Tales of the Storage Space, Part 89

Karen watched the teenager almost choke on her own, endless, insane laughter while Amelia rocked her.  Karen could hardly hear the lullabies Amelia tried to sooth the girl with, or the extraordinary beauty of that old homeless woman’s voice, over the teenager’s sharp, jarring laughter.

The mother…  Who would have thought…

Karen bowed her head, feeling her cheeks burn in shame as she realized they’d all run off to get the cops to protect the teenager from the wrong person.  Why hadn’t they stayed long enough to see who struck the first blow?  Then she felt a strong but gentle hand on her shoulder.

“You all thought I was the one who beat my daughter, didn’t you…”

Karen looked up into a face full of rage that suddenly changed to pathos, pain, and the hurt of indignation.

“Your wife…”

“Her boyfriend does that, not me.  He even takes turns beating my daughter.”

It wasn’t just the odd tremble in the voice; it was something in that hand still on her shoulder that froze Karen’s blood.  Still, none of them had seen him lay a hand on his daughter.  But they’d all topped the stairs in time to see his wife hit him in the head with the lever Karen knew had been enough to kill Irwin.  How had she found it?  What else had she found?

“I know,” he said, biting his lip so hard she was afraid he’d draw blood, “it’s that terrible temper of mine.  I can sure shout up a storm, can’t I?”  A fierce pride was just barely smothered by a sheepish shrug, and a weak little pleading smile.  “But you know what they say about the bark being so much bigger than the bite.”

The teenager’s laughter escalated sharply at that.

The teenager’s father clutched Karen’s shoulder and got closer to her.  “I can’t stand it.  They both have the same laugh.  They’re both off in la-la land.  You can’t believe a word either of them say.”

“You mean like her denying she’s pregnant?”

“She’s…”

The hand on Karen’s shoulder tightened sharply.

It was then that Karen looked over to where the teenager sat on the floor and noticed that she was sitting in a widening puddle of blood.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 88

Martin knew he was awake. Bloody hell, he could smell the inaugural vanilla latte No Name was so busy making him in the kitchen…which would never be as good as Starbucks.

But he looked around the room again just to be sure: No Name’s bedroom in San Francisco. Again, nothing was undulating.

Slowly, very slowly, he looked out the window again at the eucalyptus trees.

Jennifer was still there, but this time she was staring straight up at him.

Martin jerked back from the window so fast he fell out of the bed on the other side and hit his head.

“Mo chuisle! My darling!” No Name was all over him.

His head pounded with pain, but he figured he better not let on because then he’d have to explain Jennifer. So he shrugged her off of him and did his best to act playful, first tickling her ruthlessly, then kidding around as he called out to her, “Officer Worth!”

Although convulsed with giggles and trying to get away from the tickling, she looked up at him immediately in that way that no one would unless they were really…

Martin’s mind froze mid-thought, when he noticed the wall behind her.

It was pink.

It was undulating.

“No!” he screamed, turning away from that wall.

But the opposite wall was suddenly covered with wall paper that he knew hadn’t been there before. Dinosaurs. And the T-rexes seemed to be all waking up together and opening their eyes.

The doorbell rang.

Martin knew who it must be.

No Name looked as startled, surprised, and scared as he was. But for a moment Martin forgot about the doorbell as he struggled to remember something important about No Name’s real name. Something from just a minute ago.

But he forgot about it again when No Name answered the door.

There she was, standing in the hall just outside their door. Jennifer.

No Name was talking to her. “Look I don’t usually open my door when there’s a strange man on the other side, but…”

Martin tuned out the rest. He was staring at Jennifer, shaking all over now. Jennifer was staring at him.

No Name went on, something about thanking Jennifer for bringing a heavy package up to her door, and Martin thought he heard some guy say, “No prob,” but the only one in the hall was Jennifer.

Finally No Name closed the door on Jennifer.

Martin was so relieved he almost laughed, turning back toward the wall with the T-Rexes, figuring what were a few T-Rexes compared to…

The T-Rexes were gone. Instead, standing against the wall, was Jennifer.

Martin screamed. Then he talked: “Bloody hell, I did it! I stabbed Frank through what must have been his jugular with a piece of broken glass and I killed him.”

He heard a gasp and turned to see No Name still by the door. It was hard to see her face beneath all the purple caterpillars but he was pretty sure he’d never seen a human face twist itself through so many different, conflicting emotions until it settled into the greatest sorrow he’d ever seen.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 87

Imogene couldn’t like believe Real Life.  Her dad was going to kill her.

