Category: Guest Appearances
Posted on April 5th, 2015
Guardian Angel: Part 4
By Scott Gould
He’d fallen unconscious again after Amy’s last words. Was it the sheer shock of what she said? Was it the strain of trying to sit up?
Blurry again. Sunlight streaming, tinted green as it dappled through pine and maple trees overhead. And the wind. Why did it seem so loud? It sounded as though it were chanting an ancient curse. More thudding, too. Was it the car hitting bumps?
“I asked you a question before. You never answered it.”
“I… No. I don’t think…no, I never knew. Never had a clue.”
“Why do I think you’re lying?”
“I didn’t…I thought you were…” What did he think? That she was his guardian angel, sent here to watch over him and absolve him of his pain? What a ridiculous notion. Could he even say it aloud? “I thought I was in love with you.”
She laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant sound anymore. Now it carried the horrible high-pitched timbre of a nightmare scream. “That’s sweet of you.”
“So, what…what are you telling me?”
“You really don’t know, do you?” she said.
“My husband. I told you I lost him.”
“I did, but not in the way you probably thought. I lost him to another woman.”
Understanding flared inside him, and suddenly it felt like a thousand needles were stabbing at his spine.
Amy went on, “He was having an affair. He was fucking your precious wife. My new patient. My new patient, the whore. My new patient who I’ve had the privilege of caring for every day for the last month.”
“You ran her down.”
“Of course I did. And in one of life’s sick little ironies, the woman I thought I killed got wheeled into my room two days later, barely hanging on to life.”
“You made it look like a drunk driver.”
She nodded. “Just throw a couple empty beer cans along the street and swerve the car around wildly and the police will never think any different.” She paused, and when she spoke again, he felt more afraid than he ever had in his life. “No one leaves me, Mal. No one hurts me. I hurt them.”
He closed his eyes, trying to make sense of everything she said. It was surreal, like a nightmare come to life. “What about your husband? Where is he?”
“I’ve taken care of him.”
“Did you kill him?”
After a long silence that seemed to stretch on for several minutes, Mal asked, “Why me? Why now? Why did you wait this long?”
“If I did it sooner, people might have suspected.”
“I don’t understand. I don’t understand why the timing matters.”
“That’s because you don’t see the whole picture yet.”
Her words chilled him.
She turned off the main stretch of highway onto a narrow dirt road flanked by tall pine trees, and he realized where she was driving.
“You’re going to our summer cabin, aren’t you?” he said, his voice grave and frightened.
No response. As she navigated the winding dirt road, he looked out to see the familiar canopy of pine trees that gave way to a view of the lake. As honey-colored light streamed through them and shimmered on the placid surface of the water, Mal wondered whether this would be the last time he would ever see this view – or any view. Would he die here? The car rumbled along the bumpy road for another quarter mile until they approached the cabin. With its milled pine logs stacked and notched horizontally and its steeply pitched roof covered with weathered shingles, it might have belonged to Abe Lincoln. It evoked a simple life, which he and Theresa had loved. It’d always been their retreat from the world and all its problems.
But not today.
Amy pulled into the narrow parking area in front of the cabin and shifted the Nissan into park. She stepped out of the vehicle and walked around to his door. When she opened it, he saw that she held a gun. It looked big enough to kill him quickly. A .38 or a .45, probably, even though his only knowledge of guns came from movies.
“Time to get out,” Amy said.
Mal considered lunging towards her and wrestling her for the gun, but his hands were still bound together and he still felt dizzy. He stood no chance. Putting aside all thoughts of action movie heroism, he shimmied across the seat and dangled his legs out the door. When he tried to stand his entire body wobbled drunkenly and leaned back against the truck for balance. He steadied himself and pointed at Amy’s gun. “So you’re going to shoot me?”
“Yes. But not yet.”
“What are you waiting for?”
The corners of her lips pulled back in a sickly grimace. He assumed that Amy thought it was a smile. She flipped the trunk open, and when Mal saw the man with the duct tape over his mouth and his hands bound by the same cord as his own, he suddenly knew everything.
He knew where the thudding noise had come from.
He knew what had happened to Amy’s husband.
And he knew why he had been brought here.
The man writhed and twisted in the trunk, kicking the way he had been kicking for the entire ride. He tried, and failed, to scream through the tape. His eyes were wide open. They registered only terror.
“You got so angry at my husband when you found out he was fucking your wife,” Amy said to Mal, her voice calm and level. “You got so angry that you snapped. You drove him up here to your summer home where you could be alone and no one would hear you. You shot him. Quick and easy. And then you shot yourself.”
