“I’m so disappointed in you."
April afternoon, 2016
GM: “I’m cutting you off, Zoe.”
Those aren’t words Zoe expected to hear. Then again, neither was she expecting to find her mother and several of the woman’s staff in her Giani Building apartment after getting home from a long day at Tulane.
Rosalyn Kelly is a tall woman with silver hair that would be “prematurely white” on a woman who doesn’t wear it as well, but she does wear it well. Pale-skinned and slender-framed, the all-white woman cuts a striking figure in her preferred black pantsuits. The distantly professional, camera-ready, poised and confident smile that typically graces her lips is absent today. Instead, they’re set in a motionless line. Her features look still enough to be carved from stone. Her blue eyes, fixed on Zoe, don’t seem to so much as blink.
Zoe knows her mother well enough to know that the woman is livid.
Maybe it’s because of the bag of cocaine her PA is gingerly holding.
“Pack your things,” Rosalyn says shortly. “You’re evicted. You’re on your own.”
Zoe: Zoe has heard the phrase ‘swallow your heart’ before. The meaning isn’t lost on her, but she surmises it isn’t the very real sensation that it’s lingering so far up her throat that she can almost chew on it.
How? How did she found out? Does her mother have cameras installed in her apartment? Did she hire a private detective to follow her around? Did she hire a thief to break into her room on some white-hat greater-good-of-the-family crusade?
Zoe’s mind races from thought to thought, discarding paths of action as quickly as they arrive. No. No. No. Wrong. Impossible. No way out. A chill runs through her, pulling what color remains from that flush of embarrassed guilt.
She stammers a word; a syllable; a single utterance, before the dryness of her mouth cracks a lip and presses her silence again.
Why did she pick now of all times to play the mother? She could have called. She could have texted. Hey, get out. You promised.
She did promise. Years ago, by that point, but she had given her word all the way back during her junior year of high school that she was done with the scene.
She can lie.
No. She’ll only embarrass herself.
The girl collects herself, smoothing her blouse and looking up at her mother for the first time since she’d uttered her decree.
GM: “Well, honey, just…” starts her father’s voice.
It’s from a Sunpad held by another one of Rosalyn’s staff. Bob Kelly looks like he’s in his D.C. congressional office, if the surroundings, nearby American flag, and suit he’s wearing are any indication. Zoe’s father is a younger man than his wife, but he’s not aged as gracefully. Where Rosalyn seemingly “got her aging over with” in a single quick go, and looks better for it, Bob feels like he’s trying to hold onto his youth like a fat kid refusing to let an ice cream tub be pried from his pudgy fingers. He’s got a shorter frame and tubby belly that his slender wife doesn’t have, more wrinkles along his face, and limper brown hair that’s starting to turn noticeably gray. He’s got a wider, easier smile that crinkles his eyes in a way that Rosalyn’s doesn’t.
Right now he’s not smiling, though.
“…look, we’re very disappointed in you, right now, but jus-”
“That’s your problem,” says Rosalyn, interrupting her husband without looking at the screen.
“No third chances, Zoe. You gave us your word. Collect your things and get out.”
More stumbling over her words! Dammit, Zoe, get it together! She knows her immediate lack of an explanation is a more sure sign of guilt than any hard evidence, even if said hard evidence hangs in a tiny bag before her.
What more can she do than collect the cracking foundation of her dignity and call it intentional aging?
Zoe sets her jaw, challenging.
“After all I’ve done. So many years of everything you asked for; not a hair out of place, not a step off the path you chose.”
“That’s it, then? No explanation? Not even a conversation?”
GM: “Do you have an explanation for the cocaine?” asks her mother. “The weed? The LSD? Oh, yes, Zoe. We know. I don’t recall you having any conversations with us about resuming your drug habits.”
“Look, honey, this isn’t the end of the world,” says her father. “You can still have a future. You’re not going to get arrested. But there needs to be a consequence for your lying to us, and your mother and I feel this is an appropriate one.”
Zoe: She hardly allows her father to finish a sentence before cutting in.
“A future?! My future was fine! Months away!” Her words are worse than venom. The acid in her tone can etch the diamonds that line her mother’s watch.
“You. You are risking my future,” she spits, raising a bony finger to the woman.
“Stop this nonsense and the future will be fine. The family will be fine..”
GM: Rosalyn’s face cool face takes in her daughter’s vitriol like it’s spittle getting flecked over those same diamonds.
“That’s the first correct statement you’ve uttered, Zoe. The family will be fine.”
Bob lets his wife talk.
“You may retain your use of the Kelly name, but you will keep nothing else to drag us down with you. Your car will stay here. President McGregor will be terminating your doctoral program.”
Rosalyn glances at her watch. Zoe can make out her furious visage reflected in the tiny clear gems.
“I’ve spent enough time on this. Get your things and get out, or security can escort you out. Your choice.”
Zoe: Rage froths over the top of Zoe’s meager ability to compose herself. She wants so, so badly to take that anger inside her out on her mother; to harm her, and wound her, and make her realize just how wrong she is.
