THE CURTAIN CALL, chpt 2
Lissa woke with a start and crept out of bed. She looked at her cell phone for the time. She checked her messages, nothing from Cindy. She hoped he was doing OK. She thought about going to see him at the hospital.
But the thought of wading into the middle of that uncomfortable moment made her want to cry. She hated hospitals and her behavior at the motel made it impossible to go back to the way things were between them. Cindy was right. She did hang on the past too much. She needed a break, something melodramatic. Her hair was a good first step, but she needed something more to mark a change in her own life story.
It was the beginning of the Iowa Jazz festival and she was supposed to work the tables and get out the vote. Her immediate thought was to get plugged back in to the campaign. But she wasn’t ready to face what her involvement with that organization had become, not after the whole ugly scene in the motel. Plus, she was pretty sure that the Barbarians were not her biggest fan after he and the Birdman got into it.
Maybe it was time to get off this ride, she thought. Marco told her that it was the grassroots who milled the wood and built the ship, but it was somebody else who captained it. She wondered if she could be happy stand on the shore and watching it sail away.
Lissa walked out the bedroom and headed to the kitchen. She left JD asleep on their bed. His mouth hung open he blubbered the soft palate in the back of his throat with each breath.
In the kitchen she grabbed a roll of thirty gallon two-ply garbage bags. She paused for a moment to listen for JD. Then she crept down the stairs to the cellar. Lissa headed straight to her grandmother’s trunk. She stepped over the pile of dead flies still neatly piled on the concrete floor and placed both her hands on the trunk.
It opened easily. Lissa stood for a moment before it and took a mental inventory. She tugged a bag off the roll and popped it out with a jerk of her forearms, so that it sounded like wind caught in a headsail. She pulled out the drawers and without registering what she was doing, or allowing her self time to regret, dumped the contents into the open bag.
When she filled the first bag, she grabbed another and continued without stopping. Everything went in the bags: caps, shirts, sleepers, mittens, booties, price tags and plastic wrapping. She worked quickly, until every drawer, each cubby, ever cubic inch of the steamer trunk was cleared of the collected weight of the baby.
When she was finished, Lissa looked over the whole thing one last time and as she did the smell of pipe smoke and the heavy odor of tropical hardwood filled the room. Her grandmother’s trunk was emptied of everything but the memories of travel decades before Lissa got her hands on it. It was returned to its former state and awaited its next journey. She closed the sides together and fastened the latch, then left it free standing in the middle of the floor.
She pulled the garbage bags up the stairs behind her and out to the car. She packed everything into JD’s car. Everything in the trunk of her car would just have to be handled later. Lissa got behind the wheel and adjusted the mirrors. She surprised herself for a moment when she saw her bleached blonde hair and did a double take in the visor’s vanity mirror. Convinced that her hair was fine, she drove down the driveway headed toward Iowa City and the Goodwill drop off.
It was early, and as she drove down the rural highway, she passed cars stuffed with doughy men drinking coffee from oversized travel mugs and women using their rearview mirror to put on waxy lip gloss and mascara that promised to increase the length of their eyelashes by up to three hundred percent. Up ahead, along the edge of the pavement against the grass and the mailboxes staking out tax lots, was an old Dodge Aires four door sedan that drove head on against the traffic.
The driver was a large man with a sheaf of plastic bags hanging from his rearview. He stopped periodically in the driveways of homes and stuffed rolled up copies of the Cedar Rapids Gazette into the bags, before he chucked them out his open window onto the manicured yards.
Lissa pulled up along side the newspaper deliveryman and rolled down her passenger side window. The man stopped his car and leaned over to manually roll down his own window. The morning commuters began to pile up two or three cars deep behind her and wasted no time sounding their disapproval with their horns.
“How much for a paper?” She yelled across to the man.
“They sell them at the gas station. These is for my route.” He yelled back, giving the car behind her the finger.
“I’m not going to the gas station. Listen, I’ll pay you double for whatever it cost you. What do you say?”
