This chapter takes place between chapters 34 and 35 in the published version of Landing and cover the morning after Maya and Tarren deliver a nearly-dead Gabe to Dr. Lee’s house, and Maya confronts Tarren in the grove where the dead Fox family members are laid to rest.
This chapter is poignant, especially the scene where Maya baths a terrified and battered Sir Hopsalot, but ultimately I felt it was two slow, especially in front of chapter 35, which follows Gabe’s incremental recovery. Bits and pieces of this chapter made it to the final version of the book, most notably Maya’s manipulation of Gabe’s warring action figures (a potent metaphor if ever there was one).
I come awake slowly and not without some stubborn stalling on the part of my brain. I can feel the sunlight trying to pry open my lids, but my thoughts lag behind. I’m not sure where I am. Maybe a motel room, because I smell Gabe’s scent close. My mouth is dry, and I have a fine film on my skin when I bring my hand up to my face.
I open my eyes and gaze curiously at the streaks of blood scrawling down my forearms. The skin beneath the blood has knitted back together, leaving only the flakey streaks as a reminder. A reminder of what? Thoughts bang around in my head, blinking on and off like drowsy lightening bugs. I sit up and stare at Kiera Knightly.
“Uh?” I ask her.
From the poster, she gives me a sultry look but doesn’t respond. I roll off of Gabe’s bed and almost trip over a pair of his shoes on the floor.
“Pick up your god damn shoes!” I scream to Gabe, who isn’t here, because he’s at Dr. Lee’s house, because I hurt him real bad. Oh no.
I fall back down on the bed and just deal with that for a while. My memories present themselves for duty and loyally relay again and again the last two days in perfect detail. What I did.
My phone has fallen out of my grip, and I dig around the messy sheets until I find it. Francesca said she would call as soon as Gabe stabilized. I glare at my phone, accusing, like it has something to do with the fact that there are no messages. I notice the date on the phone’s screen and almost laugh.
Getting out of bed seems like something to do. Peeking through the blinds, I see that Gabe’s truck is still missing from the driveway. It and Tarren were gone when I got back with the Murano last night.
Methodically, I try each of Tarren’s cell phone numbers. They all respond inside the house or outside in the Murano. I remember that Gabe keeps an extra phone in the glove compartment of the truck. I call, and it goes directly to voicemail. What to say? Don’t off yourself, pretty please? Let’s go get therapy together? I’m sorry that I may have killed your brother and destroyed the last and only good thing you had in the world?
I decide to go with, “Tarren, pick up the damn phone. Where are you?”
Then I check my phone again just in case Francesca has called in the last ten seconds and somehow my sonic hearing didn’t pick it up. Next is a shower, the kind where I turn the water scalding hot and just stand under the spray for a long, long time. During this time my back politely informs me that it is a long mat of bruises. I remember just how hard Grand grinded me into that unyielding wall.
When I step out of the shower, the mirrors are fogged and this is a small mercy. Getting dressed takes a long time. I keep getting distracted as my memories intrude again and play out across the wall. Gabe’s screams echo from everywhere. His wobbly little voice, Why? My own sneering reply
Because I want you to understand. I want you to forgive me for killing you.
I do get dressed, and then I go downstairs to do something that keeps escaping me. My cell is jammed into the pocket of my pants, and this waiting is like slogging through waist deep sand. I should just go over there. Watch the flickering flame of my brother’s life snuff out, unless he’s already gone.
Okay, not going over there.
In the kitchen, right next to the door, all of our bags are lying in a heap where I dropped them last night. Sir Hopsalot’s cage is a foot away from the pile, having hit the ground and evidentially rolled. There are also empty water bottles strewn across the floor.
I kneel down and peer into Sir Hopsalot’s cage. A pungent reek meets my nose. The rabbit huddles in the very back of the cage. The light glints off his glassy black eyes. He’s shaking, and his fur is matted with dried urine. By some minor miracle, his “no kill” bandanna is still knotted around his throat.
