Teasers & Deleted Scenes
Baltimore, MD, June 2008
When he opened his eyes, there was Daphne.
She sat on the left side of the bed. Because she didn't knit, she was reading. Or staring at a magazine, because reading was the wrong word. One, it was a copy of Redbook. Two, her eyes weren't tracking. He rested for a little, exhausted with the effort of waking up, warmed by the lines of her frown. Gray-eyed Athena. Quietly sitting. He remembered her hands cradling his head, her unconcern for the blood and filth that had covered him.
Her and Falkner. If he knew them, they were taking vigil in shifts.
He wondered if he was strong enough to say thank you.
"Hey," he said. And when his voice worked, and she looked up, he added, "You saved my life."
He wasn't sure it was praise. Just a statement. She set the magazine aside, her fingers arching in discomfort, and reached out right-handed to take his left.
"You saved your life," she said. "You self-rescued. We just drove you to the hospital. Coyote didn't even have to chew his paw off."
He didn't want to look at her hand, because if he did he also had to look at his own. Dirty nails, bones like sticks. No. He'd thought of chewing it off, but hadn't had the means to do it.
Turning his head was hard, but he managed, feeling the prickle of tape and the tug of the NG tube. When had they--right, he'd been awake when they put it in. He'd helped, swallowing water (in a paper cup, and he'd never before realized that that was a luxury) to help it down. That whirr by the right side of the bed must be the feeding machine. Ache of needles in his veins, pull of sutures across his back, all of it blurred behind painkillers.
He'd thought, maybe when he woke up, he'd know what kind of monster he'd turned into. But he still felt like him. Tired him. Injured him. Ridiculously grateful to wake up and see Daphne's bangs fallen across her cheek him.
I bet you could still burn out if you wanted.
Well, maybe not when he was on a feed. But probably between them. But he didn't want.
Was that him wanting to live? Or was that It? How did you know?
She reached for something on the table beside the bed. A long white wrapper that blurred in the light when she raised it. "Lemon swab?" she said brightly, like the Tick offering Arthur a moist towelette. "Wouldn't your day be more complete with a lemon swab?"
Oh god, don't make me laugh. He tried to shake his head and it didn't work. He needed to tell her something and he didn't have the strength to make it gentle. He said, "I found her."
Profiler voodoo. She glanced at his mouth, when he spoke, his eyes, his hands. She said, "Your mom."
Talking, okay, he could manage. Nodding not so much. Which meant he had to say, "Yeah" out loud. He wanted to say more, tell her about the dark strength that had carried him out of that house, show her the mirror. Daphne. If he could show anybody, he could show Daphne. Her or Hafs.
If he raised it now it might kill him, NG tube or no. Would that be so bad? Bad for Daphne. And if he thought that, he wasn't the monster yet, was he? Or would it use his feelings for her to keep him alive? More damage later against a little damage now?
Gammas were crafty.
He said, "I told you she died when she was my age."
Daphne nodded. "I remember."
"It was a small apartment. Smaller than mine now. She used to go in the bathroom to shoot up because she didn't want me to see."
"You knew that."
Maybe he was stronger than he thought, because he turned his head and looked at her. She looked down. Silly question--no. Not a silly question. A caring question. But one he couldn't stand to answer.
Harshly, voice scratching so he had to start the sentence twice, he said, "She died on the toilet. Like Elvis. It's what addicts do." And Daphne didn't answer, just held his hand in her own more tightly.
Didn't ask for more. Which made it possible to give it to her. "I didn't call in time."
"911." He must still be in post-traumatic shock, because the words came out so easily, so calmly, as if somebody else--a case worker, a cop--were reciting them. "I heard her fall, you see. Things breaking. Glass."
Because it was Daphne, he didn't need to tell her that heroin depresses the central nervous system. That even in recreational doses, it causes bradycardia and hypotension, slowing the heart, depressing respiration, lowering blood pressure. Because it was Daphne, she knew. He wondered how many ODs she worked, how many of them died in exactly the circumstances he was describing.
He said, "I tried to open the door."
"Blocked. Something soft." Her pupils dilated; her respiration quickened. The palm lying over the back of his hand grew damp, and he turned his hand over to squeeze her fingers. As if he were comforting her. He felt it, vividly as if it were now, how the body blocking the door rocked when he pushed against it, the resilience and resistance of flesh.
It's okay, cowboy. Mommy just fell. I broke a glass.
He saw red through the crack between the door and the frame. Are you bleeding?
It's just a little cut. I just cut myself a little.
Mom? His voice broke. Should I get somebody? Mrs. K? Should I call an ambulance?
No! And then softer, as if she was sorry she had yelled. It's just a little cut. I'll get up in a minute. I just need a rest.
Don't call, she said. I don't need any help, sweetie. I'll just take care of this in a minute.
He knew she was still alive when he finally disobeyed her, because he could hear the slow, slow rasp of her breath, but she'd stopped answering his voice. By the time the paramedics arrived, she hadn't been breathing anymore.
He brought himself back with an effort. Daphne's fingers still stroked his hand, the one without the cast on it. Absently, as if fingers and hand were disconnected from the both of them. He said, "I didn't call 911 soon enough to save her. And the ambulance took fourteen minutes to respond."
"Fourteen minutes? In a metro area?" She was professionally offended on behalf of the child he had been. He adored her for it.
He shrugged. "Barrio," he said. Funny how the people who lived in the ghetto, in English or Spanish, called it the neighborhood. "Nobody's going to sue."
Daphne's breathing was too fast, rather than not at all. There had been a point to Chaz's story. What was it? Oh, yeah. "So you saved my life. Live with it."
He hoped that wasn't an inadvertent curse. She watched him carefully before deciding it was all right to smile. She squeezed his hand once more before she disengaged her fingers. Don't go, he wanted to say, but he couldn't bring himself to beg for anything.
She said, "I brought you something to brighten the room."
Not flowers, he hoped fervently, but he nodded. And when she pulled a purple stuffed coyote the size of a small child from her blue Ikea bag, he laughed.
"I also brought your laptop." His, familiar. Yes. The case encrusted in stickers--Sterling Rope: Because It's A Long Way Down. KLIMBINGRÜVEN--and the latch that didn't, quite. "And this isn't your phone. That's still in evidence."
"But Hafs cloned the memory. So it might as well be your phone." She smiled.
"You stopped by my place."
Daphne knew all the questions he would ask, if he had the strength, and answered them. One by one, meticulously. "I watered the chilis," she said. "I don't think the tomatoes are going to make it. And I saw one of the Ng kids. The Angry Kitteh is still showing up to get fed. I bought them some more cat food while I was there."
"I don't deserve you," he said.
She leaned over and kissed his filthy hair. "Bullshit."