*Author's Note: The following is the first chapter from a novel I'm currently working on tentatively titled "The Caregiver." It is about a male caregiver who takes care of an old man dying from complications with Parkinson's. Both of them have pasts they would like to forget, but can't --especially the elderly man, who is unmercifully haunted by the ghost of his dead wife. I welcome constructive feedback.*
19 June 2001
It appears that yellow must be the color of my doom. I was driving south down the Five with a wary ear to the shrieking and grinding from behind the dashboard and below my feet when I saw first the glow of it on the flat horizon, then the light itself, a big ugly yellow thing, nondescript but still exclamatory. I can read the sign now, and it’s inviting me to stay at the Komfort King Motel, Free Wi-Fi and HBO, and of course plenty of Vacancy, but vacancy is not a concern of mine since I’m not going to be staying. I’ll be stopping, yes, and sleeping, yes, but not staying. The sign grows, a jaundiced eye glaring belligerently at me as I pass the sign announcing the off-ramp, gas food lodging, Exit 321B, and the heading on the sign tells me that if I were to follow that exit to its coastal conclusion, I might find myself in Thornton, where Mom still takes her meals through a plastic tube stuffed rudely down her throat. Fitting, but I know that you never cared much for coincidences. You wouldn’t find any romance in the notion that the path that would deliver me from this stupid chase happens to intersect with Mom.
The gun is in the glove compartment. I am going to exit the Five at the Thornton Pass off-ramp, number 321B, pull into the nearest, most dimly-lit business establishment (probably not the Komfort King; too bright, too yellow, too soul-sucking), put the gun into my mouth and pull the trigger.
It is either that or end up like Andrew. It isn’t what Mom would have wanted, but given those two options, it’s what she would have preferred. I know you see that too. It’s probably one of the few things that you and her would be in agreement on, isn’t it? Do you remember how you used to be just like her? Andy and I took you to that carnival at the school once and you watched him steal a stuffed frog from a game stand while the barker’s back was turned. You were practically shaking with the guilt, and you wouldn’t take the toy from him. He kept saying that he stole it for you, and that made you feel worse. “The games are all rigged, anyway.” He tried to justify it to you in that way he had, that little smirk, the small curving of his upper lip on the left side of his face that suggested some sort of erudite worldliness that he didn’t really have. He told you, “They rob you, so it’s okay if you rob them,” but his use of the pronoun probably made you feel worse. He made you feel like you had stolen it, that you were an accomplice and therefore just as culpable as the criminal, and your idolization of Andy (I speak of idolization as ancient Aztecs might have reckoned it—devotion through fear) wouldn’t stop you from telling Mom about it later that night. She used the wooden spoon on him privately the next day while Lucien was at work because we all knew too well what he would do if it was to him you ran and tattled.
As I round the exit ramp, my heart does not race faster, my blood does not pulse quicker, nor is there any of the heat in my chest that usually accompanies my fear and makes my hands shake. I am remarkably calm. My hands turn the wheel smoothly, even as the engine whines and rattles somewhere in the bowels of this junk-heap and the brakes growl protestingly. I’m not concerned about the car’s functions anymore, as it only has to go just a tiny bit further, to the nearest secluded spot where I can pull over and do what needs to be done, what should have been done long ago. Even if it picks this moment to conk out for good, that’s fine. I’ll put the flashers on and do it quickly. I’ll just have to hope it’s a passing CHP officer that finally stops for my car, not a Good Samaritan motorist. I can’t imagine the grisly visual with which such a well-intentioned person might be confronted.
But the car makes it to the quadrangle of gas stations, motels, and roadside diners. The hitch in the timing belt hasn’t shown up tonight, and the car made it just a smidge over ninety-eight miles—I reset the odometer, like I do every time I travel back to Port Beach. I abandoned my overpriced studio apartment in San Francisco a little over an hour ago, leaving most of my belongings and furniture for the vulturism of the creditors (including Mom’s old chifforobe, do you remember that? how it was always your first choice of hiding spot on those wet dripping days we were hostage in the house and played endless games of Hide-and-Seek and –Andy’s favorite—Guns? and we always found you first, either by tagging you or shooting at you with our baseball bats held like AK-47’s and making expectorant pchew! pchew! pchew! noises? and how this would make you cry and you would accuse us of cheating, that we didn’t close our eyes all the way or counted too fast? and how despite all this, you would still choose the chifforobe as your very first hiding place over and over, forgetting your previous defeats through some sort of hopeful amnesia?), and made it here to the middle of the blasted California heartland, just seventy miles east of Mom in her bare lime-green room where perhaps even now she is sitting up and studying her carmine threadbare Bible by mesh-dappled moonlight. I told myself the next light I saw on the horizon would be the place I would take these final thoughts, and the yellow Komfort King was it. And my nerves aren’t jumping, my hands aren’t shaking. It’s like I’ve taken a Phenobarbital from my stash of pilfered hospital samples, although I haven’t used in months and dumped them all down the toilet before making my escape. I could take these soothed nerves as some sort of sign, but I know, I know, such talk just makes you annoyed and impatient, so I’ll leave it alone for good.
