Sunday, January 7, 2018

34. The Girl with Purple Skin

The single mother arrived home from the hospital where she worked as a pharmacist just as a courier truck was driving away.  Pulling into the carport, she could see a brown shipping tube standing inside the storm door.

She took it inside.  The return address was in Vancouver, but the sender’s name was absent.  She bent back the flaps on one end and looked inside.  It contained a single rolled sheet of paper.  She shook it out and carefully unrolled it on the dining room table.  “Will-Will,” she said, and she sat down.

It was a pencil sketch, a highly-skilled rendering of a photograph taken by the youngest sister of the single mother, seventeen years in the past.  It showed the single mother at age eighteen with her boyfriend, the one who had disappeared, seated on a sofa, playing guitar.  She knew the original photograph by heart; a copy was in an envelope buried beneath clothing in a dresser drawer upstairs, and so immediately saw the strange discrepancy.  Her long-ago boyfriend’s right arm was in the wrong position.  Instead of strumming his guitar strings, he was reaching away from the body of his guitar and seemed to be doing—what?  Sticking his right index finger into her left ear?  At the bottom of the picture were words printed in tidy block letters, “I NEED TO TALK TO YOU, PLEASE CALL,” followed by a phone number.  

*    *    *

William surfaced and knew to cling to the overturned canoe.  Always stay with the canoe.  That was Rule One as taught at Camp Ohmeemaw.  Rule Two, also taught at Camp Ohmeemaw: Call to your partner to determine his whereabouts.  If you receive no response, check the air pocket under the canoe.  His partner was nowhere rousable by such a call, and was not in the air pocket. Rule Three, which overruled Rule One and was never not taught at Camp Ohmeemaw: If in the proximity of the sluiceway of a dam, abandon the canoe and swim for your life. 

William was sucked under, his legs pulled between the railway ties that regulated the flow.  He couldn’t kick.  He had no leverage.  The upside-down canoe was pressing against the dam above him.  This was a situation not encountered in land-based lightning strikes.

Danny Imamura, William later found out, was a triathlete.  It was his arms and legs and heart and lungs that pulled him free.  With his arm around William’s chest he swam him to the bank, where other strong arms reached down to pull him out.  “Keep calm, keep calm, young lad, you’re in my good hands," said Milt.  His crossing guard instincts hadn’t left him.  He then reached down, took Dan by the sleeve, and hauled him out too.

“We have to find Alan!” Dan shouted.  He was beside himself, having lost not only a sister, but, it seemed, a brother-in-law.  He scrambled up the metal stairs and ran to the middle of the dam.  He was leaning over the railing, looking frantically left and right.  “Oh God, where is he?  Did you see where he went?”                

William wasn’t sure what to do.  His brain had started its annoying habit of running through the names of things.  He shook his head to stop it.

Milt called to Dan in a stentorian voice, loud enough to cancel William’s auto-scan, “Alan isn’t there.  Alan is with Hannah.”                                            

William focused.  True.  Yes.  That was the point.  Hooray.  But William hadn’t known that Milt knew about Hannah.  William didn’t think Dan knew either.  The swarming names came back at him, and he had to bat himself to knock them out.  He managed to say, to Dan, “Milt’s right.  He’s not there.  Alan’s not there—he’s not in the water!” 

Dan was back down the steps in two or three jumps.  “William, where did you see him last?”

“Daniel,” said Milt.  He slapped his hands onto Dan’s shoulders and looked down into the eyes of Hannah’s younger brother, who isn’t a tall man.  “It’s alright.  No one has died here.  The only death has been death itself.”

Dan had been breathing hard, but in mid-gasp stopped short.  Looking back through the smudged lenses of Milt’s glasses, he asked, in almost a child’s voice, “How?”        
Milt laughed like a Santa.  The ho ho hos blended into the wail of nearing sirens.  “Off we go,” he said, and off he went, into the dark.   