With that, she lifted the gun and fired a single shot into her husband’s forehead. The sound was deafening, the muzzle flare blinding. The bullet lodged into the center of his head like a small coin pressed onto a skin-colored holder.
Mal stared, open-mouthed, in utter terror. He felt the contents of his stomach threatening to rise, and he fought to keep them down. When he looked up at Amy, whose smile could now only be described as manic, he barely saw her. He looked past her, through her, and instead saw his wife. Her hair was pulled back, revealing the delicate features of her heart-shaped face.
I’m sorry, Theresa. I’m so sorry for hating you so much when I thought you were having an affair. I’m so sorry for thinking of leaving you for this woman. Please forgive me. I forgive you so please please please forgive me.
“It’s your turn, Mal.”
He nodded. “I know.”
And he realized in that moment that it didn’t matter. He wasn’t afraid of dying anymore. Theresa was gone. Somehow he knew that, was as sure of it as he had ever been about anything. She had died that morning, and she was somewhere watching him now.
His real guardian angel.
“Together forever,” they had said all those years ago, and the words still held true. Two words captured on the bark of an old tree, caught in a single perfect moment of sunlit time. Two words that reminded him, in these final moments, that the world can turn from a prison to a sanctuary in the time it takes two people to become lost in each other’s eyes.
Mal smiled, content for the first time since his wife had been struck, and waited as Amy pressed the gun to the side of his head.
Posted on March 29th, 2015
Guardian Angel: Part 3
By Scott Gould
Her voice filled the haze:
“Did you see…”
“You never caught on.”
“Not an accident.”
And then the darkness returned.
* * *
Light and shadow danced before him. The rush of wind filled his ears. And thumping, infrequent but steady.
“Are you awake, Mal?” Amy’s voice. It didn’t sound so sweet now.
“I asked if you’re awake.”
The world appeared hazy and distorted, as though he were viewing a film through a blurred lens. More lights, blinking and shimmering. Where was he?
“Mal? I’m asking you a question. I gave you fifty CC’s of Ketamine, and I’d like to know if it’s worn off.”
The view became clearer, and he realized he was looking out a car window. Why is the view sideways? Oh. Of course. He was sprawled out on his side, his hands bound with some sort of thick cord. He tried to sit up, but even that simple effort made his stomach lurch.
A blur of white and yellow appeared as the morning sun glanced off car windshields. Mal squinted against it, as though seeing sunlight for the first time in years. Amy’s window had been rolled halfway down, accounting for the droning sound of the wind. He still couldn’t figure out where the thumping came from. Something on the roof, it sounded like.
Then something else struck him: he was in his own backseat. His trusty old Nissan Altima, with the beat-up Rand McNally Atlas sliding around next to two Styrofoam coffee cups on the floor.
“Here,” he managed to mutter.
“I’m here. I’m awake.”
“Good. Because there’s a question I’ve been anxious to ask you.”
He attempted once more to sit up. Less nausea this time, but it still felt as though his brain had been stabbed with an ice pick. Best to stay down for now.
“Mal? I’m talking to you. I told you I have a question.”
“Okay. What is it?”
“Did you know?”
“Did you know that it was me who ran over your wife?”
Posted on March 22nd, 2015
Guardian Angel: Part 2
By Scott Gould
Eleven hours later, Mal stepped outside into the cool morning. He needed a break, needed to go home and recharge. A light mist touched his face, and he could feel that the air was heavy with coming rain. Frayed clouds had filled the sky, floating across the face of the moon like the torn and ragged flags of a defeated army. As he traversed the parking lot, nearly empty at this time, he heard another person behind him. He turned and saw Amy exiting the building, her hair and face frosted white from the feeble illumination of the sodium vapor light that hovered over the door. It gave her a ghostly quality, as though she were an apparition from a dream, ephemeral and untouchable. In some ways, he’d thought of her this way from the first time they had met. She had been almost…angelic.
“It’s so quiet at this time of morning,” she said. “Almost eery.”
It did have an ominous quality about it. The lot was virtually empty of cars. The smell of the ocean, over a mile away, wafted like a distant memory on the gentle breeze. The sound of cars on the street beyond were so soft that they could have come from another world.
“Heading home?” he asked. A stupid question. He regretted the words as soon as he had spoken them.
“Yeah, been a long night,” she said, catching up to walk beside him. “I got to deal with a long series of difficult people.”
“That list doesn’t include me, does it?”
She smiled. “No, not you. You’re my favorite person to see during the day.”
His heart raced. Jesus, am I a teenager? he thought. “Thanks for saying that.”
