Sketches of a Night

One of those late night musings…I thought ‘what if I could write a five paragraph story?’

Well, I can’t.

At least, not quite.

So, what follows is a five part story – of sorts – but without a comfortable narrative framework, even by my miserly standards. I looked at different turning points, looked at making the various arcs more complete, but somehow arrived at the end and liked what I saw. Hope you do to.

So…a new ‘story’ – kind of version 1.0, if you know what I mean.

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Sketches of a Night

I     The Cop

He left Homicide a little after midnight, turned east on 51st and headed towards the lake, for his apartment off South University. He rubbed his eyes, tried to wipe away the burn that had come with working thirty hours straight, then he yawned, pinched away a lacrimal tear as he pulled up to the red light at Cottage Grove. He yawned again, shook his head, saw something moving beyond the shadowy pools of light ahead, moving off to the right through heavy snow – “Drexel Square, at this time of night? In this weather?” – he said aloud, and he squinted, tried to see through the fat, heavy flakes now drifting on the roadway .

Then…

…he picked up the radio’s mic and switched to the main department frequency…

“4120.”

“4120, go ahead.

“4120, show me back in service at 51st and Cottage Grove, four male-blacks attacking another subject, no description at this time.”

“4120, at zero-zero-twenty-two hours. 4120, will you need back-up?”

“4120, 10-4. Could you also roll paramedics at this time?”

“4120, at zero-zero-twenty-three hours.” Several units checked en route, but none were close.

Captain of Detectives Burt Redmaine punched the accelerator and jumped the curb, drove up onto the slippery grass and chased the group down, and he put his reds and blues on as he neared the four assailants. They had a small, light complected boy pinned to the snowy turf, and one of the kids, a black kid about 18 years old, had a knife out. Redmaine bailed out of the Ford Explorer with his Sig P-220 drawn, yelled “Hands where I can see ‘em!”

The kids laughed, and one of the teens reached in his jacket; he went from focusing on four suspects to one, flinched when brightness flared, then Redmaine squeezed off a round; the Remington 45ACP SJHP hitting the armed kid center mass. The boy crumpled, fell to the snow – while the three remaining kids looked stunned, hesitated, then took off to the south. He ran up to the suspect and checked carotids for a pulse, felt nothing and scuttled across the snow to the victim, now writhing just a few feet away. He found deep cuts on the kid’s forearms and hands – classic defensive wounds – as well as a deep laceration across the boy’s gut – but he stood, his senses suddenly on full alert.

One of the other kids, the kid with the knife, was running for him, the knife in his hand cocked overhead, and Redmaine coiled into a Weaver stance, quickly aimed then shouted: “Stop, or I’m putting you down!”

The kid seemed to slow, but Redmaine saw bloodlust in the kid’s eyes, a pulsing, grim determination, the eagerness to kill, and at five yards he fired once. The heavy, slow moving bullet hit the kid in the neck, and at such close range the impact was devastating. As the boy staggered backwards under the impact, his all but severed head kept moving forward – then let go and flew through the air, landing just a few feet from the writhing kid’s body.

Pistol still up and at the ready, he turned and swept the scene, then jogged back to the Explorer’s radio. “4120, signal thirty three, repeat three-three, shots fired, two suspects down, two fleeing on foot down Bowen, for Drexel. Both male, black, approximately 18, six feet, one fifty, Suspect One wearing red sweatpants and a gold hooded sweatshirt, Suspect Two solid navy or black sweats, white stripes down the arms and legs. Victim on the scene with multiple stab wounds, expedite EMS Code 3.” He grabbed the first aid kit from the back of the Ford and ran back to the victim, checked the kid’s pulse, made a rough count of heartbeats, guessed it was over one-fifty so knew he was bleeding out. He ripped open a pouch of coagulant and dumped it on the belly wound, then dug out a surgical pad and covered the laceration, applied as much pressure as he dared.

He looked up, swept his horizon again, checked the shadows, cocked his head – but all he heard now was an avalanche of sirens headed down 51st  and in from the lake.

“Did you get ‘em?” the boy asked, his voice almost lost in the darkness.

He turned, looked down at the kid. “Howya doin’, sport?” Redmaine said, trying not to sound alarmed, then: “Yeah, I got ‘em.”

“I think they got me, too,” the boy sighed, then he just stopped breathing. Redmaine ripped open the kid’s shirt and placed his hands over the sternum and began compressions, then rescue breathing, alternating as best he could in the howling wind and driving snow. A patrol car jumped the curb a moment later, and two officers joined him by the boy’s side, helped administer CPR as a steady stream of back-up arrived. Within minutes paramedics had the kid in the box and they rolled down Cottage Grove for the ER at the University of Chicago Medicine, leaving Redmaine almost breathless as the adrenaline rush began to fade…

“Burt? Where’s all that blood coming from?”

“What? What blood?”

“Blood, on your arm? Are you bleeding, man?”

He felt light headed, fumbled with his jacket. He’d never seen, let alone felt the single round the first kid fired at him, and he pushed at the the pulpy wound now, the wet mass coming as a complete surprise to him. It was suddenly very bright out, and he felt dizzy, then he too lost consciousness and fell to the snow.

II     The Librarian

Hector Ramirez opened the door for her, as he did almost every night, and let her in as the snow swirled around their feet, then he pulled the heavy door shut and followed her up the stairs. They lived on the same floor, worked the same shift downtown so took the same bus home every night – and they had for years – yet he still didn’t know her name. And it almost didn’t matter anymore.

He only knew she was beautiful, and there were times when he – simply – lusted over her. She was, perhaps, three steps ahead of him on the stairs, yet all he was aware of was her legs. Trim yet muscular and perfectly shaped, he looked forward to these few moments on the stairs more than anything else in his day – simply because of her legs. Some nights he wanted to reach out and touch their perfect skin – and he could see himself in his mind’s eye holding them, kissing them, running his hands up their glorious nakedness.

But not tonight.

No, something was different tonight. She had always been aloof for days, but tonight something was off. Now, tonight, she was glacial, all slow-moving ice, crumbling before his eyes under the onslaught of time and slow, grinding pressure. Her movements were light, too light, yet slower than slow, and at first he thought she was giving him more time to admire her legs, but her hands, reaching for the cold metal railing, seemed unsteady, grasping, almost lost in time.

“Are you alright, Ma’am?” he said at one point, and his voice seemed to snap her out of it; she quickly finished walking up to the third floor and disappeared down the corridor to her apartment, and he watched after her for a moment, suddenly feeling anything but lust.

No, now he felt concern. Concern for her, for her wellbeing, and the realization struck him as – almost – funny. ‘Why should I?’ he said to himself. ‘She’s never said a word to me, in almost fifteen years! Why should I care about that lonely woman’s life?’

She went in the door and shut it behind her, turned on the light-switch.

Nothing happened.

She walked over to a lamp and turned it on, and it’s feeble glow tried to chase away the shadows – but failed. She walked through the living room to her bedroom door and went inside the cold, dark room, and she took off her clothes, hung her coat and dress on hangers in the closet and put her undies in the hamper, then she took her shower – all to get ready for him.

When she was clean she dried herself off, perfumed her special places then put on his favorite lingerie. She felt herself down there, felt her need, then walked down to his bedroom door.

Which was, as it always was, standing open just a few inches. The light was off, as it always was, and she just barely stuck her head in the door.

Her son was on top of the sheets tonight, and his naked body glowed in the ambient light of the falling snow coursing through the sheer drapes. Her eyes went to his waiting erection, standing strong and tall now, ready for her, waiting – and she slipped into the room, sat on the foot of the bed looking at him pretending to sleep.

Still not saying a word she moved up between his legs and she saw his eyes open, saw the smile on his face, and she moved over him, took him in her mouth. She heard the sharp intake of breath, his sudden need now completely overwhelming, and she grasped the base of his cock as she began pounding him mercilessly with her mouth. This first assault was her favorite – because he had been waiting for this moment all day and just couldn’t last.

