I'm not going to make excuses. Well. Okay. I am a little. This is what happens when I start The Round House and think, "I could totally write something without quotes á la Erdich," and then at the same time I read Grace Chua's "(love song with two goldfish)," and then I have the thought "murder is sad."
Laura and Julie and Molly, what would I even ever do without you? Maybe not post things without quotation marks in them.
(love song, with two goldfish)
(He's a drifter, always
floating around her, has
nowhere else to go. He wishes
she would sing, not much, just the scales;
or take some notice,
give him the fish eye.)
(Bounded by round walls
she makes fish eyes
and kissy lips at him, darts
behind pebbles, swallows
his charms hook, line and sinker)
(He's bowled over. He would
take her to the ocean, they could
count the waves. There,
in the submarine silence, they would share
their deepest secrets. Dive for pearls
(But her love's since
gone belly-up. His heart sinks
like a fish. He drinks
like a stone. Drowns those sorrows,
stares emptily through glass.)
(the reason, she said
(and he could not give)
- Grace Chua
She hears his fingers tripping soft over the keys, the whispered rhythm dragging her out of a hazy and ever-fading violence.
Wake you? he murmurs, his face stark in the too-bright glow of the screen.
Nikki better be kicking some serious ass, she says. She's surprised at the rasp in her voice, the jagged ache that's sunk itself deep into her throat.
Just doing her thing. I can stop, though. I don't want to keep you up.
Don't stop, she says, but what she really thinks is – You can't.
It's not even a bad one but she comes home drowning in it. She can't shake it lately, lies in bed at night feeling the hot trails of blood twining up her ankles, the indifferent gaze of the witnesses icing into her chest.
He's staring out the window at the spread of street below. You have a good afternoon? she asks, watches her question ripple through his shoulders as he stands there, hands clasped loose behind his back but the sharp lines of his arms all tension.
Same old, he says.
He comes to the precinct same as ever but it's like he's being reeled there, caught on a line he can't escape, and she sees it, the dark fade of his eyes, the quiet gasps for the same air she can't find. You figure out your killer yet? she asks, feels the sharp sting of it, the clear cold burn of the question.
It'll come. Just takes longer some days, he says, like that's any consolation for the days that it doesn't come at all, like that makes any difference when there's always another, another whispering behind them, another chasing them down.
She walks up next to him and stands a breath away, blinking down below at the cracked asphalt, the bleak wash of streetlight.
There's filet mignon, he says, trying, a far-away want bleeding through his tone.
You're going all out, she murmurs, doesn't let him see the flip of her stomach, the curling tendrils of nausea at the thought of it: the quiet slide of their bodies into the cold leather of the chairs, the resistance and then yield of the steak under their knives, the cloying and inescapable darkness.
Thought it would be nice.
Good, then, he says, but a thread of desperation ripples through his tone. She can feel it curl up in the space between them, filling the negatives with a lonely kind of darkness. They're inches apart, but the void shakes out of its coil and unfurls, stretching into all the hollow spaces until the distance is an unbreachable chasm.
I haven't been here in years, he says in the soft wash of light of the Le Cirque dining room. I remember they have really good crème brûlée, though.
Who were you here with? she asks, doesn't care if it's a past lover, an old girlfriend, doesn't care if it's someone he still wakes up secretly pining for in the dead of night, so long as it will let them talk about anything else.
He stutters out something about Martha and Alexis and then she's left with silence and the cold eyes of Tara Robinson imploring her from the depths of a dumpster. (She knows he feels them, too, can see it in the heartbeat hesitation before he presses his fork into a piece of tuna tartare.)
What do you think about digging into the phone records –
Maybe we should take a closer look at the stepbrother – he says at the same time. They both laugh, let the awkward pause flit over them for a beat, and then the familiar rhythm is wrapping around them, the stifling volley of theories.
She fixes her eyes on the curve of the wall as they spin through financials, rake through the timeline, and suddenly she yearns for nothing but the shadowed and solid space of a corner. The arc of the dining room bounds her, traps her, pushes her back to the slash across the stomach of the dead teenage girl, the spill of intestines onto the frozen sidewalk.
They haven't even made it past appetizers.
Let's get out of here, he says, already dragging up a page of flights to Venice, but Karen Smith and Bryan Woodlawn are still waiting for them and Karissa McGhee's just floated up in the Hudson, her body strained with a drowning bloat, vivid ligature marks circling the stretched skin of her wrists, ankles, neck.
They manage the Hamptons for a night.
There's no dead body staggered into his pool this time, no new deaths snapping at them from the cold and pounding surf, but it's moot. The murders in New York have sunk their teeth in, pulled them down and ever-drowning down.
She's up with it all night, Karissa's fragile stretch of bloated skin, the slackness of Bryan's unhinged jaw, the vivid broken capillaries spindling out from Karen's grey irises. When the flat dawn starts seeping through the window she rolls out of bed, pads in her pajamas to the ocean and sinks down onto the soaked sand and dips her toes into the frigid surf.
The dawn is winter-damp and bleak, but right as he finds her it starts washing to a vivid red, a slow bleed of cerise through the sky and ocean.
I thought it would be better up here, he says.
No, she sighs. She can almost catch the curve of the horizon, the same endless arc pushing them back, looping them again and again onto the only thing they know.
It's pretty, he says, tilting his chin at the creep of color across their world.
I guess, she responds. The curling thrill at the red and vivid rise of sun is gone for her. She feels only the inescapability, that same red wash of color morning upon morning.
Maybe sometime, he starts, but he lets the words trail into the roar of biting surf.
Maybe, she says.