Bewildering Stories

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part 1

by R D larson

Sean dropped his head in his hands. His fingers caressed his skull, trying to free himself from the pain. His knees trembled and he could feel his heart’s fierce pounding. His chest felt like a deflated basketball. If he didn’t know better, if he weren’t a doctor, he would think he was having a coronary infarction. His stomach buckled as he felt a loss of physical control over his body functions. Again. Just like when it happened.

He no longer had a life. Rather, the life he had known was over. Gone. Vanished. Lost. The canvas blue sling around his arm and shoulder irritated his neck skin and he scratched it hard, leaving welts.

The door opened. A man, overweight in his middle-to-late fifties with a balding head, and florid face, pushed through. “Hi, I’m Ed Reynolds. We talked on the phone? I’m going to interview you about the incident. Like what happened, you know? Do you want anything, water, soda, coffee?”

Sean shook his head. The man sat in the chair opposite him, laying papers and a tape recorder on the table. He took out a pair of bent wire glasses. He carefully straightened them. “I’m going to ask you some questions. First, did you change your mind? About me?”

Again, Sean shook his head.

“How did you meet Chloe St. John?” The first question the man asked in a toneless voice showed his indifference. His eyes didn’t watch Sean.

Sean thought, he’s here to do his job. Just record the facts as he heard them.

Ed forgot about the recorder on the steel table. With his pen and paper, he looked as if he’d been in rooms like this his whole life.

“Shouldn’t you turn that recorder on? I want to be sure of what I — say, “ said Sean. “I’m going to tell you the truth.”

The heavy man jammed the switch down. Sean tilted his head back, looking sightless at the lights in the ceiling. “I knew Chloe before kindergarten; we played together when we were little.”

“Did you love her?” Again, the evasive eyes stuck to the paper and pen. He asked again, when Sean didn’t answer. “Were you in love with her?”

“In love with Chloe? Yes, I love her. Have for most of my life. Ever since fifth grade when she was the first girl to start getting breasts. I couldn’t believe it. When she let me touch them, I was amazed.” He couldn’t help the snicker that leaked out with the memory.

Ed didn’t laugh or respond. He scribbled a word or two on the yellow pad. “It sounds like you grew up together. Did you date in high school?”

“Yeah, we went steady starting our freshman year. I never dated anyone else. Her mother made us break up once so Chloe would meet other boys.” Sean looked out at the rain. “Chloe only accepted one date. When the Mike tried to feel her boobs, she started screaming. Almost had a convulsion. Her dad had to go get her. Chloe goes ballistic — hysterical — when she can’t control her surroundings — when she feels claustrophobic.”

Sean felt shocked at what he’d exposed about Chloe‘s problems, that he made her seem unpredictable. “I just mean she just didn’t like being touched without her direct invitation. Anyway, I knocked the hell out of him in basketball practice the next day — he should have left her alone.”

Ed looked up into his face, a thought crouching there, maybe. “Where you punished, like maybe kicked off the team?”

“No, I was the biggest, fastest forward they had. Coach just put up with me.”

“What did Chloe think about you fighting with the other boy?”

“I don’t think she noticed. I wanted him to stay away from her so I let him know that. Her mother grounded her but we just went out anyway.”

“Did you two fight often?” Ed suddenly gazed directly into Sean’s face.

He could feel a flush under his skin. He would not say anything, he told himself, to Ed that would reflect poorly on Chloe. Not now, not ever.

Ed went on, “I understand she acted pretty extreme in those days. Her mother told me caused her so much worry that her hair, the mother’s, started falling out.”

“She did? She never understood Chloe. So what if Chloe’s a little high-strung? She’s the artistic type. Her mother has never understood that Chloe has her own concepts.” Sean blinked, trying to center and calm his mind. His left eyelid twitched listlessly. God I hope Ed can’t see that. “She never could relate to Chloe.”

“What did you two do after high school graduation?”

“We went to Burdock together; got married in our first year. I went on a basketball scholarship, and her folks paid her tuition. She hated the dorm so we just got a place. We wanted to be together. She worked as an assistant to a local painter that taught part-time at the college. I never thought he’d hit on her because everyone said he was gay,” Sean told Ed. He remembered how Chloe had laughed, rolling on their bed, saying she’d smoked a huge joint with the professor. She told him that the old queen had insightful depth that moved her. He didn’t tell Ed anything about that.

Ed scribbled on the pad, stopping once to wipe his glasses. Sean kept saying to himself, don’t say too much, don’t say too little. Over and over again.

“So then what?” Ed focused on him, his pen like a negligible dagger on the brink of piercing his resolve. “Didn’t you ever go back home, like for summer or Christmas?”

“Sure. During the summers we got back for a few weeks. When we went home for a visit I stayed in my old room with my brother and she went to her little pink virgin bedroom. We never got around to telling them that we'd gotten married. They'd have been furious, thinking we were too young. Her mother wanted a career for Chloe. Not be dependent on her husband if she ever got married. Especially if she married me. Her mother didn't like me. And she ruled the roost in that house.”

“Why was that? Why didn’t her mother...”

“Her mother never liked me,” Sean broke in, his voice too high and sharp. “I was too Irish for her taste. My family was large and Catholic. We argued and voted Democrat to a soul. Her mother was a member of the DAR. Her father just did his business with the jewelry store and kept out of her way.”

“What is he like? Chloe’s father? You go out for a beer or a game?”

“Once he came to my game and sat with my brothers. I looked over at him. Brian and Scott were hollering. Her father was sitting with Chloe, both of them just watching me. It was kind of unnerving because it didn't seem like they even knew there was a game. Not reacting or anything.” Sean pulled at a thread on his sleeve. He resettled the sling on his shoulder. He glanced up. Ed wrote carefully, rereading it. Sean stared out at the hammering rain, his lips moving slightly.