Her mom held her tight.  Imogene fumbled for her effin phone.

Her mom held her tight.  Imogene remembered her effin phone was dead anyway.

Her mom pressed Imogene’s head into the crook of her neck, forcing Imogene to close her eyes.  The scent of her mom’s skin sparked something odd, memories from Real Life.  From like some snuggly long ago that Imogene never thought about any more.

Her mom rocked her.  Imogene suddenly remembered her mom used to sing to her, though Imogene hadn’t heard her sing in a very long time.  Like her phone flickering in and out just before the battery died, Imogene just barely began to feel a calm warmth she’d forgotten all about.

Then she heard a heavy footstep.  She didn’t have to turn and open her eyes to know who it was.

“Let her go!” her dad bellowed.

Her mom dropped her so fast that her head hit one of the metal walls.

“Where’s my elephant?”

The elephant she’d thrown against a wall and heard break?  Her dad was like really going to kill her.

Where was her mom?

Finally she opened her eyes.  Her mom was standing next to her dad with her head bowed.  Behind them the old woman with the beautiful voice and the blonde who worked at the storage space seemed to be sneaking away, heading for the stairs.  The girl with the great sweater who’d poked her a lot to be sure she was okay was fumbling for her phone, which was attached to a charger.

Imogene moved like lightning, snatching the charger off the other girl’s phone, and finding an outlet in the hall.  “I, like, really, really need this!”  Just as she attached her own phone a heavy hand fell on her shoulder.

“I said, where’s my elephant?”

“Dad, it was like, really like an accident?”

Behind him, Imogene saw the girl with the sweater’s eyes widen.  That girl didn’t sneak, she ran for the stairs.  Now Imogene’s family was alone.

The first blow was nothing, almost like lame, since her dad was standing and Imogene was seated next to her phone she’d just plugged into the wall.  It was the second one that caught her by surprise, a kick to her stomach.

However feebly, something in her stomach kicked back.

It was then that her mom fled, deeper into the storage space.

The beating went on and on.  But something strange, something new was happening to Imogene.  She started to laugh, even when another tooth loosened.  Even when the laughter she couldn’t stop, like some insane case of giggles, had her spitting up blood.

A lot of clattering footsteps from both ends of the hall at once.

From the end of the hall she was facing, she could see her mom running towards them with some kind of heavy lever.  Imogene’s life experiences were such that she immediately recognized that the stuff the lever was caked with was a whole lot of dry blood.  Her mom swung hard just as the clattering footsteps at the other end of the hall stopped at the top of the stairs.

Her dad swung around at the same time, facing her mom as the lever hit his head.  Blood flew.  But his movement had wrecked her mom’s aim.  He still stood.  Though dazed, he grabbed her mom’s wrist.  The lever with its fresh blood clattered across the floor and came to rest at her mom’s feet.

Did Imogene imagine that her dad was like fighting to suppress a smile?  He turned, still struggling a bit to regain his balance.  First he looked a bit absently at Imogene, then over her shoulder.

Imogene turned around to see a bunch of cops with the blonde, the old woman, and the girl with the sweater behind them at the other end of the hall.

“You got here just in time!”

It was her dad speaking…

“It’s not her fault, really, my wife’s insane.  I have the paperwork at home to prove it.  I kept hoping I could control it, keep our family together somehow, but you see what she just did to my daughter before she started in on me.”

Her mom was looking straight into Imogene’s eyes now, while she fished her phone out of her purse with her free hand.

Phone!  Phone!  Yeah, that was like all that mattered!  Imogene tuned out what her dad and the cops were saying and grabbed her own phone, which now had enough charge to work.

Snapchat…

WTFwasImogeneCoca:  U there?

Nothing.

Her mom was still looking straight into Imogene’s eyes, struggling with her phone a bit before she started to type.

A new message drew Imogene’s attention back to her own phone.

^URSunPC&proud:  I’ve always loved you.

WTFwasImogeneCoca:  ?…always?…don’t even no who U R

Imogene looked up to see a cop take her mom’s wrist away from her dad and handcuff it.  Her mom was still looking at Imogene but now tears trickled down her cheeks.  She hurried to type something into her phone before the cop grabbed her other wrist and the phone clattered to the floor.

Imogene stared at her mom’s phone.  On it was Imogene’s Snapchat with ^URS.  Imogene read:

^URSunPC&proud:  Sec…mayB very long sec…

Then her mom’s phone blacked out.

The cops took her mom away.

Her dad smiled down at Imogene, but it wasn’t exactly a smile.

Imogene couldn’t like believe Real Life.  Her dad was going to kill her.

