Dear readers, Here's the last installment of "This Takes Me Back." Thanks for reading!
After a few drinks, Anderson finds the bathroom and splashes water on his face, trying to wake up. He feels tired all of a sudden. He shouldn't have tried everything Phil handed him. Maybe he should start taking vitamins, working out, drinking less, caring more about his diet. Exhausting, this business of maintaining a body, the hours of his day already so full that he sometimes can't even bring himself to get up and fix a snack at night, opting to go to bed hungry. One time he fell asleep in the bathtub, up to his chin in hot water, and Michelle walked in and woke him up, saying, "Daddy, are you okay? What's wrong?" her usually calm demeanor giving way to panic. At that moment, he felt a deep pity for her, realizing he was all she had left.
As he walks down the hall, he can hear Coley talking to one of the new lawyers, Drake, Drake of the indeterminable ethnicity, almost too good-looking, and the talk of the female office staff. They're sitting on the couch, Drake leaning close although Coley is as loud as a gunshot.
"So I'm in the emergency room, right? And the doctor gets me to take off all my clothes, and I'm so miserable I don't care if they're filming the scene and sending it on cable to horny men in South America, I just want something to kill the pain. Then I get wheeled into another room and the nurses bust up from the fact that the doctor got me to strip down for a knee x-ray." She raises her eyebrows, and takes a long sip of her screwdriver.
Before Anderson reaches Coley, the hostess Susan stops him.
"I've never seen you at one of these things," she says in that mock seductive way some married women adopt with single men they know are safe. She's dressed as Cat Woman, but her figure is all wrong, not toned enough by half.
He smiles half-heartedly, not in the mood for Susan or anybody else.
"Are you having a good time?" she asks.
"Actually, I've about had it for the night."
Her breasts look mashed into her black suit. "She must be a handful," she says. She motions to Coley.
"Will you excuse me for a moment," Anderson says, putting his hand on her shoulder and moving around her. He makes his way to the corner where Coley sits with Drake, her hand rubbing the once-injured knee.
"Ready to go?" he says, sounding like a father and hating himself for it.
"No. I'm getting to know Drake. Isn't his name great? It's like we're on a soap opera. 'Drake, darling, when are Brooke and Forest going to be here?'"
Drake laughs. "Why don't you have a seat, buddy?"
"Really, I'm ready to go."
"All right," Coley says. She downs the rest of her drink and stands up, brushing the wrinkles out of her skirt.
"It was great meeting you, Drake," she calls out and blows him a kiss.
"You take care of yourself, honey," Drake says, as though they are television lovers, forced to part by circumstance.
Anderson steadies Coley and grabs both their jackets off the bed in the guest room. He puts her jacket on her, pulls her hair out of the collar, saying good night to the hostess as he rushes out the door. The mild Houston night has turned cold during the short time they've been inside, stormy like some story-book Halloween.
"I don't know why we had to leave so early." Coley fiddles with the knob on the glove compartment, accidentally opening it and spilling maps and pens into the footwell. She picks up most of the stuff and tries to jam it back in, but the glove compartment won't shut, despite her repeated, violent attempts to slam it closed.
"I'll take care of that," he says, trying to sound comforting.
"If you say so." Coley pulls her hands to her lap.
He glances over at her, averting his eyes from the mess of traffic ahead of them. She seems so small, a little girl dressed in her mother's clothes. She's almost as thin as Donna was when she got sick. Anderson remembers seeing Donna's heart beating through her thin t-shirt as she slept, beating as fast as it would have if she'd been running. It wasn't the cancer that killed her, but the fact that her heart had worn out. Some damage, her doctor had said, was irreversible.
"So do you want to stay over?" she asks, her finger tracing shapes on the window.
"Do you want me to?" he asks, used to the constant weekend negotiations over sleeping arrangements.
"Don't men just do what they want?" Coley asks.
"Where did you get that idea?"
