Chapter Six

Posted: October 6, 2013 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

Day Two

     Getting rid of all signs of Jack proved harder than she’d hoped.

     Maddie quickly found that when you share a life with someone, the vast majority of your belongings are jointly acquired or have some kind of memory attached; she was surprised to realize that very little in the apartment was solely “hers”. Even the damn towels had been housewarming gifts from his mother.

     She cranked up some music and started with the bed. Singing loudly, she felt the sadness start to fade, replaced with the same intense rage she’d experienced in the choir closet. She ripped the sheets off, tugging at a stubborn corner until she heard the elastic rip; undaunted, she kept pulling, until the whole thing tore and the bedding was reduced to two sad halves. She stuffed them in a garbage bag and considered the pillow cases; after a moment she removed her own, added them to the bag, then grabbed both of Jack’s pillows and shoved them in too.

     The comforter slowed her down. It was old, a worn quilt she’d inherited from her grandmother; she couldn’t toss it, but she knew from experience that she couldn’t wash it in the machines downstairs either – it wouldn’t fit. She resolved to spray it with something, to cover Jack’s scent until she could get to the laundromat.

     The bed taken care of, she turned her attention to the rest of the room. A framed photo went in the bag; so did Jack’s deodorant, cologne and comb, swept off the dresser and into the trash. She grabbed handfuls of clothes off the floor, shoving them in until the bag bulged and she had to shake out a new one to continue.

     “I told you I’d throw it out,” she muttered. “Never could find the fucking hamper.”

     Throwing open the closet, she yanked shirts off of hangers. Out went the polo he’d worn on their first date; the dress shirts she’d bought for his new job; the souvenir t-shirt from their 5-year anniversary cruise. She filled the second bag, and then a third. She threw away boxers, and socks. She cut all the laces, laughing, and threw away his shoes.

     Sweating now, she wrestled the bags out the door and into the hallway. She was so intent on checking for her keys and getting things situated for the haul down to the dumpster, she didn’t notice at first that she had an audience.

     “Um…Madelyn?”

     She jumped and turned, letting out a relieved laugh when she realized it was her neighbor. The laughter died when she saw the look he was giving her and her mountain of garbage.

     “Spring cleaning,” she offered, giving him a weak smile.

     “It’s October.” The old man furrowed his brow. “Shouldn’t you be on your honeymoon?”

     She felt her face grow hot and looked away. An uncomfortable silence stretched between them, made all the more mortifying when she realized her vision was wavering; she grit her teeth, determined not to cry in front of anyone, least of all a neighbor she barely knew.

     He finally cleared his throat. “Well, ah, I must have had the date wrong. Jack, uh…he asked me to get your papers, so…I’ll bring today’s over later.”

     She nodded, still not raising her eyes. When he turned away she sighed with relief and bent back to her task, gathering the bags as best she could and shuffling down the hall.

     “Hey!”

     She stopped again, closing her eyes. Please, she begged silently. Please just go inside.

     Fighting to keep the impatience out of her voice, she turned back toward him. “Yes?”

     “Do you want some help?” He fidgeted, clearly ill at ease but desperate to fix it. “You can’t take all those down by yourself. You’ll fall and bust your head.”

     She winced against the quick flash of blood that his words evoked. Forcing herself to smile, she shook her head. “I’m fine. Really.” She didn’t want him to touch the bags; this was her job. Her catharsis.

     He reached out, ignoring her refusal, and tried to grab one anyway. Before she could shove herself between his hand and his target, he stopped; his face screwed up, his eyes disappearing as everything between his forehead and his chin squinched tight.

     What in the-

     “ACHOO!”

     The sneeze startled her into dropping her bags. She watched his face screw up for another, and let out a burst of laughter.

     “ACHOO!”

     He wiped a sleeve across his face and smiled. “My wife always laughed when I sneezed,” he said, chuckling a little himself. “She said I made the same face as when I-”

     “Don’t!” Maddie shrieked, holding up a hand.

     He grinned broadly and gave her a wink, which only made her laugh harder. He watched her for a moment, looking pleased, then patted her arm. “That’s better. Pretty girls like you should smile, not cry.”

     It was her turn to wipe her face; despite what he’d said, a few tears had escaped, though they were tears of release, not sadness.

