Small Cuts (15) Oliver

To find links to all parts of this story, please visit the Small Cuts Page. Back to Oliver:

Elaine’s hesitation spoke volumes. Still, I had to know. “Lainey, say something.”

She nodded, took a deep breath and… at the very same moment both our phones started to ring. “Don’t answer it,” I said, as she pulled hers from her purse. “If it’s important they’ll leave a message.”

She frowned at the screen and I knew what she thinking. She wanted to answer it, if only to delay a few minutes more. And a delay could only mean one thing: my feelings weren’t returned. The phone stopped ringing and she tucked it back into her bag. I waited. She stared at the ground.

Rubbing my hands over my face, I said, “Just tell me, Elaine. I need you to say it. And we’ll move on. We can pretend I never said a thing…”

The phones which had gone silent both began ringing again. This time Elaine answered. With a muttered curse, I pulled mine out of my pocket and looked at it. It was a number I didn’t recognize, but it was local. Whoever it was had left a voice mail the first time. “Hello,” I said, my frustration bordering on anger.

The caller confirmed my name, told me his, said he was with the Philadelphia Police Department. “Police?” I repeated, my nerves jangling the way they do when you’ve been caught at something. “Is there a problem?”

“Sir, I’m afraid there’s been an accident.”

I was about to ask what kind of accident, when Elaine made a noise —something between a gasp and a shriek. When I glanced over, she looked like she was about to collapse. I reached out a hand to steady her, but she was shaking so badly, I pulled her close. The officer had continued speaking, and I had only caught words and phrases as I tried to comfort Elaine. “…very serious condition …unconscious … lost a lot of blood …Jefferson Hospital ER…”

Accident. Serious. Unconscious. Blood. Hospital. Hospital…

“Sir? Sir?”

I shook my head to clear it. “Yes, I’m sorry. What? Who?”

“Your wife, sir. Genevieve _____.” He paused. “Can you drive? Or can you call a friend to bring you down to the hospital?”

Genevieve. I felt like the temperature dropped by about forty degrees. I said, “I’m in the city. I’ll get a cab. Jefferson, you said?” He said yes. I said, “I’ll be right there.” I disconnected and held a weeping Elaine by her shoulders. “Elaine. I have to go. Gen’s been in a serious accident.” She gave a little cry and covered her mouth. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“James.” She choked through her tears. “James.”

“What about James? Elaine, I need you to pull yourself together.” That sounded harsh, but I didn’t have time to waste. I tried to be gentle, when I added, “Come on, now, honey, I have to go.“

“He’s been in a crash… here in the city. He’s here in the city. Oliver.” She kept repeating herself over and over. “In the city. In the city.” I gave her a little shake to get her attention.

“Was that him on the phone?” Had he he followed her? Or maybe me after I drove past the house? And he knew. He knew what was going on. My mind whirled. We could deal with it. Make an excuse. Elaine and I getting together alone wasn’t all that unusual. But if he’d seen me at the house… I didn’t have time for this. I repeated my question, “Was that James you were talking to?” She shook her head no. “Ok, who was it then?”

“The police.”

An icy finger of dread crept up my spine. “Ok. What did they say? Where is he? Where is James? Was he hurt? Did he have to go the hospital?” I asked.

“He… he… he,” she sobbed. “He’s gone.They couldn’t save him.”

In that moment, I could not define how I felt. My best friend was dead. My wife severely injured. On the same day. At the same time. What were the chances? And I despised myself for the sickening thought that suddenly now Elaine was free. Who thinks something like that at a time like this? Was I a monster? Go to Genevieve. Right. I could self flagellate later. I had to figure out what the hell to do right now. I couldn’t leave Elaine like this, but I had to go to Gen. “Come with me. Gen is at Jefferson.” I put an arm around her shoulder and began moving toward the main entrance. She stiffened and I thought she was going to resist. “Please, Elaine. Just stay with me.”

“Where are we going?” she asked. “Jefferson?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s where they took James, too.”

Small Cuts (12) Genevieve

To find links to all parts of this story, please visit the Small Cuts Page. This is what’s happening with Genevieve:

Upon discovering that I was alone in the house, I had a moment of panic, if Oliver was gone and I had lost time, just how much time had I lost? Was it only the two hours I had originally thought or was it perhaps an entire day? Was it still Sunday, or was it a weekday and Oliver had left for work? I ran to the family room, turned on the television, and flipped the channel to CNN where I was sure the date and time would be displayed across the bottom of the screen.

