Of Fools and Lunatics

Jeanne Lyet Gassman

“I know she’s a wreck now,” Eric says, his voice doubtful. “But she used to be so much fun. I mean, maybe—“

“Fire and ice. That’s what she is. One minute she’s begging for it, and the next minute she’s locked the gates to become a newborn virgin.” A cock tease. That’s what she was. Complaining that the heat and crowd made her dizzy. Let’s go outside, Jack. For some air. Fingers stroking my arm. Making promises she didn’t intend to keep. Outside, the ground was layered with a thin sheen of ice that cracked under our footsteps like breaking glass. Her ridiculously high heels made her fall against me. Over and over. Laughing. Yes, Jack. No, no. Fire and ice. “And she’s a little flakey,” I add, stating the obvious.

Eric chuckles. “You think?”

Leaning forward so he can see, I pull down the collar of my shirt. The tiny scar from her bite is still visible on my shoulder. “She likes it rough.”

“Oooh,” Leda murmurs.

Eric brushes his hand across her cheek. Her eyelids flicker but remain closed. “Still out for the count.”

“Bad dreams,” I say. My coffee is cold, bitter. I pour the dregs back into the thermos and screw the lid tight. There is a long silence. Eric looks hard at Leda, not at me.

“So, do you think she’ll recover? Go back to the Leda who liked to have fun?”

I adjust the trim tab and pick up the mike. “Deer Valley, this is Two-niner Delta. We’re about ten minutes from final. What is your runway advisory?”

“Two-niner Delta. This is Deer Valley. Runway two-five. Wind is ten to fifteen knots from the west. Repeat. Runway two-five. Do you read?”

“Roger, Deer Valley. We have a patient on board. Has Phoenix Ambulance arrived yet?”

“Two-niner Delta. They just called and are on their way. They should be here when you land.”

“Thanks.” I click the mike twice and out.

Eric waits a few moments longer, but when I don’t say more, he sighs and settles back into his seat, staring out the window.

Some questions are best left unanswered.


*

When it’s hot in Phoenix, you can smell the evaporating chlorine from a thousand feet up. We cruise over the brown hills north of town before beginning our final descent into Deer Valley. Blue-green dots mark the insanity of swimming pools in the backyards of luxury desert homes. I bank to the right, coming in to the runway from the northeast. A light headwind is slowing us down. The real trouble doesn’t start, though, until we’re wheels on the ground.

Eric has just leaned forward to see if Leda is awake when I hear the first scream. Her shriek catches him unprepared as she lunges for him, her fingers scratching at the air like wicked talons.

“Ow!” he shouts. “You bitch! That’s my face!”

No restraints or seatbelt on her now. She was awake the whole time, working her hands free while we were talking. Still screaming, she pops open the passenger door. The roar of the props is deafening; the wind stream presses the door against her but she’s strong enough to shove it back, slamming it open with a sickening bang.

“Get that door closed!” I keep my eyes on the runway in front of me. Our land speed is down under 100, but I’m having a rough time keeping us straight with that damn door whipping around. Over the radio, I hear Deer Valley chirping, “Two-niner Delta, is there a problem? We have a visual. There appears to be someone on your right wing.”

“You think we don’t know that?” I squeeze the mic and continue to steer hard with my feet. We need to get this bird on the pavement.

“She’s getting out,” Eric says, scrambling over the seat. He grabs her ankles to pull her back.

“Rape!” Leda screams. “Help me! Help! I’m being raped!”

“Two-niner Delta—“

“Help, help!”

I click the mike twice, acknowledging them while simultaneously cutting off any more conversation.

“Uh, two-niner Delta, this is Deer Valley. Did we hear correctly? Is someone under attack?”

“Rape, rape! I’m being raped! Oh my god, stop! No!”

“Two-niner Delta, this is Deer Valley. We have a black-and-white on its way to assist. Do you read? Repeat. A black-and-white is coming to meet you. Do you read?”

“She’s not being raped,” I tell them. “She’s a nut case on the loose. We’re taxiing in.”

“Rape!” Leda shrieks. “Can you hear me! I’m being raped!”

We’ve slowed down enough that the passenger door has stopped banging against the side of the plane. To my right, Eric is lying flat on top of her with his arms wrapped tight around her hips. It doesn’t stop her, though. She flips over, spitting, then clamps her teeth onto his wrist.

“Holy shit!” He smacks her jaw with his other hand. Blood seeps from the bite wounds in his arm and his palm. “You broke my watch.”

Leda flings herself backward, falling halfway out of the plane onto the wing step. “Rape, rape, rape!”

Just then, I notice the flash of the red and blue lights in my peripheral vision. Runway two-five is a narrow stretch, so the cops are soon on top of us, spewing gravel in their wake. I pull us to the right as the black-and-white wheels around up close to my left wing. A final screech of the siren. Leda sags, submitting to Eric’s grip. We slow to a stop. Light strobes across my windshield. The cavalry has arrived. I lean forward, closing my eyes, listening to a stunning moment of pure silence.


*

Funny thing about cops. It’s still a men’s club no matter what they say. They take one look at Leda, one look at me, and know right away nothing has happened in that plane.

“You get all kinds, don’t you?” the taller of the two says as he hands me a stick of Juicy Fruit. He has dark hair cut into a burr and a paunch that threatens to slide over his belt. Pushing late thirties, young enough to be bored by routine, and arrogant enough to think this is routine.

