it a few times in front of us.

“Two hundred dollars, like the ad says,” he says.

“Why are you selling it?” Austin asks.

“Not doing road stuff anymore.”

“So, it’s in good shape?”

“You’re here, man. You know it is.”

“Yeah,” Austin says, and looks at me, as though he’s forgotten why we’ve come.

“Maybe he can ride it,” I say.

“Maybe,” the guy says, but it’s odd how he says it. I can’t tell if he’s trying to be mean, or if he’s just busy and eager to finish this business up.

I’m stuck with him as Austin rides around the block. You know I’m counting down the seconds until he’s back and we can go. Escape. I can feel every hair on my body, I can, and all of them are spiders, really. The grease and dust are getting into me. And the guy, he catches me backing away from his car-skeleton and says, “You like rally, girl?”

That’s what sticks with me after we’ve left. That and Austin’s embarrassed smile. That and the dirty bike in the back of my clean car. That man’s voice. That guy whose name I don’t know, asking me if I like rally, whatever that is. Calling me “girl.”

I shower for an hour after I get home. I can’t sleep a wink that night, and in the morning I swear to God I’ve caught a cold, early summer and all.

* * *

Work is hard. I don’t mean usually. I mean now, Monday, with my headache and stuffy nose.

And I can’t help it. Every time I see someone, I think “rally” and shudder. The Internet tells me rally is some kind of special racing with special cars. The races are usually off-road. In Wyoming, these guys go up into the mountains and skid around hairpin turns. I can’t stop picturing them sliding off the mountain. Then I’m lost in the woods, too. Then that guy with the bike is looking for me, and I’m the skeleton at his home, in his dirty garage. I’m his little girl. My boss, Earl, comes in for a cup of coffee and I start crying. He knows about Lucy and thinks everything is about her, which is true and not true. A big part of it is about me, which is selfish and not selfish. What about my mother? She died at 81 from liver failure.

“Hey, it’s not you,” Earl says, then doesn’t elaborate. He doesn’t touch my shoulder, because he knows not to. “Not you,” he repeats.

But it is. And when I go home that evening, I do that thing that I do sometimes, which is just stand outside pacing and fidgeting, watching the windows of my building, just in case someone’s got it in their head to do something thoughtless. I focus on the seventh floor because it seems more prone to pain, because history, or because I live there.

“Paula, hey,” says Austin, who apparently rode his new bike to work.

“No.”

“No, what? Are you OK? What are you doing?”

Say it’s how sweaty he is. Say it’s his tie. His one pant-leg rolled up. Say nothing. Don’t say anything at all. It’s nothing.

I tell him Lucy jumped out of a window and somehow didn’t bleed a lot when she hit the ground. I say I’m scared and have a cold and can’t take the medicine I have at home because now I’m scared it’ll be too hard on my liver. And I’m already 56.

“Are you?” he says.

“Her,” I say. “Her skull? Like a bag of rocks.”

“Shit,” he says. “My dad doesn’t know I’m gay.”

“What?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “We’re sharing our stuff?” I just look at him. “Why don’t you come inside?” he says, finally.

I can’t sit on his couch. He can, and does. He’s made tea for me and set it on the coffee table. The mug is too close to the edge, and I move it.

He says, “Do you want to talk, or not talk? Or talk about you? Or me? What?”

“I want you to decide,” I tell him.

“Um, then I’m sorry about your daughter. It’s a tragedy.”

“Yeah, it’s that.”

“I don’t know what else to say about it. I can’t imagine the sadness.”

“Thank you.”

“Do you want to sit?”

“No.”

He scratches his head. “Do you take pills or anything?”

“No.”

“Do you want one?”

“What pill?”

“I have Ativan.”

“Why? What for?”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s expired.” He pauses, then adds, “We could get high?”

“I don’t— I’ve never—”

“It’s legal in like four states now, including Colorado, so don’t worry about it.” He goes back into his bedroom, and returns with a little box. “Fuckers stole my pipe, would you believe it?” he says. “It’ll just be like a cigarette, OK?”

“I’ve never smoked a cigarette.”

