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I turned from the computer and regarded the mounting gloom out the window. How different in temperament to the day prior, those unimpeachable bright skies and crisp air that had come out for Lena’s wake replaced by a solid gray dome of low cloud bruising darker as, at some unidentifiable point behind it, the sun was already giving up on this, the shortest day of the year. Ever the sunny Texas girl who still viewed snow as an abnormal substance not to be trusted, Ally had always made a big hoo-ha of the winter solstice, “Just one more sleep!” she’d hollered at Melanie when she was about five, “And finally, finally, finally, the days will start getting longer. Then hey presto! It’ll be summertime again! Hooray!” Frowning at Melanie’s vacant expression I had to explain the one and only thing Melanie gave a shit about on this day was the four sleeps remaining until she could plunder the ridiculous amount of loot accumulating in ribboned drifts around the Christmas tree all of which, except for me and Ally’s presents to each other (both of which Ally had bought, me severely allergic to shopping and clueless to the tides of Ally’s material desires which that year manifested in a glassy black rectangle that turned out to be the very first iPhone, a “computer in your pocket” she’d cooed while me and Melanie stared at each other and shrugged), was hers.
“And fog to boot,” I muttered, watching it billow in over the still water of the lake as if heralding the appearance of a ghost ship or Merlin’s sword rising from the surface. The sight filled me with the same tingling sense of foreboding I’d gotten on those odd layovers in Istanbul waking at dawn to the creeping, mournful wail of mosques rousing the darkened city to prayer, me to the open bottle on the nightstand. If Melanie were here, as I was fantasizing she was now, she’d dismiss the spooky atmosphere with a click of the tongue and set to bemoaning such unseasonably warm weather. “I bet there was skating on this lake 10 years ago” she’d shrill before the diatribe against the sinister world-destroying cabal of old rich white males (she’d view Hal Topper as a typical specimen) who valued nothing incapable of being publicly traded, not to mention those complicit airline pilots, like you Daddy, who ferry these corrupt geezers from one priority lounge to the next in flying SUVs. I wondered if college might smooth the edges of her ‘climate change warrior’, ‘grrrl power’ militancy or radicalize her yet further as Ally, briefly a bra burner herself in college (until she took a life-altering business course, ditched the literary criticism, and founded a successful Manhattan bar instead), morbidly feared. “What if she becomes one of these fucking eco-terrorists, Paul?! Who gets her pussy pierced and sleeps with other girls even though she’s about as much of a lesbian as I am? What if she ends up in jail?” No, I had assured her, “Melanie is also about as much of a terrorist as you are,” ever grateful that Melanie had dodged two genetic bullets at conception: Dorothy’s Huntington’s and the dark pathogens I was convinced (thank you, Aunt Carrie) lurked in my nucleotides. Then I wondered if I should I add a reassuring PS to the email I had just finished writing to Ally. Something like And remember, don’t worry about Mel, she’s going to do great in life, just like her mom… Turning away from the fog and back to the computer, I reread the letter:
Subject: My Final Message (I promise, please read)
You probably didn’t see it, but my plane was in the news today, all repaired and ready to fly again. They had this crazy before and after footage, the before one showing the plane all smoking with its guts ripped out, streaming water, fuel, Gary’s piss, who knows what, and the after one this sleek, gleaming beauty that could’ve been fresh off the assembly line! You would never believe it was the same plane rolling along the tarmac there in front of the cameras like a superstar. When it comes to resiliency contests – stand aside livers and cockroaches – planes are it! Honestly, I almost put my hand through my TV screen trying to give it a high-five. But weirdly, narcissistically you might say, I think I got so worked up watching it because that plane kind of embodies how I’m feeling right now – similarly reconstituted, like my insides have been taken out and put back, but in the right place this time. There seems to be a heart beating in my chest, one which I’m actually learning how to use.
I would like to say I wish you could see me now, new man and all that, but I don’t want you to interpret this message as a final ploy for you to forgive me, take me back, or any of that old blah blah (btw- I have a girlfriend now, well sort of anyway). I just want you to know I’m doing a lot better, been doing some digging (literally in some cases) and learned an awful lot about myself recently, and I’m treating people better, so please DON’T WORRY about me and Mel reconnecting.
In any case Ally, this is the end. You won’t be hearing from me again, but I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed everything works out for you too in the end. My sort of girlfriend told me not so long ago “I just want you to be happy” and that’s what I want for you. Happiness. You are a GREAT person, and you deserve it.
