Wednesday, March 28, 6:04 p.m.
I find the living room of the O’Lies house deserted. There’s no one in the kitchen or the bathroom. I don’t dare call out, for fear of teenaged Lucy’s wrath. I sigh and wander out onto the porch to wait for Jack.
The evening air is chilly. I sit gingerly on a moldy 1970s era couch parked under the front window. I take a deep breath. My head begins to clear as the scents of salt from Puget Sound and decaying fire retardant fabric from the couch mingle in my nostrils. The setting sun is throwing off bands of orange and gold from behind the neighboring roofs. This strikes me as a great place to morosely smoke while contemplating the rusted Ford truck on cinderblocks in the yard across the street, white trash philosopher style.
I catch a flicker of motion in my peripheral vision. Something comes out the front door and moves toward me, then the cushions jar as someone sits beside me on the couch. I expect Lucy or Leo. Maybe Jack, arriving home unannounced through the back door.
It’s Mrs. O’Lies. I turn to look at her. She’s darting a finger and thumb into a crumpled pack of cigarettes, a lighter clutched in the hollow of her palm.
Her face is a horror show. It stops my heart.
I drop my gaze to the pitted cement of the porch. I swallow hard. I turn my face reluctantly back to her and focus on white Keds, mom jeans of the unflattering pegged variety, an oversized University of Washington sweatshirt clearly nabbed from her husband’s closet, a mop of curly brown hair. Her face is averted from mine as she hunches over the lighter, her hands cupping around the flame to protect it from the wind.
I feel I should say something. Simultaneously, I feel I should not. As she straightens up, I quickly dart my eyes to a broken down swing set listing wearily in the front yard three houses down.
Her voice is so normal, yet her face is so grotesque. I must look at it. Surely my avoidance is worse than the expression of barely contained shock in my eyes.
I can’t look at her. Instead, I stare at the cigarette pack clutched in her hand. Ah Capris! The cigarette of choice for the cool Asian chicks at my college. I once admired these super skinny smokes and their super skinny smokers.
“No,” I say. “Thank you.”
As I speak, I realize that I have paused so long that my reply to her question sounds nonsensical.
“You’re here for Jack?” she says.
“Yes,” I say.
“Mm,” she says.
She’s awfully quiet. Is she staring at me? Why would she do that? Well, if I happened to be napping on my couch and a strange woman showed up on my porch wanting to see my husband, what would I think?
I must force myself to look at her. It’s the least I can do.
I drag my gaze to her face and lock my eyes on hers. They are mud brown. One of them seems larger and duller than the other. It doesn’t move. It’s dead, like the eye of a mannequin in a store window. Her eyelids are jagged, the edges thin like torn newspaper. There are only a few lashes clustered in the corner of her left eye, like the bristles on the back of a blowfly.
“I’m a journalist,” I say. I think I say it. My mouth moves in the shape of the words.
Gray smoke encircles her head like the dirty halo of a ruined saint. Her split lips part impossibly in three sections, issuing more smoke.
“You’re from the Washingtonian?”
“No,” I say. “I’m from the Journal. It’s a monthly.”
“Yeah,” she says. “We used to get it. Years and years ago. You don’t work with Jack, then?”
“No,” I say.
“I’m here to interview him,” I say.
Can I look away yet? Has it been long enough? If I look away too soon, I’ll seem shifty. Like I’m lying.
“Well,” I say. “I’m actually interested in talking to you, too. I understand that you are…were…um….”
Further evidence that I am no threat to Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer or Katie Couric.
“Um,” I conclude. “So, do you know when your husband will be home?”
“Ex-husband,” she says.
“Oh, right,” I say. “Wait. What?”
“Want a drink?” she says, making to rise. I notice for the first time that there’s a metal cane resting against the couch next to her. I notice, as she grips it, that she’s missing the tips of three fingers on her left hand. I notice that the remaining fingers don’t have nails.
“No, thanks,” I say. “He’s your ex-husband?”
“Jack will be home sometime,” she says, fumbling with the cane as she gets to her feet. “Six, nine. You never know with him. You should have a drink.”
“I have to drive,” I say. “He’s really your ex-husband?”
“Yeah,” she says.
“How did that happen? If you don’t mind my asking.”
She is grotesque, but Jack can’t possibly be such a cold-hearted bastard. Can he?
“It’s complicated,” she says.
“I’m sure,” I say.
“I’m gonna get a drink,” she says. “Want one or not?”
To appease her, to get her peculiar glass eye and the unmatched real one off me, I say, “Sure.”
She limps into the house, her body nearly collapsing over the cane with each step. When she returns, she has a bottle of vodka and five pictures.