“Breathe in slowly. Hold it in.”

“Shouldn’t you open a window?”

“Yeah, I will.”

“People will smell it,” I say. “What if they call the cops?”

“Paula, look at me,” he says. “No one will call the cops.”

“They might.”

“Have you ever smelled me smoking?”

“No.”

“Don’t worry.”

“I can’t. I can’t do it.”

“Also, I texted Dwayne.”

“Who’s Dwayne?”

“My boyfriend. He’s coming over.” He finishes rolling the paper and sighs. I move backwards toward the door, and he says, “Paula, my new friend, stop. I saw you panicked on the street. You don’t take pills. You don’t ask me to call anyone. You don’t sit down. You unload on me in the lot and then stand like this in my apartment. All right? Just trust me to make you feel different. You want to feel different, don’t you? Different from what this is right now?” I nod. He says, “So, say yes.”

“Well.”

Say it’s his eyes. His smooth fingers. Say the tea smells good. Say yes.

* * *

Dwayne is Asian, and muscly, and very handsome. And he’s smiling and praising how I can inhale the smoke without coughing. He and Austin are comfortable together, it’s clear. They laugh a lot. Neither one of them is at all what I expected, and it’s so embarrassing for us.

They’re on the couch, and I’m still standing, which Dwayne also praises. “It’s how you’re in such good shape, huh?” he says. “Look at you.”

“I don’t know if I feel anything,” I say, which is a lie, which I’m telling because I don’t know why. The truth is that I feel different, just like Austin said I would. I feel like I’ve fallen into a painting that I like, a colorful one that I never really understood or knew how to talk about. The mural in the hospital where Lucy was born, for example. I recall that. It had clocks and sunlight.

There’s me now, in it, dangling from a branch.

“A health inspector,” Dwayne says. “No shit.”

“What?” I say.

“I told him stuff,” Austin says.

“What’s Dwayne do?” I ask.

“Dwayne,” Dwayne says, “is a paralegal.”

“Oh,” I say.

“What did your daughter study?” he asks.

“Dwayne, come on,” Austin says.

“No, it’s OK,” I tell them.

“Let’s hear about her,” Dwayne says. “Her life. It’s all right.”

“Yeah, it’s all right,” I say.

“So?” Dwayne says.

“She studied Spanish. She wanted to be a Spanish teacher. She was back and forth on whether to go for high school or junior high.”

“She spoke Spanish?” Austin says. “Do you?”

“No,” I say, and I can’t help it, I’m laughing, it’s simply hilarious. It’s gut-busting. Picture Lucy in Mexico, putting in the time to learn the language for real. Would she have made it? Would I have? Picture me speaking Spanish to someone in a place I’ve never been to. Picture me listening to her over the phone. Picture us apart, picture us together. I heard that there are feelings Spanish-speakers have that we don’t, just because they have words that we don’t.

“Dwayne speaks Korean,” Austin says.

“You do?”

“Yeah,” says Dwayne.

“That’s just,” I say. “I don’t know what.”

Kamsahamnida,” he says, and bows a little.

“Both of your parents are Korean?” I ask.

“My mom is.”

“Where’s your dad from?”

“Michigan.”

“Do they live there still?”

“No.”

“Where do they live?”

“Denver,” he says. “And Chicago.”

“Both?”

“No,” Dwayne says.

“Oh?” I say.

Dwayne laughs and sort of leans into Austin. “They’re happy, don’t sweat it,” he says.

“Do they know you’re gay?” I say, then cover my mouth with my hands, because no, I can’t ask that. I shouldn’t ask that.

He says, “Yeah, of course.”

“I can ask that?”

“Yeah, of course.”

“I asked because Austin’s dad doesn’t know he is.”

“Right,” Dwayne says. “He won’t tell him.”

“Does his mom know?”

“No.”

“Why’d you only say your dad doesn’t know?”

“I don’t know,” Austin says. He thinks about it. “No, I don’t know.”