Why not? What should stop her? Everything she cares about—her career, her family, her livelihood, and her life—is being taken from her.
“I don’t have a suitcase. Not here. Do you expect me to don 12 pairs of underwear and 6 pairs of jeans? Or would you like me to live in the clothes I have on?”
Zoe takes a step toward, then past her mother, and just as she catches the expression on her face, she feels herself crack inside. She doesn’t lash out, though her arms tense with desire to strike. She’s punched others before, but never in such a vitriolic response.
Tersely, she adds, “…I’d like you all to leave for the evening. You will find I respect your wishes by sunset, and you won’t hear from me for some time. Check the news, dear mother. You may yet find the Kelly name has more air time.”
GM: Rosalyn cups her daughter’s cheek in her hand, as if Zoe is but a small child again.
“Oh, Zoe,” she murmurs.
The woman’s voice is almost tender.
But her eyes remain as hard and as cool as the diamonds along her wristwatch.
“Don’t mistake your privileges being revoked as your being released from responsibility to us. You are not. The maintenance of the Kelly name is still your responsibility—call it partial repayment for my giving birth to you and spending lord knows how many hundreds of thousands of dollars over 26 years. I’d say that’s quite a debt you owe, now wouldn’t you?”
Rosalyn runs her hand up along Zoe’s hair.
Finally, she smiles.
“No, my dear. Let me be clear with you. If you should wind up in the news as part of some ill-conceived revenge publicity stunt—you will not ever be able to attempt such a thing again. There are far more drastic and permanent measures your grandfather and I can employ to secure your compliance. I trust that I am perfectly understood?”
Bob coughs from the tablet screen.
“You should really listen to your mother, Zoe.”
Zoe: With a sweetness so sickening it would make even the fattest of children cringe and vomit, Zoe answers.
“Clear as the sun is warm and the rain is wet.”
She believes them. She harbors no doubt that they could employ all manners of underhanded, illicit tactics to keep her silent; or, at the least to keep her from soiling the name.
Her mother had offered her all the reaffirmation she needed to hear, and she intends to use that information to close doors in her life, and to open others.
I’d say that’s quite a debt you owe, now wouldn’t you?
She is an investment. She has been an investment her entirely life. She knows that, of course, but until that moment—somewhere deep inside her—she harbored delusion that a mother’s love lay beneath it all.
Very well, Mother. War it is.
Unless she is stopped, she continues on up to her apartment.
GM: Rosalyn smiles at her daughter’s answer.
She doesn’t stop Zoe from turning away.
But it’s just as the younger Kelly takes her first step towards the bedroom that she calls,
She spreads her arms.
“Let’s have a hug.”
She looks back.
…no, she hasn’t opened the bag, so she hasn’t gotten into the cocaine. Maybe the LSD?
She raises a manicured brow, waiting silently for an explanation as to the sudden need for hugs. She’d had more hugs from a month-long fling than she had her whole life with her mother.
GM: No explanation is forthcoming.
Only her mother’s patiently outstretched arms.
Zoe: “Why now?”
GM: “Because I am your mother, Zoe, and because I have asked you for a hug.”
Zoe’s father coughs into his hand over the screen.
“You should really hug your mother, Zoe.”
Zoe: Zoe stands there for long enough that Rome returns from the ashes, conquers France, and goes drinking with Russia. Calculating, calculating, always calculating.
She takes a step toward her mother, hesitant as a tiger’s cub and rigid as a plank if wood, if as likely to snap as if she were made from balsa.
She holds an arm out. Just one.
GM: Her mother waits.
Arms still outstretched.
“Both arms, Zoe. Haven’t I taught you not to do anything by half-measures?”
Zoe: She wishes she was more athletic. If she’d joined weight training, she might be able to pop her mother’s eyeballs out with a hug.
All this is is a show of dominance; a confirmation that her disobedient cub still follows her mother’s orders.
She offers both arms, relenting both in will and in tension.
Play the game, Zoe.
GM: Rosalyn’s arms embrace her daughter and hold her close. She doesn’t say anything, for a while. Zoe feels her mother’s body pressed against hers. Registers the faint beating of her heart.
Her mother’s breath is a whisper against her ear.
Several special words, just for them.
Not for the help to hear.
Between mother and daughter.
“I’m so disappointed in you.”
Zoe: “I know.”
You can make this go away! It’s nothing like before! It’s just a little something; something to take the edge off! I could drop it immediately. Just pretend this never happened!
No. She knows the words won’t change anything. When Rosalyn Kelly is set in her mind, nothing will change that.
GM: Rosalyn strokes the back of her daughter’s head. Back and forth, against her head.
“I made you, Zoe. I carried you inside me, for nine months. A helpless little passenger inside of my body, utterly dependent for survival. Then I brought you out, into this world. Doesn’t that just seem so incredible, sometimes?”
Zoe: “Life is incredible, Mother.”
