The Journey Home
I am Rose, I am Rose, I am Rose…. Had she been wrong about being able to hold it together? She’d felt okay next to the Jade Pagoda, because she hadn’t had other voices in her mind. But driving home across the bay bridge, she was feeling totally beat. Working in Oakland and living in San Francisco had to be… Wait. I am Rose. I don’t work in Oakland. I work in San Francisco. And I’m not driving.
I am Rose, and Detective Flanagan is driving me home. I am Rose, Mike Clelland is sitting next to me. I am Rose, I bet Rose knows I’m hot for her body … no … I am Rose, and Mike you really are an asshole sometimes….
It was fugue consciousness, at best. Rose was simultaneously Rose and an average of a dozen other people at once. It was hard to keep track because the others’ environments were all so similar on the bridge. They were all sitting in cars, driving, and thinking a chorus of driving thoughts. I am Rose, I’m in the back of a police car …. That was different from everyone else, it would help. She could keep track of that. Or was it different? She caught sight of another police car ahead of her, with another redhead in the back seat …. No, that’s me …. I am Rose…. She slewed her head around to lock eyes with an owlish looking child staring at her from the back of a family sedan, and caught herself wondering what that miserable-looking lady had done that they’d arrested her.
Her mind, involuntarily, wandered. Rose had been that young once, but her freak’s head had never, really, allowed her to be a child. She’d always known the things grownups knew, whether she wanted to or not. Sex and rage and jealousy and resentment and all the things a daughter wasn’t supposed to know about her mom. She’d known how her mother had been raped and abandoned by her father, known how she’d hated him and how Rose had always reminded her of a night and a man she’d rather have forgotten. She wished she could ever have been so innocent as that child staring back at her. But drifting into memory would not do, it was bad memory and she didn’t want to remember it at that poor kid and besides she’d lose the thread of herself and crash the …. No, wait …. I am Rose, I’m not driving.
She put her hands together and pinched the web of each thumb between the forefinger and thumb of the opposite hand. She focused on her hands, on the feeling. Nobody else was doing this. This was something she could keep track of.
It helped, a little. But the city was coming up, and she could feel its pressure in her thoughts. Seven hundred thousand people, all working and living and dealing with love and hate and happiness and despair and all the rest of it …. She felt, crazily, like the butterfly whose wings set the hurricane in motion, getting caught in the hurricane a week later, all desperate and crazy and overwhelmed. It was the industry, they’d started it with crazy ideas and it had just gotten crazier and crazier until you had to be crazy to hang on and the business plans he’d been reviewing today were nuttier than…. No…. I am Rose.
She had to keep track of the thread of herself. She was like a routine that wasn’t threadsafe, accidentally accessing the wrong object’s code…. no…. I am Rose…. Damnit damnit damnit is this going to be too strong for me? Is brandy strong enough when I’m already drunk? … No…. No…. I am Rose…. I do not drink…. Alcohol only works for a while and then I’d get Lost….
Maybe Lost isn’t such a bad place to be… so much easier… NO, don’t even think that … my hands. I am pinching my hands. This is me. This right here. These fingers, these thumbs, these hands. These aren’t anybody else’s hands …. She whimpered softly, as somewhere nearby a man who wanted to make a point about smoking in a non-smoking establishment took someone’s cigarette in his right hand and ground it out in the palm of his left. He’d known what he was about to do, he’d been ready for the pain. Rose hadn’t. Before her eyes, a red spot appeared on the palm of her left hand. Where did his pain end and hers begin?… Rose… I am … Rose…
For a few moments, she was in a mechanical self-washing bathroom with one of her regular tricks, having uncomfortable sex on the floor. The metal hurt her butt, but she actually kind of liked the guy, and the sex was okay and at least it was clean…. No…. I am Rose…. I am Rose….
“You holding it together, Rose?” she heard Mike say from the back seat, then realized she should have heard it from next to her because she was in the back seat too….
“It’s hard,” she said, “but I still know who I am … mostly….”
“Hang on, Rose, we’re almost there,” he said.
She looked up and found that they were on Geary, passing fifteenth street and heading West. She knew this intersection, it was only six blocks from … no … from someone else’s home. It was a solid two miles from Rose’s home at 211 Blake. She concentrated on her hands, pinching the webs of her thumbs, tensing the muscles in her wrists, anything, just to try to make being Rose feel different than it felt to be other people. I am Rose … I am Rose … I am Rose….
Cars were always like this. Tearing past so many other people, through chunks of so many other lives, here again gone again, and she just had to pray that none of the lives she was leaving behind would be her own. Slower would be easier. But she couldn’t last long enough to do it slower, she was too tired …. my hands, my fingers, my thumbs …. I am Rose …. Goddess she was tired. Tired of this city, tired of her job, tired of her boyfriend, … no … I am Rose, I can’t have a boyfriend…. My hands, my fingers, my thumbs …. Nobody else is doing this …. She was looking rough, but she was holding it together somehow … poor girl hadn’t slept in what, thirty-six hours? She was too pale. He watched her as she stared down at her hands …. That was Mike, I am Rose ….
For a moment she was in a basement somewhere working on a fish costume for the annual breakers-to-bay salmon run. The silvery scales were made from ancient AOL CD’s …. I am Rose … my hands, my fingers, my thumbs ….
“She gonna be okay?” It was Mitch Flanagan’s voice, jarring her, making her aware…. She tried to formulate an answer, but when she opened her mouth nothing came out. She looked up at him, and tried to smile a brave smile. But when their eyes met, she found herself thinking, Dear God a hundred people are dead and these two are half-crazy and they’re my best lead.
“We’re not crazy, Mitch,” she said, very carefully. “It’s just hard ….” She closed her eyes, and suddenly dreams were rushing at her, but they weren’t her dreams …. She forced her eyes open again …. My hands … I am Rose … my fingers, my thumbs … concentrate, don’t fall asleep….
Somehow, they made it. The police cruiser pulled up in front of Rose’s house and Rose got out and walked unsteadily to the door. She stared dumbly at the doorknob and lock, not quite comprehending, and Mike reached into her purse and got her key, pressed it into her hand. I am Rose, this is the door to my house… she put the key in the lock and turned it and walked through the door into blessed shelter.
Behind her, Mike was making apologies, and they were getting back into the police cruiser.
For a moment she was shocked at the chaos inside, the books and TV’s and toys and piles of magazines and antiques and tschotchkes, but then she realized she was viewing it through someone else’s expectation of home. This was Rose’s home. Slowly, she walked to the kitchen and sat down, under the mandala and within its feeling of peace. Gazing up at it, she realized that she shouldn’t have been able to read the Tibetan script, but right now, she could. “Om mane padme Om,” it was how the universe had been named at its creation, it was the very utterance which had brought the universe into being. Who had she been when that was left in her head?
Wearily, she got up and went to her fridge. She stared at it for a moment because it seemed like the handle was on the wrong side, then realizing she was actually right-handed, she opened it and poured herself a glass of milk and drank it. She had a brief panic before remembering that no, it wasn’t really her who was allergic to milk. It was her fridge after all, she couldn’t be allergic to milk or it wouldn’t be there. And then she went into her bedroom, the sanctum of shelter at the center of her apartment, turned the thermostat down to sixty so she wouldn’t mind the blankets, and curled up on the mattress on her wrought-iron bed frame, between six hand-stitched quilts. She went to sleep praying that the dreams she dreamed would be her own.
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.