The street lamp sputtered,
The street lamp muttered,
The street lamp said, "Regard that woman
Who hesitates toward you in the light of the door
Which opens on her like a grin"
- Rhapsody on a Windy Night
one: the secret of its skeleton
Grissom had always been braver in the dark. He worked nights in a poorly lit office; he scribbled notes at his desk at home with only a desk lamp and slept with heavy drapes, his face obscured by blankets. His step-father had liked scotch more than whiskey, whiskey more than beer. Alcohol more than anything else. Gil had scared his step-father mostly (though the man would have scoffed at such bullshit) with his silent obedience and his unwavering stare. Maybe it was the stare that finally undid the man who was too old to be such a drunk but too young to have a fuckin' kid. So his step-father would grab him by the back neck of his t-shirts and toss him in the hall closet like a rag doll.
It was, at least, the linen closet and young Gil had made a bed on beach towels and wrapped himself in the winter quilt and lay with his cheek pressed against the floor, trying to see out the bottom of the door. That strip of light became brighter and brighter to him and this is how he learned to see in the dark. When the shuffling of feet; the running of his mother's small ones and the lumbering of his step-father's after her became too much, he would stuff wash cloths and pillowcases into the crack and fall asleep warm and cocooned. He knew, at least, that his mother couldn't hear breaking glass or the slur of his step-father's words and that was its own comfort.
In the morning, when he had finally gone to work and Gil was already forty-five minutes late for school his mother would open the closet and the light was too bright, too painful for Gil to stand. He didn't cry, but his mother did and Gil learned to change into fresh clothes when he got home from school, and to keep outfits in the linen closet because his mother would take him to school with out letting him change first. It didn't happen every night. Some nights he slept in his bed with his ant sheets and if he had to pee, he could get up and use the toilet like a normal person. Then, his mother packed all his things into one box and all of her things into another and left that step-father and they moved to a new city and new apartment without telling anybody. Gil didn't sleep well in the new city with all the noise and the cars and the people screaming under his window so sometimes he would wrap towels around his head and sometimes he would close the closet door behind him and go to sleep. In the mornings, when his mother found him, her body silhouetted by the morning sun, he blinked and blinked and couldn't see his mother's hands moving faster or the tears on her cheeks. He tried to explain but she couldn't hear his small voice. Together they almost made a whole person.
two: put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life
The Las Vegas morning nearly did him in, and the strip was something he tried to avoid with a vengeance. For obvious reasons, the Venetian was one of his least favorite hotels on the strip. The ceiling was painted as perpetual day and a body floated in the fake canal staining the water red as her blood was pumped through and through the filtering system. Now, it had been shut off, and the water was stagnant and filthy. Much more like the real Venice, Grissom mused.
The casino had stayed open but the boutiques that surrounded the unique feature of the Venetian hotel were blocked off with yards and yards of yellow tape. The police had the section blocked off well but they still had to elbow their way through a crowd of newlyweds who thought they'd struck it rich with the sideshow death provided. The folks in North Dakota would just never believe it and flash after cheap cardboard flash went off. He could see in Catherine's expression that they disgusted her.
He filled out forms in his office and Catherine had to clear her throat to get his attention. Her hair was wet and she had on different clothes. Her black boots without tread on the slippery slope of the plaster canal had been a bad combination. She had shrieked and landed in the blood and chlorine filled water not half a foot from the victim, who's eyes stared blankly back at her. It was shallow enough that it didn't go over her head but she stripped in the back of her Tahoe and finished the scene in a CSI jumpsuit and a sour mood.
"Feeling better?" he asked and she shuddered.
"That was gross, falling into that," she said and Grissom could only shrug and silently agree, though the word 'gross' was not often utilized in his vocabulary. He didn't have a daughter well on her way to adolescence, though. "I'm about to go, but Warrick isn't back yet," she said. He could tell she wanted him to go with her but Grissom felt anti-social and cocked his head.
"Take Greg with you," he said. He could see her mouth tighten but she didn't argue. Later, she stood in his doorway again but it was the end of the shift and the sun had risen.
"Let's get breakfast. And beer, let's, at the very least, get beer," she said. He rarely drank, and never after a shift in case he got called back in, but he rarely said no to Catherine either.
"I'll make you breakfast, how about that," he said. The vinyl seats and greasy food of the diner they tended to frequent was almost unbearable to him now. She raised an eyebrow but said nothing. "Where is Lindsey?"
"I'll call her. She takes the school bus," she said. Grissom was a latchkey kid himself. He knew that it was hard on Lindsey that Catherine worked nights but there was more pay and more prestige for Catherine. "She likes to be independent," Catherine pushed.
"We could stop by. Check on her, she could come," he offered but Catherine shook her head like it was too much of a bother and disappeared to make the phone call. When she returned, she had her coat and her purse and she was ready. She followed his Tahoe with hers because it was more practical that way though Grissom would have liked to have gone in the same car. He liked the way she fiddled with all the buttons; rolled the windows up and down and up, letting the cold air out into the desert. He loved the way she sang along to the radio, if it was on, or hummed along to the classical that usually played in his car. He liked to stare at her out of the side of his sunglasses and she pretended not to notice.
His kitchen was clean but dark and she walked in and started pushing curtains aside and opening windows.
"Jesus, Grissom," was all she ever had to say about his lifestyle. He cocked his head but didn't defend or justify himself. Especially when she muttered under her breath, "It's like living in a closet."
