“Still alive,” Daniel replied, “but it doesn’t look good.”
The next day, Elena flew into New York with Elu’s younger sister, Sally. Daniel got them to grandpa’s apartment.Later, the four of them sat around the old man’s bed until he died.
Elena had a hard time looking at Elu. It was her sister Sally who ripped into her out in the hallway. “What the hell are you doing, Elu? What are you going with your life?” she whispered tersely.
Elu raised her hands but couldn’t think of much to say. She needed a drink.
“You broke grandpa’s heart and now you’re breaking mom’s. You are a disgrace!” Sally hissed.
Elu looked away and said nothing.
“Jesus,” Sally slung her bag over a shoulder. “I’m going to go get coffee. You want some?”
“I’ll get my own,” Elu replied. There was a vending machine on the floor. Sally left and Elu
went to get a black from the machine. She fumbled around in her purse for change and found to little airplane bottle of Jack Daniels she had at the bottom of her purse, just in case. She got the coffee, went on the other side of the machine and poured the Jack into the cup. She sipped the mixture gratefully and went back into the hospital room.
The next night, Elu tried to do her shift at the club. She came in early as usual. She was about to go back to the dressing room when Fred, the fat manager, called her over.
“Yes, Fred,” she looked at him. He was on his bar stool as usual. He looked at her hard.
“Girl, I don’t know what you been doing to yourself but you look like crap.” He took a sip from his coffee cup.
“Well, I haven’t been sleeping that well…”
“Sleeping…cut the crap. You been doing horse?” he grabbed her arm and looked at it.
“Heroin, you idiot.” He let her arm go.
“I’m trying my best, Fred…”
“Yeah, and your dancing has sucked for weeks. Actually, you don’t really look like crap…”
Elu began to feel a little hopeful.
“Naw, more like dog shit on a stick, twice baked.”
Fred turned back to the racing form he always seemed to be working on. Then, he looked up from his half glasses at her one more time.
“Da customers don’t want to pay money to see some half-alive, junkie stick up there on stage. You gotta go get yourself clean or whateva and don’t come back until you do. Lottas girls want jobs in here.”
Fred got up and started to amble his heavy girth toward the back of the club. “Rocky,” he called loudly to one of the bouncers. “Help the lady out.” He threw his thumb over his shoulder toward Elu.
Her mouth fell open in shock.
Rocky walked toward Elu who was still standing there, stunned. Carefully, he put a big thick arm around her skinny shoulders and said softly, “Come on doll face. Don’t let that old bastard see you cry.” He walked her outside and she started to sniffle. He handed her a Kleenex. “You need anything, doll, money?”
Elu shook her head and sobbed into the tissue. The big man handed her another. “You get yourself cleaned up, and Fred, that old bastard, will let you back in. He’s a liar. You’re a good dancer and the guys love your act.”
She nodded and looked up at him with red eyes.
“Or maybe,” Rocky was thoughtful, “you might ever want to try for some completely different life.” He waved a huge paw around the city. “It’s a big world out there my friend and you’re young, and smart.”
“Oh, thanks Rocky. I love you,” Elu threw her arms around the massive bulk and squeezed hard.
He laughed. “Us girls got to stick together.”
She laughed and he hugged her again. He yelled for a taxi and one came crashing to the curb. Elu got in and waved to him. She wasn’t sure if they would ever see each other again.
Four days later, Francis Xavier Costello was laid to rest in the local Catholic Church.
Elu thought she was die before the service was over. Finally, it was and they all got taxis back to grandpa’s apartment. Daniel was still living there and was completing his degree in astral-physics at the state school. He was working an internship at the planetarium.
The church ladies all showed up with food. Elu had a little plate and picked at it. Daniel moseyed up to her and popped some kabobs pieces into his mouth. With one cheek full like a chipmunk he talked to her quietly. “Elu, you look like shit.”
“Thank you, Daniel. Always the gentleman.”
“I mean it. I’ve never seen you like this. You’re so thin and those circles, Jesus. What have you been up too?
She didn’t answer but picked more at her food. “You know, just working a lot, late hours, that kind of thing.”
“Oh yeah, the dancing thing. That what you call it?”
“Funny, most people I know call that place where you work a strip-club.” He wasn’t looking at her. His attention seemed to be on the crowd of people in the apartment.
Elu flushed and felt like throwing up. She put her plate down before she gagged. She wiped her mouth with a napkin and smoothed down her dress.
“Can I ask you just one favor, Daniel? As my brother?”
“Sure, sis. What would that be?” He finally turned and looked at her.
“Don’t tell mom, she doesn’t know.”
“Please,” she begged.
He put his plate down too, and also wiped his mouth. “Sure, this one time. But, I am telling you girl, you had better get your shit together. You’re a mess.”
With that, he turned and went to talk to the other guests.
Elu could feel herself start to cry. She escaped to the bathroom and sat on the toilet. The tears started to flow. She dabbed at them with toilet tissue.
“Hey, can I get in there?” She heard a voice call outside. She quickly got up and looked at herself in the mirror. There were dark circles under her eyes, she was thinner than ever. A bruise was starting to show on her arm where Sebastian had grabbed her last time. In her hurry to get dressed, she had forgotten to put makeup on that one. She stood still for a moment; she did in fact look like crap.
“Hey, you going to take all day in there. I really go to go.”
She flushed to toilet like she had been using it and pulled open the door. A fat old man was outside practically holding himself and dashed into the doorway slamming the door behind himself.
Elu floated to the bar and was about to pick up a glass of wine. She stopped and got a coffee instead. She looked over where her mother was sitting and floated over toward her and settled on the sofa next to her.
“Ma, I got to go.”
Her mother whipped her head around. “But, all these people are still here.” She frowned.
“I know but I got to go. I feel really sick.”
Her mother stopped and stared at her daughter then sighed. “Okay, if you have to, you have to.”
Elu got up “Say my goodbyes.” Her mother did not turn around.
The girl escaped from the front door. She couldn’t talk to Sally again. She didn’t have it in her. Besides, she really did feel sick. She still had the cup of coffee in her hand. It was warm and the warmth felt good. It was still chilly here in New York, even in May. She hadn’t gone 10 feet away from the apartment building when she had to stop and vomit into the bushes. Some passerby’s stared at her in disgust and she pulled a Kleenex out of her purse and wiped her mouth. She threw the rest of the coffee over the bushes hoping some of it would wash the vomit away.
She decided she needed to walk a little and get some fresh air. There was a neighborhood pharmacy on the way back and she went in to get her usual large bottle of Tylenol. As she walked through the aisle, she paused before ‘feminine products’. There was a packaged pregnancy kit. On whim, she picked it up and took it to the counter to pay. She got some water, tore open the Tylenol package, and downed four pills.
Back in her apartment, the place was mercifully empty. Jan was still gone to her mother’s and Sebastian had finally left. Thank God, she thought to herself. She was going to have to pay to get a new lock. Couldn’t do anything about the key pad at the front door without making a big deal with the super. That would not be easy. She needed a nap. However, an odd sense of urgency overcame her and she decided to undo the test kit instead. In the bathroom, she closed the door and sat on the toilet. For some reason, she wanted privacy even though no one was there.
Ripping the package open, she read the instructions and peed on the strip. Putting the stick strip down on the sink, she pulled up her pants. Breathlessly, she waited. The pale strip slowly turned blue. Elu stared down at the stick in disbelief. Stuffing the whole thing back in the plastic sack she pushed into the cupboard.
I need another test kit. Maybe this one was wrong, defective.
She hurried out of the apartment and down the street to the corner store. She got some ginger ale for her stomach and another pregnancy test. She hurried back to the apartment, and dropped everything on the kitchen table. She popped open a can of the ginger ale and poured it into a glass then added a shot of vodka to steady her nerves. She didn’t bother with ice. Holding the glass and the new package test, she went back to the bathroom and repeated the process all over again. Her hands started to sweat and she almost dropped the test stick in the toilet.
Again, the test strip was placed carefully on the sink counter while she wiped and pulled up her pants. One more time, slowly the strip turned first to a light blue and then, to an incriminating dark blue. She pulled out the other strip, compared the two. Saw it was two completely different brands of product and stuffed the whole mess back under the sink. Like not seeing it would somehow make it all go away.
She took the glass of ginger ale back to the kitchen, poured more soda into the glass and topped it off with vodka. She went to her room, lay down on the bed, set the glass on the side table and was asleep before she could take another sip.
Hours later, she woke up and lay there a long while. Finally she got up, went to wash her face. Picking up the glass of soda and vodka, she poured it down the sink. It the kitchen, she put on water to boil for tea. Grubbing around in the cupboards, she found an old, stale box of tea bags. These would do. She made the tea, found honey, and poured a large gob into the tea. Then she went to the bookshelf and started tearing through the books. Finally, she found what she was looking for. An old address book Sebastian had left here and one of his many prolonged visits. She turned to the ‘V’s’ and carefully pulled her finger down through the numbers.
There was one Van Houten listed as ‘Mom’. She knew this was probably the number.
She glanced at the clock. 6pm New York time, probably 9 pm Arizona time? It was late but this couldn’t wait. She had to do it while she still could.Continued