Chapter Thirty

Posted: June 22, 2014 in Chapters, Love in the ZA
Tags: , ,

     Realizing that Vinnie was gone, beyond her reach or recall, Maddie embarked upon the only logical course of action.

     She tantrummed.

     Gripping the wheel, she threw herself back and forth, back and forth, shaking so hard she was surprised the wheel didn’t come off of the steering column. When that didn’t make her feel better, she unleashed her fists, slamming them down again and again. Each time she struck the center of the wheel, the horn gave a pathetic, neutered bap. Bap. Bap. Bap. The sound served to enrage her further. She didn’t want the enfeebled bleating of a half-dead bicycle horn – she wanted the guttural roar of a semi; the deep, masculine blare of a fog horn. The high-pitched warning of an air-raid siren.

     WooooooooOOOP! The world has gone to hell! WoooooooOOOOP! Everybody’s fucked! WooooooOOOOP! WoooooooOOOOP! WoooooooOOOOOOP!

     Instead:

     Bap.

     Maddie screamed.

     The sound poured out of her, ripping and scraping at the tender insides of her throat. She could feel her pulse beating hard in her temples. Her vision blurred, sharpened, then blurred again, until finally she closed her eyes. Her face hurt. Her chest hurt. Her fists clenched so tightly she could feel her fingernails digging into her palms, and the sting of sweat in the small cuts that opened there.

     And still she screamed.

     From far way, she could hear Jessie talking – “Don’t, stop, Madelyn, relax, Madelyn, stop, breathe, don’t” – soothing calm-your-ass bullshit that Maddie herself had uttered thousands of times before. In the back of her mind, where her sanity waited patiently to reassert itself, she marveled at the way their positions had been flipped. How many times had she wished she could take a page from her sister’s book? That she could, for once, allow herself to act like a coked-out nutcase, and somebody else could pick up the pieces? Dozens of times. Hundreds.

     As it turned out, it wasn’t as satisfying as she’d always imagined.

     She ran out of steam all at once; exhaustion slammed her in the face, and she sagged against the wheel. She swallowed hard, grimacing at the ache in her throat. She wished desperately for a drink of water.

     After a few moments, Jessie spoke. “Are you done?”

     “Fuck you,” Maddie croaked. She sat up, and slapped the wheel one last time. Bap. “And fuck this horn.”

     Jessie, perhaps wisely, had nothing to say to that.

     Sighing deeply, Maddie slumped in her seat and stared out the window, watching as people continued to stream down the sidewalks and street. Where are you going? A woman trundled past, doughy arms cradling a stockpot to her bosom. Where are you going? A man followed behind her, his straining t-shirt stained with sweat, the handle of a rusty red wagon clasped in one hand. The wagon wobbled, one wheel low on air, stacked high with wire cages that appeared to contain an assortment of reptiles. Where in the hell are you going?

     “How long has it been?”

     “What?”

     “You know.” Maddie waved a hand, not shifting her gaze. “He said twenty. How long has it been?”

     “Oh.” A long pause. “I don’t know.”

     “What?!” Now she looked at Jessie, whipping her head around and pinning her with a glare that made the younger girl cringe. “What do you mean, you don’t know?”

     “Well…” Jessie gestured toward the dash. The clock, set above the radio, was blank. “I don’t know when he left.”

     “Shit.” Maddie slapped her forehead. She’d stuck the keys in the ignition before having her freak-out, but she’d never turned them. Now she did, a single click that fired the battery but left the engine off; the clock and radio blinked to life. Reaching out, she jabbed off the music, then tapped the clock’s plastic face. “9:36,” she said. “That’ll be twenty.”

     Jessie opened her mouth, maybe to say that he’d already been gone for at least half his time, but bit back any arguments when Maddie glared at her again. “9:36,” she agreed.

     Maddie slumped again, her mind whirling. Where are you going? She had no idea. Vinnie would know, had seemed to know where they should go, but Maddie was lost. Should they try for one of the bridges? Surely the barricades had been removed – they couldn’t keep people in, not now that they were dealing with- well, with something worse than the flu. They had to let people out.

     The bridge, then. Chesterfield was on the other side of the city, but Havers was only…only…

     Reaching over, she popped open the glove box and rummaged through the contents. Not there. Dammit. “Check under your seat,” she told Jessie. “See if there’s a map.”

     Jessie groped beneath her for a few moments, then shook her head. “No. Just this.” She pulled out an old coffee cup.

     “Great. Helpful. Thanks.”

     “What do you need a map for?”

