What happens next? The door in the hall stands open, night seeping in slow, the way dogs wander to smell a threat, cautious. Curious.
Am I hers now?
Her nest of blown glass and cigarette butts is a miracle of demise. What promise did you give her? You’ll be safer here, you said. Crooked, fulvous lies.
Should I pick her up? Set her free? Give her a name?
Beneath her head, a book of crossword puzzles with half the pages dog-eared; coffee stain crown on the cover like a halo behind wisps of her thin, wild hairs.
So many down.
My face contorts. The coffee stain makes a sound. Its voice from my mouth:
Did I give her the name, or did you? Was it hers all along? Is she trying to steal the crossword’s identity?
I need you to tell me. You were always the deep thinker. I’m just the hound.
The corners of the crossword book are split and wrinkled. Its pages curl in protest, reaching for the lightless ceiling, flat as a sun-baked sidewalk roach, legs twitching with the flutter of the two-armed fan overhead. Creak-creak, says the fan.
Round and round, stirring fumes. Hardly a fitting mobile.
On the far wall, the lampshade sits crooked on its neck like a shady hustler peddling on a street corner.
You buying? Nah. Not today.
I thumb the hammer forward to uncock the pistol and bury it in my belt. I’m steady, scanning the room. No sign of a struggle. The stash is gone. My hands are free. I’ve still got four minutes.
Something fragile pops as I step toward her, crunching like fresh snow. I slide my fingers behind her neck and butt and bring her to my chest, shushing and rocking, a reenactment from some movie or other, probably. My mind creates a shopping list: bottle, formula, diapers. Blanket, wipes, college. Can’t be all that hard.
In the kitchen is a coffee maker, hunched against a wrinkled wall beside the rust-sick sink. The pot is gone. Empty box of filters wants me to believe you’re at the grocery. Just popped out for milk and smokes.
Mama’s coming right back, I promise. You’ll be safer here.
Cabinets are empty. Fridge unplugged, scant buffet of condiments and opened box of baking soda be damned. O will have to wait for dinner. I’ll see that she gets it.
“Shhh, baby. It’s ok. It’s ok.”
The name comes to my lips again. I hear myself whisper in her ear:
Are you watching me right now?