“Normally, I’d say go fuck yourself. But I’m feeling generous today, plus you look familiar to me. Listen, you can have this one,” he said and chucked one through the open window, “the front page is torn and I don’t feel like hearing about it later.”
“Forget about it, it’s on the house.” He yelled.
Then he pulled off towards oncoming traffic. Lissa couldn’t tell where he was from, upstate New York somewhere, maybe Rochester, She thought. Not that she had any idea what that accent sounded like, but it was a gut feeling. She watched him feint hitting the car directly behind her in her rear view mirror, before he floored his Dodge and kicked dirt and debris all over the other driver who was stupid enough to stop his car and jump out the driver’s side door. Lissa merged back onto the lane and continued down the road.
The front page of the paper was torn and wrinkled, but you could clearly make out the two pictures. They each were arguably, an exact reproduction of what Lissa looked like at that moment, blonde, big eyed, with lips slightly open. They were pictures of Rachel and the dead girl they found in the park. The headline put it in perspective with the words, ‘Blonde Bombshell Serial Killer?’
The Newspaper stayed up on the dash as Lissa headed toward Highway 6 south in Iowa City to dump all the clothes. The drop off center was dark and the loading dock was closed. The lower level criminals working off their community service hadn’t shown up yet, so Lissa pulled up and just unloaded everything she had next to the door marked office. As she stuffed the last sweater down into a bag and tied the top, someone came out and told her that she couldn’t leave all that there, that she had to wait to make donations during authorized times. Lissa thanked the woman in the blue vest who told her that, and then got in her car and left.
She drove over to Cindy’s and parked outside his apartment. He lived in one half of a low slung ranch house rented out on Parsons Avenue with separate entrances for each tenant. The windows and doors were closed for a change. Lissa parked in the driveway of the two car garage and walked up to the door.
She knocked loudly and waited. From the other side came the mews of Cindy’s old cat and then the sound of something being knocked over with a loud crash. Lissa waited for a moment and then nothing. She tried peering in through the curtains but they were pulled and only afforded a view of Cindy’s clothes piled on the ground. Lissa walked back to the car and got in.
She rifled through JD’s glove box for a pen and paper, someone yelled. Then someone yelled, “excuse me,” and rapped with their keys on the passenger’s side widow.
The sudden cracking sound of the key against the glass startled her and Lissa banged her funny bone against the console.
Lissa looked up and saw standing outside her window a thin, older woman with bad eyebrows. Lissa rolled down her window and the woman asked in a snide Midwestern drawl, tinged with a forced Yalie slur, “Are you going to be long? I must demand that you move your car, I’m having work men over this morning and your vehicle is blocking where my privacy hedge is going.”
She rolled the window back up and ignored the woman. The woman walked back to her yard and into home. Lissa finished her note to Cindy.
What Lissa wanted the note to say was, complicated. She wanted it to say how deeply sorry she was for what happened in the motel. Lissa wanted the note to let Cindy know it was their friendship that kept her going, as she floundered about in the middle of this small, dank Middle American county. She wanted Cindy to know that it was him that kept her tethered to the here and now.
She wanted the note to say things that she could only feel. She wanted to tell him that she didn’t have an interior life. She never thought about things, like the past, or the future or what was happening, unless He was around. She wanted him to know that her soul, if that even was the right word for it, was quiet when he wasn’t around.
She knew that these handwritten words would never capture any of it. She knew that what she put down on paper were clichéd and hackneyed expressions. But she wanted the note to at least try.
She wanted the note to inspire Cindy to keep on living. She wanted Cindy to take her Grandmother’s trunk. She wanted the note to be a wake up call from the firmament. God damn it, she wanted it to blast down from on high that the chemo, the cancer, it wasn’t the end. It was the new beginning. Cindy had to keep going because he was so much braver than her, so much more centered, stronger. She wanted the note to capture everything that she felt, and to convey it with a power that was utterly compelling. That was what she wanted the note to say.
