Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Up Where We Belong

It's gonna be ok, the kids are on their way, buddy,” Gary said to Benjamin the Asshole Cat. Benjamin was flattened against the back of his cat carrier on the floor beside Gary's slumping body. Benjamin did not answer; he seemed to understand his silence was important. The radio slid out of Gary's hand and bumped down on the floor. Probably best to have it off anyway right now. Travis knew where he was.

He'd found his way into an unlocked apartment, but it was locked now. He could hear scrabbling on the other side of the door and the kids weren't going to be able to come until morning. For now he had Benjamin and himself covered against the cold with many blankets from inside the apartment; inside the nest of blankets that covered him and insulated Benjamin he was snapping packets of hand warmers now and then to lend more heat.

There was some blood, but he'd managed to bandage himself mostly with towels and other things. His leg was almost certainly broken, but that wasn't the worst injury. At this moment, though, he felt no real pain; he felt even a little euphoric and distant from himself.

They don't even have a snowmobile,” he whispered regretfully to Benjamin. Benjamin hissed a little and Gary leaned over more to look at his cat, still bunched up at the back of his carrier, occasionally hissing toward the apartment door.

They can't get in. Can't do anything about the deadbolt,” he said, trying to reassure Benjamin, but Benjamin wasn't very savvy about deadbolts either. “And we're up high enough they can't climb in windows. And this place is locked up tight now. Even the windows.”

Without the snowstorm obscuring the sky, the moon was bright enough to light this apartment's living room. The previous occupants had probably not been here for long; there was still a box labeled “Shit For Kitch” on the counter just visible inside the kitchen door. The art that appeared to be earmarked for the walls was standing, framed, against the walls instead. Their taste ran to 80s style drawings of women eating popsicles, not Gary's personal choice.

I do like popsicles, though,” he told Benjamin. Benjamin growled at the apartment door. On the other side of the door, the scratching continued, and their opponents hissed back. “I'm just glad it's not a dropped ceiling. That's a design mistake.”

Benjamin growled again.

Just my opinion, you fart. I'm not an expert or anything. That was Jan's job.”

Gary didn't know if he was cold, or if what he was feeling was the wetness of more blood. He didn't want to check yet. Instead he popped another hand warmer and stuffed it down by his feet, bumping his broken leg and sending shrapneled blasts of pain along his nerves.

Fuck this,” he gasped. “And fuck hanging ceilings, you know what, Benjamin, just fuck, fuck, fuck them.”

In the back of his mind he could hear his mother's voice from decades ago, long before he'd ever met the kids since his mother died when was barely a man himself. “Gary Stuart, do you think you've sworn enough?”

I meant fudge, Ma.”

He couldn't tell at first if the enraged howl was from Benjamin or the opponents on the other side of the door.

And fudge them too. Ridiculous. Swear to god, ridiculous. Think I'm pretty hurt, Ma. And one of those fuck- I mean – fudging bas... bakers bit me. Fucking fudgers.”

He could feel his mother's affection and disapproval across time and for a moment, in his mind's eye, he could see her as clearly as if she was across the breakfast table again. It had been years since he'd clearly seen her face, and longer still since her cheeks had been full and pink like now. Or then. Whatever time he was seeing her now.

You'd have liked Jan,” he told her. “Right, Benjamin? Jan? You'd have liked him too. But he passed so fast, not even a decade after Ma. I mean she'd have liked Jan if he was a girl. Or something.”

Benjamin settled down, coming to the front of the cat carrier to be nearer Gary, and Gary realized the hissing and scrabbling and howling on the other side of the door had stopped.

Gave up or went to bed, you think?”

He dug in his backpack to count how many hand warmers he had left. He lost count, started over, dropped them, picked them up, lost count; so many times he couldn't even keep count of how many counts he'd done.

Enough,” he said, and knew his voice was slurred a bit. “Enough for the night. We'll be warm,” he assured Benjamin. “One more right now.”

He woke up with a start. The scrabbling at the door was back; he had no idea how long he'd dozed for. His head felt muzzy and strange and weirdly clear of distractions or the world itself.

Benjamin. Benji, you here?”

He heard Benjamin meow at him, felt the rough tongue brushing his fingers and realized he'd stuck his fingers in through the grate of the cat carrier.

You are a good boy and I love you,” Gary said. He wasn't sure if his eyes were open or not. “Don't let anyone tell you different, you little asshole. You are perfect.”

