“What’s her name?”
Her voice is a wind chime with a breeze caught in its tangles. Somewhere in the distance, choked murmurs.
“Flannery Dove? How lovely. I bet she wishes she had wings right now, huh?”
A swoosh over Flannery’s nose. The lumpy cot drives into her spine. Her eyes stay shut. There’s a knot in her back and a pounding in her head. Her hand twitches. An unfamiliar, clammy hand flips it over.
“A guitarist’s hands and an acrobat’s makeup. Well, color me intrigued.”
Like a daydream, Flannery’s eyes blink open. White hair brushes against her eyelashes; it flutters to and fro with each breath. “Good morning, Flannery,” says Pandora Spring.
Flannery squints. The ceiling light tints the world a ghastly blue; it seeps into her skin, and grinds between her teeth. She groans, then pulls a quivering hand to her forehead. The room is cold. She is wearing only her underwear. Goosebumps rise along her stomach. “Where’s my father?”
“Aren’t you concerned about your friends?” Pandora giggles. Her laugh has wrecked marriages.
Flannery sits up, carefully, but bumps into Pandora’s forehead, hung close above her own. She winces. Pandora draws back, large yellow eyes blinking curiously, unhurt. She glances towards the huddle in the corner, parked by the main door. Seaweed, Alto, and Dolly’s murmurs silence. Alto glances up with deadening eyes. Flannery smiles at him. The corners of his lips twitch upwards. Neither Seaweed or Dolly look up. “Where’s my father?” repeats Flannery.
Pandora points at a smaller, reddish-blue door across the room, then pulls her hand quickly to her chest. “The bathroom. He’s been inside for three hours.”
“Aren’t you cold?”
Her pale arm hairs stand erect in the deep sea light. Same expression, same defensive hand. “No.”
Flannery nods. She swings her legs over the side of the bed. As she stands, her vision swims first like her father’s lucky sperm towards her mother’s egg, and then like her mother’s tears, consuming and disastrous, when her father traded her freckles for politics. Flannery shakes her head. The bricks become solid. Her mother did nothing. She recovered too late.
Flannery will not make the same mistake.
She wades through the blue light. The cracks in the walls haunt her. The floorboards squeak like dying mice. She glances behind her. The light flickers. Pandora’s eyes flash black. The shadows consume her. For a moment, darkness swallows Flannery whole, too, and then she is replaced, replenished by the light blinking on, and a wink from a lover to be. Flannery raises her chin. In this moment, she swears she hears her mother’s voice, an intimate whisper. “I’m going to a party tonight.”
But you never said you were going swimming. She’s at the door now. Its knob seems unreachable, and its tenant a convict. She sits on the floor, leans her back on the wall, and pulls her knees to her chest. A shiver bangs them together. She rubs her palms together, grimacing all the while. Of all the horrors she’s lived this week, only the cold has her writhing. If only she had a flamethrower-to punish her father, foremost, and then to warm her freezing fingers. Through chattering teeth, she asks, “Why’d you do it?”
The bathroom tiles squeak frantically. The clash of metal and elbow clangs throughout the cell. Rouge’s toe hits the bathroom door. He collapses to the floor, then scrambles to a kneel. He presses his ear to the wall.
Flannery raises her voice. “Why’d you kill my mom?”
Her fists clench. History wells up in her throat. Her mother’s brokedown eyes, Boston’s parentless gurgle, a bottle of vodka rolling down three flights of stairs. “Why’d you knock her up and leave her for dead? Why’d you pretend we never existed, huh? Look. Give me one reason not to kill you. Because goddamnit, I-I will. You killed my mom and you tried to throw us away, and it just so happens that I’ve had a very goddamn bad week. Are you ready to take your chances?”
A minute of silence. A heavy sigh. “How would you kill me?”
“I don’t know, but I would.”
“I believe you,” lies Rouge.
A long pause. “Thanks.”
“If it means anything to you, I didn’t kill your mom.”
Flannery closes her eyes and leans her head against the door. Her heart drops to her stomach. Shakily: “Then who did?”
“She did.” Rouge holds his head in his hands. Deep, haggard breaths. “She did.”
“That’s bullshit!” cries Flannery; her fist collides with the door. “She was getting better! She smiled and she said hello and she wore makeup and she went to the party and that’s just..that’s not what people who’re going to kill themselves do.”
“She wasn’t planning on it, at least, I don’t think she was. Not until she saw me. I was running around town. I didn’t know what was going on. Birch chased me to the end of the block before he called the funeral home. Not for your mom, you see, but for Velvet. My…my wife.
