# 70 – Corpses

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Liza hopped through the snow with two expensive bundles of Christmas tree branches under her arm.  She felt silly.  What was the purpose of this tradition?  Casey and her parents were gone.  There may or may not be an afterlife, but it didn’t matter because here they were just corpses rotting underground in fancy boxes.  Suppose there was a heaven.  Were they really looking down thinking, “Oh, thank God that Liza remembered the grave blankets!”

Locating them in this mammoth cemetery was always like an expedition.  She felt like she should have brought navigation instruments.  When she finally found them, she was sweating and the fronts of her thighs were numb.  Casey’s headstone wasn’t done yet.  The metal marker poked out of the snow next to her parents.  Liza dug out the front of their grave a bit so their names were visible:  Elizabeth and Jonathan Kearn.

John was Liza’s stepfather.  She never knew her biological dad.  According to her mom, they hadn’t been dating long and he fell off the face of the earth before she realized that she was pregnant.  She gave Liza her own name, Elizabeth Richter, making her the only female junior that she’d ever met.  It worked.  There was never any confusion because Mom went by Betty.  Anyway, Mom married John when Liza was a baby.  John was always good to Liza.  She couldn’t complain.

Liza anchored the grave blankets in the snow.  There was no way she was burrowing down to the grass with her bare hands.  The ground was probably too hard anyway.  She stood there awkwardly for a few minutes wondering why people visited graves.  It wasn’t as if she would forget about them if she didn’t come here.  She would prefer to remember them in a happier way.  All she could think about when she came here was that they were dead.  What else could she think about when she was standing on top of their dead bodies staring that their headstone?

When it seemed like a respectful amount of time had passed, she wished the ground a Merry Christmas Eve and hopped through the snow back to her car.

# 69 – Eggs and Other Lives

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“I don’t suppose you’ll tell me?” asked Liza.

“How he became homeless?”

“Yes.”

“No.”  Another little cigar materialized in Michael’s hand.  He lit it and began puffing away.  He was staring at her.  “I wish I could.  It’s not for me to tell.”

“I know,” said Liza.  Damn.  All right, let’s see what he was willing to tell her.  “How long have you known him?”

Michael shrugged.  “I donno…a couple of years.”

“Where does he,” Liza made air quotes, “live?”

You know that.”

“The underpass?”

“Yes.”

“Still?” asked Liza.  Michael nodded.  She felt sick.  “With Scary Witch Hat Guy?”

Michael raised an eyebrow and pursed his lips, then barked out a laugh.  “Ray?!  That what you call him?  I like it.”  He smiled, his pearly tooth and topaz eyes flashing in the moonlight.  “No one’s seen him.  You must’ve scared him away.”

“Bruce told you about that?”

Michael nodded.  “Told me about that.  Told me about how you would drive him after class.  Told me about the picture.  He really likes you.  He never talks about his other life,” said Michael.

“His other life?”

“You know, at the college.  I don’t care.  Some of the others give him a hard time.  They don’t get it.”

She flashed back to being whacked with a copy of Robinson Crusoe.  “Sc….Ray?” she asked.  Michael nodded.  “Do you live at the underpass too?”

“Sometimes.”

“What don’t the others get?” Liza asked.

“Nice try.”  Michael gathered his empty bottle and little cigar butts.  “Any other questions?”

“Would you get involved with him if you were me?”

Michael tried to deflect the question.  “He’s not my type.”  Liza stared at him until he looked away.  He was quiet for a minute.  “If I was you?  Probably not.”  He shuffled into the kitchen.  Liza followed.  She locked up and shed her snowy boots on the mat.  Michael deposited the butts in the trash can, rinsed out the beer bottle and placed it on the counter with the other recyclables.

Liza stood behind him, watching.  It was late.  She should be heading to bed with the fresh batch of thoughts that would keep her awake.  “Good night.  Don’t…please try not to feel funny.  I’m glad that you guys are here.  This house is too big for one person.”

Michael turned and leaned on the counter.  He was drying his hands with a paper towel.  “Do you have eggs?”

Eggs?  “Yes.”

“Good.  I’ll make omelets for breakfast tomorrow.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I want to.  I used to like to cook.  I had a real life once too.  We all did,” said Michael.  He seemed more sober.  Liza nodded.  Something else to think about.  She turned to go.  “He cares about you.  A lot.  It’s just…all the stuff that comes with this.”  He waved his hand down his body, showcasing the tattered clothes that he refused to let Liza clean for him.  Liza nodded again.