Fast-thinking Dan had called 911 before leaping into the river to rescue William.  Burnaby Fire and Rescue roared into the parking lot, which was uphill from where Dan and William were sitting on the grass at the river’s edge.  They heard the doors opening and closing as the firemen gathered their gear.

“Down here!” Dan called.  The flashlights followed his voice. 

A firefighter checked William over while the others began their rescue procedures, a vain attempt to find Alan based on Dan’s description of where the canoe had dumped.  William was glad for a blanket, but didn’t want the burns touched.  The pain was bearable and he wanted to keep feeling it, because it helped him keep believing what had happened.

An ambulance arrived and a paramedic eventually convinced him to have the burns dressed, but she couldn’t convince him to go for a ride to whichever hospital.  The last thing William needed was another cold-blooded neurologist and her living-tomb MRI machine.  She asked to photograph the burns on his chest before smothering them with ointment, gauze and tape.  “I’ve never seen anything like them,” she said.

He said, “Go ahead.” 
With the expectation of a fatality in a regional park with a park employee involved, the Coroner’s Service was summoned.  The coroner was about fifty-five years old and had seen enough that he wasn’t surprised or amused by anything anymore.  Understandably, he wanted to know what William and Alan were doing in a canoe in the middle of a thunderstorm, not wearing life jackets.  William feigned naivet√©.  There are so few electrical storms on the coast that they had underestimated the danger.  William handed him a baffling piece of electronics, the bat-detector.  He claimed they had been detecting bats, searching for rare ones, the Hoary and the Keen’s Myotis.  It was a terrifically ridiculous excuse, backed up by a ridiculous electronic gizmo.  Was the coroner expecting him to admit to assisted suicide?  There was no suicide.  There was no body.  No one had died.  The coroner eventually said that although there were no legal restrictions on his movements, he would be happier were William not to leave town until he gave the say-so.

William said, “I have nowhere to go.”

Red lights must have been flashing in news rooms.  Bulletin!  Famous Canadian wildlife artist Alan Lennox missing after canoeing accident at Burnaby Lake!  Once again news vans flooded the park and William was filmed again, this time huddled in the back of an ambulance with a gray blanket around his shoulders.  Reporters recognized him and shouted questions that he could barely hear.  Finally the paramedic who had treated him lost patience and yelled, “Go find a car wreck!” and slammed the door.  William asked if she could drive him over to the replacement Nature House, where he intended to spend the rest of the night.  There was no point in going home, because he knew first thing in the morning he would be called in to talk to Tom, who now had no choice but to fire him.  Being fired by Tom would be like being smacked with a plush toy. William had no fear.

“Hello, dear Colleen,” William said as he entered Central Area Office for the last time.  “Is Ed in?”  He wanted to avoid him if possible.

“No, he’s late,” she said, smirking.

“What’s funny?”

“He’s late because his car got run off the road into a ditch.”

“We must thank whoever is responsible,” William said.

“Who’s responsible is a flock of ostriches.”


“Or so he says.”

“Was it on River Road?”

“You heard about it?”

“I suppose I should have predicted it.”

She became serious.  “Um, you’re supposed to go talk to Tom.  He’s expecting you.”

“It’s okay,” he said.  He started heading down the hall.

Colleen scooted from behind the counter.  She caught him by surprise, and gave him a squeeze, unaware he hated being hugged, unaware his chest was burned.  “I’ll miss you,” she said in his ear.

He clumsily pushed away.  “I’ll miss you too,” he said, and for the first time that day felt pain.  In any large organization there were little people like Colleen and William who had friendships built on small, scattered courtesies and the shared burden of a bullying boss.  He wished he had known what else to say to her.  They smiled at each other and drifted apart.

He came to Tom’s office.  The door was open.  Tom was there, typing.  William knocked on the doorframe.  Tom also wanted to squeeze him, but William warded him off.  “Burns,” he said, pointing at his body.