Finally, after a time, when neither of them spoke, Ed looked again at Sean. “I want to understand. Help me here, Sean. I'm trying to connect the dots here. Help me to get a handle on how it was between you and Chloe.”

“Nothing to know. We just fell in love when we were kids,” Sean said. “I accepted her and she accepted me, no matter what. We owned our own world.”

“Sounds like love. After high school you went to college together, got married. But didn't tell your families?” Ed said sharpness in his eyes. “Don’t know if I believe that, Sean.”

“Why would I lie about it?”

“How was college life?” Ed paused and then, dropped it. Sean knew intuitively that their secret marriage festered in the opinion of the interviewer.

“I was a big star in high school when I went to college, Burdock U, on an athletic scholarship. Else I couldn't have gone. After I was in, accepted, it wasn't hard to get grants and loans. And I got the team into the state standings because I could handle the ball. And the college? Administrators want to encourage a degree in medicine. I didn't see any point in telling anybody we were married. Not even our friends.”

“So how did you manage to pay the bills?”

“Low-paying jobs mostly. And her folks helped her.”

“Right, then THAT is why you didn’t tell them. The money would have ended.”

Sean shrugged.

“Didn‘t they figure it out?”

“No, Chloe knew they would have disowned her. They knew my old man had gone to prison for money laundering and tax evasion. They thought I was trash. I wanted to prove to them that I was worthy of Chloe. But she didn‘t give a rat‘s ass what they wanted.”

“So they said to your face that their daughter was too good for you, isn't that a fact?”

“Yeah, and I didn’t listen. They were right. Both of their daughters raised as princesses and told they were better than anyone.” Sean said, the poor-me bitterness clinging to the edges of his words. “They were wrong.”

“What did you do to supplement your income?”

“Waited tables; what else?” He stopped, rubbing his eyelid still feeling the tick, feeling it tighten and twitch. Finally, pinching his eyelid between his thumb and forefinger, Sean went on slowly, barely above a whisper. “Chloe took a job — as cocktail waitress. “ Sean took a long pause. “Then she wanted to be a stripper. She didn't care what anyone thought. She wanted the experience. Good-looking college girls take their clothes off all the time for a beer. Hell, she wanted to get paid for it.”

“Didn't you care?” Ed’s voice sounded far away.

“No, it brought in plenty of money. But, when...”

“Go on, what happened?”

“I don't know if I want to put this out there.” Sean stood up, looked out the window at the rain slicking on the street and parking lot.

“Look here, I can't help you if I don't get it. I want to help you, Sean,” Ed said, his voice sounding rigid and harsh.

Sean turned, sighing again and shrugged. He leaned on the table with his left arm, lowering himself into the chair as if he were depleted. “I already told the others.”

“Were you playing basketball for Burdock?”

“First year. Then I dropped out. Too hard to get good grades and play too.”

“So how did you keep in shape?”

“I didn't. When we first got married, we were having a lot of sex. Chloe needed me with her. We were... Oh, I don‘t know.” Sean’s voice faded.

“And then you gained some weight?

“Yeah, but it didn't matter to me and certainly not to Chloe.”

Ed got up and went out the door. In a few minutes, he returned with bottled waters. Sean watched as the other man fussed with his yellow pad and pen as he kept saying to himself, I love Chloe so much. I love her. The words ripped their weight into his core.

“Now tell me about the house. Just before graduation, right?”

“Yeah we always talked, you know, about a house. After my practice was established and I had a grip on my loans. It didn't happen that way at all.” Sean tipped his head back. Tears form in his eyes, they burn but don't fall because he closes his eyes as he slung his left forearm across his eyes to soak away the evidence into his sweatshirt. He sat up straight again. Eyes level, he said to himself.

Sean started again.

”Chloe found a house. She wanted it before I did. I still had two years in residency. It wasn't grand or anything. A family home, you know, big kitchen, four bedrooms. She wanted a family home. I'm telling you — she wanted it more than me. She lusted for it. That big yellow house out on Cripple Hill.”

“So? So what did you do? Sean, I need to get something concrete here. Something to help you. How did you buy the house?” Ed looked at the clock on the wall watching the jumpy minute hand screech toward noon. “Let’s finish this, Sean.”

“Okay, I'm trying here.” He paused. “I was happy in our ratty apartment. Happy enough anyway. Who cares if you just have food and a roof you know? Nevertheless, Chloe wanted this house. She call it OUR big yellow house. It wasn't for sale when she found it. The house belonged to an old woman whose kids had all died before her. She met Chloe and they started having a goddamned tea time in the afternoons, before Chloe went into the club to dance.”

“Say, did Chloe ever cheat on you? You know with all the men watching her strip down to...?” Ed looked impassive.

“I don't think so. She loved me, and I loved her. It was a job to her; that's what I'm telling you. We were pretty happy, in those first days.”

“But you didn't like her going for tea with this old lady, Mrs. Kittrick, right?”

“Yeah, I felt — I don't know — jealous and mad — and worried. I started to think Chloe had a scam going on — like, the old lady dying and leaving her the house. Stuff like that only happens in movies. Nobody leaves a stranger a fortune, a house.”

Sean said with a groan. “Chloe started turning tricks after her strip show. She always said she learned how good she was from doing it to me. She could fuck like a bunny.”

“Holy shit,” said Ed as he exploded from the chair and it fell backwards. “Oh holy shit.”

Proceed to the conclusion...

Copyright © 2005 by R D Larson

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