With all my (new and improved) heart,
“That is some grade-A bullshit right there,” I said through a long sigh, digging a gnawing hair from the back of my scalp and studying the ivory bulb squashed under my fingernail from which it quivered. I could picture Ally skimming the message in two seconds, miming puking before deleting it, then taking care to permanently delete it from her trash folder like a cancer that might spread back to her inbox and sicken the healthy messages she wanted to keep. What was I hoping to accomplish with this treacly spew anyway? Ally had been ghosting me for months now and man, who knew that sustained silence is the greatest, most visceral fuck you ever invented? Nothing, not artillery fire, screams louder I don’t care about you any more than that cold silence, all the more devastating once it becomes clear it is not only resistant to, but even hardened by, all efforts to break it. I don’t care if you’re doing good or doing bad. I don’t care who you’re fucking or who you’re not fucking. In fact, I don’t care if you’re dead or alive. That’s right, if I got word you were dead, I’d shrug and go back to filing my nails. So what makes you think I’d care about your stupid plane, your alleged rehabilitation, or your irrelevant evaluation of my personhood? Maybe that fog outside is seeping into your brain. Maybe–
“Okay. Alright. I got it!” I cried, deleting the message on her behalf, trashing the trash on her behalf and, with disaster averted, a pleasing relief shiver shot through me. And how blessedly liberating it was to know, with absolute certainty in my (new and improved) heart, I would never endeavor to contact Ally again. My reciprocal silence would be received as welcome evidence I too had finally “moved on”, especially if Melanie supported it by, for example, showing Ally Dani’s album cover photo I had texted her that morning with the caption “Not exactly an album cover, but these are my loopy friends,” to which Melanie had emojied a heart-eyed smiley face. Was that precisely what I was hoping for? For Melanie to go running straight to Ally with it so Ally could see Phoebe draped over me, maybe even feel a pang of jealousy over Phoebe’s superior, unpregnant prettiness? And was that what had compelled me to sit down and write to Ally in the first place? To clarify, not once but twice, that Phoebe was only a “sort of” girlfriend? Just in case she still harbored any residual feelings for me now that I knew, with an undeniable sense of satisfaction that welled maliciously from my former self, things with Jeff Rosenberg were “not all rosy” just as she was about to pop with his baby? I was jolted by another relief shiver in the knowledge I had also averted cheapening Phoebe so, dear Phoebe who’d stowed away her menstrual pads under the bathroom sink that very morning and whispered hotly in my ear “Tonight’s the night, so help me God!” before stepping out into the misty cold, a Santa’s hat clamped over her wet hair, smoke streaming from a freshly lit cigarette clamped between her wet lips, all caffeinated and set to soldier off to tend to her dead. The dead whose numbers inexplicably swelled over the Christmas holidays Phoebe had informed me, tweaking my nipple when I ventured that for some death might present a more restful way of spending them, what with the extended family coming over who can barely mask their disdain for you and bleat on about their superior parenting skills while their lawless kids tear paths of destruction through your house like miniature tornadoes and try to blind the dog, the one member of the household who still shows you some genuine affection, with their grubby little fingers.
“You are dangerous,” I said, addressing my laptop, its cursor blinking coyly, an open invitation to more folly. About to slam down the lid with both hands, the boo-be-doo, boo-be-dee of an incoming call gave me pause long enough to see it was Shannon trying to get through yet again. Guided by a rogue impulse to get it over with, which somehow overpowered my desire to duck her once more, I clicked the video button and her sharp raven’s face bloomed into focus.
“Paul! There you are, finally!” she said, clapping her hands together and holding them to her chest, the fierce determination in her eyes making me close my own and silently curse my computer’s dangerousness once more. “What are you doing?”
Unplugging my palms from my eye sockets, I sighed, “You want to buy a used laptop?”
…red curtains, woosh, and there they all are, gawking at me, what am I now, a fucking zoo animal, animals got it better than this, zookeeper walks in, gives you a quick jab while he pats your fuzzy head and lights out, no spectators, didn’t even know it was coming, got spectators outside, fry Carrick fry! fry Carrick fry! wish this wasthe chair and they’d throw the switch right now, fuckers, torturing me, torture, I asked for it, they delivered, fuckers, you can look at me like that, sure, hold up that picture, that’s right, yeah I know what I did to your darling daughter, look what you’re doing to me, I just had my last meal, your hear that, my last meal, ever, God, she didn’t know it was her last meal, no I came out of the blue, took her quick, took her merciful-like, smells like fucking ammonia in here, is that me, you take a good long look gawkers, you ain’t never going to forget about me, whole country’s never going to forget about me, I made sure of that, I’m famous baby, look at you, I can’t die like this, what? no, you gawkers get to get in your cars, go home, eat a steak, watch TV, watch the sunset, I don’t get to see the sun again, why does the sun get to stay, rising and setting, rising and setting, tomorrow too and the day after and the day after, after I’m fucking gone, what? gone, no, I got what a couple minutes, less, good night forever, end of everything, forever, no, I want to stay, I don’t want to go, there’s that Phoebe Glazer, angriest of the bunch looks like, yeah you look into my eyes, that’s right, feel me where it hurts the most, that’s what I’m here for, nope, you’re giving me the finger, sure, that’s okay I forgive you, I forgive all you gawkers, warden, you may proceed with the execution, is that so, is the poison getting in me now zookeeper, what? no, so sleepy, sleepy, what? is it happening now, Paul, where are you, you were supposed to be here with me, tell them all I ever wanted was to go home, warm fire, warm food, warm laughter, warm blankets, warm arms around me, here to stay, I was always locked out, out in the cold, alone, cold and alone, I was fucking scared man, I just wanted in, I just wanted someone to let me in, God, I’m so tired I want to go home, I just want to go home, Paul tell them I just want to–
*Previous chapters of The Angle of Attack are available at: http://bit.ly/2u7rqcL
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