“My dad was on business in Seoul when he met my mom,” Dwayne says, like he enjoys remembering it. “He had a year-long contract, and left her when his visa expired. No hard feelings or anything. Just left her. Then six months passed, and he missed her so much that he quit his job and went back there and found her. A year later they were married in Detroit. A year after that, they had me. It’s incredible, right?”

“Yes,” I say.

“Bravery,” Dwayne says.

“All right, all right, I get it,” Austin says.

“What?” I say.

“It’s not so simple,” Austin explains. To me, he says, “Dad’s a piece of shit.”

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“He’s not a piece of shit,” Dwayne says.

“You’ve met him?” I ask.

“No.”

“I don’t get it.”

“When I was young,” Austin says, like he doesn’t enjoy remembering it, “I was fast, you know? I could run really fast. Dad noticed pretty quick. Mom, too. My PE teacher noticed. Everyone was like, this tall kid can really go. Go, go, go.” He gestures so I can see how he used to go. “I got on an AU soccer team, even though I wasn’t that great at soccer. I got on the track team later. Dad was always so happy when I won. So happy. Proudest guy around. Fuck.”

“I still don’t get it.”

“You can’t love that way. As a reward. That’s how people develop complexes.”

“Oh, I see what you mean.”

“Mom played tennis. She was good. Dad used to say tennis was for retards.”

“That’s terrible,” I say.

“I wanted to play tennis, but I don’t know if it’s because he hated it, or because I actually wanted to.” Austin pauses. “He used to say ‘faggot this, faggot that.’ ‘That faggot Clinton,’ and on and on. He touched my head and shoulder every night before I went to sleep.”

“Touched, why?”

“To say, ‘keep it up, son. Run your way out.’”

“Out of where?”

“I don’t know.”

“It sounds complicated,” I tell Dwayne. “Who’s Clinton?”

“Bill,” Dwayne says.

“But—”

“When I turned down a track scholarship he punched me in the stomach,” Austin says. “I didn’t want to run. And I didn’t want to go to that school, anyway. So. I went to college in Boulder.”

“But you work in retail,” I say.

“Yeah,” he says. “Right. I work in retail.”

“Nothing’s wrong with retail,” Dwayne says.

“You can’t tell your parents because they won’t be nice about it,” I say, kind of as a question, but mostly not. It’s awkward to say it out loud. Awkward to acknowledge parents who won’t support their children in the way their children need. Won’t, or can’t. “I never punched Lucy at all,” I say.

“What?” Austin says.

Dwayne laughs and says, “I like her. Hey. Hey, Paula.”

“Yeah?”

“What you think?”

“About what?”

“About all this.”

“This,” Austin says, grinning.

“Well,” I say.

* * *

What I think is that this thing with Austin’s parents won’t stand. Won’t, or can’t. I think my headache is gone and my cold feels gone and I’m worried the thief is in my apartment right now. I’m sure of it. I’m sure that new deadbolt was nothing and fell to pieces in the jamb today, while I was out, while I was imploding at my desk.

I think Lucy’s dad is probably dead by now. That’s what I always told her. I think I probably shouldn’t have told her that. That’s the kind of thing that makes people develop complexes. That’s the kind of thing that keeps young girls from getting in cars while it’s snowing, or from crossing busy streets, or from petting big dogs.

Love is beyond me now, I think. I had this friend back before Lucy died who was only in her 40s. She went on so many dates, and when she finally found a guy who was even halfway-harmless, he stuck around for only a few months, then stopped messaging her altogether. No word, no explanation. She would say, “I’ll give him two more weeks to respond, and then I’ll agree it’s over. Then I’ll stop texting him.” She gave more than two weeks. She gave much, much more.

And also I mean love in general.

“I have to go to my apartment,” I tell Dwayne and Austin.

“Can we come?” Austin says.

“Um,” I say. I’m about to say they can’t, but I picture the thief, this hulking monster, and I change my mind. “Can you bring a frying pan?” I ask.

“What?” Austin says.

“Yes,” says Dwayne. “Absolutely.”

It’s all panic and nerves as I’m unlocking the door. I hold the handle for a moment before pushing forward. The place is quiet, until Dwayne taps the pan on the counter.

