Richard + Bobby, Kisses, Alyce

Richard + Bobby,
Kisses, Alyce

Chapter 12: CRANBURY, NEW JERSEY  (Part 10, 11, and 12)

10

I’m on the road to the East Windsor YMCA. I’m concentrating on driving, pushing away the boy’s smile and memory. I focus on the roadside book of garbage I’ve read hundreds of times—markers, ads, signs, bits of litter. Slowly the smile fades away and I’m speculating as to why people must litter, why a clean car is more important than a clean road, as I pull into the Y’s parking lot. And that leads me to Richard, a prime violator.

11

I was composed and arranged by the time I reached home. I went directly to my room, saying nothing about the incident, or anything else, to my mother. Bobby frightened me and I didn’t doubt he was willing and capable of hurting me if I told on him. But fear wasn’t what stopped me. It was Richard, what Bobby said Richard thought of me, how Richard went out behind my back with other girls, girls willing to give him more than kisses, to allow him to go farther than groping under clothing. And how he could take a boy like Bobby for his friend. Before telling anybody about Bobby, I needed to talk to Richard.

Richard and I had planned a date for the evening and he picked me up at seven. We were going to the drive-in movies in Kills River in Bobby’s borrowed car.

As Richard drove, I compulsively glanced behind me, at the backseat, envisioning what transpired on it between Richard and me, and Richard and Terry just that afternoon, and with others like Terry.

“Babe,” Richard said, “what’s with the neck? Somebody following us? Maybe your father checking up on us?”

“No, nothing,” I said. “I don’t want to talk about it now.”

“Sure, anything you say, Babe.”

At the drive-in, Richard parked toward the back, over to the side, away from the route people usually followed to the concession stand and restrooms.

He slid his arm around me. “Cozy,” he said, pulling me to him.

I resisted and anchored myself next to the door.

“Hey, what’s eating you? Did I do something?”

“Bobby says you take other girls out in this car.”

He turned full on me. “Bobby said what?”

“You heard me.”

He laughed. “What a son-of-bitch. Forgive my French, Babe, but Bobby’s lying.”

“He said some horrible things about …” I couldn’t bear to utter the word, freighted as it was with disturbing images, and nodded toward the rear instead. “And there’s nothing funny about it.”

“Hey, I agree with you. Bobby’s pissed with me. Forgive my French again, Babe. Look, the guy wanted to double with us tonight.”

“I would never double with Bobby. Besides, no girl would ever date Bobby McFarlane.”

“I know, Babe. Why do you think Bobby’s mad? I told him you don’t like doubles. And I tried to fix him up with Terry Bishop. No luck.”

“He said you where with Terry this afternoon,” I said, casting my eyes to the back.

“I was. Bobby and I were cruising and passed her on Creek Road. She was riding her bike. Bobby asked me to give it another shot. I let him off and circled back to talk to her. Down in flames twice. If you can’t get a date with Terry, it’s hopeless.”

I was silent for a while, considering what he said, somewhat assuaged by it, and troubled, too.

“Richard, why didn’t you ask me when I talked to Bobby. You know I never talk to him?”

“Hmm, well, I figured you must of run into him somewhere.”

“He ran into me on the path by the creek when you were with Terry. He didn’t tell you?”

“No, Babe, not a peep. I guess he was too ticked about Terry.”

“He attacked me, Richard.”

“Attacked you?”

“He pushed me and knocked me down and said some foul, insulting things to me.” He tried pushing closer to me, but I held up my hands. “Don’t.”

“What did he say?”

“I can’t repeat what he said. It was too horrible. And he said terrible things about you, too.”

“Me?

“What you think of me, Richard, that I’m too prim and proper, that you see other girls because …” I had a difficult time forming the words. “That I don’t put out enough for you.”

Over the years, Richard learned to control his emotions, to project a placidity, a wall competitors, customers, associates, and his wife could not penetrate, an equanimity that, he boasted to me when I questioned his spiritual deadness, gave him the advantage, that put and kept me and the girls in the big house filled with an abundance of things. Early on, I didn’t notice him laying the bricks. That day I credited his fleeting stony reaction to being stunned by the loathsome behavior of a false friend, the way I would respond, as I did, regretfully, respond years later when Angie told me about Bobby and her.

“Babe,” he said, “I would never cheat on you. Not ever, because I never want to lose you. And because I know what it can do to people.”

“You do?” I said. I didn’t know what he meant, didn’t press him, assuming it was probably a girl, perhaps back on Staten Island.

“And it’s why I couldn’t betray a friend, even somebody who did something bad, like poor Bobby.”

“Poor Bobby?” I wheezed, virtually on the verge of tears over the tale of his parents, his wound, and his misguided compassion for Bobby McFarlane.

“The guy’s a mess, Babe. Don’t get me wrong, what he did to you, it wasn’t right. And you better believe he’s getting it from me. No way am I letting him take his frustration out on you. No way. He’s going to get it. But, you know, he’s such a sad sack. In a way, you’ve got to feel sorry for the guy.”

My incredulity was unrestrained and all I could do was exclaim, “Richard, are you insane? He assaulted me. He called me names. He said disgusting things about you, about us. And you’re, you’re making excuses for him? Richard?”

“I’m going to pound him, Babe. I’m going to set him straight. He’ll never do anything like that again, never. I promise. But with Bobby, you’ve got to understand.”

“Understand what, Richard? I understand he’s a lowlife, and he’s dangerous, and he could do something worse another time.”

“There won’t be another time, Babe. But—”

“But what? He’s your friend. He’s still your friend after what he did, what he said? Take me home, Richard, right now.”

