Shelter in place, p.12
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       Shelter in Place, p.12
 

          

  “One of the suicides was in Delaware, the other in Boston, one of the murders—deemed gang related—was in Baltimore.” She held up a hand before he objected. “I’m not saying you’re wrong, Reed. But it’s still a stretch. A connection pattern, yeah, but statistically you’re going to have deaths, especially that include suicide and accidental, in any large group. There’s no pattern to the method. A silenced handgun, a knifing, a hit-and-run.”

  “Overkill’s a pattern,” he insisted. “Three bullets in Roberta Flisk. Thirteen stab wounds in Martin Bowlinger, ramming a big-ass SUV at high speed into Finestein. Bowlinger, in his first month as mall security, panics and runs when the shooting started. He can’t live with it, moves away, starts using. He’s zoned when he’s stabbed, dead after a couple of holes go into him, but the killer keeps slicing. Overkill.

  “And the suicides,” he continued, warming up. “What if they weren’t? Add Hobart’s mother’s accidental, which still doesn’t sit all the way right for me, and you’ve got too damn many.”

  “The pattern breaks down with Hobart’s mother. She wasn’t a victim. She wasn’t a survivor.”

  “She was a victim,” he insisted, his green eyes going hard. “Maybe she wasn’t a terrific mother, maybe she was weak, but she was a victim. Her son made her a victim.”

  “Motive?”

  “Sometimes crazy’s motive enough. I know it’s a stretch, but it just keeps circling back.”

  Though the ice had melted, diluting it, Essie drank more tea. “And that might be the real reason you’re still in that shitcan. You can’t keep circling back, Reed. Keeping track, that’s one thing. I’m never going to not keep track. But you have to move on, too.”

  “I wouldn’t be a cop if it wasn’t for that night, if it wasn’t for you. And the cop’s saying it feels like a pattern, all the way through it. I want to look closer at the suicides and the accidental. On my own time,” he said quickly. “But I want you to know I’m going to look closer.”

  “Okay, all right. If you find anything, I’ll be the first one to help you push.”

  “Good enough.”

  They both heard the first fussy cries through the upstairs window. “That’s my cue,” Essie said. “do you want to come in, stay for dinner?”

  “Not tonight, thanks. Next time I’ll bring dinner.”

  “I’ll take it.” She picked up the tulips. “Thanks for the flowers, partner.”

  “You bet. Have fun, Mom.”

  “I could sleep standing up.” She paused at the door. “My boobs are a milk factory and I haven’t had sex for a month. And you know what? It’s fun. Come back, bring pizza.”

  “You got it.”

  He walked to his car, decided he’d go back to his shitcan, toss a frozen pizza in the oven, and dig a little into a couple of suicides.

  * * *

  Simone hauled suitcases and boxes down four flights of steps to Mi’s Prius. Fork in the road, she told herself, determinedly cheerful. This was just a fork in the road, and a big, bright opening for Mi with the move to Boston, the position at Mass General.

  Mi deserved it, had worked for it, would be great at it.

  “How are you going to get all this stuff in there? You should’ve shipped all these books.”

  “Everything’ll fit.” Mi tapped a finger to her temple. “I’ve got it all worked out. It’s like Tetris.”

  “I never understood that game, but once a geek…”

  Realizing her skill had been in the hauling, Simone stood back, watched Mi—her long, sleek ponytail through the back loop of a Boston Red Sox hat (a gift)—calculate, arrange, shift.

  She wore cropped jeans, pink sneakers, and a Columbia T-shirt. Small hands, Simone thought, boxing away every detail. Short nails, never painted. The little Vietnamese symbol tattooed under her right thumb that meant hope.

  Lovely long, dark eyes, soft jawline, slim bladed nose.

  An oversize watch on a slender left wrist, tiny gold studs in small, close-to-the-head earlobes.

  And, of course, the brain, as within minutes Mi had everything loaded. “There! See?”

  “Yeah. How could I have doubted. Except there’s one more.” Simone held out the box she’d kept behind her back. “You can find room, and open it when you get there.”

