Maps in a mirror, p.10

Maps in a Mirror, page 10

 

Maps in a Mirror
 



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  The phone rang.

  “Stan? It’s Liz.”

  Hi, Liz.

  “Stan, aren’t you going to answer me?”

  Go to hell, Liz.

  “Stan, what kind of game is this? You don’t call for nine months, and now you just sit there while I’m trying to talk to you?”

  Come to bed, Liz.

  “That is you, isn’t it?”

  “Yeah, it’s me.”

  “Well, why didn’t you answer me? Stan, you scared me. That really scared me.”

  “I’m sorry.”

  “Stan, what happened? Why haven’t you called?”

  “I needed you too much.” Melodramatic, melodramatic. But true.

  “Stan, I know. I was being a bitch.”

  “No, no, not really. I was being too demanding.”

  “Stan, I miss you. I want to be with you.”

  “I miss you, too, Liz. I’ve really needed you these last few months.”

  She droned on as Stanley sang silently, “Oh, bury me not on the lone prairie, where the coyotes howl—”

  “Tonight? My apartment?”

  “You mean you’ll let me past the sacred chain lock?”

  “Stanley. Don’t be mean. I miss you.”

  “I’ll be there.”

  “I love you.”

  “Me, too.”

  After this many months, Stanley was not sure, not sure at all. But Liz was a straw to grasp at. “I drown,” Stanley said. “I die. Morior. Moriar. Mortuus sum.”

  Back when he had been dating Liz, back when they had been together, Stanley hadn’t played these freeway games. Stanley hadn’t watched these women die. Stanley hadn’t had to hide from himself in his sleep. “Caedo. Caedam. Cecidi.”

  Wrong, wrong. He had been dating Liz the first time. He had only stopped after—after. Liz had nothing to do with it. Nothing would help. “Despero. Desperabo. Desperavi.”

  And because it was the last thing he wanted to do, he got up, got dressed, went out to his car, and drove out onto the freeway. He got behind a woman in a red Audi. And he followed her.

  She was young, but she was a good driver. He tailed her from Sixth South to the place where the freeway forks, I-15 continuing south, I-80 veering east. She stayed in the right-hand lane until the last moment, then swerved across two lanes of traffic and got onto I-80. Stanley did not think of letting her go. He, too, cut across traffic. A bus honked loudly; there was a screeching of brakes; Stanley’s Z was on two wheels and he lost control; a lightpost loomed, then passed.

  And Stanley was on I-80, following a few hundred yards behind the Audi. He quickly closed the gap. This woman was smart, Stanley said to himself. “You’re smart, lady. You won’t let me get away with anything. Nobody today. Nobody today.” He meant to say nobody dies today, and he knew that was what he was really saying (hoping; denying), but he did not let himself say it. He spoke as if a microphone hung over his head, recording his words for posterity.

  The Audi wove through traffic, averaging seventy-five. Stanley followed close behind. Occasionally, a gap in the traffic closed before he could use it; he found another. But he was a dozen cars behind when she cut off and took the last exit before I-80 plunged upward into Parley’s Canyon. She was going south on I-215, and Stanley followed, though he had to brake violently to make the tight curve that led from one freeway to the other.

  She drove rapidly down I-215 until it ended, turned into a narrow two-lane road winding along the foot of the mountain. As usual, a gravel truck was going thirty miles an hour, shambling along shedding stones like dandruff onto the road. The Audi pulled behind the gravel truck, and Stanley’s Z pulled behind the Audi.

  The woman was smart. She didn’t try to pass. Not on that road.

  When they reached the intersection with the road going up Big Cottonwood Canyon to the ski resorts (closed now in the spring, so there was no traffic), she seemed to be planning to turn right, to take Fort Union Boulevard back to the freeway. Instead, she turned left. But Stanley had been anticipating the move, and he turned left, too.

  They were not far up the winding canyon road before it occurred to Stanley that this road led to nowhere. At Snowbird it was a dead end, a loop that turned around and headed back down. This woman, who had seemed so smart, was making a very stupid move.