I peel back the foil and pop the gum into my mouth, watching the action over by the ambulance. The paramedics have doctored Eric’s wounds, but he’s still going to need some stitches. Leda lies moaning on a stretcher. “Why won’t anyone listen?” she pleads. “I was raped.” The medical tech swipes her upper arm with alcohol and jabs her with his needle. He just wants her to shut up.

“The reservation is a tough place,” I concede to the cop, my eyes focused on the ambulance. “Not a good life for a young, single woman.” Wadding the gum wrapper up in my fist, I stuff it into my pocket and look back at the cop who seems to be disappointed I haven’t tossed it onto the tarmac.

He tugs at his belt, shifts his weight to the other leg. His eyes hide behind black aviator glasses. “You need a ride somewhere? Looks like they’re going to take your friend to Good Sam. We can give you a lift if--” His radio cuts him off.

“Not today,” his partner says. “We just got a DV over to T-bird and Fifteenth. Guy took a baseball bat to his girlfriend’s car.”

The cop shakes his head and grins. “Never a dull moment.” The black-and-white spins off in a whirling cloud of grit.

After sliding the stretcher into the ambulance, the paramedics stand by as Eric climbs into the passenger seat. “You staying here?”

I wave him off. “I’ll catch a cab.” I hesitate. “Where are they taking Leda?”

I don’t hear the driver’s answer. “She’s going to Good Sam, too,” Eric says, poking his head back out the window. “For observation tonight. Tomorrow maybe over to Arizona State.”

I nod. Poor Leda. Arizona State Hospital is on Twenty-fourth and Van Buren, territory of crazies and pimps. The whores walk the streets below while the loonies are locked up in the red-roofed towers above. Which fate is worse? “See you at Good Sam.” I head for the terminal to call a cab.

When I arrive twenty minutes later, the girl at information tells me Eric is still in the ER. They’ve taken Leda up to third. Room 314.

It’s quiet on the wing when I step off the elevator. An old man hobbles down the hall, his backside flapping bare while an orderly grasps his arm and walks beside him. “Nice day,” I say.

The old guy shoots me a dazed expression.

“Don’t mind us.” The orderly laughs. “Mr. Stinson and I like to travel in the slow lane. Just go on around.”

Leda has her eyes closed when I push open the door. I blink for a moment, adjusting to the dim lighting. An IV drips fluid into her arm, and her fists clench the blanket at her neck like a baby holding fast to a toy. A high flush, drugs or fever, blooms on her cheeks. “Hey, Leda. How you doing? It’s Red Jack. Remember?” I squeeze her fingers; she doesn’t respond.

The room is done up in pastels—a faded rose color there and a pale turquoise here--with a floral wallpaper border. Even so, you can’t ever forget you’re in a hospital. Not with the lingering scent of disinfectant and the hospital bed plopped square in the center. The turning wand on the mini-blinds doesn’t work, so I pry open a row of pink slats to let in a wedge of natural light. Apparently, housekeeping has missed this part of dusting, because a fine film of grime comes off on my fingers. I peer through the glass. Below, a car cruises slowly into the half-circle driveway. Leda’s room is above the entrance, the area where family pick up and drop off patients. No one will be coming for her. Not today.

"You raped me, Jack."

I freeze, not even sure I’ve heard her, my fingers trapped between strips of flimsy pink metal. I don’t turn around. I wait, but she doesn’t say anything else. Instead, I watch a man get out of the car parked in the driveway. Dressed in plaid shorts, black-striped socks, and a tee shirt, he has to be a snowbird from the north. Hell of a way to spend your vacation, at a hospital. Bright sunlight flashes and reflects off the front passenger door when he opens it for a woman who looks like his wife. She balances on her walker for a minute to steady herself and then turns and zips through the pneumatic doors, her husband trotting to keep up. The doors snap shut behind them.

In the hall outside this room, two women are laughing. One of them giggles loudly, saying, “And what did you tell him?” Their voices fade away as they move toward the elevators. Rubber-soled shoes whoosh past the door. The clank of a rolling cart. The AC clicks on for a few minutes, rattling the ceiling tiles. Clicks off. In the ensuing silence, I can hear Leda breathing. Slow and steady. She says nothing.

When I walk over to her bed, she has her back to me. A stain floods her pillow from her tears, and her thin hair falls in a tangled web across her shoulders. I cross to the other side of the bed and pull up a chair. She stares at me with wide, angry eyes.

“Diane’s Christmas party,” she says. “You raped me. You know it’s the truth.” She blinks rapidly. Another vale of tears.

Gently, I wipe her damp cheek. “Darlin’, only fools and lunatics tell the absolute truth. Which one are you?”

She turns her face away. Doesn’t say another word.

Eric is waiting for me when I step into the hall. He waggles his bandaged hand. “You said we might have some turbulence. Just didn’t tell me it was female.”

“How bad is the damage?”

“Four stitches and a tetanus shot.” He unfolds his uninjured palm and holds out two broken links. “And you owe me a new watch.”

I laugh. “Is it a Timex? Still ticking?”

Jutting his chin toward Room 314, he asks, “So? Did she tell you why the fuck she did this? What the hell happened to her?”

I look at his man-child face, the kind of face that still believes in justice, righteousness, and truth. I shake my head no. “Not a damn word.” Taking the broken watch, I drop it into my pocket with the Juicy Fruit wrapper.


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