Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Out the Open Window

Compass wrote her response to her dad eleven times, each time trying to pull herself further back. It was a bit like standing at an open window, wanting to see out but not be seen. With each draft she took another step back, away from the window, until she felt sure he couldn't see the color of her hair, the shape of her jaw, the bump on her nose, and know her for his.

It took all night that night, a night she should have been lesson planning and paper grading and sleeping, but all at once it seemed she couldn't wait. Ethan's sudden death added urgency to everything. When it was done, Compass read over the response with satisfaction. It sounded nothing like her, not really, not that he would know what she sounded like, but it made her feel safer to sound different, another step back from the open window.

She added her response to his most recent post, the one beginning, "Happy Valentine's Day". Then, despite her itching, tired eyes, her sore neck, her stiff back, she opened up her journal and poured some more of the story into it.

The phone woke her a few hours later. She didn’t really remember going to bed, which was probably because she really hadn’t gone to bed as much as she’d thrown herself in the general direction of the bed and by very good luck, landed in it. She normally reserved her hatred of the phone for when it didn’t ring and she wanted it to. Today she could have killed it for ringing when she most desperately didn’t want it to.

She was lying on the bed, fully clothed. There was something furry in her mouth that she was a little frightened to investigate, but happily it turned out to be her tongue. Her hair had had some bad dreams and was all over her head in a frenzy, and either she’d drooled copiously on her pillow or one of her cats had wet on it, but with admirable restraint. She sniffed the damp spot cautiously and determined it to be of human origin. Then she rolled over it to shut up the bloody phone.


“Are you crazy? What the hell are you doing?”


“Yes, it’s Mark, and what the hell are you doing?”

“I was sleeping. Now I’m going to call in sick to work. But to do that I’m going to need my phone. I’ll call you back.”

“Compass, wait, we need to talk-”

Mark was a great guy, but sometimes he really couldn’t take a hint. Compass stabbed at some numbers on the phone pad, numbers that seemed vaguely familiar, and hoped that she was calling the sick line at school. She was. When the automated voice stopped wittering at her, she tried to put on a “sick voice,” choked on her own furry tongue and ended up sounding far sicker than she’d intended. Still, it would do the trick.

She got up, staggered into her kitchen, brewed herself a pot of coffee. Once the first cup had cut a line through the fog, she felt up to calling Mark back.


“Mark? It’s Compass. I think we got cut off. You were abusing me for being crazy. Please, continue. I’m ready now.”

“I saw your response on Dragonfly. I thought you weren’t going to respond to him just now.”

“I wasn’t. But things changed. I thought it was the right time after all.”

“What changed?”

Compass was still a little pissed off that he’d woken her up just so he could shout at her, and she wasn’t giving anything away that easily.

“I just decided that, in light of recent events, it was time to make my move. You were the one telling me to be less passive, remember?”

“Yes, I did, but I don’t think my advice included ‘stick your head up above the firing line so your dad can get a clean shot at it.’ I could be wrong, though. What ‘recent events’?”

“Look, Mark, you can’t go giving advice with one hand and grabbing it back with the other.”

“Advice is situation-specific. I wouldn’t advise you not to drink the water in, like, France or something. Oh, for christ’s sake, this is the stupidest conversation ever. Are you going to tell me or not?”

Compass let him off the hook. “I called Ethan yesterday to get some more information out of him.”

“Yeah, so?”

“He’s dead, Mark. He died. Just a day or two ago.”

“Holy shit.”

“And then some. And to make matters worse, he died from a spider bite. Spider bite! He couldn’t just have a heart attack or accidentally fall on the third rail or something, it has to be a spider bite.”

“Holy crap.”

“Tell me. I talked to his wife, his widow, I should say, and she was all upset and freaking out, and then his mother-in-law gets on the phone, and she was incredibly rude and vetty vetty British and I felt like I should leave the room backwards and bowing. I mean, spider bite! What the hell is that? Who the hell dies from a spider bite?”


