Woman Into Wolf

Chapter Seven – Model Prisoner

If Ned hadn’t been standing right there, she would never have agreed to have lunch at Duvie’s. Duvie’s was a nasty cop bar; a smelly Irish pub where the only females were tired barmaids and teeth-gritting token cops – an acceptance that was more of a rejection really, Persey thought, or it must feel that way to them. Probably they knew that behind their backs their colleagues said they were all “dykes” anyway.

And the food was atrocious. Duvie’s idea of cuisine was pouring melted cheese the color of marker dye over everything they served. Ambiance? – Dense plumes of smoke — in spite of the smoking ban —and yelling over whatever sport was on television.

Even worse than this was its location — in the heart of the industrial section. The only way to get there was by crossing the river on a chute-like bridge that strained all Persey’s phobias and set her heart to fluttering. It took three terrible minutes to cross that bridge, and that was only if the traffic was good. Persey tried to convince herself that she could tolerate three minutes of anything, but you still had to take a breath. And what if there was no breath to take?

Roy made public fun of his wife’s phobias, but in private he was sympathetic. Roy had plenty of phobias of his own; most notably small spaces. Whether triggered by having to share his mother’s womb with a stronger rival, or years of compressing himself in cupboards to hide out from his brother’s wrath, everything now had to be big. Big beds, big cars, big trucks. Walk-in closets with their own windows and furniture.

Knowing how she felt about Duvie’s it was a little weird that he’d invited her. Under ordinary circumstances, Persey would have sweet-talked her husband into an agreeable swap, but there was Detective McKick, standing right beside her, all prickling skin and bulging ears and eyes, many-layered brain cells clicking visibly away.

She regretted it now. She’d promised to ask Roy about Bruce, but when it came right to it she wanted to put it off as long as possible. She shouldn’t do it in front of Jarod. It would take a lot of nerve to confront him – nerve she would have lost crossing that damn bridge. Better to get Roy drunk and ask him late at night. Possibly after sex, and a wonderful meal. Leave Jarod out of it. Talk about brain cells – you couldn’t get Jarod drunk enough to stop thinking of his advantage.

What would Jarod think about it anyway? To Roy, Bruce’s antics might be a source of humiliation, but to Jarod, a homicidal twin brother might be just another trophy. Jarod loved a bad-ass. Just another big, dangerous thing; the bigger and more dangerous, the better. Jarod was the only person Persey could think of who might actually brag about having a rapist in the family. It was an article of faith to him that “rape” didn’t in fact exist; he called it “seller’s remorse”. Jarod even talked admiringly serial killers. Wouldn’t he love to meet one in the flesh?

It made more sense to Persey that Jarod knew Bruce’s whereabouts and Roy did not. Roy couldn’t keep a secret from Jarod –wouldn’t want to – but she was certain Jarod kept plenty of secrets from Roy. The manipulative SOB. He’d never tell Persey anything.

She tried imagining a surprise meeting with Roy and Babe. She knew from experience they would unite if forced to — against her. Bad news is always the messenger’s fault. Detective Ned — charming as he was, interesting as he was, had given her a hopeless mission.

She put her foot on the accelerator so the wind in her hair would blow out all these terrifying thoughts. If Bruce was alive — and that was a big if, because hadn’t McKick admitted the fingerprint was sub-standard — then where the heck was he? Instantly she thought of the motel room. Thanks God it hadn’t occurred to her when she was talking to the detective – he would have read it on her face.

Maybe she should call him and tell him right now. She envisioned the scene’s unfolding, safe and distant, displayed on the nightly news; a SWAT team capturing dangerous Bruce and freeing this family from its lies.
But the scene collapsed inside her like an airless, poisoned soufflé. It would mean Roy had known about Bruce all along. Was that why Roy’s rage at his brother had never cooled down? We are always so much angrier at the living than the dead.

But Roy lying to Persey? Over and over? She just couldn’t believe it. Her first husband had been a liar, but the thing was, Persey could see through Roy. One of the things she loved about him was his transparency. Like a child’s.

