Shannon Riley, running late for work, snapped locked the two bolts of the front door with their separate keys, bracelets jingling, and unclicked her car lock by feel with her thumb. The response was the light, redundant click of an already-unlocked door system. The car was parked diagonally in the driveway, as if there’d been a hurry; it looked comical. To her it did; or she decided it did. It was a cool morning, shiny and polleny, and she was dressed sharp, clutch purse and new boots, and the car was ridiculously diagonal. Her boots were snug and clacked so professionally as she walked. The hangover in her ears and gut could be part of a joke.
There had still been no sign of Mike G inside. Now there was none within sight. By now it had to be official. The last of the Mohican unicorns had actually moved it along.
She fell into the car and sort of across it, sliding on something moist. The ugh/ha ha bemusement collapsed even before she knew anything. The smell right behind that and the cake batter on her hand and under her buckled her mood even as her legs got to work. She was up the stairs finding her keys, unlocking, jettisoning, hustling, shoving her smeared hand under the gushing shower. Then she was pulling at the boots before the laces were really properly open, so staggering backwards against the curtain, smearing her skirt against it, balancing and cursing, opening the laces properly and jumping in with the rest of her clothes on, crying.
When she was done, she threw the skirt into the trash and sat in a towel on the toilet breathing athletically. She shoved the curtain away from her but it stayed there with her arm in it. The rod was droopy. She left the room and went and locked the front door. She looked out the window for a long time, carefully. “Keith,” she said.
The year since she’d dropped him had been all too full of this sort of thing. There was no proof except that, the timing, but that was enough. That and his personality, obviously.
Oh God it had been so bad. Not him, not them—that day. Just colossally—oh God.
Then his forty fucking shifts of moving, the organizing, boxing, folding. The cleaning as he went; the gestures of what he left behind: late-life electronics, murder investigation books, their two Easter baskets already with the grass, chocolate bunnies, jellybeans and rose petals.
A week later the cops sharing her second look that morning into the basket with her. They wouldn’t DNA test it. She could have had the testing done it privately but didn’t for the same reason the cops didn’t.
Mike G had overlapped, it was true, but it wasn’t Mike G. He had a lot of things that Keith didn’t but a motive wasn’t one of them. Not to Keith’s scale by an exponential margin.
An argument over greediness. No means no even after a few yesses. He’d left with a door slam and peel out but had left.
Nothing, right? Not comparably. Come on.
Her mother had paid for these new locks.
The blame in her head went Keith-Mike G-Keith.
The car’s door was ajar. No neighbors had cared enough to check in on her, but she hadn’t been robbed either. She could see her sunglasses on the dash.
She geared up and went down with a full bucket of warm sudsy water. She set her purse into the passenger’s foot well and without hesitation thoroughly cleaned. Afterwards, she dumped the bucket right onto the lawn. She put her gloves and rags into the bucket and put the bucket in the trash bin. Inside, she changed her clothes. Then she left (snap-snap) and drove towards work, by now into her second hour late without having called.
Five blocks later, stopped behind a guy who then flicks on his left blinker, she realized that the smell still lingered, then spotted a fleck of matter that she’d missed, wedged under the emergency brake lever. She got her phone from her purse, called in sick, did a U-turn, and headed, heavy of new boot, for Keith’s bank. Black spots bloomed before her eyes. The engine sounds replicated and stacked. Coincidences of gyrating angles stretched in her peripheral vision like reflections on water.
Number two number two had graced her back deck last summer. It looked sickly compared with the first one, green and . . . “We all have our burdens,” the saddest-looking cop of them all said that time.
She ran a light (barely) and wove through traffic, passing. She got around a slow car before a merge to leave the first half of the trip behind. This road had once been a highway; there were long curves to gather speed, then lights. It had also once been her commute, practically.
She parked in the bank lot and got out carrying her purse. Marching in the new boots, shooting glares at car windows along the way. A together outfit, expensive and snug. It showed that she was doing better without him.
