# 101 – Thoughts from the Top of the Stairs

Standard

It felt like a golf ball was stuck in her throat. Her eyes were so full that she crashed into the iron railing at the top of a subway entrance. Liza took a deep breath, emptied her eyes onto her coat sleeve, and plowed on. She made it to the car. The seat was back. Damn! Bruce drove this morning. She couldn’t leave him here. Well, she could. She kind of wanted to, but she knew deep down that he hadn’t done anything wrong and she didn’t have a right to be angry about the article.

This was stupid. She was acting like an idiot, she knew. OK, so she wasn’t going to leave Bruce stranded on campus, but he would find her if she stayed in the car. He would look for her eventually. Right? Maybe? Whatever. Liza left him a note telling him that something had come up and he should take the car home without her. She’d meet him there. It was a weak excuse, but she’d bought herself time to calm down and think of a better one.

She needed a place to hide; somewhere quiet and away from people. Liza walked back to her building. It was a hulking brick thing that was an old factory in a former life. The building was locked down at this time, but she slipped in behind a janitor without having to use her own key card.

The main staircase was in the center of the building, off of the hallway. There were two other staircases on the ends of the building that could only be accessed if you worked in one of the departments that they ran through. Liza’s department was one of these.

The wooden staircase didn’t get a lot of use, even during the day.  The steps were bowed and the paint was curling off of the brick walls.  It had no heat or air conditioning.  Liza walked up to the landing outside of the roof access. She tucked her coat under her butt and sat on the top step.

Liza smoked four cigarettes in a row while the waves of emotion crashed over her. Images of Bruce writing that sappy, disgusting article forced their way into her head. She fantasized about tearing the picture of the woman and the little girl to shreds.

Liza imagined traveling back in time and killing the woman before she ever met Bruce. This, she went over in great detail. Liza was aware that these thoughts crossed some sort of line, but she couldn’t make them stop. Did it matter? It wasn’t as if she could act on them and she certainly wouldn’t share them with Bruce.

Hours passed. It was clear that she wasn’t getting over this tonight. Liza called for a cab. The woman said it would be there in half an hour. There were three missed calls on her phone. They were from the University’s main number – all calls made from inside the University showed up that way. It must be Bruce. The last call was made over an hour ago. She missed him and hated him and hoped that he was home when she got there. She stuffed the phone in her bag and went outside to wait.

Advertisements

# 100 – Empty Rooms and a Blue Shoebox

Standard

Bruce peeked into the bathroom. It was empty. He sat down at his desk and organized his work for tomorrow. Five minutes went by and there was still no Liza. Bruce was sure that she’d said that she would wait for him here. He looked around the office as if maybe she’d been standing there all along and he hadn’t seen her.

Then he noticed that the library ladder wasn’t in its usual spot. Dread swept over him. He should have told her in the beginning. Maybe it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal back then. It was too late now. He shouldn’t have taken the box. That just made everything worse.

Bruce stood up and walked around the desk. It was like being in a dream where you could only move in slow motion.  When he got to the shelf, he crouched down and fished his hand around behind the row of books. He pulled out the blue shoebox. It was still there. He opened it. Nothing was missing. He was just being paranoid. But where was Liza?

Now he was worried. What if something happened to her? That was ridiculous. What could happen to her? He’d left her sitting in his office. Maybe she had decided to walk to class without him.

Bruce took the documents from the shoebox and locked them in his filing cabinet. He went to the door and looked out into the waiting room. Empty. Janice was off today and no one else was around. He jogged out to the sitting area and tossed the box into the fireplace. Bruce grabbed his coat, book, and sketch pad from his office and headed out to look for Liza.

# 99 – The Accident in the Organized Chaos

Standard
Liza jammed the sketch pad in her backpack and checked the time on her cell.  Bruce would be back from his meeting soon.  He’d let her wait in his office so that they could walk to class together afterwards.  It was better than the library or her tiny desk in the Art Department, but she felt weird being here and was getting bored.
 
She amused herself by spinning around in his big leather chair.  The woman and the little girl were still sitting on the credenza.  Their picture flashed past with every rotation.  Liza fantasized about sticking her foot out and booting it across the room.  After a few minutes she was queasy and annoyed.  She stood up and looked out one of the windows.  There wasn’t much to see.  The trees and bushes had buds, but no blooms yet.
 
