THE LAST DOMINO, chpt 8
After Cindy shut the door to the motel, Lissa grabbed a BBQ drumstick out of the pan on the dresser and threw it. The poultry thumped against the grey metal and left a gob of orange sauce. She screamed at him and waited for Cindy to come back after that, but the door never opened. Lissa pulled back the curtains on the grey sky outside and stared down into the parking lot.
She saw Cindy walking on the crooked and uneven sidewalk outside the parking lot. He had impeccable posture with the purse tight to his body. The sky spat a mist of rain down on him and occasionally cracked with a flash of lightning that singed the clouds over his head. Lissa watched as he pulled a scarf from his purse and wrapped it around his sparsely hair covered head.
She grabbed his wig from the table and opened the door. She felt a wave of wet air on her face and watched as Cindy stepped off the sidewalk into the gutter along the road. She wanted to yell, but he was too far away and her voice would be sucked up in the wet grey. She watched him until he walked past the privacy fence of the motel next door, then she closed the door.
Inside the room, Lissa placed the wig on top of the TV cabinet and sat down at the table next to the window. She took up the glass of bourbon and held it with her thumb and first two fingers, watching herself in the mirror. She sipped from the glass and flipped at the ends of her bangs.
Lissa pulled her hair into a ponytail and looked at herself in profile. She put the cup down and took up the wig from the cabinet. There was a small discrete tag on the inside cap, denoting the handcrafted quality of the 150 year old family business who manufactured the ashen blonde wig.
It gave easily at the seams and slid comfortably over her hair as she pulled it on. She tucked her own hair up under it with little effort, but it still hugged her scalp tight enough not to risk any loose tufts. The style and cut of the wig made Lissa look buffoonish. On Cindy it looked right, almost regal. It framed his face, the sharp jaw line and earnest crevices and wrinkles. But on Lissa, it made her look like a child playing dress up.
She took it off and put it back on top of the TV cabinet. Outside the sound of a fire truck bounced crazily around the rain soaked air. Lissa walked over to the window and watched the tail end of the riot of red and yellow lights caroming in between the stalled and parked cars in the road.
Across the street in the Rite-Aid parking lot, a family of four stood with their heads turned in the direction of the departing casualty caravan. The sounds of the EMS vehicles faded and the flashes of light dimmed, until the vehicles disappeared all together after a hairpin corner and raced deeper into Coralville. Then as if nothing happened, the family got in their car and drove away.
Lissa watched them. They pulled out of the parking lot and cut off a small Prius hatchback as they merged onto 1st Ave heading for Highway 6. She shook her head and drank what was left in her cup. When she was done, she stuck the card key in her pocket and walked out the room without a jacket. She headed straight to Rite-Aid. Her mind was made up. It was time for a new start and she was starting now.
It took Cindy just under ten minutes to get from the motel to the bar, but by then it was like someone had split the tarp of the sky and the rain poured down without mercy. He eschewed the tall English phone booth out front of the Vine, choosing instead to go inside the bar and make his call.
Inside he stomped his feet and slapped at his body to shake off the weather from outside. He put his hand up to the scarf, wrapped peasant girl fashion around his head, and undid the knot under his chin. Cindy’s hair was wet and stuck in clumps to his head, making him look even sicker and more miserable.
“The phone working in the back?” Cindy asked the bartender.
“Nope,” He replied. “But if you sit down and let me fix you a drink you can use my Cell phone.”
“It’s a deal,” Cindy said.
He took a seat at the bar and pushed his scarf down into his purse. The bartender took pity on him and pushed a rocks glass filled with warm Thera-flu and a shot of rye in front of Cindy.
Cindy nodded and put a five and a couple of singles down in front of him. The bartender waved the money away and Cindy lifted the shot in salute before tossing it back. When the shot hit his stomach, Cindy felt the warmth rush to his face. He picked up the rocks glass full of warm lemon flavored Thera-flu and inhaled the bitter medicinal steam.
“Thanks,” Cindy said.
“No problem, it’s going around.” The bartender told him, “I had it last week, summertime colds are the worse.”
Cindy left the three singles and turned away from the bar. The television was turned to the news and it was now running pictures of Rachel and footage of one of the creeks that ran through Hickory Hill Park. The bar was dark with only a few hardcore drinkers who braved the weather. It was as good a place as any to wake the dead. Cindy ordered a hot toddy and got started mourning.
On the TV news, the weatherman was almost frantic. He waved expansively at the three or four distinct lines of red and purple flashing storms that marched across the planes and stretched from Nebraska to Minnesota. Cindy noticed that the weatherman had his tie loose and the top button of his shirt undone. It was his patented, the end is nigh pose that he put on when the storms blew in and promised a show.
The weatherman kept saying that he didn’t want to alarm anyone, but there was a chance with these intense frontal systems for some heavy downpours and possibly some localized flooding in the low lying areas. He turned to the cameras again and told the viewers not to be alarmed. But there was a chance that the reservoirs upstream would not be able to hold the rain.
They always said things like that when there was a storm. Then right before he threw to the news desk, he teased the viewers at home with disaster footage from the last time the river flooded. Cindy wondered if it maybe was something more.
Then the breaking news graphic interrupted the newscaster’s own segue back to regular scheduled programming. The local authorities had identified the body of the victim found that day in Hickory Hill Park, it was in fact not the missing Rachel, but another girl reported missing by her college roommate that morning.
Cindy kept watching the news. There were reporters all over the region now, at the Pentacrest, outside the university dorms and the apartment of the dead girl. Everyone who could be was interviewed by the breaking news team. Until finally, they couldn’t hold back the primetime line-up any longer and the reporter’s promised more info as things developed. Then all the channels went to their flagship programs and no one made anymore mention of the storms, which passed through the region with little damage.