She died that night, too. She slipped on a spilled drink and her head cracked open. I don’t know whose fault it was, okay? She was yelling at me, your mother, too. Your mother spilled the drink. I don’t know. At first, I thought it was Blanca’s fault, and I told her so. She ran away, and I ran, too, a minute later. I didn’t follow her. I think I went the opposite direction, actually, but we live in a small town, and in small towns, the streets wrap in on themselves, like spirals. I found her sleeping outside the bookstore. Even in her sleep, she whispered. I’ll always remember that about her. Her nonsense and her freckles. And her loneliness. She glowed with it. You know, for years she wandered Orchard on her own, but after the workers started pouring in, those years only magnified inside her. Especially after I left.”
Flannery is crying now, quiet, ugly sobs. Snot dribbles down her chin. She ducks her head behind her knees. Her cheeks flush red. Seaweed stares. Dolly averts her eyes. Alto rises and, with creaking, hesitant footsteps, crosses the room to her. He bends down, taps her shoulder. She glances up. Mascara paints a skeleton forest on her cheeks. He sits down beside her. He holds her hand. He buries his face in her hair. His lips brush her ear, but no words come. For two days, he’s had nothing to say.
“Look, I know I screwed up.” Rouge continues. “I made a mistake. It was always Velvet, you see, and I just wanted to make her happy. I tried to save the world for her. Heroics is a lonely job, though, and when Blanca and I collided, we made the world’s saddest cocktail. She wanted me. I wanted the past. I wanted the days before my girlfriend sold herself in glass windows. I wanted the days before The Vanishing. I hated starvation, and I hated desperation. I gave into the latter just twice. Once for you and your sister, and another for your brother.
But I wanted politics! I wanted to put the world back on its feet. I wanted to fight crime and get the girl, and to live my dream, I couldn’t go back to your mother. I had to forget about her, you see? I craved perfection, but she defied it. I thought if I were to tell Velvet, she’d leave me, and if I told Birch, I’d lose my banker. So I left Blanca. Only eleven years later did I let myself think about her, and I ran right back. I still don’t know why. I couldn’t even fix her, so I fucked her, and then I left. I didn’t see her again until the night she died.”
It was a dinner party. We were supposed to celebrate my accomplishments as mayor. I got the schools up and running again, as you well know, and though that royally pissed off Birch, I got lots of parents donating to my cause. They were all invited to the party, but they missed the main event.
Your mom showed up first. She got there before we did. All smoky eyes and tiny skirt, she looked like a high class hooke-”
“Don’t you fucking dare call my mother a hooker!” Flannery choke-cries. Alto squeezes her hand. She buries her head in his shoulder. His skin muffles her voice. “You used her up. You took advantage of her. She looked beautiful that night, you grade A asshole.”
Rouge takes a shaky breath. His palms shine wet with sweat and tears. His voice grows quieter as he moves from the door, to take a seat on the toilet. “I’m going to finish, Flannery. Okay? I arrived with Velvet and Birch. We laughed and smiled as we walked up to the bar, but when I saw Blanca’s face in the mirror behind it, my grin froze. Velvet made small talk with her. They had great chemistry-unbelievable. I approached Blanca after Velvet ordered her drink, and asked her what the hell she was doing. She stood up. Her drink sloshed, I remember. Her eyes were wild. She exploded on me, then, like a goddamn land mine. Her drink crashed to the floor. Her words blew up the bar. I wanted to die.
Then she mentioned Velvet. ‘Does Velvet look goddamn happy to you?’ she shouted. I saw Velvet’s frown, then I saw her nod. Blanca kept staring at me. Her gaze was a prison sentence. I appealed to a higher court. ‘She looks as beautiful as I’ve ever seen her,’ I said. At that moment, it was prison for life. Blanca kept shouting, and suddenly Velvet was agreeing with her, and I didn’t matter. Nothing I could say would help me. I could only deny everything as I put on my orange uniform. Velvet wouldn’t believe me. Why should she have? I’m an awful liar.
She ran to Blanca, and then she slipped. Her head cracked against the table and the chair and finally the floor. Blood was everywhere. Her chest stopped moving. I said it was Blanca’s fault. Still in denial, you see. She ran then, and in a bit, I ran into the rain, too. And that’s how I found her on the bench. My footsteps woke her up. She saw me, and the moon in her eyes died. She sprinted-barefoot, I noticed. I ran after her. I didn’t know why-I only knew that she had been there with Velvet, and it had somehow been not just her fault, but my fault, too. We ran for ten minutes. She paused on the bridge, with me a minute behind, to grab her heels. Mud soaked her feet. It splattered her thighs, and mixed with the blood on her face. I followed her to the public pool, under the welcoming building and onto the tile. She slowed as she approached the water. I stopped. Her skirt had ridden up around her hips; she wiggled it down slowly, as if she relished the cold wind on her rain-soaked underwear. She wiped her feet on the pool ladder, then slid on her heels. Her lipstick had smeared across her face, and as she turned to face me, she wore the jagged half-grin of a CD snapped in half.