Babe could lie. She resembled those people Jarod bragged about, who can pass a polygraph because they believe their own lies.

Turned along the canal road another idea occurred. If there was a liar in this story, why wasn’t it Ned McKick? She knew the police were allowed to lie to suspects – Jarod said so. What if he was just poking her, like a bug under a rock, to see what she would do. Sometimes you can’t trust anybody.

Well, that wasn’t true. She could trust Digger. Maybe that was the reason for his existence. Here he was beside her, adorable clueless, reared up in the passenger seat surfing the turns.
She shouldn’t have brought him. What was she thinking? She’d felt obligated because –walkless — he’d plastered himself to her. But maybe she had really brought him for reassurance. She felt challenged to be more competent, more responsible, when Digger was around. She was the leader and he was the follower, he was the pack animal and she was the alpha bitch. Or maybe her animal self had no plan of actually crossing that bridge to Duvie’s. Her animal self knew better.
What was it planning?

Then she saw it; the looming medical building containing the fertility clinic. With relief she embraced that previously unwelcome subject. The morning she’d run downstairs to gather up the little pieces of Roy’s shredded letter, she’d come face to face with a big surprise. She could recall no other incident of Roy cleaning up his own mess. There had to be an important reason for it; something he didn’t want Persey to see. Roy’s test results? What else would make him so angry? If she walked in now and demanded a copy of the lab results they would have to give it to her. And here was the building now, with its beautiful view of the river for wives to gaze at while their husbands had to concentrate on pornography to summon up a sample. She turned in automatically.
She allowed Digger out a moment to run around the parking lot, marking a territory. Things were so much easier for dogs.

A van slowed down on the canal road and a man leaned out his window to drink her in. Maybe that was why she took Digger everywhere; just to feel safer. Maybe her paranoia – previously the paranoia of any beautiful woman – was better-based than she knew. Think: if she knew all about Bruce, he knew all about her.

Bruce must be rabid with jealousy. Roy had everything; the business, the wife, the house, the toys. Bruce was a jailbird on the run, a sex offender who lived in a hole with nothing; an outcast. His playmates were all dead women.

She had to stop thinking these things. She was driving herself crazy. But telling yourself to stop can produce the opposite effect. What made her so sure she would recognize Bruce if she saw him? Maybe it was that man in the van. He might look very different after years in prison and years on the run. They might be linked through Roy, through Babe, but could she rely on a warning electricity to pass between them?

As she whistled for Digger, she conjured up the usually reassuring memory of beautiful Roy coming out to California to rescue her from her appalling mess of a first marriage. A mess from which she had not been able to save herself. That first kiss had ignited all the secrets of high school. The years apart melted away. That was Roy for certain. His brother could never have impersonated him.
She locked Digger in the car and tucked her purse decisively beneath one arm. Soon at least there would be one less secret. She breezed her way through the blond-oak doors, feeling the eyes of hopeful couples upon her, wondering about her “condition”. Putting on her most charming face she leaned right into the receptionists’ glass compartment for a confidential whisper.

“This is kind of embarrassing. I’m Persey Royall. You sent my husband’s lab results to the house, but he destroyed them and now he won’t talk to me. He seemed pretty upset. I just wondered if you could print me a copy …seeing as I’m his wife and all.”

To herself she sounded like an idiot. What happened to “never explain, never apologize?”
The woman with the freeze-dried hair responded, “Of course, Mrs. Royall, I remember you,” but seemed uncertain what to do next.

Talk about liars. These people never told the simple truth. Everything they said was a euphemism for something worse. You could see her mentally searching through the Approved Phrase List for something to say. Never allowed to make decisions on her own, doubtless. The sentence she chose was the old standby; “Why don’t you take a seat?” A command disguised as a question.

Persey turned away, hoping she’d concealed her annoyance. Why make it a production number? Why not hand her the friggin’ sheet of paper? Unable to sit, she paced, hugging her shoulders. All the couples were staring at her now. She felt their suspicion hover in the air. She hated this place and they could sense it, hated what went on here and the way it made her feel. She could feel them turning against her, agreeing with Babe. This overdressed, bejeweled woman’s problem could be solved by a pair of twins and a double helping of mayonnaise.

