"He was shot? Who shot him?"
"His captain called me from the hospital just now to tell me he's all right. But he's still groggy from the surgery. He was shot this morning," Mary said, her hands starting to shake again, "and oh, I know, I know how bad it had to have been if he's just waking up now. But he said he thought John would pull through."
"Do you know what happened?" I asked, feeling as though there was no blood in my face, my heart thudding slowly against my chest.
"The bullets went through his left side and broke two ribs, and of course there would be other damage." Poor Mary! It was hard enough for me to hear that my friend was hurt so badly, but for her, having lost her husband in the line of duty so long ago, having to endure now a repeat performance -- ! She was brave, I had to give her credit. After the initial shock, she'd been all business, dialed John's precinct, found someone who remembered her, and badgered as much information as she could out of them. An ambush, they said. Someone knew that John and his partner were coming in response to a burglary call. Yes, one of the crooks had been stopped, by John, who had killed him even after he and his partner had been shot. They lay there for half an hour before they were found and taken to the hospital. I thought about the pools of blood that must have spread beneath them and shivered.
When I was a child, growing up in Penn's Vale, it was not uncommon in December to see a deer hanging in a friend's backyard after hunting season. I was there when my friend Debbie's father skinned his buck. The buck had been shot in the neck (of which Debbie was very proud, as it had killed the deer instantly, and the rest of the meat was untainted) and as the hide was stripped away, I was curious as to why the meat on all sides of the wound was bubbled and reddened, while the rest of the carcass was not. Debbie's father told me that the bullet's impact boiled the area around it, and though I didn't really understand how kinetic energy translates into heat when I was nine, I did learn something of that when I was sixteen in Chemistry class, and shuddered now to think about the impact of bullets on flesh.
No anonymous deer. John.
Flesh boiled around an entry wound.
Last night I had fantasized about dancing with him, and today my friend was fallen, his skin punctured, the tissue around the impact area bubbled and semi-cooked.
If I could only be there with him at the hospital, I would tell him that I cared about him, I would weep on him, I would hold his hand and watch him sleep.
Even though the next day everyone was sure that John would live, at night, I awakened again and again, each time with the sickening sinking realization that John had been hurt badly, and that I might never have had a chance to find out how he felt in my arms. In the daylight, when I would pass a mirror or a window that reflected my image, all I could see was a silly old woman who had rejected John's interest for years. What were you waiting for, I screamed at her in my mind, for him to be killed so you could say you loved him without any kind of commitment or effort?
I was trying to paint in my studio. I was trying to paint a landscape that showed a summer day with a sky as silver as a polished dime, when the shadows in the eucalyptus trees make them look black with grey-green sparkles, and the grass in the fields beneath them is pale gold. I painted the sky perfectly, and the darkness of the trees stretched above my head on the canvas, and I was working on the golden grass, making tiny strokes of white and pale yellow on the light ochre background. I wanted the color to shimmer, like Adam's hair in summer.
But the more I painted, the more the field looked like it had been done with crayons, white canvas showing through in places, blotted brushstrokes that were too long or too wide. I picked up an old sock and wiped the bottom of the canvas of wet paint, leaving only a faint blur. The tree and sky were beautiful, with birds flying in and out of the cool shadows. "Maybe I should just be happy with that," I said. "If I continue, I'll just ruin it."
I grew dizzy as I picked up the wet canvas and turned to put it on the wall. The floor of the studio had become steps without a railing, and as I tried to hang the canvas on the wall, I swayed, and the painting began to fall down the long stairwell. I grabbed for it.
The back of my hand hit the wall and I jerked awake. Rubbing my knuckles, I checked my bedside clock. Only midnight. How many more times would I wake up before morning? Gabe had taken to sleeping in the hallway, I was kicking and striking out in my dreams so much. Poor dog. I kept dreaming of my father, of talking to him, or helping him do something, and look away for a moment, and then he would be gone -- not walking away, just not there. I was afraid that I would start having dreams like that about John, and then I didn't think I'd be able to sleep at all.
Oh, God, I thought. Shimmering like Adam's hair in summer? Like I'd want to see that again. Sometimes I really hated my subconscious for the garbage it could dredge up. I let my eyes unfocus and considered the painting in the dream. It had been really interesting, a tall, narrow painting ... I could buy some stretcher bars and loose canvas and duplicate the odd shape. What had happened to make the delicate brushstrokes of the grass turn into such a mess? Nothing. Nothing had happened. But it looked bad, and I'd put the whole thing back on the wall because I was afraid I would ruin it.