Liza paced in front of the wall of bookshelves.  One of those rolling library ladders was attached to it.  Liza nudged the ladder with her foot.  It glided sideways.  She climbed halfway up and kicked off from the corner of Bruce’s desk.  The ladder sailed to the far wall and stopped. 
 
Liza climbed to the top.  The ceilings on the third floor were domed and vaulted, so she was pretty high.  The second shelf from the top was a mass of magazines, newspaper clippings, and books.  They were piled and jammed in the shelf at random.  The other shelves had at least some organization to their chaos. 
 
She slid a couple of yellowed newspaper clippings from the pile.  Liza thumbed through them and realized that Bruce used to write a literary review column for the City’s paper.  She wrestled a gnarled bunch of magazines free.  Each had a little slip of paper sticking from the top.  Liza opened one and found an article written by Bruce on the importance of studying the humanities.  A smile spread across her face as she read through the first few paragraphs.  He still hadn’t let her read his novel, but this was good.  She read the spines of the books.  They were short story and poetry anthologies. 
 
A newer looking magazine sat on top of one pile.  Liza put the other magazines back and slid that one down.  It was a literary magazine.  The date was from February, last month, the Valentine’s Day issue.  She opened the magazine to the marked page. 
 
It was like driving by an accident on the highway.  You didn’t want to see, but you couldn’t stop yourself from looking. She could hear her heart beating.  Her face must be red.  Liza had to wind her arm through the  ladder stop herself from sliding to the floor.

# 98 – The Intoxicated Sweet Spot

Standard

Michael’s hands stopped shaking when the bottle was half empty.  He knew that if he continued to drink, they would eventually start again.  For now at least, he was in that intoxicated sweet spot.  He opened the window and relit an old Swisher.  Liza told him that she didn’t mind if he smoked inside once in a while.  He normally refrained in the bedroom, but he didn’t feel like running into anyone downstairs.  The block was still quiet.  The girl was gone.  Someone was in the shower.  Liza.  She had a habit of whispering to herself in there.  It was a little unnerving, actually.  Michael was annoyed with Bruce, more so after he heard him leave a few minutes ago, but his head was drowning in thoughts he had forced away for a long time.

Liza was sitting on the couch fighting sleep when he got back.  Bruce grabbed the rest of the fastnachts from the kitchen and deposited them on an end table in the living room along with a six-pack of Guinness.  Liza could see that he was sweating.  She opened her mouth to ask what was wrong, but changed her mind.  If he wanted to tell her, he would.  She would just obsess about it in the meantime.  He bent down and kissed her on the lips, then stared at her.  His face was a few inches from hers.  It was a little unnerving.  It wasn’t an angry stare or a happy one.  It seemed so neutral on the surface, but it made her feel so sick.

Bruce made several trips to the kitchen to get napkins, then plates, then a bottle opener.  He ate three fastnachts, and took his time with each one.  When he finished, he pretended to be absorbed in the movie that was on TV.  Liza kept watching him.  He acted like he didn’t notice.  After one fastnacht and half a beer, Liza fell asleep with her head in his lap.  He played with her hair while he flicked through the channels.  Bruce wasn’t sure if he’d made the right decision.  When he was at the underpass, the thought of not coming back made him feel sick.  Now he felt an uneasiness that he couldn’t identify.  Bruce pulled the cap off of another beer and drained it in three gulps.  He leaned down and whispered in Liza’s ear before shifting back and falling asleep himself.

# 97 – Twenty Pages Deep

Standard
Bruce forced himself to walk down the steps, but he broke into a jog when he reached the living room.  Jake was out back standing in the bed of his truck.  Bruce waved and forced a smile onto his face for a few seconds.  Jake nodded, waved, then went back to shifting toolboxes around.  Bruce jammed himself into Liza’s Focus and took off up the driveway. 
 
Traffic was light.  It took less than ten minutes to make it to the underpass.  He killed the headlights when he turned off the street and stopped the car halfway down the access road.  Bruce took a deep breath.  The car smelled like Liza.
 
What now?  Everything was a mess.  He should have moved to Hawaii.  No.  Alaska.  He should have moved to Alaska.  What was he thinking?  He couldn’t decide.  His dad always used to tell him to “shit or get off the pot”.  He should have lived outside until he died like a normal bum, or lived in his house like a normal member of society.
 