The darkest corner of this road-stop is a demode coffee shop with a round parasol roof and a squat annular dining room. There are windows three-quarters around the base for a panoramic view of trailer trucks and asphalt, but I find a parking spot far in the back and away from the empty windows, behind overflowing dumpsters reeking of rancid milk. It is dark, it is quiet. My body might not be discovered for days. Maybe when somebody finally comes along to trundle away the stinking refuse from these rusting dumpsters, they’ll discover another piece of trash that has to be carted off with the rest of the offal. But now I’m just feeling sorry for myself. I’m sure that’s nothing you care to hear.
I lean over and take the gun from the glove compartment, Lucien’s gun, the one he always forbade us from touching, the one he brandished at Andy once. You weren’t there; you were over at your friend Jessica’s house. Lucky you. I don’t remember if Mom ever told you about that night. I hope she didn’t. But I’m sure you know everything now, from where you are. Mom would quote 1 Corinthians 13:12 here, I’m sure, but I won’t patronize you. She did enough of that for all of us.
The gun is heavy. I am amazed by its weight and sleekness, its oiliness. There is something surreptitious and sly about that greasiness of the steel. Lucien kept it clean and preserved in its wooden velvet-lined box, like a museum relic. It has the weight of finality, like the thud of a slamming coffin lid. Its deadliness is not subtle; it is inherent and overt, it proclaims itself. I thought it would lose some of its heft, me being older and bigger now than my former pre-teen self, but it hasn’t. If anything it has gotten heavier, although that could be because it is loaded this time. I open the chambered cylinder and with a quick flick of my wrist I flip it back shut like Andy and I used to do when we were home alone, scaring each other with it, feeling omnipotent and vulnerable at the same time. One time Andy dared me to look down the barrel and I did; I put my eye right on the level of that deadly black cylinder, and I felt so dizzy I thought I was going to puke or pass out. I wonder if that will happen this time. I will likely have my eyes shut. In fact, I fear that will be a necessity.
There is a traffic signal in the intersection where the ramps from the interstate let out. On this street it has remained green for the through-traffic, and I tell myself that when it turns red, I will muster up the courage to finally finish it. Just as I’m thinking this, the light automatically flicks to yellow (the color, remember, of my doom), without any prompting from ramp traffic. The light (I assumed, anyway) is set to trigger red when any car has taken the exit, but there are no approaching lights. Before I can even blink again, the light switches to green, as if aware of its faux pas and quickly reacting to correct itself. I’m not sure if it even went red. But I did see it change to yellow, at least, no matter how briefly, so I suppose this is it then. I’d better put down my imaginary pen, stick the imaginary paper into the imaginary envelope and send it off to you, no need for imaginary postage (I probably couldn’t afford it anyway!). When you read it, be sure to consider Mom, Lucien, Drew, and, of course, yourself. Please don’t think this has anything to do with me. I don’t consider myself a tragic character, not in the literary sense at least. If I could describe myself as anything, it would be a loser. And before you laugh, I don’t, obviously, mean it that way. I mean, “one who loses.” More specifically, I mean in the sense that I can’t bear loss yet must be doomed to suffer it. Over and over. Andrew, you, Mom, Sophie (whom you’ve never met and likely never will). Some sort of karmic retribution from a past life, perhaps (imagine what Mom would think if she heard that!). I think the reason I’ve lost my nerve every time is because this has to be considered the ultimate loss. The loss of future experiences. But the loss of consciousness and memory—especially memory, especially that—more than makes up for it. And of course those theoretical future experiences also mean certain future losses. So I can do it this time. I can lift the gun to my mouth, as I do now, I can close my eyes and part my lips, as I do now, I can slip the oily barrel into my mouth, as I do now, and if I open my eyes again, it is only to watch the traffic signal. When it changes again, even if it’s only another aberration, I will pull the trigger. So I open my eyes now and wait, with the hard round end of the barrel pressed to the roof of my mouth and the sound of the car’s engine still ticking as it cools. The light is green. Soon it will be yellow. And then I’ll be gone. Blessedly gone. The final loss.
I miss you, sister.
Your loving brother,