She believes it. Life is a private mysteries she’s wanted to solve for much of her life.
She swallows, biting back pride with it. False pride.
Play the game, Zoe.
“…is there any way I can earn your forgiveness, Mom?”
GM: Rosalyn holds her daughter close.
“I made you, Zoe. I created you. You are mine.”
She pulls away, just enough, to meet Zoe’s gaze in hers, though she does not release her arms.
“Say you are mine.”
Zoe: She recalls a distant exchange with Charlotte during their earlier years, in which they went back and forth on whether or not they should carry a weapon for defense and deterrent. A gun was out of the question—they were only 16! Mace seemed entirely too much work to acquire. A pocket knife, though? That was reasonable, and their parents might have approved it. Zoe didn’t feel it was necessary at the time, though, and in some dark chamber of her heart, she enjoyed the danger.
In this moment, she wishes she’d decided differently. She could carve her name into her mother’s perfect cheeks, rending that fatty meat asunder to stake her own claim.
Who will own who in the end, Mom?
“I’m yours. Always. I’ll earn your forgiveness. I’m sorry.”
It’s a hollow promise. Zoe knows—they both know—that the promise is an impossibility, each for their own reasons.
Unless Rosalyn adds more or stops here, she turns to collect her things.
GM: Charlotte thought mace was better. It’s a self-defense weapon. No one blinks twice at a girl with mace. A knife is harder to explain.
The tablet, meanwhile, is off. Zoe can guess her father’s motivations for not sticking around, absent even a goodbye.
Rosalyn kisses her daughter’s head.
“That’s a good girl.”
She turns to the help. A man who looks like a bodyguard in a dark suit.
“Watch her. Make sure she doesn’t leave with any drugs.”
There’s a clicking of heels against floor, and then Zoe’s mother leaves the apartment without a glance back, trailed by her PA.
Zoe: Oh, Dad, always the coward. You never were one to hang around once emotions flared, even so bitterly subtle as between Zoe and her mother, were you?
Click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click, click…
She watches her mother disappear through her apartment’s Giani, those incessant heels relentless in her head as if she were made a monkey’s symbol.
Finally, she looks to the security. Does she know him? Probably not. Hired help doesn’t tend to remain long under direct supervision by Rosalyn Kelly, save her most senior executives, who are paid well enough to endure her infernal expectations.
“Will you wait here, or would you like to help me fold my underwear?”
GM: The man leers at Zoe. He’s got the craggy face and the hard stares she’s come to recognize around ex-service members who’ve found employment as private security.
“You want me in your panties, huh?”
Zoe: “I prefer men who don’t look as if a culture of yogurt developed miniature nuclear warheads and found their faces used for a testing ground.”
It isn’t entirely true. Scars are stories, and Zoe finds them attractive. Depending. Really, she might consider him if she wasn’t bleeding frustration with her mother onto her staff. Maybe.
Whether he follows or not, she continues into her bedroom—attempting to slam the door on him if he does follow—and begins an attempt to cram her life into a laundry bag.
GM: The much larger man follows Zoe into her bedroom, easily forcing open the door she tries to slam. His craggy features turn uglier at Zoe’s taunting words.
“Mommy and Daddy are kicking you out, little girl. I’d watch that mouth of yours.”
Zoe: Zoe pauses, marveling at his audacity with her back turned. Even in her position-to-be, she’s still a member of the Kelly family, and Mommy and Daddy won’t stand for much brutality to get out on a member of their family.
Of course, they can make it disappear, if it does happen.
She decides it best not to retort and set to collecting her things. What can she fit into a mesh bag? Enough clothing to last a week, wrinkly as it will be? Her phone, though she’ll have to find public places to charge it. Her laptop. Even if they don’t let her keep that, her mostly-complete thesis is backed up on the cloud. Mommy can’t take that from her!
Shoes? Something comfortable. She puts those on. Boots? No, she doesn’t have room. Shit. Sandals? No. Just the shoes. She assumes her mother will throw out what isn’t taken.
Pillow? No room. Blanket? It’s warm. She shouldn’t be outside more than a few days. They won’t let her.
GM: The silence that answers that thought is deafening.
The large man, meanwhile, attentively watches her pack.
No drugs, said Mom.
Zoe: Pack, pack, pack. Zoe makes no effort in hiding what she stuffs in her bag, and no matter how closely Mr. Security watches, he won’t find find a single crumb of mushroom nor grain of cocaine. Not a one! Zoe has only just begun experimenting—just once or twice! She isn’t an addict. Not yet. It’s just a little something to take the stress off her workload.
Once she finishes packing, she turns to the man, gesturing to the door.
GM: The man follows her out, then closes and locks the door behind her. Zoe doesn’t ever remember giving him a key.
He gestures grandly down the hallway.
The elevator dings open. Chuck Pavaghi walks into the hall. He’s a handsome Indian-American man around Zoe’s age, dressed in a suit with the jacket open and the tie undone as though he just got off from work. He lives on the same floor. His dad developed the property. She’s not sure if he even pays rent. She is sure, though, that many of the girls who visit his apartment are prostitutes.