I snorted with disgust. About to try something new, and afraid you're going to ruin it, are you? I asked myself.
Well, yeah, I am, answered my guts, twisting a little. What if it doesn't work out?
There is no "working out!" No matter what happens, no matter if he writes a dozen love letters a day, no matter if I kiss his face off, there is NO "working out!"
Oh, bullshit, said my innards. You didn't want to see Adam's hair shimmering in the summer. You want to shimmer, yourself, like his hair in summer used to make you feel. You want to see John's silvery gray eyes again and shimmer all over the place.
Silver, I thought, like the perfect sky in the painting in my dream. To be honest, shimmering would be very nice indeed. I turned my pillow over, trying to find a cool spot, and patted the bed to see if Gabe would come keep me company. He moaned aggrievedly in the hallway, and rolled against the wall so that he could sleep on his back, braced by the wall.
I only woke up three more times before my alarm went off.
"He's home, as of this morning," Andersol told me as she met me and Gabe at the front door of the estate. "He wants you to call him."
"You talked to him? How is he?"
"In pain, because of the ribs thing, and depressed. Go, call him now!"
"Yeah, there's going to be an inquiry because John shot one of them. It's just about the most stupid damned thing in the world you ever heard of. The guy who got away for a while is the brother of the perp John killed. His lawyer is making some kind of stink about it," she said.
"Perp?" I asked, standing at the foot of the stairs. "Perp?"
"Perpetrator, Sully, you got to get with the program if you're going to date a cop. What are you waiting for? Come on, I'll dial his number for you." She stomped up the curving stairs, Gabe dragging me after her.
"How can the lawyer make a stink about it?" I asked, as confused as I had ever been. "The guy John shot -- didn't he shoot John and his partner first?"
"Yep. I forget what kind of gun he had, but he knew they'd be wearing body armor, and the gun was -- uhhh -- armor-piercing, is that what it's called? Anyway, even after being shot, John nailed the bastard between the eyes. The lawyer is alleging that John was shooting to kill, and that the brothers were just trying to defend themselves." She was punching numbers on the phone in my study.
"His partner will back him up, won't he? Or is the ... perp's ... lawyer alleging collusion?"
She handed me the phone and I could hear the tone ringing.
"His partner was in a coma and is still too messed up," said Andersol. "Talk nice with him, Sul, will ya? He's hurting." She exited the room, her long blonde braid swinging.
"Yeah," said John's voice.
"John, this is Sully," I said. "How are you?"
"A whole lot better now. How is it out there where it's sunny?" his voice was weak, though still raspy. I wondered if his father's voice had been like that, and was that why Mary argued with him so much -- because the sound of his voice made her think of her loss?
"I'm in Port Laughton. No sun to be seen, all fog. It's a lot cooler here, though, than in Riverton. If you were here, you'd have to wear a sweatshirt."
"I'm gonna come out there to get all well again," he said, "as soon as I get cleared for travel. End of August, beginning of September sound like a good time?"
"That's a great time; still summer weather but the end of the heavy tourist season. All California attractions are still open."
"I sure as hell hope so, Sully, so don't go runnin' off with anyone before then." he said.
"I'm too told to run, John. Are you on pain medication?" I asked.
"Yeah, did I say something stupid?"
Forget painting and projects. After work, I sat on the front porch and looked at the spot where John always (always, what a creature of habit!) parked his car when he visited his mother. And I thought long and perplexedly about how much I missed him. I hadn't really actually missed him before, though I did enjoy his company when he was here and looked forward to his infrequent trips. I kept dredging up my memories of our past encounters, looking at them critically, wondering why I'd been so stubborn, so deliberately obtuse, so pointlessly detached.
John, peering critically over my shoulder as I accessed the computer of the county library looking for books on the subject of raising chickens: "What the hell are ya lookin' up this time?" Me, on a walk down the levees between farms, schooling my face to immobility in order to bald-facedly lie about the nesting habits of egrets: "Those holes in the sides of the irrigation ditches you see? The egrets lay their eggs on the south facing side of the ditches, and then push them into the holes to hatch where the sun can keep them warm."
"No shit!" Brows furrowed, searching for the holes, which belonged to ground squirrels.
Me, breaking up in laughter, and John swearing as he was caught once again. John, always dressing in a suit for church or an invitation to dinner. Me, leading the way through the woods in the river parks, following an unofficial fishing trail winding among the cottonwoods and grapevines, likely to get us knee deep in muck or dragged into the river by Gabe. John, standing between Mary and me at church, having claimed that he had to keep us separate so that we would behave. Me, so glad he's not dead.