  “I’ll find room, but I’m opening it now.”

  Mi tugged off the raffia tie, took off the lid, peeled back the cotton batting. “Oh. Oh, Sim.”

  The sculpture, no bigger than Mi’s hand, formed three faces. Mi and Simone, with Tish centered between them.

  “I was just going to do you and me, but … she wanted to be there. It’s how I think she’d look. If.”

  “It’s beautiful.” Tears rose up, thickened the words. “We’re beautiful. She’s with us.”

  “She’d have been so proud of you, Almost Dr. Jung.”

  “Still have a ways to go for that. She’d’ve been proud of you, too. Look how talented you are.” Gently Mi traced the features of her friends. “She’d have been a star,” Mi murmured.

  “Damn straight.”

  “It’s the first thing I’ll put out in my new apartment.” Carefully Mi replaced the cotton, the lid. “Oh God, Sim. I’m going to miss you.”

  “We’ll text and call and e-mail and FaceTime. We’ll visit.”

  “Who am I going to talk to when I can’t sleep?”

  “Me. You’ll call me.” Wrapping Mi in a hard hug, Simone rocked them both. “You’re allowed to make friends. You go ahead and do that. But you’re never allowed to make another best-best friend.”

  “You, either.”

  “Not a chance. You have to go, you have to go.” Still she clung. “Text me when you get there.”

  “I love you.”

  “I love you.” Simone made herself pull back. “Go. Kick ass, Mi-Hi. Kick ass, cure the common cold, and be happy.”

  “Kick ass, Simone. Kick ass, make great art, and be happy.”

  Mi got behind the wheel, put sunglasses over streaming eyes, and with one last wave, took her own fork in the road.

  Simone went back in, up the flights, and into the apartment to face living alone for the first time in her life.

  She could afford it—and didn’t want a roommate. She had a job, her modeling fees, and had even sold a few pieces here and there through a local gallery.

  Plus her trust fund had kicked in, so she could—when stretched—dip into that.

  Mi’s bedroom would become her studio, her workshop.

  Though she cried more than a little while she did it, she moved supplies from her bedroom, from the section of the living room she’d claimed. She dragged shelves, her bench and stool.

  Now, she thought as she set up, she’d be able to get in and out of bed without climbing over and around art supplies.

  The light in Mi’s room—correction, her studio—would do very well. She could bring up models instead of paying or bartering for space in someone else’s studio.

  As she arranged and rearranged things, she made plans. Without Mi’s companionship, she wouldn’t be so tempted to just hang out, wouldn’t have those long conversations or impulse evenings out. She’d use that time to work.

  Not that she didn’t have other friends, she assured herself. Not best-best friends, of course, and maybe she didn’t make friends easily, but she had people she could go out with or hang out with.

  She didn’t have to be alone; she was choosing to be alone.

  After two hours alone in the apartment, she grabbed her purse and went out.

  Three hours later, she came back with her hair cut on an angle along her jaw, a long sweep of bangs, in a shade the salon called Icy Indigo.

  She took a selfie and texted it to Mi, who’d already arrived in Boston.

  Then she looked around, sighed. She took one of the sketches she’d pinned to her board, sat down, and began to do more precise measurements of a nude caught in a crouch, long hair spilling, spiraling, the fingertips of one hand pressed to
the ground, the other hand with its palm up, slightly extended.

  What’s she doing? Simone wondered. What’s she looking at? Where is she?

  As she worked her measurements, she played with stories, considering, rejecting. Hitting.

  “She’s taken the leap,” Simone murmured. “Not of faith, of courage. She jumped with nothing but herself, that’s courage. I see you.”

  With no classes, no tables to serve for the evening, she got her wire for the armature, laid it on her template.

  Too quiet, she decided, and switched on music.

  Not rock, she realized, not classical.

  Tribal. Her woman would seek a tribe.

  Then she would lead it.

  With the image clear in her mind, the framework ready, Simone chose her clay, her tools, and began to free the woman who would lead a tribe.

  The feet, long, narrow; the ankles strong, slender; calf muscles defined.

