Derailed

by Eric Grant

When the heart is broken and the dream is gone, annihilation is delicious.
- Steve Erickson, Amnesiascope

It was just a matter of time before he spoke to her. He had glanced at her twice; now he stuffed one hand in his pocket and approached her. She didn’t really want to talk, though if she had to talk to someone, best that it be him: there was something about the way he swaggered and especially about the way he played with the stud ring imbedded below his lip that made her wonder. She thought that he might ask her for a cigarette even though she wasn’t smoking, but he was bolder than that.

“You look too old to be sitting here at this time of the morning,” the boy said with a smile, and Caroline shivered. He brushed away a few strands of hair to reveal beautiful green eyes, so offset by the shaggy dark hair that Caroline wondered if they were real. She was reminded of an Aztec statue with embedded emeralds for eyes, and she shivered again and felt pleasantly disoriented under his youthful gaze. It was as if he wanted to undress her but wasn’t sure how to proceed.

She said with a pained smile, “How young are you that I look so old?”
“Seventeen,” he answered too quickly. “It’s my birthday today,” he added. The green eyes, the stud ring that looked like a silver pimple about to burst, and his blunt innocent honesty titillated a part of her that she had presumed dead. It was just the flicker of desire, a faint memory awash in pain, and therefore a desire born of need, but she held onto it and allowed the lust to grow without tormenting herself with issues of propriety.

“How old do you think I am?” she asked.

“Thirty,” the boy answered, then hesitated. Appraised her. “No, definitely not more than thirty.” She smiled again, surprised that he’d guessed so accurately.

A gust of air burst through the train station and she drew her coat tighter around her shoulders. “And what are you doing here at this time of the morning? On your birthday?” she asked.

The boy shrugged. He said, “I don’t like being around when my brother comes home from work. He’s always tired and in a bad mood, and today I feel like being happy.” That’s makes two of us, Caroline thought, but she remained silent and encouraged the boy to continue instead, with a nod, a blink, and a slight hand gesture. “He works the night shift at some company…” His voice drifted off and Caroline didn’t insist. “So I’m just wandering. Came to get coffee.”

She reached out without thinking and toyed with his sleeve as if inspecting it, then retracted her arm quickly. “Let me offer you that cup of coffee for your birthday.”

“What’s your name?” he asked. “Mine’s Angelo.”

She might otherwise have told him that it wasn’t necessary; but his name associated with his demeanor did actually mean something. She tried not to show her surprise, stood up and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, and pretended not to notice him blush. “That’s for your birthday. I’m Caroline,” she added, holding out her hand. She looked up at him—he stood a half a head taller—and he shook her hand timidly with a suspicious leer glazing his penetrating eyes. Finally he lowered his head, unable to maintain her stare. She kept his hand in hers much longer than necessary, until he looked at her again, then she let it slide out slowly so that he could feel the softness of her skin and the brush of her fingertips.

She slipped her arm through his and mumbled as they headed for the coffee stand, but Angelo disengaged his arm from hers and left her momentarily flustered. He asked, “So what are you doing here so early anyway?”

The deep rumble of a train departing covered her answer.

“I didn’t want to be alone. Penn Station is the only place nearby guaranteed to be filled with people at six in the morning.”

*     *     *

Daniel was a cautious man in his early thirties, but his caution was born of experience rather than a pure aversion to risk. This caution also characterized his thought process which often made people think he was dim-witted, but Daniel simply considered all angles of a problem before making a decision, as if life were an endless chess game, the rules of which changed at every move. He had never been rewarded for risk or spontaneity, so he’d embraced order and discipline. Exerting control gave him a sense of achievement and contentment. He did not expect nor hope for more.

Every evening, Daniel left for work at exactly the same time, and knew exactly when the cross-walk signs would be green and when they would not, and how quickly he had to cross on red before a car would come, and therefore how to optimize his time. His return home was set up precisely the same way. He hit upon this scheme when he realized that if he were to respect the lights he would lose time, since crosswalk lights were evidently not synchronized for pedestrians. In this way, he figured that in the eight years he’d been working at Quality Escort, he’d gained some eight hours and fifteen minutes.