  And then he thought, I might catch her. He said, “I might catch you, girl. Better watch out.”

  What he would do if he caught her he wasn’t sure. She must have a gun. She must be armed, or she wouldn’t be daring him like this.

  She took the curves at ridiculous speeds, and Stanley was pressed to the limit of his driving skills to stay up with her. This was the most difficult game of Follow he had ever played. But it might end too quickly—on any of these curves she might smash up, might meet a car coming the other way. Be careful, he thought. Be careful, be careful, it’s just a game, don’t be afraid, don’t panic.

  Panic? The moment this woman had realized she was being followed, she had sped and dodged, leading him on a merry chase. None of the confusion the others had shown. This was a live one. When he caught her, she’d know what to do. She’d know. “Veniebam. Veniam. Venies.” He laughed at his joke.

  Then he stopped laughing abruptly, swung the wheel hard to the right, jamming on the brake. He had seen just a flash of red going up a side road. Just a flash, but it was enough. This bitch in the red Audi thought she’d fool him. Thought she could ditch into a side road and he’d go on by.

  He skidded in the gravel of the shoulder, but regained control and charged up the narrow dirt road. The Audi was stopped a few hundred yards from the entrance.

  Stopped.

  At last.

  He pulled in behind her, even had his fingers on the door handle. But she had not meant to stop, apparently. She had only meant to pull out of sight till he went by. He had been too smart for her. He had seen. And now she was caught on a terribly lonely mountain road, still moist from the melting snow, with only trees around, in weather too warm for skiers, too cold for hikers. She had thought to trick him, and now he had trapped her.

  She drove off. He followed. On the bumpy dirt road, twenty miles an hour was uncomfortably fast. She went thirty. His shocks were being shot to hell, but this was one that wouldn’t get away. She wouldn’t get away from Stanley. Her Audi was voluptuous with promises.

  After interminable jolting progress up the side canyon, the mountains suddenly opened out into a small valley. The road, for a while, was flat, though certainly not straight. And the Audi sped up to forty incredible miles an hour. She wasn’t giving up. And she was a damned good driver. But Stanley was a damned good driver, too. “I should quit now,” he said to the invisible microphone in his car. But he didn’t quit. He didn’t quit and he didn’t quit.

  The road quit.

  He came around a tree-lined curve and suddenly there was no road. Just a gap in the trees and, a few hundred yards away, the other side of a ravine. To the right, out of the corner of his eye, he saw where the road made a hairpin turn, saw the Audi stopped there, saw, he thought, a face looking at him in horror. And because of that face he turned to look, tried to look over his shoulder, desperate to see the face, desperate not to watch as the trees bent gracefully toward him and the rocks rose up and enlarged and engorged, and he impaled himself, himself and his Datsun 260Z on a rock that arched upward and shuddered as he swallowed its tip.

  She sat in the Audi, shaking, her body heaving in great sobs of relief and shock at what had happened. Relief and shock, yes. But by now she knew that the shuddering was more than that. It was also ecstacy.

  This has to stop, she cried out silently to herself. Four, four, four. “Four is enough,” she said, beating on the steering wheel. Then she got control of herself, and the orgasm passed except for the trembling in her thighs and occasional cramps, and she jockeyed the car until it was turned around, and she headed back down the canyon to Salt Lake City, where she was already an hour late.

&n
bsp; A SEPULCHRE OF SONGS

  She was losing her mind during the rain. For four weeks it came down nearly every day, and the people at the Millard County Rest Home didn’t take any of the patients outside. It bothered them all, of course, and made life especially hellish for the nurses, everyone complaining to them constantly and demanding to be entertained.

  Elaine didn’t demand entertainment, however. She never seemed to demand much of anything. But the rain hurt her worse than anyone. Perhaps because she was only fifteen, the only child in an institution devoted to adult misery. More likely because she depended more than most on the hours spent outside; certainly she took more pleasure from them. They would lift her into her chair, prop her up with pillows so her body would stay straight, and then race down the corridor to the glass doors, Elaine calling, “Faster, faster,” as they pushed her until finally they were outside. They told me she never really said anything out there. Just sat quietly in her chair on the lawn, watching everything. And then later in the day they would wheel her back in.