I refused to see or talk to Richard for two weeks. He phoned. He visited my house. I saw him in the coffee shop and snubbed him. I was lashing back at him, hurting him, and myself, too. In the end, however, I missed him; I wanted him; I believed I needed him. And I persuaded myself that his staunch loyalty, even to someone like Bobby, was commendable. Richard was a boy I could trust, who I could count on to stand by me. In the end, I compromised on Bobby McFarlane: As long as I had nothing to do with Bobby, Richard could remain his friend. I suppose I believed eventually Bobby would betray Richard in a way he could not forgive.

12

I park in the YMCA lot and pick up Samantha and Emily in the all-purpose room. Other parents, mostly mothers, are doing the same, all of us waiting for our children to gather up the projects they’ve been laboring over for the past hour.

In the car, I ask Samantha about what she had worked on. “Nothing,” she says. She’s a teen and often sulky. I assume today it’s the YMCA camp, which she doesn’t like. She argues she’s too old for it. She’s probably right and I’ll have to find something else for her next year.

Emily volunteers that she’s been drawing and, from the backseat, inserts her creation between Samantha and me. It’s familiar, a brightly colored woman and two girls holding hands dancing in a circle. From the first time we lived in Cranbury, when Emily began drawing, I’ve thought of her as a fauvist, a little female Matisse. After our relocation to San Diego, I bought Samantha and Emily gifts, sort of welcoming presents to smooth away some of the edge of dislocation. Emily’s was a book of Matisse paintings and drawing, because I remembered her picture of a floating, disgruntled cow. Occasionally, in rare moments when she tired of her dervish larking, she’d flip through the book. I can see now the book has made an impression, for the drawing, in color and composition, bears a striking resemblance to “Dance.”

“Beautiful, Emily,” I say. “Looks like everybody is happy.”

“Maybe,” she says.

At least, I think, this time nobody in the picture is distempered.

THE END

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Richard + Bobby, Kisses, Alyce

Richard + Bobby,
Kisses, Alyce

Chapter 12: CRANBURY, NEW JERSEY  (Part 8, and 9)

8

I’m finished. I’ve been around the track twelve times, getting closer to my goal. I drag off the cinders, over to my backpack containing a jacket, a towel, and what I crave, the bottle of water. I gulp down half the contents and find myself breathing harder than when I was circling the track. The Peddie boys jog by as I’m wiping my mouth with my arm. The laggard smiles at me. Maybe he’s been smiling round and round the track. Maybe smiling is his natural state. I don’t acknowledge him. I remove my towel from the backpack and drop in the bottle. I give myself a quick wipe, face and arms. I shoulder the pack and head for my car. I toss a glance back and see the Peddie boy has been following me with his eyes and has fallen further behind his partner. He smiles again and I turn away quickly and climb into my car. But I can’t extinguish the smile.

9

Creek Falls is at the foot of a mountain, surrounded by woods and creeks, and summer there is lovely, and instills in me the urge to walk. Walking was how I got my exercise when I was growing up. And how I got around town, even after I had my driver’s license, since we owned only one car and my father used it for work.

In those first weeks with Richard as my boyfriend, he and I would walk with no purpose other than to be together. Often, we would find ourselves in the cemetery at St. Mary’s, usually atop the grave of some poor nun who, if she were able, would slap us silly and condemn us for our sacrilegious antics.

Other times, when Richard wasn’t available, I walked alone, walked and fantasized of our lives after we finished school. I was sure we would be together, married, with children, perhaps not in Creek Falls, but certainly nearby. My favorite walk was along the creek down the hill from our row house.

That summer Saturday afternoon I can’t recall why I was alone, where Richard was, though I’m sure I assumed he was with Bobby. But he wasn’t, because Bobby was with me on the path.

I’d been on the path for twenty minutes and was near the point where I turned around. The path begins in an area where there are houses, both close by and on the ridge above, where I lived. Farther on, where I usually turned for home, it was woods and the creek, the area looking much as it had before the Dutch arrived, when the long gone Wappingers tribes hunted the land.

I was devoting my full attention to the woods and the creek and the lore of the setting, listening for nothing more than the soft susurration of the breeze in the trees, the mellow babble of the water lazing around and over branches that had fallen into the creek, and the occasional scurrying of squirrels on the ground and in the trees. So, when I turned to retrace my steps, he startled me, and I whispered a scream.

“It’s only me,” Bobby said.

He wore blue coveralls and heavy brogans. A blue tee underneath showed through at the neck. The entire outfit was filthy with grease and grime smudges. His hair was wild, flying every which way, dirty too with grease. Only his eyes were clean and clear, big eyes, bright blue like a cloudless January sky, promising warmth but bitterly cold.

“What are you doing here?” I said.

“Walking, like you. Can’t I walk?”

“Sure, I suppose. It’s just you’re always in that car.”

“Ritchie’s got it.”

“Richard?”

“Yeah. What? You think you’re the only one who gets in that car with Ritchie?”

“I have to get home,” I said. I tried pushing past him, but he hopped in front of me, arms extended like a basketball guard.

“Yeah, but with you I don’t have to worry about cleaning the backseat.”

“Let me by, Bobby.”

But he kept bobbing left and right.

“Guess who’s in the car now.”

“Bobby.”

“Guess. Guess and I’ll let you go.”

I tried dodging around him, but he flung me back with an arm.

“Bobby, watch it. You’ll hurt me.”

“Who’s the biggest slut in school? Come on, you know. Terry Bishop.”

“She’s Mike’s girlfriend. You shouldn’t say things about her.”

“Mike McGrath. Big football star. Big asshole is what he is. You know what Ritchie says about Terry?”

“Bobby, I’m late.”

“There’s a bitch with a classy chassis. ‘Classy chassis.’  I love Ritchie. I mean, who can think of stuff like that?”

“Bobby, please, I don’t want to hear anymore.”

