Returns and Departures – Tom Gaffney
“Go ahead, give it a try. Just know it will be trying, potentially more upsetting than helpful.”
They had been camping since they left Glacier. At first she had been so disconsolate she did not care to mark time’s passage. Roger and Manny had both been apologetic for their return, but said it was hopeless: they had to come back for her.
There had been a few weeks after her return from the pier. She had been frightened her first night back by the sound of an old VW heading east on 542. The sound of that old van frightened her. But it had not been that night. Time passed, blessedly normal. Deep down though, she knew that the stuff in her pocket was not good news and sooner or later someone was going to come looking for her.
The past encounters had been similar to that afternoon in their dream like strangeness. To whatever degree she could say she had gotten used to things, she guessed she had. The way you get used to some vivid nightmares, but instead of waking up in a cold sweat you return as if from a daydream with your friends looking at you in a concerned way, asking if you are alright. But she had never come home with remembrances in her pocket.
This trip was different, and Roger let her know right way.
She had a day off and had gone for a hike. Mid-week, nobody else out at the butte. It had been a beautiful day and the sunshine and effort on a long familiar trail, all beneath the grandeur of Baker and Shuksan, peeling away the fatigue that had dogged her since the encounter with Svetlana and George and the pelicans.
She was definitely paying more attention to the birds since the pier.
The trailhead lot had been quiet on her return. Whether she knew what was waiting she had savored that afternoon. At least she had that.
She was getting changed at her car, having a drink when she first heard the sound of the van as it labored up the last of the switchbacks. She was even able to look down the slope into the valley and watch as the van climbed the hill to her.
They pulled up, no false smiles, but a faint note of welcome, or mere relief.
“Lucille, I am sorry to do this to you. Normally I would not bore you with such pleasantry as I once again disrupt your life. This really is unprecedented in my experience, which I assure you, is considerably more humble than you might think.”
“Sure Roger, sure. Whatever.”
“I am afraid that knowing more about what is going on will not help you, will only draw you in more deeply. I must ask though,” a look of fear in Roger’s eye, “did you hold on to everything Svetlana put in your pocket that afternoon?”
“Somehow, I knew we were not finished,” she said, weary words floating away from her, “it is not everyday someone sends you home with a finger and a ring.”
“Was there anything else?” some of his tension dissipating.
“A napkin with some kind of code, a kind of signature from Svetlana, a lipstick smear, and a piece of fried clam.”
“I saved that too.”
“Fried clam,” said Manny. “Reminds me Roger – nearly time to eat.”
Roger squinted, nearly smiled, and added “Manny, if things weren’t so fucking bad already I would beat the shit out of you.”
“Good luck with that Roger Dodger. I have no fear. Whatever happens, I wager it will be better with a full belly.”
The van was crammed with camping gear. They stopped by her apartment, parked her car and took some clothes.
“Do you want to leave a note for Dave?”
“What do you know about Dave? Every other time I left, time here seemed to stand still. What is going on?” Lucille asked.
“As I said, I have never seen this before. Aside from affecting our memories no tangible physical items had crossed from that perspective to this perspective in my experience. And time, at least as far as I and Manny can see it, has seemed a bit different for us since that afternoon.”
“It was a trip man. “ Manny chimed in. “George and his pals, some scary stuff.”
“So, my departure is going to be obvious to Dave?”
“I fear it will. And I do not take this impact lightly. According to what I have learned this is to be avoided. But something strange, even by our standards, is going down. Now, I am scared, I must admit. But trying to hide from this would be a mistake near as I can tell. A capitulation if you will. I think most of these, characters, are pretty ambivalent to us, only interacting when they can and when they see it as necessary.”
“But you saw George, talk about a bad,” she spluttered, “aura.”
She left a note for Dave. She left with the two of them. Her life was hers, and no matter how she felt about it sometimes, having it stripped away was raw and painful. The loneliness was immediately intense, numbing with sudden stabs of great anguish.
“Two more days, we meet, near as I can tell.” said Roger.
“Svetlana, or one of her, um, messengers.”
She tried to call Dave from a payphone at a rest area on I-5. The first time he hung up. She lost her change. Manny had some quarters for her in the ashtray, so she headed right back. He picked up again, on her fourth try.
“Why do you keep calling me?” Dave yelled into the phone.
“Dave, Dave, it’s me,” she nearly sobbed into the phone.
“Listen, I know the IRS is not coming for me you scammer. There is no lien on my property. There are no unpaid taxes.”
“Dave, its Lucille.”
“Now fuck off, stop calling me.”
The line went dead. So, she could get through to Dave, but only as some kind of spam caller. Oh the wonder of it all. What did it matter? She was cut off. She just wanted to be home on some boring evening, a quiet night talking, watching a movie. But the only way she could get to him, he thought she was a spam caller.
“Well?” asked Roger.
“You were right. It was a waste. Worse than a waste.”
Back into the van, they were soon immersed in the routinely terrible afternoon traffic that began north of the city line. The anxiety of the group was palpable and the crawling traffic and the drone of the radio were no comfort.
You know, being off from work has not been half bad, Fred thought. Been a good opportunity to tune up the resume. I need to get out of there. The place is stagnant, pay is good. He found it hard to believe he was saying it, but the culture there was terrible. Really kind of soul crushing, a depiction of an office from decades gone by.
The arm was in a sling, but the headaches had finally stopped. The EMTs and the Orthopd were amazed it was nothing worse.
“You are a lucky man,” said the doctor.
It was a beautiful spring afternoon. Ethel had pointed out it was a shame he could not use his time off more industriously in their pea patch or on any other number of projects. What are you going to do?
Their patch was in the greenway under the power lines on Beacon Hill. He had arranged with Connie to have her drop Clara there after school.
The patch was in need of some attention – no surprise there. Plenty of weeds. There was a new nest of crows in the trees adjacent to the pea patch. They seemed a bit annoyed with Fred, but more so with some raptor – a hawk or an osprey – that was taking an interest in the location.
Connie dropped Clara off, exchanging pleasantries through the passenger window before heading off.
“Well bean, how was the day?”
“Fine. Nothing too exciting. Testing this week – no homework. What’s up with those birds?”
The crows were making a big noise, and chasing the bird of prey as it circled lazily, hovering high above the patch and the power lines.
“They are noisy. What a racket.”
They were watching the birds, not noticing the van as it pulled up. It was on them before Fred even looked up.
Manny had his window rolled down, “hey Fred, how’re you doin’ old boy. Last I saw you; you were face down on the pavement. You ain’t looking too bad, for you.”
Fred moved himself between Clara and the van, stunned first, then finding his anger. The details of his accident and running into these two before and during it were vivid. The connection was apparent to him.
“Hey – I remember you well enough now. Seems like when you two show up it’s not going to be good. Whatever issue you have with me . . . “
“Don’t worry dad, Fred,” said Clara, a distant look, a high cloud crossing her face, “I’ve known Manny for a long time. How are you Mister Manny?”
Roger had climbed out of the van and was walking around the front.
“Manny, what’s going on? How does . . .”
He was cut off – a sizzle, the sound of an electric discharge. The body of a large bird fell to the ground, some feathers following it, slowly descending.
The group of crows had swollen to quite a group now, Lucille might have said hundreds, but who knew. They hovered over the group, their noise deafening.
“Old Manny,” Clara continued, smiling “where there’s trouble he’s sure to be found. Good to see you old friend.”
The crows screamed and brewed in the late spring afternoon. The sun watched, a silent and distant witness, as this patch of earth resolutely and with practiced pace turned its back to another day.