# 106 – Undone

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Liza heard the soft tread of shoes on the mossy brick ground.  She opened her eyes to find Bruce standing a few feet away.

“Mind if I sit down?”

“Sure,” said Liza, dragging her bags closer to make room.  He was wearing beige cargo pants and a black t-shirt. It was only June, but he was already tan. The sunlight revealed a smattering of red hair hiding among the browns and whites. He looked younger than he had last year; even more handsome. Bruce sunk onto the bench with a sigh, leaned back, and closed his eyes. “Rough night, Professor?”

“Mmm hmm, my girlfriend kept me up late.” A smile crept across his lips.

“That bitch,” said Liza, smiling now too. She closed her eyes and tilted her face to the sun.

“Oh, I enjoyed it.” Bruce’s hand closed around hers. They laced their fingers together on the bench between them.

“So did she,” said Liza. She rubbed the side of his finger with her thumb. He squeezed her hand. “How come you wanted to meet here today?”

“I had an errand to run, remember?”

Liza hesitated, deciding. “What did you have to do?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Bruce.

Liza didn’t say anything for a few minutes. “Fair enough,” she breathed, and she locked it away with everything else that she wished that she could un-know and undo. She put it away with sick Casey, her Mom and John’s mutilated bodies, and the adoption paperwork that Laura left on her pillow one night after a fight when they were growing up. The magazine was in there too. There were a lot of things in there.

# 68 – Roofing Shears and Beer

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Liza shut the laptop and stared across the dark bedroom.  Her eyes were burning and her head was overflowing with thoughts.  Two hours of scouring the internet turned up nothing for Bruce other than a short bio on the University’s website.  She’d restrained herself from searching for him before.  It turned out that there was nothing to find anyway.  Liza slid the tattered story from Casey’s copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory that now lived on Liza’s nightstand.  Bruce had apparently given it to her when she was in the hospital, though Liza still didn’t know when.  She hoped that it had brought Casey some enjoyment.

Liza thought about her nice for a while, but then her thoughts snapped back to breakfast.   Bruce admitted that he was homeless, but offered no explanation other than that it was “a long story”.  Jake wanted to throw him and Michael out.  Sam glided around the kitchen, silently cleaning up.  Michael stared between Bruce and Liza from under a halo of smoke.  He didn’t say a word.  It was tempting to side with Jake, throw them out, and end all this drama.  But just like that day at the underpass, she didn’t have a choice.  As annoyed as she was with Bruce, she felt compelled to defend him from Jake’s verbal attacks.

Liza unlocked the door and crept into the hallway.  Laura’s old room was empty.  She wondered if Michael left.  He had been uncomfortable accepting Liza’s invitation to stay the night.  She continued downstairs.  An old black and white movie was playing on TV.  Bruce was asleep on the sofa.  Jake was snoring in the recliner.  He had the remote in one hand and his roofing shears in the other.  Liza smiled and shook her head.

The rest of the downstairs was empty.  So was the basement.  The back door was locked.  She was about to write Michael off when she noticed that the door to the deck was cracked.   Little puffs of smoke floated by the kitchen window.  She put on her coat and boots, grabbed her cigarettes and two bottles of beer, and  went out to join him.  Michael was standing under the large awning that ran the length of the kitchen’s bay window.  Only a dusting of snow had accumulated here.  Liza walked over and stood next to him.  He didn’t move.  She handed him a beer, which he downed in two giant gulps.  He was silent for a few minutes before letting out a huge sigh.  “Thanks, Liza.”

 

# 62 – The Hole

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Bruce stood just inside the doorway, unsure of what to do. “Liza?” he called.  No answer. He turned to leave, stopped, bent down to take off his shoes, and stopped again. Noises were coming from the basement. It sounded like someone was moving boxes around. The tree. He put his wet shoes on the doormat and his gloves on the radiator. The warmth felt amazing. Bad Santa was on TV. The house smelled like Liza’s perfume and…chocolate.

