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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Humid Night

Category: Issue 6, Short Story Winners

Martin pulled into the parking space, stopping next to the only car in the lot, a silver Chevette, shifted into park and left the engine running.

“Here we are,” he said.
“Here we are,” Laura said, staring out the window, her hands in her lap. 
Martin looked down, pulling at the black leather lace hanging off his steering wheel cover, his anxiety growing, time to say good night, time to lean over and send her on her way with a warm kiss good-bye. He had imagined this moment so many times, fantasized about it over and over, imagining the soft, wet kiss.  But now he had thought about it too much, instead of acting on instinct, he had over analyzed the moment, the timing was off and his confidence ebbed away leaving only an empty beach of insecurity.  As much as he wanted to hold her face in his hands and kiss her delicious little mouth, he couldn’t.  He knew he never would. 

He picked at the lace.
“What time do you leave tomorrow?” he asked.
Laura smiled, looking out the window.  “1:00”
“Oh.  Do you need a ride to the airport?”
“No my dad is going to take me.”
“Well, if you want, I can come too.”
“I guess if you want to, but you really don’t have to.”
He didn’t lean over.  He didn’t turn to her.  He sat.  His fingers picking at the damn leather lace. The excruciating silence continued, and it would until she left the car and he slunk away, slithering down the road banging his head against the steering wheel.  Convinced he would die a virgin.

Laura sat up and grabbed the door handle.
“It’s late Martin.  I had a good time but I need to get going.”
Shit.
“Yeah it is getting late,” he said.  I’ll walk you to your car.”
Shit.  Shit.  Shit.
“Uh, okay.”
Martin turned off the engine and opened his door.  Cool air rushed passed him into the wet, sticky night.  As he walked around the car, watching her dig for her keys, dots of sweat grew between his shoulder blades and under his arms.

She couldn’t find her keys right away and the more she dug the more he could sense her desperation to flee.  It reminded him of Jamie Lee Curtis in some horror movie clawing at a locked door, jiggling the handle, the shadow of the monster falling on her.  He knew if he took one more step Laura would melt to the ground, her hands raised to protect her face, her mouth frozen open in a blood-curdling scream.

She found her keys and opened the door.
“Martin it’s been fun.”
He stopped, the open door blocking his monstrous advance.  His heart dropped. 
“It was fun,” he said
He searched for something else to say, anything that would keep this moment from ending.  All he could come up with was an image, a single image; a great ship hitting an iceberg, swiftly going down by the bow.

Laura sat down and swung her legs into the car.  Catching a glimpse of her legs below the hem of her skirt, he wondered what it would feel like to rub his hand down the back of her smooth, muscular calf.

“Are you coming home for Thanksgiving break,” he asked.  “Maybe we could get together again.”

She started the engine.
“I don’t know,” she said. “It’s so close to the Christmas break and my parents don’t have the money to fly me back and forth to Columbus.  I’ll probably only be able to come home for Christmas and have to spend Thanksgiving with my roommate’s family.”
Her hand on the door, pulling it closed.
“Maybe we could…”
Martin stopped.  He heard something crunching in the gravel.
He looked up. 
“What is it?” Laura asked turning to look through the passenger side window.
A small woman shuffled out of the shadows, her body hunched and frail, her hair thin, wispy and white.  Her furry pink slippers scraped against the rocky ground.  She clutched her night robe with one hand and held a leash in the other.  A yellow lab walked beside her.

“Excuse me.  Can you help me?  I need someone to help me please.  Can you help me?  I’m hurt, I need someone to help me.”

Her voice sounded distorted, like she was talking with a bucket over her head.  Martin saw why when she stepped out of the shadows and into the arc sodium lights.  Her nose sat sideways and drying blood crusted under her purple nostrils.  The left side of her mouth drooped.  “She broke her jaw,” he thought.

Martin looked down at Laura; she looked back and shrugged as if to say, “What in the hell do you want me to do?”

