Tales of the Storage Space, Part 76

The Storage Space was dreadfully upset on behalf of poor long-suffering Karen, who had turned as white as a sheet.

But then the poor, long-suffering Storage Space shuddered again, and again, and again…though by all rights a building shouldn’t be able to shudder in quite that same, animated if you will, way.  Shift perhaps, reverberate in response to some subterranean influence or other, but not that quick animated shudder.  Well, really, would its next move be a sneeze or a soliloquy?

That slithering again, then something nice again, a gentle prompt to comfort Karen.  But the Storage Space was beginning to recognize a pattern.

So it waited.

And waited.

No odd thoughts.  No inappropriate language.  At last it relaxed just as the female detective and the old woman turned from their conversation to notice, as the Storage Space had previously, poor Karen’s condition.

“Sweetheart!”

That single word, directed toward dear Karen with the utmost compassion, had come from three different sources at once, in perfect harmony.  It was as if a conductor had prompted it from an orchestra.  The lowest, though nowhere near as low as her previous speaking voice, was that female detective.  The Storage Space rather liked to think of itself as a rare countertenor, though of course it hadn’t spoken aloud but rather spoken directly into Karen’s mind and, hopefully, her heart.

But of course the pièce de résistance was Amelia’s gorgeous soprano, perhaps so high because she seems genuinely shocked to find Karen in such a state.  She went on, dropping to a richly resonant contralto, “You don’t want this extraordinarily kind officer of the law to get to the bottom of whatever’s going on around here?”

Her voice was a veritable symphony.  What remained of the grand old stage, hid under the stair creaked so deeply it was as if a lion purred.  The poor, long-suffering Storage Space was feeling positively languid.

But the “kind officer” had stiffened after her last speech, as if she had been caught committing a crime when she spoke in a voice nowhere near as low as her previous speaking voice.  Finally, with renewed vigor and her usual deep voice, she resumed her interrogation of the old woman Amelia.

Meanwhile the Storage Space comforted Karen the only way it knew how to comfort itself, with tales rich with the extraordinary, and long since gone, elegance of the 19th century.

Slither.

Shudder.

The Storage Space paused after another odd shudder, cautious and waiting, but instead of odd, nonsensical thoughts and inappropriate language there was an eerie silence.  It was about to go on describing the glories of a curricle with a matched pair of greys, when it noticed Karen’s face flipping between terror and a rebelliousness that suggested she was having an argument with herself.  Then, just for a moment as if the volume had been turned up too high but was quickly corrected, the Storage Space heard the words “tell them!” inside itself.

The detective was grilling Amelia about Le Grand Rat!

Karen leapt up to grab both of the detective’s hands.  “Irwin no longer works here because I killed him.”

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 75

Marie congratulated herself for converting “fabuloso” to “fabulous”…and even thinking of lowering her voice.  Still, much as she liked to credit herself with everything, she did have to concede that that plastic surgeon who worked for the cops deserved some credit.

Karen…  Marie’d given up everything, even her face, to protect her very best, friends-forever, fabuloso buddy.  It was all Marie could do to stop herself from giggling with glee over the discovery that Karen’s status of missing hadn’t meant that Karen’s crazy husband Frank had gotten her killed.  That crazy husband Frank who Marie had felt terrible about sleeping with, but it was the only way to worm the information she needed out of him so she could convince the cops of her suspicions about his business dealings.  Heart-wrenchingly horrible when Karen walked in on them?  You bet!  But Marie knew enough by then to know that Karen’s leaving Frank was very much for the best.

Karen…  It was just so damn good to see her!  But Marie knew she had to keep that off her face and looked down, hurting her still-sore face…which was when she noticed her own sweater.  How could she have been stupid enough to wear the friggin sweater Karen made her, even if she did practically live in it?  But the cops’ plastic surgeon deserved even more credit, since apparently Karen hadn’t even recognized her with the sweater.

Thing was, Karen’s crazy husband’s status was also missing.  Marie ached to tell Karen who she was but was afraid for Karen.  After sobering up and realizing what he told Marie, what might Frank have to do to Karen if he thought she’d talked to Marie?

“Can we help you?”

