I was letting the dust settle from Grave Stones, thinking I should be hitting it hard on Upstairs. But the feeling that the end of October would be a personal disaster made me disinclined to write. I prepared my mind and heart and, sure enough, the disaster came in the form of change. Change of places to live, more than anything. Change of relationships in some ways.
Looking back, not so much disaster as upheaval, changes, and probably for the good. And with that behind me, I am ready to face UpStairs, the sequel to Down Cellar. I have avoided this story, trying to structure it properly and coming up short. The structures I came up with sounded canned, sounded like all the best-selling authors that I find boring to read. So finally, tonight, I said Hellwithit! Just Write.
The chapter below I didn’t write tonight. Or rewrite. Because… I like it! What I had already written of UpStairs, doesn’t look so bad to me tonight. In celebration of that, here is …
So there I was, no income, no jobs in the pipeline, with a reputation that guaranteed no work, at least not on Freiberg. Maybe it was time to move on. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d had to start over, maybe not the last. I went back to my favorite bar for a drink, to relax and to think things through. Maybe all I needed to do was wait this out. Kyle wasn’t against me; his hands were tied. John was solidly behind me. And more than anything or anyone else, there was Sherri. She was healthy and looking for work and still madly in love with me. I’d spent a few nights there, but we both agreed we needed a little space. I kept my place at John’s for now.
I got my beer at the bar and sat down at a table in the back again. I needed to focus. Whatever decision I made tonight was going to affect me for a long time. In a spiral-bound notebook, I began to write down the plusses and minuses of staying. The same exercise for moving on would come next. I was engrossed with the process when I realized someone was standing just behind my shoulder. I looked up and a woman moved forward into my line of sight. It was Lizzy.
“Hello again! What’re you doing here?” She was swaying a little, and she steadied herself with one hand on the table. Without asking she spun my notebook around and peered down at it. “Oh. Planning your getaway?”
“Just working through some things, Liz.”
“That’s hard work for you, isn’t it?” She steadied herself on the table again.
“Sometimes. How are things going with you?”
“I’m dying. I have another 5 months according to the doctor’s estimate. And there’s no reason for it other than what you did to me!” The last was a little loud and a few people glanced over before they went back to their conversations.
“Oh. Is that what the doctor said, too?” I tried to keep it conversational. Her loud drunk act was annoying but I knew this woman. Telling her to shut up or walking out on her would set off a screaming fit.
“There’s no reason for me to have pancreatic cancer. I don’t fit the profile. Something triggered it out of the normal, and the only thing abnormal in my past is you and your damn fire!”
In the months between our daughter’s death and our eventual divorce, things got pretty bad at our house. Lizzy blamed me for Rebecca’s death and she recruited anyone she could to her side against me. For months I was numb. I didn’t respond, didn’t try to defend myself. When I finally tried, it was too late. Her family, our church, our neighbors, her workmates—everyone knew her version of the story and believed it. Nothing I said made any difference.
Eventually I cracked. Liz and I weren’t speaking. I’d been drinking all day and I decided to grill myself a hamburger. It was windy and the grill was too close to the house. The charcoal was damp. I couldn’t get it to light, so I threw some gasoline from the lawnmower on it. It flared up of course, and the flames set the garage on fire. I was too drunk to put it out, too late calling the fire department. The fire destroyed most of the garage before they got it out. In the mean time, the house filled with smoke from the paint and plumbing chemicals I had stored in the garage. Lizzy was sick for a week from the fumes and had lung problems for months after. Apparently that had become her ‘reason’ for her now having cancer.
The music in the bar seemed suddenly loud. I glanced around the bar: nobody was looking our way. Pointedly not looking our way. I had enough. I stood up.
“So,… what? You’re going to walk out now like you did before?”
“Liz, you’ve been drinking. How about you walk out? Call a cab, go home and get some rest?”
“I don’t need a nap, goddammit! I need a miracle!” Mascara was already drawing a black streak down one cheek and her lower lip was tremble.
I had heard the same words while she clung to me outside the Intensive Care Unit an hour before our daughter Rebecca died. Back then, she wanted Rebecca back and she wanted things to be the way they were before the accident. Back then she wanted me. But the answer now was the same answer then.
“Liz, I can’t do miracles.”
Her palm hit my cheek like a bold of lighting. Just like back then.
And I walked out.