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even the dead are warm in tucson

by fatladysing

 

Yesterday, a tiny bald-headed boy asked me if I was the Angel of Death.  He told me that

he'd seen me, tall and dark and quiet, in his dreams and he wanted to know if I had come

to take him.  There was no fear, just tired and sad eyes in a too-pale face.  But before I

could answer him, an apologetic mother had already whisked him away.

 

From the mouth of babes…

 

* * * * *

 

For the last three days I have been watching her.  And I play my game: trying to place her

serious and elegant looks into an appropriate setting.  On the first day I thought her a

lawyer in her dark wool-crepe suit, deep in conversation with the chief attending.  On the

second day, she was a reporter stopping doctors and nurses in the hallways questioning

and pressing.  But today I know she is a doctor by the way cerulean eyes barely register

as a teenager is wheeled into trauma holding his guts in his split belly with bare hands.

 

Of course I didn't flinch either.

 

So maybe she's a writer.

 

* * * * *

 

She approached me today.

 

I didn't see her coming, my attention fixated on a bickering couple in the waiting room.

 

"Do I know you?"  A single perfectly-shaped brow arched in question.

 

"No," I reply, for it is the truth.

 

"I've seen you here" a slender hand gestures at the room.  "Watching and writing in your

book.  You look as if you know me."

 

"I don't know you.  And I watch everyone."  The words come out colder than I intend.

 

She pauses and gives me the once-over.  It's not sexual but still predatory, dangerous. 

"You shouldn't watch like that.  Somebody might get the wrong idea."

 

"You know," I smile, "you are quite paranoid for a doctor."

 

She stiffens.  Hard eyes the color of cold steel eclipse soft blue.

 

My smile fades.

 

"Who sent you?"  She takes a step closer, her right hand snaking out to grip my forearm

tightly.

 

"Nobody." Again, the truth.

 

"Don't lie to me" her left hand flicks open her suit coat and I see the black protrusion of a

Sig Sauer nestled in a shoulder harness.  "How do you know who I am?"

 

"I'm not.  And I don't."  I force myself not to take a step back.  "I'm a writer and I

observe.  I just figured.  You didn't even flinch when that stab wound came in

yesterday."

 

She lets her suit coat fall back over the gun but she doesn't remove or lessen her grip. 

"Who are you?"

 

I nod over my shoulder, indicating a plaque on the back wall.

 

"Gabrielle de Haviland Lowell?"

 

"You can call me Gabe."

 

"Gabrielle," her tongue rolling over my name with incredulity, "aren't you a little too

alive to have a memorial wing named after you?"

 

"Just Gabe." My eyes lock onto hers. "And technically, I'm named after the wing.  We're

both named after my paternal grandmother."

 

She holds my gaze and I'm not sure if I want to cower in fear or kiss her.  And then, she

releases my arm.  Two steps later and she's brushing past me.  I look down over my

shoulder as she passes, the top of her auburn head inches from my lips.

 

"You shouldn't stare," she whispers, just loud enough for me to hear, "it's rude."

 

And then she's gone.

 

* * * * *

 

I wait for her now.  As the injured and the dying walk by me like so many flashes of

color in my peripheral vision.  Sometimes I think I see her.  A flash of fire, a glimmer of

ice, the light-drinking drape of an Italian suit.  But she doesn't come to me.  And so I, in

turn, do not go seeking her.

 

* * * * *

 

When she comes to me again, there is a pen in my hand and dialogue in my head.  Quiet

as a wake, she settles in the molded plastic seat beside me.  I look up, into old eyes, and

the voices are gone.

 

"I don't want to disturb."  Her voice is rough and tired.

 

I smile.  "No matter now, they've stopped talking to me."

 

A pale brow crinkles in confusion.  I laugh at her expression.

 

"A girl needs to have some secrets."  I explain.

 

"I see," the weariness in her tone smothers me like a cloak. "So where does a girl with

secrets go to get a decent coffee in this ward?"

 

"The nurses' station on 3, of course."  I stand and offer her my hand.