It was the other, older woman in a bathrobe.  Damn.  Marie had heard of regular jobs with things like casual Fridays, but this was ridiculous.  Still, her voice was stunningly gorgeous.  However, now that Marie was coming off the high of having found Karen alive, she was wondering how both apparent employees of this storage space had gotten so badly beat up.

“Rough hood here, huh?”

Both Karen and the older woman looked confused by Marie’s question.  No matter.  It was showtime.

“Listen, ladies,” started Marie, carefully keeping her voice lower than usual and doing all possible to use words and phrases Karen wouldn’t recognize.  “I’m Detective Marsha Smith.”  Marie flipped open some phony ID.  “Homicide.  Here to ask you some questions about some alleged occurrences at this storage space.”

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 74

Karen eyes were still half-closed, but she was beginning to feel something so unfamiliar, so alien, that it startled her and sent a little shiver up her spine.  As the pain receded from the homeless woman’s ministrations, Karen was just barely beginning to feel, ever so slightly, better.

Some confused thoughts about how this might improve her upper-body strength, witnesses, and jugular veins slithered through her consciousness, but a spurt of joie de vivre pushed aside what she wrote off as random subconscious nonsense.

Grateful.  What she was feeling was grateful.  So grateful she could even forgive…

Her thought was interrupted for a moment with some more nonsense she didn’t understand about the person she’d been thinking of forgiving being a witness if she’d just come inside.  And another stray bit of absurdity about “great titties.”  Then Karen shivered again when her thought about forgiving her best-friend Marie for sleeping with Frank returned with such force that she could envision every elaborate cable stitch of the sweater Karen had knit for Marie stretched tight across Marie’s chest.

Marie…

That sweater…

Karen hadn’t even remembered that intricate cable pattern; it had been so long ago.

Karen drowsed, half dreaming, half remembering.  Ski trip.  They’d gone for the majestic beauty of the snow-covered mountains.  Everyone else in their tour group had gone to flirt with each other.  Stuck in the lodge with a cacophony of lame boasts about mythological skiing triumphs, lamer jokes, and canned laughter, Karen and Marie had cuddled up together on a window seat, watching the mountain’s silhouette against the night sky.  It was then that Karen gave Marie the sweater.  Marie burst out with the pet word she always used when pleasantly surprised:  “Fabuloso!”

Karen’s eyes flew open to the lobby of the storage space when she actually heard:  “Fabulo…”  The first thing Karen saw of the speaker who’d suddenly cut herself off, was the sweater on the other side of the counter.  Giggling with glee, Karen looked up just as the speaker resumed.

But two things were wrong:  First, instead of continuing to say Marie’s pet word, the speaker said in a voice suddenly too low to be Marie’s, “Fabulous facility you have here.”  Second, her face absolutely could not be Marie’s.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 73

Martin was crossing “watching the sun set over San Francisco Bay” off his new, trusty to-do list.  The pink and orange reflected off the screen of that extra phone of hers she’d given him.  It started to undulate.

Bloody hell!  Had he really stopped hallucinating?

Soft fingers traced delicate patterns around the back of his neck.  Martin relaxed; he was safe.

The whole Pacific Ocean was undulating.  Martin stiffened.  Was it his imagination or were the colors of the sunset worming their way onto shore, mocking him with their undulations?

“Mo chuisle!”  Her voice was so deep it could have been a man’s.  Her fingers caressing him all over were so soft it could only be a dream.  “It means my darling, my blood.”

He twisted away from her.  “The bloody ocean…  Look at it!  Is it…undulating?  Really?”

She didn’t even look; she just kept staring at Martin…thoroughly gobsmacked.  “Of course it is.  It’s an ocean, silly!  You’re safe.  Relax.”

Martin looked back at the phone.  Okay, the reflection of the sunset off the Pacific was undulating on its screen, but oceans undulate.  What it was not doing was worming off the screen onto other things.  He was safe.  He relaxed.

Never had he seen such a sunset.  Not even in the Highlands and Islands, when he was a child.  Never had he seen such love in another person’s eyes, not even his mum’s or dad’s…

Thinking about his parents bothered him…  Something about all their lectures about all the hallucinogenic drugs he used to do.  Something about his father’s garden hose…  Martin shuddered.  The girl he was with reached up to stroke his face.

The last of the sunset lit up her face.  “I love you, Martin!”

Martin was still struggling unsuccessfully to remember her name.