“It’s the truth,” she said. “Something about you makes me feel…content.”
Mal glanced over at her, trying to discern whether she was serious. They walked in silence for a few moments until they reached a blue Ford Explorer. “This is me,” Amy said. She stopped in front of the vehicle and turned to face him. He looked at her the way he used to look at Theresa, and while that thought carried with it a great deal of guilt, it also carried excitement. He never thought it possible to have similar feelings for any other woman, and now here she stood, right in front of him. Was he a complete fool? Was he a traitor to his wife?
Maybe he was both
“Are you working tomorrow?” he asked
She reached into her purse, fumbling for her keys. “Same time, same place.”
“I’ll look forward to seeing you.” After a pause, he added, “I always do.”
“So do I. Look forward to seeing you, that is.” She smiled, and he pondered for a moment just how wonderful that smile was.
Amy took a step closer. “Are you trying to decide if you want to kiss me?”
That stopped him short. The look on his face must have been comical, because she laughed. “You don’t have to.”
“No, no, it’s not that,” he said. “I just…that question was unexpected.”
“I’ve seen the way you look at me.”
Oh, God. I really am that transparent. “I’m sorry, I didn’t…”
She held up a hand. “You don’t have to apologize, Mal. It’s very flattering. So have you decided?”
It was his turn to smile. “Yeah, I’ve decided.”
She leaned in towards him. He did the same, and their lips had almost touched by the time she pulled the syringe from her open purse and plunged it into his neck.
Posted on March 15th, 2015
Guardian Angel: Part 1
By Scott Gould, friend and peer
The heart monitor, which Malcom Shaw had by now learned was called an electrocardiograph machine, beeped and whistled with its usual monotonous authority, measuring the seconds of his wife’s life. Such a cold and calculating machine, he had often thought in the days since Theresa had been carted into this room and hooked up like Dr. Frankenstein’s latest experiment. She looked like she could be Frankenstein’s experiment, too, especially with the scars crisscrossing her face. Her emaciated arms hung loosely by her side like dead garden snakes, culminating in hands covered with grayish, translucent skin, as if someone had wrapped the bones in wax paper. Veins traced the skin like rivers on a road map. She had lost a tooth. Bruises masked her eyes.
Mal sat back in the uncomfortable hospital chair and sighed. How long had he stared into those eyes in the month since the accident? he wondered. How much had he searched them for some trace of life or understanding? Theresa’s eyes used to be deep blue pools that he wanted to dive into and swim around in. Now they were still and unmoving, as though the pools had iced over and would never allow him access again. Did those eyes see him? Did they recognize him? Could they identify this man whom Theresa had first met in a freshman survey class (biology, which had bored them both so much that they couldn’t help looking around the room and seeing each other) and had married five years later? Could they look back in time at those first days and months together and all the milestones that followed – the first date, the first kiss, the first time they shared a bed, the first fight, or that dreamlike evening under a twilight-purple sky when they had, like ridiculous and impetuous children, carved the words “Together forever” on the old oak tree by the creek and he dropped to one knee and held up the ring and didn’t even have a chance to say a single word before she said, “Yes”?
Perhaps now those eyes only saw the car roaring towards her, screeching out of control as the drunk driver tried and failed to avoid her. That car was the last thing she would ever see, its headlights washing over her, its nose bearing down, its tires glistening from the residue of the afternoon rain. Could she see the driver? If she ever awoke, would she be able to identify whether it was a man or a woman, young or old, black or white?
“Your eyes don’t see anything now, do they?” he said softly, more to himself than to her.
“What did you say?”
A woman’s voice startled him out of his trance. He looked up and saw Amy in the doorway. Amy Donovan, the evening nurse. Was it that time already? He glanced out the small hospital window, saw the sun’s dying light spread like golden fire across the horizon. Yes, it was that time already.
“Oh…sorry,” he said. “Just talking to myself.”
She smiled politely. He wondered whether she thought he was crazy. It wasn’t the first time he had wondered this in the days since he’d been here. Amy was always kind and understanding – so kind and understanding, in fact, that seeing her when her shift started every evening at seven was the only part of the day he looked forward to. He would never admit that, to Theresa or anyone else, but it was true. He didn’t look forward to seeing his wife anymore, because he had resigned himself to the sickening knowledge that she was lost; he came here out of obligation, not hope. He didn’t look forward to seeing his family or hers, because he was weary of the well wishes, the hollow commiserations, the outright lies: “She’ll be better soon” and “She already looks better.” He didn’t look forward to food, and had shed over twenty pounds. He didn’t even look forward to a drink at the end of the day, the way he used to, because no amount of liquor aborted the grief.