I try to remember how many days have passed since Gabe and I took off to rescue Tarren. Only two? I recall the sound of our bags rolling back and forth across the trunk as I took hairpin turns and dabbled in off roading on the way back.
“Well, life is just a suck fest sometimes,” I tell the rabbit and carry his cage up to the bathroom in my bedroom. I run the water warm in the bathtub, and while we wait for it to fill up, I try to get Sir Hopsalot into the right frame of mind.
“You can’t think negative thoughts,” I tell him. “That’s not going to help anybody. You just have to trust in Dr. Lee, trust in Gabe. He’s strong. You know that. Really, really strong. He won’t give up. He won’t run away, not like Tarren.”
I shut off the tap. Sir Hopsalot goes into the water with only a token fight and then huddles miserably in the water, muscles tense, heart beating quickly on its little drum.
I cup the water and massage it over his head and back.
“You need to be strong too,” I tell him as I dollop shampoo onto my face cloth and start rubbing it in light circles around his body. “No point in looking backwards. You have to look forward. You have to believe that this will be over soon…in a good way, I mean,” I add quickly, because I don’t want to scare him. “Otherwise, there’s just no point anymore, right?”
Sir Hopsalot’s fur clumps with the shampoo, turning him into the world’s first rabbit-hedgehog hybrid. I cup the water over him again and again until the soap is out of his fur, and he smells pleasantly like jasmine. Then I pull him out of the water, wrap him inside a big fluffy towel and hold him on my lap. Only his little head peeks out.
“I was born in this tub,” I whisper to him, “and today used to be my birthday. I would have been twenty years old, except that I already am.” I rock him just a little, but he’s only a rabbit. As soon as I unwind the towel, he’s off like a rocket. I sit there on the wet tile, thinking about last year on this day when Karen took me and my friends out to dinner, when Ryan painted my body and filled in the lines with his lips.
Eventually though, I get up. I fill Sir Hopsalot’s feeding dish with pellets and salad mix from the fridge, put water in a second dish and leave my peace offering near the foot of Gabe’s bed. Sir Hopsalot huddles in the far back corner and doesn’t seem interested in budging.
“Hiding from the truth is not a solution,” I chide him, but it’s his life. I leave him be.
After this, I pause for exactly six seconds, long enough to realize that pausing is not anywhere near a good idea. So I clean. Feverishly. Like a meth addict or Cinderella on steroids or like someone trying to run from something that’s trapped inside their head.
I dump all of the clothes from the duffle bags into the wash. While the washer churns its load, I visit the conference room, knowing, vaguely, what awaits me.
I enter into the aftermath of a rodent massacre. Contorted rat bodies lie all over the floor. I can recall picking myself up from the forest floor last night, dragging myself to the Murano, turning that key in the ignition one more time. Home, and Gabe’s truck missing. Slinging all the bags over my shoulder, and snagging the rabbit’s cage. Dropping everything on the kitchen floor and then stumbling down here, groaning like a mad zombie. So many beads of energy. Unlatching the cage and feeding. One after another, sometimes gripping so hard that their little spines snapped.
I collect nine bodies off the floor, all the time aware that the survivors are staring at me from the confines of their plastic bubble prison.
“Look away,” I tell them.
I bury the dead in a growing little graveyard at the edge of the woods behind the house.
Thank you, I think to them, like they were lending me a cup of sugar or something. Back inside, I try to make amends to the survivors. When I open the cage they all race to the very top of the structure, farthest away from the door, from my hands. They stare at me accusing.
“Life is a suck fest sometimes,” I inform them. I change the shavings in the cage, fill up the water, which is almost gone and add more pellets and seeds to the food dispenser. I notice baby rats huddled inside a chewed toilet paper roll. They are hairless little slugs, straining to see with half-closed eyes. Circle of life or some bullshit like that.
Then I keep going with my Cinderella on steroids routine. I vacuum. I dust. I throw out the food that’s gone bad in the fridge. I clean all the mirrors, the windows, alphabetize Gabe’s movies, wrap the wires around the controllers of his PlayStation. I even change the batteries in the remote.