Breaking News, another mass shooting had happened last night —this time at a Senior Prom in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. Students and teachers dead. A teenage gunman with an assault weapon took his own life when the police arrived. I took note of the date —still Sunday— and turned the TV off. I couldn’t watch. This was exactly the kind of thing that reaffirmed my decision about having children. This world was becoming a living nightmare.

I returned to the kitchen and brewed another pot of coffee, waited while the French roast dripped into the carafe. Time, time. How did I lose nearly two hours? My skin tingled —was this how it felt when your atoms flew apart? No, no, stop… I was just cold. The air conditioning had kicked on at its preprogrammed time. But the time… Think. I must have fallen asleep on my feet. The sleepless night had caught up with me. It was the only rational explanation. The other option was too dreadful to conceive: that maybe I really was in some horrible dream.

I had tried to talk to Oliver about the idea recently. He had argued that people were happy, or at least had a measure of happiness, and such a thing wouldn’t be possible if we were all in some sort of nightmare realm. That it could only be a place of abject misery and fear for everyone existing there. I disagreed. I thought of it in more personal terms. After all, what could be worse for a miserable person than to be in the company of people who were happy? Especially if those people had seemingly worse circumstances than you did and still managed to find some joy in life. No, it had to be that these happy people were some sort of incarnations inhabiting my personal hell, placed there by an external malevolent force so that I would feel guilt by comparison.

“What does that make me?” Oliver had argued. “Some sort of evil figment of your imagination?”

I didn’t know how to answer that. The other dominant thought I’d been having was that I was slipping out of existence. If Oliver was a figment of my imagination, then my reality was even more fractured than I thought. I could not lose this anchor for my existence. Oliver’s wife. I was Oliver’s wife. Genevieve, Genevieve, Genevieve. Get ahold of yourself.

Shaking my head to clear it, I laughed nervously and told him to forget it. “I’m just philosophizing again.”

“Your philosophizing always leads you down a very dark path, Gen. I don’t like it,” he said gently. “Sometimes, you scare me.”

Sometimes I scare myself, I thought.

The coffee maker beeped and I poured a cup. Oliver, Oliver, where did you go this morning? Were things between us so bad that you didn’t feel the need to tell me? What if something happens to you? How would I know?

The phone. I could check the phone. We had that app that lets you find all the devices on your account. I set my coffee mug down, sloshing the contents, and ran back to the bedroom where I had left my phone. I swiped it open and found the app. Four blinking blue dots appeared: two phones, two iPads. Three of those dots were here at home, but the fourth was in Center City, off Rittenhouse Square, the parking garage of The Park Hotel. Why? Why? Was Ollie meeting someone for brunch? Did I forget some appointment he had with a client? Or was it with a friend? What friend? We rarely did anything with anybody besides James and Elaine. Was it James? My friend James. James who was going to resurrect me. I should call James. See what he and Elaine were doing. Elaine. Elaine. Elaine. No. No, no, no, no…. it couldn’t be…

I tore off my pajamas and grabbed a shirt and jeans from my closet. Then stuffing my phone in my purse, I ran for the garage. Keys, keys. Back into the house for keys. Hit the garage door opener. Breathe. Breathe. Ignition. Reverse.

GPS. I needed the fastest way to The Park Hotel. I searched the address at the end of the driveway and started the turn by turn directions. “In 50 yards, turn left.”

Turn left. Leaving the development. Out to the boulevard, on to the highway…“merge onto 676 East, The Vine street Expressway…”

Horns, horns, shrieking tires, the crunch of metal on metal. The thump and whoosh of the airbags exploding. Shattering of glass. Screaming, someone was screaming. Then silence.

Header image: Polka Dots ~ Francesca Woodman

Roll the Bones – A Short Story

I had a ridiculous week and don’t have Small Cuts – Genevieve’s part ready yet, so in the meantime…. A repost of a short story from last year. I’ve been asked to contribute some of my fiction to a Pennsylvania authors’ anthology (exciting!) and this is one that I selected:

Roll the Bones

Gina wasn’t a gambler. She was a meticulous planner. Thus she was nearly sick with anxiety as she emerged from the airport shuttle in front of the Luxor Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. This was the last place on earth she would have chosen for this meeting. Actually, that she’d agreed to this meeting at all was unthinkable. Nevertheless, here she was. She told herself that it only made sense, since Las Vegas was halfway for both of them and the airfare and hotel room were more than reasonable.