No, seeing Amy was the only time of day he liked. It was the only time of day he smiled, and he did so now. “How’s Felix?”
Felix, her cat with the oh-so-original name. He’d been sick the day before, and they had chatted for several minutes about animals and their ailments.
“He’s better, thanks,” she said. “I gave him extra water like you said, and it seems to be working.”
Amy walked towards Theresa’s monitor and pushed some buttons. She was in her early thirties, with shoulder-length auburn hair that framed an oval face with pixie-like features: large green eyes, a small mouth with Cupid’s bow lips, a spattering of freckles across a button nose. It was a face he liked looking at. Mal liked looking at the rest of her, too, even though it felt like a betrayal to Theresa.
Betrayal. An interesting word, he thought, especially considering that he had spent the last months before Theresa’s accident convinced that she was having an affair. But he didn’t care. Whatever his wife’s sins, he didn’t care. He would forgive her anything. He just wanted her here, awake, alive, sitting next to him and smelling of the pear perfume that she wore so often that he’d told her to buy stock in it.
Amy walked towards his wife and gazed down at her. There was kindness in her gaze, Mal thought, which was another reason he liked her so much. Everyone else who came into the room looked at Theresa with either clinical detachment or pity, but Amy looked at her as though she were merely helping out a lifelong friend.
“How does she look?” Mal said.
It was an unnecessary question and an obvious answer. In truth, he couldn’t think of anything else to say, but he wanted to hear her voice. It was sweet sounding, and he had come to find comfort in it.
Turning to face him, she asked, “How are you doing?”
She asked him this often. Mal could tell that it was a genuine question, not just a meaningless phrase to fill the silence. She cared about how he was doing. But he still never knew how to respond.
“Holding up,” he would say every time, and it’s what he said now. It was true enough, he supposed, although he wasn’t always sure.
Amy walked over and sat in the chair next to him. It was another part of their routine: they would start the evening by chatting for about ten minutes. At first they covered the surface topics like books, music, and movies. They talked about vacations that they had taken and wanted to take, and Mal told her all about the log cabin on Pine Lake that he and Theresa owned and spent every summer weekend. Eventually they moved on to dream and fears, childhood memories and adulthood regrets, love gained and lost. They both knew about loss. “I lost my husband, too,” Amy had said, but she didn’t expound on the subject, and Mal didn’t push. She would tell him if she was ready, he decided.
Amy said, “You know, I realized on my ride in tonight that I never even asked you how long you’ve been married.”
“Really? Sixteen years. We got married the year after college.”
“Where did you go to college?”
Mal waved his hand dismissively. “It’s a small school. You wouldn’t have heard of it.”
He paused. “Yale.”
She stared at him as though trying to gauge the truth of his statement. Looking closely at her now, he wondered whether she ever wore makeup. He didn’t know much about it, but he didn’t think she needed any. “Seriously?” she asked.
In a small voice: “Yeah.”
She laughed. God, he loved that laugh. “Why didn’t you want to tell me?”
“There’s a certain…stigma associated with Ivy League grads.”
“That they’re entitled rich douche bags?”
Another laugh. “Well, I don’t know if you’re rich, but you don’t seem entitled and you’re not a douche bag.”
He grinned. “That’s the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
She elbowed him in the side and stood. “I’ll be back in a bit,” she said.
“You know I look forward to it.”
Her smile was sweet and kind – and maybe something more? Was it inviting? What did she want from him? For that matter, what did he want from her?
Mal watched her turn and walk away, watched the blue scrubs hug her curves, watched her ass as she moved. He felt himself flush and, with a pang of shame, felt himself getting hard.
When she was gone and he was alone again with only his silent wife to keep him company, he picked up the newspaper and flipped through it absently. He turned to the horoscopes. It had become an inane daily ritual, something he’d never done before in his life, but lately the words found within it gave him a strange sort of consolation. The caption beneath his birth month, Pisces, read: “Do not shut yourself off from the prospect of new love. Your guardian angel may be lurking close by.”
The words struck him, and he swallowed audibly.
He thought of Amy, the way she made him feel, the way his breath caught when he saw her, the way she comforted him without even meaning to. Could she be his guardian angel? Of course not. Melodramatic nonsense, he thought, the stuff of Harlequin romance novels. He shook his head as though ridding it of cobwebs. He was acting like a precocious adolescent, prone to getting a crush on the first girl who flashed him a smile. He chuckled at his own foolishness.
But the words still remained in his mind long after he put the paper down, lingering like smoke from a stubble fire.