“Yeah, he told her, ‘Babe, I want to take that chassis of yours for a ride.’ ‘Okay,’ she said.” He snapped his fingers, thick, grimy, repulsive things. “Just like that, ‘Okay.’  Don’t believe me? Hey, I was there, cruising with Ritchie right up there on the road when she came by on her bike. What could I do? I had to let him take the car. It’s what Ritchie and me do. We share stuff.”

As he spoke, he inched closer to me, until he was on me, and seized my arm. He attempted pulling me to him. I twisted and yanked free.

“Stay away, Bobby.”

“What about a little kiss for your boyfriend’s best friend? Don’t you want to share like Ritchie?”

“Stop it, Bobby. I need to go home.”

“Ritchie says he can’t get to second base with you. I said, ‘You got it too easy, man, the girls falling all over you and all. Now me, I got to work harder.’  ‘So give it a try,’ he said. ‘Share and share alike, you know,’ he said.”

He lunged at me. Retreating, I tripped, fell, and rolled down the embankment to the edge of the creek. I scrambled to my hands and knees, stared up at him, tears flooding my cheeks, whispering a halting plea, “Leave me alone, Bobby.”

He laughed, a vicious howl. “Look at you, little Miss Goody Two-Shoes, crawling like a little doggie bitch.” More cruel laughing, then he said, “Miss Goody Two-Shoes,” mimicking the high pitch of a child, a bully, as if we were on a playground and his thrust had been malicious play, not an assault. “That’s what Ritchie calls you, Miss Goody Two-Shoes.”

I’m convinced to this day Bobby would have come down the embankment for me, if faintly, over the breeze and the burble of the water, had not drifted the incessant, impatient call of a car horn.

“No little goodbye kiss for Bobby?” he taunted, pursing his lips obscenely.

“Get out of here,” I screamed. “Leave me alone.”

He pivoted to the summons and then swung back. “Just remember, Ritchie’s my friend. Mine. You’d better not say anything. You get it?”

He didn’t wait for my answer. He scurried off the path and up the hill through the woods to the road, to the car, to Richard.

Richard + Bobby, Kisses, Alyce

Richard + Bobby,
Kisses, Alyce

Chapter 12: CRANBURY, NEW JERSEY  (Part 6, and 7)

6

He catches up with his friend, and they run side-by-side, and then burst into a sprint. A reversal overtakes me and their youth and speed and energy enervate me; for a moment all that occupies my mind is the water bottle in my backpack and the patch of grass upon which it rests and how delightful it would be to collapse next to it. But I’ve promised myself four miles by the end of summer and I am determined.

The Peddie boys pass my backpack and slow to a trot. Playfully, they slap at each other. It’s comradely roughhousing, boys showing they like each other, emotion stripped of sap, different than girls. With us, Angie and me, it was all emotion; terrible, painful emotion.

7

Angie, Rosemary, and I veered in different directions after we graduated from Creek Falls High. Angie went to Bennington in Vermont, Rosemary to Marymount in Manhattan, and I followed Richard to Rider in New Jersey. The week before we parted, we threw ourselves a going-away party at the best restaurant in Creek Falls, The Steakhouse. We vowed not to allow distance to separate us, to be friends forever. And though our interests were diverging, we managed with letters and holiday gatherings to maintain our friendship. When my wedding to Richard came around, we believed we were as close as we ever had been in high school. We weren’t, though. Our interests and ambitions were immutably dissimilar.

Four years at Marymount solidified Rosemary’s conviction that she had had been blessed with a vocation. She acted upon it by becoming a Carmelite novitiate, entering the strictest order, the Carmelite Hermit of the Trinity, and moving to a cloistered life in Slinger, Wisconsin. I haven’t seen her or heard directly from her, but my mother, who speaks with her mother, reports Rosemary is happy and at enviable peace in her devotions.

Angie was always the most opinionated of our group. At my wedding, she told Rosemary and me she’d been accepted at Fordham Law. She disappeared into her law studies, occasionally phoning to check in with me in New Jersey. However, after she graduated and passed her bar exam, I didn’t hear from her for some time, until Richard and I were spending a weekend with my parents. Samantha was a toddler then and Emily was in diapers. I recall the weekend vividly for two reasons. We’d been home the previous weekend and I wasn’t thrilled at traveling up to Creek Falls again with the girls. It was just too much hassle. Richard was insistent, the complete opposite of his usual complaining about lugging the girls and their paraphernalia north. We arrived on Saturday morning, another anomaly, since Richard insisted on dedicating the mornings to paperwork at his office, whether we were traveling or not. Late Saturday afternoon, while the girls napped and I helped my mother prepare dinner, with Richard vanished, palling around with Bobby McFarlane I assumed, for I still thought Bobby lived in town, Angie rang the doorbell.

Naturally, seeing her elated me; it had been such a long time. I excused myself from helping my mother and Angie and I sat in the living room. My mother made tea for us and served cookies; in Creek Falls, it was bad form to visit with a friend without refreshments. I told her about life in Cranbury, life with the girls, and she regaled me with her budding corporate career at New York Life, which, I admit, aroused jealousy in me, as by that time Richard had made it known he preferred me as a house Frau, and I was rankled by his demand.

After fifteen minutes of chatter, she said, “I’ve met someone.”

I took her hands in mine. “Angie, I’m so happy for you. Did you just meet him?”

“No,” she said, fidgeting her hands, pulling them away from mine. “I’ve known him for some time. I mean, we’ve been seeing each other.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Perhaps I was a bit pointed. I didn’t mean to be. I had no right to be, as we spoke by phone only occasionally. We weren’t quite the close friends we had been in high school. Nonetheless, she appeared uneasy, like she should have told me; that she had done something wrong.

I laughed. “Sure, I understand. You had to be certain this was the right one.”

She reciprocated with a feeble laugh of her own. “Well, not exactly,” she said. “You see, it’s someone we know.”

“You and I know?”

She nodded. “You, me, and Richard know him.”

I remember very distinctly drawing a blank. I honestly could not think of a single guy the three of us knew in common, and certainly not anyone in New York City.

