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I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead

18. Treachery

So that’s where we went. The twilight had thickened into darkness so Chase turned on all the auto lights. We were cosmonauts, safe inside our personal re-entry machine that could take us anywhere. Red and the yellow flickers lent Chase’s face an unearthly glow. Outside the car windows a fine drizzle was getting underway, obscuring the names and dates on the tombs and markers of Chase’s “shortcut”. We were back in the graveyard! Isn’t that where they put the bodies? Could they fit an extra one?

Then suddenly we spilled out on an unfamiliar road. The bodies were behind us now, consigned to the earth we flew above… Why was riding in this car so much like flying? Was it the hush, the lack of noise? Or was it my passenger status; that I had no idea where I was going but was ready for anything?

“We need to stop and get a card,” said Chase.

“Remind me. What’s the occasion?” Was this lucid dreaming? Where could we possibly be going? All I knew was that Chase wanted to steer. So let him steer.

“My mom’s birthday.” He smiled at me.

“How about a present?” I asked, fighting for time. “Shouldn’t we bring a gift?”
He shook his head. “She says she never wants anything.”

“That’s just something mothers say. It’s never really true.” I knew I had forgotten something, but all the forgotten things seemed so unimportant. The “now” was perfect. Me and Chase. Wanting it to last forever…

Chase’s face too wore a dreamy, happy expression. “I don’t recognize this road,” he said. “The GPS went black. It’s been proved that we’re born with innate tracking ability but if you don’t use it, you lose it. Maybe we’re lost. We took a strange turn out of the cemetery.”

“Doesn’t Shelby know where to go?” “Sure. Let’s let her drive.”Lights ahead.

“Pull in here, “ I said, grabbing Chase’s arm. It was a Farmer’s Market, deserted looking but sporting Christmas lights. Chase obeyed but parked unwillingly. “I thought you were letting Shelby drive.”

“I will. But we can get a present here. It’s my first time meeting you mother. I want her to like me.”
“They won’t have anything,” Chase disparaged.

“Let’s just look.” Can’t I steer a little too? I took his hand. “ Walk with me.”
He smiled. “How can I ever say no to you? This is why men fear women,” he grumbled. “Everything turns into shopping.”

Do men fear women? First I’d heard of it but I suppose everyone fears everything at one time or another. Chase was reluctant to step out of Shelby, his transitional object. She had assumed the job of body armor.

The Christmas-lit stalls were empty, shabby, silent. Had I been here before? Weren’t we supposed to be looking for a body? No, that couldn’t be, we were on a nice date. A visit to the country. I was going to meet his mother. Besides, you’d never hide a body on a farm where earth turns every season. No more corpses. I must start thinking pleasant thoughts or his mother wouldn’t like me. But we stepped through sheets of torn plastic fluttering like ghosts, the ghosts of poor Mrs. Corso’s damaged dreams. Mrs. Corso had once been, if not young, at least an excited, hopeful bride…
The greenhouse was well-lit, looking warm and jolly. Had Corso fed Miss Howk to the flowers?

Would we recognize her burial spot from the flowers she had nourished? In my imagination little Christmas roses pursed their floral lips to perfectly reproduce poor lost Howk’s insolent expression.
Chase put my cold hand underneath his coat. He was dressed for this weather; I wasn’t.

Inside the greenhouse the air was putrid with canned “Ho-ho-hos.” The curse of Tiny Tim, arriving two months early. The woman huddled over the cashbox didn’t look up from her celebrity magazine to greet her only customers. Was it my imagination that she resembled Nurse Howk, as the senior citizen she was never allowed to be? Sometimes surviving winners are not a pretty picture. Tattoos and piercings don’t age well. Did Howk regret that she died in all her beauty?

As we walked through the rows of wreaths and poinsettias I could feel Chase wishing himself elsewhere. Too bad about flying. It can be scary as well as pleasurable. It always shows us something we don’t want to see.

“Sorry,” he apologized. “Christmas was always miserable in my family. Never could live up to its advance billing.”

I picked up a poinsettia with greeny-white flowers. Had Howk’s corpus sucked the red away?
“Those things are poisonous, ” said Chase.

“Thanks for the instruction,” I murmured. Wouldn’t want to give Chase’s mother poison as a present. Even though, if you think about it, everything can be poisonous if you don’t use-as-recommended.

“Christmas is what you make of it,” I mildly suggested.

Annika and I give each other Dollar Store presents only. That’s where Annika got the mismatched yarn to knit my color-block scarf. The scarf back Corso still has. Speaking of poisons.

“All this stuff is hopeless,” Chase said in his self-flagellating way.

“Here’s something perfect.” I offered him a plant.
“It’s a cactus!” he sneered. “Worst present ever.”

“It’s a Christmas cactus,” I countered. “Blooms only once a year. Blooming thorns, get it? Just like your tattoo.”
“But it’s not blooming now. Thing looks dead.”

“But it’s going to bloom.” I shook the tag at him. “It says here. Christmas is about hope.” It was the biggest Christmas cactus they had. It promised three flowers, if it ever got going.

“I hope we can get out of here,” said Chase, grinning. “I hope you let me buy this plant.”
“Sold.” He pulled out his wallet. “I yield to your touching faith in the future.”

This is a collecting expedition, I realized. Every time we’ve soul- traveled together, we collected something. It’s really about figuring out what you’ve got.

Behind our silent cashier a rack of cards. Chase picked up a few to read the insides while Senior Citizen Howk scrabbled for his change.

“So what will you do when you run out of faith?” he asked me.
“Get more. People run out of faith, like you run out of dinner. That’s no reason to starve.”
He wouldn’t allow me to chip in even a dollar. Competitive bastard. It had been my idea, and he was stealing it.

“You’re an idea-jacker. Let me buy a card.”
“Here,” he said. “This one.”

A picture of a blazing fireside with a dog and a cat sleeping on the hearthrug.
“Powerful juju,” Chase said, “Looks just like my dog Honey. She’d eat that cat for Christmas dinner.”

We both signed the card.Chase sighed with relief to be back in the car. “I know where I’m going, now,” he said.

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