At least the receptionist was in motion, trying to do something. They couldn’t trap Persey here forever. She’d be late. Of course Roy expected her to be late; but there were limits. She imagined calling Roy, “Just dropped by the fertility clinic. Won’t be a moment.” He’d forget all about Duvie’s, that was for sure!

She pretended to read the fervent testimonials illustrated with baby pictures, adorning the walls. She could make herself as small as possible if she folded her shoulders forward like a contortionist. Maybe she would disappear. It was certainly too late to flee. The receptionist was whispering with a nurse, and now they were both staring at her.

Persey couldn’t remember why she had wanted so badly to know. She was just trying to get out of going to Duvie’s. The Bird Lady was wrong; sometimes it was better NOT to know, better to simply surmise. Bad news for Roy was good news for her. If he couldn’t have children of his own he wouldn’t want to adopt and this whole stupid subject would just go away. Was she too vain to admit to Babe that she’d finally found something she couldn’t get Roy to do? Ask him yourself. He won’t tell me.

She was just at the point of deciding never to visit a doctor’s office again, ever, under any circumstances, even if she was dying, when the door to the Sacred Chamber opened and the nurse said, “Mrs. Royall? The doctor will see you now.”

Persey’s nerves were quivering. She felt the concentrated rage of the waiting room visited upon her back as they witnessed her special treatment. People always jumped to that conclusion about her, that she sashayed to the front of every line while they remained imprisoned behind the velvet rope. If only she could explain! She wanted to scream out loud, “I DON’T WANT TO SEE THE DOCTOR, I NEVER WANT TO SEE THE DOCTOR AGAIN”, but reminded herself, hey, if I leave in one minute waving a document, that will tell them. Better get this over with. Then they’ll know.
The nurse opened the door to the doctor’s office. “He’ll be free in just a moment.”

Oxymoron! A free doctor! Was this whole charade just to justify billing us again? Persey braced momentarily in the doorway, then forced herself forward like a tantrumy child. Get it over with. At least it was his office and not the examining room. That really was the worst. Persey didn’t ever want to be touched like that again unless she was getting an orgasm out of it.

If she and Digger really were connected and he could sense her imprisonment, how long would it take him before he started tearing out car upholstery? Damn! She refused to sit, refused to “get comfortable”, refused to make herself at home. She turned her back on the nurse just as if she was reading the multiple diplomas. Serve them right if she looted the doctor’s desk. That would teach them.

But the file probably wasn’t in here. She should sit in the doctor’s chair, right behind his desk; how would he like that? But of course she lacked courage. Ultimately she always did. Never shared her big talk with anyone. The only person who thought she’d do anything daring was McKick; and he was wrong. Finding those bodies was an aberration. She’d fatally misled him about her personality and all these disasters had resulted.

I’ve got to get out of here, thought Persey. This is stupid. But then the door opened and there he was.

He was a young man, unfortunately. This would be so much easier if he was old and withered the way he ought to be. He had a receding, puffy dark hairline and a softly olive, well-shaven face. She could imagine him at the end of the day, taking off his lab coat, settling down in some hushed paneled club with a double bourbon and a fine cigar. The nurse was nowhere to be seen. She realized this was the first time they had ever been alone together.

He took her by the elbow. Why do men do that, wondered Persey. Do they think it’s a handle? We don’t do it to them. Roy himself was guilty of it sometimes, when he wanted her to move faster. It could inflict a tender bruise.

The doctor looked at her with his moist dark eyes and asked in his fake warm manner, “Wouldn’t you like to take a seat?”

No. She wouldn’t. This man had goo-gooey dark eyes just like Jarod’s. She was so disgusted with euphemisms right now. They wouldn’t get anywhere that way. She hadn’t come to this office to walk out carrying one of his chairs.

“I didn’t want to make a big deal out of this,” she said but even to her own ears her voice sounded uncertain and teary. What inner well of tears – triggered by those damned photographs probably – had opened inside her? Restlessly she banged her wrists in front of her just like a captive.
“I think you’d better sit down.” He insisted. He was used to being boss.

