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Depraved Heart: a crime novel

Chapter Seventeen — Mortality

We ordered Italian but it hardly mattered. Horrendous testimony removed the edge of pleasure from that meal. Shea was right about one thing; I was glad I missed it. My appetite, at least, was intact. Court had been dismissed for the day, ostensibly for some juror’s medical appointment, but more probably because no one could face food after the morning’s testimony. The sibs were divided on whether the worst moment came from the pictured avalanche of gay porn found on Oz’s computer or from Fryssen reading aloud Oz’s description of what he required in a partner.
Jake said, “I wouldn’t have figured him for a bareback rider.”

He was the only one who could joke. He suggested that maybe the jury members got aroused and were frisky to go pouncing on each other.

“You know everyone on that jury buys porn,” said Jake as we attempted to picnic unfestively in the limo. “It’s like the number one U.S business. They’re the usual bunch of hypocrites.”

My memory pulled up their sourdough faces. Could the prosecution have managed to assemble the only group of twelve non-porn consuming people left in the US of A?

“Why did Oz describe himself as “cut”?” whispered Shelley.

“It just means circumcised,” Jake told her. “Everyone who’s anyone is cut.”

“It could mean he’s ripped,” said Trevor.

First they get the little cut, then they get The Big Cut, I thought. Then they have to be “ripped”. No wonder men are so angry all the time. I was getting an education all right. I considered teasing Craig but he would know Mina told.

“The jury doesn’t know it was for fun,” worried Shelley. “They’ll think he wanted to replace Colleen with some twenty year old cadet.”

“I thought we’d established that they don’t think,” said Trevor.

“Of course they’ll think it’s awful,” exploded Craig. “That’s what inflammatory means. The prosecution wants them making the most important decision of their lives in a haze of crazed revulsion. Face it, we’re screwed on this one.”

“Let’s not get neurotic now,” said Mina, who was nibbling around the edges of her sandwich like a little mouse. Seeing the black look on her boss’ face, she amended, “Ok, let’s all get as neurotic as possible.”

“It’s not like he was advertising for a snuff flick,” said Jake. “Just a little B & D. I mean it’s like caviar, how do you know you don’t like it if you don’t try it?”

“And it’s all just jargon anyway,” Craig insisted, “Everybody uses the same words in those ads. But the only way I can prove it is to introduce a thousand other ads, and this jury can’t handle it and this judge won’t allow it. The world has changed and I, as the messenger of that unwelcome information, must be punished. I’m telling you, we’re screwed. We’ve got to get this case to another court any way we can.”

Trevor studied me thoughtfully. I must have been crazy to think I could keep anything from him. Spike wouldn’t tell him a direct lie, not even to protect me. I’d have to confess eventually.

“You look terrible,” he criticized. And after all that time I spent repairing myself, too. No one else had noticed. “Want to tell me about it?”

“Did you rat me out, Spike?” I demanded.

“The press ratted you out, cutie,” he said. Spike, too, could eat. His appetite was unaffected. “It’s a big story.”

Yeah. Tears, melted cheese…it has everything.

“So someone clue me in,” said Trevor.

I hated telling him with the rest of them listening. This was all Spike’s fault.

“I went to see Aunt Shea,” I admitted. “She wanted to give me something.” I turned to Shelley. “Did you know the Chagall belonged to our mother?”

“That woman is a Pechvogel,” said Trevor. I hate hearing Oz’s words out of his mouth. They are not the same person. “She wants to separate us. You should never listen to the Shorts. Everything in the house is yours one way or another.”

“I think most of it belongs to Skylar,” I said. I hate it when Oz calls my relatives “the Shorts.” They might be fat and plebeian, but I’m the only true shorty here.

Shelley licked her lips like an appetite-less anorexic.

“I don’t know how you can stand being reminded we’re even related to those people.”
“Well, we are,” I said. “Aren’t you the least bit interested in reality?”

“I don’t know,” said Shelley, “Maybe she wasn’t our mother, really. Maybe we were adopted, or stolen. You know how people lie about things. And when it happens overseas…”

In answer I silently opened the white leather photo case and handed it over.

“Wow,” said Shelley. “She looks like you.”

“Brontë is a replicant,” sneered Jake.

Shelley’s eyes filled with tears. “I don’t look like anybody,” she wailed. “I don’t fit in anywhere. No wonder Oz tried getting rid of me.”

Trevor embraced her, put her head against his chest. “We can’t let this trial drive us apart,” he told her. “That’s what they want. Remember Oz saw each you being born? We all belong. Nobody’s a replicant.”

Shelley accepted his handkerchief.

That night my mother came to me. I awoke running. Running from the torch-bearing villagers who wanted to kill me because I was unlucky enough to be a member of the cannibal family, and I ran into that same dusty crypt I had seen hundreds of times in bad-to-worse late night movies. Looking for a place to hide. Ah! A sarcophagus! The unimaginative villagers wouldn’t have the guts to look for me there. But when I slid off the heavy granite lid, my mother was inside. She opened her eyes to look at me.

She was wrapped up like an Egyptian, holding a pair of riding whips in her crossed hands, her face painted blue and gold, but I recognized her immediately. It was my mother, and she was younger than me. Younger than I had ever been. With that weird intelligence found only in dreams I knew that although I was only dreaming she was coming to me the best way she could and I was bizarrely grateful. It meant some part of her was still alive.

Between our eyes shot a jolt of lightning, her mind downloading into mine an avalanche of terrible pictures in which she and Colleen became one. I had to wall them off, delete or save or look at later. It was too much. My memory was weak, just as Oz’s computer always warned us, and I was lacked the firewalls of age. Her eyes pleaded with me, the pupils deepening, opening out like flowers.

I didn’t want to hear what she was trying to say. How could I be my mother’s keeper? She acted like it was up to me. Was she saying, “Save me,” or was I saying them? I heard the words ringing in my head; sharp and clear as glass. She tried moving her lips as if to speak, but prying her lips apart cracked open her mask, and I saw the corpse inside. Her broken, bloodied teeth could not hold back the bubbling blood. It poured out, engulfing us. We were awash in it, the coffin was floating, and I was clinging to it as if to a raft.

If I didn’t wake myself up I was going to drown in my own mother’s blood. It was too terrible to be borne. With a massive effort of will I hauled myself up out of the dream, hand-over-hand into the choked stillness of the darkened room.

Was this real life? Where was I? I wasn’t in my own bed. Not that I “owned” anything, it seemed. Trevor wouldn’t allow me in his bed, so we must be in Skylar’s. The mosquito netting hung from the canopy, like cocoon-like wisps of the dream chrysalis from which I had exploded.

Was I caterpillar or butterfly? I couldn’t be anything without Trevor, he must be somewhere, he was my lucky charm. Only his absence gave the nightmare the power to come and get me. I wanted to go back, to long before this mess, but if I went back too far I risked losing the good as well as the bad. If Colleen wasn’t dead, then Trevor had never loved me. Somehow I convinced myself that life and death, everything, was up to me. I shot out of the bed, tangled my feet in the blankets and hit the floor sobbing.

I wasn’t alone, after all. Trevor pushed out of the shadows, gathered me up, held me, rocked me, comforted me. Trevor was there to stroke me, kiss me, suck my nipples, roll his cheeks in the cavern of my belly, hoist me up by the hips into himself. We had the power together, between us, to summon up light against the forces of darkness, even if we burned our own bodies for fuel.
If you could magically find out the last time you would ever make love to somebody, would you want to know? Oz says everyone should live as if they’re just about to die. Make love every time as if it’s the last time. My atoms into your atoms, says Whitman.

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