“Huh,” he remarks, glancing between Zoe and the unfriendly-looking man locking her apartment door.
Zoe: Huh indeed. She glances at him, meeting his eyes with the same polite ferocity she offers any she considers of her echelon. A faint smile follows, prescriptive and polite.
Then she continues on out.
GM: “Parents giving you the boot?” Chuck asks, calling after her.
The Pavaghi clan, her mother has sniffed more than once, are new money.
Zoe: She pauses, turning back to him.
“Life never ceases to surprise you, does it, Chuck?”
GM: Chuck smirks.
“You can stay with me, if you don’t have a place lined up.”
“My rent’s very affordable.”
Zoe: And soil herself with the filth of a monkey playing sophistication? No.
“Let me collect myself, hmn? Mommy dearest doesn’t tell me what to do anymore. Maybe.”
She won’t risk closing a door, but that will not be her first option.
GM: “Won’t find a better rate for a building this nice,” says Chuck, and lets himself in to his apartment.
Zoe: Zoe waggles her phone at him as she walks into the elevator. “Text me, Chuck. I know you’ve got it already.”
It’s just like Chuck to skim the records of tenants for his own slimy use. She’s almost entirely certain of her assertion.
GM: Chuck winks as he disappears behind his door.
“Heh. You’re broke,” says the man she’s with.
“Unless he makes you fuck him.”
He shakes his head and starts towards the elevator.
“C’mon. Don’t got all day.”
Zoe: She looks to Mr. Security.
“That’s the implication, dear. When you’ve all the money any of the masses only dream of, collecting more becomes a game of score. The real power is in using it to bend others to your will.”
“Wouldn’t it be a delicious victory for him to bend his superior to his will?”
Literally and figuratively. She smiles at the thought. For the first time, she regards her escort with a modicum of thought, as if she realizes that there is a person inside that cratered skull of his.
“What’s your name?”
GM: “Sure would be,” says the man. He’s got a shaved head, dark skin, thick arms, and a full beard.
Zoe: Of course his name is Trayvon. Zoe shuffles her things about, offering the man the courtesy of a handshake.
“I know you’re just doing your job. There’s no bad feelings for that. Zoe.”
GM: “I heard,” says Trayvon.
He regards the handshake with some amusement as he returns it. His hand is much larger, ticker, and darker than hers, but he doesn’t try to crush her hand.
Mom has always scolded her for her limp handshakes.
Zoe: Limp as it is, she squeezes back with a level of effort that exhibits intent without trying too hard, as a child would.
“I don’t suppose you have any advice on where the recently-evicted might go, hmn?”
Assuming he does not, she looks up a “So you’ve just been evicted…” article.
GM: Trayvon presses the button for the elevator and follows her inside.
“You can stay with me if you pay rent on your back,” he answers helpfully.
The article isn’t very helpful either.
Zoe: She restrains the disappointed sigh that she wants so badly to express.
Typical. Fucking typical.
“Your offer isn’t quite so strong as Chuck’s. There’s no chance at amicability, is there? It’s not as if I’m going to disobey the orders you were given.”
GM: Trayvon shrugs.
“Don’t got nothing ’gainst you. You wanna hang around the lobby or something?”
“But if you want advice, go crash with a friend. Get a job and help pay for shit.”
Zoe: She shakes her head.
No, she decidedly does not. What Zoe wants most is to find some time by herself. Alone. Privacy. She had tried to coerce her mother to take her minions and leave, but she’d left this crass piece of work with her.
What Zoe wants is a place to let her emotions out without fear of judgment, and she’s not sure she has that right now. Not a single place nor a person in her life. Not whom she trusts at this level of catastrophe anyway.
She taps a free finger on her hip, her panic becoming more evident.
She’d understood what was happening to her the moment her mother made it clear. A led to B, B led to C. She made and unfortunate decision, so she was evicted. Yet in that moment, as the pair step out of the elevator, the true weight of the result hits her: she has nowhere to fucking go, she has no idea where her next meal is going to come from, she’ll probably be sleeping on the pavement, and she may actually have to take up Chuck’s offer if she wants to avoid any of it.
Sorry, Trayvon. No way in hell.
April evening, 2016
GM: Trayvon escorts Zoe out of the Giani Building. He ‘asks’ for her keys. Then he leaves. Just like that, Zoe is left standing alone on a downtown intersection. Cars honk and blare as they drive past. Crowds of pedestrians walk by Zoe, indifferent to her plight. It’s an odd thought that all of these people have homes and destinations. Many are just getting off work. They have dinners they’ll sit down to. They have beds they’ll go to sleep in. They don’t consider where those things come from. They don’t have to.
Overhead, it’s starting to rain. It’s a faint drizzle, but Zoe can already feel wet pitter-patters against her head.
Even simple shelter from the elements is no longer something to take for granted.
At least Chuck’s apartment must be dry.
