Fly Away Page 48


So I took you.

And nearly killed you by letting you eat a brownie filled with marijuana.

It wasn’t even my idea to take you to the hospital when you started flipping out. It was Pooh Bear’s.

I don’t know, Dot. That’s, like, way too much weed for a kid. She looks … green.

I carried you into the emergency room and said you’d gotten into the neighbor’s stash. No one believed me.

It wasn’t until later, when you were asleep, that I sneaked back in and pinned your name on your shirt with my mother’s phone number. It was all I could think of to do. I got it finally: I didn’t deserve you.

I kissed you before I left.

I bet you don’t remember any of this. I hope you don’t.

* * *

After that, I fell. Time became as elastic as rubber for me. Pot and ’ludes dulled my mind and stripped me of my ability to care about anything. I spent the next six years in communes and on painted-up school buses and hitchhiking by the side of the road. Mostly I was too high to even know where I was. I made it to San Francisco. The epicenter. Sex. Drugs. Rock ’n’ roll. Jimi at the Fillmore. Joan and Bob at the Avalon. I don’t remember anything much … until one day in 1970, when I looked out the van’s dirty window on the way to a peace rally and saw the Space Needle.

I didn’t even know we’d left California. I yelled out, Wait! My kid lives near here.

When we parked in front of my mother’s house, I knew I shouldn’t get out of the car. You were better off without me, but I was too high to care.

I stumbled out of the van and pot smoke tumbled out with me, circling me, protecting me. I went up to the front door and knocked hard. Then I tried to stand still. The effort was such a failure that I couldn’t help laughing. I was so stoned, I—

September 3, 2010

6:15 P.M.

Beeeeep …

The noise sliced through Dorothy’s memories, brought her back to the present. She’d been so deep in her story that it took her a moment to clear her head. An alarm was sounding.

She lurched to her feet.

“Help!” she screamed. “Someone get in here! Please. I think her heart is stopping. Please! Now! Someone save my daughter!”

* * *

The brightness around me is gorgeous; like lying inside of a star. Beside me, I hear Katie breathing. Lavender scents the night air. “She’s there … here,” I say, awed, by the very idea that my mother would come to see me.

I am listening to her voice, trying to make sense of her words. There’s something about a picture, and a word—querida—that doesn’t make sense. None of it makes sense, actually. It’s sounds and pauses jumbled together. A voice that is both forgotten and etched into my very soul.

Then I hear something else. A noise that doesn’t belong in this beautiful place. A beep.

No, a drone. An airplane high in the sky … or a mosquito buzzing by my ear.

I hear a scuffing sound. People walking on thick-soled shoes. A door clicking shut.

But there is no door. Is there?

Maybe.

An alarm goes off, blaring.

“Katie?”

I look sideways and see that I am alone. I shiver with an unexpected cold. What’s wrong? Something is changing …

I concentrate hard, will myself to see where I really am—I know I’m in that hospital room, hooked up to life support. A grid engraves itself into existence above me. Acoustical tiles. A white ceiling, pocked with gray pinholes. Rough. Like a pumice stone or old concrete.

And suddenly I’m back in my body. I’m in a narrow bed, with metal railings that undulate like eels, flashing silver as they move. I see my mother beside me. She is screaming something about her daughter—me—and then she is stumbling away. Nurses and doctors rush in and push her aside.

The machines go silent all at once and look expectantly at me, their anthropomorphic forms straightening. They whisper among themselves, but I can’t make out their words. A green line moves across a black, square face, smiling and frowning, beeping. Beside me, something whooshes and thunks.

Pain explodes in my chest, coming so fast I don’t even have time to yell for Kate.

Then the green line goes flat.

Twenty-three

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September 3, 2010

6:26 P.M.

“She’s dead. Why are we still here?”

Marah turned to Paxton. He sat on the floor in the waiting room with his long legs stretched out, crossed at the ankles. Beside him lay a brightly colored heap of food wrappers—cookies, cakes, potato chips, candy bars; he’d bought whatever was for sale in the vending machine by the elevator. He kept sending Marah to her dad for more money. She frowned at him.

“Why are you looking at me like that? On TV, when someone flat-lines, it’s over. Your dad texted you, like, ten minutes ago that her heart stopped. Then the doctor wanted a meeting. We know what that’s about. She’s toast.”

All at once, she saw him. It was like having the house lights go up on a decrepit theater that had looked magical in the dark. She noticed his pale skin and pierced eyebrows and blackened fingernails, and the dirt that discolored his throat.

She scrambled to her feet, almost fell in her haste, righted herself, and started to run. She skidded into Tully’s ICU room just as Dr. Bevan was saying, “We’ve stabilized her again. Her brain activity is good, but of course we can’t know anything for sure until she wakes up.” He paused. “If she wakes up.”

Marah pressed back against the wall. Her father and grandmother were standing by the doctor. Dorothy stood off by herself, her arms crossed tightly, her mouth crimped shut.

