Authors: Douglas Clegg
Sunday afternoon empty. He passed the apartments on Swan Street, doing his best not to glance up to the window on the second floor--265, its three small windows boarded up. No one would live there, not after a woman’s torso was found in the bathtub. Even squatters would stay away.
He dropped by his apartment, leaving the car to idle. He just wanted to see if she was watching her movies or reading.
He didn’t believe the old man.
Fazzo the Fucked Up.
In the living room, her books, the television on.
Soft music playing in the bathroom.
Paul knocked on the door. “Marie?”
After four knocks, he opened it. His heart beat fast, and seemed to be, not in his chest, but on the surface of his skin-- The machines were off, and she lay in the tub of pink water. On her back, her face beneath the water’s surface like a picture he’d seen once, when they’d both been children, of a mermaid in a lake. 96
Scratched crudely on the tile with the edge of the scissors she’d used to cut herself free from the flesh, the words:
I don’t believe in heaven.
It was only years later, when he saw the item in the papers about Fazzo the Fabulous finally getting the chair, after years of living on Death Row, that he thought about 265 again. He heard, too, that the apartments on Swan Street were being torn down within a week of Fazzo’s execution.
In his forties, Paul had led what he would’ve called a quiet life. He’d been on the force for fifteen years, and the town had not erupted in anything more than the occasional domestic battle or crack house fire. He kept Marie’s machines in his apartment, and often watched television in the living room feeling as if he were less alone.
But one evening, he went down there, down to Swan Street, down the rows of slums and squats where the city had turned off even the streetlamps.
Standing in front of the old apartments, he glanced at the windows of 265. The boards had come out, and the windows were empty sockets in the face of brick.
He carefully walked up the half-burnt staircase, around the rubble of bricks and pulpy cardboard, stepping over the fallen boards with the nails sticking straight up.
The apartment no longer had a door. When he went inside, the place had been stripped of all appliance.
The stink of urine and feces permeated the apartment, and he saw the residue of countless squatters who had spent nights within the walls of 265.
Graffiti covered half the wall by the bathroom--spraypainted cuss words, kid’s names, lovers’ names...
Scrawled in blue across the doorway to the bathroom, the words: THE SEVEN STARS.
The bathroom had been less worked-over. The shower curtain had been torn down, as had the medicine cabinet. But the toilet, cracked and brown, still remained, as did the bathtub and shower nozzle. 98
Paul closed his eyes, remembering the woman’s bloody torso in the tub.
Remembering Marie in the pink water.
When he opened his eyes, he said, “All right. You have me. You took Marie. What is it you want?”
He sat on the edge of the tub, waiting for something. He laughed to himself, thinking of how stupid this was, how he was old enough to know better...how Fazzo the Fabulous had butchered some woman up here, and that was all. How Marie had killed herself at their home, and that was all.
There was no heaven.
He laughed for awhile, to himself. Reached in his pocket and drew out a pack of cigarettes. Lit one up, and inhaled. The night came as he sat there, and with it darkness.
Sometime, just after midnight, he heard the humming of the flies, and the drip drop of rusty water as it splashed into the tub.
In a moment, he saw the light come up, from the edge of the forest, near the great tree, and two iguanas scuttled across the moss-covered 99
rocks. It came in flashes at first, as if the skin of the world were being stripped away layer by layer, until the white bone of life came through, and then the green of a deep wood. The boy was there, and Paul recognized him without ever having seen his picture.
“You’ve finally come to join us, then,” the boy said. “Marie told me all about you.”
“Marie? Is she here?” Paul’s tongue dried in his mouth, knowing that this was pure hallucination, but wanting it to be true.
The boy--and it was Joey, Fazzo’s friend--nodded, holding his hand out.
The world had turned liquid around him, and for a moment he felt he was refocusing a camera in his mind, as the world solidified again. The great white birds stood like sentries off at some distance. A deer in the wood glanced up at the new intruder. Through them, as if they were translucent, he saw something else--like a veil through which he could see another person, or a thin curtain, someone watching him from the other side of the gossamer fabric. Lightning flashed across the green sky. A face emerged in the forest--the trees and the fern and the birds 100
and the lizards all seemed part of it. A face that was neither kind or cruel.
And then, he saw her, running towards him so fast it took his breath away. She was still twenty, but she had none of the deformities of body, and the machines no longer purred beside her. “Paul! You’ve come! I knew you would!”
She grabbed his hand, squeezing it. “I’ve waited forever for you, you should’ve come earlier.”
Joey nodded. “See? I told you he’d come eventually.”
Paul grabbed his sister in his arms, pressing as close to her as he could. Tears burst from his eyes, and he felt the warmth of her skin, the smell of her hair, the smell of her--the fragrance of his beautiful, vibrant sister. He no longer cared what illusion had produced this, he did not ever want to let go of her.
But she pulled back, finally. “Paul, you’re crying. Don’t.” She reached up and touched the edge of his cheek.
“I thought I’d never see you again, I thought--” he said, but covered his face to stop the tears.
“Yes, you did,” Marie said. “You believed in 265 all along. They told me you did. They knew you did.”
“Who are they?” he asked.
Marie glanced at Joey. “I can’t tell you.”
“No names,” Joey whispered a warning.
The rain splintered through the forest cover like slivers of glass, all around them, and the puddles that formed were small mirror shards reflecting the sky.
Marie grasped Paul’s hand.
He could not get over her warmth. “How...how did you get here?”
She put a finger to her lips. “Shh. Isn’t it enough that we’re here now, together?”
Paul nodded his head.
“It won’t last long,” Marie said, curiously looking up at the glassy rain as it poured around them.
“The rain?” he asked, feeling that this was better than any heaven he could imagine. This was the Heaven of all heavens. 102
“No, you being here. Each time is only a glimpse. Like striking a match, it only burns for a short while.”
“I don’t understand,” Paul said.
Marie looked up at him, and all he felt was joy. He had never remembered feeling so alive, so much part of the world, so warm with love. Again, his eyes blurred with tears.
“It’s only a glimpse,” she whispered. “Each time. When Fazzo was executed, he was the sacrifice. But they need another one. This time, they want the sacrifice to be here, on the threshold. It works longer that way. Just one. Each time, for you to be here.”
Then, her mood changed, as she smiled like a child on his birthday.
“Oh, but Paul, it’s so wonderful to see you. Next time you come I’ll show you the rivers of gold, and the way the trees whisper the secret of immortality. The birds can guide us across the fire mountains. And I have friends here, too, I want you to meet.”
“I don’t understand,” Paul whispered, but the rain began coming down harder, and a glass wall of rain turned shiny and then melted, as he felt her hand grab for him through the glass--103
He was sitting in the darkness of the bathroom at 265, a young woman’s hand in his, cut off at the wrist because the door had come down too hard, too soon.
For Paul, the hardest one was the first one. He found her down in Brickton, near the factories. She was not pretty, and looked to him to be at the end of her days from drugs and too many men and too many pimps beating her up. She had burn marks on her arms, and when she got into his car, he thought: I won’t be doing anything too awful. Not too awful. It’ll be like putting an animal out of its misery.
“You a cop?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No way. I’m just a very desperate guy.”
He told her he knew this place, an old apartment, not real pretty, but it was private and it got him off. When they reached Swan Street, she laughed. “I been in these apartments before. Christ, they look better now than I remember them.”
He nodded. “Will you be impressed if I tell you I own them?”
“Really? Wow. You must be loaded.”
Paul shrugged. “They went for cheap. The city was going to tear them down, but I got that blocked, bought them up and fixed them up a bit.”
“They look empty.”
“Just started getting them ready for tenants,” he said.
They went upstairs, the green lights of the hallway like haloes around her red hair. Inside the apartment, he offered her a drink.
“All right,” she said.
“Need to use the bathroom?” he asked, opening the freezer door to pull out the ice tray.
“If you don’t mind,” she said.
“Go ahead. Take a shower if you feel like it.”
“Well, you’re buying,” the woman said.
When he heard the bathroom door close, he went and took the key from the dresser. Standing in front of the bathroom door, he waited until he heard the shower turn on.
He checked his watch.
It was two minutes to midnight.
From the shower, she shouted, “Honey? You mind bringing my drink in and scrubbing my back?”
He drew opened the bathroom door. Steam poured from under the shower curtain. When he was inside the bathroom, he turned and locked the door. He put the key in his breast pocket.
“That you?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I’ll join you in just a few seconds.”
He crouched down. Beneath the sink, a large wooden box. Opening it, he lifted the cloth within. He grabbed the hand-ax and then closed the box.
He set the small ax on top of the sink. He unbuttoned his shirt, and took it off. He hung it on the hook by the door. Then, he stepped out of his shoes. Undid his belt, and let his trousers fall to the floor.
“Baby?” she asked.
“In a minute,” he said. “We’ll have some fun.”
Pulling off his socks, and then his briefs. Grabbing the hand-ax. Looking at himself naked in the mirror, ax in fist. 106
For a second, the glass flashed like lightning, and he saw her face there.
Then, he pulled back the shower curtain and began opening the door to Heaven.
Be sure and look for other Douglas Clegg books in print and in ebook form, including:
The Priest of Blood
The Lady of Serpents
The Queen of Wolves
The Hour Before Dark
& many others.