Zoe: Chuck’s apartment would be drier for his trying to woo her. His very aura sucks the sexual energy out of the room.
Okay, Zoe. You’re a smart one. You’ve been in worse situations before. You’ll figure this one out, too.
No you haven’t, and no you won’t.
The voice nags at her, small as it is; that miniscule questioning of her confidence.
It would be raining, wouldn’t it? She looks up at the sky, holding out her key—the car key and the apartment key only—to Trayvon. She doesn’t offer him the dignity of a farewell when he snatches them away.
Once he leaves her, she taps her phone feverishly. Contacts.. C.. H.. R.. Call.
“Chris? You there?”
GM: The phone rings.
Wouldn’t that neatly solve all of her problems? To just stay at his place? Once she has solid ground under her, once she has a place to eat, sleep, and bathe again, she can work things out at Tulane. This doesn’t have to destroy her life. She can complete her PhD at Chris’ place.
The phone rings.
“Hey, it’s Chris. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you,” sounds her boyfriend’s assured voice.
Just the voice she wants telling her everything is gonna be all right and of course she can stay at his place.
If not for the fact that it’s a recording and she’s newly homeless.
He doesn’t deserve it. She knows he’s probably busy with his own workday. Why did she have to pick someone with ethics-apparent?
“Pick up the phone you ass! I—something happened. I need somewhere to think, and—it’s going to rain soon. Pretty badly. Shit. Call me when you get this, okay?”
She hangs up, following her voicemail with a simple ‘call me’ text.
What’s nearby? A coffee shop? That’ll do. At the very least, it’s out of the rain. That’s something, right? Keeping dry? They know her there. She won’t be out of place.
GM: There’s a Pequod’s just half a block down. Inside, there’s calm music and rows of displayed baked goods. People sip their drinks, munch of snacks, and wait in line at the register, despite a sign to Please! Ask a barista about your mobile order. Many of the customers look like downtown professionals. The seats are wooden and look uncomfortable to stay in for hours, but at least it’s dry. Rain patters against the windows.
It’s too bad she can’t stay forever.
Hopefully she won’t have to.
Zoe: Uncomfortable by intent. Her mother had taught her enough about business to intuit design decisions that appear either innocuous or as being cheap, but are intended to further your cashflow.
Zoe takes a seat, setting her laundry bag of life beneath the table. She draws a breath, smooths her hair out, and checks her phone.
She moves down the list, calling each of her friends in turn.
Charlotte? She’s far, but .. surely she’ll answer.
Susan? Do nuns carry phones?
Sami? If she isn’t stoned out of her mind or thirteen and a half inches down her latest beau, she might help.
And another, and another, and another.
Meanwhile, she pulls out her laptop and navigates to her bank account.
Please, please, please. Don’t take that away from me. You can’t leave me with nothing.
GM: A few people look at Zoe’s laundry bag.
She becomes acutely aware that one else in the coffee shop has a laundry bag with them.
Does she look homeless? She’s much too clean and well-dressed, surely.
It’s while her first call is outgoing that the display for Whitney Hancock’s Personal Online Banking pops up. The blue and white webpage has a picture of an attractive young woman smiling widely as she navigates her laptop from the comfort of her tastefully decorated home. Chris once remarked that, “This is the face of someone who found out her test results were ‘HIV negative’, not ‘I accessed my online banking account.’”
Zoe pulls up her account balance.
It reads $0.
Apparently, Rosalyn has as much control over her children’s finances as she does her husband’s.
Zoe: What color remains in her face drains as if that webpage had unplugged a drain in the base of her neck.
Even the money she’d been given through her PhD grant had been drained; money she was intended to live on, if she weren’t a daughter of privilege.
Isn’t that theft? The money was in her account. Her bank. Her login. She pictures her mother as that sneering face, and if not for the lingering thought that she can’t just get another, she might have launched the laptop across the shop.
She can’t even buy a coffee.
Where the fuck are you, Chris?
Her eyes well up as her emotions finally leak through her curated exterior, and she begins to cry frustrated tears.
You can do that with bank accounts, easily. Set them up so other people can make deposits and withdrawals. Don’t even need to be an executive at the bank to make it happen.
Meanwhile, her calls go out, one after another.
“Hello, you’ve reached Charlotte Malveaux. Please leave your name and number, and I’ll return your call as soon as I can.”
“We’re sorry you have reached a number that has been disconnected or is no longer in service. If you feel this is in error, please check the number dialed, and please try again.”
“It’s Sami. Leave a message.”
The tears run down her face as she shakes by herself. Several nearby patrons cast her disapproving looks. Two start whispering and pointing at her. At her laundry bag.
She can’t even buy a coffee.
Zoe: Every failed call exacerbates her crying. Tears become a stream. A stream becomes sobs. Sobs become—
She slams her laptop shut, stuffs it in her laundry bag, taking enough care to wrap it in some clothing so it wouldn’t get wet, then dashes out into the rain. At least the coffee shop has an overhang to keep her dry for the moment.