Bruce looked around.  It was a typical rowhouse. The living room led into the dining room, which led into the kitchen. The basement steps would be off the dining room. Family pictures sat on a shelf in the living room. Bruce couldn’t stop himself from inspecting them.  There were no pictures of Casey or her mom. Bruce picked up a picture of Liza and her parents. Liza looked much like she did now.  It was probably taken not long before her parents died.  He forced himself to put it down and move on. A mug of hot chocolate and a plate with three chocolate chip cookies sat on the dining room table. “That’s for you!” called Liza’s disembodied voice from somewhere in the basement. It sounded like she was in a cave.

Bruce shoved one of the cookies in his mouth and washed it down with the hot chocolate. “Thanks. Where are you?”

“The hole.” Ah, well that explained it. Bruce grabbed the mug and the two cookies and headed down the basement. It was unfinished but clean, with cement floors, plaster walls, and a ceiling high enough for him to walk upright. A lot of the houses in the City originally had garages in the back. The basement doors were recessed back, with a pathway leading to them from the driveway. Most people removed the garages to create extra space in the basement. Liza’s house was like this. A wall with a steel door sat at the back of the basement, where the garage door would have been. The original exterior wall remained, but the pathway had been enclosed, creating a long cinder block and brick storage area. The Hole.

Liza was inside moving boxes around. Bruce watched her while he wolfed down the rest of the cookies and hot chocolate. He smiled, then frowned. It felt a little weird being in this house. He shouldn’t be here. Should he? Did it matter now? His thoughts were interrupted by a dramatic sigh. Liza was wedged in the doorway of The Hole, pinned there by a mammoth Christmas tree box. “Are you going to help me, Professor?” Bruce shook his head and smiled as he went over to free Liza.

# 50 – Mick

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“Are you one of those…” he waved a nicotine-stained finger in circles.  It was as if he was trying to get his memory running.  They were sitting in a gazebo in Adams Square.  Liza wasn’t ready to go home, so she had decided to sit down and see if she could draw something.  A homeless guy who looked like Mick from the Rocky movies sat next to her a few minutes later.  “Um…”

“Artists?”

“No.”  Mick squinted.

“Illustrators?”

“No.”

Liza sighed.  Maybe she should have gotten up when he sat down.  Was she that hard up for company?  No, she could have hung out with Brad longer.  Mick had seemed interesting, and truthfully, he was a welcome diversion from the sketch that she was struggling with.  “Painter?  Sketch artist?  Cartoonist?  Designer?”

“No.  One of those people who draws the funny pictures of people.”

“A caricaturist?”

“Yes!”  He smiled wide, flashing one lonely tooth at her.  It wasn’t a bed tooth, straight and only slightly yellowed.  She wondered if he was nice looking when he was younger and (presumably) not homeless.  He was nearly toothless and his skin was like worn leather, but he had these lively blue eyes.

“Nope, none of the above,” said Liza.

“So what’s this then?”  He waved the stained finger at her sketch pad as he pulled out a pack of little cigars.

“A hobby.”  She shook her head when he held the pack out to her.  “No, thank you.”  Liza fished a cigarette from her pack and lit up.  “I have some.”

“That your boyfriend?” he asked.

Liza stared at the picture.  It was supposed to be Casey as an angel.  Liza was no da Vinci, but damn, was it that bad?  “It’s my niece.”  He nudged her with his elbow and pointed with the little cigar.  Brad was standing near an entrance about twenty yards away.  He was looking at her.  Darn.  She felt like a mean girl.  Liza thought about going over and telling him the truth, but the way he was looking at her gave her a sick feeling.  Mick looked like he was thinking the same thing.  “That’s not my boyfriend,” said Liza.

“But you know him?”

“Yeah.  Kind of.”  Liza watched Brad, trying to decide what to do.  She wished that she had remembered to put the knife in her purse.  It wasn’t doing any good back in the glove compartment.  Mick turned his head.  He was probably getting ready to bolt.  She didn’t blame him.  Liza stuffed her sketch pad into her bag and pulled it over her head so that it sat across her body diagonally.  She put the pen in her front coat pocket.  It was better than nothing.

She was trying to psyche herself up to make a move when Mick turned back to her suddenly.  “Come on,” he said.  He stood and waved her in front of him with one hand.  The other was extended toward the nearest opening in the gazebo’s railing.  He was ushering her out of the gazebo in front of him.  Liza flicked her eyes in Brad’s direction and back to Mick.  She didn’t know what to do.  “Liza!” he snapped.  Liza jumped up and walked out of the gazebo ahead of him.