Every couple of minutes I take the phone out of my pocket and try to stare it into the submission. I call Tarren’s phone every hour and hang up when the robotic voicemail message kicks in. I mop. I switch the clothes from the washer to the dryer. I clean Gabe’s room from top to bottom, match his socks, put his laptop on his newly-polished desk.
Tarren forgot to lock his bedroom, so, what the hell, I go in. He doesn’t have a single poster on his wall. No pictures. No books. No Playboys under the bed or doobies stashed in the back of his drawers. If he weren’t a fanatic vigilante, Tarren would be the most boring person on the planet.
There’s not much to clean, and he’s such a neat freak anyway. His socks, of course, are all matched and stacked neatly in his drawer. The only thing I find to do is wash some blood stains off the light switch, the closet door handle and the mirror on the other side. Right there across the cracked glass is a foggy, bloody handprint. I match my hand to his. The tips of his fine, long fingers stretch above my nails.
I put all Tarren’s cleaned clothes away and set his duffle bag at the foot of his bed. I unzip the side pocket, remove Diana’s worn copy of The Odyssey and lay it on his nightstand. I pull his notebook from the other side pocket and handle it awkwardly. I flip through the pages filled with his neat block handwriting then close it abruptly. Clearly, this is wrong. Clearly, Tarren’s notes are private. Clearly, if we are ever to learn to respect each other and mend our disastrous relationship, I need to do right by him.
I slide the notebook into the top drawer of his nightstand, unread.
Eventually the house is as clean as I can make it. I get a little desperate and do things like rearrange the food in the fridge to maximize space, color coordinate the assortment of random mugs and glasses in the cupboard and rake the yard again for all the leaves that have fallen in the last four hours.
The only thing I don’t clean is the mud-splattered, blood stained Murano. I don’t go near that thing.
The sun sets. The night is here, and Francesca hasn’t called. Why hasn’t she called? Wouldn’t they know something, anything by now?
I need something to do. Anything to keep my mind off the weak warble of Gabe’s tell-tale heart beneath the floorboards. I walk through the house again, and my gaze lands on the epic battle taking place on the shelf above Gabe’s computer. Painstakingly, I unbend plastic arms raised in aggression. I denude clenched fists of broadswords, nun-chucks, machine guns and clubs. I reattach heads, twist broken arms and legs back into place. I raise the dead to their feet or lean them up against the wall if they keep falling over. In this way, I slowly weave a truce between the fighters. They stand together, Carebear and Conan alike, little army men and Wolverine and the weird anime women with the big tits. Factions are forgotten. They are brothers and sisters now. Peace reigns.
I look out at them. I nod. And then my phone rings.
I actually do clutch at my heart, because I’m just this dramatic and stupid and scared. When I lift the phone from my pocket, it asks if I want to accept an incoming call from Francesca’s number. Do I?
No. No, no, no, no, no. Oh God. If he was okay it wouldn’t have taken this long. It wouldn’t be dark outside. There wouldn’t be this dread filling me up like molasses and tar and two fistfuls of glass shards all mixed together.
On the third ring, I hit the accept button and hold the phone out from my body like it’s diseased.
“Hello? Maya?” Francesca says after a pause.
I’m not ready, but, well, I just put that phone up to my ear anyway. “Hi,” I whisper.
“Yep.” I close my eyes, brace myself for the impact.
“Could you bring some of Gabe’s clothes over?”
“Pajamas. Something nice and soft.”
I open my eyes. “Okay,” I say.
“Maya, it was a long day, but he’s stable.”
“That’s…that’s good,” I say, inadequately expressing the crazy jolt of emotion that’s lifting up the hair on my forearms. “Wow,” I add dumbly. “He’s okay?”
“Nothing is sure yet, but he’s stable. Dr. Lee is satisfied with his vitals.” Francesca’s voice is weary. There’s a new edge of fear to her words. “So, the clothes?” she nudges lightly.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m on my way.” And I am, but first I run and cartwheel around the house screaming and whooping like whatever the opposite of a banshee is. I am not keening death, I am celebrating life.
The first faint hope of redemption.