“Don’t,” I say.

“What?” he says.

I check the living room, the hallway, the closets. The bedroom, the bathroom. It seems just how I left it, save the window in the bedroom, which I never leave open. Never.

I start fumbling with the blinds, I guess so loudly that Austin and Dwayne hear. They come in all curious, asking, “What? What?”

“See that woman out there?” I say. “Look by that tree.”

“Why?” Austin says.

“Look. Near the light.”

“But why?”

“That’s my purse.”

“What? Paula, wait a minute. That’s—”

“No,” I say. “No,” and then before I know it, I’m dragging them out, locking the door behind me, running to the elevator, running to the dark parking lot. Say it’s the drugs. Say it’s everything I thought about when Austin said, “This.”

The woman’s leaned forward, twisting her key in her car door. It’s a Bronco. I stare at it and at her. I’m out of breath.

“You OK?” she says.

“That’s my purse. It’s you.”

Dwayne catches up first. He says, “Paula, listen.”

The woman says, “No, this one’s mine.”

“I bought that at JC Penney’s.”

“Oh, me, too,” she says.

“Paula, we’re on the seventh floor,” Austin says.

“You don’t think I know that?” I say. “Huh? You don’t think I know which floor it is?”

“I’m just saying, your logic with the window doesn’t—”

“I’m not having any more things taken from me,” I say, and that’s true. I feel that it is. I snatch my purse from the woman, who just stands there dumbfounded. And I think, yeah, she knows what she did wrong. She gets it. She won’t fight.

I turn around, to head home, but I’m blocked by the boys.

“No, no,” Dwayne says. “Paula, honey. Give back the purse.”

“Is she the one breaking into everyone’s apartment?” the woman asks.

“It’s you!” I say.

“It’s not me,” she says.

“Then why’s my window open?”

“The weather?” she says.

As gently as he can, Austin pulls the purse from me and hands it back to her. She opens it and pulls out a phone, which is not mine. “Sorry,” Austin says, but more to all of us than to only her.

“Who should I call?” she says.

“No one, please,” Austin says.

“How?” I say, but I’m being pulled back, past the tree, through the lights in the lot. The woman drives away. “Where is she going?” I ask. “It’s late.”

“Yeah, it’s late,” Austin says.

Dwayne says to him, “Hey. OK?”

“Yeah,” Austin says.

And that’s how it happens, so simply, the three of us sleeping together in Austin’s bed.

Me in the middle.

* * *

The week goes by. We, Austin and me, don’t talk beyond a few pleasant words in the elevator. My sleep is terrible, nothing like what it was with him and Dwayne. With them and the drugs. With them and the complete exhaustion. I haven’t seen the woman again. I think maybe she works nights, and sleeps during the day.

I don’t mean to be misleading. Austin isn’t cold to me. He seems available. He also seems busy rebuilding his apartment. And maybe I’m a little embarrassed, as well.

But on Saturday, whatever the case, I find myself knocking on his door, not sure what I want to say until his face is in front of mine. Then, apparently, it’s easy. The words spill from me: that I’m thankful, that he’s kind, that it’s not lost on me, that the stuff he told me about his parents is unfair and terrible and cannot and should not stand, that I’m here for him, that I can be strong for him just like he was for me. I’m digging in, getting going, when he stops me.

To say, “Thanks, but I’m not interested in being pushed to tell my parents anything.”

“But it’s—”

“Thanks, but don’t push, please. It’s not your thing to decide.” He pauses. He adds, “Don’t worry, I have to tell the same thing to Dwayne from time to time. Just. All right?”

It’s strange, because I can picture it. Us at his parents’ house. Him doing all of the talking. Me just sitting there next to him, perhaps nodding, perhaps smiling. Maybe when his parents ask who I am, he tells them, “This is my friend Paula.”

I see his dad. He’s drunk. He berates Austin, and quickly becomes angry. He’s pissed before Austin even attempts to come out. I touch his shoulder and nod and smile and he stands up to his dad. He says, “I’m a gay man.” His dad gets ugly and worse, and his mom cries, and then Austin cries, too, and then it doesn’t matter because we’re running out of the house, out of everything, into nothing.