“I want you to be my maid of honor, Alyce,” she said. “The wedding will be here in Creek Falls. A real hometown wedding. It will be wonderful.” But there was nothing wonderful in her tone.

“Of course, I’ll be your maid of honor. I’d never forgive you if I wasn’t.”

Relieved, she said, “Oh, I’m so happy. I was nervous. I don’t get nervous, big-time lawyer and everything, but I was, what with …”

I scooted closer to her, gathered up her hands again, squeezed with mine. “We don’t have to see each other everyday to be best friends. We’ll always be best friends, Angie. You know that, I hope.”

“I hope so, Alyce.”

“So, who is he, Angie? Who is this guy Richard and I know? I can’t imagine a single person.”

She was quiet for a long time, possibly assembling her thoughts, deciding what gushing adjectives best described her amazing man.

“Remember this?” she asked, freeing her hands from mine and displaying a middle finger.

I regarded the finger and her in utter befuddlement.

“Think, Alyce. Remember.”

I did remember, a cold winter day, shopping, strolling down main street, a blue car, a despicable boy, a stern proclamation, a raised gloved finger.

“Bobby! Not Bobby McFarlane!” I recoiled as his name shot from my mouth.

“I know how you feel about Bobby, Alyce—”

“You too, Angie,” I said, raising my finger.

“He’s changed.”

“Bobby will never change.”

“But he has, Alyce. He turned his life around. He’s a veterinarian now and has a big practice in Manhattan.”

“How did that happen?”

She related that he attended Roosevelt, discovered his calling, and studied at Cornell.

The Cornell?” I said.

She nodded. “You see, he has changed. Cornell doesn’t accept just anybody.”

“Well, anybody can run off a diploma on a computer,” I snapped.

“Alyce, you’re being unreasonable. Bobby is a different person, nothing like what you remember from high school. He even forgives you for not allowing him at your wedding.”

“Very big of him.”

“Richard’s going to be his best man, and Bobby really wants you to be my maid of honor. And so do I.”

“No,” I said. I didn’t take a second to consider her request, simply fired my no instantly, and shook my head fiercely.

“Alyce, I don’t understand you. Bobby’s a good man now. No matter what he was when we were kids, he’s a success now.”

“I can’t, Angie.”

“Okay,” she said, rising to leave. “Please think about it. Talk to Richard. Maybe the four of us can have lunch tomorrow. We can go to The Steakhouse. You’ll see.”

But we didn’t. Sunday, Richard and I argued from Creek Falls to Cranbury about Bobby and Angie and the wedding and, in his view, my ridiculous recalcitrance. During the week, I broke down and, though I had vowed long ago not to resurrect the reason, I reminded Richard why I vehemently hated Bobby. But it made no impression on Richard. They were like brothers, maybe more for all I knew.

The wedding went on without me, with Richard as best man, with the girls and me home in Cranbury.

The last time I spoke with Angie was that Saturday afternoon in my parent’s living room. I saw her once sometime later, after Richard told me she was pregnant, watched her and Bobby from a distance on a New York street.

Richard + Bobby, Kisses, Alyce

Richard + Bobby,
Kisses, Alyce

Chapter 12: CRANBURY, NEW JERSEY  (Part 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5)

1

My heart verges on exploding. What would it look like? Would my heart blow straight through my sternum, blast a gaping hole through my flesh, shoot clear out of me, veins and arteries trailing like tails of a red rocket? Probably not. Merely a vein or artery would rupture, as if I were suffering an aneurism; and my blood would flood into me, and drown me.

I jog along and grimace at the image like I do at movie murders, at the trial and sentencing of Richard and Bobby, defensively, to hide my abhorrence and horror, to deceive myself it’s fiction and I shouldn’t take it seriously. I can smile now, smirk actually; revel, maybe, at the foiling of their plot. Finally, I’m not suffering fits of screaming and crying and shaking, my reaction for weeks after my discharge from UCMC, lying in bed and shuffling around the house in Rancho Bernardo, studying the walls for the slightest hint of blue paint; sighing, relieved at the green and white, and, yes, the ubiquitous tan, too; and transporting my recuperation to my parent’s house in Creek Falls, but without the California ticks, adopting new quirks, especially my weekly pilgrimage to Angie’s grave to assure myself my recollections were genuine, the important incidences were authentic, and to gaze at myself reflected in the polished ebony tombstone and seek a forgiveness that she was beyond bestowing.

2

Two boys join me on the track. They wear white T’s with blue insignias and blue trunks trimmed in gold, Peddie colors, and Kreps colors, too. They must be in summer session, not making up anything, not at Peddie, but jumping ahead. We’re alike in that; I’m taking summer courses at Rider University, working toward my masters, advancing a pay grade at the Kreps Middle School, where I teach Language Arts.

They are stretching at what would be the start line, as if we are about to race. I pass them and observe them from the corner of my eye. They appear to be sixteen, lithe and almost mature, but still dewy. As I round the turn, they stride past me. They run smoothly, effortlessly, and at twice my speed, in perfect unison. They are a pair, a team, like Richard and Bobby. But, no; no two could ever be like Richard and Bobby.

3

An exploding heart is exactly what Richard and Bobby had planned for me: death by gargantuan gas embolism induced by a bull-, or more appropriate, cow-sized syringe. What truly happened is foggy, indistinct as if a dense mist encases my memory; and distorted, too, refracted in layers of nightmares, a weird, moist, jumbled membrane of reality and, I don’t know what, theater, melodrama; heightened terror fabricated by my mind to rouse me to defend myself. Whatever, it worked, or else I wouldn’t be rescued and here today, in a new house in Cranbury, an hour from picking up Samantha and Emily from summer day camp at the YMCA, trotting around the Peddie School track with my heart thumping to its gratefully expanding limit, and my legs churning, bending, lifting, protesting, reanimated from dead meat.