Tom took a step backward and dropped his arms.  He smiled and said, “I have never been happier to see you.”

“Am I fired?” William asked.

“Would you be upset if I said you were?”

“Not in the least.”

“Good.  You’re fired.  Now sit down and tell me what happened.  Where’s Alan?”

“You gotta see this.”  William had been waiting all night to show him, wanting to see his reaction.   He sat in one of the spinny chairs, popped open his shirt buttons and peeled off the gauze pad above his heart. 

Tom stood away and squinted, and then bent and slowly extended his hand, almost but not quite touching the blistered wound.  “What have you boys done?  What magic is this?”

William said, “His right hand was on my chest when we got hit, but it gets better.”  He shifted forward in the chair and spread his shirt wider to remove the second bandage, on his right side, lower down, which revealed the blistered shadow of a second hand.  It was a second right hand, smaller than the first.

Tom looked at it closely.  “That can’t be Alan’s hand,” he said.  “And it’s not yours.”  He looked him in the eye. 

William nodded.  “Hannah was in the canoe, just before we tipped.  This is her hand.”

“She had her hand on you?”

“They both did, at the same instant, the same millisecond”

“Magnificent,” said Tom.  “You really did something.  They went through you.”

William said, “Maybe.  I think we’re in uncharted territory here.”

“You witnessed them crossing over.  “What was it, like a door?  Like a light?”

“No,” William said.  “It was like being eighteen years old and finally getting totally pissed off at your pal, who can be a real jerk, and getting into a real knock-down-drag-out with him — except in a canoe, which makes it more difficult — and then, at the peak of it, when you’re totally focussed on flattening the guy, his girlfriend intervenes.”

“You were fighting?”

“Then we dumped.  There was no door.  There were lots of bubble though.”    

“Why were you fighting?” 

William didn’t tell Tom the poisonous things Alan had said, because, having lived through what followed, knew he hadn’t meant them.  He said, “Because he was an old friend who knows my story.  That means he also knows my weak spots.  He knows which buttons to push to make me react in ways I normally don’t.  He figured how to rile me up.  All summer long he’s been playing me, and he finally figured it out.”

Tom gave him a not-quite-following look.

“Somewhere in me is a lightning button,” William said.  “Alan pushed it.”

Tom was perched on the other chair, staring at him.  “Is that a serious explanation?”

William replied, “Do you want me to make something up?” 

Tom said, “Maybe you’re the Jesus of the West after all.”

“No,” William said. “I can give you a hundred reasons why I’m not.”

Tom looked again at the burns, and said, “We best cover those back up.”  He was gingerly pressing a bandage to William’s torso when Ed marched in, and then froze.

“Ew,” he said. He rolled his eyes to the ceiling and asked, “Have you fired him yet?”

Tom narrowed his eyes and said, “William, you’re fired.”  They both laughed hysterically.

Ed thrust a finger at William.  “You’ll send me a letter of resignation.  The paperwork is easier for me that way.  If you don’t, I’ll have you charged with theft, or improper use of a canoe, or something.”  He also knew that William’s resigning rather than being fired would render him ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits.

“Whatever,” said William.

Tom asked, “What exactly is improper use of a canoe?”

“Something your kind would come up with.” Ed turned to leave.

“Ed?” said William.  He held out his sodden ranger hat.  “Here’s my hat.  Sorry, it got wet.”

“Keep it.  You can wear it in the soup line.”  Ed sniffed, and then he went away.

“Soup line?” said William.

“He’s picturing you wearing a barrel with shoulder straps.”

“And my hat.”  William put the hat back on.
When their mood levelled out, William told Tom he was glad to be leaving nature interpretation because it was so exhausting, and ultimately futile. 

Tom said, “You don’t really feel that way.  You’re burned out.  My God, why are you even still alive?   Take a break from this.  Go to Nepal or something.” 

