You will know me, p.10
You Will Know Me, p.10Megan Abbott
Everyone picked at the defrosted ziti except Devon, who held her wrist and sipped a green smoothie through a straw. Practice had been confused and unproductive again, she said. Everyone kept wondering about the funeral, talking about the mug shot of Ryan on the news.
“And saying things about Hailey. All kinds of things.”
“What things?” Katie asked. “Was it about the police?”
“The police?” Eric asked. “What did you hear?”
Devon shrugged. “I tried not to listen.”
“You shouldn’t listen,” Eric said, leaning back. “Those girls, they can’t help it, but they’ll also distract you if they can.”
“The flexion, I could feel it,” Devon said, staring at her wrist. “There’s no time to rest it before qualifiers.”
“I like Hailey,” Drew said. “I feel bad for her.”
“We all do,” Katie said, rubbing his hand. But all she could think about was Hailey’s face behind the glass, Ryan’s body in that box. Her head ached.
“I wonder when it’ll get back to normal,” Devon said, chin resting on the rim of the glass.
“Soon,” Eric said. “Try to put it all out of your head.”
“It’s only been four days,” Katie said, looking at Eric. “The Belfours are in mourning.”
But they were talking over her, talking about Devon’s heel drive and the new vaulting table. It all seemed impossible, the way they were just charging forward.
“The vault’s pitched too low,” Eric said. “I saw it right when I walked in. I’ll talk to Bobby.”
“No, it was my fault,” Devon said. “There was just so much noise in the gym. Everyone talking, no one working. Dad, I can’t get that double twist back on my Yurchenko.”
Eric nodded, a stitch of worry over his brow. “Slow and low, I know.”
“The funeral was just today,” Katie tried again, louder.
But only Drew seemed to be listening to her.
“Mom,” he said, staring at her between the tines of his fork, “how come they didn’t burn him? Ryan, I mean. Like when Mrs. Wheeler from school died.”
Something in Katie’s chest contracted painfully, her fork dropping from her hand and clattering onto the table.
“Hey, everybody!” Katie said. “The funeral was very sad for everyone. For Ryan’s mother, for Hailey. It was all very sad. That boy died just four days ago.”
They all turned and looked at her, and at her fork in the center of the table.
Drew reached over and retrieved her fork, handed it to her.
“Katie,” Eric said, but before he could say more, Devon stood up, fingers ringed around her swollen wrist.
The wrist looked bigger than ever; it looked alive, the pulsing throb of a fat heart.
“It is really sad, Mom,” Devon said, backing away. Her face pale and strained. “No one ever said it wasn’t really sad.”
* * *
“I’ll talk to her,” Eric said, crawling beside Katie in bed. “Practice is how she works through feelings.”
“And how do you work through feelings?” Katie asked, pulling their bedspread back with a snap.
He looked at her. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there today.” Then adding, “And I’m sorry it was hard for you.”
“For me?” she said. “Funerals are pretty hard for everyone. And, you know, people were surprised you weren’t there.”
He reached for her arm. “I should have been there.”
And there was a pause, and she was so tired.
“Okay,” she replied, because in the end it was so easy to just surrender to it. To his handsomeness, his dedicated dad–ness, the depth of his feelings, which he seemed to wear all over that car-tanned face, in all the smile lines around his eyes.
“Oh,” she added, her own voice sounding so small, girl-like. “Except Hailey. I need to tell you about Hailey.”
“What about her?” His fingers drifting down her sternum, his other hand on her hip.
“She was upset. Very upset.”
“Of course she was. God.”
“But…no, I mean, she…she was angry. And she really, really wanted to talk to me.”
“Why would she want to talk to you?” he said, his fingers pressing on her pelvis.
“I never found out,” she said, looking down at his hand.
The weight of the day began sinking into her. Sinking her. She wanted to hold on, to talk about it, but it seemed too involved, too heavy and strange.
