She picked up the enameled ladybug brooch that sat on the bedside table and pinned it to her lapel. Dorrie looked toward her future, her kingdom before her. Twenty minutes.
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I try to sneak one past him. Baby see, baby do. I go straight for my phone. Maybe I can text something out. Maybe I can send a desperate cry for help over to Child Services. No dice. He gurgles and laughs and starts pawing after the phone. My iThing is old news when I raise the curtain and his eyes open and he squeals his delight all over the security foyer.
Peekaboo, kid. It all started in my office. He squealed. It was a baby alright. Anybody that might be mom or dad? Of course not. What could I do? It did. My gentle pressure is his table vise. I gave my glasses up for lost and navigated by smell and memory through a world of smeared neon and blurry. Somewhere along the way, I apologized to an indoor tree for bumping into it.
I tried to reason with him. I tried to plead. She told me not to worry in a flat-line voice, and went back to clicking about with her mouse. He tugged at my hair and bludgeoned my ear with little fists, laughing his squeaky baby laugh. I needed a distraction. I needed something, anything. So I sat him down and covered his eyes. I peekabooed. And here we are. He gave up my glasses almost instantly.
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Actually, he kinda flung them at the table with all of his wimpy might, but no harm done. A big, watery hello, and a laugh, and. I see teeth like Chiclets poking through his gums. But then, how the hell would I know?
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Even has blue eyes to finish the effect, blue eyes without any veins in them, any lines around them. Keep right on laughing. For him, every time is like the first time. I try to distract him with a walk around the waiting room. The rent-a-cop only shrugs. We do this, like, three times a day. What choice do I have? I can see exactly how much this little guy interests her. You owe me your life, baby. You owe me. So why are you the one giving orders?
Little hands cover little eyes. I cringe a little. His is pumping endorphins from oversized head to every stubby finger. He slams the table, over and over, laughing like he just got out of Arkham. He goes wherever he wants, gets carried around and fussed over, and the peekaboo. It never ends, the peekaboo. It never Company policy, sir. It upsets the customers. No wonder she wants no part of this. Who would? His laugh is a little more subdued this time. Hands are more mime than seizure. Could it be? You like LeBron James! My heart sinks. An experiment. Maybe if I just What have I done?
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She has a little brother. Good boy! Or maybe they were just for show. Bouncing up and down. Flailing around. He covers his eyes. I cover mine. Lost baby in the security office. Thank you. I think he knows the announcements are about him. I tried that dog-blanket thing once, and even my remedial student of a bull-. Distraction fades. Hands cover eyes. I die inside. There you are. The contrast is kind of unsettling. Mom sighs, looks back over her shoulder, looks to me. I give her a little wave.
He wandered into my store. Squiggly line. I elect, instead, to go the adult route. I gave my parents the slip a few times, too. Thanks for bringing him in. Mom goes over to the report. Am I good to go? Would that be rude? She makes it through half a line before Jimmy starts squirming and babbling.
She tries to calm him, fails, and walks back to me. I put him down and close my eyes. He closes his. Well aware. She finishes the form, comes back, grabs Jimmy away. He was happy to play peekaboo, but variety is the spice of life, and he babbles and flails at the prospect of hair to pull. As a thank you? That would be awkward. But what if she is?
Just happy to help out. She shakes my hand. Jimmy protests a little when she belts him into it, but in the end, he goes quietly, distracted by a sippy cup. Ellen wheels him through a closing mall. Some of the stores have already brought their security bars down. The rest are full of disinterested teenagers trying to hint their always-right customers home so that they can close up. I let him walk around a little while I checked the mall directory. God, I feel stupid. From what? She extends a hand. I shake it. And then, Jimmy looks over. Big, wet Chiclet-studded smile. He turns around and beats his hands against the stroller.
I make it to our bungalow nearly an hour later. The usual stream of junk mail wedged into the screen door. He knows it. I walk into the kitchen and toss my keys on the counter. Food in the fridge. I reach out for the remote. I flip as far as Red Hot Pawn before disgust sets in and I call up the on-screen guide. Heat are hosting the Raptors. He puts on an ancient Timex and the shell bracelet his grandson Toby gave him years ago, slips a silver chain with a tiny silver cross around his neck—a gift from Iris—and heads out the door and down the hall to the tiny kitchen where he can hear her puttering around fixing breakfast.
All familiar rituals that in no way dampen the crawling anxiety settling over him like a shroud. He sits in a slat chair at the head of the Formica-topped table as Iris pours him a cup of strong, black coffee and lands a peck on his bald spot. She shuffles to the stove and stirs the steaming pan of gravy. Hatcher pours a little coffee in his saucer, blows. Hanley of the Early Bird Garden Show is gone and AM News takes his place, the reporter rattling on about an accident on Highway 53 involving two school buses, nobody hurt, no need for parents to be concerned.