And now, Daniel thought desperately, he was now piddling away some of this temporal gain in a useless early morning conversation that he had no real desire to pursue. His long black hair flowed over his broad shoulders and large chest, themselves weighing on a flimsy dining-room table. Daniel cradled the phone, sipped his decaf, twirled in some sugar, dripped some coffee on the table-mat. And tried to make shapes with the stains.

“I called to see how you were.”

Daniel hadn’t asked for any reasons, he just wished she would hang up.

“No, you wanted to catch me off guard… I’m fine. You know I’m fine.”

“I don’t know..., and you sound like you’re pretending. You were always good at that.”

“What? I was always bad at pretending.”

“So you’re not alright?”

“I was doing okay until you called. Why did you call?”

“Because I care about you,” she answered.

“No. No, you don’t… You should care about yourself, you know... Never mind. I’m fine. You don’t need to worry. I’ll be okay, so I’m fine.”

“Now you’re confusing me.”

“I’m sorry. It seems obvious.”

“What? Ah, you’re thinking of me, of my feelings… Yes, you were always too good to me, weren’t you?”

“I was not thinking about you, I’ve done too much of that. But you’re absolutely right: I’m not a good person, but I tried too hard to be good to you, and that’s not what you wanted.”

Her voice adopted a new tone, almost frantic. She said, “Yes it is! It is what I wanted!”

“No! You need to hurt to feel alive because you no longer think you deserve someone who is kind.”

“Don’t say that.”

“Why? Because the truth hurts? But it’s a different kind of hurt, isn’t it?”

“This isn’t like you, Daniel.”

“I don’t know what else to say... I won’t change, you know, as much as I’d like to—maybe someone else will be hurt enough already to appreciate…” He stopped and held the receiver away from him, looking at it as if it personified the woman at the other end of the line. Then he said: “This is useless. I should have known better than to date someone... one of the girls. Please don’t call again. I'll see you tonight, Sheila.”

“You’ll never have a happy relationship,” she said.

Daniel hung up without responding. He stood up and poured his decaf down the drain. Then he brushed his teeth, flossed, rinsed his mouth with fluoride wash, and slept for several hours.

*     *     *

Angelo pulled the covers up to his chin, not because he was ashamed of his nakedness but because he felt a cool breeze across his chest from the open window. Caroline had left the bedroom a while ago and Angelo now heard the sound of percolating coffee. He let out a sigh. This wasn’t his first time with a woman, certainly, but his other experiences were now dulled and seemed insignificant, brief moments of personal satisfaction without concern for the other. Caroline had taught him how to give a woman pleasure, and after the initial frustration at being told what to do and when to do it, he discovered the heightened sensations of delayed satisfaction, of seeing the other person’s body ripple and undulate under his touch. “You’re beautiful,” she’d said, and that was something else that initially put him ill-at-ease: talking during sex. It seemed unnatural, seemed to swathe the act in the harsh light of reality. But she insisted and he relented, and eventually he shed the inhibitions that arrogantly he thought he didn’t have. “You’re beautiful too,” he had murmured back, though painfully, as if he were telling her that he loved her and knew it wasn’t true; not that he didn’t think that she wasn’t pretty, it just seemed such an intimate statement. “Thank you,” she said, “thank you for saying that. Maybe I can believe it for a moment.” Confused, he had lowered his head, and groans soon replaced words as his stud ring brushed up against her inner thigh.

Caroline came back into the room and sat on the edge of the bed. “Well, thank you again, beautiful boy.”

“Will I see you again?” he asked.

“Do you want to?”

“I don’t know.” He didn’t want to be unkind, but he expressed his awkward feelings more harshly than he wished.

He got out of bed and slipped on his jeans. “Probably best not to,” she said, and sighed. “It’s a crime.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell.”

She laughed. “Oh, I wasn’t thinking of that...” Then she added ruefully: “You’re a thoughtful boy, but don’t be too nice.”

“Not sure I could if I tried,” he said, deciding that he didn’t want to see her again.

“No, no… Not with me. You don’t know me,” she said sharply, and walked out.