  She built, carved away, brushed, sprayed the clay with water, smoothed the knees.

  As the figure emerged, she worked her way up the body until she realized the light had changed.

  Evening was sliding in.

  She covered the figure, made herself get off the stool, walk, stretch. A little wine, she decided, then ordered in Chinese because if she went back to work, she’d forget to eat.

  Forget to eat, hydrate, move, the work often showed the neglect.

  She spent her first night alone drinking wine, rotating it with water, eating noodles and stir-fried pork, and bringing her vision to life.

  * * *

  For three weeks she followed the same routine. Work—the sort that brought a paycheck with it—class, work—the sort that fed her soul.

  After a fifteen-hour day, much of it on her feet, she came home to the creeping silence of her apartment.

  She missed Mi like a limb, she couldn’t deny it, but that wasn’t the core of the problem. She sat, studying the sculpture she’d begun that first night.

  It was good—really good. One of the best pieces she’d done, but she couldn’t make herself take it to the gallery.

  “Because I need it,” she said aloud. “She’s telling me something, and has been all along. I’m talking to myself.” She sighed, tipped her head back. “So what? So what? I have something to say, too. It’s time to take a leap. I’ve done what I came to New York to do. It’s time to move on.”

  She closed her eyes. “No more waiting tables, no more modeling for a fee or for supplies or for class time. I’m an artist, goddamn it.”

  She had another two months on the lease. She’d either tough it out, or eat the cost.

  Eat it, she decided.

  She pulled out her phone, saw the time, and calculated the odds CiCi was still up.

  She waited, and when her grandmother’s voice came on clear and alert, smiled. “Having a party?”

  “No, and I know it’s late.”

  “Never too.”

  “Exactly. So, I think it’s time I had a taste of Europe. Do you know anybody, say, in Florence, with a flat to rent?”

  “Baby doll, I know everybody everywhere. How about we take a trip, and I introduce you?”

  The smile turned into a laugh. “How about I pack?”

  * * *

  During the eighteen months Simone spent in Florence, she learned the language, grew tomatoes and geraniums on the tiny balcony of her flat overlooking Piazza San Marco, and took an Italian lover named Dante.

  Dante, absurdly handsome, played the cello and liked making Simone pasta. As he traveled with the symphony, their relationship didn’t crowd her, and left her all the time she needed to devote to her work.

  The fact that he had other women on his travels didn’t concern her. For her, Dante was part of a lovely interlude of sun, sex, and sculpting. She’d given herself this time and place, saturating herself with all it offered.

  She studied, spent time with artists, with masters, with artisans and technicians. And sweated on the pouring floor of a foundry to learn more about casting in bronze.

  As she learned, experimented, discovered, she built enough confidence to wheedle her way into a show at a trendy art gallery, then spent four months completing more pieces for what she called Gods and Goddesses.

  Simone invited her family out of duty. They declined, but sent two dozen red roses to the gallery with a card wishing her luck.

  Helping load in her art and debating with the gallery manager on placement ate up any time for nerves. She’d already told herself, countless times, if the show failed it meant she wasn’t good enough.

  Yet.

  It didn’t mean she’d go home a failure. Her parents might—correction, would, she thought as she debated, again, between a severe and serious black dress and a bold, sexy red one—think her a failure. But she would never meet their standards anyway. They had Natalie for that. She’d forever be their college dropout daughter who threw away all the advantages they’d offered her.

  Her mother would vote for the black, Simone thought. Be sedate, be sophisticated.

  She went for the red and worked it with killer-heel gold sandals that would make her feet weep. But they’d show off the toes painted the same pomegranate as her base hair color.

  She’d added streaks and sweeps of turquoise, plum, flame to that base to set off her haircut of varying angles.

  To add more bohemian, she added cascading gold disks to her ears and an army of bangles on her arm.

  Trying too hard? Maybe the black after all.

  Before she could snatch it out of the wardrobe, her buzzer sounded. Another delivery from Dante, she decided as she clipped from the bedroom through her parlor already fragrant with the white roses he’d sent the night before, the red lilies that morning, the orchids in the early afternoon, and the pink tulips after that.