William asked if he could use Tom’s computer to check his bank account.  Some cab fare.  The last time he had looked, two days earlier, his balance had been a depressing $313.92.   He said, “Ho-lee shit, Alan.  What the hell did you do?  He must have found my bank account information on some papers in my apartment.”

“What is it?”  Tom peered over his shoulder.

“I guess I can afford to take a break from this.  I think I can even afford to go to Nepal.”

Tom finally spotted the amount.  He said, “Forget Nepal.  You can afford to go to the moon.” 

There was more money in William’s checking account than he could imagine earning in an entire lifetime, but Tom didn’t seem surprised at all.   He said, “You’ll send me postcards.  I’ll track you down and tell all your dirty secrets to your lovers if you don’t send me a post card every month.”

His lovers.  William opened his still-wet cell phone and peeled away the business card that was sandwiched inside.  Alan had written in ink.  Most of Becky’s unlisted number was gone.  Hell.  Maybe, when it dried, the pressure lines from the pen would emerge.  William placed it on the counter and lowered Tom’s desk lamp above it.  He then asked Tom, who was puzzling over the card, “What about you?  You deserve better than this, than Ed.  You’re my hero.”

Tom smiled and said, “Thank you, Willie.  You’re mine too.”  He was grinning as if about to burst.  He was sitting on something good, William could tell.

“What is it?”

“I’ve given notice, I’ve quit!”  

“You have?  What’ll you do?”

“Ross and I are going on a world tour for six months, after which I’ll be taking up my new position as Administrative Head of the Kazuo Fujiwara Biological Centre.  What do you think of that?”

William thought it was astounding — how Alan had improved the lives of almost everyone he befriended since coming to Vancouver. 

“Your friend Alan had a lot of money and he was willing to spread it around quite a bit,” said Tom.    He told William that after they had stuffed Ed’s car full of corn, Alan asked if he could do anything for Tom, financially.  Tom told him that he didn’t need any money, and asked why the hell Alan would ask him that.  Alan didn’t answer, instead changed the question, asking if Tom had a particular charity that he could donate to as a way of showing his gratitude.

“For helping fill a car with corn?”

“But no, it wasn’t for that.  I’m not sure you want to hear this.  It’s about you.”


“Alan said he wanted to pay me back for looking after you.”

“He wanted to give you money for babysitting me?”   

Tom waved his hands, as if to dispel a wrong idea.  “Try to see it from his point of view.  He early-on identified you as a way to help him find his Hannah, first from the simple fact of finding you here, his old and special friend, and then the Belcarra lightning.  He also credits you to some extent for his wealth, for making him an artist, which is the reason he even met Hannah.”

William asked, “Are you embellishing?  Did he tell you these things?”

Tom said, “He told me many, many things.  The important thing for you to know is that he needed you way more than you needed him.”

“You really think so?”

Tom nodded.

William picked up the business card, “Can you see a phone number on this?” He handed the card to Tom.

“I make out area code 416.”  That was all.

*   *   *

Bubbles were boiling up, bloop, bloop, bloop, and swishing through the dam, turning to foam beneath their feet as they watched the movements of the divers.  Other Mounties were on the banks, holding ropes, paying out, pulling in, keeping track of their colleagues in the peat-brown water.  The aluminum canoe was on the south bank looking streamlined and peaceful, like a sleeping sea mammal.  William turned to Dan and said, “It should be clear to everyone by now.  He’s not here.  This river is too small to hide a person this long.  Especially Alan.”  It had been fourteen hours since they dumped.

Fooj and Monique were now there too, leaning on the railing. “Je veux rester,” said Monique, “for a little time more.”

“Yeah, we’ll stay,” said Fooj. 

Dan shrugged.  “I don’t know what to think,” he said.  William patted his wrist and departed down the metal grid steps, setting off on his last ever walk along the north shore of Burnaby Lake.             
It took twenty-five minutes to walk to the replacement Nature House, to where William was to fulfill his final requested task as Park Interpreter, to resign.