He felt around, his vision clearing or his eyes opening – he wasn't certain, and popped on another hand warmer for his feet and one for beneath Benjamin's cage, tucking another up against his own chest.

Shouldn't sleep. Bleeding, still, I think.”

He dreamed of Jan. Jan died nearly twenty years ago now, and while Gary had found occasional companionship, he'd never wanted to replace Jan.

Shoulda done more right by you,” he told Jan over breakfast in their sunlit breakfast nook. Their apartment was so tiny at that time there was no dining room. Jan answered, his face kind, but Gary could not catch what he was saying. He remembered this day. This was the first day after they learned Jan was sick. This was the first day they'd woken up knowing Jan would die.

They were in the living room now. This room ran the width of the entire apartment and had windows on two sides. Jan had painted a Japanese-influenced version of a Fellowship of the Ring book cover on the wall without windows, they had a chrome and plush sofa beneath the mural.

Ben thinks this couch is hilarious. He grins every time he sees this picture of us.” And the living room shifted just a little, so that it was that picture, Gary and Jan in shorts and tube socks, running shoes and ringer shirts, mustaches and long hair, arms along the back of the couch, beers in hand. Jan had just begun to become so terribly thin and tired in that picture, but they were happy that day. Jan wore neon green sunglasses that reminded Gary of miniblinds. “I told the kids you were my room mate. I did, at first.”

He could feel himself cry even in the dream.

You deserved better from me.”

He could feel Jan squeezing his hand, and was struck by the realness of that presence; Jan's warmth, Jan's scent, his closeness, his touch.

That little apartment was tucked, in this dream, into his mother's house. The breakfast nook jutted out over the back yard. His mother was here somewhere, sorting through her fabric scraps to make the patterned little bears she made from her leftover quilting fabrics.

It was a sweet, sweet memory of a thing that never was, his happiest grown up home and his childhood haven all together.

He heard Ben calling his name.

Just bring it in and put it on the table,” he said about the grocery shopping Ben was holding in his mind.

He's hurt really bad,” Amanda said. “Gary, wake up.”

There's a lot of blood,” Ben said.

Let's get him bandaged.”

Look in the bag,” Gary said drowsily.

Ben and Amanda looked at each other.

For the bandages.”

Gary, you don't have any bandages in your bag,” Ben said.

With the groceries. You brought them in.” Gary woke up as he finished the sentence. “Ben! Amanda! Where's Travis?”

He's throwing those raccoons outside the building in case any of their buddies come looking for you,” Amanda said, briskly. She was wrapping more towels around the tear in his side, strapping them down with ace bandages from this apartment's bathroom.


He's right here, Gary, we've got him.” Ben held up the carrier with his namesake cat inside.

Broke my leg in the crash. Hit something under the snow, a wire or something. It dragged my skis. Threw me. Got cut up.”

Yeah, I can see that,” Amanda said. She was bracing his leg with pieces of broken chair and wrapping it, too. He could tell it probably hurt.

The raccoons – they bite you?” Ben asked.

Couple times. Think I killed one slamming the door on it.”

Yeah, there's a half eaten one out there. Freakin' Red Flu raccoons, I never thought...” Ben said, trailing off.

Travis came in then, and he and Amanda bundled Gary up in the blankets tightly and lifted him between them. Ben walked in front of them carrying Benjamin's carrier in one hand and an axe in the other.

Ben,” Gary said as they lifted him in to a minivan sitting in the snowless wake of a snowplow. Ben set Benjamin beside him and leaned in.

I'm here, Gary.”

Amanda nodded to Ben, indicating he could ride in the back with Gary. They'd removed the seats and placed a mattress back here for him; Ruth had instructed them to make sure his head was higher than his feet, so part of the mattress was propped up on another rolled up mattress. Amanda took the driver's seat in the van while Travis headed back to the plow to make sure their path back was clear.

Ben,” Gary said. “I loved Jan.”

I know you did. I know you do,” Ben said. He squeezed Gary's hand and for a moment, Gary was reminded of Jan, in the dream, doing the same.

Jan would have loved you kids.”

Gary's eyes drifted shut, his face exhausted.

Ruth, Eve, and Will were waiting for them when they returned to the Fort. Travis parked their new snowplow, gathered from the transit center near the Fort, in the parking lot with the minivan, the truck, and Ruth's car. Eve stayed to cover the vehicles with the tarps and to grab Benjamin's carrier to bring him into the Fort.

The rest of them somberly carried Gary's body down to rest, for the moment, in the bottom of the South Battery.

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