Chapter Thirty-Five Maelstrom
Another night, another furious storm. The wind beats a path bowing trees while the waves snap violently against the shore. Lightning shreds the pitch-black sky. I sit alone in front of the overly large windows waiting for the world to split and life to finally end. I feel guilty as hell experiencing the thrill of extreme weather while Mother Earth fends off the vicious blows—the product of us inconsiderate guests violating her body like an abusive partner.
I would love nothing more than to ride the lightning and roll with the wind.
“There’s a tornado watch.” Gray sits down next to me, pulling at the large throw to share with him, covering us both. I release the blanket reluctantly. Our skin touches briefly—bare hot legs. I ignore the flutter of familiar near my center pulling the cover closer around me as a buffer, with still plenty to spare for him. The throw could encompass half the room. Rich people: when they buy, they buy big. Never fails.
I continue watching the maelstrom not looking at him and not bothering to conceal my impish grin. “Yes.”
He looks at me and laughs. “Another storm chaser then?”
I arch an eyebrow then realize to what he refers.
Another feel at my center—this one like a punch.
“When there was a thunderstorm, he used to wake me up in the middle of the night to sit and watch with him while he oohed and awed at it: ‘Dad, did you see that? What about that one? Dad, that one was huge!’”
I turn towards him. A wistful expression, his face renders age benign. The likeness between him and Niky stuns me once more. I look away back towards the sky swallowing hard and focus on the storm.
“Yeah, we used to wake up and watch storms together. If he was traveling, we would Facetime, or send each other videos.” I take a deep breath wincing my way through that bog of memories.
Gray needed to talk about Niky. I feel his longing heavy in the air. I wait for it, and the tornado. This urgency to unburden himself spawns emotions—violent ones. Like this storm. Addled and unflappable, I carry onward towards the eye and the center of my madness.
I imagine our discombobulated heads visible from the back of the settee—an outsider peering within and around at the large windows as lightning illuminates the room ornate with hollowness; a wide-angle stage of bloated privilege floating amongst the verisimilitude of house and country; both prisons of an autocrat with a totalitarian agenda of corruption and death.
And, we’re circling the center of it all.
I hear Niky snort with laughter in my head: Oh my god, you’re being melodramatic. You hung out with me much too long.
A small laugh—disconsolate and flippant—I recognize the critical extremes of my mania and grief. Fraught between anarchy and anguish, I feel something within me provoking confrontation with the inevitable. Something forceful rages inside of me. I don’t know what to do with the power it holds over me.
Gray looks at me, a small crooked smile tugs at his lips then fades. Obscure and heavy burns behind those eyes.
I laugh harder because the pain of similarities stings far too much. To not laugh is to cry and to liberate the rage.
“We need alcohol,” he says and I gather he feels the tension I percolate.
He gets up in search of booze. I notice he hasn’t bothered to put on pants. His legs covered in muscle—athletic and a stale tan; average paleness for a white person that doesn’t bother spending enormous amounts of time in the sun.
It’s not long before he’s back with a bottle of vodka. “This good?”
“Good enough,” I say pulling it from his hands taking a deep drink while he stares at me in an open-mouthed smile. He climbs back under the throw. I hand the bottle back to him.
“Are you walking around in your underwear?” I ask him as he passes the bottle back to me after taking a long drink, attempting to deflect from his need to vent.
Gray looks at his legs under the throw. “They’re black boxer briefs. I don’t think you can label them risqué. Can you? It’s not like I’m some dirty old man bent on seducing you.” A pause in what appears to be thought. “Aren’t you only a few years younger than me?”
Am I projecting his need to vent? Is it my need to unleash that within? Or is he inciting it? I feel his mind meander into areas dark and forbidden. I see it in that long hard stare.
I can’t help but think how unusual the situation. I’m sitting with my dead boyfriend’s father—who’s in his underwear and looks more like his clone—in the house of his murderer and the arbiter of our oppressions.
That’s putting it mildly, I tell myself. Autocratic overlord would better suffice. Or not. Best not to gift him with too much grit since he’s such a buffoon. The autocrat, not the dead boyfriend’s father that sits staring at me still. My thoughts return to him. So close, I can feel the heat spiral off his body reaching for me.
I avoid the detail that most disturbs me about this entire tragedy—the attraction. This man does not look over a decade older than me—the privilege of having lots of money and being able to buy all those fancy skin creams and eat all those expensive healthy foods and having all that extra time to workout and such.
I laugh again awkwardly and uncomfortably feeling the fire flow through my veins combined with the fury and yearning of a best friend and lover taken from me far too soon.
“You and your son are—” I pause grinding teeth at my inability to come to terms with the fact Niky’s gone so much so I still talk about him as if he’s simply traveling. “—so much alike.” I smile to emphasize the compliment raising the bottle in a salute.
He nods in acknowledgment and takes the bottle raising it towards the onslaught. “Best compliment I’ve ever been given. To Niky.”
The storm rages on.
We sit there for some time in silence passing the bottle between us till I finally accept the connection and choose a path. I look at him. He looks at me. “I want in on whatever you’re plotting and I don’t mean the Foundation,” I say sternly without pause pointing at him emphasizing you’re.
He squints at me for a long beat in contemplation and a shared bond—the bond of loving and losing someone that meant the world to both of us and the fury and vengeance generated that lives and thrives as we search for a way to move forward.
“I’m not planning anything. I don’t have the emotional energy.”
At that moment, Ali walks into the room and climbs in on the other side of me under the throw. Her hair, natural—big, curly with blonde tips against her vivid brown skin. Her pink pajamas do little to hide her magnificent figure and I’m reminded just how beautiful she is at any one moment to an almost breathtaking degree.
“What y’all planning?” She grabs the bottle and takes a deep drink.
I look at her with a small smile then back towards the sky: “Nothing.”
“Liar. I know you, Willa Alexandra Avery and Niky was just like his daddies. Y’all planning something,” she says pointing at Gray. “So, spill it.”
“Nothing, beautiful,” deflecting, then that big flashy grin arrives to distract and redirect the conversation—the one that makes me grind teeth and squeeze my thighs tightly together.
Ali’s not having it.
She looks between us then rolls her eyes. “You’ll tell me when it’s time, I s’pose. In the meantime—” she pulls out a small pipe carved in the shape of a frog, lighter, and a bag full of weed from under the covers. “I bring delights.”
My smile widens: “Where did you get that?” I ask while Gray snickers.
“Jessie. Your private military is growing on me, Gray.” As she packs the pipe. “I’m thinking of all kinds of uses for them. You know for the revolution.”
“Yeah, me too. Please do share.”
She hands me the pipe and I light up taking a deep toke. Along with half a bottle of vodka, the combination curls nicely inside me, spreading like an orgasm. I start giggling thinking about the three of us, middle-aged in our underwear, under the covers, drinking vodka and smoking pot from a frog, watching the world unravel while plotting sedition. Well, two of us are plotting, and I feel Ali’s eyes. She knows. I shrug off the burden of guilt determined to roll with subversion.
“You know, we’re going to smoke all those frogs,” I giggle and snort as does Ali and Gray at my innuendo. “Not literal frogs. I did hear thanks to climate change all the frogs are dying though. Along with everything else,” The latter fading under the clap of thunder.
“Willa stoned is Willa philosophical and always my little social justice warrior.” She puts an arm around me and squeezes.
“Hoorah,” says Gray.
I look at Gray and offer him the pipe and lighter. When he goes to take it, I hold it back eyeing him. “Okay?” I ask.
He smiles again and I realize that I might not have any teeth before too long, grinding away at them as I am. “Okay,” he says and takes the pipe and lighter.
Do I see the promise of retribution and ire in his eyes, or his a veil of pain and exhaustion and I’m only seeing what I wanna see?
Regardless, the game is on, but which game? And am I playing it all alone?
© 2020 Pamela Gay Mullins