The trail wound along the north shore of the lake, through ramrod-straight Sitka spruce and cedar stumps of haunting girth.  William was passed by the usual joggers, whose clothes he knew but names he didn’t.  Brown pony-tail woman, blue shorts white shirt.  Sweaty-necked chubby guy, gray flannel togs.  William tried to remember if I’d ever seen their faces, or for the previous five months just their backsides as they bounced on past.  And of course there were the dog-walkers, the frantic clippings of leads to collars as he came upon them.  William pretended not to care.  He realized that now he really didn’t care.  He smiled at them.  “Nice dog,” he said.

A few more dogs and he was out of the woods, heading down the Piper Avenue Spit, the gravel pizza slice jutting into the lake.  He headed down the boardwalk.  As he neared the Jesus platform he ripped the ranger hat from his head and, in a graceful sweeping arc, sent it spinning to its demise, the head of the Brunette River, the start of last night’s final paddle.  Were there not such a cool breeze his jacket would have followed.  He spun on his heel to find standing behind, watching his hat drift away, a round woman with her puffy, runny-nosed child.  Three humans on the end of the boardwalk, where so much of the insanity of the previous month had played out.

“What kind of duck is that little one?” the woman asked, pointing past his hat, which was low in the water..

“I wish I knew,” William said.

“Don’t you work here?”

“Not anymore,” he said.  “Have a nice day.”

She muttered something as he brushed past her, heading back up the spit, past the burned out, fenced off husk of the former nature house and the backhoe poised to finish it off, to the trailer.  There he changed to his civvies.  He balled up his uniform shirt and jacket and dumped them on his metal desk, which had survived the fire, although the top was blackened and the back panel was bowed out from the heat.  He turned on the computer, and as it slowly came to life he took a purple crayon and a piece of yellow construction paper and wrote in block letters, “I quit.”  He printed his name and signed it and then faxed it to Ed Daddle.  He then faxed it to the head office of the Greater Vancouver Regional District, as if anyone receiving it would have a clue who he was or what he was quitting.  Amazingly the fax machine also had survived the fire, although clearly a burning roof timber had lain across it for some time. 

In half an hour a car drove up, Fooj and Monique from the dam.  "They’re calling off the search," said Fooj.  “They can’t find anything.  Half of them don’t believe there’s anything to find.”

“They’re right,” William said.  “He isn’t there.”

Monique didn’t say anything, just looked worried.

“What about Danny?  How’s he doing?” William asked.

“I left him with Tom,” said Fooj.  “Tom’s doing his thing, explaining the spirituality of everything.” 

“Dan should stay at our house now,” said Monique.  “He’s our family.  This is the only good thing that has happened.  Fooj will now know his Ontario cousin.”

Fooj kissed Monique on the forehead.  “Yes,” he said.

William asked, “What lucky bastard will inherit my beautiful desk?”  He ran his hands across its pocked, charred surface as if it were flawless, polished granite.

Fooj shook his head and smiled.  “Are you sure you’re okay?  You want a ride somewhere?”

“My ears are ringing a bit, but that’s to be expected.”  He patted his chest.  “The burns scarcely sting at all.  I’m good.  I’m happy just hanging out here.  Leave me alone in the Nature House.  In a nature house I’m always happy.”

“I wish this nature house had a bathroom,” said Monique.  She jiggled Fooj’s arm.

Fooj winked at William, and opened the door for his wife.
William sat down at the computer and checked  There was a thread with the heading, ALAN HAS DROWNED IN BURNABY LAKE, and then a long chain of posts that regurgitated every snippet of every newscast, local and national, fact and conjecture.  William was mentioned a few times and was twice referred to as “his friend who was previously dead.”   Because no body had yet been found, there was much to speculate about.  There was argument over whether or not a person in a canoe could be vaporized by a lightning strike.  Websites were cited to support the various opinions.  Conspicuously, there was no contribution from White Lynx, which caused Willliam to wonder if Alan had been playing that character, had been writing about himself to let someone know where he was and how he was doing.

William wrote a post.  All it said was, “Alan is alive.  Alan is dancing with Hannah.  They are laughing.”  He signed it, “Olive the Tortoise.”

Then he turned off the computer, left the trailer, locked the door, and dropped the key in a nearby trash can.  He spied his favourite picnic table all alone in the middle of the lawn.  All his, with no angry Taiwanese Jesus-mom to whoosh him away.

As luck would have it, the backhoe fired up its engine.  It was time to demolish what was left of the old whorehouse and load it into a dump truck, which was just now rumbling down the road.   William thought it would be a fitting last gesture on his part to bear witness to the end of an era.    He sat down at the picnic table and rested his chin on his hands.

It must not have been as entertaining as he had anticipated, because within a few minutes he was sprawled across the rough wooden planks of the table top, which felt as comfortable as any pillow that had ever embraced his head.  He fell asleep to a memory, which grew into a dream.  William was in high school, sitting across from Becky Pang at a small, round study table in the school library.  He extended his arms across the table and lay his head down.  Becky did the same, and their crowns bonked together lightly.  She placed her hands on his shoulders and walked them to the back of his neck.  William walked his hands to the back of her neck and they held each other in that way for a long time.

“Don’t worry,” he said.

The lights in the library went out.  They held on tighter.  Alan Lennox and Hannah pulled up chairs on either side, and put their hands on them.  Then Mr. Neill and Ms. Crandall appeared and likewise placed their hands on them.  Then so did Fooj and Monique, and so did Tom and Ross, and so did Thelma the veterinarian and her long lost husband, and then, to cover things and bless them from both cultures, so did the Jesus of the East and the Jesus of the West.  Then Dr. Ball, who had delivered them both into this fretful world, strolled in and put his hands on them, which seemed a signal to all the students and teachers wandering the halls of the school, and strangers out strolling through the neighbourhood, to turn around, come into the library, to put their hands on them.  Then more people, a thousand others whose names and faces William did not know, the throngs who had come to see the Jesuses, came into the library, and put their hands on them, more and more and more, until the weight of all those hands became so heavy that William and Becky were pushed through an existential cheesecloth to somewhere else—where they were running with eastern kingbirds overhead and timothy grass brushing their bare legs.  Becky’s hot hand was in his and they were laughing and running and younger than when William first met Alan Lennox.

William awoke with Stacey sitting next to his head, her flip-flopped feet on the bench beside him.   She was gently stoking the back of his neck, saying, “William?  Are you okay?”

Leaving the dream was like struggling from the grip of the dam.  “Oh, Hi,” he said.  He was sad the dream was over, but happy to see Stacey.

She said, “Have you been crying?  Your eyes are red.”

“No, that’s Burnaby Lake water.”

“Did Alan die?”

“What?  No.  He didn’t.  Alan didn’t die.  The lightning came and Hannah was in it and Alan jumped in and off they went.  The police looked for his body in the river but it was a waste of time because there’s nothing physical left of him.  All that’s left are his paintings and all the miracles he pulled off in the past month.”

“How can there be no body?”

“The same way there can be someone sitting in the Gator speaking to you who no longer physically exists — but in reverse.”

“You’re using something impossible to explain something else impossible.”

“Impossible is up for grabs,” he said.  To demonstrate, he lay his head on her delightful thigh, knowing she wouldn’t push it off.

The backhoe was dropping the last fragments of Nature House into the truck, leaving only an oddly-shaped concrete slab in a muddy field.  “It’s a sad thing,” William said, “but it would probably be easier to find funds to build a new whorehouse than a new a nature house.”