 

She takes it without hesitation.

 

* * * * *

 

A week passes before I see her again.  This time she is standing by the windows, her

slight frame silhouetted against the streaming sunlight behind her.  She is arguing with a

man.  He is a contradiction: tall and strong like an athlete, but bald and spectacled like a

high school math teacher.  She turns to leave him, but he pulls her into an embrace.  She

struggles briefly before succumbing and pressing into him.  His hands move up to brush

tears from her eyes.

 

They pull away from each other after a moment.  And by the time she is heading down

the hall toward me, the tears are gone.

 

"Coffee?" I ask softly, ashamed to have witnessed the private exchange.

 

"I think I need something…" she hesitates, searching my eyes "…a little more."

 

"I know just the place."  I put my hand on the small of her back and lead her out the door.

 

O'Bannon's is a neighborhood pub just two blocks down from the hospital.  At this time

of day, our only company besides the service is a wiry white-haired man snoozing gently

in the corner.  I guide her to a back booth where the waiter scratches down her order of

scotch (neat) and my tall glass of iced tea.

 

"You don't drink."  It is a statement colored with an emotion suspiciously like

disappointment.

 

"Not any more."  I lean back as the waiter returns and arranges coasters and drinks on the

table.

 

"Religion?  Diet?  Temperance?"

 

"It doesn't go with my meds."  I take a sip from my tea.

 

She pauses, her drink halfway to her lips.  I watch as a question flickers across her eyes

and is gone with a blink.  She leans forward and clinks her glass to mine.  "Here's to

modern medicine."  She drains her drink.

 

Two scotches later and she's moved on to a beer chaser.  The tension coiled and radiating

from her eyes to her temple now placid.  I watch her, openly and defiantly.  We haven't

exchanged words since her toast.

 

"It's Dana."  Tapered fingers with manicured nails pick at the corner of a beer label.

 

"I wasn't going to ask."

 

"But you wanted to."

 

I incline my head and acquiesce.

 

"That one was a freebie.  From here on out, we trade."  She leans forward slightly,

elbows on the table, beer bottle dangling negligently from her fingers.  "What are you

writing?"

 

"A book."  I swipe at the condensation on my glass.  "Who were you talking to in the

hallway?"

 

"A man."  Blue eyes meet mine and a challenge is issued.

 

"It's a love story, actually.  A coming of age story.  Epic and grand.  Sad and tragic."  I

sigh and suddenly I am tired.

 

"I see.  Boy meets girl.  Boy loses girl."

 

"No," My eyes telegraph their own challenge.  "Girl meets girl."

 

Slender fingers tense almost imperceptibly around the longneck bottle.  Almost.

 

I sigh again.  It was too much to hope for.  "Who is the man?  Doctor?  Uncle? 

Accountant?"  Husband?  Lover?

 

"Boss."

 

I want to press further, but a recollection of black steel holstered in tan leather stops me. 

Instead, I push away from the table and stand.  "Excuse me, I have an appointment."  I

pull my wallet out and throw a Franklin on the table.

 

She doesn't stop me as I leave the bar.  She doesn't even look.

 

* * * * *

 

There really was an appointment.  But it is today, not yesterday.  I find myself standing in

the public bathroom of the hospital, flexing my bandaged arm and staring at a stranger's

face in the mirror.  I bend over and splash more water on my face.  Out of the corner of

my eye, I catch a glimpse of burnished red.  But before I can turn fully around, strong

hands are on the nape of my neck and in my hair pulling me toward shuttering eyes and

parting lips.

 

I don't feel the initial contact, my body having gone numb with shock.  But a heartbeat

later and the warmth pressed tightly to my lips is spreading like a toxin through my

blood.  Her tongue traces a single drop of water as it tracks down my jaw, over my chin

and along the quickening pulse of my neck.  I groan the pain of the dying as she pulls

away.

 

"Do you have a place?"

 

"Yes.  Not far."  I turn to go, knowing, yet hoping that she is right behind me.

