Hrunting / Anique Bailey

Sammy wake up. This is what you say to yourself, but really to her. Sammy wake up. For nine long, empty hours you plead the floor, and you’ll plead nine more, if that’s what it takes, if that’s what makes this better. You sit stiff and silent by her side, neck bent, eyes wide, dry, waiting, staring, praying, though you don’t really know how to pray. You hope you’re doing it right, you hope you aren’t just pissing off the powers that be and that these past nine hours haven’t just been to get back at your awkward Hail Mary or your half-assed Buddhist chants. You hope she wakes up, and you hope she’s okay, that everything’s okay, because no one’s told you a damn thing since you got here, so you‘ve had to run on faith (and maybe you’ve run as far as you can.)

*

Denver throws Carla’s purse off an overpass and watches three cars smash it to bits, watches a fourth try to avoid handbag shrapnel, but it’s too late, that shit is gone—gone and good riddance. He ignores Carla and Carla’s furious squawk-squeals, a riot of parrots tied together in a miniskirt and denim jacket. Looks like a woman, sounds like a birdhouse, smells like the contents of a Macy’s fragrance counter. He tells her to piss off and tries leaving her in traffic. She sticks to him like a grudge. They are both plastered, for entirely different reasons.

*

They said they’d done everything they could, but they didn’t do jack, just stopped the bleeding, slapped on a few bandages, shoved a tube down her throat. They said it’s up to Sammy if she lives or dies now. She has to want it, fight for it. This is their way of absolving themselves, but there’s nothing you can fucking do about it. When the nurses make their rounds, they make them quietly, quickly, and it feels less like a checkup and more like a check-off: clinical, procedural. Right now you are the only person who can help Sammy, and you don’t even know how.

You don’t.

*

He shuts out her words and her grasping hands, shuts himself into his own strange crusade, thinks about points and lines and time. He finds a bar he hasn’t pissed off yet and asks for the nastiest thing the bartender can make. Carla has not taken the hint—less a hint, more a blatant order—and hooks herself to his belt loop, talks Prada at him.

*

The pall of death has settled against her skin, and she is cold (and cold and colder). You wonder if this is how young people die, violent and abrupt and wrong. You don’t know; your parents died sick and old and slow. You and Sammy had clasped warm, dark hands together at their deathbeds, at their funerals, and now you’re thinking about funerals, but she’s not dead.  She’s not dead.

*

Some douche calls after Carla’s ass and Denver knocks one of his molars out. They are kicked out of this bar too, and Carla is torn between pleased and puzzled. She oscillates from one to the other while Denver looks for someone else to fight, for points and lines, for some kind of passing sign.

*

Sammy isn’t dead yet when they come for you. (That they come at all is a dull surprise.) She hasn’t woken up yet, but she isn’t dead. You want to ignore them, you want them to go away, but they tell you it’s important, it’s about Sammy, about what happened when you ditched your little sister for a date and a bar crawl. You get up, forbid Sammy from dying before you get back, and follow the badges down the hall where they’re not bothered by the feeble reminder of Sammy’s mortality, stumbling and stuttering.

*

He tries telling Carla to fuck off, go home, but she is a leech, deaf to his mindless chants. She’s glued to his side, half holding him up, half dragging him back, leading him down familiar streets he doesn’t want to be led down. Long dark legs down long dark streets.

*

You watch their shoes (heels lift and settle, polished black leather flashes in hospital lighting) as they give you the rundown, the basics. They outline what happened for you, and you can’t feel it. They talk about witnesses and statements and ECPs. Their shoes mutter impatience and boredom. Your shoes sigh in frustration, your jaw clenches over all the words that would change the body down the hall into a girl (two weeks from twenty-three, a year and five months from graduating with a bachelors in molecular biology, prefers dogs over cats, lasagna over spaghetti, smoking over drinking, parents deceased, one older brother, still alive. You’re still alive. You’re still alive, and it’s wrong.)

 

They use words you’ve only joked about, words you’ve used in frustration and false bravado with friends, empty and meaningless and now they’re loaded and gunning for you; every use comes back and slides into your skin, sharp and stinging. Everything you’ve ever laughed at is haunting you from a hospital bed, and you know this is your fault. You think about grudges, about dinner plans canceled for booze runs, about long dark legs and slender fingers, about stupid spats and the lonely sound of dial tones.

 

Your head is clicking into a foreign place, far removed, but infinitely more inviting than right here, right now.

*

The batting cages are dark and empty and Marcus lets him—them—in despite how drunk he—they—is—are. Denver, for one strange moment, thinks Marcus knows and hates him for it. Loves him for it, for his understanding, for his unexpected omniscience, for his quiet solidarity.

 

Carla’s smart enough to stay the hell out of the cage but not enough to clear the fence; she hooks painted nails through metal links and presses her face against the cold mesh. She’s stopped talking about Gucci or Fiore and started crying, started talking about her couch. He can’t figure out why. He just wants her to fucking go home—because he has no home anymore.

*

This is procedure; this is cursory. There’s no fire behind these words they bandy around, there’s no purpose or plan. This is paper to them; this is personal to you. You study the sketch, burn lines and points into your brain. You won’t remember the detectives, but you’ll sure as fuck remember the face on that paper.

*

The bat is aluminum and has a satisfying balance in the swing. The weight feels like providence in his hands. He smiles for the first time that night, but it’s thin, predatory, and behind it he grits teeth against grief. He runs out of money, and the pitching machine runs out of time. Carla has disappeared, but he doesn’t notice. When he leaves the cage he doesn’t really feel any better.

 

Marcus eyes the bat still in Denver’s hands, says nothing.

*

The rough sketch is no one you know; the badges shrug and tuck it away, and you want to stop them, you want to ask for that sketch, but your teeth stick to your cheeks, mouth sealed shut. You return to your self-designated station, and they evaporate like they were never really there (because they never really were.) Specters and background noise. Nothing feels right anymore.

*

He finds a car, imagines who drives it, and smashes in the windshield. Thinks of pale skin and a ratty red jacket and obliterates the side view mirrors. Thinks of dark blue eyes and caves in the body.

*

Sammy wake up. Until your voice is dry and dusty, until you can’t even whisper it because you are a stalwart desert, without reprieve (don’t stop), without rain (don’t stop), without any plan (don’t die). You never should have been so angry. Sammy wake up. You should have showed up anyway and borne her presence in grudging silence. Sammy wake up. She was right anyway, you just didn’t want to see it (but you don‘t want to see this even more.)

 

Sammy wake up, wake up, wake up, a custom fit mantra whirled around like a holy word and a holy war in your empty head.

*

Denver has moved down the line, his bat twisted aluminum. Carla is back, and fuck, she either sobered up or was never as drunk as she said she was. Tennis shoes and jeans and a sweater he recognizes, vaguely, as his. Carla tries pressing a cardboard cup of lukewarm coffee into his hand, wondering how the hell he hasn’t gotten arrested yet. And he thinks, they better fucking not. He smashes in another window and thinks they better stay the hell away, those useless fucking badges.

*

You wonder if you hadn’t been such a child, would this have ever happened.

 

(You think about all the apologies you’ll make when she wakes up. Because she’s not.)

*

A small group of stragglers are pushed from a club that’s winding down and closing up. He sees a flash of red in them. This is it. This is him. Points and lines, space and time; a scraggy layer of facial fuzz, short cropped dark hair, wide-set eyes, is that a scar or a laugh line. Carla is his higher self, jabbering nonsense in his ear, nonsense he doesn’t want to hear.

 

HEY. HEY YOU. Is he a man or a mountain, is he shaking or is he shouting. They pull back and look around, buzzed and curious who’s yelling. YEAH, YOU. WHITE MOTHERFUCKER. He points at them with gnarled metal. They get one good look at his bat, flashing and dented, and scatter. Carla grabs his arm and yanks it down and he crumples with it because he’s fucking tired, he’s fucking useless, he’s—

 

Carla curls around him, quiet now, and warm. Soft and safe. She took off her melted wax face some time ago, and Denver realizes that she looks like his sister, battered and raw, a dirty reminder of his flaws and his failures and his treacherous familial infidelity, and he fucking hates her.

 

He fucking. Hates her.

*

Dead. There’s nothing you can do. She flatlines, and those skittish nurses explode into the room like shy birds driven to a cage. They pump her with electricity, and abuse her already frail and failing body, and Sammy won’t wake up. Sammy will never wake up, and you wonder what the hell was the last thing you even said to her. Did you text her. Did you call her. When you told her she was a nosy bitch, that you can fraternize with whoever the fuck you want, did you second-guess yourself. Did you feel bad at all. Did you even say anything to her, a heads-up on your selfish change of plans, or did you leave her there, a victim waiting for a crime. You are expelled from the room, forced into the hallway, where you stare at passing faces, stark and bright against the backdrop fog of your bomb-shocked brain, and you have nowhere to go from here.

 

So you do the only thing you know how to do. You hit the bars, and that’s where Carla finds you. Three hours later, you are throwing her purse off an overpass.

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