Quinn in Crisis
by Maurice Roger
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
Pausing for a moment with my hand to my forehead, I feel the strength of the headache pulsating harder. I wish I knew where the Tylenol went.
“You wouldn’t happen to have any Tylenol on you, Betty? Maybe some Aleve? Anything?”
She responds to my question with the faintest of headshakes. Her emotions are guarded, absent, as if she is a different person under her skin.
The rainfall softens on the windowsill. “I think the rain is stopping out there.” No response from her until I say, “You want another drink, Betty?” and then she, just as before, gives me a mild nod and says, “Yes.” I pour another and slide it to her. “You want to open a tab?”
Betty ignores my question. The sunglasses that were plastered to her face have now slightly slid down on the bridge of her nose. And though I can see her pencil-thin eyebrows, I see a shade of blue highlighting her cheeks, too. That’s nothing new, Betty sometimes wears eye makeup along with her rouge. I lean towards her to get a better look at her face, but she turns, grabs her drink and the trash bag, and begins pacing.
Betty walks around, stopping at different tables and chairs and posters on the walls. Maybe she has her clothes in the trash bag. She may have tried to leave the house as quickly as possible and thrown some things in there to keep her safe until she decides her next move.
Hell, maybe Daisy was wrong about the whole thing and Betty is just here because she wants to be here. Betty is a grown woman, just as I am a grown man. Holding her to different standards because she goes to a bar without her husband is like Adele telling me I cannot buy a new car without her permission.
She swings the bag and sips her drink. As she walks around, she glances my way, and I can tell the alcohol is loosening her up. Betty stops at the jukebox, pointing to the passed-out Daisy slouched against the wall.
“She’s okay,” I say. “She’s had too much this time. I was just about to bring her home.”
Betty shuffles through several songs before removing a few coins from her pocket.
I clear my throat and say, “Where is Andrew tonight?” but the tunes of guitar strings and drums and women’s voices fill the air. Betty dances and hops, raising her arms high. The bag sways. She dosey-does. Her lip-synching loudens to yells when the chorus comes on: “Goodbye, Earl.”
I know this song. And apparently, Daisy does as well. She never stands up from her position, nor does she open her eyes, but she flails her arms to the beat and even repeats the chorus with a slur of “Gooodbyee, Earrrrrl,” before the drool reaches the floor and sleep takes her again.
Betty continues to dance around the room. A huge smile covers her face. “Goodbye, Andy.” She holds the bag up.
I massage my temples. Please, tell me this isn’t what I think it is. I must be overanalyzing things again. Virgos tend to do this. It’s just my imagination. Andrew wasn’t exactly in the mafia, but he was connected. He had mob ties. A strong arm for late payments. Hammers and bats and tough talk.
I have known Betty and Andrew for years. She never had bruises on her that I ever saw. And they always seemed truly in love. Actually, many times, I have envied them. They would hug one another and slow dance. I only wish Adele and I would get along so comfortably. We haven’t shown any display of affection in years.
The song ends. I snap out from my thoughts to see Betty standing before me. Her hair covers most of her face. She sets the trash bag on the counter. I don’t know what to say. I ponder asking Betty if she wants another whiskey, but I want her to make the first move.
Rather than speaking to me, she shows me. Betty removes her sunglasses. Her left eye is swollen and bruised. She must have tried to cover it up with makeup at one point, because it runs down her cheek in wavy streams. She wants me to see this. I look away and look back again. She blinks. Her eyelid is black and her eyeball is filled with blood. God.
“Betty,” I say, moving closer to her.
“How are Adele and the kids?” she says.
I stutter, knowing what to say but too nervous to put it into actual words. “Okay.”
“And the house? How is the house, Quinn?”
“House?” My voice pitches high. “It’s good.”
“I heard you might be late on the mortgage because you bought a new car. That true?”
My mouth opens but words don’t come out until, “You heard what? Mortgage? The mortgage is fine.” I wipe the sweat from my forehead. “How the hell do you know that?”
Betty looks in the jukebox’s direction and back to me. “I’m sure you have heard about Andy and me,” Betty says, “and the problems we were having.”
I shrug and say, “I haven’t heard a thing about anyone. You know me, Betty. I don’t get involved in that stuff.”