“I know.  It doesn’t matter if you can’t even remember my name.  You call me what…Karen?…in your sleep?  But for me you’re the pulse running through my veins.  Crazy.  Completely irrational.  But I knew it before I knew what color your eyes were because, when I first laid eyes on you, you were also asleep.  Yet I could feel it.  I could feel you in every beat of my own heart.”

In that moment, even the dying sunset paled in comparison.  He didn’t need to know her name to know she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.  Martin had never been safer.

“You know,” she said in that impossibly deep voice.  “It doesn’t matter if you don’t know me consciously, if you call me Karen.  A rose by any other name…  Somewhere deep inside, you know my soul.”

He could feel every muscle in his body relaxing.  Sunset over, the tranquility of blue took over.  He gazed dreamily out over the undulating sea of blue…uniforms.  A cop blessed his soul and shoved some papers in his face.  “It was self defense!  If I hadn’t killed him, Frank would have killed me!”  What was he saying?  Maybe he hadn’t said it aloud.  Was he in Brooklyn or San Francisco?  Maybe the woman whose name he couldn’t remember hadn’t heard him.

It was dark.  Fog descended on them, wet soaking him through to his bone marrow.  Her face was dark; he couldn’t tell who she was.  Light, he had to have light.  He could get light from his phone, but it wasn’t his phone.  It was her phone, and he didn’t know who she was.

“It doesn’t matter if you call me Karen, or…Jennifer.”

Jennifer!  He had to have light.  He fumbled for Jennifer’s phone, trying desperately to ignore the light from the sleeping T-rex’s slowly opening eye.

Jennifer’s phone prompted him for a password.  At first he was stumped.  Then he remembered and typed in his own name.

“You have six unheard messages.”

A dry cleaner wanted him to pick up her “stuff.”  Jennifer’s phone changed into his own, the one he’d left in Brooklyn.  The messages continued with his loan shark Frank reminding him that, even though he was dead, Martin still owed him a whole shitload of money.  Ms. Morales told him a whole shitload of money was missing from work and reminded him that they both worked for a non-profit charity.  He threw the phone down so he wouldn’t have to listen to the rest.

Water.  He could hear it.  The undulating sea of blue.

Something about his father’s garden hose.  But it wasn’t water that gurgled and twisted and turned out of it.  It was blood.  “Ma cushla.”  His darling, his blood, his pulse, his million-dollar baby was the million dollars he’d stolen from a million starving children.

The whole Pacific Ocean turned red.

Martin sprang to his feet.

The red blood was worming its way onto shore, undulating on its way up the hills to him.  It wasn’t his imagination.

“Blood everywhere.  Perp died.  But it was necessary force on my part.  Nothing my Uncle Ed, first of our family to join the force, wouldn’t have done.”

That deep voice again.  Martin’s eyes snapped open.  They were in bed, in the room with the bay window.  The girl was talking in her sleep again.  Business as usual.  Nothing was undulating.  He almost choked on his relief.

His laughter must have woken her.  She looked as cold as her last words had been.  “Vanilla latte…Randolph?”  Then she softened as she looked at him and smiled the sweetest, warmest smile he’d ever seen.  “Dreams.  Funny how they move from such sublime sweetness to…well…”  Her voice was cold again, just for a moment.  “Never mind.”

Breakfast.  More vanilla lattes.  Sex.  Loving words when he jumped at her touch once.  Her trying to get him to open up about his troubles and tell all, by reading to him from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.  Business as usual.  Martin decided to put everything in his dreams firmly behind him.  It had all been his imagination after all; he was fine.  But he also decided that the coldness of hers he’d woken up to was something he’d never forget.  That had not been his imagination.

She looked deep into his eyes again, gobsmacked again.

He still didn’t remember her name.  So he looked down at her great retro shag carpet, eyes widening a bit as the green formed itself into scales and the T-rex winked up at him.  But Martin decided firmly that it was nothing.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 72

Imogene like looked up from her phone at that effin elephant again.  Like how had ^URS known re elephant Imogene didn’t remember?  Like how glad was she that she’d stopped typing after the 3 in 38 and not told ^URS the RL number of her storage unit?

^URSunPC&proud:  U there?