But what the letter actually read was:
I’m sorry. Please take my trunk, yes that one, and use it. You’ll know what to do when the chemo is over. Please forgive me. I guess I’m just not strong enough to do it on my own. I never think about things like that unless you’re around. It makes me sad. Love always.
The woman with the keys came out from her house and rapped on the side window again. She informed Lissa that the police were in route and if she did not have her car moved this instant then a charge of trespassing would be pressed.
In the post script to the letter Lissa added:
P.S. Your next door neighbor is a cunt. Please use bleach to write my name on her lawn, also write Seniors 2012. Because that shit is pretty funny.
The woman watched Lissa walk to the front door and stick the note into Cindy’s outside mailbox. She watched as Lissa walked back to her car and got in. She watched as the car started. Then the woman began to walk toward the car. She followed Lissa and the car as it reversed down the driveway and backed out onto Parsons Avenue.
Out in the middle of the street, the woman stood not more than twenty four inches from the bumper and eyed Lissa through the Windshield. The whole time this woman, this small little Midwest house wife kept her mouth moving and spat insults and malapropisms at Lissa.
“You better keep moving to get your ass going,” the woman said when Lissa put the car in drive.
Lissa rolled down the window and opened the neat little case on the passenger side. It held the derringer that Cindy gave her. The woman’s mouth opened and her eyes widened in horror as Lissa hung her arm casually out the open window with the little gun in her hand. She never pointed the weapon. She just let it hang lazily from her shoulder down towards the ground.
“You know Miss, you are not very neighborly and one day someone is going to teach you manners. Now get the fuck away from me.” Lissa said and pulled her arm quickly back into the cab before she drove away.
The woman stifled a gasp with her fingers. She didn’t think to write down the license plate, and would spend the rest of the day trying to recreate a reasonable combination of numbers as she replayed the incident over and over. Even after she grabbed the note out of the mailbox, there were no clues she could use. One thing was painfully evident to her, she would get no help from the drunk deviant transvestite next door and she told her partner just that after both women unwound with a bottle of local wine from the co-op and lamented what had happened to their beloved college town
Lissa left the wooded subdivision behind her and drove past the Catholic Hospital on East Market then Down South Gilbert. She drove through the downtown and parked in the grey concrete garage next to the mall. She left her car and walked toward the entrance by the Mexican restaurant that served two-for-one tequilas special to girls in tube tops on Thursdays.
When she came to the entrance, a revolving doorway that was stuck, she saw two Barbarians on either side of the campaign office entrance. They came armed with slung rifles and stood like perverse Grenadier Guards on either side of the entrance. Lissa immediately turned and headed back for her car. She did not feel safe around those people and decided to play hookey.
Lissa fished out her cell phone to call Danielle to tell her she’d be in later, while she did that she heard a loud roar and looked up to see a black convertible whipping around a corner. Danielle, never answered the phone, and Lissa didn’t leave a message. She just turned around and walked back out to her car. Lissa drove quietly out the other side of town into the towering fields of late harvest corn.
Just past the Amish pie stand where you were trusted to leave money for the untended pies, Lissa turned left on to an unmaintained road and bounced down the dry rutted path for miles before she found the spot where you turned right through the brambles and over the cattle grate on the other side. She was headed out to the hobby farm where she had her first taste of turtle soup.
Lissa parked the car behind the old cabin, next to the hand pump. The berm was still there and the target frames stood upright in front of it. Lissa walked out past the targets and firing range and got on top of the earthen berm. She looked out past the fields of alfalfa and echinacea and acres of feed corn and let her eyes lose focus, like a hunter in the woods she searched for movement but saw not a single thing on four legs or two. Convinced that it was safe, she scurried back down and over to her car.
On the floor behind the driver’s seat she found a sheaf of Linn for President Fliers and a staple gun. She walked a couple fliers over to the table of rough hewn boards by the line and laid out the box that held her weapon and twenty low recoil rounds. With the staple gun, she tacked the corners of a flyer up to one of the frames and blackened in the Senator’s silhouette with a paint marker, then walked it 25meters out.