"Where should I begin?" she says, pausing. "That rape I told you about wasn't my only bad experience, just the first. My first experience with an older man." Coley stares at her hands.
"It's a horrible story," he says. He keeps his eyes on the road.
"Is that all you're going to say?" Coley asks, picking at a raggedy fingernail.
"I don't know what you want," he says. It always comes to this point with women, the place where he has nothing left to offer, or even to say.
Coley makes no noise when she starts to cry. Anderson parks in the only open space in her apartment complex parking lot as a tube of lipstick drops out of Coley's purse. She doesn't pick it up. It rolls around on the floor, the only sound in the car. He tries to touch her shoulder, but she shrugs him off, moving closer to the door.
After she gets out, Anderson sits, his car idling in the parking lot for a long time. Through the blinds he watches Coley move around, taking off the fake brain, the hat, clicking on the television. The wind picks up, and he unrolls his window a little to let in some fresh air. A lonely horn sounds in the distance, and big raindrops start to splatter on his windshield. He thinks again of that woman circling the I-Hop at Christmas, probably desperate to give her lover a present, just say hi and Merry Christmas and I miss you and don't go just yet. He imagined that she didn't think they would have much time before she had to get back to her real life. Coley must have felt the same way, the need for attention, for someone to make her important and valuable. Like with Donna's cancer, he realizes what's happening all too late.
He watches Coley until someone comes up behind him and yells, "Hey, asshole. Are you coming or going? I want that spot before I get old."
When he returns to his house, Michelle and Roger are watching a slasher movie with the sound muted while Roger makes up dialogue. Anderson listens from the door. The first time he heard Roger, Anderson marvelled at his sophisticated use of language, his comic timing.
Tonight he can't hear anything but snippets. When he walks into the room, he sees that Michelle and Roger have changed, and they look like any other teenage couple except that there is zero sexual tension in the room, no straightening of clothes when they hear the door, no rushing to sit apart.
"Hey, Daddy," Michelle yells. "Where's Coley?"
"Home." He takes off his jacket and lays it over the couch, sitting down.
"Coley could stay over here sometimes. I know you're not just friends," Michelle says, laughing.
"Is that so, little missy?" Anderson is trying to joke back, but he thinks maybe Michelle is right, maybe he should have made more of an effort to integrate Coley into his life.
"What happened with her costume? Did people freak or what?"
"There were worse ones. Nicole Simpson," Anderson says, putting his feet on the coffee table. He wonders if Phil made any progress with her.
"You need anything? We're about to head out for ice cream," Roger says.
"Who's open at this hour?" Anderson asks. He looks at Roger who still has a touch of glitter on his left eye.
"Kroger?" Roger asks.
"I'm not positive, but I think," Michelle says, stifling a yawn.
"If you leave now, you're going to miss everything," Anderson says. He points at the television. "It's just getting good."
"What else can happen that we haven't already seen?" Michelle asks, kissing Anderson on the forehead. "Nobody ever learns anything in these stupid movies."
Anderson hears the garage door go up and down. Walking to the phone, he kicks off his shoes, and picks up the receiver until it starts beeping. He wants to call Coley, but doesn't have anything new to tell her, nothing that will make her feel better. He puts the receiver down.
The bag of baby Snicker bars Michelle bought for trick-or-treaters sits on the table, and he tears into it, wanting something to tide him over until morning. Outside the storm has started in earnest. Tree limbs scrape against the window, the only noise in the room. When Donna was alive, he wished that they would never fall out of love, that their relationship would remain young and happy. He got his wish.
Anderson lies on the couch. On the silent TV, a girl keeps crying, a man comforting her. He's seen this movie before and knows the man is telling the girl that what she's seen isn't real, that nothing out there is going to hurt her. She'll be just fine, no need to worry, though Anderson can't think of a single reason she would have to believe him.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Cease your folly and give up for lost what you see is lost.” Catullus
Drinking memoir suggestion: Three Dog Life Abigail Thomas
Benedictions and Maledictions