Taking a deep calming breath, she lifted her rolling suitcase from the shuttle to the sidewalk. She had overpacked for a mere weekend getaway, but she wanted to be prepared for every possible scenario. Her heart skipped a beat when she imagined the inevitable outcome of any of those scenarios —it gave her such a thrill.

After collecting her key card at the reception desk, Gina took the elevator to the forty-second floor. Her hands were shaking as she swiped the key. He said he would leave word. She wasn’t sure what that meant. As nervous as she was, she was also excited. She wanted this badly. Very badly. It had been way too long…

The room faced east, away from the setting sun. It was cool and quiet —the only noise coming from the air conditioning unit beneath the window. She took a moment to marvel at the view, with the lights coming on all over the City of Sin —how appropriate. She turned and for the first time noticed the bouquet of red roses on the dresser. A small white envelope was attached. She opened the note and read, “Meet me in the casino at nine. I’ll be rolling the bones.”

Rolling the bones. A dice game. Gina knew she should’ve done more research on gambling. That would have been the logical thing to do. But nothing about this trip, this rendevouz, was logical. When she got to the casino she would have to ask about the dice games or else she’d be wandering aimlessly all night.

After showering and dressing in the simple but elegant dress she had bought especially for their first meeting, she applied perfume in strategic places, wound her glorious hair into a twist, added her diamond drop earrings and a swipe of burgundy lipstick. Then, with just a little liquid courage enabled by raiding the mini bar, she returned to the ground floor in the elevator.

When the doors opened, it was onto a carnival scene —the lights and sounds of slot machines and roulette wheels. Statuesque cocktail waitresses in impossibly high heels circulated with drinks for the gamblers. Gina spotted one with an empty tray and stopped her to ask about games played with dice. The waitress smiled benignly, amused at her apparent naivety, but directed her to the craps tables on the far side of the vast expanse.

As Gina wound her way through the throng of tipsy revelers, her eyes scanned the faces for one familiar. Familiar to her at least from viewing it in cyberspace. Eventually, she spotted her goal. The craps tables were equally populated with men and women taking their turns at throwing the bones. She knew this much about dice —that they were originally made of bone and possibly were used in some religious or mystical capacity in predicting the future. Seven or eleven. Seven or eleven. A winner, here. A loser, there. Roll again.

She felt him before she heard him. “Gina,” he murmured against her ear. Her spine tingled and she turned slowly to face him. She had to look up. Grey-blue eyes stared back at her. She knew him right away. Just what she’d been hoping for, dreaming of, all these months. He was dressed all in black —black suit, black shirt — no tie, black shoes. Black hair curling over his collar. She smiled and he relaxed. “You look beautiful. Just like your picture.” He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. Charming.

“The roses were beautiful,” she said. “Thank you for them.”

“Shall we go see them?” he asked, still nuzzling her fingers.

“I thought you were playing,” she said, gesturing to the tables.

“I’m not that kind of gambler,” he said with a grin. He ran his thumb over her full lower lip. “Besides, the tables aren’t the only place to roll the bones.”

She swallowed hard. This was going faster than she had anticipated. But no matter. She was ready. She gave him a confident smile. “All right. Follow me.”

He took her hand and let her lead him to the elevators. When the doors closed on them and they were alone, he took her in his arms and said, “You are just as I imagined.”

She braced her hands on his chest and replied, “As are you.”

When the doors opened onto the forty-second floor, he released her and gestured for her to lead the way. She opened her small black clutch and removed the key card from it. Then swiping the lock open, she allowed him to enter before her. Keeping her eyes on his back, she followed him into the darkened room. The door swung shut behind her as she drew a second item from her bag. When he whirled around to face her, the hand holding the gun wavered just a little. The blade of the knife he held glinted in the moonlight shining through the uncovered window. His laugh was low and genuinely mirthful. She gave small chuckle herself.

“What are the odds?” he asked, lowering the knife. “Of two killers finding each other online?”

She kept the gun trained on him as he took one step back. “Apparently they are higher than you would think.”