WTFwasImogeneCoca:  Sec

Imogene looked up from her phone again and was like not going to look back.  Real Life…  She picked up the elephant, like almost dropping it and breaking it like ^URS had said she should tell her dad she did.  Effin elephant was a lot lighter than it looked, effin hollow or something.

But, like, who cared?  Her dad had made it and it was ugly, like RL was ugly.  She could see where he’d carved it with a knife.  Imogene dropped it.

Something like rattled inside.

Imogene ignored her phone and picked the elephant up again.  Carved wood.  All like mid-century modern, and her dad never did anything good with a knife anyway.  Only the bottom where she held the legs was any good, like a machine had done that part.

She took a quick look at a scar on her arm, something else her dad had done with a knife, then shook the elephant.  Like way too light to be solid, and it sounded like there was a bunch of shit inside.  But how did it get there?  She turned it over.  Effin elephant was one solid piece of wood.

Her phone was making her like all cray cray.  Finally she looked at it.  Bunch of silly pics, like all Snapchat-filtered and shit.  Def not RL

Much better than RL.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 71

The Storage Space was appalled, simply appalled.

Karen looked equally appalled, staring in surprise at the scalpel in her hand before dropping it.

Inexplicably, the Storage Space was suddenly furious, something about one witness still there who was being wasted.

Suddenly Karen looked equally furious too, scrambling to retrieve the scalpel, still unsteady on her feet.

Amelia got it first.  “Please, you must stay seated!”  Then she turned toward that dreadfully beat-up middle-aged woman who’d screamed after asking for the key to Unit 3.  “Don’t be frightened; she was just trying to retrieve it for me.”

But the screamer was now too busy texting to notice.

The Storage Space was completely confused.  Among other things, what precisely and exactly was “texting”?

Karen sat with her eyes half-closed.

Amelia was looking at the middle-aged woman across the counter.  “What is it with this neighborhood?  Has every woman here been beaten?  Except for the woman who just ran out with that little girl?

Karen’s eyes widened at “little girl.”  Suddenly the poor, long-suffering Karen looked simply terrified.

The middle-aged woman at last looked up from her phone to repeat her whispered request for the key to Unit 3, shyly but insistently pushing some money across the counter.

The Storage Space, still completely confused, concentrated on the play of emotions sculpting Amelia’s exquisitely wrought features as she looked deep into the eyes of the woman across the counter.  Some other thoughts, about Amelia’s jugular veins, slithered through its consciousness but fled like cockroaches from light when the Storage Space sensed them.

Finally Amelia caressed the money before resolutely pushing it back across the counter.  Then she reached under the counter and pulled out a key to Unit 3.  “Why do you need this?”

“To save someone’s life.”

Amelia paused, still looking deep into the middle-aged woman’s eyes, then pushed the key across the counter.

The woman clutched the key to her heart, then quickly texted something, before meeting Amelia’s eyes again.  “One last favor…”

“Which is?”

“Please, whatever you do, don’t let anyone know you gave me this.”

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 70

Suzy didn’t want to do what Mommy said.  Daddy didn’t do what Mommy said.  So Suzy didn’t have to do what Mommy said either.

“Susan Witherspoon, you fucking wait up for me!  Right now!  Or else!”

But Mommy was a whole big block away.  And Mommy was what Mommy called “middle-aged,” so she couldn’t run really fast.  So Suzy ran really fast into that funny, big ole building right behind another middle-aged lady who was going into the building.  But this middle-aged lady had funny marks all over her face.  Suzy got so close to the funny lady with marks all over her face that she could smell her perfume, just like Mommy’s perfume.  But the lady was so busy texting she didn’t see Suzy.

The lady with the same perfume as Mommy went over to the counter and asked if there was an extra key to Unit 3.  She was whispering and held up some money.  Suzy thought it would be fun to hide behind her, then jump out and say “boo” to the really old lady behind the counter.  But just then Suzy saw someone else jump up behind the really old lady at the counter.  Then Suzy was glad she’d hidden behind the lady with the funny marks all over her face.

It was the really scary mean lady!  From the little room with the man in it that didn’t move!  And she looked even meaner now and was even holding a funny little knife!

The lady with the funny marks all over her face screamed.  Loud.  It hurt Suzy’s ears bad, but not as bad as Mommy snatching her up from behind and running out of that funny building.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 69

Karen knew she’d passed out again.  After all, she’d done it so much of late that it was almost as familiar a transition as waking up.  But there was something she didn’t know…couldn’t hold on to…didn’t remember.  It had to do with something she was griping tightly in her hand and something important she had to do.