She pulls her phone out again, hovering over another name: Gabriella.
No. Her mother would have already warned her sisters and brother against contact. She doesn’t want to land them in any trouble, either.
Her heart beats against her chest as if it, too, wanted to leave her alone in the lukewarm rain.
Her fingers dance without conscious thought.
‘Mom, I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Lesson learned. It’s been ten years. Ten years of work, and my mistakes kept the others from similar mistakes. Can we talk?’
GM: Gabriella is probably sitting down to dinner with her husband and children, right about now.
Zoe had made fun of her for it, for being such a picture-perfect housewife. But a warm dinner with an actual roof over her head sounds like just the thing, right about now.
The drizzle isn’t just a drizzle anymore. New Orleans weather is unpredictable. Now it’s a true April shower. Fat droplets of rain thunder down against the overhead, thud-thud-thud-thud-thud. There’s a loud honk from traffic as Zoe frantically types into her phone, and then the screech of tires. Water from the street splashes all over Zoe’s pants and laundry bag as a car blares past.
There’s no response from her mother.
Zoe: FUCK! FUCK FUCK CUNT WHORE SHIT BITCH!! WHY THE FUCK DID I CHOOSE SUCH A THIN TOP ON A RAINY DAY?!!
She kicks a nearby—something, anything! She’s losing her calm, and she doesn’t really care who the target is.
It isn’t trash can, as she hopes. It’s a puppy.
She puts one foot before the other before anyone can stop and accost her for her outburst. She wants to be anywhere. Anywhere but here.
GM: The corgi gives a strangled yelp as Zoe’s foot connects with its flank, kicking it several inches into the air before it crashes to earth against pavement. The dog scrunches its eyes and whines pathetically as its owner scoops it up in her arms.
“Fuck you, cunt!” she yells at Zoe’s retreating form, her voice absolutely livid. “Fuck you!”
“The fuck’s your problem!?”
Bereft of the overhead’s shelter, rain beats down over Zoe’s exposed body. Soon she’s wet everywhere.
Wet, cold, and homeless.
Unless her boyfriend calls back.
Zoe: Guilt overwhelms her. She allowed her anger and frustration with her punishment wound a puppy! A puppy!
Zoe tears down an alleyway, intending to break line of sight with any who saw her abuse that poor, defenseless, adorable, snugglable animal.
No, Chuck. I’m not going to call you. Even if I had your number.
GM: Rain continues to pummel her. It’s even lonelier in the alleyway. A homeless man is rifling through a garbage dumpster. Several more huddle against buildings away from the rain, faces buried in their sleeping bags.
Is there where she will sleep?
Because then her phone rings.
Zoe: She slaps the phone so hard to her ear that the earring digs in to her skin.
“Chris? I—the rain is loud!”
GM: “Y-yeah, I c-an-n he-ar it!” he answers, his voice garbled against the downpour.
“Y-ou sai- soe-thig happ-ned?”
Zoe: “Y-yeah! Can you pick me up? Meet me at the coffee shop across from my apartment!”
GM: “Y-y-ah, s-ur, g-mme—ten?”
The rain continues to pour down. Her hair is drenched.
She’d say she should’ve packed an umbrella, but at least she won’t need to now.
Zoe: “Y-yeah! Okay! Ten minutes! Love you, bye!”
She remembers what joy feels like, and she’s going to give him a night he’ll never forget. Not even their eventual wedding night will compare!
She sprints back down the alley, back around the corner, past the site of her attempt to send a puppy to the moon, and skids to a halt under the overhang of the coffee shop.
GM: Zoe picks a good time to get out from under the rain. She clearly didn’t send the puppy to the moon, because it’s raining cats and dogs. Everyone looks like they have an umbrella out. Water steadily patters down against the pavement.
The minutes pass.
People come in and out of the coffee shop.
A clerk passes by.
Cars roll on by.
One’s his car model—oh, no. Not him. ’Nother guy behind the wheel.
The rain pours.
Zoe: At least he’s cute.
Maybe he needs a girlfriend.
GM: Maybe he wouldn’t want her.
After all, she looks like a mess, between her soaked hair and clothes, and her equally soaked laundry bag. Her pants and bag are streaked with muddy brown.
She’s been crying, too, but maybe that’s hard to make out past her already rain-slick skin.
Zoe: Natural beauty only runs so far when life kicks you in the gut and spills your entrails all over the sidewalk to play tea leaves.
Surprise: the reading isn’t great!
She calls him again.
GM: It’s easier to hear under the overhead.
“Hey, it’s Chris. Leave a message and I’ll get back to you.”
Plunk-plunk-plunk, goes the rain.
Zoe: She texts him, ‘Chris WTF? It’s freezing! Are you okay?’
GM: There’s no response.
New Orleans isn’t that cold. Not really.
But it’s wet.
It’s a lot colder, too, after your mom has evicted you and left you without a penny to your name.
It’s been ten minutes.
Maybe he’s about to show.