“Good night.”

“Night, Liza.”

# 61 – Shoveling

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She stood a few feet back from the bay window so Bruce couldn’t see.  Watching him shovel her walk made her cringe, but Liza had come to realize that she and Bruce were similar in a lot of ways.  He didn’t like to accept help, though he was willing to give help to others.  He wouldn’t leave her to fend for herself with her messed up eye; just like she wouldn’t let him go out in this weather without a place to keep warm.  Her phone hooted.

“THERE’S A MAN SHOVELING YOUR STEPS.”  It was Jake.

“I know,” texted Liza.

“BRUCE”

“Yep.”

“HE’S WEARING THE SAME CLOTHES.”

“I know.”

“I WON’T SAY I TOLD U SO.”

“You’re so sweet.”

“ANY TIME.  SCREAM IF YOU NEED ME.  :-*”

Liza tossed the phone on an end table.  Was Bruce homeless?  It didn’t seem possible considering that he was a college dean, though it would explain a lot:  the encounters with homeless people, why he asked her to drop him off at a park, him wearing the same clothes, why he often seemed hungry or tired.  Maybe this was the “long story that he didn’t want to talk about”.  If he was homeless, how could it have happened?  He was looking at houses online after class once.  Maybe he sold his old house without finding a new one?  That didn’t make sense.  He could just get an apartment or a hotel room.  Did he have a gambling problem or a drug addiction?  She couldn’t imagine it.

She peeked out the window again.  Bruce was halfway done.  How was she going to get him to stay?  She went out back to have a cigarette on the deck.  Liza thought about her little sister pounding on the door last week.  Laura was lazy and selfish, but wasn’t it Liza’s job to look after her?  She and Bruce didn’t know each other well, they hadn’t spoken in months, and she probably shouldn’t trust him.  Yet, here she was, trying to find a way to force help on him that he may not want or need.  She thought it really sucked that not only don’t you get to choose your family, but that you don’t even get to choose who you fall in love with.

# 60 – Like a Cyclops with Allergies

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Bruce was pretty much right.  They didn’t dilate her pupils, but both of her eyes were puffy and red.  The lid of the left eye was sealed shut with a thick ointment, and yes, a bandage covered the whole thing.  It turned out to be a scratched cornea.  The doctor said she would be fine within a week.  At the moment, she felt like a Cyclops with allergies.  Liza got off the elevator on the wrong floor twice, slipped on ice in the parking garage, and bashed her knee with the car door.  She was grateful that Bruce was there to drive her home.  Neither of them mentioned the comment she made earlier.  They coasted down the snowy highway in silence.

By the time they parked on Liza’s block, six or seven inches of snow had fallen.  What if she was right?  Liza couldn’t stand the thought of Bruce wandering around the City coatless in a snowstorm.  Liza frowned.  She hated him for making her care.  “Do you want to borrow my car to take…home?  I’m off until after Christmas.  I won’t need it for a few days.”

Bruce was quiet for a minute, then shook his head, turned off the car, and handed her the keys.  “Thank you for the offer.”

“Ok,” said Liza, accepting the keys.  How was she going to do this?

“Are you going to be ok getting up to the house?” asked Bruce.

“Yes.”

Bruce eyed the three sets of steps that led up to the front door.  “Here, let me walk you.”

“I’m fine, seriously.  If I can’t make it up a few steps, then I’m in trouble,” said Liza.

“Why?”

“I have to shovel, do laundry, and put my Christmas tree up.”  There, hopefully that was enough without being too obvious.

“What?!  You can’t do all that.  Didn’t the doctor tell you to rest your eyes?”

“You’re right.  I should stay inside, read a book, watch some TV.  That would be easier on my eyes,” said Liza. 

Bruce took a deep breath.  “Why can’t Laura do it?”

“Laura’s gone.  I threw her out after Casey…oh.  Casey died,” said Liza.  Yikes.  She’d had to break the news to so many people over the past few months, she’d become a little desensitized.

“I’m sorry about Casey,” said Bruce.  He didn’t look surprised.  Liza nodded.  She was thinking about the story Bruce had written for her niece.  They were both quiet for a while.  Bruce finally broke the silence.  “So, who lives here now?”

“Me.”

“That’s it?” asked Bruce.

“Yep.”

Bruce plucked the keys out of her hand and marched around the car.  He opened her door and held out his hand.  “Come on.  I’m going to help you inside and then I’m going to shovel your walk,” said Bruce.