“It’s a hard time for everybody,” he said, and he seemed suddenly so far away on the bed, the warmth of his body gone, his voice so distant she could barely hear him.
Sometime in the night, she opened her eyes.
It was Drew standing in the doorway in his shark pj’s, the teeth that glowed.
“Mom, Devon won’t stop yelling.”
“What?” she asked, pulling the bedspread up over her bare legs, Eric deep in post-beer stupor. “You’re dreaming.”
All Drew’s dreams of Devon, Devon flying, jumping off the roof, riding his bike, sneaking into the garage and driving away in their cars like Batman. She’d meant to ask the doctor, or someone, about them. But then, drifting down the hallway, Drew leading the way, she heard it too.
From the closed door, Devon’s voice, a snarl of sounds, stutters, rasps.
“She’s just talking in her sleep,” Katie whispered. “Go back to bed.”
Tapping lightly on Devon’s door, she watched Drew slip back into his room, eyes still on her.
There was no answer, so she opened the door.
There was Devon, her comforter kicked off the bed, standing in the middle of the room, her head in her hands, red wrist blazing.
“Devon.” Katie rushed toward her. “Devon, wake up!”
Pulling her hands from her face, she stared at Katie, eyes burning.
“He was standing there,” she said, pointing to where Katie stood. “Mom, it was Ryan.”
“No,” Katie said, touching her arms, trying to soothe her. “You were dreaming.”
“He was right there, where you are,” she said, a soft moan. “He looked so sad, Mom.”
The skin on Katie’s shoulders quilled.
“You were having a dream,” she said, trying to hug her, but Devon’s elbows kept jabbing, her body twisting. “Usually it’s your brother with the crazy dreams.”
It took several minutes for Katie to calm her, to guide her back to the bed.
“Are you sure he wasn’t here?” Devon asked finally, voice softening, head sinking back into the center of her pillow.
“I’m sure, honey. Ryan’s gone. He’s not coming back.”
“I know. Is Dad sleeping?” she said, her hair tangled over her face, hiding her.
“What? Yes,” Katie said.
“Remember that song?”
“At the tiki party last winter. The one you danced to. ‘She’s Electric.’”
“I danced to it?”
“And on the palm of her hand is a blister…” she sang, a lisping purl, like when she was very small.
But no, Katie couldn’t remember it.
Still, she brushed her hand through Devon’s hair and Devon let out the smallest sigh, like an aah after seeing things had turned out okay after all.
“Mom,” she said dreamily. “Don’t be mad at Dad. I think he’s sad.”
“What?” Katie said.
“We’re all sad,” Devon said. “Aren’t we?”
Her hand pressed on Eric’s back, she tried to settle herself. He’d never woken up, and the only sound now was his breathing, hoarse and ragged. For a second she thought she saw his lashes lift, the white of one eye looking at her, but she was wrong.
“Mrs. Knox, it’s Nurse Patty.”
“Nurse Patty. From Carver Elementary.”
Everything was moving slowly in her head, a night of bad dream
Devon, that nightmare. The way she was standing in the middle of her room, seeing ghosts.
Then the day had hurdled past. Eric had gone to work before dawn, leaving Katie with the school drop-off, a conference call with the printer, a design deadline at noon, four parents trying to reach Eric. Then, just before two o’clock, came the call from Nurse Patty saying Drew had a sore throat and needed to be picked up immediately.
Looking at him now in the rearview mirror, his lips waxy and head lolling, Katie decided to drive straight to Dr. Kemper, who jabbed a swab down there and confirmed what she already knew: strep.
“Mom,” Drew said in the car after, “I think Devon made me sick. I dreamed she put rocks in my mouth.”
The line at the pharmacy was long, a shouting man with a fistful of prescription bottles at the front and behind him a woman scrambling on the floor to recover her phone’s battery cover.
A jumble of feet, a woolly roll of dust floating from under a towering vitamin display, the woman dropped to her hands and knees as the cover spun away. Finally, she collapsed in cross-legged defeat on the floor.