Lissa got back to the room in less than twenty minutes and immediately threw her shirt and undershirt over the wall unit and cranked the heat. She was soaked through and felt cold deep to her kidneys. After a double Nyquil with bourbon chaser, she peeled off her wet pants and laid them over the chair by the window and padded over to the bathroom in her bra, panties and white cotton socks.
She took the bag from the pharmacy with her and dumped the contents in the sink. Lissa towel dried her hair and then opened the box of hair dye. She laid out the tubes of bleach and conditioner next to the flimsy plastic gloves on the counter top. Then she went to work.
Lissa draped the stale, bleach and mold smelling towel around her shoulders and donned the gloves. She held the tube of hair bleach up and squirted it into the crown of her head. She worked it into her scalp and piled her hair on top of her head. The box claimed it would take about twenty minutes, but she left it in for an extra five just to be sure. She wanted to strip each follicle of hair, bleach it down to an alabaster bone white.
She passed the time with a glass of bourbon and watched the TV. The local news was a competing stream of horrors. First there was the promise of a natural disaster. On the regional Doppler radar, the weatherman followed treacherous waves of energy amassed on the western edge of the plains. He used computer models to plot the march of nature as it washed the face of the world clean. Then that was eclipsed by the discovery that the dead body was another missing girl.
She flipped the channels. Luckily the learning channel was showing a program about multiple births. Lissa let herself become invested in that story. She watched this more domestic, pedestrian disaster unfold while she sipped her drink and fried her hair. The orchestrated music of the show sank into a dark, decrescendo as the two infants clung to each other in a shared incubator. The brothers hung to life with their fingers interlocked, while men and women in long coats and surgical scrubs stared woefully down at them and waited.
Lissa cried. She held her hands to her face and felt her wet cheeks. Then as if on cue, the music rushed forward, and the dark note of loss was wiped away. On the screen two diaper clad tykes chased a long haired retriever around an idyllic English garden. She laughed at herself, wiped her face on the towel around her shoulder and got up from the bed. It was time to see what the new her, looked like.
She turned on the shower and waited for the water to warm. Once it was comfortable, she stepped in under the spray and rinsed the harsh lye smelling compounds out of her hair and down the drain. Her hair was brittle and strands of it broke off and wrapped around her fingers as she worked the water into her scalp.
When she stepped out of the shower, the floor was wet and cold against her feet. She wrapped herself in a towel and quickly wrapped her hair in another. She left all the lights on in the bathroom and made her way to the bed. Lissa jumped in under the covers. Her teeth chattered for a bit, but soon the warmth of her body filled the space between her and the covers and the bed. The TV stayed on and the curtains were open to the darkening grey outside. For the rest of the evening she sipped bourbon. Sometime after midnight she slipped off to sleep.
Cindy woke up on his couch to the sound of Wraith, the cabby, calling his name through the screen door. The lights were all on in the house and his clothes were piled on the floor next to the kitchen doorway. On the table in the middle of the room was a pitcher of water, a wine glass and a Ziploc bag. He lifted his head up from the cushions and looked toward the open door. Cindy’s skin was clammy and without any real reason, he suddenly felt very guilty.
“What time is it?” Cindy asked.
“Uh, it’s a quarter to Eight. You asked me to come by at the end of my shift and give you a ride to the hospital.”
“Oh, yes,” Cindy said, unable to remember anything of the sort, “Give me a second honey, I’ll be out in five.”
Cindy got up and covered his self with a cushion off the couch and walked into the kitchen. The freezer door was open and all the vanilla white ice trays stood filed with water. Cindy closed the door and took a large liter sized travel mug from the dry rack by the sink. He clutched the cushion to his waist with one hand and filled the mug with water. He drank the entire mug and then quickly vomited it all up into the sink along with whatever was left in his stomach.
He only remembered bits of the night after he left the motel. He made a real ass of himself at the bar. Despicable acts, he remembered that much. He could recall the remarkably strong grip of the bartender as it came down on his shoulders, after Cindy assaulted an out of town couple right at their table, actually pulling his scrotum out and pushing his lumpy testicle over toward the other in order to demonstrate how asymmetrical and utterly unflattering the orchiectomy was going to leave him and his coin purse.
He remembered the couple. They were nice enough. They thought it would cheer him up when they said that the loose folds of skin looked like lamb’s skin or the ear of a cocker spaniel, at which point Cindy kept asking what they just said louder and louder until the bartender came over and walked him to the door. Cindy and the bartender shook hands, before Cindy zipped up his pants and the cab came to take him home.
After he got there, Cindy remembered, he felt nostalgic and decided to toast to his lost or soon to be lost testicle. He pulled the two balls of hail he had saved in the freezer and put them in the bottom of a champagne flute and ran the rest of his Teacher’s Scotch over the top. He then raised his glass to the sky, mumbled Slainte. After that it got fuzzy, but that about captured the feel of it.
Cindy drank another glass of water at the sink and then hurried to his bedroom and threw on a pair of sweat pants and hoody. Cindy reeked of booze and hoped that they’d let it slide after he told them about the finding of the body and all that. He hadn’t had anything else past midnight as far as he could remember, and these four glasses of water would be his little secret.
He poured out extra food and fresh water for the cat. He then spent about a minute searching for his keys, before finding them hung from the key hole of the front door. Cindy looked around once more then looked down at his crotch and said, “take it all in my friend, it’s the last time you’ll ever be here,” and closed the door.