“So I look in a bunch of British newspapers, and not only did Ethan die, he died with a woody, so everyone in Britain is laughing at him, and that makes me feel bad. He didn’t seem like such a bad guy, on the phone, just a scared guy, you know? And now he’s dead, and it’s a dirty, stupid little death that could have slid in on a banana peel or maybe my dad delivered it to him through the letterbox? Either way, it’s ludicrous, it’s the three stooges, it’s fucking slapstick. It’s-”


Compass stopped. She hadn’t realized she’d stopped breathing until she felt a desperate need for a breath, like she was finally breaking the surface after coming up from a long way under.

“Yes?” Her voice was shaking. So were her hands. Her head hurt and she just wanted to crawl back into bed and not come out until everyone promised to behave themselves.

“I’m worried about you. Are you OK?” Mark’s voice was low, comforting. She realized he was intentionally putting on his soothing voice, but she decided not to call him on it. She closed her eyes and lay back on her bed.

“I’m OK-ish. Look, Mark, I realize that it wasn’t a great idea to respond just when we may have to add another murder to his life list. But it just seemed necessary. I mean, what if he’s a good guy? What if he’s here to . . . I don’t know, put things right, make amends? If my mom really has cancer, if it’s really serious, this could be my last shot at a happy family.”

“Oh, Compass. . . .”

“I know it’s unrealistic and stupid. I know it’ll never happen. But what if, just briefly, I could get a father and a mother, both alive, both on the same continent, even in the same city! And what if, just for, like, a few minutes, they both like me at the same time? And maybe I could ask a question or two, even tell them something about myself that they’ll be proud of – I’ll have to make something up, but I’ll come up with something – and we’ll all smile at each other for just a minute, just a second. It’d be enough. It’d be more than I’ve ever had. I can live without it, I already have, I know how. But it’d be nice. Just for a second.”

“You want this too badly.”

“What?” For the second time that morning, Compass felt jolted out of her dreams.

“It’s making you careless.”

“He can’t trace me, Mark. I posted anonymously; he has no more information than he had yesterday.”

“He knows you’re listening. He knows you’re curious. That’s more information.”

“I don’t think it puts me in danger.”

“I hope you’re right. Look, I’m not trying to play Big Brother here, I promise. I just want you to be cautious. I care about you.”

“I’m being cautious. But I can’t just hide out and wait for him to come get me. This way, maybe if he does figure out where I am, at least I’ll be able to see him coming.”

“Who knows. If anyone can charm the savage beast, it’d be you.”

“Why, Mark, that’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me while bitching me out for being an idiot.”

“You’re welcome.”

“While we’re at it, you need to be on your guard too.” Mark started to protest, but Compass wasn’t having it. “Now, don’t get all testosterone-y, I-can-take-care-of-myself macho manly on me. If he’s a bad dad, he’ll be after my friends too.” She sighed. “I had hoped for a dad who would bully my boyfriends, not try to off them.”

She could have bitten her tongue off and fed it to a goat. There was a pause during which Compass could have sworn the word “boyfriend” echoed at least half a dozen times.

“Testosterone-y?” asked Mark.

“The San Francisco treat,” Compass replied, and hoped Mark hadn’t noticed the other thing. The “boyfriend” thing.

“I’ll keep an eye out. Hey, maybe we should spend more time together. Safety in numbers and all that.” Mark gave a laugh that could only be described as “nervous.” Compass instantly felt better.

“We could do that. I called in sick. Why don’t you meet me somewhere for brunch?”

“You called in sick on a Saturday?”

“Saturday? It’s Saturday? Oh, crap. Oh well, if anyone asks, I’ll say I was delirious with fever. Charlie’s on Broadway in thirty minutes?”

“Deal. Take an unusual route.”

“Mark, it’s brunch. I don’t brunch. Any route to brunch is therefore ‘unusual.’”

“Fine. If you get there before I do, order some potato skins. And hey, did you call me ‘boyfriend’ back there?”

He hung up before Compass could choke out an excuse. She went to shave her furry tongue, humming all the way.


NuclearToast said...

I'm with Mark here, I think Compass is jumping the gun. And I had no idea she was such a drooler!

Ash said...

They are so cute! I hope he ends up as her "boyfriend"! Keep it coming!