We stood in silence for minutes. The moon dyed our faces into pearls. Rain soaked through my shirt. She didn’t blink. Her eyes burned red and tears streamed down her face, but she didn’t blink. I shouted to her. ‘Have you gone crazy?’
‘I’ve never felt more alone,’ she whispered through the wind.
And then she jumped.”
Rouge presses his cheeks into his hands. Tears hurricane through his fingers. On the door’s other side, Flannery sobs into Alto’s shoulder. The blue light flickers, casting a ghoulish shadow across her ruddy cheeks, and his ruffled hair. From the bed, Pandora Spring watches with curious, narrowed eyes. The guard peeks through a slat in the door. Seaweed begs him for a smoke. Dolly shushes him. “What did you do?” asks Flannery, voice thick.
“I turned away. It seemed too private, too personal, too hopeless. I’d just lost my wife, and now an ex-lover. A nightmare-that’s what it was. An inky skied, wet clothed, spilled beer nightmare. I walked home as she floundered. No one could know we were connected, I realized. Duty still drove me, even then. As soon as I got home, I reported three homeless children, camping out in a rundown Vanishing home. I needed to move on; I knew that only an hour after their deaths. I couldn’t live with their voices on my back.
But when I awoke, you’d been adopted by man in town, and I pretended I didn’t care. I heard reports of a gang of delinquents, drinking it up in the swamps. ‘Flannery Dove’s the ringleader,’ parents whispered. I cried the first night I heard it. If I’d been your parent, maybe you’d be better. You’d have had a normal childhood. You’d have chosen homework over liquor. But I guess I’ll never know. Anyway. A…a week ago, I received an e-mail. All government personnel got it. ‘The first alarm has triggered. We caught the intruders on video.’ Attached at the bottom was the video. When I saw your face, I knew I couldn’t sit idly by. I couldn’t let my child die, too, even if I didn’t know you. So I hunted you down. I went to Brandy’s house. He opened the front door on the second knock. Then he slapped me in the face. I met your brother and sister, too. I’m…I’m dead to them, Flannery. Your brother thought I was a used car salesman. Your sister wanted my head on a stake.
I held my head high, though, and flew to the city. I got a room in your hotel. As soon as the shouting stopped in your room, I came to warn you-to help you escape, if necessary. But we were ratted out, and now we’re here, waiting to die in the Blue Daydream, with Boss upstairs and the world on our heels. We’re all going to die here, and I..I’m so sorry, Flannery. I failed.”
“You didn’t try to stop her!” cries Flannery. Alto wraps his arms around her waist. He squeezes his eyes shut. Where have his words gone? “I don’t give a shit about Blue Daydream or Boss or whatever-they didn’t let my mother die. You still failed. She’s dead, and death doesn’t take any apologies.”
Rouge’s cries fumble in the cramped space between the door and the floor. He smashes his fist against the wall; he yelps when his knuckles come away bruised.
Flannery’s whole body trembles. She throws her hands over her smeared makeup and bloodshot eyes. Her hair deepens to purple in the blue light. Alto bites his lip. Her tears burn his shoulders like wildfire. She pushes herself a few inches away, minute, but wholly separate. His jaw falls, and his arms reach out desperately.
He finds her shoulders, bare but for tangles and bra straps, and hunching upwards towards her pointed chin. He pulls her closer. She offers no resistance. Her hands cup her cheeks, conceal her eyes, but she’s warmer. “I’ve got you,” whispers Alto, voice hoarse with the silence of days. “It’s okay to cry.”
She chokes out another sob. He runs his fingers through her hair, and her hands slowly, ever so slowly, fall from her face.
Neutral Milk Hotel – “King of Carrot Flowers, Pt 1”
A/N: The lovely Pandora Spring is from Arrowleaf’s awesome emotion burning rainbowcy, Chasing Rainbows.
I’m sorry I’ve fallen so behind with answering comments and reading your stories. This school year has been really busy already, and I just auditioned for the fall musical today, so my reading/writing time might be cut in half. I’m going to reserve Sundays for reading, though, and l’m excited to have loads of wonderful stories to read at the end of the week!
My updates, though, will be fairly sparse throughout first semester. After the musical and college hunting season finish up, I will be like ten times more present. I’m really sorry about the delays-I haven’t forgot about you guys, I promise!
And another beeteedubs: how’s the posing in this chapter? This is my first time using pose player in an update, and I’m not sure if my posing is up to par. If you have any suggestions, shout ’em out! 🙂
Thank you all for reading! 🙂 Hope to see you soon!