A/N: This was an experiment in getting into Queenie's head. I dont' like her, but she is the main character, and I figured it would be essential to understand where she's coming from. This is based more off the Lippa version than the LaChiusa version, but I love them both equally. Also, I know that both Brian D'Arcy James and Mandy Patinkin have dark eyes, but in my head Burrs always had blue eyes. Yep. So here you go. Something of a failed experiment.
It was Wednesday a couple of weeks ago that Burrs came down with the flu. He probably got it from the whore who hangs around the stage, the arm candy of the lighting technician. She's always sick with something… It's a wonder that Will hasn't caught something and died yet.
I could tell from the moment that I woke up that Burrs was sick. Mostly because I was, for once, up before him. He used to wake me up at eight on work days, but the alarm clock read nine.
"Burrsie, baby, wake up. You let me sleep late."
He groaned and rolled over, not opening his eyes.
I frowned, shaking him. "Burrsie, wake up!"
"Be quiet… I don't feel good."
"Oh, right. Listen, if I didn't wake up every time I had a hangover, I wouldn't have a job, sweetheart."
He sat up, rubbing his eyes, then stood up and rushed off. I could hear him in the bathroom, vomiting. The sound made me shudder. I stood up, yawning, brushing off my negligee and coming to stand over him.
"I don't feel good," he muttered, miserably.
"Go to the theater early and talk to Mark and tell him I can't make it today," he looked up at me, a thin line of spit still dripping from his chin, his face blanched save for the startling contrast of his eyes, which were watery cerulean. "I don't want to even attempt to have a sense of humor."
I crossed my arms. "Because you drank too much last night?"
"Because, sweetheart, I'm sick." He put his typical sarcastic emphasis on his addressing me.
"Then I'll stay home, too."
"What?" He slumped against the toilet, staring at me incredulously.
I nodded. "A man needs his girl to take care of him when he's sick, right? So I'll… make you soup, or something. Whatever girls do when their boys. I just hope you're not a lunger."
He glared at me. "I don't have consumption."
"Well, how would I know? You don't get sick. You get drunk, but you don't get sick."
"Just… go and see if they can cut us out of the acts for tonight, okay?"
"Yeah, sure. Let me go get changed…"
It took some convincing and three dollars, but Mark did let me stay with Burrs. Of course, Mark also agreed with me about how he couldn't be really sick…
It was a nice morning, pleasantly warm, not quite the stickiness that summer heat usually becomes. I figured I should go and get some food, since we were running low. And also get whatever you need for sick people.
I had some trouble finding soup cans, or for that matter, finding that soup cans were what I wanted in the first place. The grocer down the street in the corner store finally asked me what I was looking for after nearly a half-an-hour of watching me look the rows of produce and bread.
"Um… What do you make for people who are sick?"
"Soup," he replied flatly. "Ain't you ever taken care of a kid, lady?"
I shrugged. "Don't got any."
"Hm. Get some chicken soup."
"That's what I figured."
Burrs was sleeping in the bathroom when I got home. I had to laugh. He looked completely ridiculous there on the red carpet in only his long flannel pajama bottoms. "Hey," I nudged him with my foot, "I got you soup. And an orange. The guy at the store said it was good for making you less sick."
"Hmmmm. You had to wake me up?"
"Yeah. If you're really sick, you should be up to eating some soup. Starve a fever, feed a cold, right?"
"I've got a fever," he said blandly, standing up coughing harshly.
"Shit. Well, I just spent four dollars for nothing."
His eyes widened slightly. "Four? On soup and an orange?"
"No. One on soup and an orange. Three to make Mark re-arrange the order for today's show."
"Do you really have a fever?"
I pressed my hand up against his forehead. He was warm despite a slight layer of sweat that I thought would have chilled him.
"Damn. So I just bought food for nothing."
He gave me a faint smile. "Thanks for trying. I'm going to lie down. God, I hurt all over. You know… Make the soup. I'll eat something."
"Burrsie… Are you really sick?"
There was a moment of awkward silence before he burst out laughing, then coughing. "Yes, sweetheart. Make the soup, alright? And…" he hesitated before saying softly, "Thank you for taking care of me."
Then he wandered hazily into the bedroom, and there was a dull 'thump' as he fell onto the bed, not even attempting to catch himself. I found myself grinning. Even at his most pathetic moments, Burrs was comical. That or I was a sadist at heart…
I poured the soup into one of the dented pans and set it on the stove. The blue gas flickered slightly, and I was grateful that the landlord didn't care we were a month behind on rent.
My mind started to wander, and the smell of the soup brought me back to reality. As I poured it into a bowl, I couldn't help but reflect on what Burrs had said. Sure, I was taking care of him now, but what did that mean?
He had said it in a way that made me think he might have meant it as a general thing. Like, "thank you for talking me down when I get upset", or "thank you for not yelling back when you knew I was just having a bad day".
I had never really thought about taking care of him before. It was always second nature, always a little bit resented. So I had lied to the grocer a bit. Maybe Burrs was like my kid. Not every day, but when he needed me. I would be there for him.
The rest of the day went by pleasantly. Sure, we went to the doctor's in the afternoon and found out that it was the flu, and now I was likely to get it, but the rest of the day was fine.
He told me that I was a great cook, and ate the orange I had bought. I read This Side of Paradise out-loud to him, because looking at the small print was giving him a headache, and we listened to some records.
It had been a surprisingly calm day amidst what our relationship had become. He wasn't angry, I wasn't tired, we weren't fighting…
I wonder… how did it go from there… to here? How is it that now he's lying on the floor again, only he won't be getting up. Why didn't I think about the pistol underneath the mattress? Why didn't I take into consideration that he was going to be upset?
Black is standing with the gun in his hands. He looks shocked, terrified, and nauseous. I don't know how I look. I just feel empty. I can't comprehend it. Burrs can't be dead. He's too much a part of me to be dead.
So what if he was needy, possessive, manipulative and cruel? I don't remember ever being bored. I remember being slightly nervous all the time, but we had our moments, didn't we? What on Earth inspired me to sleep with another man?
I just want everything to go back to that day when I stumbled over F. Scott Fitzgerald, trying to be a "good tomato". He had laughed quietly through his coughs and corrected me when I could pronounce words like "platitudinous." And I never felt criticized or scrutinized, just helped along and loved. Even if it was a complacent love, that's still what it was.
"What do we do?" Black is asking me, over and over in my head. His words rattle around.
I don't know. I have no idea.
"We leave," I finally say. "We leave all this. We just run away. We run away from two months of late rent and an unpaid doctor's bill."
Burrs won't get up. No soup, no fruit, no book can save him from what Black and I did.