You can’t always expect someone to arrive in exactly ten minutes when they say ten minutes.
Zoe: She knows her impatience isn’t something to project on him, but— well, he’ll understand once she’s in the car and can talk to him.
The girl draws a breath, centering herself.
He’ll be here. He’ll be here. He’ll be here. He’ll be here.
GM: The rain plunks.
The numbers on the time section of Zoe’s phone go up.
Five minutes late.
Six minutes late.
Eight minutes late.
Zoe: This is fine. This is fine.
GM: Ten minutes late.
Zoe: She has to pee.
‘Paying customers only.’
GM: And she’s very cold.
It isn’t that New Orleans is cold.
It’s that she’s wearing wet clothes, in the rain, in the evening.
Standing on her feet under an overhead.
Twelve minutes late.
Fourteen minutes late.
Sixteen minutes late.
Zoe: ‘Hey, I know I can be bitchy about time, but I really need you right now, Chris.’
GM: Eighteen minutes late.
Her stomach rumbles.
GM: She had to skip lunch at Tulane today.
Zoe: ‘If ever there’s a time where I need you to be here, this is it’
GM: But he is here.
She’s not sure how she didn’t notice it.
No, she is sure.
Because she was looking down the street. Not into the coffee shop.
Into the coffee shop, where he’s comfortably parked at table, with a half-eaten pastry and tall cup of coffee.
Sitting next to another girl.
They’re hunched over his phone, smiling and laughing.
Zoe: She blinks.
It can’t be him.
She turns back to the road.
Then back to the shop.
Had she not seen him before?
She walks in.
Is it him? Is she seeing things?
GM: It sure looks like him.
Zoe: “Chris,” she says more firmly. She looks like a drowned animal, hair stuck in a giant, matted knot down her back.
“What the fuck? You didn’t tell me you were here.”
She doesn’t register the other person yet.
GM: Chris Downs is a 20-something man with combed blonde hair, a lean frame that’s dressed in his work clothes, and a five-o-clock shadow from a long day at the DA’s office.
She doesn’t look like just a drowned animal. She looks like a drowned animal lugging along a fat wet laundry bag that’s caked with dirty street water.
Do homeless people look like this?
Are the baristas who didn’t stare at her suspiciously doing that now?
She doesn’t register them either.
Chris looks up as his girlfriend approaches.
For a second, he looks surprised. Genuinely taken aback.
Then he starts quietly laughing.
So does the girl he’s with.
Zoe: She lofts a brow. Ding, 192nd floor. Oh yeah, that done.
“…is there a reason you’re laughing? I assure you, none of what happened is funny.”
Her words are colder than even she is.
“I need a shower. Come on, let’s go back to your place. I’ll explain aft—”
And then it hits her.
“Who is she?”
GM: The girl looks around Zoe’s and Chris’ age. Maybe mid-twenties. She’s got fair skin, red hair, and is dressed in jeans and a blouse. Stylish but casual.
“You look like you already got a shower,” says the girl.
She and Chris start laughing again.
“Do you want to tell her?” says the girl.
Chris links his hand through hers on the table.
“Oh… she’s my girlfriend,” he grins.
The other girl smiles.
Zoe: Zoe doesn’t.
She feels the animalistic need to snap building inside her. She wants to hurt him; to hurt her; to carve that smile from her simpering, whore face.
Is it worth it, Zoe? Is she worth going to jail over? It’d be warm there.
She draws a breath, cooling that raging beast inside her. Zoe has always had a fiery temper. Never has she quite so badly wanted to let it reign.
“Say this is a joke and I’ll forgive you.”
GM: “Okay,” grins Chris.
“It’s a joke.”
Then he turns and french-kisses the other girl. She smirks at Zoe as she wraps her hand around his neck, tongue fondling his.
Zoe: No, no, no. No. No. No. No. No.
She doesn’t remember turning, nor the rain whipping into her face. All she knows is if she doesn’t leave, she’ll carve the eyes from his sockets.
How can one life—one great, successful life— have fallen so far in a span of hours?
Sh texts: Mom. Please. You’ve made your point. I’ll move home if you need. You can access my phone. It won’t happen again. I can’t deal with what’s happening!
GM: She doesn’t remember turning.
She doesn’t remember rushing out the door.
She doesn’t remember the rain whipping into her face.
But she hears the shouts.
They’re coming from the coffee shop.
Chris is slumped face-down over the table. People are making a commotion around him. He doesn’t move.
There is no response from the text to her mother.
Zoe: Zoe pauses long enough to catch her breath.
She rubs her nose on a rain-soaked sleeve, sniffling. Fuck him. He probably has half the coffee shop roaring.
Is her mother really going to carry on their cold war? She’s relented. Zoe has admitted defeat and given her concessions. What further terms does her mother have?
No answer, still.
She has one final person who might help her, and draws her phone out under an overhang a few blocks from the shop to call her.
GM: The phone rings several times.
