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.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 79

Karen fancied that of the three of them…the old homeless woman Amelia, the detective with a sweater amazingly identical to the one she’d made for ex-best-friend Marie, and herself…Karen was the one most astounded by her own confession.

But even Amelia’s gorgeous voice lost luster as she stuttered, “You…killed…someone?”

The detective’s jaw hung open.  What kind of detective had never heard a confession before?

Stupidly, illogically, Karen’s mind skittered away from the enormity of having just confessed to murdering Irwin by fixating on that damn sweater.  Had Marie donated it to a thrift shop?  Karen managed to get upset about that slight and feel nothing about her confession.

Amelia put a hand on her shoulder.  “You…had a…good reason?”

Karen frowned.  Uh…actually she did!  What had she been thinking?  Why hadn’t she just called the cops herself?  Not that she’d had a phone but…

Opening her mouth to spill out the whole story, she turned hopefully toward the detective in Marie’s sweater.  And stopped cold.  The detective’s jaw was no longer hanging open.  Instead she was staring at Karen with eyes that kept getting wider and wider with what looked like absolute terror.

Karen knew her thinking was still foggy but what did this detective know about her chances of escaping very serious consequences for her confession that Karen didn’t know?  Plus that detective’s look of terror was stirring some reasons Karen had had for not confessing, even if she was now feeling too faint again to remember.

Amelia took Karen gently by the shoulders and pushed her back to a seated position.  “There, there, Sweetheart, better to sit before you faint again.  I’m sure you had a very good reason.  And I’m sure this detective will understand that.”

A yearning screamed through Karen, so strong it hurt:  Karen wanted more than anything in the world to believe Amelia.  Her voice was so beautiful, like a full symphony orchestra.  But there was one harmonic, one instrument in that orchestra, that was off…as if out of tune…and Karen knew what she was hearing:  doubt.

Amelia massaged her shoulders.  “It’ll be okay.  I promise.”  But Karen felt the tremble in the ancient hands that massaged her.

Karen opened her mouth again.  “Thanks for seating me.  I’m sorry I got to feeling faint again, or I would have told you both right away that I wasn’t serious when I made that ‘confession’!”

Both of the other women sagged with visible relief.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 78

Martin checked his new, trusty to-do list.  The first entry read:  If it isn’t normal, ignore it.

She was treating him to a really expensive meal at San Francisco’s best:  The Bimini Twist.  Head honcho Don had just, himself, brought out oysters on the half shell and was telling them all about sustainability.  The wine was excellent.

She was excellent.  Her skimpy black dress had a V-neck that dipped all the way to her waist.  Every guy in the place had his eyes on her, though one just looked confused.

Her eyes were only on Martin.  “Whatever happens after this…Randolph,” she said in the velvety deep voice she sometimes used, “I want you to remember this night and please believe me when I tell you how very much I’ll always love you.”

Martin, yet again, cursed inwardly over not even knowing her name, as he struggled to figure out what to say in return.  Bloody hell!  He could never find anything like her purse or mail when she went to the loo.  She lived in this town; why didn’t she ever introduce him to her friends, one of which was bound to utter her name at some point?  Why, for that matter, didn’t she ever even get any phone calls or texts or anything?  He raised his glass, about to toast her with words he still hadn’t figured out, when he caught something in his peripheral vision:  the confused man was no longer looking confused.

“Officer Ann Worth!”  The guy was on his feet, running at her with what now looked like murderous intent.  “The homicide detective who commits homicide!”  He was almost frothing at the mouth now.

Head honcho Don must have signaled someone.  What were obviously bouncers pounced.  The guy was literally dragged out screaming.

Martin looked at her.  Ann? 

But just then Don put a comforting hand on her shoulder.  “This dinner is on the house, with our apologies since we should have spotted that crazy.”

Maybe not Ann, Martin thought.  Crazy bugger they’d hauled out had obviously lost the plot.  And she bloody well did not look homicidal.

Starved, he popped one of the now-free oysters into his mouth.

Was it his imagination or, when he bit into it, did he feel it squirm?

Martin tried to pull himself together and put a comforting hand on her other shoulder, then looked up at Don.  “Oysters on the half shell…are still alive?”

But again he caught something in his peripheral vision and looked back down at the remaining oysters.

One wasn’t an oyster at all; it was Karen’s eye, winking at him.

Martin ignored it.

Tales of the Storage Space, Part 77

Imogene was laughing so hard over the shots ^URS was firing at finstagram “sincerity,” in between sending pics with funny Snapshot filters, that Imogene like knocked the effin elephant over.

It like clattered to the floor, cray cray noisy with all that shit rattling around inside.  And a leg looked crooked.  Maybe it was like broken.

And just then her phone screen went black, and she like effin remembered she’d forgotten to plug it in before going to bed the night before.

“Effin battery!”

Imogene jumped, startled at the sound of her own voice echoing around the teeny storage unit.  That made whatever was inside the elephant rattle more.

Then there was silence.

Imogene like forgot about the battery and looked back at her phone, all ready to laugh at something new from ^URS.

Only darkness.

Normally she’d like run out of there as effin fast as she could and like ask the first person she saw if they had a cord so she could recharge.

But she like had to get at least some of those effin carvings out of that effin storage space or her effin father would kill her.

But she couldn’t move.  She felt so strange.  The walls, the carvings…they were all…like…staring at her.  Everything in RL was so…big.  So…not in her hand.

And she was even starting to hear things, like stumbling noises, and she was sure she heard some guy say, “Clumsy, Hank, clumsy.”

Then she started to see them, the Snapchat filters all over the walls, all over the carvings.  She laughed at Snapchat’s bunny ears on one of the carvings.  She felt much better.

Only thing was, they were all the same color:  a weird, misty green.

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.