That was when Katie noticed the gentle tilt of her jaw, the sleepy eyes, just like her son’s.
“Mrs. Beck—Helen,” Katie said, “are you okay?”
She looked up at Katie, nodded.
Katie helped her to her feet.
“Thank you,” she said, crinkling her prescription bag between nervous fingers. “I’m having a bad day.”
“Here,” Drew said, stepping forward, her sooty battery cover in his infected hands.
“Thank you, honey.” She smiled, her eyes filling. “A little gent.”
First, Helen couldn’t find her rental car, then she wasn’t sure which way her hotel was.
“I thought you were staying with the Belfours.”
“I’m at the Days Inn now. I needed to get out of that house. It felt bad. All these whispered conversations. The police calling all the time.”
“And I haven’t been sleeping,” Helen said, shaking her head. “I came to pick up my meds before I head over to the station again. Your daughter’s Debbie, right?”
“Devon,” Katie said, looking toward the car, Drew now belted into the backseat, his face chalk white. She was eager to get him home, but Helen hooked her hand around Katie’s wrist. “The police station?”
“Yeah. You know, things finally seemed to be coming up roses for him,” she said, her face crumpling slightly in a way that made Katie ache. “Well, carnations at least.”
“I’m so sorry, Helen. I guess I already said that.”
“He would always find the lonely person in every room and go talk to them. Make them feel special.” She looked at Katie, smiling faintly. “I’m sure he did that for you.”
“Everybody liked Ryan,” Katie said.
Finally, Helen found her car but not her keys, so Katie offered to drive her to the station a few blocks away.
As Drew waited in the car, Katie walked Helen to the entrance, the precinct building so old that green-tinted lanterns still stood sentinel on either side.
For a second, Helen just stood at the door. Then she took a deep breath.
“Thank you again, Katie.” Waving her phone, she added, “And thank your sweet boy for me.”
Behind her, a whey-faced man nearly stumbled to hold the door open for Helen.
“Ma’am,” he said, tipping his baseball cap as she walked past him. “At your service.”
“Did you see his hat?” Drew asked squeakily when she returned to the car.
He was watching the man stroll across the lot.
“No,” Katie said, taking a breath and then turning the ignition. “Don’t hurt your throat.”
“The orange cap he was wearing. It had two eyes on it. And one was droopy. It made his face look droopy.”
“That’s not very nice,” Katie said.
But she looked in the rearview mirror, watched the man amble toward a panel van. Something in the way he’d stood there holding the door—the way he’d rocked from foot to foot as Helen passed through—felt familiar. Like her uncle Don, who also rocked like that, back ruined by years of lifting drywall. He used to carry around sandwich bags filled with blue pills. One day he came to the house streaked with gray sweat and tore the TV out of the wall and stole the new rims off her mom’s car.
That was all a long time ago. Sometimes it was like none of it ever happened.
“I’m sorry he’s sick,” Devon said, dragging the spare air mattress into the basement. “But I can’t be around it, Mom. You know I can’t. Qualifiers are thirty-six days away.”
“He’s on antibiotics,” Katie assured her. “By tomorrow he won’t be contagious.”
But Devon refused to share a bathroom or even a hallway with her brother (Sometimes he licks his hands when he’s nervous, Mom).
Instead, she disappeared into the basement, the treadmill vibrating through the ceiling, and no one seemed interested in dinner, Eric on the phone with booster after booster, Drew tunneling into a narcotized sleep, his mouth open, his comforter and pillows massed on top of him in that cavelike way he liked, the humidifier purring beside him.
“Mom,” he said as he drifted off, “the shrimp are dying. Or they’re dead already. The science fair…”
“That’s days away, honey.”
Spray bottle in hand, Katie started by wiping down all the chair rails, the doorknobs and jambs. Her head humming with thoughts, so many none could take shape.