She picked up her pace, swirling her tongue over his head, feeling the pressure build on the back of her throat, then she heard his whispered pleas and this excited her most of all. She gripped the base of his cock, dug her fingernails into his skin as she picked up her pace yet again, and she felt his orgasm run up his legs into his gut, then his sudden, overwhelming release hit her. She gagged as the pressure of his release ran down her throat and she reveled in her mastery of this need they shared. She swallowed and swallowed and still he came, filling her mouth completely until his cum ran down her chin, and then they drifted – together – through time, to their special place.

And yet, she never took him from her mouth. Instead, she simply swirled her tongue around his head, kneaded his strength with her hands, and when he was completely hard again she slid up between his legs until her nether lips were poised over his pulsing need. She lowered herself slowly now, willing this moment to last the longest, until her lips and tight, bristly hair touched his glans. She moved as slowly as she could, yet she pushed down on him, forcing her lips apart, grating his skin with her coarse pubic mat, and when she felt him stiffen – again – she smiled at her mastery of his need.

She kept this up for some time, drawing out their anticipation as long as possible…

Ramirez was walking by her apartment just then, walking down to the Super’s office, and he heard her. It was impossible not to hear her…

‘Moaning? Is she moaning?’ He almost laughed, felt like a fool as he walked by, then he got to the office and knocked on the door.

“Come on in,” he heard, so he turned the knob and went inside. “Hector? What’s wrong? The sink again?”

“Yes, Mr Carlisle. I did as you say, try the drain cleaner, just like you say, but there is brown stuff coming up now, and it smells pretty bad.”

“Is it flowing?”

“Yessir, pretty bad. The sink, she is about half full now.”

“Okay. Let’s take a look.”

They walked down to Ramirez’s apartment, but both stopped outside of her apartment, listened to the moans coming through the door.

“That’s odd,” Carlisle said. “She doesn’t usually entertain men…”

“She wasn’t right coming home. No sir, she moving pretty slow.”

“Do you think she’s ill?”

“I don’t know…could be. She was slow, real slow, coming up the stairs.”

The Super went to the door, knocked gently. “Mrs Simmons? Are you alright?”

The moaning continued, seemed to grow in intensity.

“Mrs Simmons?”

Still only moans.

“Mrs Simmons, I’m concerned for your safety, and I’m coming in now.” He turned to Ramirez. “Hector, come in with me, please, but stay behind me.”

“Si, Señor Carlisle.”

Carlisle tried the door, found it unlocked and turned the knob. He stepped inside and a frigid blast hit him in the face; he saw his breath in the dark, icy air, and he walked towards sounds coming from the small bedroom on the far side of the living room. The door was ajar, and pale blue light seeped into the hallway – and they heard laughter, faraway, the laughter of a small boy.

“Mrs Simmons?” Carlisle said as he stood outside the room. “Are you in there?”

Moans, and the boy’s laughter greeted his question, and as Carlisle opened the door he heard sirens in the distance.

She was face down on the bed, writhing in ecstasy, her hands inside her thighs as an unseen lover made love to her. The two men looked at one another, and Carlisle shrugged.

“Something ain’t right, señor. We better call, het her some help…”

III     The Physician

He walked around the living room, dusting off his memories and taking them out for a spin one more time, looking at pictures of his wife – and their life – together. He came to his favorite, of her on their wedding day thirty four years ago this month, and he looked at her green eyes, her red hair aglow like a smoldering fire among copper coated trees. He stopped and looked in those eyes and he could feel the same breathlessness he’d always felt with her. The same devotion, the same sense of timelessness, almost weightlessness that came with the inrushing love he would always feel for her.

“I think it’s time, Sara,” he said to the image. “Time for me to come home.”

He walked over to the glass wall and looked down on the city, was surprised to find it was snowing so hard and wondered why.

“Life goes on, I suspect, no matter what we expect will happen when death comes.”

He sighed, thought back on his day. The sharp, jolting pain in his groin, like a hot spasm shooting from his testicles up his spine. Taking his morning shower, feeling his left testicle – hard as a rock in the hot water, sudden icy dread shooting through his normal morning thoughts, pushing everything else from consciousness. The early morning to call to Charlotte, his internist, getting her service instead. She called a few minutes later and he explained his concerns, described what he’d felt.

“Gene, come on down as soon as you can; I’ll draw for HCG, LDH-1 and AFP, get a complete panel as well as an ultrasound.” Charlotte Atwood wasn’t simply a colleague, she was a friend, and had been since their first year together at Pritzker. Of equal importance, she and Sara had been best friends – since high school, at least. If there was one person who could see him through this transition, it was Charlotte, and he felt confident as he drove in to the Medical Center.

Then he thought of Judy, his sister. “I wonder where she is today?” he asked the emptiness. “I wonder why we lost touch?” He missed her, missed watching her watch Sara, and he smiled as he recalled talking to his wife about his sister.

“She loves you so much,” he remembered saying once – when her death wasn’t far away.

“Try to understand her, Gene. She’s all you’ll have, and she’s so alone in the world.”

“I never understood why she couldn’t move on.”

“Don’t you?”

His blood work was loaded with tumor markers, the initial ultrasound showed his both testicles completely compromised, all the cord as well, and the radiologist expressed concern for his prostate too, and scheduled him for a STAT MRI. Once the IV was established and a HOCON dye injected, he felt the tray sliding into the tube, the tech advising him to “hold your breath,” then “breathe out slowly” for the next forty five minutes. He dressed and walked up to Atwood’s office feeling absolutely terrified by all these inrushing uncertainties.

“Looks like the retroperitoneal nodes are enlarged, Gene. I’ve talked to Rohrbacher, and he’s wiped his slate, will do you tomorrow morning at seven. Check in at five thirty, nothing to eat after five this evening.”

“I know the drill.”

“I know you do, Gene, but there’s a first time for everything.”

He shook his head slightly and sighed. “I sat in this chair three years ago when you diagnosed Sara, and I was there all the way.”

“It’s not the same, Gene. It’s you…”

“I beg to differ, Charlotte. Your words hit me that morning every bit as hard as they did her.”

“That’s because you’re a total empath, Gene, not to mention the best neurosurgeon in the city.”

“No sunshine up the ass today, okay, Charlotte? You think a dissection looks likely, don’t you?”

She nodded her head. “Yup.”

“Damn.”

“I hate to be blunt, but have you been getting any lately?”

He shook his head. “Last time was with Sara.”

“Gene? Why? You can’t go on living like this…you’ve got to move on…”

“Charlotte…don’t go there. I can’t, and I won’t.”

Atwood sighed, shook her head again. “I know, Gene. I miss her too.”

His eyes watered, he looked away. “Don’t do this to me, Charlotte. Not today.”

She opened a desk drawer, took out a sample box of Viagra and tossed it on the desk.

“What the Hell is that for?” he said, looking at the box with something akin to contempt in his eyes.

“Tonight.”

“What about tonight?”

“Gene, I want you to go out and get laid tonight. Have an early dinner, then go out and get yourself well and truly laid.”

He’d laughed at her then, but he’d picked up the box and put it in his jacket pocket.

Because he knew the score. He knew that with a full retroperitoneal dissection, with all the lymph nodes systematically dissected from his gut, massive nerve damage was assured, and loss of normal sexual function was all but assured, too.

And he reminded her that he hadn’t asked a woman out on a date since 1975, the year he’d asked Sara out on their first date, “and anyway, I was never any good at the whole dating thing.”

“It doesn’t matter, Gene. Go to a bar. Hell, go online, find a goddamn escort – whatever! Just pop your cork, have some fun.”

Because, she didn’t have to say, this was going to be the last time – so make it a night to remember.

So, he’d texted Judy then gone home and packed a bag for the hospital, then rummaged around in the freezer until he dug up an old lasagna that wasn’t too far past it’s ‘expired’ date. He’d tried to watch the evening news but found he suddenly didn’t give a damn about the world, then heavy snow moved in, started falling heavily as the clock moved inexorably towards midnight.

And in that instant he recalled what it had felt like, that first time with Sara. How he’d slipped his penis in her vagina to tentatively, and how – in a blinding flash – the all-enveloping warmth of her body had completely transformed everything he knew about the soul – and what it meant to be human. He’d lasted, perhaps, thirty seconds before he ‘popped his cork’ that first time – as Atwood had called it just a few hours before – but oh, those thirty seconds! How transformative those precious moments had become to him. And to them both, he had to admit.

