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44. CORA: French Diplomacy

ora was awake, daylight just beginning to sift through the windows, though she was not sure she had ever fallen asleep.

She could remember sitting alone in the living room, feeling so restless and helpless knowing Juliette was out there somewhere. Finally, she’d lain down on the sofa, her mind alive with images of her little girl in the woods, or on the dark streets: Somewhere beyond Cora’s reach. Or were those dreams?

Now she was awake, itchy to get out there and find her daughter.

She heard voices, male voices, heavy footsteps on the wooden stairs. They seemed to be speaking French. She shook her head, wondering if she was hallucinating. Or hallucinating again.

Then the door banged open.

There stood Medhi, her ex. With him was Hugo, Juliette’s ex. Or current: Cora never could keep that straight, and suspected Juliette couldn’t either.

At any other moment, Cora would have started screaming at Medhi for all his sins, would have pushed him back down the stairs or run out into the street herself.

But now, after only a moment’s hesitation, she walked straight into his arms.

Letting her forehead rest against his shoulder, breathing in the starch of his shirt, the musky scent of his neck, feeling the tickle of his hair against her cheek, feeling herself release all the worry and all the tears, brought back every moment she’d spent like this with him over all the years. Weeping for joy when he asked her to marry him and when she found out she was pregnant with Juliette. Crying in pain when she lost pregnancy after pregnancy and later when her mother died. Medhi’s steady strength, his warm shoulder and his hand on her back had been the constant through all the most important events of her life.

“It’s all right, I’m here, we’ll find her,” he said, and she let herself cry harder, collapse into him more thoroughly.

I was such a fool to ever leave, she told herself. I never should have taken Juliette away, never should have left Paris, should have learned to live with this man, my husband, no matter what.

“What I don’t understand,” Medhi said, gently stepping away from her, “is how our daughter got lost in the first place.”

(more…)

39. GEORGE: Dumping Out the Boxes

eorge was bent over a horse’s hoof, trying to dig out whatever was making the animal limp, when Jamie McAdams collapsed into the mud right in front of him.

He might have heard Jamie stagger into the barn if it weren’t for the general din of the racetrack all around him. But instead his focus had narrowed to a few square inches of equine flesh and bone, the way he needed to keep things these days. He thought of his life as a smooth plain with a series of boxes on it. In the first most important box was Beth, in another box their room at the Barstow, in another his extended family, in another the track and the horses under his care. He stayed calm by dealing with the contents of only one box at a time.

There was a large, torn, dirty, messy, crammed-full box that was Taryn, but that one he’d sealed up with extra-strong tape and put into storage.

If Jamie McAdams fit in any of the boxes, it was deep in one shadowy corner of the Taryn box. Not somewhere George wanted to go.

“God, man, what’s going on?” George said, feeling not all that alarmed, moving not all that quickly.

Jamie was drunk, was his first guess. High, second. Generally messed up, next.

It wasn’t until he bent over Jamie, touched his skin, looked in his eyes, saw the condition of his clothes — in particular, his jeans — that he grew alarmed.

“Jamie,” he said, shaking the man, the doctor in him taking over from the devastated husband, the helping-sick-people box taking precedence over the hating-guys-who-fucked-my-wife box. “Jamie, what happened to you?”

Jamie seemed to rouse. “Annie,” he croaked. He brought one filthy trembling hand slowly to his thigh. “Eating my ball.”

His jeans were ripped there, no torn, no eaten away, it looked like. Suddenly George understood. There’d been some kind of accident involving anhydrous ammonia — Annie, some of the meth makers called it — and it had seared through Jamie’s clothes and was undoubtedly burning into the skin beneath.

