The Fiction

Good and Happy

From the Summer, 2002, issue 

(No. 8)

Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

I’m at my regular seat at the bar. A tall man in jeans and a ratty green T-shirt walks in and sits down next to me. I say hi. He sets his eyes on me. He’s not from around here. I’ve seen every pair of eyes in this town and these are unfamiliar. He rubs his thighs, rubs his hands together like he’s just come in from the cold. It’s August. I look at him and smile. He orders a rye, throws it down his throat, and shivers. I can feel it warming his sleek insides. He puts his elbows on the bar and rubs the back of his neck. The skin around his fingernails is stained. It looks like rust. Maybe he works with cars, builds fences. He orders another rye, lifts it to his mouth.

Bottoms up, I say. He raises the glass to me, swallows its contents in a gulp. He wipes his mouth, looks over at me, and chuckles. He asks for my name. I tell him. He repeats it. Luanne, Luanne, Luanne. I like the way he says my name, the quiver in his voice. He tells me he’s tired, been driving a while. I tell him, relax, you’re in good hands. He raises his eyebrows, sighs, and tells me he likes me.

We have a few drinks. We talk about the long, hard summer. The dry heat. He tells me this has been a summer to end all summers. I tell him mine has been like every other one that came before it. It rains on the same days. He complains about his car, the broken air conditioning, the condition of the interstate. I tell him I’ve never been on the interstate but I’ve fallen into every pothole on Rural Route 1. He looks at me, but not at me. I jostle his knee. His jeans are damp and discoloured, like he’d spilled his coffee on them earlier. He raises my chin with his chapped hand. He says he could take me away from this. I give him my hand. Take me away from it, I say, whatever it is.

We stumble across the parking lot to his motel. Enter Room 29. He throws the keys on the table, himself on the bed. He holds his head and mutters something about the booze, the drive. I lie down next to him. He strokes the hair out of my eyes. His breath is warm against my face, his arm tightly bound around my waist. He snores. It figures. I lie still for a moment staring at the ceiling. I move his arm. He doesn’t budge. I get up and tiptoe around the room, look over my shoulder every few seconds to make sure he’s still sleeping. He has a side to him. I saw it in his eyes. He would not be pleased if he caught me fingering his belongings. And I don’t want to make this man mad. I want to make him happy—good and happy.

Today’s paper is on the desk. The crossword is incomplete and lying next to unfinished coffees, old milk coagulating. Clothes are strewn across the chair. A black T-shirt, jeans, underwear, briefs—a bra. A bra? Strange. He’s strange. A bra? I look at him. The bra is small. Too small for him. Too small for him—well, of course. I laugh at myself; at the preposterous notion that I thought for a moment that it was his. Then whose? Now it’s not so funny. It’s odd. It’s more than odd. This bra. This tiny bra. A 32A, exactly. Must be a young girl’s, a teenager’s, a thin teenager, a thin woman, a thin older woman—an anorexic. He turns over, mutters something about another drink, something “bitch,” something, and another drink. I drop the bra, look around, then plop myself into the chair. I sit and watch him sputter in his sleep. I sit here and wonder why I’m sitting here in this drunken man’s motel room. A skinny wife on her way back any minute. A skinny girlfriend on her way back for her bra any minute.

It’s long gone 3 A.M. and I’m still sitting here. He’s cute, but he’s not that cute. I’m tired. I guess that’s it. Too tired to get up and find my way home.

The bathroom door’s shut. I’m assuming it’s the bathroom door. Maybe I’ll have a bath. No. A bath’s too noisy. And what would he think of me coming back to his motel room and helping myself to a bath. But a bath would be nice. Hot, bubbly. Would he care? He might like it, might join me.

With an eye on him, I get up and go to the bathroom door. I open it slowly and back into the bathroom. I close the door, lock it, lean on it with my eyes closed, and sigh. Sigh like I’m safe, like I’ve escaped him. Escaped him successfully and now I’m locked in the bathroom. It smells. Smells like rot, like harm. I feel around the wall for the light. I flick the light switch and nothing happens. It’s too dark to see where anything is. My eyes aren’t adjusting to the darkness like they should. They’re not seeing outlines of anything—not the mirror, the toilet, the tub. The tub must be close. I shuffle my feet around. Hit something. I can’t breathe. I look up. A speck of something’s gleaming in the corner. Gleaming in the corner like a small window covered. An iota of it not covered, letting light in from somewhere—the parking lot, the pool.

I find the toilet, put its lid down, stand on it, and reach for the speck. I grab what feels like cardboard. I dig my nails into it and rip it down. Light. I can breathe. I can breathe and I can feel the sweat drying on my brow and I shake my head at this lunacy. Shake my head, jump down from the toilet, and drop to my knees. I hold my stomach and vomit on the floor.

“Jesus Christ. Close your eyes, close your eyes.” I say. “Please, stop looking at me like that.”

There’s a woman in the tub. She’s screaming with her eyes. Her mouth is bound, her arms and legs bound. Her hair is oily dreads. Her body’s thin, naked, blue. She is breathing. She is blinking and she is trying to say something.