The lady stopped at the back of the car, the dog looked up at her and then sat down.  His big, pink tongue slipped out, drinking in the humid night air.

“Ma’am what can we do for you?” he asked.
She sucked in air between her broken teeth, her nose plugged with blood and cartilage.
“I need to go to the hospital.  I’m hurt.  Please can you call an ambulance?  He’ll kill me if I go back.”

“Uh, just a second,” Martin looked down at Laura.  “We can’t just leave her here,” he whispered.

“What are we supposed to do,” she hissed back.
“I think, I think we need to take her to the hospital.”
“What?” 
He looked up at the old lady, standing there watching him, waiting.  The dog now lay in the dusty, crushed gravel.  Martin leaned down again.

“Look, this guy could still be around here.  What happens if hears an ambulance blow in here.  He’s liable to come by and take all three of us out.  If he’s a real psycho he’ll probably pop the dog too.”

“Shit,” she whispered. She looked up in the rear view mirror at the old lady and sighed.
“Alright, get them in the car,” she said
She closed the door and Martin walked to the back of the car.  The old ladies blood splotched robe hung open now; she couldn’t hold it closed anymore.  Martin wondered if “he” dislocated her shoulder or broke some ribs, the necessary additions to complete the whole spousal abuse package.

“Ma’am we are going to drive you to the hospital right now.  Let me help you get in so we can go.”

“Thank you, thank you so much.  It’s been a blessing to find you.”
Martin wondered how you could get your face punched in and call yourself blessed, but it didn’t matter.  He wanted to get this over with as quickly and quietly as possible.

The old lady gave Martin the leash.
“Here you go,” she said, “you help me in and then we’ll coax Roger along.”
Martin set the leash on the bumper.  The big yellow dog waited for Martin to get the old lady in the car.  Settled in the back seat she called the dog.  Roger jumped in and sat next to her.  She rubbed her fingers between his floppy yellow ears.  Martin closed the door and sat in the front.  Laura put the car in gear; Martin buckled his seatbelt.

“Okay, South Harris is about five minutes away.  We’ll take you there.”
The lady leaned back against the seat and looked out the window.  Her fingers never stopped massaging the dog’s head.  The two friends, the old woman and the yellow lab left the gravel parking lot and pulled onto the smooth asphalt road.

They sat in silence.  The rhythm of the tires on the seams of the road lent a rhythmic pulse to the quiet of the night.  Martin did not want to think about what was happening, he closed his eyes, and tried to match his heartbeat to the rhythm of the car driving down the road.  Trying to lock away the awareness of what this situation was or worse, what it could be. 

“Can you help me with my dog?” the old woman asked in her clogged voice.  “The hospital won’t let me take Roger in.  My neighbor will watch him if you take him there.”

“Sure,” said Laura.  “We’ll see that he’s taken care of.  Where does your neighbor live?”

“Across the street from the parking lot you were in,” she stopped to catch a breath.  To Martin it was what he thought a fish would sound like, popping open its mouth while it suffocated on the gunnels of a boat on a high sun afternoon.

“A blue house with a boat in the drive,” she continued.  “Just tie Roger to the boat, he’ll be fine.  He’s been there plenty of times.  He’ll be good.”

She laid her head back against the seat.  Her good hand never stopped rubbing the dog’s ears.

Laura slowed as they came to the hospital, passing the main drive and taking the back road to the emergency entrance in the rear.  Orange lights lit up the circular drive, everything seemed to cast false shadows in the amber glow.  No ambulances waited under the covered entrance.  Laura stopped and Martin jumped out.  The sliding glass doors whooshed open.  With one giant breath the hospital inhaled Martin, gripping him tight.  His sweaty body sucked in the cold air, like a shot of adrenaline, he became hyper aware of his surroundings and what he needed to do. 

The dog sat up and watched Martin roll a wheelchair out to the car, open the door and lean in.  The old lady tried to sit up, something in her side pulled her back.  She hissed against the pain.

