P.S. Ehrlich - June 2002
Rising and Shining
At a very wee hour indeed Skeeter awoke from dreams of distant flushes. It was muggy and close in the motel room; bare-mattress buttons were digging into her flesh, and she became aware that Jim wasn’t lying beside her or in the bed at all but was off crouching in a far corner. And the moment Skeeter realized this, the light snapped on.
"Ack! Turn that off!"
"Get up. Get dressed. We’re getting out of here. Now."
"You been sick? Thought I heard the toilet—"
"Now, I said."
"Well Jeez what’s your hurry, is the place on fire?" (Sleepy cackle.) "Oughta be, after what we—"
He reached for her and she reached acquiescently back, only to be hauled out of bed.
"Well okay already, I’m up!… what time is it? Feels like I’ve hardly been asleep…" She found her watch and squinted: "2 AM, are you inSANE? I’m going back to bed—"
"Get up! Doing this for your own good."
"Oh right. Getting up at 2 AM always does me good. (Yawn.) Well, you wanna leave, we’ll leave. Lemme just hop in the shower—"
"No! No showers! Get dressed."
"I can’t just get dressed, I hafta have a shower first."
"Do as I say!"
"Well hoopa hoopa hoopa. I’m at least gonna wash my face. Can’t start the day off all sweaty ‘n’ messy, even (yawn) at 2 AM."
Groggily grumbling, she put on her glasses to find her poke and dig out bathroom gear; padded into the bathroom, found a washcloth, took off her specs, laid them on the sink-rim, ran water, unwrapped a bar of motel soap—and dropped it, as Jim loomed up in the doorway.
"Wanna have a seat?" she asked, indicating the open toilet.
Feeling creepy-crawl and goosey-bump, Skeeter scrubbed her face and throat and further south; rinsed, toweled, stretched to hang towel and washcloth over the shower rod, hoping vaguely that the sight of her backside might warm the blood and thaw the atmosphere.
She rolled on Secret, tended to her teeth, brushed her hair a little, put her glasses back on—and found an ashen face staring back at her, immobile, from the mirror. Heeeere’s Jimmy. No longer the Fairest Sven of All. He looked like a disappointed something-seeker who’d tripped over an unseen obstacle and, in doing so, had let the something he was seeking go astray.
Skeeter felt in no hurry to turn around.
She tried edging further away, squeaking aloud at the sudden touch of cold sink on her bare belly. What is the MATTER? she wanted to ask, but an amazing colossal stupendous yawn was taking possession of her mouth, and when it reached apogee—
—Jim sank a hand into her thick head of fizzy-frizzy saffron hair—
—Hey! Skeeter was thinking, and Ow and This isn’t funny at all—
—when Jim burst forth spitting fire like some forkchinned Viking god of old, bellowing "WAKE UP!!" from multiple heads according to Skeeter’s pain-blurred senses, "WAKE UP!!" as he twisted her bodily round with his right hand, raising the knotted-knuckled left on high—
…Back when Skeeter was eleven years old she’d managed to knock over an entire bookcase, trying to extract Portnoy’s Complaint from the top shelf where her sister had wedge-hidden it. Portnoy, not yielding to tugs alone, had brought along his friends and neighbors and their mutual home; and Skeeter, making only a token attempt to stem this title wave, soon lay crushed like Salomé beneath the soldier’s shields.
Such fates never befell Skeeter Kitefly.
But she had been trapped for a few exciting minutes till the terrified Sadie could excavate her, apologizing for having tempted a preteen with the forbidden. Sadie hadn’t even wreaked revenge till two whole weeks later, in a sneak attack that Skeeter still meant to get even with her for, one of these days…
Jim Midge struck her then (and again—and again—and again) in the here and now: not as one might slap a comatose, but with crosswise Thor-blows up side her head that knocked her glasses clattering off and gave her hair a fearsome yank as she fell floorwards, missing the sink-rim and tub-edge but bouncing off the wall, landing partly on the bathmat but mostly on the cold hard tiles.
A few shockwaved seconds later she went "SHITFACED ASSHOLE" and followed that up with an "Mmmmmmm…"
…only to be drowned out by Jim who, in trying to draw breath, experienced a noisy comeuppance of all his inner drains.
There was a crash and a thrash and a splurgling eruption.
Skeeter, feeling distractedly around the tiles, found her glasses or rather her glass: one lens was gone, the right one, popped out of its sprung-open frameside. She put on what remained and discovered James James Morrison Morrison Midge with his head in the head, not making vast movement or even a whole lot of bubbles.
Again and again she butt-sidled past the legs to get to the bathroom door, and out it, and up. Taking sharp notice for the first time, again and again, of several thudding headaches, and that it hurt to walk or move or even stand because of the bruises on her hip. Going by instinct she found and donned fresh underwear again and again, a pair of jeans, a tank top—one of his, she would later realize—and stuffed random items in her poke. Blinking blankly at the motel room, like that astronaut at the end of 2001. Repeatedly she tiptoed out, sneakers in hand, taking innumerable dazed pains to close the door behind her without a telltale snick—only to find herself back on the bathroom floor once more, again and again and again…
By the time she got onto the Interstate, the right side of her face had swollen up and turned an orangey-magenta shade she’d never seen before. Certainly had never squinted at in a rearview mirror with one eye through one lens. For many miles it was almost the only color to see, but not for many more did she chance another glance.
Wanting all the while to pull over; stepping on the gas instead. When precious little was left to step on, she stopped to fill up and buy some ice from an all-night service station, whose mummified attendant offered neither comment nor comfort.
Driving as best she could while pressing the ice to her puffed-shut eye, stricken temple, outraged scalp. No external ooze of blood to staunch, at least; no drop of tear or even sweat to wipe. But something was leaking, leaking away to the tune of her constant mmm-mmm-mmm—and it was NOT good, whatever the Campbell Soup Kids might say.
Keeping pedal pressed to metal as though ominous music was in pursuit; but out of the radio came only static. Few lights were on the freeway and scarcely any traffic, which was just as well as the car began wandering from lane to lane. The summer dawn seemed on indefinite back order, but as she neared home the shades of Nowhere Land gave way to a kind of blueish light, welling up as it were from the asphalt as she took the offramp and descended into dismal urban streets.
Once familiar, now silent and deserted except for a few furtive indigent creatures: shadowy blue Beelzebub streets, which yawned and gaped at Skeeter Kitefly from the heart of the city Demortuis.