Roads will be jampacked with frantic parents tearing off to the scene to check on their kids. Have to take a detour this morning. Hatcher drinks his coffee, his mood darkening as relentless dawn yellows the horizon. Iris brings him his plate, casts him a worried glance. She knows. Methodically, he eats his breakfast, the scrambled eggs perfect, gravy and cat-head biscuits delicious, as usual. Iris gingerly folds her willowy frame into her chair. She never does. Hatcher knows the contours of her hand as intimately as his own work-.
And knows as well that she can sense the darkness welling up within him. Abruptly, he rises, drains his cup, and grabs his keys from the hook beside the door. He starts to turn, but she grips his forearms and looks him square in the eye. She raises a hand, and he feels her fingers gently touch the indention in the side of his head. Her finger tips travel downward, tracing the livid scar radiating from the indention, across his right temple, and down his cheek like the tail of a comet. Henry drives his truck slow and careful out Highway 53, radio blaring some asshole car salesman spouting market-speak.
The miasma rides him like the angel of death on a pale horse. As his truck approaches the outskirts of the city, the early morning sun streaming through his windshield has a sharpness to it, wields an edged razor that cuts across his eyes. Through squinted eyes, he spots the flashing lights—law enforcement blue, EMT red.
The bulk of two yellow buses block one lane. Hatcher turns left, taking a back road route to the landfill, where he works. His round-about takes him through the heart of the city, and as he passes the alley separating the Inn-Between Deli and the Green Grocer, he finds himself slowing.
His eyes flick to the alley. He slows to a crawl, sweat suddenly beading his neck. His heart is pounding, and he stares intently into the shadowed mouth of the alley. Looks just like an alley, narrow and utilitarian, strewn with trash and old boxes. But something is there, he knows. He senses movement— a dark, writhing, unseen presence. Weak now, but gathering strength. Gathering potential. Behind him, a horn blares. He shakes his head and wipes a trembling hand across his face. He gently presses the gas and the. He arrives at the landfill, drives through the gate, and parks in his spot next to the cavernous building where dump trucks are already maneuvering, accompanied by their harsh beeping songs, to shed their loads of detritus cast off by the city.
He shuts the truck down, gently touches the yellowing photograph of Toby taped to his dash, and slides out. Hatcher notices that the county work detail is already hard at it, spreading the garbage coughed up from the maws of the dump trucks. Even at this hour, the room is kicking, trucks and dozers vying for position. A stench of diesel and curdled milk assails his nostrils as he enters the building and heads for the office to clock in. Maria, the short, fat county deputy in charge of the work detail, meets him at the door.
She smiles. Off my feed this morning. Need one of my boys to help out? He says so, and I think he will. Raised right. He elects to stay silent. He clocks in, waves to Maria, and heads out to his dozer. Time to work. Hatcher rides the dozer out the narrow access road carved through the clay of the landfill, over the finished cells already filled and tamped and slowly digesting their tons of solid waste.
Most of these cells are bare, tan earth awaiting grass. A scattering of vent pipes—access to environmental testing wells—dot the surreal landscape like exclamation points. Hatcher tries not to think about all the things under ground here: the trash, garbage, and junk; the rejected refuse from the city fermenting a few feet under his dozer tracks. And other things under the earth.
Lost and forgotten, slowly decaying. He can smell the stench of decaying garbage even though the cab is sealed and air-conditioned. He glances out the window. Seagulls wing lazily over the cell, dipping and rising. Here and there buzzards feed, hopping about with an ungainly gait. Fifty yards away, a mangy dog — or a coyote — works through the mess, seeking a meal.
Hatcher stops the dozer, shuts off the engine, and climbs down. He stands on the edge of the pit. The stench is far worse outside the cab, wafting over the lip of the cell like noxious waves from a polluted sea. He covers his nose and mouth with a bandanna, and stares to the far side of Cell C To where Cell C-3, completed two weeks ago, steams in the late-summer heat.
There is nothing to differentiate Cell C-3 from the other capped and tapped cells. Nothing special about Cell C No indeed. A buzzard wheels around in a long parabolic arc that takes it out and over the cell. As Hatcher watches, the buzzard veers sharply left, away from the empty space, its shrill cry of alarm piercing the air as it speeds away.