He looked at his watch, then at his coat – with the little box of Viagra still safely ensconced in an inner pocket – and then he went to their bedroom. He sat on her side of the bed, opened a drawer in her bedside table and pulled out the letter.

The letter he’d discovered one day when he was cleaning up her belongings after she passed. A letter from Judy, a letter professing undying love, dated a few years before she became sick. A letter describing just a few precious moments, details so intimate he’d cried. He remembered the sense of betrayal he’d felt when he found the letter, but then, ultimately, how he’d come to an understanding of his own shortcomings as a lover, and as a husband. He had been consumed with work for years, with completing his Fellowship, and the first time he read the letter he realized how much he’d neglected them both, and how much he’d missed their life together as a result.

He had put the letter back that day, put it back where he found it, and he never mentioned finding it to either of them, if only because, in no small measure, she had upheld her part of the bargain. She had been available to him, always, was ready to talk any time day or night, or to offer a shoulder, and she had remained his very best friend until the day she passed. What more, he asked, could you ask of a marriage, and from a friend.

He reread the letter, then took it to the kitchen and put it in the trash, picked up his car keys and coat and walked to the elevator; a few minutes later he was out in the snow, his Tesla Model S tracking through the slushy muck down State Street. He wandered aimlessly, turned here and there, not paying attention to much more than the traffic, and the heavily falling snow. After a while he pulled into a service station and filled the tank, went inside and got a bottle of water, and when he sat behind the wheel he fished out the Viagra and looked at the box, then rolled down the window and tossed it into a garbage can before he drove back into the night. Perhaps ten minutes later he saw a pink sign ahead, a chain store, an adult bookstore and he laughed.

“Why the fuck not?” he said as he turned into the parking lot, and he parked, walked to the door, stamping the snow off his boots as he stepped inside.

His eyes turned to saucers as he took in the mesmerizing displays around the vast room, the toys and dolls and racks upon racks of videos and magazines catering to every conceivable kink, then along the back wall he saw a neon sign: Video Arcade. “What the fuck?”

He walked to the front counter, waited until the girl working there turned to him.

“What’s in there,” he asked, pointing to the arcade. “Movies?”

The girl snorted derisively. “Yeah, you could say that.”

“What’s it cost?”

“You buy a card, load it with cash and put it in the slot. It subtracts the dollar amount based on how long you stay inside.”

“How much is enough?”

“Depends on how long you wanna cruise.”

“Cruise?”

“How long you wanna watch.”

He pulled out his wallet and gave her a fifty, and she smirked. “All on the card?”

“Sure. Why the hell not…?”

“Your money, Dad.” She handed him the card and he walked to the entrance and went inside…

…And his senses were overwhelmed with smells of tobacco, urine and, he assumed, old cum, with rancid undertones of stale disinfectant crawling up his skin. His first impulse was to run, but curiosity soon got the better of him and he walked through the maze like corridors, pausing to look at the offerings outside each ‘cabin,’ eventually settling on one that had a good mix of interesting women on it’s display. He walked inside and shut the door, then looked at the cum-splattered seat and turned around, walked back into the maze.

He came to another and went inside, sat on the relatively clean seat and was getting ready to put the card in the reader when he noticed a circular opening in the wall by his side – and moments later a genuinely huge penis – black and dripping pre-cum – poked through the opening. He grabbed the card from the reader and bolted from the cabin, clearly terrified.

Yet he walked deeper into the maze, and now he saw men lining the way, each looking at him knowingly, each man sizing up his need, then, near the back wall he saw to girls – one with his back to him, the other obliquely facing his way.

And it was the girl with her back to him that first caught his eye. Something about her hair, and the shape of her legs, seemed to scream ‘Sara!’ to him, yet he was unaware he was staring until the girl facing him looked him in the eye, then leaned close to her companion and whispered in her ear.

Then this other girl turned and looked at him, and when he saw her face he felt engulfed by waves of fire – and ice.

She looked like Sara. His Sara. Maybe not exactly, but close enough to startle him, yet it was the girl’s legs that held his mind’s eye – as if he had suddenly been gripped in a vice and the paws had clamped down on his soul. He took a deep breath and was about to turn away – when she began walking his way.

“You wanna go in a cabin together?” she asked.

He squinted a little, nodded his head. “Sure,” he said, though his voice was little more than a coarse whisper now.

“This one, in the corner,” she said, “costs a little more, but it’s bigger – there’s more room to spread out.”

“Okay.”

She led him to the door and then stepped inside, waiting for him.

He felt control of his life was turning away just then, spinning from his grasp as he looked at her standing there, then he held his breath and stepped inside. She locked the door behind him, then she turned and faced him.

“You a cop?”

He shook his head. “No. Are you?”

She snorted at that. “You look kind of nervous – ever done this before?”

He shook his head again, barely managed to whisper “No” – then she looked at him again, all the more closely this time.

“You alright?” she asked.

“No.”

“No?”

“You look,” he tried to say, but his voice caught and he tried to clear his throat. “You look like my wife.”

“And she’s home right now, isn’t she…waiting up for you?”

He looked away, looked lost as he said “She’s dead,” and she saw there was something in his eyes that looked more than lost.

“Oh, look, I’m sorry. Maybe this is too weird for you right now?”

“Everything is too weird for me right now,” he said, then he looked into her eyes. “What’s your name?”

“What would you like my name to be?”

“Sara.”

“Okay, Sara it is. What’s your name?”

“Gene. Gene Parker.”

“Well, Gene, you wanna put the card in the slot, then we can talk about what you wanna do tonight.” He put the card in the reader and the screen came alive, revealing a menu of different videos, and she asked what he was interested in watching.

“You choose, Sara.”

The screen filled with images of a girl giving an older man a blowjob, and his eyes locked on the screen, at the easy motion and the flood of memory that came for him.

“You want to do something like this, Gene”

“I think so.”

“Well, that’s gonna be twenty. Can you handle that?”

He nodded his head.

“I need it up front.”

He took his wallet from inside his jacket and opened it up, pulled a one hundred dollar bill from it and handed it to her.

Her eyes wide, she wondered what was happening, if this old man was drunk, or stoned.

He looked into her eyes again: “Would you like more?”

She shook her head. “What’s going on?” she asked.

“Sara, would you kiss me now?”

“Gene, for a hundred bucks I’ll kiss your ass up one side and down the other, and I’ll do it all night long, too.”

“Once, gently, on the lips would help right now.”

She leaned into him, wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him – gently – on the lips, and when she pulled back from him she saw he was crying, so she leaned into him again and kissed his tears away, held him close.

“You sure you want to do this, Gene Parker?”

“I need to, yes. Please.”

And he felt her undoing his belt buckle, unbuttoning his trousers, pushing them down to his ankles. She was on her knees in the next instant and took him in her mouth, buried his eight inches and he felt her tickling his sack with her tongue, then he felt his knees buckling, an intense fire erupting from the small of his back and within seconds he came.

He heard a gentle snorting gasp as she took him in her mouth, and he was vaguely aware he was letting slip one of the largest orgasms in human history – but she kept at it, kept swallowing his seed as she jacked his cock with her mouth. A minute later she stood, gasping, and he saw he’d wrecked her face. There were huge, milky-long ropes of cum dangling from her lips and chin – and her eyes were watering…

“Oh my God,” he whispered, “what have I done?”

“I don’t know,” the girl whispered, trying not to laugh, “but could you do it again?”

“What?”

“Oh fuck me,” she said. “That was the most intense cum I’ve ever experienced. How long has it been?”

“Been?”

“Since you came?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Three years, maybe?”

“Three…years?” she sighed, still picking at the ropy mess hanging from her chin. “No wonder!”

“Oh, God…I’m sorry…”

“Sorry? Don’t be…it’s like, well, my job…”

“Your job?” The words struck him as beyond odd, then he looked at this girl more closely. She didn’t look like Sara, not at all. Her hair, her legs, nothing at all. He had simply objectified her to the point he couldn’t see her humanity anymore. No, she wasn’t human anymore, not in those first few moments; she had become, rather, a receptacle for his lust – and, perhaps – his hopes and dreams of all that’d been, all he was about to lose.

He pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and handed it to her. “Here, you might have a go at it with this,” he said as he looked at her more closely. The bones of her wrist, the loose skin under her eyes, the yellow-gray teeth – all the classic signs. Malnourished and mineral deficient, this kid was, for all intents and purposes, starving to death. In the dead of winter. In one of the richest cities in the richest country on this planet. Hoping to give some old man a blowjob so she could eat, or more likely, buy drugs. “How old are you?” he asked.

She finished wiping away his semen and looked up at him, then she shrugged. “Old enough to know better, I guess.”

He nodded his head. “Want something to eat?”

She laughed, gently. “I think I just had a thousand calorie protein shake, mister. Know what I mean?”

“Doctor.”

“You a doc?”

He nodded his head. “I’d like to talk some more. With you. Matter of fact I need to talk to you. Badly, I guess you could say.”

She looked at him, measuring the need she saw in his eyes against the new hundred dollar bill in her pocketbook. “Yeah, okay. There’s a diner down the street.”

“Look,” he said suddenly, the words unchecked, coming out of nowhere, “I want to thank you. You have no idea how much I needed you just then.”

She chuckled again. “Oh, I think I have a pretty good idea…” she said, thinking of the surging blast of cum she’d just gagged down.

And he laughed too, and maybe this was the first time he’d really felt like laughing in…years. “I see what you mean.” He left the card in the slot and opened the door, let her out and she looked around, saw her friend was ‘engaged’ and turned to him.

“Look, you don’t have to feel guilty, don’t need to take me out.”

He looked her in the eye. “I know. Come on, let’s go.” He held out his hand, and she looked at it for a moment, shook her head then took it.

She directed him to an all-night diner down on 51st, and he had to pull off the road once when an armada of police cars thundered by, lights and sirens blaring, then he pulled into the diner’s lot and scrambled to her door, helped her out, then held her hand all the way inside the diner.

The lights were brighter here, there was no place to hide. He looked at her skin after they sat, saw the ground-in dirt behind her ears, under her nails and he didn’t need to ask. She was a shelter girl, living in shelters when there was room, hanging out in arcades like the one he’d found her in when there wasn’t. He’d read the articles, seen the news stories, and he’d thought so little of people like her at the time he’d simply forgotten about them.

‘But isn’t that always the way?’ he asked himself. ‘Human misery goes unnoticed, even when we’re surrounded by it?’ – and still he watched her, watched her hands and eyes, sorting out the clues…

“Let’s go wash up?” he asked after they ordered, while looking at the crusty remnants of his need on her face, and when they got back to the table their coffees and ice water were waiting.

He tried not to stare while she ate, but once again it was obvious she hadn’t had much to eat in a long time – but then the need to talk, to tell her about things became overwhelming.

“That was my last time,” he said – out of the blue.

“Your last time for what?”

“Sex.”

“Oh? Why?”

“I’m…I’ve got cancer, having an operation this morning. When it’s over, so is sex.”

He didn’t know what he expected, but she just looked down just a little, nodded her head slowly – then he realized this girl, of all the girls he might have met up this night, understood that life didn’t always hand you what you expected – or what you thought you deserved.

But then she looked up brightly: “Sex doesn’t always have to be about having an orgasm, you know? There are other things…”

“Yeah, I suppose so, but it’s a big change. Expectations, I guess, and all that.”

She nodded her head. “A big one. I can’t even imagine how I’d feel.”

“Yeah.”

“So, you’re alone?”

He nodded his head. “Three years now.”

“Sara? You called me Sara? She was your wife?”

“Uh-huh.”

“What did she do?”

“Pediatrician.”

“My dad was a shrink,” she said. “He was fucking a bunch of his patients, got caught and killed himself.”

He grimaced, shook his head. “Your mom?”

“She lives somewhere out on the west coast; California, I think.”

“Where do you live now?”

And when she looked away, she answered that question with her silence. “What about you?” she asked. “Where do you live?”

“Downtown. On State Street.”

“You live alone, I guess? I mean, all the time?”

“Yes. Since she passed.”

“You know, what we just did…that’s not sex, not really.”

“I know, without love…”

She shook her head. “That’s not what I mean.”

“Oh.”

“You want to go to your place?” She looked at him as he looked down at his watch…“What time do you have to be there?”

“Five-thirty, but look, you don’t have…”

“I know I don’t have to. But maybe I want…no, maybe I need to. Know what I mean?”

“Okay. How was that omelet?”

“Pretty good. You tasted better, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“Really?”

She leaned forward and whispered conspiratorially: “I loved the way you taste.”

It was his turn to smile, and he looked in her eyes again. “You’re lovely, you know?”

She sat back, looked at him carefully. “No, I don’t know. In fact, I think you’re the first person who’s ever said that to me.”

He looked away, looked for a way out of her dilemma. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…”

She shook her head. “Look, can we leave? I don’t want to waste any time right now.”

“Sure,” he said, then: “Waste time?”

“Your time. Our time.”

“Oh.”

They were driving back in on 51st Street a few minutes later; cops directed them around a big mess at Cottage Grove, and a few minutes later they pulled into his building’s garage. He got her door again and they went up to his place, and her eyes went wide when she stepped inside this other world.

“Wow…” was about all she said.

“Could I get you anything? Something to drink, maybe?”

“Could I, maybe, take a shower?”

“Yes, of course,” he said, and he led her back to their bedroom, now – suddenly – very self-conscious, very aware he’d just taken a young girl into his home, a stranger, one quite possibly looking to take advantage of the situation, but as he led her into the bathroom he looked at her again, looked at the fragility he felt under her skin, deep within her soul, and he helped her out of her skirt and top, looked at her garters and stockings and seedy hooker heels, her almost translucent white skin, and he felt that same overwhelming attraction to her he’d felt in the diner – and before, in that awful place.

“I don’t think anyone has ever looked at me the way you do,” she said.

“The way I do?”

“Men look at – women like me – like they look at any other toy they want. Something to use, then throw away when they’re done. You don’t, and I don’t get it.”

“You are so beautiful it hurts,” he said. “I just want to scoop you up and hold you tight, and the way you make me feel…well, it happened to me only once before, many years ago.”

“Was Sara the only woman you’ve been with?”

He shrugged. “One girl, in high school, but really…Sara and I were together since grade school.”

“That’s it?”

“Yup.”

“And now me? I’m big number three?”

“That’s about the size of things.”

“Jesus,” she sighed inwardly, her voice barely audible.

“Here, let me get the water,” he said as he stepped into the shower.

“That looks like a tennis court!” she giggled. “How many shower heads does that thing have?”

He shrugged.

“Take your clothes off,” she said, reaching for his belt again, and she helped him out of his clothes, then they stepped under the water together.

“Too hot?” he asked.

“Oh, God no. It feels great…”

He took a washcloth and lathered it up with hot, soapy water, then he bathed her, starting at her neck, then working his way down slowly. When he got to her belly he saw the caesarian scar and looked at it for a moment, then he put more soap on the washcloth and started down her legs. He pushed her thighs open a little so he could wash between her legs, then he turned her around and started down her back.

He noticed all the bruises then, where men had held her down, he assumed, while they pushed their need down her throat, and he came up close to her then, from behind, and he put his arms around her and kissed her neck and shoulders before he continued bathing her. There were more bruises down her back, but it was worst of all down her thighs. It looked like someone had beaten her there and he wanted to turn away, to look anywhere but where that reality took him…

But he couldn’t look away. He couldn’t look away now, and not ever again. There simply wasn’t time for that now.

“Under the water,” he said gently when he stood again, and he shampooed her hair gently for the longest time, then rinsed her hair while he massaged her temples, smiling when he felt her relax, letting her lean into his chest while he rubbed her shoulders and upper arms – then he reached for his electric toothbrush and loaded it, then turned to her.

“You’re going to brush my teeth, too?”

“I’m going to brush your teeth, too. Open up.” And he brushed them gently, indeed, she felt almost lovingly, then he said “Rinse,” and when she had he held her close again and rubbed the small of her back.

She looked up at him then, the water running off her face, and she looked at his lips, then his eyes. “What are you doing to me?” she whispered.

