H Is For Homicide Page 74

’’Me neither. Especially phloem, right?’’

’’Yeah, right,’’ I said, laughing on the assumption he was making a joke.

He smiled at me, rather sweetly. ’’I wish Bibianna were more like you,’’ he said.

’’Forget it. I'm a mess. divorced twice. I'm not any better at relationships than she is.’’

He cleared his throat. ’’You know, in my experience? Women are no f*kin'good. The average woman will take you for everything you got. Then, you know what they do? They leave your ass and walk off. I don't get it. What'd I ever do?’’

’’I don't know what to tell you, Raymond. Guys have left me and that doesn't make 'em bad. That's just the way life goes.’’

’’They break your heart?’’

’’One or two.’’

’’Well, now see... that's the difference. You get your heart broke like I do, it's hard to trust, you know that?’’ He stared at his beer bottle, peeling a strip of the label with his thumbnail.

I felt myself go still and I chose my words with care. ’’I'll tell you what somebody told me once. 'You can't make anyone love you and you can't keep anyone from dying.'

He stared at me, his dark eyes nearly luminous. There was a silence while he digested that. He shook his head. ’’Here's what I say. Somebody don't love me? They die.’’

At eight forty-five, our dinner arrived in six white cartons, complete with tiny flat plastic pillows of soy sauce and Chinese mustard strong enough to cause a nosebleed. I forked up my food with the voracious appetite generated by secondhand marijuana smoke, which was probably fortunate under the circumstances as the dishes themselves seemed remarkably similar. All of them were tossed together in a flurry of bok choy and bamboo shoots, one smothered in a sauce that looked like Orange Crush thickened with cornstarch. Both Raymond and I made little snuffling noises as we ate, polishing off everything except a golf-ball-size clot of steamed rice. The strip of paper in my fortune cookie read, ’’Your sunny disposition brightens everything around you.’’ Raymond's read, ’’No two roads ever look alike,’’ which made no sense whatever. He seemed to think it was profound, but by then the whites of his eyes had turned pink and he'd started eating a dope-inspired snack that he had devised - grape jelly scooped up with stale com chips. I went to bed, but before I turned off the light, I took out the stolen bridal photo and took one more look. Who was this woman? I knew it would come to me. Her identity might also turn out to be unrelated to the investigation, but I didn't think so.

I settled down for the night on my lumpy couch. I longed to be at home in the safety of my own bed. I could feel anxiety whisper at the base of my spine. There was an ancient, familiar physical sensation I couldn't at first identify - some piece of my childhood being stirred up by circumstance. I felt a squeezing in my stomach - not an ache, but some process that was almost like grief. I closed my eyes, longing for sleep, longing for something else, though I couldn't think what. My eyes came open and in a flash, I knew. I was homesick.

My aunt had sent me off to summer camp when I was eight, claiming that it would be good for me to ’’get away.’’ I see now maybe she was the one who needed the relief. She told me I'd have a wonderful time and meet lots of girls my own age. She said we'd swim and ride horses and go on nature walks and sing songs around the campfire at night. In dizzying detail, memories passed across my mental screen. It was true about the girls and all the activities. What was also true was that after half a day, I didn't want to be there. The horses were big and covered with flies, hot straw baseballs coming out their butts at intervals. Their muzzles were as soft and silky as suede with little prickles embedded in it, but when you least expected it, they would whip their heads up quick and try to bite you with teeth the size of piano keys. Nature turned out to be straight uphill, dusty and hot and itchy. The part that wasn't dry and tiresome was even worse. We were supposed to swim in a lake with an Indian name, but the bottom was vile and squishy. Half the time I worried there'd be broken bottles buried in the ooze. One false step and I knew my tender instep would be slashed to the bone. When I wasn't worried about slime and sharp rocks, I worried about the creatures gliding through the murky depths, tentacles trailing languidly toward my pale skinny legs. The first night around the camp-fire, after we sang ’’Kumbayah’’ about six times, they told me about this poor girl camper who had drowned two years before, and one who'd had an allergic reaction to a bee sting and nearly died, and another who broke her arm falling out of a tree. Also one of the girl counselors had been parked with her boyfriend necking when the radio announcer told about this escaped raving maniac and after they rolled the car window up and drove away quick, there was his hook right in the window. That night I cried myself to sleep, weeping in utter silence so as not to disgrace myself. In the morning, I discovered that I had all the wrong kind of shorts and I was forced to endure a lot of pitying looks because mine had elastic around the waist. At breakfast, the scrambled eggs were flabby and had white parts this girl in my cabin said were made out of unborn baby bird. After I was sick and got sent to the infirmary, there was a twelve-year-old girl who was bleeding, but they said wasn't really hurt. It was just a dead baby coming out of her bottom every month. At lunch, there was carrot salad with dark spots. The next day, I went home, which is where I wanted to be now. I slept poorly.

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