“Namaste,” greets Brijbala Chugtai, the third-gender Pakistani self-proclaimed yogi who works at Tante’s. “Dis is Tante Lescaut’s Occult Curiosities, Horoscopes, & Palmistry, how may ve help you today?”
Back at the coffee shop, people are making increasingly frantic motions around Chris.
It looks as if they’re administering CPR to his chest.
Zoe: “I— I— I—” she pant-blubbers.
“I need help—is Ms. Tantsy there?”
GM: “Yes, Tansy is in,” answers Brijbala. “If you need help, she vill do vhat she can.”
Zoe: She realizes that between the rain and her panic and her crying and her snot-covered face, she probably doesn’t sound like herself.
“It’s—Zoe. I—I don’t have anything. Anyone. Can I come by?”
GM: “Oh. Hello, Zoe. I didn’t recognize you. Ov course you may.”
Chris still isn’t moving as responders continue their chest compressions. His new girlfriend looks like she’s screaming.
Zoe: Her lips part, but the words don’t come. The panic inside the coffee shop; it’s not Chris ranting or raving or mocking her, nor sucking attention to his new toy, as he did for so many years.
It’s him. Him unresponsive. Unconscious. Dying.
She can’t see him.
She forgets the phone still pressed to her ear so hard that the screen threatens to crack on the point of her earring. She forgets the thickly-accented woman affirming her question.
Brick by brick, block by block, her life is being dismantled. Destroyed. Trounced and trashed as if an angry child kicked over their sibling’s Lego set for no better reason than to see them cry.
Zoe has hurt before, but this isn’t pain. This isn’t like when their dog Milo died, nor when she was told her first crush liked someone else. This isn’t like the cancer scare her sister had a year or two earlier, nor when she thought she’d caught Chris cheating last summer.
This is pure, bony, undiluted, unmitigated agony, delivered straight to the flush core of her gated heart with such a potency that its rot threatens to consume her from within.
Yet, what will remain: death and a memory, or a monster? The lonely chill of a hollow room, or the all-consuming ice of a hollow being?
She tugs her bag up out of the puddle seeping into ruined garments at the bottom, finally answering a voice in her ear that may or may not be there anymore. She isn’t sure how it’s been.
April evening, 2016
GM: Tante Lescaut’s is almost ten blocks away.
No big deal, when Zoe had a car.
No big deal, when Zoe could take a Ryde or a streetcar or a taxi or what-fucking-ever.
No big deal, when Zoe wasn’t a broke nobody.
But Zoe is a broke nobody, now, without a dime to her name.
So she walks.
It’s possibly the most miserable walk of her life. The rain doesn’t let up. It cascades down in sheets. In buckets. Zoe is soaked to the bone. Her hair is all but plastered against her skull. Her shoes fill with water and wetly squelch with each step. Her laundry bag of clothes is utterly soaked. That makes it heavy. Zoe did all right at track, but she’s always been terrible at lifting. She can’t carry the bag. She has to drag it, with both hands. It’s impossibly awkward. There are curbs she has to drag the bag up, then pull it down. Sometimes she doesn’t see where she’s going. Maybe it’s the rain in her eyes. Maybe it’s tears. Something happens to the bag at some point, though, because her clothes start falling out onto the street. Cars run over several before she can snatch them back up and stuff them into the falling-apart bag. She’s not sure when the hole appeared in it. The several holes.
An umbrella might’ve kept her drier, but this would be even more awkward without a free hand.
Then again, maybe it wouldn’t have kept her dry. Cars don’t feel like they notice her. Or care about when she crosses the street. They blare past her, splashing her legs with more dirty street water. She can’t get any wetter, but her pants and shoes are starting to turn a distinct shade of brown, not to mention it feels awful getting her feet soaked all over again.
People stare at her, too.
At the soaked and dirty and umbrella-less and hysterical-looking girl who’s heaving and ho-ing this soaked, raggedy bag after her.
They stare at her with disgust. With scorn.
She looks like a crazy homeless person.
Is that wrong?
Because she is homeless.
Is she crazy, too?
Zoe: So she walks.
She walks past the wounded puppy. It recoils and yelps.
She feels bad.
So she walks.
And recovers another piece of clothing.
Then a second.
She leaves the third. It was a gift from Chris. She didn’t wear it much, anyway. Not her style.
Why did she pack it?
Because she wore it for him.
She walks to Tante’s.
Then past it.
She passes a pizza parlor. Her favorite pizza parlor. She’s so hungry; a thousand times hungrier than before Chris—
Her stomach states it’s anger. She apologizes.
Chuck doesn’t sound so bad.
Beef chuck, not Terrorist Chuck.
Though she’d like to see both in an oven.
Separate ovens. She doesn’t want the flavors to mingle.
She walks back to Tante’s. This time she finds the door, pushing it open.
She looks like a rat. She feels like a drowned one.
The smell of pizza lingers.
Zoe au Pain:
Prep time—10 minutes
Mix one mistake with one cup excuses and one cup good intentions.
Add regret to taste.
Mix in large bowl
Present to Mom
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