“Why did we leave so fast?” Kara said in the car.
Evan, at the steering wheel and staring straight ahead with a strange look in his eye, mumbled something that sounded like, “Brad Pitt is thirty savior,” but really, could have been anything.
It was a long, quiet drive back.
Evan jumped onto his bike. Knobby tires and shocks were his route into that sin. Lift his all-terrain Bontrager onto a bicycle rack, drive out to Red Rock Canyon, pedal through the desert. Three hours in the hot sun, skin slathered with Banana Boat, the sun flogging him, sweat dripping off his helmet, his nose, his chin, tasting the saltiness on his tongue, thinking about that sin. Temps in the high 90s and climbing, he didn’t care. He liked the heat. One day, it was 101, the next day, 110. When the sweat stung his eyes, he stopped, poured water over his face, and continued. Bargained with the pain in his hams, his delts, his lungs. Pushing and pushing, never backing off. Single trail, sailing through saguaros and sagebrush, past hares and iguanas and rattlesnakes. He liked climbing more than coasting downhill because climbing was pain and roar and coasting was a sign that you had given up on living, so never coast, only roar.
Evan needed high mileage to figure out his toe tag.
Once, pushing 110% or 111%, Evan went over a root just a tad too far to the left. His balance buckled and he fell right, down a dusty ravine, over scrub brush and red sand, and all the way down, he was thinking, Good! Bring it! Fucking bring it to me! He was hurtling through the air and looking forward to the things he would hit on his way down. Finally, his left cheek hit the dirt and his bike landed on top of him. At first, he lay still. Everything is numb after a fall.
I must have broken a cheekbone, he thought.
After five minutes, Evan slowly clambered up. Took inventory for an eternity. Found himself astonished and a little disappointed that his only souvenirs were road rash, sundry bruises, and pebbles embedded in his forearm. Dust in his mouth, spitting to get it all out. He loved the hell out of every wound.
“Oh my God, are you okay?” Kara said when she saw his cheek.
But it wasn’t about answers, it was about looking for that high again, not whimpering, until he fell again. He liked punishing himself.
Builds character, he thought while pedaling.
“Can I go?” Kara said.
But it wasn’t about being with a girl. It wasn’t about going slow. It wasn’t about chit chatting about the pretty Desert Canterbury Bells along the way. It wasn’t about fitness and reducing hypertensive risk. It wasn’t about reducing LDL cholesterol. It was about abomination. It was about sin. It was about landing hard. It was about the long, red, irritated desert stretching into the horizon of his heart, where the sun was dying of neglect. It was about the raw, red skin inside his mind.
There is a moment when you say goodbye to someone and hug them. If you hug them too early, it becomes awkward, because then, you have to hug them again. So you wait for the last moment, and then you hug. It’s just manners. But Evan had missed that moment with himself entirely. There were no hugs at all. Hugs were for believers.
Kara was trying to get something out, but the crying was getting in the way. More like sobbing or even blubbering, Babylynn thought. Babylynn was sitting across from her on a chair, holding her hands, while Kara was bent over nearly horizontal in the seat across from her. Babylynn didn’t want to say anything, because it wasn’t about talking, it was about being with her.
The sobs were coming out of Kara from a place way down deep, like a well with a girl stuck in it. The girl had been waiting down there for years. She was a-scared. She had bad memories. She had things to yell out. She had wounds on her heart. Kara tried to tell Babylynn that it was okay, don’t worry, that sobbing was nothing to be afraid of, it was just something she was doing, like breathing or starting a car, but just thinking about saying that made Kara cry even harder. She was tired of excuses, even if they were her own. She’d been making excuses all her life. It wasn’t about apologizing, it was about what was she knew was going to happen because it had happened before and it was the deepest fear of the little girl in the well.
Kara grabbed a Kleenex and wiped her face, but it took five or six, and afterwards, she was still blubbering. Her aunt’s face appeared to her as if in a cloud. It was from long ago, when she was six. Her parents had sent her and Kara away to live with that bitch aunt. She didn’t know why at the time. Why was a fountain of pain. Why was with her every day like a creepy old man. Why had dismantled her piece by piece. First, she lost the piece called safe. Later, pieces that keep a boat from blowing out to sea. Ever since then, Kara had always been prone to blowing out to sea, driven by currents and bad weather.
Much later, Kara pieced together that her mother had suffered what her hard aunt referred to as “a break” and had been checked into a hospital. She had taken off her clothes in the grocery store. She had sat down in the middle of the produce section, pulled her knees into her chest, rocked back and forth, and said, “Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop.” It took a year for her mother to stop rocking, and two for her to want her twins back. By that time, though, the damage had been done.
Kendra, on the other hand, had gotten stronger. A fist to the jaw will destroy some people and galvanize others. From the day that her mother had taken them back, Kara knew that she was of the former persuasion. Like the cotton dress that she had bought in Tijuana, offwhite with little collections of flowers, something she looked forward to wear to tell her friends that she had gone somewhere, but after the first wash, it had basically fallen apart. Kara was the type who needed someone or she was nobody, and nobody meant out to sea with no sunscreen.