A few seagulls on final approach to the open garbage smor-. Hatcher knows that rats also keep away from that place. Coyotes will have nothing to do with it. The miasma settles over his shoulders like a wet, clinging blanket. The sun seems to dim. Hatcher squares his shoulders, climbs back into the dozer, and rumbles around the festering open pit to Cell C He stands on the plateau. A soft wind ruffles the sparse hair fringing his bald spot. Has been for some time now.
Before him is one of the environmental testing vents required by the EPA. It penetrates through the clay cap into the rotten core of the landfill below. Hatcher stares at it, and slowly it fades out of focus as his mind takes him back over eight years ago. Seven year-old Toby is in the passenger seat beside him, giggling and licking at a soft-serve vanilla cone. Toby is spending the night with his granddad. Blinded, Hatcher hits the brakes, tries to swerve.
The SUV swerves, also, but too late. Its front bumper strikes his sedan a glancing blow. The car looses traction, spins twice, slides at speed into a ditch. Hits a culvert. Rolls… Hatcher comes to with rain and blood in his eyes. The crushed car is on its side, half in the road. His eyes twitch, frantically searching.
Then he sees the boy, kneeling beside him. The driver of the SUV has turned around and pulled to the shoulder. Spears of harsh light envelop them. Toby is sobbing, hands fluttering over Hatcher like a bird, afraid to touch his broken body. A man is stumbling towards them, barely able to stand. The SUV driver. Toby, crying. His scalp is bleeding. Help him, please help him! Hatcher smells rain and gasoline mixed with tequila. Hatcher sees him glance frantically around. Hatcher hears a door open, then close with a hollow chunk. The man is. Something long dangles from his right hand.
The stem of a car jack. The man swings the jack again and Hatcher hears a dull chock from the dark. Then the man is standing over him, breathing heavily, clutching the jack almost protectively across his chest. Hatcher blinks and comes back to himself. He fingers the indented scar in the side of his head. He was in the hospital for three months, in a coma for two. The man who killed Toby, and tried to kill Hatcher, was never found.
Until later. Hatcher eats his lunch in the air-conditioned office, with Maria looking on disapprovingly. The small T. Hatcher shakes his head. He finishes his sandwich and heads for the door. Just before leaving, he turns back to Maria. A good name for a baby girl.
Name her Fantasia. He drives the dozer up the slope, around the rim to Cell C Parks the dozer, gets out. Starts walking. He feels the change in the atmosphere when he crosses the boundary of the dead space. A wave of damp cold washes over him. He stands before the vent, shivering in the warm sun. He hugs himself tight. The miasma envelopes him in a dark wave. He tries to swallow, but his mouth seems full of ash.
He feels no fear, just an all-encompassing sorrow. The warmth of the late September sun has faded, and when he looks at it, the bright disk seems rimmed with black. When he looks back, he sees the girl. She is a black girl and small, dressed in a yellow sundress. Her feet are bare. She rocks slowly back and forth from heel to toe, her hands behind her back. You must witness, Hatcher thinks. He squints, and another image of the girl flickers over the first. Great gashes cross her body. Her shift is torn and bloody. Blood fills the holes where her eyes used to be.
He squeezes his own eyes shut. When he opens them, the girl is gone. His heart races, and sweat slicks his face. He staggers. A darkness settles over him. Tons of clay and garbage, pressing down for. He falls to his knees before the vent, under the crushing weight of the landfill. He exhales a ragged breath. His heart pounds erratically, and his vision dims.
And a voice, dry and wintry, rises from the vent. Hatcher strains to hear over the bellowing of his heart. He drives though the subdivision, his headlights white-washing the road. He is searching for a specific address number painted on the curb. The houses are clustered close together in this upscale, greenspace community. Not overly expensive, but they surely cost a good bit more than he can afford. As he navigates the surface streets, his eyes search while his mind wanders to the past.
His body is healing. He tries to hide it from Iris, but she can sense that something is not right. His sleep is filled with nightmare images. Of women, all. Little girls being molested, then killed and thrown in dumpsters like so much garbage.
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Kids snatched from their own neighborhoods by faceless men in dark cars, used savagely, and then murdered out-of-hand. And one bleak, rain-swept day he finds himself standing on the shoulder of Highway 53, sweating and trembling on the spot where Toby had died. Cars whip past, buffeting him, but he hardly notices.
His attention is riveted to the concrete culvert. Hatcher limps closer, not wanting to, but his will is like a leaf caught in the ditch-water current, sucked relentlessly towards darkness. He walks jerkily, then faster, suddenly loosing his balance and falling to his hands and knees, his cane spinning away. He crawls, sobbing softly, eyes locked on the black opening of the culvert. His rain-soaked shirt is plastered to his back, and water streams into his eyes.
He can barely see. But he can hear. A voice emanates from the pipe, barely perceptible, brittle and lost and oh so loved. Hatcher glimpses the number from the corner of his eye — Allison Street. He slows, turns into the drive. Kills the engine. Opens the glove box, and slips on a pair of thin leather gloves.
He gets out. The night air is crisp this time of year, with fall coming on. He stands beside his car, studying his surroundings. The house is still and quiet. The pale glimmering light of a T. In the drive sits an old Mustang, patched and primed. Hatcher limps up the walk, skirting a tricycle turned on its side.
He grimaces at the ramifications, but blots them from his mind. On the stoop, he rings the bell. He hears movement, and then the door opens. A thirtysomething man is standing before him, frowning. Hatcher looks him in the eye. Forces a smile. Thought maybe I could look it over? The man smiles. Come on in. Recliner, couch, coffee table, lamps. No one in the living room. The volume on the T. Somewhere in the depths of the house, he hears the faint sound of a shower running.
The man is fumbling into a faded sweat shirt when he pauses. He turns, and stares at Hatcher quizzically. Startled, the man staggers. His balance gone, he sprawls heavily on the recliner as Hatcher frees the.
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Hatcher squeezes the trigger. He slumps further, his eyes rolling in his head. Then he turns and leaves, closing the door softly behind him. He drives home slowly, the window down, enjoying the cool night air. The miasma is gone. He feels tired, like at the end of a hard day of honest labor. As he drives, he fiddles idly with the radio. Prey on women and children? How do these animals justify what they do? How can they kill the innocent, cut them up, dispose of the bodies like so much garbage?
A vision of the tricycle, on its side next to the walk, flashes through his mind. He squeezes his eyes shut, forcing the image down. Why is it that so many of them have families? Kids and wives of their own? And the neighbors never seem to suspect. He was such a nice man, they say about the few that are caught. Always friendly and helpful. So normal. Who would have thought. He tries to wrap his mind around it, but answers elude him.
His thoughts turn to Cell C-3, and what lies buried there. He knows it will rest easy now. He has borne witness. Like so many forgotten things, the parts will disappear forever, under. Hatcher yawns, and tightens his grip on the steering wheel. But already he senses shadows coalescing, just at the periphery of awareness. The miasma will return, and he will be unable to resist it. A gathering of potential… Something lost and forgotten, awaiting witness.
He thinks about the man - Paul Jordon. Jordon makes nine now, since the one who killed Toby. But that bit about his name — almost made a mistake there. Have to be more careful in the future. He drives on, then abruptly sits up straight and clenches the wheel hard as a thought hits him like an electric shock. At home, in his familiar bedroom, Hatcher lies on the edge of the bed as Iris rubs his shoulders. Hatcher is quiet for a moment, but then he sighs. The jobs vital to survival. Am I a good man? The work no one else can do.
You bear witness — and take out the garbage. David carried a sleeping Madeline in his arms, her head nuzzled into his neck as her legs and arms swung limply under his gentle gait. Passing the bundle to his wife he went back to the car for another sleeping child. From the semi-darkness of their bedrooms came mumbled protestations as arms and legs were wrangled into pyjamas. Turning in his chair he focused his attention on the marble. In the darkness of his office, the chessboard was a photographic negative of ebony and marble squares.
The crystal game pieces refracted the light, scattering prisms of rainbows while the ebony figures dully absorbed the light in funereal observance. The pieces were arranged in strategic positions of a game left undecided. Wanting for a victorious triumph and a humbled defeat. David selected the black knight from the board, scrutinising the ebony stone.
Its coolness took on the warmth of his hand as he turned it over in his palm, rolling it between thumb and forefinger. The knight had always been his preferred piece. It was elegant and refined unlike the stoic rook or surreptitious bishop. A quiet knock at the door and Carla slipped quietly into the room and crouched beside the chair, balancing her hands on the armrest. He held fast and spoke the first thought he could articulate. We tried to keep it going when he went into hospital. I took in the old plastic set, remember, but he was too sick to play.
Dad was so proud when he gave me this when Jacob was born. Occasionally we would play with my Simpsons set, just for the fun of it. But now all the pieces look like miniature tombstones marking the graves of the fallen. David continued. He taught me the rules of the game so that I might understand the role of each piece; their strengths and limitations. I think that was the way he saw life. I got to the point where I could predict his moves and judge his tactics, but in the end I lacked his vision and foresight. Barry slapped his hands on his thighs and sighed, ignoring the thin white powder plume as it dissipated and floated slowly back home into his lap.
