Karen ran her fingers over ancient wooden carvings, which had lost all the finish that once protected them.
The Storage Space! Despite every possible inclination to the contrary, the thought of it suddenly intruded…irresistible and totally unavoidable.
Along with that thought came a flood of memories, some not even her own:
Gorgeous wood carvings, when brand new.
Her. Charlotte Amelia Booth…
Sunsets over the Pacific.
Him. Frank. In his apartment in Sausalito the first time they made love. Looking deep into Frank’s eyes and thinking she could see infinity.
What was this connection between her and this utterly alien other, this building? And why did a connection with another, anything outside of herself, lend everything such poignancy? Such importance? Why did it make her not only care, but care so much that the agony of it couldn’t be borne?
And just what, pray tell, was the use of caring? Caring only moved people to action. Action to do something about whatever they cared about. Karen imagined she felt the storage space shudder with excitement, as if a light had gone off in its head. Then she imagined it was babbling excitedly…something about how some witch had given it a gift after all, and it had finally figured out how to use it. Something about caring…about making Karen care.
Fugettaboudit! Karen would never again allow herself to care about anything…
Suddenly she was seeing the storage space when it was a grand old theatre, dawn lending a sweet apricot hue to the wood of its magnificent new carvings.
…except maybe whatever those delicious slithers might suggest by way of some fun.
Irwin? You were compelled to strike him over the head with one of my old levers when he almost killed you!
So what? I don’t care about anything! That was then; this is now. But Karen couldn’t believe she was answering a building.
Now she was seeing the 19th century in all its glory, a whole block of magnificently carved buildings with elegantly dressed people strutting about like the most delicately wrought porcelain birds.
A scream interrupted. Karen shook herself hard, to shake herself free of the delusion that she was arguing with a building, yet paid attention to a slither that suggested that it might be fun to watch whatever was causing the screaming. She retraced her steps to where she’d found the gun she still held.
Imogene’s father didn’t exactly look like he’d been the victim of his wife’s physical abuse anymore. He stood over Sebastian, that kid with the rainbow sneakers, who looked like it wouldn’t take more than another blow to kill him. That Fifi with the pink hair was doing the screaming.
Slither. Karen said, “Allow me.” She experimented with aiming the gun at first Sebastian’s head then his stomach when she heard a slither about how that would take longer and be more fun.
Imogene’s father grinned at her. “Be my guest, Champ!”
A very pregnant-looking Imogene and some blond kid showed up at the other end of the hall with that homeless bitch Amelia behind them.
Karen took aim at Sebastian’s stomach.
And suddenly she couldn’t see.
At first it was images of the 19th century again, but then it was Frank’s apartment in Sausalito as the sun set over San Francisco. Frank, making love to her…
“He’s dead!” she snapped, momentarily seeing that everyone had frozen while she held the gun pointed at Sebastian, but Imogene’s father was beginning to look worried.
Frank, making love to her again, his eyes taking her into infinity again, but this time even more so than had ever happened in real life…while he gradually turned green.
A mere technicality! The building’s answer, though desperately urgent, was simultaneously sarcastic, sad, vast and profound. But, most of all, it was gentle.
Now she was seeing Frank’s green ghost struggling mightily until he actually moved Irwin’s water and French fries close enough for her to reach. Next Frank was protecting her from that oddly dressed Pat, the man in her hospital room who had tricked her into babbling all kinds of things, even the storage space’s secrets, when she was mostly unconscious.
Karen felt her hand holding the gun drop. Then someone took it out of her hand. She opened her eyes.
Imogene’s father had the gun. He pointed it at Sebastian. Behind him, through a window, Karen saw green mist seeping in; she thought she knew what that was.
Pink wig askew, Fifi jumped in between Sebastian and Imogene’s father, trying to look up at him coquettishly despite a face covered with black rivulets from mascara-tinted tears.
Imogene’s father readjusted his aim to get Fifi’s crotch.
At the other end of the hall Imogene yelled, “No!”
Her father readjusted his aim to get his unborn grandchild.
The blond kid shoved Imogene out of the way.
Imogene’s father aimed at the blond kid.
Karen, apparently forgotten, looked at her empty hands. Then the scene disappeared, and she was seeing something hidden beneath the rubble of the open wall, near where the gun had been. Something like that thing from the old stage riggings that she’d used to kill Irwin.
“I know where another weapon is,” she said to Imogene’s father. “Allow me to get it; after all, you can’t cover them all.”
Imogene’s father didn’t look too sure, but muttered, “Go for it, Champ. All the rest of them are shit, but let’s see what you’re made of.”
Karen started to walk past Imogene’s father to get to the open wall, but Fifi tripped her and she went sprawling.
“Bitch!” Karen yelled as she slid up against the open wall.
“Bastard,” corrected Fifi.
Sebastian came to life just in time to yank Fifi out of the way as Imogene’s father fired the first shot, eerily quiet because of the silencer. It sounded like rustling when fired, but there was a clang when the bullet bounced off the metal floor. He spun on Sebastian just as the blond kid, who’d sprinted down the hall, took him out with a flying tackle, knocking the gun out of his hand.
The gun slid down the hall, out of reach of everybody. Imogene’s father got up, patting his pocket, and confronted the blond kid. “Who the fuck are you?”
Imogene’s father pulled another gun out of his pocket. “Not for long.” Tommy backed down the hall in the opposite direction from where the first gun had slid, past where Karen was now in the space behind the open wall. Imogene’s father followed him, clicking off his pocket gun’s safety as he too passed Karen.
Karen took a huge swing over her own head with what she’d found behind the wall and smashed Imogene’s father’s skull wide open.