Chapter Four: Finding Matt
From the shadow beside the open stairs, a voice said, "Well, lookee here, a baby ghost. That's right, Sis, run back to the stars for a quick high, but you'll end up falling back here. We all do."
Roj turned and looked into the shadow. "Who are you?"
"Just another one of the cut-loose dead, Sis."
"Don't call me 'Sis.' That's not my name."
The voice cackled like crunching brittle leaves. "We don't have names out here, Sis, you just think you do. After a while, you'll know you're just some nameless soul-dust. We have no names, we all fall back to the earth, hang on to the molecules we knew, forget everyone and are forgotten, all of us, every single one of us."
Annoyed, Roj asked the voice, "If you're hanging around here, you must know something about the people who live here. Is Matt Trapester home?"
"He's DEAD, Sis! Dead and gone, dead in his prideful ways!"
Agony shot through Roj. "They killed him?" she asked in panic.
"Yup, he was shot dead right in the act, the slimy bastard." The voice laughed again. At her shock, it continued, "Right in the middle of screwing his boss' wife, he and the whore were shot dead in the bed. Dead in the bed! That's a funny line!"
Roj drew back from the shadow that covered the voice. For a moment she had been afraid, well yes, she still was, except Matt's boss was Garrison, who wasn't married. Ever. He hated kids and played the field and never wanted to settle down. I know that. We all knew that, but this voice-thing doesn't. So whatever it was, it was an ignorant liar. Why would it lie to her? To make her go away?
"You can't help him, Sis, nobody can. He's gone, that's what happens. No point in worrying about anybody else." Its sound reminded her of the dirt that builds up in the gutters of roofs, dry and crumbly and unwholesome.
All lies. People did help each other. They had to, or else they weren't really aware of how much people needed to be loved, and those were mostly bad people. Or people who were easy to tip over into bad things. No point in sticking around here listening to a liar, whatever it might be outside the shadows and litter by the steps. "Leave me alone, I mean it," she told it. There was no reply, so Roj went up the stairs to Matt's apartment, still feeling apprehension as she went through the door.
The bed was rumpled; there were dirty dishes in the sink. The shower was damp, as was a towel hanging on the rack beside it. His boots were nowhere to be seen, on the bedroom floor or in the closet, nor was the jacket he often wore, a faded denim thing with "Try Me" embroidered across the back in red letters. His car keys were on the stand beside his bed, however, along with his pistol in its shoulder holster. A quick check of his closet (she just ducked her head through the door and looked up) revealed his back-up set of keys on the hook inside. Walked somewhere, unarmed. No idea where. She let herself sink onto his bed, his pillow, feeling the residue of his essence, getting lost in it, remembering making love, drawing strength again from the wonder and delight of their love ... but there was something else. Alcohol. Roj drifted around the apartment again, looking for tell-tale bottles, but there were none. Not even in the trash can. He's drinking heavily, but it has to be at a bar. Within walking distance.
She sailed out an upstairs window (she could have just gone through the wall but it seemed better to use the window, somehow) and continued up the street, three blocks, her certainty giving power to her flight.
A neon sign hung over the sidewalk, announcing "Cold One." Roj nodded the part of her that seemed to be her head. She'd been there a number of times with Matt.
Dropping to the sidewalk, she approached the bar. There was no pounding of heartbeat -- she had no heart. She didn't catch her breath; there were no lungs. But there was a tremendous longing to see him again, alive and unhurt, sparkling with his verve and smiling with his confidence.
The door was open to cool the place down, as it always was on fall evenings. Her guesses had been right; Matt was sitting at the bar, not with his usual elbow on the bar, surveying the room, but hunched over like an old man. She drew nearer to see the shot glasses in front of him, all empty, and him, staring at the bar with dull eyes. There was a long scrape on his temple, scabbed over.
Roj stood and looked at him. Waves of sorrow were pouring off him like water. Sorrow looked like water, but she could hear it tearing at his heart like weighted hooks. His drunkenness was packed around him like cotton, muffling his presence, clogging his senses. She walked up behind him. "Matt."
He turned at the sound of her voice and blearily tried to focus on her. "Who the hell are you?"
A beefy shaved-headed man at a table behind Roj looked up and said, "None of your damned business, asshole."
"I wasn't talking to you, shithead," Matt rejoined with his usual tact.
Beefy stood up. "You want to repeat that, you fuzzy-headed little prick?"