“We’ve begun warming her body temperature and we’re bringing her out of the coma, but that’s a slow process. Tomorrow we’ll reconvene and assess her progress. We’ll take her off the ventilator and see.”

“Will she die when you take her off the machine?” Marah asked, surprising herself by speaking aloud. Everyone in the room looked at her.

“Come here,” Dad said. She understood suddenly why he didn’t want her brothers to be here.

She moved cautiously toward him. They’d been at odds for so long it felt weird, going to him for comfort, but when he lifted his arm, she sidled in close, and for a beautiful second, the bad years fell away.

“The truth is that we don’t know,” Dr. Bevan said. “Brain injuries are impossible to predict. She may wake up and breathe on her own, or she may breathe on her own and not wake up. Or she may not be able to breathe on her own. When she’s off the medications and her body temperature is back to normal, we’ll be able to assess her brain activity better.” He looked from face to face. “She has been very unstable, as you know. On several occasions her heart has stopped. This is not necessarily indicative of her chances for survival, but it is worrisome.” He closed the chart. “Let’s meet again tomorrow and reassess.”

Marah looked up at her dad. “I want to go get her iPod—the one Mom gave her. Maybe if she hears her music…” She couldn’t finish. Hope was such a dangerous thing, so ephemeral and amorphous; it didn’t fit in the concrete world of words spoken aloud.

“There’s my girl,” he said, squeezing her upper arm.

She remembered being his girl suddenly, how safe she used to feel. “Remember how they used to dance to ‘Dancing Queen’?” She tried to smile. “They had so much fun.”

“I remember,” he said in a voice that was tight. She knew he was thinking of it, too: how Mom and Tully used to sit together on the deck, even when it got bad and Mom was as pale and thin as a sheet of paper, listening to their eighties music and singing along. He looked away for a moment, then smiled down at her. “Will the doorman let you into her apartment?”

“I still have a key. I’ll take Pax to her house and get the iPod. Then…” She looked up. “We could come back to the house. If that’s okay.”

“Okay? We moved back to Bainbridge for you, Marah. I’ve kept the light on every night since you left.”

* * *

An hour later, Marah and Pax were in a cab, heading toward the waterfront.

“What are we, servants?” Paxton sat slumped beside her. He found a thread coming loose on his black T-shirt and pulled on it until a corkscrew of used thread lay in his lap and the neckline of his shirt gaped.

It was at least the tenth time he’d asked Marah this question in the last eight blocks.

She didn’t answer. A moment or so later, he said, “I’m hungry. How much money did the old man give you? Can we stop at Kidd Valley for a hamburger on the way?”

Marah didn’t look at him. They both knew full well that her dad had given her enough money for a burger and that Paxton would spend every cent she’d been given.

The cab pulled to a stop in front of Tully’s building. Marah leaned forward in her seat and paid the cabbie, and then she followed Paxton out into the cool Seattle evening. The blue of the sky was darkening by degrees.

“I don’t see why we have to do this. She can’t hear shit.”

Marah waved at the doorman, who frowned at her and Paxton, as almost all adults did. She led Pax through the elegant cream-colored marble lobby and into the mirrored elevator. On the top floor, they exited the elevator and went to Tully’s condo.

She unlocked the door and opened it. The hush inside felt weird. There was always music playing in Tully’s place. She turned on lights as she made her way down the hall.

In the living room, Paxton picked up a glass sculpture and turned it over in his hands. She almost said, Be careful, that’s a Chihuly, but bit the warning back. It never did any good to criticize Pax. He was sensitive to the point of edgy and he could get angry in no time.

“I’m hungry,” Pax said, already bored. “Is that Red Robin still down the block? A cheeseburger would be good.”

Marah was happy to give him enough money to get rid of him.

“You want anything?”

“No. I’m fine.”

He palmed the twenty from her dad. When he was gone, and the place was quiet again, she walked past the coffee table, where piles of mail lay strewn about. On the floor beside it lay the newest Star magazine, its pages open to the story.

Marah’s legs almost gave out on her. Tully had been reading the magazine last night … before she got in her car. Here was the proof.

She looked away from the evidence of her betrayal and kept walking. The iPod station in the living room was empty, so Marah went to Tully’s bedroom and looked around. Nothing by the bed. She went into Tully’s big walk-in closet and came to a sudden stop.

Here, try this on, Marah. You look like a princess in that. I love dress-up, don’t you?

Guilt swirled around her like dark black smoke, rising, tainting the air she breathed. She could smell it, feel it wafting over her exposed skin, raising gooseflesh. She dropped slowly to her knees, unable suddenly to stand.

He’ll ruin you. That’s the last thing Tully had said to her on that terrible December night when Marah had chosen Paxton over everyone else who loved her. She closed her eyes, remembering. Had it really only been nine months ago that Dad and Tully had stormed into her dorm room? It felt like a lifetime. Paxton had taken her hand and led her out into the snowy night, laughing—laughing—calling them …

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