 

My loft is just across the street from O'Bannon's although it seemed much further

yesterday.  I take her hand as we cross the threshold, stepping back to allow for her

inspection.  I am surprised when she pulls my head down for another kiss instead.  She

backs me across the room until I feel my couch pressing behind me.

 

"Gabrielle" she whispers.

 

"Just Gabe."  I reply and surrender to her mouth on mine, sure fingers separating the

buttons of my shirt.

 

Later we recline on my bed, her cheek resting against the outside swell of my breast, legs

intertwined.  Her fingers, anointed with the subtle musk of my passion, draw lazy

patterns on my inner thigh.

 

"Is it a memoir?"  Her head tilts up and teeth close gently over the pulse point at the

juncture of my neck and shoulder.

 

"Some of it."  Desire rekindling in the pit of my belly.  "More of it, now."

 

She rolls her body back on top of mine.  Her questing hand slides closer to where she is

most needed.

 

"How will you write us?"

 

I try to press my hips into her touch but she moves away, just out of reach.

 

"Please…" A wish, my prayer.

 

"Give me your words first."

 

I close my eyes and will the voices to speak.  "They come together: one the inky

blackness of night, the other the incandescent light of day.  They touch but for the briefest

of moments and the one is no more.  For the birth of light is the death of dark.  And

presence alone is the end of void."

 

Her hand stills and the voices fade.  My need is gone and tears well in my eyes at the

loss.  I shiver, prickles of sensation racing across my skin.  My nipples harden in

autonomic empathy.

 

"You're cold."  Her hand reaches across to draw the sheets.

 

I stop her.  "I'm always cold."

 

"You should live somewhere warmer."  Her head nestles once again against my breast.

 

"Perhaps Tucson."  I murmur into hair like rusted silk.  "Even the dead are warm in

Tucson."

 

* * * * *

 

It is the morning after the night before and I sit at my breakfast bar with her coffee (milk,

no sugar) in one hand and mine (black) in the other.  There is the rush of a toilet flushing,

and then the brief hiss of running water from the tap.  I feel displaced by the intimacy of

the sounds.  The bathroom door opens and she is striding toward me, a vision in

yesterday's rumpled clothes.

 

I offer the mug to her and when she doesn't take it, I notice the capped amber canisters in

her hand and the question in her eyes.

 

"Imuran and Inderal."  I offer by way of explanation.  "Commonly used to treat cirrhosis

and portal hypertension."

 

"Cirrhosis."  Her eyes, indigo with desire just hours before, are now raking over my body

in clinical diagnosis.  "How far has it progressed?"

 

"Acute.  Possibly end-stage."

 

"I see."  She takes the lukewarm coffee from my hand.  "What about a transplant?"

 

"And she was the font for many but for her, alas, there was none."  I smile at the

confusion etched into her porcelain face.  "Forgive the voices.  It means that I am Type-

O, great as a donor, but shit-out-of-luck as a donee."

 

"I'm a doctor.  If you need to get on a list…" It is my lover speaking.

 

For a fleeting moment I see a gossamer thread between us.  Spun from her light and

fastened, taut and straining with tension, to the dark mooring of my soul.

 

"I am Gabrielle de Haviland Lowell.  I don't need a list."  The thread breaks.

 

"Indeed."  The doctor replies, my lover gone.

 

"You're going to be late for visiting hour."  I feel the illness radiating from my liver,

pulling me down.  I am heavy and slow.

 

She slides her mug, coffee untouched, onto the bar.  Two strides and she is scooping her

purse from the floor.  Three strides later and she is at the threshold, her hand reaching out

for the door.

 

"Dana."  I cannot look at her for she is too bright.  "Who do you visit when you go?"

 

"My partner."  The sound of my heart breaking.

 

The door opens.

 

The door closes.

 

And she is gone.

 

* * * * *

 

THE END

 

* * * * *

 

To the sequel: On a Clear Day You Can See Tomorrow

fatladysing@hotmail.com

  

 
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