In my mind, I hum ancient nonsense, “I’m forever blowing bubbles.” Father McLaughlin surprised the St. Mary’s congregation once in the old days when I was Samantha’s age, adapting the tune to echo how he felt, the experience shared by my and all the parents, about paying for the new school I attended in another lifetime with Angie and Rosemary: “I’m forever writing checks.” I smile at the innocence. I watch Jacques Cousteau fin in the blue ocean somewhere exotic, trailing bubbles that drift up, up and away; and inside him I also see tiny bubbles of nitrogen lazily floating on the rivers of his life, through the caverns of his lungs and heart. I frown at these as they agglutinate into a single giant, surreal bubble that engorges Number Six and deposits him again in the Village, in a world removed, wet, as if fresh from a futile escape swim in the River Styx.

My thoughts now comprise a winding circle leading me back to the mammoth bubble Richard and Bobby had intended for me, the Vesuvius, the Krakatoa of gas embolisms I did escape.

4

I hear the cinders crunching behind, louder and louder, until the Peddie boys lap me. One boy stares ahead intensely, as if each step is a mathematical problem he has to solve before he can go on. His partner is looser, and drops a foot behind the other boy, not seeming to care he is lagging. As they pass, this boy directs a smile at me; maybe in response to the dumb grin I feel spreading over my face. I’m hot and sweating, tired and thirsty, my age and children and history weigh on me and act as brakes on my feet; and instantly his attention, casual and innocent, friendly and understanding, infuses me with youth, strength, and embarrassment, for I’m not seeing him as a boy in track shorts. Then I wonder what he and his partner will be; professionals, most likely, lawyers, doctors, and veterinarians. No, not vets, for vets are evil. Bobby McFarlane damned them for eternity. I know it’s unfair of me, but I can’t help myself. Whenever I drive past a veterinarian’s office, I grimace and an icy hand grips my spine and rattles me into insensibility. I’ve progressed, but not enough to embrace veterinarians, or the tools they use.

5

Richard, Bobby and Angie kept no secrets, and I knew the truth. But I wished none of it were true. When I visit Angie’s grave, which I do every time Samantha, Emily, and I spend a weekend at my parents, I implore her forgiveness, but receive back images of myself and events.

I suppose the root of everything was—is—my hatred of Bobby McFarlane. I simply could not believe he would make anything of himself. Yet he did. After Richard left for Rider, Bobby was alone with no prospects other than a mechanic’s job at the garage, where he was employed part-time while at Creek Falls High. I ignored him my last year of high school, going as far as avoiding the garage he worked at. While I was halfway through Rider, he enrolled at Roosevelt County Community College to earn an associates degree in auto mechanics. There, he discovered he possessed an aptitude for and enjoyed biology and chemistry. He decided on a career in veterinary medicine after Richard and I married. I never knew Bobby cared for animals; I always saw him as an animal. So, I guess his choice was something of a natural. He excelled at Roosevelt and gained admission to the veterinary program at Cornell. Bobby McFarlane at Cornell University was something I could not fathom. Nor could I believe he graduated near the top of his class.

After a one-year internship at the Cornell University Hospital for Animals, he was ready to move on. And on he did move, to New York City and joined the Manhattan Hospital for Animals on the upper Eastside. That’s where he treated Marshall, the cat of a young corporate lawyer at New York Life, Angie Tessaro, my best high school friend. Though I had barred Bobby McFarlane from my wedding, had forbade Richard from mentioning him, and had sequestered Bobby McFarlane in the deep recesses of my memory as best I could, I know all this to be true. Angie herself told me everything when she asked me to be her maid of honor at their wedding.

Richard + Bobby, Kisses, Alyce

Richard + Bobby,
Kisses, Alyce

Chapter 11: UCMC, SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA  (Part 7 and 8)

7

The strain of the day must have worn on my weakened condition more than I could imagine for before it seems they are gone not a minute I am blinking awake in a dimmed room. I glance toward the window. The curtains are pulled aside, revealing it is night. And by the deep quiet surrounding me, not even the squeak of a nurse’s shoe seeping in from the corridor, it is very late, perhaps early morning. An entire evening has vanished.

With every tired, aching muscle feeling rejuvenated and my eyes alert and cleared of stinging exhaustion, I decide to test the truth of Doctor Anya’s assurance. I attempt lifting my arms and raising them nearly perpendicular to my body. I’m pleased. Next, I try my legs. Not as successful, but, still, I manage to get them off the bed, and I sense I might be able to swing them over the side. Emboldened and happier than I have been since reviving, I plant my elbows and push up. I am surprised, for I lever myself into an almost upright position before gravity bears down and forces my head back onto the pillow. I blow a couple of labored breaths and grunt as I do. Why not, I tell myself, let’s go for broke? I think, I am making excellent progress, and I try pushing the words out into the room. And I succeed. Well, maybe I’m not perfectly comprehensible, but enough that anyone hearing me could understand me. I weep because, finally, I am back in the world.

8

I do not notice the activity outside my room for my sobbing; the world is real, but it is distorted, blurred, as if perceived through a wet windshield. And while I cry silently outside myself, inside the noise is distracting. It is not until I see shadows flashing back and forth across the threshold of my room that I become aware something is happening, something frightening. I give my nose a huge snuffing, enabling me to breath through it quietly. I wipe away my tears with arms and hands that are again useful and I distinguish the flickering shadows clearly.

Richard and Bobby move swiftly to my bedside. They flank me. Richard leans into my face. I have closed my eyes and evened my breathing.

“She’s sleeping,” he whispers.

“Good,” Bobby says. “Probably the meds.”

“Let’s hurry, Bobby. I don’t want her waking up.”

“Don’t worry,” he says. “She won’t be, not ever.”

I hear snapping, I think.

