“Mickey, eat something. Play a video game. Go on a date. Play a video game on a date. Doesn’t matter. Just do something, okay hun?” Elia hands Mickey the keys. “We’ll be back around 3. Food will be here around 5. Okay hun? Don’t get bored. Take care of the kids. Stay cool.”
The family gets into five cars. They roar away in a line, and God help anyone stuck behind them, thinks Mickey, as he pockets the keys.
“Arnie, go on the computer for a while. I’m giving Jane a bath,” says Mickey.
“Jane smells. Needs a bath,” notes Arnie. He’s already on the computer.
Mickey takes Jane upstairs. “You’re dirty okay? You’re really dirty and you need to be clean because we’re having a party and you’re getting cake. Okay?” She sneers at him. It’s impossible to get the water temperature right. Jane hates shampoo. She can’t stand soap.
“Almost done. Hun.” Mickey tries to use words Elia would. Jane looks at him from behind the bubbles and gives him the finger. “Little shit,” he murmurs, just enough to let her know that he said something bad but not enough for her to repeat it later. The towel has a hood and a tail. Jane is dripping on a dish towel.
“Stay here, I’ll get some clothes.”
Mickey is gone for less than a minute. It takes that long to gather some jeans and a white top, underwear and socks.
The bathroom smells. Jane is on the ground, twitching. She is next to a receptacle. Her hair is soaking wet.
As Mickey watches, Jane stops twitching. “Hun? Hun? Jane?” He kneels next to her. Gets his knee wet. “Darling? Jane?” He pulls the hood aside, puts his hand under her nose. When it’s clear that she’s not breathing, he checks her pulse.
“Get off the computer!” yells Mickey, pushing Arnie’s chair aside. It rolls over the hardwood. He gets the search string wrong four times in a row.
“What happened?” asks Arnie. “Why are you looking that up?”
“Shut up. Go eat something.”
Upstairs, Mickey performs CPR. “Come on hun. What are you doing? What are you doing right now? Come on. Come on, Jane.” He is pushing so hard that he can feel her ribs bending. He is blowing so fiercely into her mouth that he imagines her lungs inflating and popping like a balloon. He is out of breath when he finally stops. He sits against the bathtub. Water is soaking into his socks.
In the bedroom, Mickey picks up and puts down the phone several times. He lies down on Elia’s bed. He tries to close his eyes. But in the bathroom, Jane is cold. “Oh Lord. This didn’t happen.” He picks her up. He puts on her clothes and carries her to her bed. He tucks her in and shuts the blinds so that the sun can’t bother her.
Downstairs, Arnie has made a mess of the island in his pursuit of a sandwich. “Want one?” he offers. Mickey drinks some orange juice. “That little stinker finally sleeping?”
“The stinker is sleeping,” confirms Mickey. He drinks a second glass. Mickey is burning hot. He is aware of the electrical impulses running through his body, producing heat; and also of those that create the functioning of the house, making light; and of those that connect the frame of the house to the broader world, sending information and voices and photos and ideas into the rest of human existence. He does not know why he thinks that orange juice will change any of this.
“Going to play out back,” says Arnie.
“I’ll sit with you. Read a book.”
“You read books?”
Arnie grabs his hat. “Well, Mom said you had to find something to stay motivated. Glad for you, Mickey. Don’t forget the baby monitor.”
“I won’t.” Mickey picks a book from the living room. It’s about menopause. He knows nothing about menopause. The plastic lawn chair creaks under him. Arnie is on the swing set. The sun is way too hot, he thinks. He closes his eyes after three pages of the book. Arnie is swinging, but Mickey is gone.
“Ding dong,” comes a voice, later. It’s Arnie. “Ding dong!” he shouts. “Wake up, family’s back.”
Elia is pulling food out of grocery bags. “Shame about the plastics ban,” she says to Grandma. “Hun, hi! How are things? What happened to all the orange juice?”
“Have to pee,” says Mickey. “Going to do some work in my room.”
“What kind of work do you do?” asks Grandma. “I thought you didn’t do that.”