Roj put her hand over Matt's mouth to muffle him. He flailed his arms, shouting, "Keep your hands offa me!"
The woman two barstools down looked at him with alarm.
"That's it, you're done for the night, Trap. Time to go home," said the bartender.
"The hell!" Matt slurred. "I know where I am and who I am and how much money I have in my wallet. I'm not drunk."
"You're pie-faced plastered, Son. Time to go home."
"Come on, Matt, let's see if you can walk the three blocks to home or if we have to call an ambulance to have your stomach pumped."
He looked at her with confused alarm, the whites of his eyes red, his breath reeking of whiskey. "I don't know you," he whispered.
Somehow she'd thought he'd instantly recognize her. Why didn't love connect them better? Sadly, she knew that if she tried to explain herself to him here in the bar, he'd get argumentative again, and Mr. Beef was still eyeing him suspiciously and angrily. "Sure you do, Matt. I'm the chick you met earlier. You telling me you're too drunk to remember me already?"
"Damn," he said. "Sorry, I guess I am kinda tipsy."
"No problem," said the bartender. "See ya tomorrow, Trap."
He slid unsteadily off the stool and staggered out the door of Cold One, responding to Roj's tug on his arm. They traversed the three blocks to his apartment building slowly; four times he wanted to sit down on doorsteps and 'rest,' but she prodded him on. She had to help him climb the stairs on all fours, shoving at his shoulders and his butt, fishing his keys out of his pants pocket, hauling him to his feet to get him in his door.
As she retrieved a pillow from his bed and put it on the couch, he asked again who she was. That he didn't recognize her, but perceived her (when the people at the bar had not) hurt her a little. "I'm your guardian angel, Matt. What do you think my name is?"
"Angels," he snarled. "There aren't any angels. All there is is Hell. Just Hell."
With a start, Roj remembered the voice at the steps of his building. Had it infected him with despair? Had it whispered its ugly words to him until he was starting to believe it? She guided him to the couch. Roj pulled his boots off, divested him of his jacket, and unbuttoned his jeans, letting the zipper slide down.
"Hey, don't do that," he complained. "I'm not interested in a screw, I'm drunk."
"I'm not trying to screw you, I'm a friend."
"Shit, they all say that. Just take my wallet and get out."
"You do this often?" Roj asked.
"No, but I know how it goes."
"Then why in the name of God are you getting that drunk in a bar?"
"Hurts. My God, it hurts."
Roj pulled a blanket over him up to his neck, and sat down beside him, leaning back against his pillow, pulling him to her chest.
"What hurts, Matt? What's hurting you?"
"She. She was killed, killed all over me, and the bullet went through her and knocked me out. My God, she was killed all over me! She got up and moved in front of me so that -- that -- she was the target!"
"She wanted to protect you, Matt."
"How do you know my name? Who the hell are you? Why won't you tell me who you are?" Tears were beginning to leak from his eyes.
"You have to know that I'm your friend," Roj said to him, distressed that his drunkenness prevented him from seeing who she was. "That's all. I will never harm you."
"I loved her so much, she was so perfect," he burbled. "If I had only had the brains to see I was being targeted, she'd be alive now."
"She loved you, Matt, more than anything in the world." He began to sob, so she held his face against her chest, putting her chin on the top of his wiry hair. "She never blamed you for anything except for how much she loved you."
"I shoulda protected her. She warned me, but I didn't believe her, thought she was just spooked by office gossip. But she was right, and I was wrong, and now she's ... "
"When was her funeral?" Roj asked.
"Five days ago -- oh, God, seeing that casket go into the ground -- "
He began to sob, and Roj could not bear to see him weep. She put a hand under his chin and lifted his face, kissing him over and over again, his forehead, his eyelids, his cheekbones, his mouth. There wasn't really a physical sensation; it was more like an excitation of memory when she brushed against his lips. "It's me, Matt, it's Roj, please remember that I love you so much."
He was too drunk; he was passing out. As she eased his head back onto her chest, he mumbled, "Roj."
Roj held him tightly in her arms, and began to sing one of the songs she had heard in the stars. Gradually, his tense limbs relaxed, and he began to sleep. As he fell deeper into slumber, Roj felt herself disperse, and Matt's shoulders and head sunk onto the pillow on the sofa.
Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2017-11-20
Image(s) are public domain.