At Devon’s empty bedroom, she stood in the doorway, bleach stinging her fingers.
It was always so quiet, so clean and pin-neat, so contained.
Occasionally, Katie would see the bedrooms of the other girls. Pink-zebra-striped, sparkly G-Y-M-N-A-S-T-I-C-S! lettering across purple padded memo boards, mounds of leotards swirled onto mamasan chairs.
But Devon was different, once again.
It isn’t how I pictured it, Kirsten Siefert said once when Katie found her sneaking a peek during a booster meeting downstairs. I thought you must’ve covered the walls with gymnastics posters, inspirational quotes, seven-point creeds. She looked at Katie. I don’t know what I thought.
Parents always wanted to know what they’d fed Devon as a child, if they’d ever tried homeschooling, if she’d ever been given hormones and was she vaccinated. They always thought there was a code they could crack.
They never understood that it was all Devon, just like the room. Spare, almost puritanical.
All her awards were in the family room, the special shelf Eric built for all the trophies, wooden dowel pegs beneath to hang all the medals and ribbons. In here, everything was simple.
A small corkboard with a meticulously pinned printout, Elite Compulsory Program Rules, REV. A desk wiped clean with a feather duster every night. File boxes with labels. Everything labeled: Algebra. History I. Routine Music. Family Photos.
The quote taped to the side of her computer monitor: The only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your feet.
Her first grips looped in a ribbon and hanging on the wall.
The only odd piece: that gaudy LeRoy Neiman tiger poster from their old gym. The day they left Tumbleangels for BelStars, Eric had torn it from the wall and given it to her. Devon had always loved it, its million colors teeming and frothing from its whiskers, shooting from its slanted eyes.
Spraying from door frame to baseboard, the air in the room misted with bleach, Katie heard a chirp.
There, on the floor, was Devon’s phone in its tidy plaid case.
Leaning down, she picked it up.
She didn’t mean to look, precisely. But she didn’t see any reason why she shouldn’t.
Swiping her thumb across the screen, she saw the flare of the Missed Calls icon, the harsh red arrows.
And then the same number, over and
Hailey Belfour, Hailey Belfour, Hailey Belfour.
* * *
She found Eric in the kitchen, halfway through the screen door to the backyard, deep in a phone conversation.
She could tell from the way he spoke—earnest, enunciating, patient—that Gwen was on the other end.
“First, competition fees. That’s eighty dollars per gymnast and forty dollars per level, per team. Then coaching fees at one hundred dollars per session, sixty-four cents per mile for travel times four coaches, plus thirty dollars for coach meals times four coaches—no, the bylaws require us to pay for meals, even for the skill coaches…Well, that’s what we voted on.”
She waited a minute, Devon’s phone like a hot iron in her hand, but it was taking too long.
Hurrying down the nubby carpeted steps into the basement—the chalky smell of the mats, the gust from the laundry room, the churn of the treadmill—she could feel Devon even before she saw her. The energy she held so tightly until she let it thunder forth: a soaring vault, an epic tumbling pass, a delirious aerial on the beam.
At the foot of the stairs, Katie stopped, watching her daughter run, her face bone-white under the gooseneck light looped around one of the posts.
“Mom.” She looked up, surprised, hands reaching for her headphones. “What is it? Did something happen?”
“Has Hailey been trying to call you?”
“Hailey?” she said, eyes scanning the room quickly, the floor beneath her, her book bag.
Looking for her phone, of course. A classic teenager move, but not one Katie was used to from Devon, who barely seemed to notice her phone other than to look at TumbleTally after meets. Who’d never been like the other girls Katie saw at Devon’s school, with their glittered fingernails clawed over their phones, trapped in a constant storm of entanglements and betrayals.
“Yes, Hailey,” she said, waving Devon’s phone. “Several times.”
“What? No.” Slowly, Devon untangled her headphones from her ears, the cords caught, her fingers gently pulling them apart. “You have my phone?”
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes