I don’t know how many times I blinked, as if willing my eyes to dismiss the scene that was playing out in front of me, but I do know that it was the exact same number of times that they failed to change a thing. I was like a kid who woke up on Christmas Eve to see their Mom and Dad putting presents under the tree and enjoying the milk and cookies that had been so thoughtfully set out for Santa. Barring a very good explanation, my life philosophy was about to be permanently transformed.
The anger in her voice was something that I was completely unaccustomed to, but there was no denying it was her. Even when she had taunted me in my dreams, she had never been this bold and emotional. “Asking?” It came out in the form of a question. A very stupid question at that. I just didn’t know what else to say.
What the hell did that monster do to you?—Sybil
I suppose if I had thought that I would ever see her again, I may have considered the possibility that she might be angry with me. If so, I may have come up with something better to say.
“What am I doing here?” Hands on her hips, she looked around, as if to take in what ‘here’ was. I didn’t consider the possibility at the time, but this was likely her first view of the inside of the mens bathroom. “I was just passing through and I figured I would stop and check out the scenery. What the fuck are you doing here?”
Yes, I caught the sarcasm in her voice, but I had lost all control of my tongue, which proceeded to answer the question as if this was just a casual meeting featuring some friendly rhetorical banter amongst friends. “Same as you. Just checking out the scenery, I mean.”
No, actually I didn’t. But I needed to get control of this conversation, and quickly. I was like a boxer who had been stunned, dancing in large circles around the ring trying to avoid a shot until I could get my wits back.
The question seemed to work. It loosened her up a bit, and her answer came across in an inquisitive tone, as if there were a simple misunderstanding between us that would be easily cleared with her answer.
The dance stopped. The other fighter had dropped his left glove below his waste. A good fast roundhouse with a right should end this match.
I hadn’t exactly told her to go anywhere. In fact, I had missed her at times. But I certainly had not invited her back. I hadn’t even thought about her all that often since Ashes had gotten on the truck.
At this point, I was at a complete loss. Had we conversed on some occasion that was escaping my memory now? And why would I need her to clean up a mess for me anyway? I had wished that I could talk to my mother about it, but I had never even considered Hollywood as a confidant. Then again, perhaps talking to her about it wasn’t entirely a bad idea. She might have some useful insight. In her present mood, however, that was doubtful.
I’m not entirely sure what I should have said there, but I am completely positive that it wasn’t that. It wasn’t my intention to piss her off, but if she had been one of those horned toads down in Texas, blood would have shot from her eyes.
“Family?”, she shrieked. “What the fuck do you know about family?”
“Well, my mom…” She cut me off before I could finish my sentence.
No sooner had the fear washed out of me then the anger came crashing in. How dare she? How fucking dare she? My mother was the only person who ever loved me, and she wanted to talk about her like this?
“You shut you’re fucking mouth about my mother!”, I growled the words more than I spoke them. “My mother loved me!”
She let out a long, piercing laugh like a woman possessed.
Her voice knocked the wind out of me as if I had been punched in the stomach. It was as if the voice of my mother had come out of Hollywood’s mouth. Not a mimic either. It was a perfect impersonation, indistinguishable by the ears of her own son. My voice was horse, and stretched as thin as a sheet of log book paper, but I managed to push the words out. “She never said that! She never said that. Did she?”
Suddenly, a look of pity flooded Hollywood’s face, and she bent over me and rubbed my cheek. “Oh, you poor dear. You don’t even remember, do you? What did you do, baby? Did you lie to yourself? Did you forget the way you used to cry yourself to sleep? Don’t you remember trying to convince yourself that she didn’t mean it? You honestly don’t remember, do you? You poor, poor dear.”
I was bewildered. Suddenly I didn’t know anything about anything. “But that’s not why she got an abortion. It isn’t. It’s because when she had me, things were different. She didn’t have to worry about supporting us. My father…”
“Your father?”, the piercing laughter was back, leaving behind no sign whatsoever of the sympathy that had so briefly revealed itself. “His father, he says.” She looked around as if she were talking to someone else, but nobody was there. “And what father would that be, baby? What was his name? Did she give you a name?”
“No, she never told me his name. But…”
The tears began to sting my eyes. It is embarrassing to tell you this now, but her words were sinking in, and it was tearing me apart. It couldn’t be true. I know that now. But at the time, it had the ring of truth to it. My own dear mother. The woman I had loved so deeply. Yet hadn’t she often complained about me? And didn’t she deny me the only true love that I needed from her? I started to remember things that I had long forgotten, but the memories didn’t seem real to me. It was as if I had seen it in a movie, but had never actually lived the moments. It was all coming from Hollywood. Somehow she had this power to make me remember things that had never really happened.
“Why are you doing this to me?”, I sobbed.
There was true compassion in her voice, but it faded in an instant.
Somehow, I managed to cut her off. “I didn’t mean to kill you, baby. I’m sorry. I promise you, I didn’t mean for you to die.”
She sat down beside me and pulled me towards her, turning my shoulders and forcing me to look her in the eye. “I know you didn’t mean to, baby. I know. And I forgive you. But it doesn’t change who you are. You remember what happened to Sooner, right?”
Shit! Sooner. I had completely forgotten about her. “I… but you… you… you told me to… you said I had to kill her.”
Her voice was still soft and consoling.
Her tone that had begun to soothe me all at once set me off again. “You told me to do it. You wanted me to do it! I did it for you! You said it was your truck. You told me to get her out of it, and I did.” I pushed her away from me, and pulled myself up to my knees. “I’m not a killer, I’m a father. You don’t love me, Hollywood. Ashes loves me. She loves me, and we are going to be a family.”