Her apartment was small and dark. The front door gave onto the living room with a stove in the right-hand corner. There was one bedroom, and a toilet separated from the shower by a screen door. The sink was so small and narrow that Angelo knocked his head against the wall when he tried to wash his face. By the time he was dressed, Caroline had fixed coffee and was sitting at the living room table. He remained standing.

“You know,” he said, “it’s not good to have the outside stairwell right opposite your front door. Bad vibes. You should put a fishbowl somewhere in the room. Takes away the negative energy.”

“What’s that?”

“Feng Shui. My brother swears by the stuff.”

“I'll think about it... Well, have a cup of coffee and get back to your brother’s. You’ll want to be going home now. Your brother should be home by now, right?”

Angelo nodded and reached for the coffee. Caroline almost took his hand but thought better of it, and turned away.

*     *     *

A whiff of fresh basil reached Angelo as soon as he stepped through the doorway—tangy, almost bittersweet. Daniel had carefully blended olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan and pecorino—all in measured doses. Now the water was boiling, frothy with salt, and Daniel slipped in the spaghetti as Angelo opened the refrigerator and drank from a carton of orange juice.

“What have you been up to?” Daniel asked his brother.

“Enjoying my birthday.”

Daniel laughed forcefully, discomfited by his brother’s deadpan expression: pasta never failed to light a fire in Angelo’s eyes, yet his brother hardly cracked a smile when the bowl was placed before him.

Eating pesto was their ritual, and the closest Angelo came to feeling his mother’s presence—a mixture of smell, taste and texture which captured her essence. He loved his brother’s pesto, and Daniel’s claim that it was only a pale copy of their mother’s original dish only enhanced the ideal image which he had formed of his mother’s cooking, indeed of her persona. Everything about his mother was notional for Angelo; there were no memories, nothing concrete to hold on to, and pesto could always be summoned, reborn from consistent ingredients... Pesto was more powerful than the few photographs that lay scattered around the apartment, more personal than the few remaining objects that had constituted her life: a pair of ceramic ducks, a video tape of Zorba the Greek which Daniel had not had the heart to throw out, a Qahatika headdress which their father, Mario Saccane, had brough back from one of his trips to Arizona.

Mario was a traveling salesman... Was, or is, or had been—Daniel had no idea. He had no clue as to his father’s whereabouts. Perhaps he had died in an explosive car crash which had also destroyed all chances of identifying him. Perhaps he had decided one day not to return, and now led a bigamous life among the pines of Wisconsin. Daniel’s favored version was that he had been mugged in downtown Denver, stumbling home from a comely waterhole where he’d sought to wash away the homesickness that overcame him after a few weeks away from Brooklyn. He’d put up a fight, and been knifed and robbed as a result.... This was the story Daniel had told Angelo when, at six years of age, his brother had clambered into his bed just past midnight to ask about their parents and death.

Their mother, Angelina, had died in childbirth, without ever seeing her husband again, without Mario ever knowing that his wife was pregnant. After Daniel’s birth, they had been told that she would not be able to bear another. And for sixteen years, that remained true. Then a miracle occured, a miracle with devastating consequences, a truly poisoned gift. Angelina recognized the symptoms a few weeks after her husband’s final departure. She recognized the miracle and refused an abortion, willing to play the sacrificial lamb if indeed the doctor’s worst fears were realized—but neither Daniel nor his mother imagined that in this day and age someone could die in childbirth. Later Daniel would say that his father’s unexplained and unexplainable absence sapped whatever strength his mother had to avoid the tragedy: the doctor delivered Angelo from a dead woman’s ruptured womb. “We can’t hope for more than one miracle, Daniel,” Angelina had told her eldest son before dying. “That would be asking too much of God.”

Daniel’s own Christian sentiments were tainted (in his mother’s eyes) by years of martial arts practice. He preferred to think of spirituality in terms of cosmic balance—the ying and the yang. But since the “miracle” of his bother’s conception cost him the life of his mother and the presence of his father, his sense of equity was sorely tested. It was a high price to pay indeed. At the age of seventeen, Daniel acquired his parents’ home, his parents’ car and a newborn baby.

Balance was restored to some extent over the next few years. Though born at barely seven months, Angelo was a strong, healthy boy of seven pounds who required little additional care for a premature baby. The owners of a local Italian diner where Angelina worked assisted Daniel in every way they could: the owner arranged for his brother—manager of Manhattan-based Quality Escort—to hire Daniel as a chauffeur (his large build and knowledge of martial arts played in his favor), his wife took care of Angelo during Daniel’s long nights at work, and the cook provided the growing young man with illimited access to his kitchen. Two years later, after finishing high school, Daniel was earning a large enough salary chauffeuring around high-class call-girls to allow him to move to Manhattan, and acquire the services of a live-in nanny.

As soon as Angelo was old enough to eat solid food, he showed a consistent preference for his brother’s pesto, and eventually it became the required dish to celebrate the boy’s birthday and honor their mother’s memory. On the occasion of Angelo’s seventeenth birthday, Daniel stretched his cooking skills and made a strawberry cheese cake. He served them a slice each and sat down to face his brother.

“I thought a long time about what present to give you, Angelo. You’re now the age I had when our mother died. It’s time to set you free, so to speak. I figured you had little use for a car in Manhattan, but you could certainly benefit from some traveling.” Daniel slid an envelope across the table. “This is a promissary note: as soon as you finish high school, you’ll be able to cash twelve thousand dollars to travel for a year. I figured that if you choose your countries well, and travel light, you should easily manage on a thousand a month.”

Angelo stared at the envelope but didn’t take it. “What am I going to do for a year, away from here, away from you?” he mumbled. Daniel did not answer. Finally Angelo looked up at him, and Angelo noticed a green glimmer of something new in his brother’s eyes: it was the realization of the world opening up before him, and it was the very reaction that Daniel had hoped for.

*     *     *

Caroline bent over the table mirror and caught her reflection briefly before snorting up the white line of crystal meth powder. It was someone she did not recognize, and she quickly turned away from the confrontation. The mellow hum from the speed gradually subsided as she adjusted her auburn wig and laced up her knee-high boots—laces meant more time removing the boots, and therefore less time actually having to pleasure the client. The speed allowed her to make it through the night without too much self-deprecation.
She stepped out onto the sidewalk, and the limousine pulled up right on time. She settled in the backseat.

“Evening, Sheila," said the driver. “Where to?”

Caroline took a sip of bottled mineral water, debating whether or not to respond. “Do you have to do this, Daniel? You’re not just my driver anymore, no matter how much you try to pretend.”

“I’ve been driving you for over a year now. You only told me your real name three weeks ago. It hardly hangs in the balance.”

“I told you a lot more than that. It should count for something.” Daniel did not respond. Caroline looked out the window at the revelers on 14th street. “So? Where to?”

“Avenue B and Fifth. New client. Probably a trendy loft.”

“Any special requests?”

Caroline continued to stare out the window at the string of lights—traffic, neon, strobe and store fronts—unable to muster the energy to avoid the game played between them, the game that erased the intimacy they had known.
“I wouldn’t worry about this one. He seemed quite bold in his desire for a submissive female.”

It was always the meek ones of which they were most wary, and those who pretended to understand only too quickly that there were limits. Such suspicions had helped Caroline avoid any traumatic experiences. A state-of-the-art alarm system and the promise of Daniel’s subsequent visit were any boundaries overstepped, managed to disuade further any over-eager customer. As a call-girl willing to comply to the dominating urges of the young wealthy Manhattan elite, Caroline had carved herself a niche within Quality Escort. She could charge more and work fewer nights. And taking light punishment was no toil; it was in fact the only way she could envision selling her services. Being treated as an object allowed her to forget her situation, and to deceive herself into believing that she was not in control. It had not always been so, but such was the price she paid for broken trust and shattered confidence.

They arrived at destination just before midnight. “We have ten minutes,” Daniel said. He liked to send up his girls on the hour, to better keep track of time. Tariffs were based on periods from fifteen minutes to an hour (though an early ejaculation could effectively cut the time short). The dominating types almost always asked for an hour, and sometimes they were rough and sometimes they couldn't perform. Caroline didn’t care either way: it was just an additional invasion and discharge from which she had learned to distance herself, and time in the bathroom to clean up allowed her the opportunity for an oft required speed bump.

“I slept with your brother,” Caroline said. “He came up to me this morning at Penn Station, told me it was his birthday.” Her head hung low as she checked her nails. “There’s quite a resemblance.”

“I didn’t know you fucked for free. Or didn't you?”

Caroline looked up and into the rearview mirror. She breathed in deeply and steeled herself from further hurt. “That’s not like you, Daniel. You’ve always been good to the girls.”

“Yes? That doesn’t make me their damn therapist, or their caring and protective older brother. I can get fed up too… But you’re part of them, you know... Why do you set yourself apart?”

“I’m not damaged in the same way.”

“None of us are damaged, Caroline. We all have a cross to bear, that's all.”

“And our sins to expiate?” Caroline smiled ruefully. “How are those day classes at NYU going, by the way?”

“It’s midnight, Caroline. Time to go.”

She opened the door and stepped out. “You don’t have a cross to bear, Daniel, just the pain of loss, like me,” Caroline said. “But yours was much greater, and still you’re a fucking saint,” she added, gently closing the car door.

The client was a talker, one of those annoying types who felt inclined to lead some sociological study, or who believed they were cool asking a call-girl about her past, thought they were treating her like a human being. “What got you into the business? Can you do it out of pleasure sometimes?—Oh! Of course, I don’t expect you to do so with me, I was just curious...” Caroline didn’t particularly mind the questions, and Sheila had all the answers: “My parents were drunks, my father abused me. So did my brothers for that matter, they organized gang rapes with their friends. It put money on the table and I came to enjoy it—no pun intended. It was the easiest way to cope, I guess.” That’s what they wanted to hear, and their faces flushed at the mention of pleasurable gang bangs. In the end, it didn’t matter if they believed her or not; it was just foreplay.

Caroline was tired tonight, however, despite the speed, and she had no desire to talk. She could no longer efface herself before Sheila, and suspected that her encounter with Angelo was part of the reason, part of the problem. It was the first time in almost two years that she could remember Caroline acting so assertive. As her client twisted her nipples and belted her back and clasped her neck and sodomized her so eagerly—this one had no trouble getting a hard-on—Caroline no longer felt any justice in being abased. Annihilation was no longer delicious. Angelo had not enabled her to forget her condition and how she paid the rent; he had managed to make her unable to forget it. She couldn't decide whether it was a blessing or a curse. Yet if Angelo was the flame of discontent, Daniel had been the spark, of that she had no doubt now. As her head banged against the bedstead of minimalist design, and shortly after when her client spewed dollar signs, Daniel’s image appeared to her as her construed redemption, a religion invented to touch upon her lost divinity, a pure spirit sculpted as her savior to lift her out of her misplaced love of Love and draw her once again into the rollercoasting conundrum of loving. The pain of such a realization, of such an apparition, was so intense that it eclipsed any amount of suffering that she had ever experienced with a client.

She had told Daniel the story of her life on their first night, and it had sounded like fiction. It was poor fiction: she could only summon the facts, those she believed were still true, but she could convey no emotions. Neither of her parents had been drunks, though they regularly polished off a bottle of vintage wine each night—at least on the nights her father was home, which, as a high-profile corporate banker, was not very often. Caroline played tennis and rode horseback in a respectable Connecticut neighborhood. She achieved a sufficent grade point average, scored high enough on her SATs, and rounded out her academics with enough appropriate extra-curricular activities to gain entrance to Wellsley College where she spent four glorious years on a magnificent campus delaying the choice of a career. She had a few boyfriends in high school, but didn’t lose her virginity until her sophomore year in college—and the couple dated until they got their degrees and he went off to Japan on a Fulbright Scholarship. No, she had no reason to complain about her idyllic upbringing. The only resentment she harbored against her parents was their wonted dissatisfaction: when she was top of her class, they claimed her grades could have been higher; when she ended high school as the salutatorian, they suggested that a little less play and a little more work would have made the difference; when she invited her college boyfriend home for Thanksgiving, she sensed her parents would have preferred a Harvard boy to one from Boston University on a student loan; and her father never disguised his displeasure at spending a hundred thousand dollars for a degree in art history. But she had trouble believing that such behavior, and her concomitant resentment, could have formed the root of her later acts of self-destruction.