Then her first dreamy memory of Frank led her away from anything hateful.  She knew her eyes were really closed, but she was seeing the Pacific Ocean ablaze with the sunset.  San Francisco glittered pink and orange, as if on fire.  Frank wrapped his jacket around her shoulders against the fog they both knew was about to descend on the Marin hills, then whispered in her ear.

“I’m dead.”

Karen jerked away to stare back at him.  “What?!?!?”

He was magnificent…standing atop the hills above his apartment in Sausalito in all his virile glory…his hair whipped around smartly by the breeze.  And this wasn’t how this memory went.  He was supposed to whisper sweet words of love in her ear.

“I’m the one who died.  Not Martin…who…oddly…right now…is the only one of us who’s really in the hills above Sausalito.”

Karen felt her heart stop beating as she watched the fog descend between them…making him appear to be the ghost he claimed to be.  At first she felt no pain at all, not even mild discomfort.  She was going to die too; she was going to join him.

“No!!!!!!”

Two voices had shouted that word.  Frank’s and…

“No!!!”

This time it was only one voice, the most beautiful voice she’d ever heard.  Karen gulped in air as if she hadn’t been breathing and felt a hard thud in her chest as her eyes opened.

“I heard you stand behind me when I gave that key to the pregnant teenager.  You must have passed out and knocked my scalpel off the table.  Thanks for retrieving it, but let’s get you back on the chair and let me check you out.”

The elderly homeless woman in the bathrobe with all the medical supplies.  Behind her, a middle-aged woman was just coming in the door of the Storage Space.  Another witness, Karen thought excitedly…though she didn’t quite understand where that thought came from.  But then she remembered what the scalpel was for.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 68

Martin was still wondering why this girl had brought up a bloody Clint Eastwood movie…Million Dollar Baby, he thought she’d said, though he’d never seen it…when he was feeling all soft and trusting and about to tell her his whole story.  Bloody Clint Eastwood, “make my day,” ultimate American tough guy thumbing his nose at any old-world male vulnerability?

But they’d spent a dreamy day wandering up and down San Francisco’s toy-town hills, ogling painted-lady Victorian houses still garishly advertising the prosperity of the Barbary Coast.  Twilight had found them amidst the ancient splendor of the neoclassical Palace of Fine Arts, built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition, before a brisk walk north across the Golden Gate Bridge that left Martin wondering why people claimed California weather was any better than England’s.

Now they were all snuggled up against the fog about to descend on the Marin hills, where they were watching the sun set over San Francisco from so high up they imagined they could see the Farallons far out to sea.  And this girl from the plane had given him what she said was an extra iPhone, so he could cross “watching the sun set over San Francisco Bay” off his new, trusty to-do list.  Plus there was the latest vanilla latte she’d bought him in the other hand.

She sighed heavily.  That he could feel with her pressed up against him, a blanket she’d brought wrapped around them both.  What he still couldn’t do, however, was remember her name.  Annoyed by that, he blurted out, “You said it again in your sleep last night!”

She turned and looked up at him with dreamy but conflicted eyes.  “Said what?”

“Ma cushla, or whatever that is.”

“Mo chuisle?”  She reddened.  “No, you must have been dreaming again.”

Probably meant dumb, prissy, effeminate, vulnerable Brit that could never hold up to the likes of Clint Eastwood, even if Clint Eastwood was now ancient.

She ran her fingers over his shoulder, probably without realizing she was doing it as she looked up him, thoroughly gobsmacked.  “Where are you from?”

Couldn’t hurt to tell her that.  “Originally?  Canterbury, Kent.”

Soft fingers traced delicate patterns around the back of his neck.  “What was it like there?”

Again, what harm if he told her?  He looked beyond her, to where the sun would soon drop into an ocean afire with pink and orange.  For some reason he couldn’t remember, the first thing he thought of was his father’s garden hose when he watered the flowers.  Insanely, this tranquil memory made him shudder.  Something about a nightmare.  Something about blood spurting from that hose.

Then the pink and orange Pacific Ocean undulated.  Had he really stopped hallucinating?

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