Her mom might never again hold her tight.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 86

The Storage Space was simply desolated by the scene playing out in Unit 38, simply desolated.  Now both the middle-aged woman who’d been in Unit 3 and the pregnant teenager, both very visibly the victims of physical violence, were convulsed with tears and clinging to each other most desperately.  On the exceedingly rare occasions when either of them could squeeze a word out between their sobs, the pregnant teenager could only say, “Mom!” and the middle-aged woman could only say, “my dearest chlld!”

Who the fuck cares?

The Storage Space was aghast!  Where had that most rude and utterly inappropriate thought come from?

Neither of them dumb bitches ever played their cards right!

The Storage Space knew then.

Not enough tittie between the two of them to grab in one hand, if I still had a hand.

The Storage Space would have screamed, if only a building could…

Even that homeless drunk Hank had enough sense to clear out, even if he didn’t have enough sense to hold on to that fucking bottle and let it clatter down all those fucking stairs.

The Storage Space was beside itself.

I’m outta here.

The Storage Space felt all those spastic shudders, completely impossible for a building to feel.  Then…suddenly, blessedly…a profound relief as it watched green mist seep out of its every crack and cranny.

The green mist swirled backwards and forward a bit, just as a strange man appeared in the hall, and then swirled out a window and was gone.

The pregnant teenager looked up at the strange man.  Her eyes widened even more than before and the next time she managed to squeeze a word out between her sobs it wasn’t, “Mom!”  It was, “Dad?”

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 85

Sebastian froze in the act of scooping up a handful of storage-unit keys from behind the counter.  That god-awful screaming had stopped.  Did that mean the idiots who’d left the front door ajar and deserted the reception area were gonna screw things up by returning?

Sebastian’s skinny jeans were tight, which had him cursing as he crammed the keys into a pocket while skittering over to the stairwell.  The shit he had to go through just to make a living in such a god-awful world.  A world where idiots kept upping the prices for the substance abuse that made it all worthwhile.  But he hushed when he reached the stairwell and craned his skinny neck upward to listen hard.

Maybe some talking somewhere upstairs, but no footsteps.  He looked at the stairs, tiptoed up a few, and craned his skinny neck even further till he imagined he could safely guess the floors upstairs were covered with metal too.  No way he wouldn’t hear approaching footsteps.

With that he skittered back over to the reception counter and quickly squeezed behind it, grateful for his slender frame as he squatted to rifle through some rickety drawers.  The storage-unit keys he’d taken would be okay for later, when he’d like casually saunter back in with a friendly smile and some empty, oversized suitcases, but they wouldn’t get him high again anytime soon enough.

Cash…  Where the fuck was the…  Then he found it, all the way in the back behind a bunch of old girlie magazines.  (What the fuck was wrong with using the internet?)  A strongbox, but the very best, idiot-delight, kind of strongbox:  a weak strongbox.  Sure it was locked, but it looked like Sebastian could scrape it open with a loose fingernail.  Sloppy marker scrawling over the top said:  “Private property of Irwin’s.  Knowing what’s inside would NOT be playing your cards right.  Believe me, YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW.”

Nice, thought Sebastian.  This Irwin was probably trying to scare the other idiots away from where he kept the money he skimmed off the top.  But this Irwin was still an idiot because he’d obviously bought this weak strongbox…where?…a 99-cent store?

Suddenly there was the most god-awful racket on the stairs, ending with a cheap bottle of rotgut rolling across the floor.  It came to rest against Sebastian’s rainbow-platform sneakers as he silently cursed while rubbing the bony knee he’d hit against the counter when he leaped to his feet.  Faintly, he thought he heard, “Clumsy, Hank, clumsy.”

Then there was silence.

Sebastian scrambled to cram the girlie magazines back in the drawer.  Maybe they wouldn’t notice the missing keys and strongbox if he made it back with those empty suitcases to “shop” the storage units soon enough.  He’d have to go all “sensitive male” on that idiot Carmen again to borrow her suitcases.  He could only hope she wasn’t still being an idiot about that little bit of kidding around he’d done with her which she kept calling rape.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 84

Karen was the first to reach Unit 38, where all the screaming was coming from, even though she’d almost tripped over some homeless guy on the steps.  But the cop in Marie’s sweater and even elderly Amelia were right behind her, helping her push Unit 38’s door all the way up so they could all see inside.

The pregnant teenager inside wouldn’t stop screaming.

The cop was the first to wriggle into the storage unit to her.  After a while she called back over her shoulder, “I can’t find anything wrong with her physically.”