“Don’t make a sound,” I tell her. “Just stay quiet.”

Let me think. I can’t think. Let me try to think. Oh, God. Dear God, don’t let him wake up. Let him die, die in his sleep. Dear God, dear God, dear God, let this not be true. Let this not be true. I’m hallucinating. I must be hallucinating. I’m sick. This is sick. O.K., O.K., O.K. Take a deep breath. Get me out of here. Oh, God please get me out of here. The window is too small—barely big enough for a voice to get through. It doesn’t look like it opens. If I yell he’ll hear me. He’ll burst through the locked door and kill us both. Let me think. I climb up on the toilet and study the window. It opens, pushes out, pushes out but I can’t see. I’m too short. I can reach it but I can’t see through it. I could dangle something out of it. I’ll dangle what? The bloody towel. That’s it. I grab the towel.

The handle of the door turns. It turns and the whole door starts rattling. Jesus Christ. She’s screaming with her eyes again, moaning. I’m searching for razors, poisons. He bursts through and I’m caught. I slump down on the toilet. He wipes his mouth. His face is red. He walks back into the room. I can hear him light a cigarette. That sound a specific lighter makes. The cigarette smoke makes me sick. Again, I vomit on the bathroom floor. She closes her eyes. He comes back to the door with the cigarette and a drink in his hand. I cover the vomit with my feet.

“Well, looks like I made a big mistake,” he says. “I should have known better than to get drunk in a shit-hole tavern and pick up a local girl and bring her back to my motel room. I should have known better than to think I could fall asleep without her prowling around my business. Should have known better than to think a pretty, little small-town girl wouldn’t mind her own fucking business. I should have known better. Drink? ”

“No. Thanks.”

“Cigarette? ”

“No.”

“Uh, what’s your name again? ”

“Lou. Luanne.”

“Luanne. Hmm. This is Abby.”

“Abby? Hello, Abby,” I say. I try to smile. I tell myself, just be normal. Just act normal, like this is completely normal. A tied and bound and beaten girl named Abby in the bathtub of some motel, a man, and me—normal, perfectly normal.

He pulls the chair into the doorway of the bathroom. Abby’s straining her neck to see him, to watch him. I look at her and try to send a signal. Some look in code that he won’t pick up on. She’s not looking at me.

“You O.K.? ” he asks.

“Me? ” I ask. “Yeah, I’m O.K. I’m good. I’m fine. Sure. Me? Yeah, no problem. I’m good. Good and happy. Sure, everything’s O.K. You? ”

“Yeah, I’m a little tired. My head’s sore. I guess I drank too much. But, Jesus, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I woke up and the whole world was sitting on top of me. I thought, my God, where did I go wrong? I tried my best for my wife. We had a beautiful new child. I did my fucking best for them. I’ve got debts. But I work hard. Everything was under control I thought. Tables were turning I thought. But Abby lost it. She just up and fucking lost it. I tried to help her. I did. I did everything I could. I told her we needed to step back and think. I tried to keep myself together. I tried. But as soon as I parked the goddamn car, opened up the door to this quiet, little room where I just wanted to lie down for a couple of hours in peace, rest my head and think about what the hell we were going to do, she started on me. And, you know, I feel bad for her, I do. But I can’t let it go. I cannot forgive her.”

I look at Abby. She’s looking at me and I’m thinking of everything. Where’s the child? He said a wife and child? Where the hell is the child? But I’m afraid to ask. I’m afraid in general. I can’t feel my limbs, my body. My body has disappeared. I’m a trembling mind on a toilet seat in a rundown motel, in a small town in the Americas. I’m insignificant, soon to be non-existent. That I can feel.

“I have to lie down,” he mumbles. He gets up and goes into the room. I don’t believe he’s going to lie down. I can’t see him. I can’t move. I don’t want to move. I look at Abby. She’s looking at her toes. It seems like she’s looking at her toes. Her eyes are pooling. She’s staring at her toes, tears oozing down her defeated face.

“Abby,” I whisper, “be strong.”

I can’t hear anything. I don’t believe he’s sleeping. I bet he’s waiting outside the bathroom with a sawed-off shotgun for me to run out and make my way to the door. He’s waiting for me to make a stupid move. He’ll have to wait forever. But Abby can’t wait forever. I get up and slowly walk into the room. He’s lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling.

He looks over at me and whispers, “Will you help me? ”

“Me? Ugh, yeah, yes, of course, I’ll help you. What would you like me to do? ”

“Kill Abby.”

“What? ”

“It won’t be that hard. She’s half gone. She’s like a fly been trapped inside a house too long. One swipe and she’s gone. Then we can go, go and start fresh, you and me. I like you. You’ve got a good head on your shoulders. We can go, go and find my boy. Go and find my boy. Find out what part of the lake she dumped him in.”

Alexandra Leggat’s short story collection Animal was short-listed for the Trillium Book Award. She has contributed to the magazine since 2000. Last updated winter, 2012–2013.
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