“Sh-h-h,” he sighed.

“I’m falling in love with you.”

“Good.” She squeezed him tightly as that word rolled off his tongue, and he felt a shudder run through her body. “Are you okay?” he asked.

She laughed a little. “I just came,” she whispered in his ear.

“You…what?”

“When you said ‘good’ – I came – just a little.”

He cupped his hand under her chin and lifted her lips to his and he kissed her, gently at first, then more passionately – and he felt the tremors again, in her knees this time – and when they passed he turned off the water, stepped out and dried himself quickly, then he took a fresh, warm towel from the rack and helped her out. He dried her slowly, carefully, massaged his warmth into her before he led her to their bed.

He laid her gently out and began kissing the tops of her feet, then her ankles and behind the knees, then inside her thighs. She parted for him and he went to her lips, gently, then he probed inward, finding her spots. Her breathing came more deeply now, her trembling more insistent, and he felt her hands on his head willing him deeper. He felt her feet on his back, then her thighs clamped his face as real orgasm took root – and he sucked her clit, ran his tongue into her as deeply as he could.

She was bucking in the next instant, her hands slamming the mattress, grasping the sheets, her head thrashing from side to side and wails of “Oh my God, oh my God!” filled the air as she lost herself completely. She filled his mouth and still he hammered her clit, still she thrashed.

“Okay…” she gasped. “Enough, or I’m going pee all over the bed!”

He let her down gently, then nibbled up her tummy to her breasts, moved slowly to her neck again – then her lips – kissing every inch of her, suddenly loving everything about his girl. He held himself up above her and looked into her eyes. “Close them,” he said. “Close you eyes.” And when she had he leaned close and gently tickled her eyelashes with his tongue, felt the trembling start again and he kissed her, deeply.

“I want you to cum inside of me now,” she said, and he felt her legs part, then felt them encircling his waist. He guided the tip to her lips and lingered there, sliding through her bristly warmth until he entered her, then he moved slowly, deeply, until she settled into his groove. He marveled at the way her body moved with his, how deeply attuned she seemed to his movement, then he leaned back a bit and took her legs and moved them to his chest, her feet by his face, and he pushed more deeply now – until he found a new rhythm – and once again she settled into the new beat. He kissed her ankles, then the tops of her feet and the effect on her was instantaneous: she trembled anew, her back arcing to meet his thrusts and the fire started in his groin just then, moved to his back, then he was coming. Kissing her feet, driving in as deeply as he could, his gut full of molten uncertainty, the pleasure in his mind the only certainty left in this new world.

“What’s wrong?” she asked suddenly, quietly, and when he came to her he saw the question in her eyes.

“It kind of hurts, in the small of my back?”

“Is that because…?”

“Yup.”

She was up and leaned into him in an instant, her arms around him, reaching for him – wanting to hold onto him – then she saw the sweat pouring from his face and she knelt with him, supporting his weight against her own.

“Oh, God no,” she whispered, “please don’t take him from me. Not again…”

He felt her, felt her need, then felt his need too. “I’m not going to leave you. Not now, not yet.”

She was kissing his chest, trying to hide her tears, and he heard her whispering over and over – “Oh my God, what have you done to me.”

And he wondered what God had done – to them both.

IV     The Nurse

She didn’t like working nights, but with flu season in full force she’d been called in to work that shift three times this week – still, Debbie Euclid knew working Oncology was tough no matter what time of day. That’s why she’d trained for this work, and it wasn’t just the physical challenge; no, the emotional effects of working this floor were the toughest in the medical world – and that’s why she’d chosen to specialize in oncological care more than twenty years ago.

She was sitting at a console that looked more like a starship’s flight-deck than a nurses station, with banks of monitors in front of her that tied her to the vital signs of twenty resting patients. She worked on notes at the top of the hour, then walked the floor, checking each patient in her wing, adjusting medications, asking questions – answering them, too – and it never failed to impress her how much people wanted to talk in the middle of the night.

She’d heard the sirens two hours ago, then the Code Blue, but this was the new normal more often than not these days. Gang activity was out of control just a few blocks from here, teenagers with Uzis and nothing better to do were killing each other left and right, and anyone who got in their way, indiscriminately, carelessly, risked death too, and the University of Chicago’s ER was often closest to the front lines in this new war. So, it hadn’t taken long for tonight’s story to make it’s way up the floors, and she’d listened, of course, as she always did, then shook her head and finished making notes while she tried to forget it all, all the ugliness, all the anger. Then she moved out onto the floor.

She moved from room to room, checking IVs for the most part, turning down the volume on TVs after people fell asleep, then she came to a new patient…

“Norma Fairchild,” Euclid read from the chart aloud. “Okay, what’s your story, Norma?” She read through the notes, making mental notes here and there: admitted yesterday afternoon, Stage IV stomach cancer, metastasis to liver and lungs. Primary oncologist wanted her on hospice care at home, but there wasn’t anyone ‘at home’ to help take care of her. There would be no heroics for Norma Fairchild, and there was nothing heroic about what was going to happen to Norma Fairchild over the next couple of days. Her fate was sealed, time both an ally – and her enemy – and now only the night loomed for this woman.

She opened the door and went in, saw the patient sitting up in bed watching television, and the woman looked at her as she came in, then turned back to the screen, apparently engrossed. Euclid walked in, saw the story still unfolding on the street, and listened to the announcer…

“Jason, the word we’re getting is that the victim, a juvenile, got out of a car and the four gang members began taunting him, apparently about being gay, about turning tricks with men cruising the alley in cars behind this Walgreen’s,” the reporter said, pointing at the store on Cottage Grove. “From there, the victim tried to run away, crossing 51st Street, running to Drexel Square with the four gang members attacking the boy with knives as he ran. And that’s when Captain Redmaine saw them, and tried to intervene.”

“Judy, the word we’re getting is that the victim is white, and the gang members are all African-American? Can you confirm that?”

“Yes, Jason, I’ve heard that from officers on the scene, and we can see two bodies from where we’re standing. They’re both black.”

“Okay, and, well, thanks to our Judy Miller on the scene with that update. As you know, Captain Redmaine succumbed to his injuries about an hour ago, and we have word that both the mayor and Superintendent Johnston will be making statements within the hour…”

Fairchild turned down the volume, looked at her nurse. “You look angry, dear. What is it?”

“Oh, nothing. How are feeling, Mrs Fairchild?”

“Pissed off.”

“What? Why?”

“All that anger. All this hate. It’s ruining this city, ruining our world.”

Euclid nodded. “It sure is.”

“My husband was with the department for thirty years. I’m not sure what he’d have to say about his city now.”

“My brother was too,” Euclid said. “He was killed three years ago.”

“On duty?”

“Yes.”

They looked at one another, each instantly sympathetic to the other’s need. “I suppose you see this all the time here.”

“Almost every night. Sometimes several times a night.”

“Too much hate,” Fairchild said, shaking her head.

“There’s no respect anymore, for anything.”

“What do you think your brother would say? Now? About tonight?”

“You know, that’s a good question. I think,” Euclid said, looking out the window, “he’d be angry that things are still the same, maybe even worse. That things haven’t changed, I guess.”

Fairchild nodded. “I taught English in Oak Park for thirty years, and I retired twenty years ago – but still go in and substitute teach. I’ve seen it in the kids, the way things have changed over the past fifty years, and you’re right. There’s no respect anymore, there’s just money and the power that money confers. Nobody wants to study, nobody wants to know the difference between right and wrong, and nobody wants to look at the world and ask why. Why do things have to be this way? Why can’t we change things? The way things are falling apart, who knows how much longer we’ll last?”

Euclid watched the woman’s vitals as she listened, then decided to cut this talk short. “Oh, you know, I reckon the squeaky wheel gets the grease…the world will just keep on turning no matter what happens, or what we want to happen. Now, could you tell me, on a scale of one to ten, where your pain is right now?”

V     The Pilot

“American 1-8-6, Chicago Approach. You’re number three to land, runway 2-8 Charlie, currently CAT III, winds light and variable, viz below minimums in heavy snow. Hold at BURKE, 12 thousand.”

“8-6 Heavy to BURKE 12 for 2-8 Charlie, acknowledge CAT III.”