She stood up slowly, her hair stringing down into her face. She looked me in the eye as she rose, and gave me that hideous, screeching laugh again. “Loves you? Loves you? Is that what you are trying to tell me? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me! You think a hooker loves you? Then tell me this, Ward fucking Cleaver. Why in the hell do you think she rides with you for five years with no problem and then one day all of the sudden, she’s magically pregnant? You think that was an accident? Check her purse. Check her fucking purse, you fucking pussy. Go look and see if she has a sponge or some pills in there. She got pregnant because she fucking wanted to. Did she ask you? No. Care to know why? Because you’re the little bitch that she has wrapped around her fucking finger.”
I began to fear there was some truth in what she was saying. It was odd that for so long we could fuck and nothing, but then one day out of the blue…
I tried to argue with her some more, but she was right, and I knew it deep down inside. That’s why Ashes had been so selfish with me. That’s why she had figured that she could just tell me that we were going to be a family. She didn’t care about me. She just saw me as a pushover and a paycheck. The knowledge of it crushed me. It must have shown on my face.
“I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, baby.” She sure could have fooled me. “I’m trying to protect you from her. I’m trying to help you here. Do you really think you can just pack up and get a nine to five? Can you really come home and put on your slippers, and smoke a pipe while you read the Bumfuck Egypt Gazette? Sure, it’s fine right now because it is just you and her. But what are you going to do when the kid starts school? How long can you hold up under the scrutiny of prying neighbors and PTA meetings?” She moved to the other side of me and took me in her arms. “How long until someone finds out about your past? About what you’ve done? How long until you get the urge to do it again?” I had never even considered that thought. She paused, as if to give me time to consider her words.
“What if she tells them? What if…”. I tried to hide it, but it must have shown on my face. Hollywood’s lips curled upward in a sadistic, victorious smile.
I hung my head in shame. I had been made a fool. I had been bamboozled by a common whore. I had taken her in, and she had taken me. I had allowed her to change the roles. Ashes was now the pimp, and I was her little prostitute. I worked hard day and night, and I brought her home the loot. And why? Because she had protected me. Not from some customer that would otherwise stab me, but from reality. She had helped me to avoid the bitter truth that Hollywood had just exposed with the diplomatic equivalent of an atom bomb over Nagasaki. She made me forget that I wasn’t loved.
“No. No, I can’t do that.”, I muttered. I was too ashamed to even raise my eyes and look at her. “She would never accept you. Hell, she would never even accept me.”
For the first time since she had crashed back into my world, Hollywood showed true mercy. She silently rose to her feet, extending her arm to help me to mine while allowing me to deal with my shame and embarrassment privately in my own head. She leaned in to me and we embraced silently. It was a good ten minutes before she spoke again, and when she did it was in a soft voice. She kissed my cheek and pulled my head firmly against hers.
Deep down inside, I did. I knew what I had to do, but I didn’t offer an explanation.
There was an unspoken meaning in those words. As it was with Sooner, so it was with Ashes. She didn’t have to say the word “kill” or “murder”. She might try to deny it again later like she had with Sooner here tonight, but we both knew what she wanted. I decided to beg for Ashes’ life.
“You fucking coward”, she sneered. “Look at me!” She screamed the words in such a shrill, loud voice that I jerked back away from her and hit my head on the wall.
This was one hell of a spot to be put in. Nothing I could say to her would make any sense at all. I didn’t even know why I cared. Perhaps I just wanted to be right. Even in the face of such a compelling case against her, I wanted to believe that Ashes loved me. If you’re not somebody to anybody, than you are nobody to everybody. I wasn’t yet ready to accept the reality that I was a nobody.
My spirits lifted at the thought that I didn’t have to be insignificant. Here in front of me was my one chance, and it could be my last. I didn’t know if it would ever pass this way again. She seemed completely sincere in her ultimatum. The gravity of the situation was a crushing weight on my chest. If a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, than Hollywood was offering me a double up. If she could love me and forgive me after all I had done to her, then what could Ashes possibly offer to top that? But it had to be clear what I was getting before I decided anything.
Hollywood closed the gap that had been created when I jerked away from her. She pulled me back into her arms, and placed her cheek against mine, placing her hand on the back of my neck. Her breath felt cold as she dropped her voice to a loud whisper in my ear.
I cringed at the thought. My voice broke as I spoke, making me sound like a boy in puberty. “Don’t make me say it.” I tried to pull away but she grabbed me by the hips and held me there in front of her, looking deeply into my eyes. She leaned in, kissing my neck. Her lips were ice cold, and their touch made me shiver violently. The voice seemed to come from my own head, echoing in a chilled hollowness. “Tell me. Tell me what it is, my sweet.”
“It’s you. It’s… it’s your body. It’s… when you were laying there… well, not really… You know what it is. Please”, I dropped to my knees in front of her. “Please don’t make me say it.”
The eerie voice came again.
I rose to my feet, but the shame of my words would not allow me to look her in the eye. She cocked her head around, getting the perfect angle to force me against my will. “It was after you died. You were laying there so sexy and beautiful. I wanted to make love to you.”
She backed away slightly, never breaking the penetrating gaze that held me entranced. “No”, she said. “No, that’s not it at all.” I wanted to protest, but I couldn’t find my voice.
All of the clothes in the world cannot hide the nakedness of the man who has just had his innermost thoughts told back to him. I didn’t even wonder how she could know these things. It was spoken like the fact it was. There was no chance for debate, and no need for an explanation. There was no judgement in her voice. Just love.
She helped me to my feet again, kissed me on the lips, and then she turned around to leave. She looked back over her shoulder as she walked, never taking her eyes off of mine. She opened the door, and disappeared into the Colorado night. Before it could slam shut behind her, the breeze caught it again, pulling it open and sounding for all the world like one last taunting echo before it came back to rest on it’s frame with a bang.