Her hands move to the bag. She unwraps it. The ends unfold. I still can’t see what’s inside. The rain has stopped. I should have never let her in here. I should have closed when she was standing in the doorway. I cross my arms and swallow.
“Listen,” I say, “I’m closing up right now. You have to leave, Betty.” I walk over to the cash register and lock it. And that’s when I see her reflection in the mirror. Her hand dips in the bag and removes a large object. It makes a mushy bang when it hits the countertop.
I don’t turn around because I don’t want to be an accessory to anything. She coughs. The second time is much louder. My head hurts. I close my eyes as I turn towards her and I hear her say, “Say hello, Andy.”
A head rests on my counter. Andrew’s head, cut off just below the Adam’s apple. His lifeless green eyes are rolled back. The black hair he always bragged about sticks out in every direction. His face is beaten to a swollen pulp. Blood, though not much, makes a small puddle that drips over to my side.
Is she going to kill me? I think of my wife and kids. Scottie, I imagine must be meeting new people in his classes. Hopefully, he will meet a nice girl and get good grades and make something of his life when he graduates. And Sally, already a sophomore and a straight-A student, I know will be an independent soul who can take on the world by herself.
And Adele, my lovely Adele, what is she doing at this moment? She’s probably lying in bed thinking about me, pondering if this marriage is still worth it or if she should file for divorce. I wish I could sit by her side right now. I would kiss her ear. I would tickle her feet. I would tell her I’m sorry.
Betty picks up Andrew’s head, stares at it for a few seconds, and says, “Had to learn the hard way. You son-of-a-bitch.” She turns the head to me while she laughs aloud. She places her decapitated husband’s head in the bag again and reties it.
I am a witness. She could kill me just for that. I look around the bar for anything that could defend me against her attempts. Maybe I could hit her with a bottle. As I return to her, I see Betty putting her sunglasses on and walking towards the exit. Betty opens and closes the bar door in one graceful motion. I freeze in place. I don’t know how many minutes pass before I move again.
When the surprise of seeing a severed head only a few inches away from me finally leaves, I take a wet rag to the pool of blood and throw it away.
“C’mon. Get up, Daisy. Time to go.” I take her cane and prop Daisy to her feet. She says something inaudible and wipes the drool from her mouth. We walk to the front door. “I’m taking you home.”
“Great,” she says. “In Bella? You still have that car?”
“Yes,” I say, locking the door. “Bella.”
Daisy sleeps the entire way to her house. I help her in her apartment, place the cane by the door, and make sure she has a glass of water by her bedside before I leave.
The car hums when I start it. A Mustang’s engine is notorious for its trademark rumble. Rather than taking off, I sit here. I can’t believe what happened tonight. It was surreal. For a brief moment, I wonder if Betty will return. Maybe the police already have her. I look at the innards of the car. Everything still gleams. The stick shift and dashboard haven’t yet seen a spot of dust. I put my foot the clutch, preparing to drive home. You still have Bella?
I call the only person in the world whom I can share anything. One ring. Two. On the fifth ring, Adele answers and says, “Quinn.” She must have been sleeping. The sound of her voice never felt so satisfying. I smile just hearing her. I want to tell her of what just happened in the bar. I want to tell her of the horror I just saw. The only thing I say is “Thank God you answered.”
She replies, “Something wrong, Quinn? Quinn, are you okay? You sound funny.”
When she asks a third time, I spurt out, “I’ve decided to return the car, Adele. I don’t want it anymore. The sales guy gave me five days to take it back if I didn’t like it. And it’s only been three.”
An awake and attentive tone comes from Adele when she says, “Are you sure, Quinn? You just bought it. Is there something wrong with it?”
I picture her sitting up in bed now, the lamp on, snuggled within her comforter. I want to lie there and hug her. I chuckle and say, “Yes. Everything is wrong with it.”
“It will help us with the mortgage though, won’t it?”
“Yes. It will. I love you, Adele. I love you. Be home in a few minutes.”
“I love you too, Quinn. See you soon.”
“Oh, Adele, do we have any Tylenol at the house? My head is killing me.”
Copyright © 2015 by Maurice Roger