Or, into what?

And where’s Dwayne in all of this?

“Are you coming in or going home?” Austin asks, shaking me from the dream.

“Home, I guess.”

“Either is fine.”

“Really?”

“You need to worry less, Paula.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Hey, I wanted to ask you. Where—”

“Just come in already.”

“Yes,” I say. “Yes, yes. Sorry.”

“Just come in.”

Inside, he sits, and insists I do the same. My heart starts pounding and I think I must have eaten some eggshells with my eggs earlier. Will they cut me? Do I have an ulcer? It’s my liver. It will all end before I’m ready. “Austin, where do you get the marijuana?” I blurt out.

“What? Paula.” He’s laughing. It’s gut-busting.

He’s rolled over onto the arm of the couch because his gut simply can’t take it.

“I can’t sleep. I’m counting. I slept so well with you and Dwayne.”

“About that,” he says. “Probably not sustainable.”

“Yeah, so, I’m asking about the drugs.”

“Gosh, Paula, you want my source?” he says. “For drugs? Really? Last week you were terrified just to smoke it. And then you ran out at that woman.”

“My daughter died.”

“You can’t keep going to that. Look, sorry. But, like—”

“I just mean—”

“I know what you mean.”

“No, you don’t. I mean that you don’t know this feeling and I’m tired. So tired.”

“Take the Ativan.”

“I don’t want pills.”

“What’s wrong with pills?”

“You didn’t take them. You know what’s wrong with them.”

“I thought I’d get addicted,” he says. “Then I thought I’d lose my mind.”

“Are you going to tell me, please?” I say. “Austin.”

“Just buy some from me.”

“That’s not how I want to do it. I want to go. I want to do it myself.”

“Why?”

Say it’s a bag of rocks. Say it’s 56 years. Eighty-one years. Say it’s ending.

Austin says, “I’m not sure Rex would even be up for it.”

But Rex is.

* * *

Yes, and so here I am. Saturday. I suppose I needed something. It’s not Austin’s parents’ house. It’s not a deep sleep. But I’m somewhere.

Rex lives on the hill beyond the Eastridge Mall, in one of the huge houses overlooking the east side. One of those tall stone things with windows everywhere. I’ve had no reason to ever drive around this neighborhood. And here, here, here I am.

The rules are pretty simple. I park in front of the house, without trying to hide anything. I knock on the door, say Austin sent me, and then shake hands with Rex, before walking casually inside. I’m supposed to have cash. I’ve brought lots.

There are flowers in front of the house, in barrels, and aspens nearby. The air smells good.

There are no kids or families anywhere, which makes me wonder, because are they inside with all their nice things, or out traveling because they’re all rich and can afford to go places every weekend? My brain gets away from me, like it can. Health inspectors make decent money, but nothing like what I’m seeing now. Would the security of a neighborhood like this have made Lucy better? Would I have been better, felt safer?

Wind on my face, and I swear the authorities are behind these huge double-doors. The authorities, in their blue windbreakers, smiling with Rex, waiting to pin me to the floor. I’m walking into the great danger, but how, honestly, is that any different from every other place I walked, every day before this one?

OK, and a woman opens up.

“Austin sent me,” I tell her.

“I’m Rex.”

“Oh?”

“Shake my hand now.”

“OK.”

Inside, twin staircases lead to the second floor. Everything’s hard and shiny. There’s a glassy light above me. There’s a stone table between the staircases with a massive bouquet of flowers on it.

“Go there,” she says. “Wait in that room.”

“Yes.”

“Sit while you’re waiting.”

“Yes.”

It’s a study, essentially. Leather couches, a desk, a bookcase. It’s clean, but also seems unused. There’s no computer or TV or anything. There’s a window, but the curtains are drawn. The window faces the street, with my stupid little car among the gorgeous homes.

Rex returns 10 minutes later with a tray of tea. She says, “I told you to sit.”

“Sorry.”

“You’re panicky.”

“Sorry.”