Amelia crawled in next, taking the teenager into her arms.  Karen couldn’t hear over the screaming, but guessed Amelia was singing a lullaby as she rocked her.

Karen sensed new arrivals behind her and half-turned to see the homeless guy from the stairs and the middle-aged woman Amelia had given the key to Unit 3 to, promising not to tell anyone.  The middle-aged woman, maybe because she’d obviously been beat up as badly as the teenager had, looked so stricken Karen wasn’t sure she could even breath, let alone speak.

Silence.  At last.  Then Amelia’s beautiful voice singing a lullaby.

But there was something new wrong with the teenager.  It took Karen a minute to realize what it was:  she wasn’t breathing.

Suddenly the teenager took a huge, shuddering gasp of breath, and Karen was afraid she’d scream again.  Instead the impossible combination of violent crying and a long, horribly eloquent wail was even worse.  Then she grabbed a carved elephant and threw it violently against the wall before collapsing into Amelia’s arms, wracked with sobs.

The cop rubbed her back.  “Tell us.  You’re among friends and it’ll make you feel better.”

The teenager shook her head.

Karen wrinkled her brow.  Something about the cop’s voice, which wasn’t as low as it had been before, almost like the low voice was an affectation she’d forgotten.

The cop continued.  “How about if I tell you about something really dreadful from my life first, something that’s probably more dreadful than anything that happened to you because I’m the one who did it.  I’m the one who’s responsible.”

That voice, thought Karen, but then chastised herself for thinking about anything but that poor, miserable pregnant teenager at such a time.

Finally the teenager looked up, though still sniffling violently.  But, perhaps drawn to the light in the hall, she looked directly at Karen, then the homeless guy and the middle-aged woman with her.  When she saw the middle-aged woman, her eyes widened.  “Mom?”

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 83

“Mo chuisle!  Mo chuisle!”

Martin didn’t know where that deep voice was coming from.  The sky?  All he knew was he had to get away from them and punch…punch hard…the ones he couldn’t outrun.  And that he kept hearing the same odd snatch of poetry, also from the sky:

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

Martin grabbed a pole, using it to break and make a sharp turn as he dashed down a side street, praying he’d lost them.  But one oozed right around the corner after him, so close he could smell the briny beach and the frothy waves.  Finally the time had come to turn and punch it, a dismal thing to do since his fist just sloshed around in it until he hit the shell.  Then all its friends turned the corner too, and more of them came dashing up on Martin from behind.

Oysters, giant oysters everywhere!  All squirming at his touch, some with Karen’s eyes winking at him.  One of them shaking him hard, much harder than anything without hands and bones and…

Martin opened his eyes, seeing the mess he’d made of the now-sweat-soaked bed.  “Officer Ann Worth?”

The girl let him go and jumped back, her eyes widening in what at first looked like terror.  But then she laughed.  “Oh, that crazy at the restaurant!  Yeah, sure…  ‘Officer Ann Worth’ at your service, sir, ready to arrest the perps bothering you…a mob of giant oysters, I gather?”

Martin looked around the room.  Nothing was undulating.  It had only been a dream.  He was so relieved he grabbed…No Name…and drew her close, genuinely feeling a tenderness for her that only gradually turned to lust, then turned back into a genuine if not slightly sleepy tenderness after they’d made an even bigger mess of the bed.

She was smiling a smile no one could fake…but were there also tears in her eyes.

Finally she got up and went to the bathroom.

Martin took stock of the himself:  He was fine.  Just fine.  His parents had been totally daft to go on so about all the hallucinogenic drugs he used to take.  Right?  He wasn’t hallucinating.  Only in his dreams…when everyone hallucinated.  But he was totally bloody conscious now.

The sun was shining, just like in that poem he couldn’t quite remember now from his dreams.  And that was a rare and wonderful sight in San Francisco, sparkling through the window as if it were a finely cut diamond.  No Name was in the kitchen now, and he could smell the vanilla latte she was fixing him…trying to compete with Starbucks.  No Name might not be the sharpest tool in the shed…thinking she could possibly compete with Starbucks…but she was cute.

Martin yawned and looked out the window.  Scrawny chap with an obvious death wish and a skateboard careening down the sharp hill at breakneck speed, dog yipping at his heels.  Hysterical mother shoving a bratty looking toddler out of the way just in time.  Flowers.  Eucalyptus trees he fancied he could smell through the window.  But leaning up against one was…Jennifer.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 82

Imogene was like really feeling like really cray cray without ^URS and Snapchat and…

Like what was happening?  She was…choking!  And…having convulsions!  And…

Water coming out of her eyes.  It took her a minute, but she finally figured it out.