She loaded the two chambers of her .38 derringer and raised the weapon. The target was now roughly eighty-two feet away. The dark black silhouette was not much bigger than a pie pan against the light brown earthen backdrop. Lissa lined up the target, the sight post, the back notch and her eye. Then she pulled the trigger.
The barrel of the little gun rose, and she called out, “oh shit!”
Her ears rang and she realized why you wore ear protection. She walked back over to the car and retrieved some tissue that she wet with her own saliva and tucked into her ears.
She fired the next round and this time kept a firm grip. The round sailed off toward the flier and she heard the echo of her shot bounce away among the fields. She walked to the target and checked her grouping. She hit the black both times. She looked out over the berm again and felt a calm flow through her. She held her breath and looked up toward the sky with her eyes closed. When she opened them, she heard the whisper of the wind rustle through the corn stalks.
She walked back to the table and broke the barrel of the weapon at the hinge. She pried out the two shell casings and put in two more rounds. Then she flipped the weapon back together, brought the target in sight and fired twice.
Comfortable with the mechanics, Lissa grabbed her purse and put the weapon inside the front pocket. She then pulled over one of the stumps and sat on it. She put her purse in her lap and stared down the firing line. She wondered how long it would take to get Cindy’s Mary Todd Trick Shot down cold. Lissa gave herself 16 rounds to find out.
She tried, as inconspicuously as possible, to pull the little handgun from its hiding place without looking. After getting caught on the pocket’s lining several times, she used her nail file to pop the stitching out and removed the whole thing. She was then able to easily slide the weapon in and out of the pocket as long as she kept the buckle and clasp unfastened.
Lissa then drew the weapon from her handbag several more times, before she brought it up to eye level and took aim at the poster. With her arm extended out, she closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them, she found the target and pulled the trigger. She was able to pull the gun out of her purse, raise it with her shooting hand and pull the trigger all in about the same length of time as a stifled sneeze.
She repeated the motions over and over, until she felt absolutely confident that she could perform the act fluidly without any hiccups. Then she calmly walked over to the target, noted her shot grouping, took down the frame, policed up her brass casings and packed everything back up in the car.
On the way back, she stopped her car for a moment by the side of the pond. She watched a riffle on the surface where a turtle submerged itself. Then from out of a stand of reeds by the water, a large bearded turkey stumbled out toward her car.
Its throat was bright red and the tail feathers were fanned out in full display as it charged the car and flew up at her window. It startled her and Lissa laughed out loud. The determined bird launched again and again at the closed window. Lissa waited until he finished his display.
Exhausted, the bird wandered back over to the reeds and Lissa drove away. In her rearview she watched two small down covered poults skitter out from under the shrub grass and tumble over each other onto the road. Then she saw the full grown turkey corral its young back into the safety of the reeds, before it walked back out and scratched at the dust and dirt.
She left the hobby farm behind her and pulled up to the cattle grate before the paved county road. Just as she was nosing the car out, a black blur of a sports car rumbled through the air in front of her like a freight train. It was helmed by a woman, middle aged, her face pulled taut with stapled folds.
On the passenger’s side was a man, and just like that, she realized who it was and who was driving. She felt faint and nauseous for a second at the sight of the black mustang disappearing down the road, her husband in the passenger seat. But it was all fine. He mentioned a lunch to thank her for not suing, didn’t he? It wasn’t what it looked like. What did it look like? She didn’t want to think about it. Cindy said banging co-eds, not old realtors on their last surgically patched together legs. No it was fine, she made herself say it out loud. It was fine, twice.
She put the car on the county road and drove toward the office inside the downtown mall. On her way there she listened to the radio for a while, NPR was running a story on the Barbarian’s and talked about the demographic make-up of the forgotten majority. Lissa liked that, the forgotten majority.
Then they had some sort of panel discussion about the race and the insurgency from within the President’s own party. One of the panelists began to discuss an earlier idea, regarding man as a sum his characteristics, when he was cut off by the speaker for NOW.