Then they stop and I feel Bobby grasp my arm, turn it over, run a finger over it, searching, finding what he is seeking. He presses lightly.

“Any last words for the dearly departed?” he asks.

Richard says, “Stop it, Bobby. Just do it.”

I blink my eyes open and stare directly into Richard’s.

“Christ, Bobby, she’s awake,” he bleats, struggling to keep his voice low.

“Not for long,” Bobby says.

I feel rested and strong, but mostly I am scared. I yank my arm from Bobby’s grip, thrush up and smack at the monster syringe he aims at my tubing.

I scream, “Nurse Rosenthal!  Doctor Anya!  Doctor Erlich!  Anybody!”

“Ritchie, hold her down for Christ’s sake.”

Instead, Richard pulls back, and as he does the room becomes bright and fills with people. They are police officers in blue and two in suits. One of them says, “Police. Step away from the bed.”

Bobby mutters, “Shit.”

Richard, already away, pedals back farther.

I close my eyes and exhale and hear only, “Arrest.”

I don’t open them until a nurse touches my arm and says, “They’re gone, Mrs. DeSantis.”

I’m crying unrestrainedly, inconsolably, and hiccupping my words. “Oh, Nurse Rosenthal, thank you. Thank you for believing me.”

She smiles down on me, a portrait of goodness, an angel of mercy, of life, a savior. But she’s not my nurse.

“Is Nurse Rosenthal off duty?” I ask, my eyes busted dams flooding my cheeks in tears.

“I don’t know any Nurse Rosenthal,” she says.

“No?” I say. “She was here last shift. Nurse Rosenthal and Doctor Anya.”

“You mean Doctor Larsen, perhaps? We have no Doctor Anya on the floor.”

“Doctor Erlich, then,” I say, thinking I could use a psychiatrist at this moment.

“No,” she says. “Mrs. DeSantis, you’ve been in a coma since you arrived two weeks ago.”

“I have?” I mutter.

The suited police return to inform me that Richard and Bobby are safely on their way to jail. They’ll be arraigned on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder, and various other counts that shoot past me.

I ask about Samantha and Emily, afraid maybe, in light of things, they don’t exist. They assure me my parents are caring for them.

After the police leave, the nurse suggests I rest.

I think hers is excellent advice. I lie back in bed. I am exhausted. I close my eyes and immediately I am asleep. And I am dreaming. I am dreaming about what is ahead of me, of seeing Samantha and Emily tomorrow, of arriving at home, of embracing my parents, of selling the house, of flying to where I loved living, to where life can be normal and hopeful.

Richard + Bobby, Kisses, Alyce

Richard + Bobby,
Kisses, Alyce

Chapter 11: UCMC, SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA  (Part 5 and 6)

5

I am reclining when Doctor Anya and Nurse Rosenthal enter. A man accompanies them. He is tall. He has a full head of shaggy, curly hair, reddish and dense. He is clean-shaven with green eyes slightly magnified behind oversize aviator eyeglasses. His face matches his hair and is lightly mottled, as if he is sensitive to the San Diego sun, or alcohol, or has rosacea; I can’t tell which fits best. He’s in a blue lab coat, under which he wears a tattersall shirt. His tie is loosened and kakis wrinkled. A name-tag hangs askew on his coat, but I can’t read it.

“Nurse Rosenthal showed me your note, Mrs. DeSantis,” Doctor Anya says. “And she told me about the syringe.”

I nod as vigorously as I can manage.

“This is Doctor Erlich. He’s a psychiatrist. I don’t want to upset you, Mrs. DeSantis. We take your note very seriously. However, given what you have been through, your condition, and the syringe, it’s important that we ascertain the situation.”

Real or perception? I think. I must appear disturbed, muttering and flailing as I am, for she reassures me, “We have notified the police.” I settle down.

Having delivered the doctor and her introduction, Doctor Anya and Nurse Rosenthal leave.

“Mrs. DeSantis,” says Doctor Erlich, “I won’t take much of your time. I have just a few questions. If you like, you can write your answers on your notepad, or just nod, if you prefer.”

I shrug.

“Good,” he says. “How is your relationship with your husband?”

Lousy, I write. We’re divorcing.

He asks the reasons.

Unfaithful. Hiding money. Controlling.

He asks about abuse.

No physical.

He asks if the desire for divorce is mutual.

No. It’s my idea.

“He’s not pleased,” he says.

More.

“He’s angry.”

He’s murderously angry.

“Hmm,” he says. “What’s Doctor McFarlane’s role in this?”

Richard’s best friend from high school.

I hand him a fresh note with each response. He saves each, stuffing them into his pants pocket, just like Richard does with his notes.

“What do you know about Doctor McFarlane?”

Everything. I knew him in high school. A bum, a grease monkey, a hood. I consider and reject mentioning Angie and my suspicions, for fear I will sound paranoid. I am, of course, but there’s nothing abnormal about my mental state under the circumstances, and I don’t want to give the impression there is.

He ponders for a moment. I stereotype him in his office, a cramped and stuffy place, a mess of papers, dust motes sparkling in sunlight, and he puffing a pipe, leisurely, savoring the stinging smoke, maybe even amusing himself with a ring or two.

“In some respects,” he says, “Doctor McFarlane sounds admirable. From town tough and mechanic to physician, quite an accomplishment.”

He studies me for a reaction. I am reacting. He must have spoken with Bobby, and maybe Richard, too. I’m angry he could believe Bobby is admirable. Bobby is despicable. He wears his loathsomeness like a bad suit. It’s so obvious. He’s ruined Richard. He’s trying his damnedest to kill me.

He says, observing me closely, “Wouldn’t you concede all of us are a conglomeration of good and bad?”

When I don’t respond, he says, “Well, Mrs. DeSantis, you rest. We’ll talk again, soon.”

