– Chapter 4 –
we were savages
obsessed with each other’s scent
you: all starfish and pollen,
an allergen ever causing me to swell.
you said i smelled gamey,
like goat w/ its pelt pulled away.
a trapper, i captured the essence
of kola nut in my hair.
like the crest of seas,
inhaling each loc,
Gideon tore the page from his spiral notebook—quietly, so as not to wake the woman gently snuffling under the sheets on his bed. It was bogus. They all were. He stared at the words for a while, just to make sure there was nothing there that he could salvage, then balled the paper up and let it fall to the floor beside his desk.
He hoped the woman—Naomi, maybe?—would sleep another hour, at least. He wanted to pray. Was it prayer, to sit alone silently monologuing toward God? Gideon rarely said anything aloud during his “prayers,” just willed his thoughts toward the general vicinity of the unseen. Whether the musings were heard was anyone’s guess, but he felt better for casting them toward a destination. When had clarity become so elusive?
He wrote that down: clarity has become elusive. No.
You’ve rendered clarity elusive. Yes? No.
clarity has become elusive. You’ve rendered clarity elusive.
Clarity, fickle consort, quit
He was sick of himself.
His desk chair squeaked as it rolled away from his desk. He tipped, as carefully as he could, out of the bedroom.
Before he even flipped the kitchen light switch, his eyes moved toward the envelopes he’d left unopened on the counter. There were four: two from his mother; one from a lawyer’s office in Ridgewood; one from Holy Pentecost Academy.
He already knew what each said. He’d been Googling the goings-on back home for a few weeks now. His mother would be keen on him coming home, worried that the wounds he’d inflicted the last time he’d slandered the family name would be reopened and, as was typical, he’d selfishly leave them to bear it alone.
“They’ll televise this trial, you know,” he could almost picture her having written. “It won’t be settled quietly like the last one.”
He couldn’t make himself open her letters yet, with their gold edged stationery vaguely scented with lavender.
The correspondence from the lawyer’s office was likely a notification that he could eventually be deposed. This was the most ominous of the four envelopes. He cringed, as if someone had just touched ice to his skin, every time he looked at it. It’d been twelve years since his firing. Twelve years since his parents second-mortgaged their house to settle the lawsuit against him. Twelve years since he’d seen the girl. But the memories were unrelenting. They’d dogged him into quiet paranoia. They’d stalked him into chronic insomnia. Nothing—not weed, not alcohol, not Xanax—had left him a moment’s reprieve. Even his relatively sanguine marriage, which had lasted a surprising six years, hadn’t kept his regrets and what-ifs at bay.
Now, The Law Offices of Cooper, Willis, and Dunn were beckoning, casually requesting a revival of the freak show, before sending the certified letter that would erode all their pretense.
As for the note from Holy Pentecost… he couldn’t imagine what they were writing to tell him. They’d been cultish and caustic and bent on making him their clone since they opened when he was five years old. He didn’t blame them for what happened between him and Maranatha; that’d been all him. And he wasn’t delusional enough to consider himself some kind of martyr. His life was full of fallout and the lawsuit all those years ago was just one of the larger landmines he’d tripped.
He liked to think he had a little perspective now. Holy Pentecost farmed very sheltered, very confused kids who stumbled about, constantly accusing and being accused, as feverish about conversion as they were about condemnation. They grew into adults who married before they understood themselves, then spent years feeling like they’d failed the hosts of heaven in the aftermath of their divorces.
But no matter how above-it-all he behaved, no matter how much distance—physical or emotional—he placed between himself and that school, he was a part and parcel of them. They’d made him: rebel, misfit, prodigal. And they’d scarred that girl so much she’d become a walking implosion, so inwardly splattered she couldn’t recognize herself. If anything had ever been preordained, it was their friendship.
He hated thinking of her. But he thought of her all the time.
Slippers skidded across the hardwood floor.
“What’re you doing in the dark?” the woman he’d left in the bedroom wondered, rubbing one of her eyes.
He flicked the light switch and shrugged.
Her abnormally shiny hair—cola colored with burgundy streaks—was matted to the right side of her head. He thought back to the moment hours before, when he’d threaded his fingers down to the scalp and realized it was a weave. He’d had to fight the urge to ask her to leave. It wasn’t an urge he’d fight much longer.
“Go back to be