“Are you okay,” Laura asked.
The old lady settled back against the seat, her eyes closed, her lips pulled back in a grimace.

“Not right now I’m not.  Gimme some time and I think I will be.  Right now I’m hurtin’.”  She let out a shallow breath.

“Are you ready?” Martin asked.
“No, but we better get on with this anyway,” she said.
The old lady turned and stretched her left arm across her body and Martin reached under her arms.  In a few years, when he was a father, it would be the same way he would pick up his baby from her crib. 

She moaned as her right arm slipped out of her lap and dangled limply behind her.  Martin got her up and lowered her into the chair.  She was light.  Hollow.  He understood, now, what it meant to get the life beat of you.  Roger jumped onto the concrete, ready to follow them in.

“Laura, will you come get the dog,” Martin said.
Laura came around and took Roger by the collar.  He whined and tried to pull from her.
“Shhh,” whispered the old lady.  “Roger you come here now.”
Laura let go and Roger padded over to the wheelchair.  Tail wagging, he dropped his head in the old lady’s lap.  She took his face in her left hand and looked him in the eyes.

“You be a good boy Roger.  These nice people will take you to Joney’s house.  I’ll see you soon.”

Martin figured it would be at least a week, more if her turnip red nose needed surgery or her broken ribs punctured a lung.  He imagined her tomorrow night, full of wire, screws and plates.  A walking, talking erector set.

He released the brake on the wheelchair and Laura took Roger’s collar.  The dog whined as the old lady was wheeled into the building.  Laura knelt next to him and hugged his face close to hers.

“It’s okay,” she whispered.  She hoped Joney would take good care of him.
Martin pushed the old lady through the whooshing doors and into the bright waiting room.  Empty.  They passed the foam filled furniture and close-cropped carpet.  The newly acquainted pair walked to a row of windows set waist high in the wall. A large brown woman in a white shirt sat behind the last window on the left.  Martin rolled up, just a couple of folks out for a Sunday drive.

LASHONDRA was stamped in black letters on her bronze nametag.
“Just a minute, please,” she said in a deep, baritone voice.
“Uh, ma’am,” Martin said.  “This lady is hurt and she needs some help.”
LaShondra looked up, still scribbling out her paperwork.
“Ah, Jesus!”  She pushed back against the desk and rolled her large frame away from Martin. 

“Get her aroun’ here quick,” she waved Martin around the corner and down the hall.
She shouted over her shoulder, “Dr. Bronson we got a patient.  Hurry, she beat up six ways to Sunday.  Jesus Lord Almighty!”
Martin turned the corner, a door opened in front of him, LaShondra and a smaller light skinned nurse came out.  Martin stepped back out of the way as LaShondra took the handles of the wheelchair.

“I got it honey.  You wait here now and I’ll get with you in just a couple of minutes.”
“Wait, please,” the old lady said. “I need to talk with the boy.”
The old lady reached up with her good arm and waved Martin over.
LaShondra stopped, the cream colored nurse held the door open.  Martin came over; the old lady took his arm and pulled on him to kneel down next to her.  When he did, she whispered to him.

“What’s your name?”
“Martin.”
“Martin, do you believe in Angels?”
“I - I don’t know.”
“I do.  I do tonight.  You saved me Martin and that makes you an Angel.  Thank you, thank you so much for everything.”  She tried to smile but her ruined mouth couldn’t quite do it.

“You’re welcome.  Get better.”
Her hand squeezed his arm and then she let go, closing her eyes. 
“Alright honey, you wait out here and I’ll be along in a bit to tell you what’s goin’ on,” LaShondra said, and pushed the old lady through the door and the coffee cream nurse followed, the door swung closed.

Martin stared at the door.  He didn’t know if he wanted to wait around for the doctor or the police.  One or the other was on their way and they would ask questions.  Thinking about the police knotted his stomach.  His calm sense started slipping away.  He moved towards the exit doors, eager to be done with this night, eager to get to the business of putting all this mess behind him.  Nobody noticed the swoosh of the sliding glass doors or the rush of muggy heat into the waiting room.