She graduated from Wellsley excited with life, and moved to New York intent on getting a Masters of Fine Arts. Her father happily allowed her to pursue two more years escaping the rigors of “real life” with an honorable occupation, though he did occasionally suggest that she should not stop at a Masters—if her wish was to teach, well, why not become a Professor? Caroline had little real wish to teach, though she understood its value as a safety net; no, she wanted to paint, and dreamed of seeing her work in one of the Soho galleries. And paint she did, but recognition was not forthcoming.

She accepted early that her life had not provided what she believed most artists created from: pain and suffering. So she adopted William Blake as her role model—he wrote of bliss, she would paint happiness—and in college she dabbled in marijuana and LSD to “expand her consciousness”. Having obtained her Masters degree, however, she knew it was time to experience a more mundane side of life: at twenty-four she cut with great anticipation the strings attached to her father’s purse, and accepted a teaching position at a local elementary school.

For the first few years, she painted little, with the excuse that she needed time to adapt to the more rigorous demands on her time. Her social life, however, was exemplary for a New York bacherlorette, in other words gratifyingly active, and eventually she met a recent graduate of Columbia School of Journalism, a rookie at the New York Times, and an aspiring writer. They stumbled at first, as he dumped her unceremoniously with a fleeting kiss on the cheek after two weeks, stating that he was not ready to commit. She called him back after two months of sobbing and managed to change his mind—and soon they never spent a night apart. Within a year they were living together. She should have been wary of their inauspicious start, a friend later told her. Caroline, however, was certain she had found the man she would marry and whose children she would bear. He was kind and giving and fun, and sometimes even funny.

Then the blame poured forth one Sunday evening, suddenly, like a dam rupturing: he felt too much pressure to become a father; she was no longer painting and he hardly wrote; the excitement was gone from their lives, it was just work and a few candlelit dinners, and the occasional party with some very settled friends... He was not cruel. There were tears in his eyes when he told her all this, and he blandished his rejection with hugs and kisses. He said it was so hard to consider parting ways because he loved her—but not passionately, and he wanted passion in his life. She was his confidante and best friend, which is why he had believed for so long that it could work, and he could imagine a comfortable existence with her—but he did not want comfort. “I should never have let things get this far. Now I know that I cannot let them go any further. Our relationship would only become intolerable, and then there might be children. I know I thought we would but... It would hurt even more, wouldn’t it?” That was his valediction, and he could not realize how painful it was, for it meant that he had never loved as she had. She had given herself over so entirely to him, and had been deceived. His deception was that much more destructive for being unintentional, and it was so complete that she could not envision ever trusting such emotions ever again. She had read that love was “simply complicated”, but it hadn’t been that way with him. Theirs had been too simple, and he had been unable to live with that. She had not accepted that it was over at first—she had overcome his doubts before—but in the midst of her promises and attempts at reconciliation, she saw a gleam of pity and relief in his eyes as his stroked her hair and said: “I’m sorry... But you’ll be okay, you’re strong.” He wanted to believe it, and she let him; but she was shattered and found no strength, no faith, no belief upon which to draw. Her heart had been fallowed. Annihilation could begin.

Caroline hung onto her teaching job for several months, during which time she experienced ever more frequent cocaine binges, a drug not hard to find in the upper echelons of Manhattan society, but one she had always frowned upon as being mind-numbing rather than mind-expanding. Now, it became the only substance capable of lending some veneer of emotion to her life. The binges were followed by heavy drinking to assuage the crashes, and soon she was coming to school hung-over. Eventually she was snorting lines between classes. She yearned for night time when she would roam the streets until the hunger—for coke, for love, for life—passed. One night, fresh out of tears and with no hope of ever regaining control of her life, she decided to take a leave of absence from which she would never return and give herself over to the destruction of her life.

