Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Chapter 17 / Grater

“There’s something you should know” was how he would put it. 

He would say this while she was doing something else—years later, she could still remember exactly where she’d been, what she’d been doing, the way one does looking back at a national tragedy. These were not national tragedies but at once something less and something more, striking to the bone, altering her immediate world more than a presidential assassination. 

What he remembered was how she stopped what she was doing and turned her full attention to him. She might tilt her head slightly, not unlike her dog, which often sat silently, observing him. 

“There’s something you should know,” he said at the diner in Schuyler their second Sunday together. They were sitting in the last booth in the window row that overlooked the street. She faced in, toward the restaurant, and he sat opposite, from where he could keep an eye on a corner of the park. 

Annie had worked a full day on Saturday, and she noticed that Andrew was already known at the diner; from the cash register, the owner greeted them, and when the waitress poured coffee Andy gave her $5 and she left the pot on a trivet she took from her apron pocket. Now their breakfast dishes had been cleared and they sat surrounded by the Times, Daily News, Post, and Hudson County Observer. Tina had asked Annie to read each issue of the paper and mark up what could have been done better. A test, Annie knew, but an easy one, and she liked it. She was due in the office at noon, when they would talk about it. 

Andrew went outside and leaned against a lamppost, smoking a cigarette and paging through the Daily News, a little ferociously, she thought, visually rustling the pages and neglecting the ash on his cigarette. He returned to their table, bringing a simultaneous waft of fresh air and cigarette smoke, a smell that brought back her childhood; not a bad smell, she thought, she could get used to it again. 

And he, in his first view of her from the door, thought how totally absorbed she was in what she was doing. Focused. Comfortable being alone. 

“Does it ever get warm here?” he asked.

“You just bought your sweater,” she said, indicating the Navy blue boiled wool. Not to mention three turtlenecks, three pairs of socks, and a set of long underwear; the sporting-goods store down the street loved him too. 

“There’s something you should know,” he said, and she blinked once, waiting. 

“I’m ill,” he said. 

She nodded. 

“It’s obvious?”

“Your wrists. They look like they’ve been through a grater.”

Before he could stop himself he tugged at the sleeves of his turtleneck, just a flick of the third finger of each hand, ensuring that the sleeves were all the way down. “But you didn’t ask,” he said.

“I’m not reporting on you.”

“Still. Conjecture is dangerous.” 

“We’re talking about you. Manic-depressive?”

“I wish. I seem to be imbued with the standard despair, alternated with a crashing mental pain, a sort of agonizing migraine all over my body. That’s what persuaded me to break through a window with my hands so I could grab a piece of glass and try to cut out my heart. It had given me nothing but pain.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, as she might have to someone who had lost a loved one in a tragic accident.

“It’s over now. I did time in a hospital, met Warren, and today I’m a mix of the latest in pharmacology and talking therapy, a sort of mental bionic man. Altered. A different person from what I was . . . a year ago.” 

“Is that a good thing? I mean, do you like this new person? Do you want to spend the rest of your life as him?”

“—Well, he’s smarter than I was then. And he doesn’t refer to himself in the third person. I’m functional . . . in most ways, there are still a few details to be worked out, and hey, I’m a nice guy.” 

“Is that what you want to be?”

“—Annie, I don’t have any choice. I decided to survive. I learned some basic concepts. Like, life isn’t perfect. I gave my health, almost my life, for the Cuscutlano revolution because I believed in it, and it didn’t endure. But Rosendo, my friend whom I hope you’ll meet, gave even more, and he reminds me that we didn’t compromise. That there is no reason to hate myself. Another new concept for me." 

“This new person. You. Does it last?”

“As far as anyone knows.”

She turned her head slightly, as if he had slapped her. 

“It’s a treatment, Annie. And they come up with new meds every day. Well, every year.” 

Across the street, in a narrow window on the second story of a red brick building stood one sunflower in a vase. It must be plastic, but she had enjoyed noticing it, and thinking about the person—a woman, surely—who had put the flower in the vase and then put the vase in the window and thought there, that looks better. In the clarity of the window and the sun on the red brick and the plastic sunflower she thought, he will break my heart. 

Digame, he said. Talk to me. 

“  . . . Cowboy Junkies." 

He needed only two beats. “‘Mama, he’s crazy and he scares me.’” He took her hand on the tabletop. “That girl doesn’t run.”

She didn’t run either. She kissed him at the train station and got through work, and at home that night she listened to “Misguided Angel,” once, because they were a disappointing band, she could never get through the whole CD, and she wished mightily that he hadn’t told her this, and she knew that he had to tell her, so she wished she had someone she could tell, someone she could ask, is this OK? 

Ed would say no, find someone normal, but Ed would be jealous of Andrew. 

Is he a danger to others? Jaime would ask, and she, the inadequate reporter, had forgotten to ask that. And she hadn’t asked about his wrists because . . . because they were his wrists and he would tell her when he was ready, as he had, and because “you’ve done depressed,” as Kathleen would say. “I had hoped for someone cheerful for you.” 

And she would be reduced to saying, but I like him. 

Copyright © Debby Mayer