“Then take this cup.”

“Why?”

“There’s pot in it,” she says. She sees my face and says, “It’s not a lot. Austin told me you’re a worrier. Cut that shit out.”

“How old are you?”

At first, she seems like she doesn’t want to answer. She rubs the soft spot between the bridge of her nose and her eye. “I went to high school with Austin,” she says, and sits. “He said you two live in the same building.”

“Yeah.”

“Your clothes are nice.”

“What?”

“I’m not going to ask why an older person in nice clothes is living in a building like Austin’s,” she says. “Are you going to ask why a young person like me is living in a house like this?”

“Um.”

“My husband’s famous, but I won’t tell you why. No one knows why. We tell the neighbors he’s in investor. He’s not.” She pauses. “What he does is legal, though.” Rex’s hair is long and brown and very pretty. “You’re going to stay here for another 30 minutes, then leave, and then walk out looking relaxed, because what I am is a masseuse, and what you’re doing is getting a massage from me, here, in my parlor. You got it?”

“I got it,” I say.

“He’s a writer, my husband,” she says. “That’s all I can say.”

“OK.”

“Novels.”

“OK.”

“You’re not drinking the tea. Drink the tea. Paula, right?”

“Yeah.”

“My real name is Rex,” she says, “before you ask me.”

“I wouldn’t have asked.”

“Why not?” she says. “I don’t think it’s rude. People think it’s rude. It’s not. Hang on.” She leaves and returns after another 10 minutes. I’ve finished the tea. I can feel the warmth spreading in me. It’s soothing. And she was right, it’s not too strong. “There you go,” she says, laying some Tupperware containers out on the coffee-table. “You look better.”

“I have so much trouble sleeping, Rex.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll get you sorted.”

“Thank you.”

“You married?”

“No,” I say.

She opens the containers and pulls out some plastic bags, which she also opens. Everything smells fresh, like pine. “Kids?”

I pause before saying, “No.”

“I see. Motherhood, right? What do I know? Tom and I were close once, real close, but then we lost it.” She thinks. “Them. Lost them. What, though? Should I sit in the house all day?” She laughs. “Duh. Look at me. I love this house. I’m wearing yoga pants. I sleep like a baby.”

“Wow,” I say.

“Yeah, wow,” she says. “There’s a room upstairs? I don’t even know what it’s in it. I don’t go in there. I told Tom to never tell me what’s in there. What a world to live in.”

“You don’t want to know? Who decorated it?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “Huh.” She smiles. “You want to see it?”

“Really? I don’t know.”

“Yeah, OK.” She’s holding the bags up to my face, so I can smell each sample. “Austin was an absolute loser in high school. I mean no offense. Closeted kid in Wyoming, in the ’90s. Bless his heart. Plus, I was a loser, too. I have so many clients now. Don’t tell anyone, but some are actually only for massages. Wouldn’t have guessed it, right?”

“No,” I say.

“Don’t tell Tom.”

“I won’t.”

“Do I have to tell you what will happen if you tell anyone about me?”

“No, you don’t.”

“I trust Austin. I trust the losers.”

“I’m a loser,” I say.

“No,” she says. “You can’t say that. I don’t know you. You can’t say that.” She’s gauging my reactions, and brings the second sample back to my nose. “This one,” she says. “I think this one for you. Very calming, no paranoia, very smooth. And I’ve got some in teabags.”

“All this,” I say. “It’s beyond me.”

“Yeah,” she says.

“I was afraid of smoking it. People can smell it.”

“So, the teabags. I got you.”

“I like it. That tea.”

“Good. Wait a minute, OK? No, hang on. Come with me, maybe. You seem sweet.”

“Thanks,” I say.

“No one’s sweet,” she says. “Do you know what I mean? No one’s like, ‘Hello, I’m here for you, look into my soul,’ you know?”

“I know exactly what you mean.”

“We can’t be friends or anything, though.”

“All right,” I say, as we climb the stairs.