His looks hadn’t changed. Maybe still a little heavier, the stupid retro tie short and tight but the face above it placid in its beard. He was chewing the end of his pen; she wandered if he’d washed his hands lately. Looking up and over at her, following the bending light; a flash pixellated his features before the natural-for-a-bank smile.
“I met your fucking avatar,” she said, stage-voicey, from where she was.
He seemed to come into focus then, all hers. And not just him. What was most beautiful was the hush, the attention of regular working people aligned before vaults of actual cash. Faces facing her. The pulse of the clock or hangover in her head a knife on steel.
“What, uh, are you talking about?” he said. Actually with the “uh.”
“You took a shit in my driver’s seat. Keith. It’s lucky I saw it.” There it was, the highlight. Right out. She felt the jaws dropping, felt the buoying thrill while keeping her eyes on Keith and in truth barely seeing him, far more conscious of herself. The lights.
“Why don’t we go into my office?”
She nodded around the room, including at the approaching guard, and felt the working muscles in her shoulders and legs, her swinging arms. She liked the way she walked. She slowed it down and kicked it up a notch. So the side office was his now. He met the guard at the door. They all three met eyes as Keith explained to him to wait, and closed the door. Keith closed the blind on the door and sat down. She sat. Her ankles hurt.
He had the balls to wait, looking. She set her purse at her feet, crossed her arms and her legs. She realized she was still holding her keys, made a fist around them.
“You could start by apologizing,” she said.
“My thoughts exactly.”
“Because you shit on me, figuratively, I’m literally shitting—where was this one?”
“In my car.”
He roared, delighted. “And what would I get from this?”
“I’m not a psychopath, so I wouldn’t know.”
“I’m guessing you have thoughts. And thoughts about those thoughts.”
“You—fuck you, Keith. And your whole … whatever. Like you just said, you probably think I, you know, shat on your affections or something.”
Neither of them had really ever thrown the other around. Maybe they weren’t able; maybe they weren’t inclined. Not knowing had probably seemed to be the point or something.
He was more of a wall even than most guys.
This room wanted them chest to chest.
“Well, you did, Shannon,” he said. “But not literally. I mean, that’s disgusting.”
This was so unbelievable. Just unbelievable. It was so unbelievable, it was unbelievable.
Still: words weren’t the currency here. Nor money, even. She envisioned him smashed inside-out.
“Shannon, do you remember when—”
“—Stop.” She was standing; he was grinning in a way that didn’t mean grinning. That meant love. And nothing else. No other thing.
“Fuck you,” she repeated.
Oh shit, she thought.
“You know,” he said. “You know I didn’t. Please.”
The door opened in. The guard was a shadow. She passed through him. Ignored the faces. They didn’t want to take it, this dropping of the subject or mission, but took it. This wasn’t a park or food court; you couldn’t just call out. The bank had them all. Her boots were heavy. To not shake, her hands squeezed her keys. The air in the door a second guard was holding open for her was bright. The door closed behind her. She sat in her car, not knowing which way to drive. She drove before she knew. It wound up being home, finally; where else?
In her driveway she sat again. There were emptinesses everywhere, but a freshly pronounced one in the passenger seat. The purse! The engine was off and the windows up, sun too. The boots fucking killed her ankles. Driver’s license, B of A debit card and credit card, her phone with her music and all her fucking numbers, including the next ones to call, when the silence was complete.
She saw him leaning over it, hungrily. Shaking out the scraps she never would remember, making a hollow. Or just feeling the lightness of the little thing. The sticky-smooth good leather. Fingers curling, opening, and that’s all, except to sit, to wait, dying for a smoke. Explain up and around what she’d made him have to explain (thank God this wasn’t her bank), then just wait. Fingers drumming money. Turn of teller-line eyes; patterns of flickers. Silent digital seconds, hours. The watching unhushed: that she knew.
She stared at the house as if to punish herself. Let herself out. Clack of heels. The pollen in the air a Nerf ball in her throat. Chunk of locks. Vodka waiting in the cabinet. At least three birds were calling. She climbed the steps.