They sat on his sofa, stabbing at plates of scrambled eggs and toast with margarine from the tub, watching television. They were flipping back and forth from the discovery channel and an old rerun of The X-files in which ex-soldiers had pieces of their brains removed and couldn't sleep.
"That would never work," Grissom commented lightly and changed it back to the documentary on the sloth, expecting the blonde head on his shoulder to shoot up in protest. He looked down to see that she was asleep. His house was sunny and filled with fresh air and he felt like kissing the top of her head and sipping his cold beer with the TV on mute but he wasn't the brave. He left the TV on the documentary and sat statue still, trying not to wake her.
three: she smiles into corners
She was just a kid when she slid around that pole for the first time. She made good money and was one of the better girls in the club. She could have been rich if would had sex with all of them who asked but she couldn't do it, wouldn't even try. Sometimes, at night, she dreamed of swinging around and around and woke up tangled in her sheets. She dreamed of cases gone bad or Eddie… men grabbing her at any rate, and woke up with the sheets twisted around her, holding her back. She dreamed of dead babies, of her baby dead, and woke up clutching a pillow to her chest.
It wasn't every night but it was enough. Every morning, she came home to cook her child breakfast. Lindsey had fly-away blonde hair that Catherine found all over the house. Stuck to her sweaters and on the furniture and if she ran her hands through the carpet that fine blonde hair would be woven between her fingers.
"You look tired," Lindsey said one morning, eating her toast and wrinkling her nose at her oatmeal.
"I just got home from work," Catherine replied, exhausted.
"No, I mean all the time," Lindsey said.
"Go get dressed." She didn't mean to snap. At work, Sara mentioned that she looked tired and Warrick asked if everything was okay. Grissom, as usual, said nothing but looked at her from behind his glasses and his folders. He'd always watched her, ever since they'd met. But then, men have always watched Catherine.
She knows that she would have made more money if she'd stuck to dancing. Sure she would have spent it on drugs and a deadbeat husband, but she worked so hard and always seemed to come up with less then she anticipated. She and Lindsey did fine, but when she danced, she went to spas to lie in tubs of mud to keep her skin soft and fresh, and now she feels rough all over.
Lindsey had pink sheets with little tiny flowers on them and Catherine crawled into bed with her for the second time that week. Lindsey moaned and scooted over and complained.
"Mom, let me sleep," she said and Catherine would have given her left arm for her mother to show this kind of affection. She sent a letter home when Lindsey was born and the envelope came back with the words 'return to sender' on it in her mother's neat handwriting. It was unopened. Lindsey smelled like sunshine and Johnson & Johnson hair de-tangler and like Catherine herself. She can see Eddie in the child, but tries not to.
Sometimes, at night, she dreamed of Grissom and his big hands on her skin, watching her with those eyes and saying nothing.
When she was 18, she took off her clothes for an audience for the first time. She had figured she'd feel disgusting afterwards, throw up or get drunk to try to numb the pain, but in reality, she had carefully counted the bills she pulled out of her underwear, put them in her cheap knockoff purse and went home. She'd slept hard and didn't dream.
four: hard and curled and ready to snap
Sara Sidle had come to Las Vegas because this man, this man like no other, had summoned her. She knew he respected her as a scientist but they'd had lunches and diners and they e-mailed for over a year before he asked her to leave San Francisco. She left to work in one of the top crime labs in the country, but she left for Gil Grissom, too.
Catherine was all blonde and curvy and level three with shiny lips and straight, white teeth and was a plot twist that Sara simply had not expected. It became this unspoken battle and Sara always seemed to be on the losing end. Catherine looked like she didn't even have to try. If she saw Sara moving in, trying to make the connection that she and Grissom has once shared at the bay in California, Catherine just had to call him Gil and mention some significant event that had strengthened their relationship 12 years ago. Sara didn't have the history.
"What's your boyfriend's name? Hank?" she had said, not even bothering to turn to look at Sara as she spoke to her.
"Hank is not my boyfriend," Sara had said but it sounded whiny and childish and she felt like wrinkling her nose and stomping her foot and running away from Catherine, who just kept being beautiful, no matter how many years passed.
They all had problems, though, even the elusive Grissom. He couldn't hear and it was only going to get worse. Warrick had his gambling thing, Catherine used to fuck poles and poor Nick couldn't help being from Texas. Sara had a cough drop problem if only to cover up the larger one.
Grissom had officially given up on her and she stood looking into that interrogation room like a statue, not letting anyone see her heart break. It seemed when that woman died, that woman who looked like her, Grissom had let her die as well. She drank after work, sometimes before. Menthol cough drops were the best. She never maxed out her overtime anymore, never went into to Grissom's office to beg him to let her back onto the field. Instead she went home and ate some cereal or a bagel or nothing at all, and watched condensation drip down the neck of a bottle.
She'd never really liked hard alcohol. In college, beer was a sign of strength, being able to keep up with the boys, being able to stay on her feet longer. But, hard alcohol meant weakness. Her father had liked Jack Daniels more then his wife and daughter and business and life. She'd always seen the hard stuff as a crutch. Now, in the small liquor store a few blocks from her apartment, she considered all the different bottles vying for her attention. Vodka was clear and unobtrusive like water but the scotch was old and amber and warm. She pretended the Jack wasn't there. The smell of whiskey made her ill. Finally, she grabbed the vodka and some orange juice and carried the brown paper bag home quickly with her shame inside.
She still did her job well. Sara wasn't one to slack, never had been and never would. She drank only after her shifts and it burned, burned on the way down and smoldered in her stomach, making her skin warm and her vision blur and when she passed out on her sofa, she didn't think about Grissom.