The filler scene I wrote a couple of weeks ago came out very differently when I wrote it into my hard copy of the story. Which is unusual for me. And also disturbing in that (a) I couldn’t believe how much I hated the scene and the way I wrote it when I read it back to myself that night, and (b) I posted it here for you all to read, in the first place. There are bits of story that I turn over in my mind for days or months before I consider them keyboard ready. Most of them haven’t got there. Some of them are shelved in corpuscular caverns like fine wine or rotting fruit that might drip torpid streams of thick imagery, one day, or at least make for decent compost. Some of them are more… persistent, which should give you an idea of how patient and loving my husband really is, having to hear what goes on in my head all the time. Poor guy had no idea what he was in for. (*manical laugh*) Anyway, I’ve got another filler scene to write about my friend the watcher. (She makes me anxious for my hair to finish going white, so that I can dye the lot of it raspberry pink with impunity.) And since I’ve only got the kids’ Quiet Time on Fridays to write in, plus or minus an hour or so in the evening, what you get today might be fine wine, or rotted fruit, or fly-infested compost. Sorry?
The parking lot heat was unrelenting, even with all the windows open and the cooling fan sucking the life from the battery and keeping the mosquito swarm at bay. The sun had gone down a few minutes ago. The watcher had watched it, knelt over the driver-side seat with her arms folded on the headrest, feeling like a kid watching home shrink to nothing while Auntie Steph drove her away to camp, or to college, or wherever. Spring was always about getting tired of where you were. Summer was always about counting the days to get back there. Tucking a strand of pink-black hair under her cap, the watcher glanced at the sky where the lightshow had ended and the dark was creeping in. She thumbed her phone awake. Again. Hoping, again, that she’d forgotten to put it on vibrate, or had accidentally switched it to airport mode, or some bug had maliciously turned off the tone and was uploading her data to crime-syndicate-sponsored identity thieves. But there was nothing. Just her own message: “Package departing” accompanied by photos of David Christopher, all grown up – a freakin’ doctor, now – holding that boozer’s hands, doing his AA spiel, and loading up the van. And that was supposed to be the end of it. The seeker was supposed to reply with some brand of congratulations or approval, a money transfer, and farewell. Like, two hours ago. The seeker was supposed to reply with “Thanks,” and “You’re Done”, and “Here’s the money.” Maybe it was stuck in a server, somewhere. Or got routed to the wrong phone, or something. She’d heard that could happen.
The watcher flopped back into her seat and glared at the windshield. She was chewing her thumbnail and bit too hard, tasted the blood on her tongue. She should call. She had a right to call. She did the job and she totally had a right to call and put an end to it before the cops showed up, or one of those private security company douchebags, and she had to explain what exactly she was doing in a highschool parking lot after sundown on a school night. No community events going on. Her ID didn’t mean anything, here. They would make her get out of the piece-of-shit car, and their eyes would be on her body, and they would say something like “Waiting for someone?” while they were implying something dirty. And she would get so mad her mouth wouldn’t work right. And then maybe they would open the trunk and find her make-up kit, wigs, boxes of hair-dye and costume bag and either get really hilarious or really serious about what the fuck they’d stumbled onto. So, she should call.
She tapped the end of the phone against the top of her thigh. The streetlights came on. Massive sulphur floods around the schoolyard to keep people like her from getting up to shit too close to the impressionable kiddies. She should tell them about light pollution and how the kiddies should be allowed to see the goddamn sky, for Christ’s sake. But they would look at her ripped white jeans, and at the titanium ring arced through the righthand side of her mirror-glossed lower lip. They would look at her hair hanging down to her ass in three colours and decide she didn’t have anything to tell them. She should call. Get permission to get the fuck out of here before things got stupid. She chewed on her thumb and pressed the speed-dial icon that was a photo of binoculars before she could change her mind.
“Yes, dear,” the voice sighed, tired and disapproving, already. The watcher knew not to call, but she was calling, anyway. Salty water filled her mouth and she spit to keep from puking.