6

I do rest. I sleep, a black sleep, like death, a void of time. When I awaken, I hear Doctor Anya’s hushed voice. “She’s just sleeping. She is mending quite well.”

Nurse Rosenthal is with her, and she’s talking to Samantha and Emily. They are standing side by side on my right. Samantha’s face is a mosaic of fear. Emily’s is puzzled, as if she is the doctor giving me a visual examination, inspecting for broken parts.

I mumble words that, to my ears, resemble something like, “Hi girls.” Doctor Anya hands me my pad and pen and I write the garbled greeting, Hi girls!

“When are you coming home?” Emily asks.

Soon, I write.

“What’s soon?” she asks. Samantha nudges her. “But I want to know,” she mutters, bumping back.

“Now don’t you two start up.” His tone is restrained, but stern. “Mom has quite a recovery ahead of her. Right doctor?”

Doctor Anya answers, “Yes, it is true that Mrs. DeSantis…” She pauses. “Your mother will be in hospital for a while. However,” she smiles, “she’s doing very well. Tomorrow, I believe your mother will be talking. Now that will be splendid, won’t it?” She’s addressing the girls, and Richard, too, reassuring him along with them.

Doctor Anya’s comforting speech and her soothing demeanor toward Richard angers me, and drives me to despair. She and Doctor Erlich place no credence in my note. Why can’t they comprehend a husband murdering his accidentally injured wife in a hospital? I know it’s been done before, and by whom.

“Okay, girls,” Richards injects, “we don’t want to wear Mommy out. Let’s say good night and we’ll see her again.”

“When?” Samantha asks.

I hope I see you again, Samantha and Emily. I pray I do. But I detect in Richard’s eyes, in their feral flitting, in the snidely turned corners of his mouth, a reluctant, insincere smile, he’s anxious for this to be a farewell.

“Soon,” he answers.

“Tomorrow?” Emily presses.

“Maybe, if she’s better. If the doctor gives us permission. Now, let’s say goodbye.”

Samantha bends and kisses my dry lips. Hers are warm pillows and her breath is sweet, fresh with life.

Emily tries climbing on my bed. Nurse Rosenthal intercepts her. “I don’t think your mother’s up to it young lady,” she says, a hint of longing in her voice, maybe for a child grown and gone.

Richard takes their hands and going out the door they wave with their free hands and gush “Goodbyes,” and “We love you, Mommies,” into the corridor.

Nurse Rosenthal straightens my sheets and light counterpane, while Doctor Anya stresses I get a good night’s rest and everything will be much better in the morning.

I wish I could believe her.

Richard + Bobby, Kisses, Alyce

Richard + Bobby,
Kisses, Alyce

Chapter 11: UCMC, SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA  (Part 2, 3 and 4)

2

I’ve been sleeping for two weeks and, while I am exhausted and incapable of much more than staring, I don’t wish to sleep again, at least not immediately.

Though the lights in the room are dim, I now can see distinctly. My room, my covers, the privacy curtain, Doctor Anya’s scrubs, and pants of Nurse Rosenthal’s uniform, are blue, ceil, the color of the sky. It’s the color I have been encountering, it seems, for my entire life, when I realize that in my coma I’ve been living parts of my life. Some of my reconstructions were true; some, however, like the blue, weren’t, couldn’t have been. But what, besides color, was true and what false?

Bobby is true. I knew him. He was a hood, a grease monkey, a petty thief, a zero. How was it possible for him to transform himself into a doctor? What did I miss or forget? And did he really murder Angie? For that matter, did Angie actually go down to New York, become a lawyer, and meet and marry Bobby? It is possible she still lives and is back home in Creek Falls.

Richard, maybe I’m wrong about him. We did argue before the car, the blue car, hit me. That certainly would explain my feelings toward him, my recreation of him as the greatest marital ogre since Bluebeard.

As for the color blue, this room is blue, and the car that put me here was blue. Has the predominance of the blue merely suggested itself to me and have I used it to color this life I have built in my mind? What is real? Does reality exist for me anymore?

I close my eyes.

3

Next I open them I sense that time as elapsed. I can’t validate my feeling by anything in the room. Everything is the same. There is a window, but it is covered; the light hasn’t changed in the room. But time has passed because I am different. I can move. I can lift my head, and my arms. I try to raise my legs. My reward is immobility and pain.

I turn my head right and left. I see a buzzer pinned to my pillow. I smile. Nurse Rosenthal and Doctor Anya are optimists. I reach my right hand across myself and grab the buzzer. I push the button.

Nurse Rosenthal appears over me.

“See, Mrs. DeSantis,” she says.

I try to acknowledge that indeed I do see, but I still am grunting and groaning.

“It’ll come,” she reassures me. “Before you know it, you’ll be calling for me. It’s morning, you know. How about I open the curtains and get you back in the world.”

I nod that I would like that.

Sunlight floods the room as she pulls back the curtains. My eyes ache and I blink.

“Too much?”

I shake my head. I want to say I’ll get use to it again; that knowing it is day and the sunlight itself makes me feel normal; that I will never again complain about the constancy of San Diego’s weather.

“It is nice,” she says, as if she hears my thoughts. “Anything I can get for you, Mrs. DeSantis?”

Yes, you can, Nurse Rosenthal. I must tell you and Doctor Anya about Richard and Bobby. It’s essential I communicate with you.

I raise my right hand and slowly scribe the air.

“Pen and pad?” she says. “I’ll bring them to you next time I’m in here.”

My chest tickles like it always does when I am excited. I settle into the pillow for a short nap, much as I would like to enjoy the day; but I am sharing their optimism; I will have many more days like today to look forward to.

4

Suddenly, my head is alive with buzzing, as if a busy hive of industrious bees has established residency in me. The buzzing is soft, intentionally, as if the bees are trying not to disturb me.

My eyes fly open. Now nothing is blurred or obscured. I know exactly where I am and who is in the room with me.