In the hallway, the family is pulling off their shoes, thirty pairs of feet all unrobing at the same time. An uncle pats him on the back. A cousin steps on his toe. An aunty gives him a hug. They move into the living room and eat the snacks Grandma is bringing them. Grandma keeps looking at him, as though she is actually interested in whatever work he might be doing.
It takes ten minutes for Mickey to get his pee out. He goes into his room and opens the window. Turns on the computer. It’s 4:30. The food will be here soon. The party will begin. The smells will start, and someone will suggest that it’s okay to begin with the beer. But the ladies will say no, only wine is acceptable at this time of the afternoon. Elia will be the first one to finish two glasses, and then she will start making phone calls, inviting other people over even though she probably doesn’t have enough food for them.
At some point, someone will ask where Jane is. Elia will say that she’s likely having a long nap today. Grandma will want the little cutie though, and will make to go get her. Elia will say no, that little girls need their sleep. But later an aunty will sneak up and open the door to Jane’s room, will have a look at the little bundle under the covers. Afterwards, they will wonder how it is possible for little girls to die in their sleep. They will look it up, they will investigate. They will send electricity into the world, seeking answers.
Mickey waits for it. He smells and hears what is happening. It’s 5:00. The food is here. The beer is flowing. Someone calls for him but Mickey is working, he is working with the window open. It is 5:30 and voices rise. It is 6:00 and someone is singing. It is 7:30 and the music starts. It is 8:45 and the street lights are on.
At 10:00, he knows that something wrong. He goes downstairs and gets a kiss from an aunty. Arnie is on the computer with the cousins and Grandma is dancing next to the coffee table. There are fifteen shot glasses on the dining room table, and bodies are crowding around them. Elia is in a recliner, laughing. At her feet is a little girl in jeans and a white top. Jane is sleeping. She is pale.
Mickey watches. He feels hot. He feels like he is burning. He needs a drink. But then he turns cold, because Jane’s eyes are open. She is staring at him. But her eyes are not her own. They are black, and they are cold. She sits up and stares at him. And slowly, deliberately, she raises both her arms and gives him the finger.
Mickey is cleaning up. The beer bottles have to be put in a cardboard box because some aunty fell on the cases.
“You have fun, hun?” asks Elia. “I’m glad. You know that you’re a help around here, doesn’t matter what anyone says. Just a matter of time until you find something to do, right?” Before he can answer, she says, “Can you take the kids up to bed? They’re way past their bedtime.”
Arnie’s sleeping under the kitchen table. Mickey leaves him there with a blanket and a cushion.
Jane is cold as he lifts her up. The stairs groan, but there is no noise in the world that would wake up the family. “Well,” she asks, “was it a good day? I hope you weren’t too bored. We wouldn’t like you to be bored.” He shakes his head. At the top of the stairs, he steps over an uncle on the way to Jane’s room.
“How do I smell now?” she whispers, as he tucks her into bed and opens the blinds to let the moonlight in. Jane closes her eyes. Mickey stays until he is sure she is sleeping. He checks her breathing. He feels her pulse. He does this again and again, until he is sure that those little puffs of air are real. That those tremors are made by a heart like his.
Later, he is out the window on the roof, looking over the city. He is chasing dreams, wondering why he can’t lift himself to go after any of them. Behind him is a girl. He thinks she is sleeping. He thinks she is dreaming. But she is not asleep at all. She is standing behind him, staring through his body. Waiting for him to turn around and see her properly. To see those eyes, the black ones that are dimmer and much further away than whatever night Mickey finds between the stars.
*****this is for my friend Kizzy (http://kizzylee.wordpress.com/), who, like her friend Rhinda (http://50-shades-of-gray-hair.com/), is a rock for me in the blogosphere. They are not necessarily easy with me, but I love and respect them all the more for it; the one thing they consistently do is make me laugh and challenge the heck out of me. Kizzy mentioned one of the styles of stories that she likes, so I thought I would give it a try. For all interested, I’ll be working on some stories in the next few weeks that will stray from what I’ve written before. It’s time to do something different.