“I did the assignment.” Defiant. Squeaky. She cleared her throat and tried again. “I’m all done, now, right?”
The seeker gasped then laughed a little. There was a sound like ice skimming the inside of a glass and the away-and-back whoosh of a table fan. “Would you like to be finished?”
“I just want to go home.”
“The task took longer than you expected.”
“Much longer. I never thought-”
“A little.” She put her hand on her neck where her carotid pounded hard and fast. Not old enough for a heart-attack. It happened, she’d heard, but not very often and even though her chest hurt and she had to breathe through her mouth so she didn’t sound like a fucking greyhound coming into the finish line, her left arm didn’t hurt and her fingers weren’t tingling. Maybe a stroke, though. She could totally stroke out in the car, right now, and the seeker’s number would be the last one called when the CSI crew came to investigate the scene.
“Well,” said the seeker, above the giggling glass of ice. “We have that in common.”
“But what did I do wrong? I didn’t do anything wrong!”
“Of course, not, dear. But in the time it took you to find our David, additional information has come into my hands. There has been an unforeseeable circumstance.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“I mean we have to move faster, dear.” Exasperated, but not angry. Annoyed. That’s all. “The plan has changed.”
“You need me to do something else? One more thing?”
“One more.” And the watcher was a girl at the table, again, with baubles on her pigtails swirled with colour like Jupiter and Neptune. Asking for a cookie after she’d already had two because there was just enough milk left in her Scooby Doo glass for four more dips.
“I’ll text you the details.”
“I won’t call again. I know it was bad to call.”
“Don’t worry, dear. After this last task is done, you can head back home, or wherever you want to go.”
“A gift will be waiting for you. Do you remember where?”
“Okay.” There were the soft sounds of drinking, the polite sipping of something cool in the comfort of an endless supply of equally cool drinks and of smiling servants to bring them. The watcher choked on the salt in her mouth and spat a viscous wad out onto the asphalt.
“I appreciate your help sincerely, dear. My age….”
“I know.” And then, “I love you, too, okay? Good-bye.”
The watcher put the key in the ignition and closed her eyes against the whirring grind of the exhausted, piece of shit engine. Again. Again! It took, on the third attempt. She sat and let it idle for a minute while she rolled up the windows. Mosquitoes clouded the glass. The message notification pinged as she slammed it into gear, burned onto the avenue. She’d check it later. She needed a cold drink, a hot shower, and the biggest fucking sandwich known to man. She’d check it later.
At a stop light, though, she let her right hand reach over the cracked tan vinyl on the passenger seat side to the bit of brown upholstery labeled “ergonomic” in grey cursive script that used to be white. It had ass-cheek indentations from god-knows-how-many sitters who had sat there and smoked, chatted, planted their elbow on the window sill and watched the whole wide world go by. It would be cool to meet some of them, one day. Do a sort of family-tree of piece-of-shit car owners. Maybe find out of any of them were like her, or would like her. She could call it the POS Project, or something, and make it into a book or a film; a dissertation. Her phone was nestled in a dent. She slid her thumb and touched the message as the traffic light shifted green. Squinting, letting the aftermarket fuel injection roll her forward, she read.
“Really,” she said out loud. Too loud. The engine revs roared in her head. Someone leaned on a horn. Someone was shouting. So a few people would have a story to tell, about a dumb chick who forgot she was driving her car at stoplight and then woke up and gunned it past a freakin’ certain head-on collision. She liked to give people stories. Call it a fucking gift, right?
The car took her through the intersection, past main street, to a truck stop near the highway. She’d been here before, but they wouldn’t remember her. It was a mom and pop place with a couple of rooms, pay showers, a little cafe, and a post office. Sherry’s Rest, it was called, with the Stop gone black with the night. She could probably take care of all of it from here, the watcher thought. She hoped so. She couldn’t pretend it was harmless anymore, and Jesus God, was she ready to go home.