     Maddie ran her fingers through her hair, pulling it back until she felt a sting in the roots. “Do you know where we are?”

     “What do you- Oh.” Jessie frowned. “Actually, no.”

     “Yeah. Yeah, me neither.” She felt tears of frustration pricking her eyes, and fought them back. “I don’t know this part of the city. If he doesn’t come back, I don’t know where to go.”

     “We could find the subway,” Jessie offered. “Check the map there.”

     “Which way is the station?” Maddie asked. “It could be down the block that way,” she said, pointing ahead of them, “Or ten blocks behind us. Or over two streets. How long is it going to take us to find it? Especially with all of this?” Maddie swept her hand out, directing her sister’s attention to the horde of people outside the car that kept growing in number.

     Jessie bit her lip. “Well….he’ll come back.”

     Maddie glanced at the clock.

     9:21.

     They sat in silence. As the minutes ticked slowly by, the interior of the car grew warm and Maddie’s eyes slipped shut. Just for a second, she told herself. She was so tired. The booze from the night before, the early morning wake-up, the escape from the basement and then from the building – everything weighed on her, and the day had barely begun. Gently, eyes still closed, she touched her lower lip. The throbbing there had dulled, but it was still tender. Her wrist, too, felt sore; for all the care she’d taken to follow her doctor’s instructions and rest it, she was pretty sure she’d undone that work over the last few days.

     I’m already beat to hell, she thought, despairing. How can I do this alone?

     She cracked open an eye.

     9:27.

     He’s not coming.

     You don’t know that.

     He’s not coming.

     Shut up.

     He’s not coming, and you’re going to die.

     Maddie’s eyes flew open.

     9:29.

     Reaching down, she grasped the bar beneath her seat and jerked, sliding back as far as she could. She levered the seat-back down, twisted, and scrambled into the back seat.

     “What are you doing?” Jessie asked, sounding alarmed.

     Maddie ignored her. The seat covers back here were flecked the old blood; she grimaced as she knelt on one of the stains, seeing Summer in a flash. Pushing the picture away, she swept her hands over the rear dash, searching for the tab she knew must be there.

     “Maddie, what are you-”

     “Ha!” Finding the tab, she yanked, and the rear seat back came down a flop. She groped in the opening, grabbed a fistful of fabric and tugged one of Vinnie’s bags out of the trunk. The heft told her it was the one she wanted.

     9:30.

     “Maddie?”

     Maddie opened the bag and shoved her arm in, reaching down past the pile of cotton and guns until her fingers touched cardboard. She grasped a box, hardly aware when one of her nails bent back painfully, and pulled it out. The box came open, spilling small bullets across her lap and the seat.

     “What the fuck are you doing?!” Jessie was shouting now, and there was no question about the depth of her concern.

     “It’s empty,” Maddie told her. She reached back, where the gun still pressed into her waist, and pulled it out. “It’s empty, but I can load it.” She held the pistol in her hand. “At least…I think I can.”

     She stared at it, trying to work out what she should do. The trigger was obvious, and she kept her fingers well away from that. Turning the gun this way and that, she spotted two buttons on the right side. One, she reasoned, was the safety. The other must open the handle, to allow for insertion of the bullets.

     “Are you sure you should be messing with that?”

     “Shut up,” Maddie muttered.

     “Maddie, come on, you don’t know-”

     “Shut up!”

     Jessie recoiled as if slapped.

     9:32.

     “Fuck it.” Maddie pushed the top button, which was really more of a switch, and got nothing. Okay. She pushed the other – and the inside of the handle fell into her lap.

     “Okay. Okay.” Setting down the gun, she swept up a handful of bullets. “It’s like loading Pez. Right? I think.”

     “You think?”

     “Yeah. Yeah. These go in here, and they…they…” She stared at the bullets. “Shit. Shit.”

     “What?”

     Maddie looked at her sister, her eyes wide. “I don’t know which way they go in.”

     “Which way they- Aren’t they labeled?!”

     “They’re not batteries!”

     9:35.

     “Oh for fuck’s sake.” Maddie dumped the bullets back into the box and shoved it back into the bag. The gun, now in pieces, went in as well. She jammed the whole lot back into the trunk and slammed the seat back up. The urge to start screaming again rose up in her throat; with effort, she choked it back down.

     “Maddie.”

     “Give me a minute.”

     “Maddie.”

     “I said wait a minute!”

     “I can’t.” Jessie peered around the side of her seat. “It’s 9:36.”

     Twenty minutes.

     Maddie closed her eyes.

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