“But aren’t we over stating this? If this is about race, it’s as much about gender. Haven’t women been held back on all fronts in all cultures universally, while the black male experience in this country is relatively green when compared to the thorny roots of sexism?”
“Are you suggesting,” the moderator broke in, “that the black, err, African American plight in this country is unfairly weighted when you compare both issues, that there is some sort of imbalance when comparing them side by side in America?”
“Exactly,” the woman continued, “There is this almost knee jerk reaction to race, ignoring the gender issues.”
“So you maintain that there is a coda here, beyond race that the viewer is supposed to understand?” the Moderator asked.
“No, what I’m saying is that this spot is intended to draw attention to the failure of the President to address women’s issues, while he hides behind the cloak of black oppression.”
“This is absurd,” another of the panelists, a former student leader, SNCC chairman and professor at the Berkeley Center for Race and Gender, interrupted, “This commercial is clearly targeted at the racial underpinnings of our society. I will not stand by while some aristocratic white woman lectures me on the cloaking of identity in racial classification, as if it’s some flaw to be black.”
Through the speakers Lissa could make out the rustle of papers and the sound of the former SNCC chair as he obviously tossed his headphones down, wherever he was, and tried to walk away.
“Just my point, won’t listen to some white woman. Woman! Do you even hear yourself?”
From off microphone, he said something and then a span of dead air and white noise came from the car speakers. The moderator came back and apologized to all the guests and then a station donation drive commercial started.
What the hell was that? Lissa wondered. She just witnessed what sounded to her to be race baiting. Then her phone rang, it was Danielle the office receptionist. Danielle kept going on about the Honor Guard.
“But what am I supposed to do with all these freaks? There are five of them here, all dressed up in prom dresses and wigs with rifles slung and they are checking the IDs of everyone in and out of the office. The volunteers are getting spooked, what’s going on?” Danielle asked.
Lissa heard the girl’s voice muffled over the phone, as she shielded the mouthpiece with her hand.
“Find out who’s in charge and tell him to leave a couple of them behind to watch the door. Tell him there’s an event. I need him to march his guys down the Ped Mall and over to the Jazz fest Stage. Tell them to move in formation and hold some signs. Tell him to be ready to speak, if called upon. I’ll call Marco directly and try to figure out what is going on.” Lissa told her.
She then hung up on Danielle who was cut off midsentence and dialed Marco’s phone. It went immediately to voice mail. She texted him instead of leaving a voice message with a lot of capital letters and gross overuse of punctuation. She asked for some clarity as the whole world of Pre-Caucus Iowa was now knocked off its axis and Weeble-Wobbled close to the edge of insurrection.
She pulled into town and drove over toward the Pentacrest. She parked her car in the grey concrete deck that loomed next to the mall. Her phone began to ring again. While she fished for her Cell phone, she heard a loud roar and looked up to see the same black convertible whipping around a corner.
She answered her phone, it was Marco. He explained to her that there was a coup a foot that the Barbarians were now out there freelancing, taking over the pulpit nationwide. As he spoke, Lissa was again stunned by the realizations that the man in the Black car was her husband and he wasn’t alone. She looked back toward the corner, Marco’s tinny sounding voice was in her ear telling her about a big event in Des Moines where they were going to take back the Campaign, then she hung up.
She drove the rest of the way home with her radio off. She got to her driveway and parked right up in the yard, next to the porch. The corner post of the porch was level once more, and JD had fixed all the railings and the flooring was up, so she walked to the front door and went in through the foyer. She left the door open and walked into the kitchen. She noticed a few plates in the sink and started to wash them. Then she walked around the house looking for any stray dishes, and came back with a saucer and two cups. Then she opened the cupboards and pulled down a charging plate and washed that, then a Pyrex baking dish, then a set of mixing bowls. By the time she was done every surface in the kitchen was covered with plates and dishes. She left them all to dry and went to bed.