“Uh, 8-6 Heavy, we have a temp localizer frequency of one-zero-eight-decimal-seven-five, not the niner-five on current published approach plates.”

“8-6 Heavy, seven five, not niner five on the localizer.”

“Nice of ‘em to tell us,” Captain Judy Parker said. “Double check the freqs, would you?”

“Got it,” her First Officer said.

“8-6 Heavy, turn right to 2-7-3, descend and maintain niner-thousand feet.”

“8-6 Heavy, right 2-7-3 to niner,” Parker replied, then to her FO: “You get the new missed approach entered?”

“Got it.”

“Double check the DMEs.”

“108.75, check.”

“8-6 Heavy, report passing LNDUH.”

“Flaps seven,” she commanded, then: “8-6 Heavy at LNDUH.”

“Okay 8-6, no further transmissions necessary, contact tower on 1-2-0-decimal-7-5 when you’re on the ground. Visibility now less than 100 feet, one foot of snow on runway. Good night.”

“8-6 Heavy, night.”

“I got the freqs,” her FO said.

“Flaps twenty.”

“Twenty, passing MEMAW at five, speed 1-7-7.”

“Flaps thirty.”

“Thirty.”

“Gear down,” she commanded. The autoland system had the 777, but she kept her hands on the yoke while she scanned the instruments on her panel, looking through the windshield just once at all in flying muck.

“Three down and green,” the FO said.

“Gimme 40. Landing lights.”

“Flaps forty. I got glow.”

“Okay…”

The flight management computer began talking now: “Two hundred, minimums. One eighty. One fifty. One ten. Eighty, sixty…retard, retard,” and she watched as the autothrottle reset, then she moved her right hand to the quadrant, and when she felt the mains hit she moved the thrust levers to reverse, put her toes on the brakes, then her left hand to the nose-gear paddle while she retracted the spoilers with her right.

“Just another day in paradise,” the FO said.

“Must be a foot of ice under this snow,” she said as she looked, then double checked the tower frequency was entered. “American 8-6 Heavy, I think we can make P-1.”

“Roger 8-6, right on Papa 1 approved, then right on Papa to Double Echo. No traffic at this time.”

“Papa double echo,” she replied. When the trip-Seven’s speed was down to ten she gently began her turn off the runway. “I can’t see shit,” she said. “Turn off those mains, leave the strobes.”

“Captain?”

“I got the perimeter lights…too much glare…”

“Mains off, strobes on.”

She made the turn onto the main east west taxi-way and peered up over the glare-screen, then back towards the left wingtip. “There must be two feet down there now. Okay, put the mains back on.”

“I can’t see the terminal.”

“We should be crossing P4 now. See anything?”

“Negative.”

“Uh, Tower, 8-6 heavy, we’re not seeing any signs out here.”

“8-6 Heavy, I have you one hundred feet from Papa-four.”

“Okay, 8-6, give us a shout when we’re coming up on Tango.”

“8-6 Heavy, you’re passing Papa-four, now 4-0-0 feet to Tango, 7-0-0 feet to Foxtrot.”

“Roger.”

“8-6, you’re passing Tango.”

“Got it. You might want to pass along to OPS they’ve got a couple of feet on the ground now.”

“8-6 Heavy, passing Foxtrot, Double Echo now 4-0-0 feet. OPS is sending out a truck to guide you in…they’ll meet you at Double Echo.”

“8-6 Heavy, okay, we’ll hold at Double Echo.”

“This is surreal,” her FO said as he looked back over his shoulder. “I can’t see the wingtip, maybe just a little green glow, and the strobes. There most be a foot of snow on the wing.”

“You ever flown into Sheremetyevo?”

“No ma’am, and this white boy don’t want to, neither.”

She laughed. “Okay, I think I got the truck.”

“8-6 Heavy, just F-Y-I, the airport is closed at this time. Y’all are the last bird down for a while.”

“8-6, thanks for sticking in there with us. Looks like depth is a meter now.”

“They just measured five feet at the threshold on nine left.”

“Daddy, I wanna go home,” she said, and she heard controllers laughing in the background.

“You got your stuff ready to go?” her FO asked.

“Yeah. Thanks, Paul,” she said as she taxied up to the gate.

“You beat feet. I’ll get it, and tell Gene that Peggy and I will be praying for him.”

“Brakes set, engine one to idle, APU confirmed on. You sure?”

“I’ve done it before. Now get out of here before they shut down the highways!”

She retracted her seat while she undid her harness, then hopped out of the left seat, pausing to kiss her FO on the cheek.

“Hey, that’s an unapproved ground maneuver!” he said, laughing, but she was already out the door and gone.

She saw the customs entrance ahead and, thankfully, a very short line. The crew lines were closed this hour of the morning, and she picked the shortest queue, then put her flight bag down on the slick tile floor and pushed it along with her foot while she pulled out her iPhone. She woke it up, found Gene’s number and hit send.

“Judy? That you?”

“Gene? Where the hell are you?”

“‘Bout halfway to the hospital, still on State.”

“Listen, I got your text this morning…can you tell me what the fuck’s going on?”

“Ah, Judy, I’ve got a friend with me right now? Susan, say hello to Judy. Judy, say hello to Susan.”

“Hello, Susan.”

“Hello, Judy.”

“Uh, Judy, I met Susan about four hours ago. I decided I loved her about about two hours ago, and I hope you’ll come to the wedding.”

“Gene?”

“Yes, Judy.”

“It’s not nice to fuck with your little sister’s head, okay, Gene? Now, what the hell’s going on?”

“Where are you?”

“Customs.”

“Well, I’m checking in at five thirty, operation isn’t scheduled ‘til seven, so you should make it in with time to spare. A cutter named Rohrbacher is doing the procedure, and Charlotte can fill you in if I miss you. Where’re you coming in from, anyway?”

“Beijing.”

“Bring any fortune cookies?”

“Gene? You’re not going to tell me what’s going on?”

“Not on the phone, kid.”

“Oh, God.”

“Not on the phone, okay, Judy?”

“Oh sweet Jesus, just tell me it’s not cancer.”

“I can’t do that, kid. Glad you could make it, though. Hope you end up loving Susan half as much as I do,” he said as he broke the connection.

“You love me?” Sara/Susan said. “You told your sister you love me? And that you met me four hours ago?”

“I did. I did, Susan, because I do.”

“I don’t believe this is happening to me.”

“It’s happening to us. Believe it.”

“I don’t believe this is happening, period.”

“It happened, as in it has happened. I full well to expect to wake up and find this was all a dream, but for now, right now, I feel like a lucky man, a very lucky man.”

“How’s the pain now?”

“To be honest, I’ve felt better.”

“You’re sweating again.”

“It’s called diaphoresis. It’s also no big deal.”

“And you’re as white as a ghost.”

“That’s a little bit bigger deal – I’m also getting light headed. Do you know how to drive?”

“Not really.”

He slowed down, opened an App on the dashboard, then started speaking. “I am having a medical emergency.”

“Okay, Dr Parker,” the Tesla’s computer said. “Can you state a preferred destination, or should I choose the nearest medical facility?” the computer said.

“University of Chicago Medicine, 5-8-4-1 South Maryland.”

“To initiate autodrive, clearly state “CONFIRM” at the next prompt. Is this a medical emergency, and do you want to initiate autodrive?”

“Confirm.”

“Thank you, Dr Parker. I’ll take it from here.”

He let go of the wheel, took his foot off the accelerator and leaned back, took a deep breath.

“I love your car, too,” Susan said as she took his right hand in hers. She kissed his fingers one by one, then held his hand to her face, watched as he closed his eyes, as he took a series of long, deep breaths. “I think I see it,” she said a few minutes later and he opened his eyes, looked around, tried to get his bearings then saw the computer was taking them right to the ER entrance. It pulled up to the ambulance entrance and a police officer came up to warn them away, then ran inside to get help.

“I think we made it,” she said.

“I think I’m signing you up for Driver’s Ed next week,” he said, trying not to laugh as another wave of fire swept through his groin.

+++++

She was mad now.

The line at the taxi queue was longer than long, and very few new taxis were coming in so she went to the attendant and told them she needed to get to the University Medical Center – in a hurry.