“It should be a sad moment when the highlight of your week is finding the secret stash of a careless coke dealer,” she told Daniel that first night. “That should be when you say, ‘I’ve hit rock bottom’—but when such an event is the highlight of your week, you certainly don’t stop to consider how sad it might seem to others, those who can’t possibly know what it is like to find three days worth of bliss for free. Only when you’ve snorted up what at first appeared like an endless supply do you begin to glimpse at the wretchedness of your life—but it is certainly not sadness that you feel—it is something much farther into black on the color spectrum of despair, yet more complex—since you can’t quite shake the memory of those moments of acute euphoria. And you push away despair with the strength of a desperate soul hell-bent on finding the means necessary to rise above the doldrums of a mundane existence. Unless of course you emerge from such a three-day binge discovering that you’ve become a high-class whore.”

Caroline stumbled into Quality Escort one evening, and found work much more suited to her current disposition than teaching. She reveled in the debasing job interview where she was asked to undress and masturbate, and her ability to efface her surroundings and achieve orgasm—however faint and faked—immediately impressed her future employer. It was no blow to her self-esteem—she had none—and such debasement became a need.

She soon acquired a sense of resigned peace. She kicked the cocaine habit after her first disastrous night on the job, when she crashed in the middle of a whipping and and ran out before her client’s time was up. Angelo presented the case to their employer as “virgin jitters”, and another girl hooked up her with speed. Within a few weeks she had organized her life around a three-night work schedule, and though she seldom saw any of her friends anymore (and her parents thankfully had retired to Florida the previous year), she spent her days shopping, visiting museums, going to the movies, reading a great many novels, and waiting for that moment in time when this period of her existence would end—as she knew it surely would.

*     *     *

They sat in the corner of a large Greek diner on Houston, wiling away the hour until Caroline’s next appointment. While Daniel tackled a greasy lamb gyro, Caroline picked at a simple green salad without much enthusiasm.

“Still on the speed?” Daniel asked.

“You know I don’t touch it off-duty.”

“It can’t be good for you though.”

“I don’t smoke, I don’t drink, and I don’t do cocaine anymore... Besides, you don’t really care, do you?”

“I do, Caroline, that’s what you don’t understand. But you made me realize that I’m done caring.”

Caroline motioned to stroke his cheek, but withdrew her hand and ran it through her hair to remove her wig. “That’s not true Daniel... Don’t let that happen. Please… The real problem between us, the one you can’t face, is that you couldn’t stand seeing me go up to all those apartments.”

“Of course I couldn’t! But what was I going to do about it? That’s who you were when I met you—and I don’t expect anyone to change. Not for me.”

“No-one changes anyway really, you’re right. But with you, I thought for a moment that I could recover what I once lost. It can still be found—unlike your mother, or father. It could still work between us.”

“You’ve got to stop hating yourself.”

“If only I knew why...”

She wanted to cry, she wished she could, but her eyes remained as dry as that part of her which clients attempted and sometimes succeeded to violate. For her heart, however, there was no lubricant.

“I don’t know either... The only thing I can offer you is—how. You’ve only been doing this a year, it wouldn’t be that hard.”

Caroline understood what Daniel was suggesting, and what he was asking of her: dispense of Sheila, don’t show up for work tomorrow, sleep through the night... But that didn’t mean she could do it.

“Tomorrow’s Saturday. It’ll be busy. Maybe I’ll take off next week.”

“I’ll try and be there when you do,” Daniel said.

Caroline stood up and put on her wig. “I guess it’s time for the next one.” She smiled, but it didn’t quite break through her still beautiful features, and she knew Daniel was searching for it. Thank you, she thought, thank you, Daniel, for not saying ‘if’.

_______________

Eric Grant has been dabbling in writing for twelve years, and finds it a much less expensive, though more solitary avenue of creation than his limited film-making attempts. He is currently working on a novel that takes up the lives of the characters in "derailed" (and those of four other major absentees), set in a post-apocalyptic America. One-page website (under construction): www.idipfilms.com.

Derailed © 2004 by Eric Grant


 

 

 
     
     

 

 



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