He got what he wanted as they always do. Anything to speed this up, to get this over with. She could feel the panic rising. She was growing a new phobia now; trapped in the doctor’s office. She collapsed into the leather-studded chair provided. The chair designated “patient”.
He sat down too close to her, right on the edge of his desk. His white lab coat opened; revealing a packed crotch in lightweight wool, unpleasantly close to eye level. This man who had seen parts of herself even she had never seen, who had exerted mastery over the deep places within; he was now far too close. What if she had a panic attack right here, in the doctor’s office? If she escaped at this moment she could head it off. The trouble was, once you imagined something it was alive. She would never get rid of the idea now.

She tried concentrating on his face and pushing her own thoughts down into white noise. He had dark, oily skin with bottomless pores and those scary reflective dark eyes in which she could see herself mirrored. Like a scared white rabbit. Like those rabbits Roy and Jarod loved to hunt, whose bodies they dirtied with death and brought back for her to “clean”. Jarod said a rabbit screams before it dies in a feminine way. He told her that because he saw it upset her.
“I understand your husband destroyed the lab report before you could see it? And you asked him about it?”

She tried being honest. “He was yelling. He didn’t want to talk about it.”
“It’s upsetting for most men,” he said comfortably. He would never be one of those men. To the right of his hip photographs in silver frames were planted, pictures of progeny turned to face the viewer as if he would never need to look at them. They were part of his advertising now. They existed for the same purpose as those diplomas on the walls.
Suddenly he took Persey’s hand and she jumped. Was this the same hand that had been inside her up to the elbow? But what could do? She simply sat there. Was this what powerlessness felt like? If she had spent her whole life avoiding it, why was it so familiar?
“Mrs. Royall, your husband’s sperm is tailless. There is no possibility of fertilization. Now, artificial insemination provided by another donor is a service we offer here and I believe that would be a good—“

Did he mean him? Provided by him? Was he offering himself as sperm donor or was she the one being disgusting? She took the opportunity to snatch her hand away.
“Tailless?” she echoed. In her imagination little black and white paisleys sprang off the film screens of high school health class and lay there before her. But they weren’t writhing and wriggling. Roy’s paisleys were out of their element; inert, immobile, fish out of water.

“You mean, they’re…like dead?”
“They’re not dead. They just can’t go anywhere. It’s a rare condition but I
had heard of it before. I would guess—“
“But if all it takes is one sperm with a tail—“
“True. But we didn’t see a single one. I think it would raise hope falsely to –“ “What causes this?”

One of Roy and Jarod’s complaints was that the
government used people as lab rats. Experimental drugs, mind-and body- altering exercises, toxic chemicals; throw them together in a stew with a bunch of soldiers just to see what happened. Jarod offered this tale as an excuse; the world owed him what he chose to take. But what if Roy had actually been poisoned? Or had he been born this way, and his twin brother poisoned too? She thought of all those millions of dead sperm rushing into her. All dressed up and nowhere to go.
“Something environmental?“ she prompted.

“Unknown,” said the doctor, gazing wetly with his gooey eyes. Priding himself no doubt upon his “bedside manner”. Euphemisms! “It’s likely genetic. The tail is the repository for the mitochondrial DNA that comes from the mother –interestingly –– so when the sperm sinks its head into the egg, the tail drops away. That’s why mitochondrial DNA passes only through the female. For your purposes, any search for explanation would be counter-productive.”
He knows nothing about my purposes, thought Persey. Idiot. He can’t even find a tiny IUD, much less fathom what I’m thinking. Mitochondrial DNA…it was all Babe’s fault! Had Roy’s deep wish for motherlessness finally been granted? If only she could get him to understand, they could celebrate together.