# 48 – Paper and Locks

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Liza went down the basement to check the back door.  The locks were in place and so was the wood board that she kept wedged under the doorknob.  Though she’d changed all of the locks after Casey died, she still felt the need to check them two or three times every night before bed.  She shoved aside a box of Laura’s things with her foot as she made her way back upstairs.  Liza had boxed everything in case she resurfaced.  If that didn’t happen soon, it was all going in the trash.

She went upstairs and stood in the doorway of her drawing-room.  The last sketch she finished was the picture of Bruce.  That was almost five months ago now.  Crumpled pieces of paper overflowed from the trashcan.  Most contained just a few lines and eraser marks.  She went in the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her face but sat smoking on the edge of the tub instead.  In her bedroom, she shut and locked the door.  Last night’s pajamas were sitting on the bureau, but she lay down on top of the covers fully dressed.  She pulled the Nightmare Before Christmas blanket from the foot of the bed and wrapped herself up.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was sitting on the nightstand.  Liza picked it up and slid out the worn piece of paper.

# 47 – Glitter and Lights

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Liza hated the part of the year when it got dark early, but it wasn’t that bad during the holidays.  She loved the lights.  They looked like little stars.  Most of the houses on her block were lit, but her’s was dark.  Liza wished that she had at least hung some lights and put up the tree.  She went inside, dumped her stuff off in the dining room, and stood in front of the refrigerator.  A piece of cold pizza and a beer beckoned her.  She pulled them out and hopped up on the counter.  Her parents had always yelled at her for sitting on this counter when she was a kid, but there was no one to say anything now.  The house was so quiet that the ticking of the cuckoo clock in the living room could be heard from all over the house.  She stared out the kitchen window.  The familiar flow of traffic on the Avenue was almost as calming as the beer.  She zoned out while she finished her pizza.

The grades for the fall term posted today.  Liza got As in both Business Law and Managerial Accounting.  Between those and the B she had somehow managed in Econ over the summer, she was in good shape.   Shauna quit a few months ago, so work was just as boring, but slightly less miserable.  Her next door neighbor was roofer, and he had patched her roof for free.  He was probably just afraid that the water would spread to his house, but still, it was nice.  She wrote herself a note to get him something for Christmas.

When she put it on the fridge, her eyes fell on Casey’s glittery art project.  She died in September.  Liza was at work.  Nurse Bill wasn’t at work that day.  Laura never came back.  The funeral was small.  She half expected Bruce to show, but he didn’t.  Casey had been in the hospital for months when she died.  When Liza went to pack up her things, she found a dog-eared paper tucked inside Casey’s favorite book, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  It was a story in Bruce’s writing.  She had never seen it before and didn’t know when he had given it to Casey.  Liza downed the rest of the beer and put the bottle in the recycling bucket out back.  When she came back to the kitchen, her eyes fell on the refrigerator again.  She stared at the glittery art project.

# 45 – Class 9

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The garden was in full bloom.  Bold flowers popped out of bushes.  The ivy was fuller, thanks to months of new growth.  The summer was almost over and campus was coming alive for the fall term.  Some of the day students who lived off campus were coming back.  Facilities trucks were all over, cleaning and making repairs.  Liza sat motionless on the marble bench.  Casey’s health was declining.  She was barely eating, and could sleep only when the doctors loaded her up with pain medicine.  She never mentioned her mom, but Liza tried to track her down.  None of her old friends from the neighborhood had heard from her; neither had anyone in their extended family.

It rained almost nonstop for the past week.  Liza came home from the hospital last night to find that lakes of filthy water had formed on the living room and dining room floors, warping the wood.  The first floor of the house was now a minefield of pots.  Liza only slept for two hours last night, so her body had insisted on taking a nap when she was in the ladies room at work this afternoon.  Shauna, the miserable woman in the cube across from Liza, had ratted her out and gotten her written up.

Liza set the alarm on her cell phone and zoned out.  She floated in and out of a dazed sleep.  Jim smiled by on his way to class.  Bruce never showed.  To hell with everything.