“I never really got friends,” she goes on. “I used to think I was selfish or narcissistic or something, because I never wanted to hang out with people. I like having friends on the phone, or on the Internet or whatever. I like when people come to me with something they need. And then I have it and give it to them.” She rests at the top of the stairs, looks left and right. “No, never mind, I get friends. I just don’t think they’re for me, not in the sense we’re all used to. I met Tom on the Internet.”

“Is he from here?”

“Paula, do you think I can tell you that?”

“I don’t know.”

“I cannot.”

“OK.”

“Here’s the room,” she says, pointing. “Go on in.”

“That’s OK, I don’t need to.”

“It’s not for you. It’s for me.”

“What is?”

“The going in.”

“I—”

“Don’t worry. Just go.”

“But I don’t get it.”

“Just go. Ah! I don’t know, whatever. Fine. Give me your cash. I’ll go get you as much as possible. I’ll meet you back here.” I pull out the money and hand it to her. She smiles. “Yeah, good. Right here, in five minutes.”

“Yes,” I say. “Rex.”

The door is big and brown. It seems like oak. I don’t go in. I mean, I almost do. But I don’t.

I like the mystery, I find, like Rex does. And I like the house, like she does. And I like needing something and not saying what it is. I like getting it anyway. It strikes me that we should have had another robbery by now at our building. We’re due. Could be the robber is laying low. Could be they got everything they need. Could be.

Rex is the opposite of me and the opposite of Lucy and I don’t care what that means. I was sweet to her. And she was sweet back. And I’m in her bathroom now, the door locked behind me, digging through the drawers and cupboards for something I can steal from her, because surprise, I’m alive. I’m due. I could be. The bottle of face cream seems expensive, so I pocket it. There’s fire in me. I haven’t felt passion in so long. I haven’t wanted sex in so long. I always convinced myself afterward that I was sick.

But now. But this. I meet Rex in the hallway, the bottle burning a hole in my jeans. Later, I think, I’ll put it in the box with Lucy’s note. Keep these things closed and possible forever.

“Don’t even tell me,” she says. “Don’t even begin to react.”

“Yes,” I say, and I don’t.

As I’m driving home 20 minutes later, I pass our old house. Whoever lives there now has painted it a bunch of different shades of blue. It looks good, though I was never one for that color. It’s weird to me. Blue’s not right for any food, or any animal. It seems sad more often than not. It was like the last big color that humans named.

And yet, on that house.

There were times, it’s true, when I taught Lucy real things, important things. Things mothers are supposed to teach their daughters. I swallowed my own fear and got her through puberty. The period, the changes, everything. I showed her how to drive carefully, defensively. I made sure she knew she was important, and strong, and didn’t deserve any nonsense from people who didn’t believe in who she was. Who she was! I don’t remember her ever going on a single date. Imagine.

And that, even though I’d prepared myself for it. Or, no, I didn’t. I had nightmares where she was pregnant. I had dreams that she’d got cancer. I had dreams that I’d got cancer. Dreams that I had cancer and gave it somehow to Lucy. Dreams I was pregnant again, and alone.

She asked me once when she was a kid to show her how to do her makeup. I never really knew that much about it, and still don’t, but at the time that didn’t stop me. One of the good memories, us so close in the bathroom, her sitting on the sink, me standing before her. Her back to the mirror. I washed her face with a washcloth and smoothed in the moisturizer. Mascara, eyeliner, shadow, pencil on the eyebrows. Foundation patted in. Blush. The whole nine yards. She asked for it, and I really laid into her. All finished, she looked just like me, but a younger version, obviously. A younger and a freer and braver version. And I was holding that me and smiling and listening to the laughter surrounding the both of us. It was outrageous. Stupid and gut-busting and wrong. And yet our love bloomed, like the light before you dream. The lucky ones call that kind of thing grace. It stayed, then went.



Tim Raymond’s Comments

What do I say about the lucky ones? A year ago, Dr. Choi gave me a bunch of books about shema therapy and anxiety and mindfulness; as I read them, I wrote a series of long stories (some of them really long) about people trying to come to terms with what they’d lost. This was the last story I wrote for that series.


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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 50 | Fall/Winter 2017