  She opened the door, squealed, and threw her arms around her grandmother.

  “CiCi! CiCi! You’re here!”

  “Where else would I be?”

  “You came. You came all this way.”

  “Wild horses, cara. Wild, wild horses.”

  “Oh, come in, sit down. Did you just get here? Let me get your bag.”

  “I came straight here, but don’t worry, I’m staying with Francesca and Isabel.”

  “No, no, they can’t have you! You have to stay here. Please.”

  CiCi shook back the hair that fell past her shoulder blades—now in burnished copper. “I’d love a threesome with that luscious Italian pastry of yours, but it’s too awkward when one of the three’s my grandbaby.”

  “Dante’s in Vienna. The schedule just didn’t click. But he’s everywhere.” She opened her arms to the roomful of flowers.

  “The man’s a romantic. Then if it’s just you and me, I’m happy to stay. I’ll let Francesca and Isabel know. They’re coming tonight, and I’m going to take us all out to celebrate after. God.” Beaming, CiCi let herself soak in her greatest treasure. “Just look at you! Your hair’s a work of art. And that dress!”

  “I was just thinking I should change. I have a black dress that might—”

  “Clichéd, expected. Don’t be.”

  “Really? Are you sure?”

  “You look bold and confident and ready, but do yourself a favor and take the shoes off until we leave. How long do we have?”

  “We’ve got over an hour.”

  “Good. Time enough for you to get me a glass of wine before I make myself beautiful.”

  “You’re the most beautiful woman in the world. I can’t tell you what it means to me that you’d come for this, for me.”

  “No tears.” CiCi tapped a finger to Simone’s nose. “Your eyes look fantastic. In fact, I’m going to have you do my makeup. After wine.”

  After stepping out of her shoes, Simone padded over to the kitchen, chose a local red, tossed together a quick plate of cheese and bread and olives.

  “I know it’s not an important show,” she began.

  “Stop that right now—n
o negative vibes allowed. They’re all important, and this one is especially. It’s yours. It’s your first European show.” Opening the balcony doors, CiCi took one of the metal chairs, then the wine Simone set on the table beside her. “Salute, my treasure.”

  Simone clinked glasses with CiCi. “I’m grateful for the chance. I just don’t want to overdo my expectations.”

  “Well, I can see I’m sure as hell needed here to keep you from dimming your own star. It’s going to shine tonight—trust me there. You know I’m a little bit psychic. And you’re going to let it shine or I’ll have to kick your ass.”

  “I’m so glad you’re here. How long can you stay?”

  “I’m taking a couple of weeks to catch up with you, some friends, do some painting. It’s a beautiful city,” CiCi murmured, looking out at the piazza, the red-tile roofs and sun-washed stucco. “Is it your place, Simone?”

  “I love it. I love the light and the people, the art. The air breathes art here. I love the color and the history, the food, the wine. I think being here didn’t just open something in me, but fed it. And who feeds body and soul better than the Italians?”

  “And still?”

  “And still. While it’s a place I’ll need to come back to, it’s not mine. If you can stay three weeks, I’ll fly back with you. I’m ready.”

  “Then I’ll stay.”

  * * *

  At the opening, Simone played her part, making conversation in Italian and English, answering questions about particular pieces. People wandered in, milled around—she knew many came for the little cups of wine.

  But they came.

  She greeted Francesca and Isabel when they arrived, exchanged warm hugs and kisses with the longtime couple who’d taken her under their wings when she’d arrived in Florence.

  The gallery manager—a woman of fifty who made severe and sober black look spectacular—slipped up and murmured in Simone’s ear.

  “We have just sold your Awakened.”

  Simone opened her mouth, but nothing came out. The piece, one of the few she’d chosen to do in bronze, had involved weeks of planning and countless second guesses about the pose, the medium—and then the price the gallery set.

  And now the figure of a woman half rising from a bed of flowers, one arm stretched up as if to take the sun, the hint of a smile Simone had agonized over getting exactly right, belonged to someone.

 
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admin 22 September 2018 10:55
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