“Right over there,” the attendant said.

“What?”

“Right there; so far three of you are headed there, and the next taxi that comes in is going there.”

“Oh, okay…thanks.”

“Do you need a doctor?”

“No, my brother is going in for surgery in an hour or so.”

“Okay, well…here it comes.”

She turned, saw a huge yellow SUV headed for the taxi line and she stepped to the curb; a daffy looking woman and a brooding young man followed her and they all stepped inside as soon as the Suburban crunched to a stop.

“All of you going to University Medicine?” the driver said.

“Yes,” came their hurried replies.

“This snow is out of control,” the driver advised, “so it could take an hour, depending on how well the plows are keeping up,” then he turned around and looked at Parker’s captain’s uniform. “You just come in through this?”

“Yup.”

“Over the lake?”

“Yes, 28C, CAT III.”

He nodded. “I think about a foot has fallen in the last hour, haven’t seen it this bad since ’98.”

“Taxiways were drifting,” Parker said. “A couple of feet already. Getting worse, fast.”

“Excuse me,” the daffy looking woman said, “but were you on the Beijing flight?”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Were you one of the flight attendants?”

“No, Ma’am,” Parker sighed – as the Suburban pulled out into the snow.

“Oh? But…”

“Lady,” the driver said, “four stripes on the sleeve means captain. This was the captain of your flight.”

“Seriously? Well, I never…”

Parker looked out into the night, at misty yellow pools cast by the sodium highway lighting, and she guessed horizontal visibility was down to less than a hundred feet – and she could see there were very deep drifts forming along the sides of the roadway. Wreckers were pulling cars from ditches, and within a mile they passed an ambulance and several fire trucks at the scene of a really fiery accident, and yet there weren’t many plows out.

“How long has it been snowing like this?” she asked the driver.

“All day, but the hard stuff started falling around midnight. Maybe two feet during the day, but it really picked up in the last hour. I heard they just closed the airport.”

“Right after we landed,” she said.

“Really?” the woman said. “Is that normal?”

“It is – when this much snow falls this fast,” Parker said. “Doesn’t really happen that often, but when it does there’s nothing else they can do.”

“Why’s that?”

“It ain’t real good, lady,” the driver said, “when airplanes slide off the runway into snow drifts.”

“Oh yes…I see…” the lady said.

“It’s also dangerous if too much snow loads up on the wing during the approach,” Parker added.

“I wanted to ask…it seemed real rough for a while, maybe five hours before we landed. Do you know what that was all about, Captain?”

Parker smiled. “Yes, Ma’am. That would have been Mount McKinley, when we crossed the Alaska Range. Always a little choppy around there.”

“Well, I nearly lost it.”

“It wasn’t that bad,” the brooding man said. He’d been silent so far, content to just look out the window, but Parker guessed he was looking – angrily – at unwelcome memories.

“Were you on the same plane with us?” daffy woman asked the brooding man.

The man ignored her for a moment, continued to look out the window, then said: “Yes.”

“Uh-oh,” the driver said. “Looks like highway patrol ahead, lanes closed.” He started punching buttons on the GPS display

Parker leaned around the driver’s headrest and peered into the snowy gloom, saw four lanes funneled into one just head, and a mass of pulsing strobes further on – and she cursed: “Well, Goddamn it to Hell,” she spat as she looked at her watch.

“What’s wrong?” the daffy woman asked.

“My brother. He’s going into surgery soon. I wanted to be there, before.”

“When’s he scheduled?” the driver asked.

“Seven, I think.”

“So, my guess is they’ll sedate him at six thirty,” he said, looking at the clock on the dash. “We’ll be there about six, six-ten.”

“With all this mess?”

“Don’t worry, Captain. I’ll get you there in time.”

She smiled, leaned forward and touched his shoulder: “Thanks.”

“Want me to call the OR? See what’s going on?”

“Could you?”

“Sure, my wife works there. What’s his name?”

“Gene Parker. He’s a neurosurgeon on-staff there.”

The driver turned slightly and looked at her. “You kidding? Doctor Gene’s your brother?”

“Yes. Why? You know him?”

The driver chuckled: “Our kid had a cyst, something called an arachnoid cyst, and Doctor Gene took it out. Mary, my wife, is a scrub nurse there, and she think’s he’s the best doc at UC.” He turned to his phone controls on the Suburban’s central display and touched a number, then began talking through a headset while he exited the highway for surface streets. Once he was off the highway he took off at breakneck speeds, heading east towards the lake.

“You say your brother is a doctor?” the daffy woman asked. “A neurosurgeon?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“My mother’s there right now, in oncology. They called me a few days ago. Told me to come if I wanted to see her again, before she…, well, you know.”

“I’m sorry,” she replied. “It’s a difficult time, I know.” Parker almost wanted to laugh at her understatement, but she held herself in check, tried to get hold of her own anxieties. “What were you doing in Beijing?”

“Oh, my husband works there,” the daffy woman twittered, “for a semi-conductor company. I’ve been teaching at a school there, and I do love the people so.”

“Oh? What do you teach?”

“English for the most part,” she giggled, “but piano, also.”

“Sounds interesting,” Parker said – turning away.

“It’s a very different culture,” the woman said. “A fascinating place.”

“You can say that again,” the brooding man said, overwhelming bitterness in his voice.

“You work there too,” the daffy woman said.

“State Department. I work in the embassy.”

“Oh, I see. Do you have someone in the hospital?”

“I think so.”

“You think so?”

“Yes. I’m not sure what’s going on, but I had an email from my mother’s landlord when we landed. Said the paramedics had taken her to the hospital.”

“You don’t know what’s wrong?”

He turned away from the question, turned away from memories of his mother, then he sighed. “She’s fragile, I think. She has been since my father left.”

“Are you all she has?”

He nodded in the gathering silence. “Yes.”

“It’s nice she has you then, has someone who cares.”

He wanted to vomit at the irony in the woman’s words but shook away the feeling, turned and looked out the window again. As the SUV passed amber pools of light he caught brief snippets of his own reflection in the glass, little glimpses into the eyes of a stranger.

‘Is that me in there,’ he asked when they stopped at the next traffic light.

‘But who the hell is ‘me’? Just an echo – of her?’ He stared into his reflection – and he saw her eyes waiting for him in the shadows. Her eyes, her lips, her hand – wrapped around his penis. Her mouth, coaxing, teasing, devouring him – and he wanted to run as more waves of conflicting emotion broke over his soul. Betrayal, always betrayal, yet he always felt sorry for his father at times like this. Sorry, for his father’s apathy, for the way his father turned a blind eye to them both and, in the end, left him alone – to grow up with her. Of course he’d never know all the answers, not now, just as he was sure his father never really knew what was going on when they were all together. Now he was dead and gone, and the only person he had left, his only link to that most unusable past, was his mother.

Frantic calls from her co-workers over the past few weeks had alerted him that something had finally snapped, that she was losing contact with reality. He thought of that dingy little apartment, that horrid room he’d lived in during high school, her nightly visits never far from his mind’s eye, and he felt himself tensing again and again as he swayed between needing to see her, and wanting to never see her again.

But now he wondered what had happened to her – when she’d been a kid. Who’d abused her? How long did it go on for? What secrets had she carried along the way, tried to bury – with no success? Who haunted her days, and nights, and why had she always been silent about the demons chasing her through the night? Why – and what – had happened to her?

Because, he realized, whatever happened hadn’t just happened to him. Something – no –someone must have abused her, and he’d been thinking about that all the way from Beijing. He wasn’t ‘the’ victim; no, he was just one in an long, perhaps endless, series of victims – yet even that realization hadn’t make his ambivalence for her any less searing. No, she’d had the opportunity to end the cycle, and had chosen not to. He had the opportunity now, and he would. He had chosen to never marry, to never have kids, and that was all the result of her choices, and yet he accepted his own choice was the price he’d have to pay to end this cycle of repeating Hell. Only now, the closer he got to the hospital the more acute his anxiety grew, the less sure he felt about all their choices.

‘I really don’t want to see her,’ his inner demon said. ‘Not ever again.’

“But you have to,” he whispered, almost as if he was praying. “If you don’t, you’ll lose your humanity – and her’s, too.”

He remembered the last time he’d seen her. Sitting trancelike in the shower, curled up in a fetal ball, staring into the darkness of her waking life, watching the demon-dance – her eyes focused on things now far away and long ago. This was her own secret Hell, and he had watched her choices push-in from all around, push-in until nothing was left but the demons, and then her tears came. He remembered turning off the water, trying to help her stand, only then she’d reached out, tried to grasp his pants, to take them off – and he’d let her fall, then run from that accursed place. He hadn’t seen her in over a year now…and all he saw when he thought of her were those grasping hands, clawing for their release.

‘And I hate her. I’ll always hate her,’ he said as the memory washed away on the flood.

“You can’t give in to hatred. It will consume you, blind you to everything there is about life that’s good and beautiful. It will blind you to her pain, and your need.”

Then he heard the driver talking to the pilot…

“They’re already running about a half hour behind,” the old man said, “and I let ‘em know we’re inbound. They won’t take him in before you have a chance to talk with him.”

“Thank you so much,” Parker said as she looked at her watch, now clearly relieved. They were on 51st Street now, and they turned right on Cottage Grove and she saw a couple of cops walking in the snow off to her left, and wondered what they were up to, what could be so important in an empty, snowy field, then she saw the hospital looming through the snow, behind the first tendrils of dawn – the sky all swirling snow streaked yellowy-gray. Then she saw his red Tesla parked near the ER entrance and wanted to smile – but it still hurt too much inside for all that.

Why had it all fallen apart, she wondered? They’d always been close, the three of them, together. Gene and Sara, as far back as middle school, yet a few years before Sara got sick they had drifted apart. Why? Was it inertia? Are people, even close friends, simply destined to drift apart, like stars adrift in an ever expanding – and always dying – universe? Or was our gravity too weak, she wondered, to overcome the spinning inertia of all our broken dreams.

She missed Sara, and had loved her at least as much as Gene ever had, even if differently. They’d been in the same grade, a year behind Gene, and Sara had lived just a few doors down so had always been there, had always been a part of their lives. The awkward Jewish kid, the total brain. The ugly duckling who’d blossomed into something truly rare and gorgeous, and Gene had loved her from the start.

But so too had she.

‘God, I loved her,’ she sighed, quickly wiping a sudden, secret tear from her eye. Sara had been the only girl who had ever truly understood her – even the deepest depths of her heart’s most obscure desires. Sara knew just how she felt, knew what she’d wanted, and Sara had never rejected her. They’d become friends, best friends, and once she even thought Gene understood the contours of their need – but there’d always been the wall, never once breached, keeping all their most precious secrets intact. So she’d had her other lovers over the years, but never the one that mattered most. Gene had been Sara’s one true love – and maybe that was why the tides had finally pulled them apart – but as much as she’d always loved her brother she had to admit that now, especially now, her brother was all she had left of Sara. He was the only person left in the world that she could talk to – about the one person she had ever really loved. But she knew even with him there were limits – there was that wall to maintain. Still, maybe it was time…?

Because while both of them had been so gifted, so utterly brilliant, Gene would always be the pure ‘innocent abroad’ – so he might understand her need. He was the little boy who had always accepted love without question, and who gave as freely of his own. And he always would, she knew, because that was his nature – and she thought of his words on the phone. “Four hours,” she said to herself, the name Susan rolling over and over in her mind, then: “What has he gone and done now?”

The Suburban pulled up to the main entrance, and three people paid up and danced out into the swirling snow – lost in wonder of the day ahead.

(C) 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com

addendum: Colorado has broken snowfall totals for January dating back a hundred years. We’ve had about, and I say this advisedly due to difficulties measuring drifting snow, ten feet of snow in the last two weeks. Mammoth Mtn in the Sierras has had over 200 inches in the past EIGHT DAYS. Someone tell me what the Dickens is going on?

I cleared the decks this morning, early, and just went up to check levels. Two feet of new white crud in a little over two hours. At this rate we’re doomed…and Bing Crosby, I’m coming’ for you. Your ass is grass.

So, in the interim I have devised a new concept in health clubs. Join up, then come up and shovel snow for ten hours a day; we guarantee you’ll lose weight, lots of weight. Limited time only, free membership for next two months, come on up and shovel to your heart’s content, or until you have a heart attack – whichever comes first. We guarantee results! I think this concept will take off soon, so be the first on your block to sign up! So…shovel your way to the abs of your dreams! Women will crave you! You’ll be the envy of every man at your old, obsolete gym! And after I sell this fucking igloo and move to Costa Rica, you can have the franchise rights – gratis!!!

Adios, muchachos! And Happy Shoveling!

11 thoughts on “Sketches of a Night

  1. Five Paragraphs? I counted at least seven.
    I don’t have anything to say, but wanted to let you know I’m here, reading. I really, really enjoyed this story.
    I’m up for the free gym membership, just need to get a flight over from England. See you soon.

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  2. I was a little slow at first, thinking of each new scenario as a stand alone story. It wasn’t until they started to overlap that I looked at them as part of a single entity. So many differences all converging.
    I’m not sure which is worse, snow piling up on top of snow, or freeze thaw freeze thaw. We were at sub zero temps with deep snow followed by three days of high 30’s during the day and high 20’s with fresh snow at night. Wet roads would ice over and snow would blanket the ice. Berms piled on both sides of narrow car tracks turned to concrete. A neighbor has water seeping from water dams on his roof down through the interior of three stories of walls of his home.

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  3. Yes, it’s an oddly structured, or unstructured story. Playing with words, seeing where they took the flow, and the arc. No outline, just thoughts to word to paper (well, you know what I mean). I tinkered with the idea of using Redmaine’s character, once dead, as a unifying element, perhaps a wraithlike commentary, but decided to keep things very simple. I’d still like to see where Sara/Susan and the doc end up. That was a fanciful turn of events, but I liked the feel. First version Sara turned out trans, but that was too much like Second Comings for me, with no realistic way out. Even Second Comings was a real stretch, for me at least. And not satisfying.
    Yesterday we had sun in the forecast, now we have another foot coming. It’s staying cold – for now. In the 20-25 range during the day, low teens at night, but sun is due all next week so we’ll get our January thaw. Out comes the roof rake, the blower in for maintenance.
    Our county roads people have been slammed by both the storm and the flu; half their workforce is out sick, so the highway into Steamboat is perilous. Five foot drifts in zero viz really test winter driving skills, and my last trip into town there were at least ten cars in the ditch or off the side down steep embankments. Someone’s going to get killed soon, conditions are bad and getting worse. Just got a load of firewood in, so time to start stacking and racking…

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  4. I kind of like unstructured. You can’t predict where the story is going.

    In completely unrelated snow news, yesterday marked the Anniversary of the Dartmouth Skiway opening in 1957. Ah, those memories of trying to dodge skiing over the bodies of the unfortunate souls in front of you who fell off the Poma lift, or that sinking, panicked feeling you would get when it would stop at the steepest part of the slope, and you could feel yourself slipping backwards.

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  5. Our Daughter didn’t start learning until she was six, but I fondly remember finishing up a fairly easy trail with her on Holts Ledge, and at the end having her point across the way to Winslow, and say “I want to go over there daddy. I want to go really fast!”

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  6. It’s nice when bones are young, joints more elastic, and gravity less punishing. With five feet at Steamboat this week, I hear the powder is glorious – yet I wonder why I have no interest…perhaps I need another 3 year old…because there’s something magical about being a parent.
    “I want to go really fast!” I love it. An echo –

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  7. Children do breathe wonder and energy, magic, as you say, into a life and a home. Along those same lines, my grandmother told me, in a letter she wrote that I wasn’t given until my wedding twelve years after she died, that some of the best times of your life will be when your house is full of young children, and the wealth of my family will be measured by the pictures, notes, schedules, and artwork that clutter the refrigerator door.

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  8. This reminds me a bit of Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Boy, I read that almost 60 years ago, but it made quite an impression. I hope the hospital roof doesn’t collapse under all that snow. I can see this piece as complete in itself, actually, but would hope to see the intertwined stories continued.

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