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Forty

The next morning, Mexico city. Then Seattle, Sao Paolo, Cambodia, Sydney.

Each local required a different kind of packing.

Winter clothes for Sydney. Sweaters for Seattle. Summer wear for Mexico City. Got out her krama for Cambodia.

By now, I was ready to do some packing myself.

It was summer, and hot as hell. Baking hot. Beer guzzling hot.

Sitting there, in Gracie’s restaurant, with one beer following the next, I told Gracie all about it. It was a quiet night, a slow summer night, with less than twenty people in the whole place – a few people at tables having dinner, and a few doing what I was doing: sitting at the bar.

“She is busting to go somewhere,” I said. “Itching to take a trip.”

The old sad story. The married man slobbering into his beer, lamenting to his ex-wife about his new wife.

We arranged a day trip, with Gracie – the sane, benevolent one – as the driver. Althea, Gracie, The Wimp, and me. Pick-up Athea’s children (perhaps a pick-me-up in itself), and go to the zoo for a day. Maybe satisfy that need to go somewhere, squeeze in a little normality, wash out that urge. A family field trip.

Sunday morning and off we went to Charlotte to pick-up the children. Drove up to the house (as I suspected, a nice, big one), and Althea flipped-out again.

“Don’t!” she said. “I don’t want them now. They’re little brats.”

We drove by the house four times, slowed down at the driveway but never turned in; she got worse – louder, more angry, spewing forth nastier and nastier shit about me.

“That’s why you wanted to marry me in the first place,” she said. “So you could fuck up my relationship with my children. It’s because you were jealous. Your relationship with your daughter here is so bad, you want mine to be bad too.”

The Wimp didn’t seem to like this talk at all. She sat still as stone in the front seat, facing forward.

“Well it isn’t going to be,” Althea said. “And I’m not going to make it that way. That’s why you brought me here, because that’s your plot!”

Gracie let us off the hook, drove out of the neighborhood, into the downtown, trying to get Althea to calm down, to talk slower, and not so much.

In downtown Charlotte Althea said she wanted to get out of the car. She was in the backseat with me, and I wouldn’t let her out. I grabbed her arm; she yanked it away from me. I locked the door; she unlocked it.

“Let’s find a place to park, and we’ll have lunch,” Gracie said.

Althea argued.

“Let me out! Stop. I just want out.”

“I guess this wasn’t a good idea,” I said. “Just try to calm down.”

We were two children fighting in the back seat.

“I can’t keep this up,” I said.

“Keep doing it,” Gracie said. “Don’t let go.”

We had to stop at red lights. On a big street with no traffic, she jerked away from me and got out. I got out too, raced to catch her. She was faster than I, ran up to the next block and opened the door of a taxi, flipped me the bird, jumped in, and drove off.

I shall be telling this ages and ages hence. I stood there, pooped out, on an empty downtown street most travelled by, and that has made all the difference.

These people always kill themselves in stories of existential alienation, like this one. It fits. Give everybody a nice, sad ending, a little jolt before it’s over, something to think about.

Not Althea.

But she gave it a hell of a try.

We found her in the airport. Lucky guess, huh?

Gracie, The Wimp, and I, walked into the building and saw her sitting in a chair, slumped over. Looked like she was asleep. When we got close, we saw the blood on the carpet. Ran up to her and saw it all over her arm and feet. She did it with a scissors – one rough cut on the inside of the wrist.

I reached to pick her up, didn’t know what she would do. Scratch? Bite? Freeze with the shock? She was calm now, like a baby. Her skin was cool. She let me pick her up and hold her there. I looked up and Gracie was gone. The Wimp just looked at me, this awful terror cry breaking across her face, her heart broken, spilling into her eyes.

“Rachel,” I said. “Where’s your mother? I need her.”

She shook her head, couldn’t talk.

I said, “We need the car. Hospital.”

The Wimp cried harder, just lost it completely, her whole mouth pulled back, making little lines of her lips, her chin bouncing everywhere. She pointed to her mother who was running toward us now, put her hand over her face, gathered all her energy into one place and said, “Ambulance, Daddy.”

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