He thought about Janice.  The new dean would likely let her go, but she would be fine.  She could have retired a long time ago.  He thought about Michael.  His body couldn’t take many more years of living outside.  Would he stay with Liza?  What about her?  Someone would probably steal her car if he left it here.  He could leave her money for a new one before he donated the rest and disappeared.  Would Liza miss him?  She probably would, at least a little, for a while.  If Michael left too, she would be alone in the house again, but she had Jake.  
 
Bruce rummaged through the glove box and the console.  He cursed himself for cleaning out the car when he found only a small stack of napkins, a pack of vending machine pretzels, and the butterfly knife.  He shoved these in his pockets and shut the console.  Liza’s sketch pad was wedged next to the seat.  It was the one she was using for class.  Damn!  Maybe he could get it back to her through Janice or Jim.
 
He thumbed through the pictures.  They were good.  A little odd.  She would be fine.  Some of the pages toward the back weren’t lying flat, like they’d been used.  Bruce turned the pad over and flipped through backwards.  There were sketches of him at least twenty pages deep.

# 96 – Old Fastnachts and Irish Beer

Standard

“Are you mad at me?”  Bruce stood in the doorway of Liza’s bedroom.  He was still wearing his coat.

 “No,” Liza lied.

“I wanted to give you and Laura privacy.  I didn’t realize there was going to be a rumble.”

Damn you and your logical explanations.  “It’s fine.”  Liza plucked a tissue from the box and pulled the teeth out of her forehead.  Yuck.  She felt like she should get a rabies shot or a HIV test.

“Are you sure?” 

“Yeah.  I was angry when you disappeared, but…you’re right.  You didn’t know.”  Liza dropped the teeth into the trashcan.  She examined her forehead in the mirror over the bureau. 

“I’m sorry,” said Bruce.

“It’s fine.  Really.”

“Is there anything I can do to make you feel better?” he asked.

“How about if you let me head-butt you.”

Bruce raised his eyebrows.  “That would make you feel better?”

“Yes, but I might feel bad afterwards,” said Liza.  She took off her jewelry and placed it in its drawer.

Might?!”  Bruce smiled.

Liza shrugged.  “Uh huh, maybe.”  She stared at him for a few seconds before cracking and smiling back.  “I guess that won’t work.  A trip to the dentist won’t make anything better anyway.”

“No, neither will a trip to the police station,” said Bruce. 

“Hey!”  Liza swatted him on the arm.  He laughed.

“I know what would make you feel better,” said Bruce.

“What?”

“Old fastnachts and Irish beer.”

“Mmmm…Fastnacht Day and St. Patrick’s Day, all in one.  I like it,” said Liza, “I don’t have any Irish beer though, only Blue Moon.” 

“Hmm.”  Bruce scrunched up his face.  “Were you going to get a shower?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Ok. Why don’t you do that and I’ll go to the beer distributor.  We’ll meet downstairs in…half an hour?”

“Sounds good.”

When Bruce left, Liza fished the tissue with the teeth out of the trashcan.  One was a broken piece, the other still had the root attached.  She jogged down to the kitchen and filled the sink with water.  Then she pulled the stopper, tossed the teeth into the water, and flicked the switch for the garbage disposal.   

# 95 – Morbid Curiosity and The Girl

Standard

Michael buttoned his coat and stepped outside.  The girl, Laura, was still lying on the sidewalk.  He lit a fresh Swisher and let his eyes roam the block.  No one was out.

He made his way down the steps, slowly this time.  He was still queasy from before.  The girl was lying on her side, facing away from him.  He didn’t want to look, but morbid curiosity forced him to.

Michael’s joints cracked when he crouched next to her.  He took a long drag before rolling her on her back.  She turned her head in his general direction, but her vile green eyes were unfocused.  Good.  He stared at her for a long time.  She had Liza’s build, slightly darker hair, coarse features, except for the mouth.  The mouths were the same, though the girl’s had blood caked around hers at the moment.

He stared a moment longer.  She was only semi-conscious.  The neighborhood wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either.  Michael stood up.  He felt dizzy and had to steady himself.  A hand touched his leg.  He shook it off without looking and trudged back up to the house.  He shut the doors and threw all of the locks behind him.