  I often saw her being wheeled in—early, because I was there, though she never complained about my visits’ cutting into her hours outside. As I watched her being pushed toward the rest home, she would smile at me so exuberantly that my mind invented arms for her, waving madly to match her childishly delighted face; I imagined legs pumping, imagined her running across the grass, breasting the air like great waves. But there were the pillows where arms should be, keeping her from falling to the side, and the belt around her middle kept her from pitching forward, since she had no legs to balance with.

  It rained four weeks, and I nearly lost her.

  My job was one of the worst in the state, touring six rest homes in as many counties, visiting each of them every week. I “did therapy” wherever the rest home administrators thought therapy was needed. I never figured out how they decided—all the patients were mad to one degree or another, most with the helpless insanity of age, the rest with the anguish of the invalid and the crippled.

  You don’t end up as a state-employed therapist if you had much ability in college. I sometimes pretend that I didn’t distinguish myself in graduate school because I marched to a different drummer. But I didn’t. As one kind professor gently and brutally told me, I wasn’t cut out for science. But I was sure I was cut out for the art of therapy. Ever since I comforted my mother during her final year of cancer I had believed I had a knack for helping people get straight in their minds. I was everybody’s confidant.

  Somehow I had never supposed, though, that I would end up trying to help the hopeless in a part of the state where even the healthy didn’t have much to live for. Yet that’s all I had the credentials for, and when I (so maturely) told myself I was over the initial disappointment, I made the best of it.

  Elaine was the best of it.

  “Raining raining raining,” was the greeting I got when I visited her on the third day of the wet spell.

  “Don’t I know it?” I said. “My hair’s soaking wet.”

  “Wish mine was,” Elaine answered.

  “No, you don’t. You’d get sick.”

  “Not me,” she said.

  “Well, Mr. Woodbury told me you’re depressed. I’m supposed to make you happy.”

  “Make it stop raining.”

  “Do I look like God?”

  “I thought maybe you were in disguise. I’m in disguise,” she said. It was one of our regular games. “I’m really a large Texas armadillo who was granted one wish. I wished to be a human being. But there wasn’t enough of the armadillo to make a full human being; so here I am.” She smiled. I smiled back.

  Actually, she had been five years old when an oil truck exploded right in front of her parents’ car, killing both of them and blowing her arms and legs right off. That she survived was a miracle. That she had to keep on living was unimaginable cruelty. That she managed to be a reasonably happy person, a favorite of the nurses—that I don’t understand in the least. Maybe it was because she had nothing else to do. There aren’t many ways that a person with no arms or legs can kill herself.

  “I want to go outside,” she said, turning her head away from me to look out the window.

  Outside wasn’t much. A few trees, a lawn, and beyond that a fence, not to keep the inmates in but to keep out the seamier residents of a rather seamy town. But there were low hills in the distance, and the birds usually seemed cheerful. Now, of course, the rain had driven both birds and hills into hiding. There was no wind, and so the trees didn’t even sway. The rain just came straight down.

  “Outer space is like the rain,” she said. “It sounds like that out there, just a low drizzling sound in the background of everything.”

  “Not really,” I said. “There’s no sound out there at all.”

  “How do you know?” she asked.

  “There’s no air. Can’t be any sound without air.”

  She looked at me scornfully. “Just as I thought. You don’t really know. You’ve never been there, have you?”

  “Are you trying to pick a fight?”

  She started to answer, caught herself, and nodded. “Damned rain.”

  “At least you don’t have to drive in it,” I said. But her eyes got wistful, and I knew I had taken the banter too far. “Hey,” I said. “First clear day I’ll take you out driving.”

  “It’s hormones,” she said.

  “What’s hormones?”