“Did you sleep last night?” she asked, and shook his shoulder.  He told her not really.  He had tried to sleep in the trailer, but ended up lying on his desk, thinking of the names of things.  She said, “Let me drive you home.”

It seemed a good idea.  He rose, slowly and stiffly.  “Oh, hang on,” he said. 

Milt was walking down the middle of Piper Avenue, proud and unbent and brain damaged, heading toward the spit.  William waved, but he didn’t react.  Fifteen hours earlier he had pulled him from the river, but now seemed to have forgotten.  William wondered if he remembered the tens of thousands of children in the crosswalk.  The ducks and geese recognized him, and began waddling after him on their funny rubber feet.

“Let’s follow too,” William said.  “I want to say good bye.”  They walked slowly, behind the ducks, holding hands.  Milt sat down on the edge of the platform and lowered his legs, including his pant-cuffs and shoes, into the water.  They stopped walking, and watched.  He shook out the seed bags over his shoulder and the waterfowl went berserk behind his back.  He ignored them.  They saw him lean forward with something white in his hand.  A dark shape rose from the water, and Milt gently placed the marshmallow into its long, orange teeth.

“Let’s leave them alone,” William said. 

On the way back to the parking lot, William said, “Even though you’re someone else’s girlfriend, I’m enjoying holding your hand.”  She leaned her head on his shoulder, which felt especially nice. 

She helped him fasten his seatbelt, which had become twisted, and turned the key.  As they crossed the railway tracks and left the park she asked, “What are you going to do?”

“Go back to Ontario, at least for a while.”

“Are you going to see your parents?”


“That’s good.”

“Maybe I’ll hang out with my new friend, Dan.  I have to make sure he knows how to end his movie.  Then maybe I’ll walk up and down Empress Avenue in North York, knocking on doors”

“You’re being mysterious again,” she said.                                         

“I’m being delirious,” William said.  His head dropped against the window and he slept the rest of the way to his apartment.        
She accompanied him upstairs and took control of things, as before.  He wondered if she stage-managed Greg the same way.  She said, “You should go to bed.  But first, you should take a shower.  You smell like a swamp.”

He said, “Oh yeah?  Well, you smell like a...nice flower.”

As the water warmed, William looked at himself in the mirror, at the blistered hand prints on his body that proved it had really happened.  They also made showering difficult, because hot water stung like hell.                                                                                                                           

“You almost done?” she called.  “I made you French toast.”

The utter domesticity of the comment made him laugh, in his tiny book-filled apartment that lacked even a table to eat on.

She watched him poke at the food for a few minutes, and then took away the plate after he almost keeled over into his syrup.  “You poor guy,” she said.  “Bed-time.” 

He could have made it to his bed on his own—after all, nothing in that apartment was more than three steps from anything else—but Stacey guided him, holding his elbow, and tucked him under the covers, which had been neatly folded back while he was in the shower.  “Do you want me to stay for a while?” she asked.

“Mm?” he said.  He was sinking fast. 

“You just sleep,” she said.  “I’ll call later to see how you’re doing.”

The phone rang, but only in the living room.  He hadn’t plugged in the bedroom jack since the Jesus of the West madness.  Stacey answered it.  He heard her say, “Yes, he is, but he’s, just a minute, please...”  Then she was standing in the doorway, trying to decide whether or not to bother him.
He perked up enough to mumble, “Who is it?”

“A woman who says she used to know you.”

Oh Lord, who could that be?  He had been on national television again.  He should have unplugged that other phone as soon as he got home.

Stacey asked, “What’s the name of the girl with the purple skin?”

“I don’t know anyone with purple skin.”

“The one whose genes are more prevalent in China?  The one in the field in Scarborough?  You never told me her name.”

“Becky Pang?”

“Is this Becky Pang?” Stacey asked. 

She handed him the phone.  She kissed the tip of her index finger, pressed it onto the lightning scar above his eye, and skipped lightly out the door.



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