But…why was she crying?

The answer came in an avalanche.  Answers, actually.  But they pummeled her so hard and fast, each replaced almost instantly by another, that she could hardly register what they were.  Vaguely she caught a glimpse of that cute boy Robert calling her ugly, but why would she cry about that?  ^URS had told her Robert was ugly.  Still she felt something growing inside her, like the kind of endless scream in some slasher movie.

Imogene fumbled for her phone, forgetting for a moment that the battery was dead, then covered her raining eyes with her hands.  But she still caught the sound of that bitchy group of girls laughing at her, even though it shouldn’t have mattered cuz ^URS had said they were pathetic.  Still cray cray shit like that kept coming at her, hitting her over and over again till she felt like a punching bag and finally started to remember a night she’d like totally forgotten when she was like sleeping naked on top of her neatly made bed cuz it was so hot and her father…

Imogene screamed.  When she finally had no breath left to scream with, she gulped some in quickly and screamed again.  And again.  And again.

Still she felt something growing inside her.  It even kicked her.  From inside.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 81

The Storage Space was appalled, simply appalled.  How unforgivable!  Consummately unfeeling!  Someone walking by outside had mentioned December 5th

1876.  Close to midnight. No one walking by then but many running.  Another Brooklyn theatre, the Brooklyn Theatre, only five years old and burning.  Screaming, the constant screaming of those trapped at the top in the Family Circle and still conscious.  The swirl and twists of the bright blaze illuminating the sky.  Extra ferry boats swarming across the river from Manhattan.

But wait, where was that…laughing…coming from?  Something slithered.  And the Storage Space knew.  And at that point there was even more laughing.  The poor long-suffering Storage Space was desolate, so desperately unable to figure out what to do that it found itself wishing Le Grand Rat was still alive.

Karen lifted her head.  Did she sense his presence too?

But ancient Amelia soothed Karen with a song Amelia’s wonderful ancestor once sang from the stage when the Storage Space was such a grand old theatre.  (Though never as grand as the mighty, majestic, mansard-roofed Brooklyn Theatre had been.)

And all that remained of the grand old theatre the Storage Space once was creaked happily from their dark, musty hiding places and forgotten corners beneath the tinny metal of the Storage Space’s wall, and floors, and stairs.  All was calmness.  All was sweet.

Karen smiled softly, every muscle relaxing.  Then she lifted her head again and opened her mouth to speak as if about to recite some beautiful poetry.  But what she said was, “I did kill Irwin.”  Suddenly she shuddered violently and tears started.  “But you should have seen what he did to me.”

The woman who had said she was a detective clapped a hand over Karen’s mouth.

Amelia gasped.

A bottle clattered down the closest set of stairs.  The three women turned at that but couldn’t see where the bottle had come from.  Faintly, though, so faint the Storage Space could feel Karen writing it off to her imagination, a voice could be heard saying, “Clumsy, Hank, clumsy.”

And there it was again, grating and seemingly without end:  the laughing.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 80

Hank choked back a few sobs, staring at his ragged clothes and all the liver spots on the backs of his hands while pummeled by the memories of a lifetime of defeat.

Sobriety was way overrated.

That, at least, he could fix.

He dug around in the tattered garbage bag that now served as his kitchen cabinets and bureau drawers.  Pair of holey socks, stiff with dirt?  No.  Dog-earred love letter from an ex so ex that she’d not only run off with some younger rich guy, but buried him and died herself in a nursing home?  No.  Ah.  The cheap hooch.  He yanked the bottle out, expertly judging from the heft and the slosh that enough remained to do the trick.  But his hands shook and he dropped it.

“Clumsy, Hank, clumsy,” he admonished himself…as he did almost continuously since he was always dropping things…but, saints and gutter rats be praised, the bottle didn’t break.

Second potential consequence:  discovery.  Had anyone heard that bottle hit the floor?  He looked around:  no one in the hall.  Then he heard sounds in Unit 38 again, but that was nothing new.  Whoever was in there had been in there so long he figured it was another bum who’d scored, relatively speaking, a penthouse suite.  Or should he say…”homeless person”?  “Accommodationally challenged”?

Damn hands.  Still, despite the shake, he managed to connect the open bottle with his mouth.  Then choked, remembering as he always did, getting gasoline in his mouth when siphoning it out of someone else’s tank in the middle of the night.  First pull of such cheap shit was always tough.  But soon, very soon, it wouldn’t matter.