  “I’m fifteen. It always bothered me when I had to stay in. But I want to scream. My muscles are all bunched up, my stomach is all tight, I want to go outside and scream. It’s hormones.”

  “What about your friends?” I asked.

  “Are you kidding? They’re all out there, playing in the rain.”

  “All of them?”

  “Except Grunty, of course. He’d dissolve.”

  “And where’s Grunty?”

  “In the freezer, of course.”

  “Someday the nurses are going to mistake him for ice cream and serve him to the guests.”

  She didn’t smile. She just nodded, and I knew that I wasn’t getting anywhere. She really was depressed.

  I asked her whether she wanted something.

  “No pills,” she said. “They make me sleep all the time.”

  “If I gave you uppers, it would make you climb the walls.”

  “Neat trick,” she said.

  “It’s that strong. So do you want something to take your mind off the rain and these four ugly yellow walls?”

  She shook her head. “I’m trying not to sleep.”

  “Why not?”

  She just shook her head again. “Can’t sleep. Can’t let myself sleep too much.”

  I asked again.

  “Because,” she said, “I might not wake up.” She said it rather sternly, and I knew I shouldn’t ask anymore. She didn’t often get impatient with me, but I knew this time I was coming perilously close to overstaying my welcome.

  “Got to go,” I said. “You will wake up.” And then I left, and I didn’t see her for a week, and to tell the truth I didn’t think of her much that week, what with the rain and a suicide in Ford County that really got to me, since she was fairly young and had a lot to live for, in my opinion. She disagreed and won the argument the hard way.

  Weekends I live in a trailer in Piedmont. I live alone. The place is spotlessly clean because cleaning is something I do religiously. Besides, I tell myself, I might want to bring a woman home with me one night. Some nights I even do, and some nights I even enjoy it, but I always get restless and irritable when they start trying to get me to change my work schedule or take them along to the motels I live in or, once only, get the trailer-park manager to let them into my trailer when I’m gone. To keep things cozy for me. I’m not interested in “cozy.” This is probably because of my mother’s death; her cancer and my responsibilities as housekeeper for my father probably explain why I am a neat housekeeper. Therapist, therap thyself. The days passed in rain and highways and d
epressing people depressed out of their minds; the nights passed in television and sandwiches and motel bedsheets at state expense; and then it was time to go to the Millard County Rest Home again, where Elaine was waiting. It was then that I thought of her and realized that the rain had been going on for more than a week, and the poor girl must be almost out of her mind. I bought a cassette of Copland conducting Copland. She insisted on cassettes, because they stopped. Eight-tracks went on and on until she couldn’t think.

  “Where have you been?” she demanded.

  “Locked in a cage by a cruel duke in Transylvania. It was only four feet high, suspended over a pond filled with crocodiles. I got out by picking the lock with my teeth. Luckily, the crocodiles weren’t hungry. Where have you been?”

  “I mean it. Don’t you keep a schedule?”

  “I’m right on my schedule, Elaine. This is Wednesday. I was here last Wednesday. This year Christmas falls on a Wednesday, and I’ll be here on Christmas.”

  “It feels like a year.”

  “Only ten months. Till Christmas. Elaine, you aren’t being any fun.”

  She wasn’t in the mood for fun. There were tears in her eyes. “I can’t stand much more,” she said.

  “I’m sorry.”

  “I’m afraid.”

  And she was afraid. Her voice trembled.

  “At night, and in the daytime, whenever I sleep. I’m just the right size.”

  “For what?”

  “What do you mean?”

  “You said you were just the right size.”

  “I did? Oh, I don’t know what I meant. I’m going crazy. That’s what you’re here for, isn’t it? To keep me sane. It’s the rain. I can’t do anything, I can’t see anything, and all I can hear most of the time is the hissing of the rain.”

  “Like outer space,” I said, remembering what she had said the last time.

  She apparently didn’t remember our discussion. She looked startled. “How did you know?” she asked.

  “You told me.”

  “There isn’t any sound in outer space,” she said.

  “Oh,” I answered.

  “There’s no air out there.”

 
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