Kara grabbed Babylynn’s arms again and looked into her eyes. There were words she wanted to get out, but then the water works were coming again. It always happened this way. Babylynn had seen it before. She took a deep breath and held tight. They stayed that way for another twenty minutes, just holding each other, and then, an hour later, with the help of a couple pills that she had in the bottom of her purse, ended up nestled into each other on the sofa, Kendra falling asleep in the crook of Babylynn’s arm, and the words she wanted so desperately to say—I’m losing him—still buried deep within her.
One morning, Evan found himself knocking on an office door. He didn’t know what Kendra would say. He didn’t want to start trouble. He just wanted to know things. Finally, she answered. It was strange to gaze at that face. It was the same and yet it was so different. She didn’t speak right away.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she finally said at a volume that would have fucked the sound man.
“Can I talk to you?”
“What I mean is, what in the holy fuck possessed you to come into my fucking territory?”
Evan looked down at his shoes.
“I don’t know.”
Kendra stared at him for a long moment.
“Does my sister know that you’re here?” Kendra said.
“You should tell her. You’re her poodle now.”
“Listen to me. Please. I need to talk to a professional.”
For a long moment, Evan thought she would hit him. He didn’t care. If he could fall off a bike, he could take a hit. He tried to read her face, but it was all stone and flaring horse nostrils. Finally, Kendra opened the door slightly. Evan entered silently on radioactive wings. He sat down in the client chair and Kendra took the therapist’s chair. Then he realized the symbolism of those positions and stood up. He didn’t want symbolism. He didn’t want meaning. He just wanted her to tell him what to do.
“I have a client in a few minutes,” Kendra said. “So what the fuck do you want from me?”
Evan told Kendra about what he had discovered, everything. Kendra’s eyes suddenly focused and everything changed. He didn’t know how much time it took, but it was long. He wanted to include everything. When he had gotten near the end of his story, he looked up at her.
“So I’m, like, sick all the time. Not virus sick, but, like, head sick. And I can’t imagine a time when I won’t be sick.”
Kendra said nothing.
“I need to talk to someone.”
Kendra took a deep breath, looked out the window.
“Why don’t you talk to my sister about it? She’s the one who bought your contract.”
“She’s not up to it.”
“She’s not up to taking care of herself, even.”
Kendra glanced at her watch. Her client had been waiting now for 20 minutes.
“Do you have to go?” Evan asked.
“So do you fuck a lot?” Kendra said calmly, as if she were asking about washing the dishes, like, Do you do the dishes a lot?
“My heart is sick.”
“Do you fuck at all?”
“Because she’s bad in bed.”
“Because you miss me.”
“Because you made the wrong decision.”
“I’ve got a client.”
Evan looked straight at her.
“Listen, just tell me what it all means. Am I a freak? Like an albino? Like a dwarf?”
“You are what you’ve always been. You’re Evan. You’re not anybody else.”
“I don’t feel like Evan anymore.”
“I’ve told you what you need to know. A good doctor would drag it out for six months, collect all that money, but hey, this is my gift to you, I’m laying it all out, like instant coffee: You are what you’ve always been. You’re Evan.”
“But I feel so awful.”
“I’m telling you what I tell all my clients: Don’t let it get you down, bro.”
“You look like shit, too. You’ve lost weight.”
“I’m not eating.”
“To be expected.”
“I’m not sleeping, either.”
“I could’ve told you that,” Kendra said. “Now get the fuck out of here. You’re cured.”
Evan stood up and started for the door.
“Hey, I’m just curious,” Kendra said. “Why didn’t you just find an appropriate therapist?”
“Just pay $150 to another therapist. Someone who wasn’t your ex? Someone who would do the job correctly? You’ve got the money. You’ve got so much money, it’s killing you. So why didn’t you do that? Answer that question and you’ll know what’s really eating at you. Now get the fuck out of here.”
Evan wasn’t much for kissing Kara when he came in the door. It seemed cliché. He didn’t like calling her sweetheart or honey. What he did like was waking up in the middle of the night next to her, like 3 or 4 am, just barely awake, and whispering in her ear, I love you, you know that? It was like talking to her unconscious.
“Really?” Kara said, bleary eyed.
“I thought you had gotten tired of me.”
“I’ll leave you a post-it when I do.”
Kara smiled, then drifted back to sleep. Evan couldn’t, just laid there. He listened. There were shadows within shadows cast across the ceiling. The faintest humming sound in the wall. When Evan was certain that Kara was asleep, he spooned up to her again, their naked bodies fitting each other perfectly. He needed this. He stroked her hair and then whispered in her ear again, quite softly this time, but still, out loud, as if that were required to make it real.
“I’m going to kill my father, okay?”
Kara’s breathing didn’t change at all.
“People been doing that for thousands of years. Sons killing their fathers.”
That time, Kara stirred.
“Okay?” Evan said.
Kara shook her head in confusion.
“Okay,” she said.
“All right,” he said.
[This is an ongoing work of fiction. To read chapter 8, click here: https://whathappenstous.wordpress.com/2017/11/09/dying-slowly-in-the-city-of-bad-thoughts/%5D