The curtains are open, but the room is dim. Nonetheless, Richard and Bobby are unmistakable. They huddle at the foot of my bed. Bobby works at opening a long rectangular box. Richard encourages him to hurry, quickly, before the nurse comes in. Bobby growls he’s going as fast as he can. He doesn’t want to stab himself. My waking must be a terrible disappointment to Richard, yet another blemish on my abominable wifely rap sheet.

As he fends off Richard’s urgings, what is in his hand reflects at me. It’s an enormous syringe, larger than anything I’ve ever seen, more suitable for treating a horse, or even—I can’t account for this thought—for inflating a bicycle tire.

Preoccupied, they don’t see my hand reach across me and grasp the buzzer. I depress the button, hold it, and pray the savior, Nurse Rosenthal, is at the station. I am at this for several seconds before Richard catches me.

“What are you doing, Babe?” he asks, weirdly composed, almost professional.

“Stop her,” Bobby orders, fiddling with the syringe, getting its weight, I think, as if he too has never seen or handled something so absurdly gigantic.

I grip the buzzer with every ounce of my renewing strength, but Richard easily removes it from my hand. Bobby, on the opposite side, sneers. “Glad to see you’re feeling better, Babe.”

He’s just taking hold of the IV tube, when Nurse Rosenthal enters. She holds a notepad and pen.

“Doctor McFarlane,” she calls, her tone sharp, “what are you doing? What is that thing?”

“Richard,” he says.

Richard acts by confronting Nurse Rosenthal. “I’ve asked Doctor McFarlane to help my wife, nurse.”

Placing the notepad on the bed, by my hands, she says, “You have every right to ask for Doctor McFarlane’s help, Mr. DeSantis. But before he can administer any medications, he needs authorization and it must be on Mrs. DeSantis’ chart.” To Bobby, “Have you consulted with Doctor Auschlander or the attending, Doctor Anya?”

“They weren’t available,” he answers, still with the tube and the mammoth syringe poised.

“Then you’ll have to wait. Sorry, but those are the rules.”

Bobby has always had a temper. It is another of his dislikable traits. He is capable of containing his rage, but beyond a point he loses control of himself. It happens infrequently, but the potential is always present, as it is at this moment.

Bobby’s face reddens, his knuckles whiten until I believe he will shatter the syringe, and he trembles slightly. But now is not one of those times for fitful action, and he relaxes. “Okay, sure, the rules are important. You can’t have just anybody showing up and changing orders. Who is floor supervisor tonight?”

“Anne Rodriguez.”

“Thank you,” Bobby says, releasing the tube. Heading to the door, he passes the syringe to Richard.

Richard stands awkwardly with the syringe that could work as a tire pump or a grease gun. He raises it. He lowers it. Up and down, he can’t decide the best position for his hand and the syringe.

“Mr. DeSantis, would you mind giving that thing to me?”

“No, I can’t. Doctor McFarlane entrusted it to me.”

“Okay. But would you at least step away from Mrs. DeSantis. We wouldn’t want her injured accidentally. Why not take a seat?” she says, pointing to the room’s lone chair, a recliner.

He follows her direction and sits.

During their exchange, while she diverts his attention, I write a note. When Nurse Rosenthal glances back at me, I tap the notepad. She picks it up and reads:

Please, I’m not insane. Dr. McFarlane and my husband intend killing me. Take me seriously. Call the police.

The nurse’s station can’t be far from the door because we hear raised voices. They volley for a minute or so. Nurse Rosenthal strikes the notepad against her hand thoughtfully. What is happening beyond the doorway is distracting Richard as Nurse Rosenthal removes my note returns the pad to me.

“Well, Mrs. DeSantis, it appears you are making excellent progress, better than we could have hoped. I think Doctor Anya will want to see you in a wheelchair tomorrow, and after that it’s probably a short time until you’re in therapy. You must be very happy, Mr. DeSantis. Looks like you’ll soon have your wife back good as new.”

Richard smiles wanly. Nurse Rosenthal mimics him; artifice, for her eyes work hard scrutinizing him, probing for insincerity that will confirm what I’ve written. I know she’s at least suspicious; otherwise, she would leave me in the room with Richard and the syringe.

Bobby reenters the room. He is flushed and vexed. He takes the syringe from Richard.

“I guess we won’t need this,” he says, running his eyes over the three of us. “I’ll be leaving,” he says to Richard. “If you want to stay, I can call a cab.”

Richard jumps up. “No, no, I’ll be on my way to. Business to take care of.”

He walks over to me, bends, and aims to kiss me on my lips. I turn away from him and he grazes my check.

“I’ll be back later,” he says, frowning down on me. “I’ll bring the girls.” Looking up at Nurse Rosenthal, “If that’s okay?”

“I think that would do Mrs. DeSantis’ spirits a world of good.”

Richard follows Bobby into the corridor.

Nurse Rosenthal watches, her expression inscrutable. Is she keeping an eye on a pair of prospective murders? Or is she admiring a father who cares for his wife and daughters? I can’t decide, and my desperate concern that she doesn’t believe me, regards me as yet another severely damaged patient who continues to hallucinate after waking from her coma, attacks me like vicious red ants; tiny pain, like pricking, erupts from my head to my feet.

And she provides no relief when she says, “Rest, Mrs. DeSantis. And try not to worry too much,” and goes into the corridor.

It is remarkable, my progress since I woke from my coma. Now I can almost sit up in bed, and I test my ability. I want to know what floor I am on. I can’t imagine a hospital with patient rooms on the first floor, but you never know. I catch a bit of the local scenery. I’m facing another building in a complex and floors appear to be below the ones I glimpse. I’m not too paranoid, I tell myself, but with a maniac like Bobby, it pays to be sure. I have no doubt he’d clamber through a window to get me, if he could.