He stood up and walked to the yellow nippled edge of the subway platform and leaned out. What he saw instead was an empty expanse of dull rail and a scurrying rat. His watch read A. The rat stopped right below Barry on the tracks, almost taunting. Barry stomped his foot on the platform, trying to scare the thing away but the rat just twitched its whiskers and began to gnaw on what was either the butt of a cigar or some kind of turd.
All of a sudden, Barry felt a hand on his back. He spun around quickly, moving away from the edge of the platform as he did so. The man stood there smirking at him. He had stringy brown hair and a crabgrass beard. It landed a foot away from the rat, which took off in a dun blur. You got a couple of bucks? Help a guy out? It was true. Like his ex, Evelyn had said to him once, it was becoming a cashless society, beggars and thieves be damned.
The man shuffled over to the bench that Barry had been sitting at and sat down. This train is an hour late. If I had any cash, I would have helped you out. What is it, some new crystal? A DVD player? His reply came sounding a little bit on the edge of both. This is a present for my daughter. The man began stomping his feet and thrashing around on the bench.
Give me the bag! He found another bench and sat and continued to wait for the train. When the man started adding in bits of singing and flatulent. This was not a sane person that he was sharing the station with. The fabric of its pre-dawn AM hours would never truly change; they would always be home to a seediness and danger that simply retreated to Who-Knew-Where once the sky began to lighten, gone but sure to return by night like the urban detritus and sludge on the sidewalks and bilco doors that the shop owners hosed off by dawn.
After several more, the station was quiet again. Barry looked and was relieved to see that the man had gone. He turned the box over in his hands. Its design included an open front for display purposes in which the doll--which was secured in more than a dozen different places with the type of plastic ties that are always twisted closed in complex and sadistic ways-looked out smiling. It certainly looked like Kayla, he thought; there was no getting around that.
Eyes that blue you could see from far away. Being a single mother left little time for socializing, no doubt. Barry looked at the doll. The doll looked back. The fact that it was smiling at him despite being bound at the neck, wrists, ankles, and legs was unsettling. A hundred and fifteen dollars. But for all Barry knew, Kayla would never even see the doll, had never even seen any of the gifts that he sent. It could be that. Evelyn just threw them away. And so what if she did? Would he really blame her after the horrible thing he had done?
Barry thought back to that week almost five years ago when everything changed. He and Evelyn had been dating for almost a year when she had become suddenly and inexplicably distant. Barry was convinced that Evelyn was considering splitting up with him. What else could it be? They had been arguing quite a bit of late. Not about money per se, but rather because of it. Of course she was going to break it off. How could she look forward to a future with a man who came home at five A. New York was a tough city in which to be poor.
The lure of opulence was everywhere: unabashed, celebrated. The evening following their movie outing, Barry was at home in his Washington Heights walk-up trying to numb his brain with some vapid TV magic when the intercom buzzed. Barry buzzed her up and let her in. He asked her if she wanted something to drink. Evelyn shook her head. So this is it, Barry thought. He thought it had been a great weekend. They were together practically the entire time--well, except while she went to the bar while he lost at Blackjack. Then Barry remembered. The bartender. The one with the stupid ponytail.
Only douchebags wore their hair in little ponytails like that. The bartender and Evelyn had been pretty chatty. He even made her laugh a few times. He could have easily gotten her number and Barry would have never known. They had probably been talking ever since. As Barry worked all this out in his head, Evelyn stood there looking down at her shoes, fidgeting with her bracelet. In the apartment above them, a piano lesson continued with. Out in the hallway, a couple laughed like only those who had been out drinking and would soon make love laugh. And down on the street, someone was laying into a car horn.
Evelyn let out a pent up breath. I took one of those home tests when I got in last night. After a few moments in his arms, Evelyn became herself again. And behind a smile that felt as heavy as the news he had just been given, Barry wondered just what in the hell he was going to do.
Outside, the cold winds swirl in the stochastic patterns dictated by the interruptions of buildings. Children are pushed around in strollers, enclosed in plastic, on display like mini pontiffs. Women hold down skirts. Lighting cigarettes requires real skill and patience. There is no milling; everywhere, people walk like they mean business. Inside, at St.
In room 4C-S--the maternity ward-Evelyn is laboring. She is alone. Alone, but not for long. He stood and stretched. He walked to the edge of the platform to look for the train again. He leaned out, and…did he see something down the tunnel? A glint of light in the distance? A moment later, he was sure that he had. The train! His stomach. Who knows? And then after that? Barry felt hopeful.
The train was closer. It looked to be stopped at 34th street, one station away. Down at 34th, the train was on the move. As a matter of fact, as soon as he felt it, he realized that he had been almost expecting it. Up rose a quick flash of anger. He had had enough.
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