     “You’re a dirty old man,” she teased.

     He started to reply, then stopped again. She giggled, waiting for the face.

     Instead, he coughed.

     Maddie recoiled, her amusement instantly replaced with terror. It wasn’t a harsh cough, or a long one; nonetheless, she backed away, stumbling over the bags in her haste to put distance between them.

     “Sorry,” he said. “Little cold, I guess.” He looked at her face and stepped forward, concerned. “Are you okay?”

     She nodded quickly. She knew she was being ridiculous; people coughed all the time, for all kinds of reasons. Drugs, she told herself. They said it was drugs.

     Not all that comforted by the reminder, she took another step back. “I can’t get sick,” she said, hoping her voice sounded less frantic than she felt. “You should go rest. I’ve got these.”

     He stood for a moment, clearly baffled by her sudden change in mood, before shrugging. “Suit yourself, dear. You know where I am if you change your mind.”

     She was already halfway down the hall, dragging the bags behind her, aware that she was being rude and insane but unable to stop herself. By the time she’d registered what he’d said and turned to offer a thanks, he was gone, his door swinging shut behind him.

     She bit her lip, fear giving way to embarrassment. She considered knocking, apologizing, accepting his help. The fear wasn’t gone as far as all that, though; she stood frozen in the hall, unable to make herself walk toward the door.

     Drugs. Mr. Webber doesn’t do drugs!

     Does he?

     Sighing, she heaved her bags up and trudged away.

**

     She managed not to fall down the stairs.

     In the end she hauled 12 bags down to the dumpster; by the time night fell she was sweaty, exhausted and furious again. Her anger grew as more stuff moved off the shelves and into the garbage, as more and more of her home, her life, disappeared. On her last trip down she stood at the landing and hurled the bag down the steps, then kicked it the rest of the way out the door. When she tossed it into the dumpster and slammed the lid down, she imagined it was Jack’s body she was throwing away.

     Her mother called. And called again. And then again. She couldn’t bring herself to answer; every time she tried she thought about Grace’s statement about needs and muted the phone. After 10 missed calls she sent a perfunctory text, assuring Grace she was alive, and shut it off.

     She settled into her stripped-down living room, poured a large glass of wine and sat back, staring at the only photograph she’d decided to keep: Jack, Holly, Chrissy and herself, taken the night of the engagement party. Looking at it now, she wondered if they were sleeping together when it was taken, Jack and his whore. She wondered how she could have ever believed that a man like him would choose a woman like her over someone like Holly. Fresh-faced, confident, with a perfect smile and perfect hair – of course Jack had fallen for her. She fit into his world far better than Maddie ever had, or ever would.

     “Never should have chosen such pretty friends,” she told her photo-self. “The ugly friend never gets the prince. Not really.”

     She remembered that Chrissy wasn’t a “pretty friend” anymore, not with half her face gone, and gulped the contents of her glass. Selfish. Selfish bitch. No wonder you’re alone.

     She poured another glass and closed her eyes. She tried to remember when she and Jack had been happy, to bring up an image of him like the one she’d conjured effortlessly the day before, when she’d been naïve and in love, waiting to get married. All she could picture was the choir room, and his face as he’d lied to her. Six years of memories, crowded out now by a glint of beads and a limp condom.

     She emptied the second glass and poured another.

     The alcohol was working now; a comfortable numbness spread through her body, and her hand felt impossibly heavy as she lifted the glass to drink more. Drunk and alone. Pathetic.

     She stared dully at the wall. Images moved slowly across the bare plaster, fading in and out of focus: Jessie in her tight dress, tottering across the room; Marion’s furious face; poor Mr. Baum and his cursed cremons. Disaster! The handsome stranger, his dark eyes on her; the feel of his hand on her arm. He’d touched her, hadn’t he? What was his name? He saved us all, she thought dreamily. Her nipples tingled.

     Startled, she sat up, spilling wine down her arm. The room spun. Fumbling, she tried to set the wine down; her hand felt disconnected from the rest of her. There was a tinkle of glass and she blinked, watching as the red liquid spread slowly across the table.

     Blood everywhere. She fell back. That’ll be a bitch to clean up.

     She closed her eyes again, and finally passed out.

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