Midnight Pub

Frames Of Reference- Chapter 23


I wish I could remember how exactly I made it out, what deep pocket of will I pulled from to subsist in those vital few moments, but when the world shatters like a mirror into a million little fragments, and the fuschia blooms like cold ice over your entire being, and the Plastic Men come to whisk you up and carry you off through the night winds with their little paws- well, recollection is in short supply.

One definite image I’ve been able to place is a lone stoplight, framed in a halo of reflective pouring bricks, tossed side-to-side by the wind, you know how it goes- you always wonder if it’ll stop its repetitive cycle at the isolated crossroads, careen from its housing and dash onto the pavement, sparks skittering everywhere, the normal standards of traffic rendered unnecessary.

But no, it stayed firm and resilient, even as all the forces of the world bore down upon it, its simple matrix continued to display the same three-color sequence for all the worn-down drivers who would find themselves in its vicinity. The wires simply did not give.

I remember this surprised me somehow, wherever I was.

The next thing I knew, I was careening in through the door, and the familiar abrasive sounds of an emergency weather alert could be distinguished from the TV in the living room- I frantically tossed my jacket near the front door as the stones continued pelting the roof. I considered, in a sporadic daze, whether there was anything out in the yard worth protecting. Nothing as far as I knew.

Sheila ran in, clad in her velvet nightgown, feet hitting the floor at a rapid pace, and before I could deny her the opportunity she had her arms around my waist, squeezing and pulling me down onto the couch next to her. She flipped through the channels, biting her lip. Most of them displayed the same urgent weather alert. A few had reruns of old sitcoms, but the characters were digitally cut into pieces, their lines chopped and skewed, their faces cubist and grotesque.

“I’m so glad you’re home,” she cried. “I’m so glad! I was worried about you ever since I got back...” I brushed her hair aside. It wasn’t as matted as mine, but getting there.

“They only have the intensive team on call now,” she went on. “Hospital’s been in lockdown since 8 P.M. and there was talk of moving all the serious cases down into the other wing. Oh, those people- they’re suffering, Jerry. Having the worst day of their life, in the hospital and in weather this bad. It’s more than we have to endure.” I stare blankly forward and decide against informing her about my encounter with Todd.

“Where do we go?” I ask. “Do we have any kind of shelter?”

“I haven’t prepared anything,” she says. “Honestly, I never expected it could get this bad around here. They’re calling it a freak occurrence- the storm of the century. We could go down into the basement for now. I know it’s cluttered, but it’s safer than up here.”

“No, it could flood.” I don’t know if it could, actually. I’ve had enough of basements for one day, is all. But she wouldn’t understand that.

“Help me get the sleeping bags,” I instruct her. “We’ll make our stand here in the middle of the living room. Safer than upstairs, and you know the drill- away from all the windows and doors, closer to the center.” She nods, and soon enough we’re both shambling over to the supply closet, pulling out spare pillows and blankets for added comfort. She runs to the kitchen and grabs some snacks, and then pulls up next to me beneath the dresser.

I turn off the TV and we lay together for a while in the dark, while the curtains lash out and the shingles above break off. I run my fingers through her hair and she tries to do the same with me, but inevitably comes across the bandages. She ignores them, nor does she ask what happened to me. More often, it’s like that.

“Is your car totaled?” I wasn’t thinking so I perk up at her soft, inquisitive voice.

“It’s here?”

What? Yeah, it’s here,” she whispers. “I looked outside in front. You shouldn’t have driven it today, the windshield is all pocked through and the door on the passenger side fell off. Honestly, I wish this place came with a garage.”

“We’ll take care of that later,” I reassure her. “Right now all that matters is that we’re OK, and we’re going to make it through this. I promise.”

She grasps my palm and then turns over to face me. I can barely make her out in the dim glow cast by the window behind me. Outside, the porch light seems to flicker and then extinguish itself, and then her expression is indeterminate. I crane my neck forward to kiss her, because I don’t know if I’ll have a chance like this again, it seems we’re never in the right time or place anymore. Her lips are firmly implanted upon mine. I feel very little.

I fall back onto my pillow and she stays oriented towards me, and I try to succumb to oblivion as the waves come successively crashing down...

Later. I stagger to my feet, catch myself. My legs are weak lethargic things by now, but they’ll carry me forward toward the drink of water I need. My throat’s burning, some hideous bacterial cluster has lodged itself there, and my overall weakened immune system isn’t helping matters any. I grab my usual cup off the table.

It’s still dark outside, but the screaming winds are muffled, I’m out of their proximity. My feet graze the wooly strands of the carpet, I keep my mind neutered and docile. The less I think about today, and the day before it, and all the innumerable mechanisms that form my life, the less the pus will accumulate. Yes, I remind myself. One month. One month and then it’ll all be over, it’ll have run its course, and I will be splayed out and drift into the sprawling deep...

I cross over to the sink, flip on the tap. The water shoots out, making its familiar whoosh, and while the cup fills I glance up at the mirror. I forgot to turn the light on, so all I can see is my unlit countenance. Behind it, the faint outline of the living room. My vision is suboptimal. I blink twice, and something else appears.

Her silhouette. Standing behind, in the forest of shadows.

“You need to use the bathroom...?” I murmur.

She says nothing, remains completely still, just the strands of her hair hanging down onto her shoulders and that featureless canvas. I’m becoming uneasy now. I don’t want to turn around.

“Sheil? Hon?” No response.

My hand darts out towards the light switch, and as it does a massive ripple of thunder booms overhead, shaking me to my core. The walls regain their familiar tan hue, and I breathe once, then reach out toward her- and my blood turns to ice.

It’s not Sheila.

It’s a giant doll wearing her nightrobe, propped up on a coatrack with wheels. Its body is stuffed with some soft fabric, and the top is porcelain, and the expressionless face is smoothly painted. It is not my wife- here, in stark bright realization, I discern this sudden horror and back into the corner, raising my hand over my eyes as if to shield myself from the thing.

But even then, even while my field of vision is covered, somehow, the face inevitably looks through, the face with its empty stare and its perfect lips, its blemishless recreation of her, My heart stops altogether while its arm stiffly drops to its side, it approaches forward in my direction, it pulls the little ring on its back, the gears inside it begin to click, and it repeats, in a flat mechanical voice:

“I love you... I love you... I love you...”

I scream loud and long, bellow primordial existential death from my lungs until they give out, and even then my own cacophonous roar drowns me in its resilient echo, my adrenaline is raised to a lethal extent. It nears and lashes out at me with its ceramic claws-

And then I’m screaming and sitting up in my sleeping bag, perspiring utterly, and she’s holding me by my arms and trying to reason with me, tell me it was all a dream, that she’s here and she loves me and doesn’t want to see me like this, but her refrain sounds altogether too close to the empty reassurances of the wretched abomination, and I yell without abandon for a long, horrible while.