Martin slumped into the passenger seat.  Laura waited behind the wheel, leaning into the backseat, scratching Roger’s chin as he hung his head between the seats.

“Let’s go,” Martin said.
Laura kept scratching the dog.
“Shouldn’t we wait around, you know, just in case someone needs some questions answered?  Maybe we’ll need to talk to the police or something.”

“I really don’t feel like sitting around here waiting for the police.”
“Then what do we do?”
Roger pulled his head back and lowered himself into the backseat.  Laura brushed the dog hair off her hands and turned back into her seat.  Martin fastened his seat belt.

“We take the dog, tie him to the boat and be done with all this.”
Laura didn’t move.  Martin sensed her unease with leaving, not necessarily the scene of the crime but something like that.

“Look,” he said, “What if we hang around here, wait for the police?  We give our story and then what?  What if they arrest the guy, which I am sure they will be able to do without our help.  Then there’s a trial, do you want to be drug back and forth from school to testify in a trial?  I don’t.”

Laura looked at Roger in the rearview mirror.
“There’s enough evidence on that woman’s body to put the bastard away for a long time,” Martin said.  “Let’s just get Roger taken care of and then we can move on.”

“Okay,” she said.  “Okay.”
She turned the key, put the car in drive and they drove away without talking.  Martin stared out the window, watching the streetlights flash by.  Roger poked his head between the seats and rested his chin on the center console.  Laura dropped her hand down on his head and massaged his ears.

They found the house, right where the old lady said it would be.  The green boat sat on a trailer, it’s outboard motor kicked over the back, the blades high in the air.  Laura left the engine running and they stepped out of the car.  The night air settled heavily around them, the moisture clung to their bodies. Roger jumped out after Laura.

Martin whispered over the top of the car, “Leave the doors open, I don’t want to wake anybody up but if we do I want to get out of here in a hurry.  This already feels creepy enough.”

Laura led Roger to the trailer. 
“What are we supposed to tie him up with?” she asked.
Martin shrugged; he looked around then walked to the side of the boat and peeked in.  Beer cans and petrified fish gut littered the floor.  He noticed near the front a roll of yellow twine.  He stretched up on his toes and flailed at it with his fingertips.  He stretched farther, enough to get his fingertip on the twine and start it rolling towards him.

“Got it.”
Martin pulled out a piece as long as his arm and knelt down next to Roger.  He looped the twine through the dog’s collar and around the frame of the trailer, tying it off with two half hitches.  There was nothing to cut the twine with so he rolled the spool under the boat.

He stood and backed up next to Laura, they stared at the dog.  Laura’s car idled in the street.

“You think we should leave a note?” she asked.
Martin shrugged, “I guess.”
“I think I have some paper in the car, I’ll go check.”
She walked back to the car.  Martin looked at Roger, now settled into the dusty gravel of the driveway, hitched to the boat.  No traffic passed.  The still, soggy air muffled the pings of the open car door.
“This is all I could find.”
“It’ll do the job,” he said.
He took the pen and paper and squatted down on one knee, using his thigh as a makeshift desk.  He uncapped the pen and started writing.

[bi]Please watch Roger.  The lady who owns him is at Harris County Hospital.  She asked that Roger be brought here.  Thank you.[bi]

“How’s that?” he asked handing Laura the note.
“Good enough.  Fold it up and slip it under his collar.”
Martin did.  Roger barely lifted his head.
“What do you think will happen to them?” she asked.
Martin shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know.”
“That poor lady.  That dog is probably all she has left.”
Martin heard a hitch in her voice.  He turned to her.
“It’s so sad,” she whispered, tears running down her face.
“Come here,’ he said hugging her tight. 
She wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his chest.  He held her, resting his chin on top of her head.  She stepped back and looked up at him.  Without thinking he leaned down and kissed her.  And she kissed him back.

Posted by aggie9390 on 06/06 at 10:12 PM | Permalink
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