“All right,” George said, trying not to panic. The treatment, short of a hospital burn unit, was water, lots of water, but it was supposed to be administered immediately after contact with the highly caustic chemical, one drop of which could melt a man’s testicles, turn his eye to jelly, render him unable to speak. George ran and got the hose, big enough to put out a fire in the barn or to spray down a couple dozen horses. He didn’t want to drown Jamie, just wash away what he could of the poison before he even attempted to do anything else. Then George turned on the water, hard enough to wash off the powerful ammonia, gentle enough not to flush away Jamie’s genitals with it.

(more…)

13. JAMIE: Kissing the Toad

ive me another hit.”

Jamie held out his hand, expecting someone would put a pipe into it. But his fingers just hung there, empty.

“That’s it, man,” said Donnie, the guy whose mother owned the cabin.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” said the red-headed guy, Travis. “There’s got to be something else here, somewhere.”

Travis, whose eyes were looking as red as his hair, hopped up from the torn black leatherette couch and began pawing through the litter of plastic soda bottles and unbleached coffee filters, baggies and empty cold medicine packages, hunting down an overlooked kernel of crank they’d been cooking up in the kitchen, or bud of marijuana they’d been growing out the back door. The longer he searched, the more agitated he grew, flinging the filters up in the air, scattering the soda bottles across the floor.

“Chill, dude,” Jamie said.

This was why he wanted to keep his crank consumption under control. He was doing pretty well at it too; he was proud of himself for that. It was probably because he was far more intelligent than your average meth head. He remembered half these tweakers from kindergarten. They were stupid then, running around in circles until they fell on the floor, just like Travis there.

“What are we gonna do?” said Travis.

“I’m gonna go see DaShawn,” said Donnie. Donnie’s mom thought it was nice that Donnie brought his friends up there to hunt and fish. Said she was glad the place was getting some use, now that she’d moved down to Mobile. “Anybody coming?”

“I’ll go with you,” said Tiff, who danced down at the Go Go with Taryn. Wait a minute: Where was Taryn? She’d never shown up — was that last night? The night before? It was hard to keep it straight.

Jamie should get out of here too. Go see what had happened to Taryn. Check in on the old man. Change shirts.

Plus, he had the nagging feeling he was forgetting something else. Something important. What was it? He cycled again through the list of possibilities: Taryn, Dad, cats….

Ah, fuck it. If it was important enough, someone else would do it.

(more…)

9. DARRELL: Bad Luck

arrell couldn’t believe his luck: A college girl. College girls definitely had sex all the time, with as little fuss as popping open a Diet Coke. They also all smoked pot pretty much constantly. At least that’s what his brother DaShawn had told him, and DaShawn had been up to Fayetteville studying business for almost a whole year.

But this girl, Julie something, only looked at him strangely when he asked whether she had a J. And even if sex was going to happen at some point, you couldn’t just make a grab for it as if she was one of the hos down at the Go Go. You couldn’t even make a grab for it with a ho, DaShawn told him. No matter what you were doing and with whom — DaShawn actually used words like that: whom — it was important to do it with style.

Remembering this advice was what gave Darrell the idea to take Julie to the Futureama. He’d tagged along behind DaShawn there late one night. DaShawn told him how the old fortune teller lady, Jimmie Sue, left the windows cracked no matter how cold or hot the weather, so the spirits could move around and shit. She left her money, wrapped in a nasty old silk snot rag, in the top drawer of her big old carved dresser, right beside her magic cards.

Do not touch those cards, DaShawn had warned Darrell, taking half the money from the silk cloth and putting the rest back. Those cards are evil. They will bring you harm.

DaShawn showed Darrell how to screw off the head of the big black buddha, where the pot was stored inside. The old fortune teller lady must grow her own, DaShawn said, and it was fine.

So every once in a while, when he was feeling brave, on nights when he just needed to get out of the house and wander, he’d come over here, let himself in, smoke a little dope, help himself to a bill or two, and slip out. Never with anybody else, though. Not until tonight.

“What are you doing?” the girl, Julie, asked, looking around, rubbing her arms, as he raised the back window of the Futureama, gently lowered his banjo inside and prepared to follow.

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