She imagined clinking champagne glasses at Duvie’s. But Jarod –father of at least four children that he knew about – would be there. When Jarod was around Roy was forced to posture and pose.
What a joke! Poor Babe’s coveted gene pool was a toxic waste dump after all. Who would ever tell her? Persey wouldn’t do it. Why give her all the awful jobs? Why couldn’t she be a liar like the rest of them, covering everything with lies and rage?
She must have startled the still-talking doctor by launching out of her chair. “You’re not out of options,” the doctor called as she grabbed for the door

But I’m out of here, thought Persey. Politeness forced her to murmur “Thank you for telling me,” over her shoulder. She almost collided with the nurse who must have listened at the door. The poor woman staggered back, embarrassed. Look out, sister, thought Persey. Curiosity killed the cat.
The doctor pursued her, like the bad guy in a horror film. He offered Xanax, threatening, “delayed reaction.” He thought she wanted children! When I do lie, thought Persey, at least I lie effectively. The waiting couples seemed confused. The doctor was stressed out, but the patient seemed relieved. What could it all mean?

It means the truth shall set you free, thought Persey. Pushing through revolving doors, she smelled the river and the distant forests. Digger saw her coming and danced in his seat. What would life be like, she wondered, if she never again did anything she didn’t want to do? Like lunching at Duvie’s, for example.

She fished out her cell phone, dialed Roy and let Digger out of the car to play. Because marriage itself was a balance and a bargain, she would have to offer something in exchange. But marriage was a shifting deck where she thought she knew just how to stand. If she cancelled lunch, she’d offer dinner. Just like a game. “See you and raise you.”

Her mood was dampened by the fact that Jarod answered Roy’s cell.

“Sweetmeat!” he exclaimed. His name for her. Gobble-gobble. “Your number two here.”
Number two. That was about right. He was a great big turd for a fact. She managed to control her voice.
“Hi, Jarod. Roy around?”

“He’s in the can. Aren’t we seeing you in ten short minutes?”
He was teasing. He never thought she’d come.

“I’m sitting here at the bridge and it isn’t moving. Literally blocked solid.” It
was another lie but it was so effortless. This man of all people did not deserve the truth. “You know I hate the smoke in Duvie’s. I had a better idea.”
“Which is?”

She hadn’t been planning on explaining the whole thing to him. Where the hell was Roy? She gritted her teeth.

“Inviting you to our place for dinner instead. How about that?” Major concession, since an evening with Jarod was low on her list of fun. On the other hand, Roy could play with Jarod while she spent the night in the kitchen.

“Sounds great. Would you invite Stormee, too?”
Goddamnit! Stormee was work. She had been congratulating herself on never having to deal with Stormee again.

“I thought you two were on the outs.”

“We’re trying to make it work,” Jarod wheedled. “I know I’ve been a shit. But now she’s not answering her phone.”

She tried to find hope in this sentence. Jarod was a shit. Maybe, even if he wasn’t finished with Stormee, Stormee was finished with him.

“I don’t want to sit through another evening while you two fight,” threatened Persey .
“That won’t happen.” Typical Jarod overconfidence. “Here’s what you do – don’t invite her, just stop by and see how she is. She’s not even taking Roy’s calls. I’m worried about her.”
Roy was calling Stormee why? And was that Roy now, whispering in Jarod’s ear, or was it the wind off the river, moving through her hair?

“Is Roy there yet?” The unattractive whine in her own voice set her own teeth on edge. Why couldn’t Jarod butt out?

“Not yet, sweetest. Talk about all backed up! Come on, do it for me. You know you owe me one.”
She agreed grudgingly. It was true. Good reason not to have friends, if it cost this much to keep them happy. In her head she was planning, limiting her own liability. If she shopped first –- bought some nice melty ice cream, for instance — that would give her an excuse not to have to hang around, listening to Stormee’s plaints.
“Steaks at our place, then.”

She knew what he liked. Jarod’s special food was the heart attack menu. Steaks, Gorgonzola, red ale, cheesecake. It was just like feeding Digger, really. Maybe he would croak in the middle of dinner. She could mop him up like a stain. Otherwise let him gorge while she spent the night polishing silver. “Tell Roy I love him,” she said curtly, before hanging up. In case he – or Jarod — had forgotten.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: