Woman with a Problem
It was all about choices, Rose thought. One choice cascaded into another and another and another as life played itself out. Maybe coming to such a big city had been a bad
choice for her. The bayou country of her girlhood had been easier for someone like her to live in, but Rose had wanted the city, somehow, and she had made her choice.
But now because of that choice, she had another choice to make. Rose was tired, and there was a lot of city between her and home. If she drove home in this state – art
car or not – she’d probably have a wreck, and her insurance company already hated her. So she hung around the back of the store, slowly re-stocking and re-shelving the books, until Mister Morey finally looked around at her and shook his head.
“Rose, Rose, Rose. Still my most dedicated employee, I see. Go home, so I can lock the place up. You can finish re-shelving stuff in the morning.” He was looking at her and
“It’s okay, Mister Morey,” Rose replied, returning his grin. “I want to get this done. You go on, I’ll be okay.”
“No, No, No. Seriously, Rose. You should go on home. I don’t want you to have to stay here overnight again.”
Rose had been counting on doing exactly that – she wasn’t up to a trip through the city. She considered forgetting herself at him – she’d done it before, watched him lock up the shop with her inside it and leave whistling. But it had taken her several minutes to remember herself after he had left, and during that time – anything at all could have happened. There were nightmare-storms in the city sometimes. The bookstore was safe, usually but she was tired. She was so tired. She didn’t want to do that tonight. It wasn’t safe. But there was still another choice.
“Mister Morey, I think I’m too tired to drive. Could you give me a ride home?” And she was thinking at Mister Morey, she’s such a nice girl, she’s good company, she’s a good employee… She knocked herself out working for me, it’s the least I can do…. God, she’s so cute. I want to stroke that long red hair and kiss that pale neck and gaze into those green eyes and fuck her so long and sweet and slow…. Rose came back to herself with a start. That last bit she hadn’t wanted to project at him – but she
hadn’t, had she? It hadn’t come from her, it had come from him. Oh, crap. She blushed scarlet, ashamed at their mutual violation.
Jim Morey had had the hots for her since the day he’d met her, and while she hated it, she had to admit he’d always acted like a perfect gentleman. And she knew the shape of his mind and knew she could trust him. If she hadn’t been, well – a freak – she’d never have known how he felt.
Still, she hated to be drawn into somebody’s sex fantasies. They made her feel degraded, violated, even sometimes so upset she got physically sick. Jim’s didn’t involve blood or pain or humiliation or rape, which a lot of them did, but still … yuck. She liked him. He was a nice guy. But that didn’t matter. She could never, ever ….
She had to stop thinking about it. If she thought about it too much, she’d have another panic attack, and because of what she was, other people near her might have one too. Think about something else, anything.
“Hey, Rose, it’s okay,” he said. His concern – or maybe her own? showed on his face as her unquiet thoughts swirled around them both. I’ll give you a ride, that’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Thanks, Mister Morey,” Rose said. She pulled a card out of her purse and read it. “I live at 211 Blake Street.”
Jim Morey smiled. “I don’t get you, Rose. You are totally meticulous with the books, you stack and shelve with great attention to detail, you’re totally amazing in the breadth of your knowledge, you know exactly where in this huge chaotic store a customer can find a book on anything, but after living in this town for six months, you still have to read your own address off a card.”
Rose shrugged. “I’m just really tired, Mister Morey.” What she didn’t say was that she’d known that one of them lived at 211 Blake Street, and one of them lived at 5114 Fourth Avenue, but in that moment, she hadn’t been able to work out which was which. She’d never been to Mister Morey’s apartment – he’d probably be shocked if she blurted out his address.
She followed him out the door, feeling the comfortable safety of the big stacks of old books slip away from her. She stood with her arms folded and stayed silent as he locked the door. This was no time to make a fool of herself. She’d stayed late at the office and when she got home her wife was going to … oh crap. That wasn’t her, that was somebody else again. Maybe that guy in the PT cruiser driving by.
I am Rose, she thought. I will follow Mister Morey to his car. She repeated it to herself over and over, until she was in the passenger seat and the belt was buckled. I am Rose, she thought. I am in Mister Morey’s car.
And then he started to drive. I am Rose, she thought. Mister Morey is taking me home. Other selves were tearing through her mind, taking her along on fragments of their thoughts and dreams as she went past them. The city was confusing enough in the daytime hours when people were awake. But the sleeping ones, the dreamers – that was pure chaos. It was hard to keep track of the thread of herself, as she moved so fast through the woven tapestry of so many people. I am Rose, she thought. Mister Morey is taking me home.
She was a bird soaring beneath a clear green sky /she was having ice cream with Gary Coleman /She was in a room with her ex-lover James (But Rose didn’t have an ex-lover James) and she knew he was going to kill her /she was laughing in a field of lilies /she was on the bridge of a federation cruiser with her old classmate Martha (But Rose didn’t have an old classmate Martha)…. /I am Rose, she remembered, and Mister Morey is taking me home.
She was stuck up to her ankles in ice, couldn’t move, and something small and hungry was closing in… /I am Rose /…he was masturbating, remembering his first time, with that girl Jeannie… /and Mister Morey is taking me home… /She was driving Rose home, sweet kid, but he didn’t know much about her. Totally cute, a bit spacey. Weird, endearing mix of genius and ditz. She wondered whether he might be in love… /I am Rose, she thought, chagrined again as she realized whose mind she had just tripped on, and Mister Morey is driving me home.
Goddess she was so tired. She could keep the Voices out for hours and hours if she just hadn’t been so tired.
She was terribly, clearly aware, for a moment, as they passed another one of her people – a man swearing at a stop sign where Mister Morey had to stop the car. She knew him, and he knew her, as their minds touched. But he was totally crazy, had lost himself among all the other Voices long ago, and wandered the streets now in a kind of unconscious search for the self he’d lost in the chaos and confusion of the city. He’d tried to stop the Voices with alcohol, and it had worked for a while. Rose wanted worse than anything to not be like him. Rose feared worse than anything what had already happened to him.
He was swearing, hating the woman he addressed with a hate that could not be reckoned, but it wasn’t his hate, it was someone else’s, maybe blocks away. And it wasn’t a woman he addressed, it was a stop sign. And then he realized what she knew as their minds touched, and he trailed off his stream of profanities with an awkward cough, and their eyes locked through the windshield. She felt his burning shame. He felt her fear and pity. And then his shame turned to rage, and he started screaming again and he tried to hit the car. But Mister Morey was already pulling away. As they left him behind, the hot tears were starting, and he had found himself, cruelly, if only for a few minutes, because Rose had seen him and through her he had seen himself. The entire encounter had taken place in just a second or two.
Rose didn’t realize she was sobbing too, until Mister Morey started to comfort her. “It’s a real shame, people like that wandering the streets, but I don’t know what can be done about it. It looked like he wanted to hurt you, I’m sorry about that.”
She took a deep breath, concentrating, turned to him, and started to reply. “I am Rose,” came out of her mouth. She caught herself, and decided in both her own head and his to ignore it. “I don’t know what can be done about it either, Mister Morey. It’s a real shame.” I am Rose, she thought. I am talking to Mister Morey. “A girl has to be careful in this neighborhood.” If I’m not careful I’ll wind up like him. I am Rose….
Somehow she kept the thread of herself intact all the way home to her apartment. I am Rose, she was thinking as she got unsteadily out of the car. That door is the door to my home. She heard the driver’s door slam, saw herself from behind, realized she wanted to walk Rose to her door, the poor girl looked unsteady…. Oh crap. Tripping again. I am Rose, I am Rose, I am Rose….
“Hey Rose, let me walk you to your door,” said Mister Morey from behind her. She concentrated on being Rose, and let him take her by the arm, and weakly said thanks, and concentrated on being Rose, and walked one step at a time to her door. She fumbled for the key, going first for her pants pocket – but she was wearing a skirt. It was Mister Morey who kept his keys in his pants pocket. She hunted through her purse for her key, and found it. I am Rose, she thought, turning the key in the lock. This is the door to my home.
With the door open, she stood on the brink of safety. But she still had to say goodnight. She turned around, concentrating on being Rose, and said, “Thanks, Mister Morey. I really was too tired to drive home. It was very nice of you to give me a lift.” She found herself wondering if they could kiss, started to lean forward and tilt his/her head …. No. Stop. I am Rose.
Across the street, her neighbor was having his usual nightmare about being chased by alligators, and for a moment Mister Morey’s skin was cold, green and clammy, his hands were webbed and clawed, and his teeth were long and dangerous as knives. She reached out, ignoring the sudden hammering of her heart at the apparition, clasped his hand warmly, smiled, then let his hand go and firmly shut the door. Safety swept around her as she stepped back from the door into her own space, amid the piles and piles of used books, old televisions, and bric-a-brac she had filled the place with, and the psychic noise of the city receded behind them.
Rose collapsed into a chair, her body going limp with sudden relaxation. Her fiery red hair fell over the pale skin of her throat and across the beaded coat on her shoulders as she shook her head to clear it of the last cobwebs. That thought about kissing – had that been her idea or his? Damned if she could tell. But anyway, it didn’t matter. That kind of relationship would be a Very Bad Choice for someone like her.
In a few moments she would stand up and get ready for bed. But for now she just sat, exhausted. It had been a rough day.
This is one chapter of The Hook, a novel which is being published serially on this site. This page links to all chapters so far serialized.
The complete novel is available from Amazon.