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If There Is No What

Ruth Blank

I was hungry while I was walking and I noticed other hungry people, men stooped over digging through trash cans, old women shuffling on worn shoes muttering to themselves and asking for money without waiting for an answer. When I was little, so I’m told, I used to pick gum off the sidewalk and put it in my mouth. I tried to eat a dead sparrow that was in the back yard once and someone stopped me. I guess I’m not so different from these bums. I haven’t slept in my clothes before and I don’t have a beard or wild hair. Yet.

One street that I walked down looked like the setting for the murderers at Madame Toussaud's with dark alleys and dangerous second story balconies. I kept turning round and round to see if there was anyone sneaking up on me but there was no one. If anyone had been around to see me, I probably would have looked crazy. I wished I could read the street signs. I wished I could read anything. I felt like lying down in the hotel. Where are all the fucking cabs when you need one?

*  *  *
I’m back in the hotel. I asked another bobby which way to Piccadilly and he looked at my face closely and then said, “follow me” like I was a lost five-year-old. I know it’s late. It might be almost morning. Meggie isn’t here. I lost whatever tired I felt when I unlocked the door and saw the beds turned down and the soft night service lighting on, and no one in the room. I hadn’t really thought about it, but I guess I expected her to be there, in bed, watching TV and keeping whatever happened that evening to herself. She’d flick the light off to make it easier to ignore me. Like last night and the night before, I’d go to sleep—in the bed on the other side of the nightstand—sensing her whole, huge life that I’m not part of.

I’m in trouble. What do I do? Do I wake up Mom and Dad? Then they’ll know I left Meggie and whatever has happened to her will be my fault. I should have kept her red dress in my sight and coaxed her home, even if that meant I had to talk to her. She might think I ditched her and maybe she’s staying with Paolo and Bruno just to show me—show me what, I’m not sure—but it can’t be good. And what if they’re murderers like the Black Panther? Maybe rich, handsome Italian soccer players leave girls by the side of the road when they’re done with them. I have a picture in my mind of Bruno, with his tan and his forearm hair and his stubble, hovering over Meggie, not as she is now, but Meggie as a little girl, as my little sister. I can’t lie down. I can’t stand still. I’m hungry and tired and I blame you with your electronic cigarette and the little cracks in the leather chair that are probably a Rorschach of some kind and the clock behind my head that you can see but I can’t and the way you let me rev up just before the forty-five minutes are up.

“We’ll work together,” you said. “We’ll get you back in shape.” All I have to do is talk. All you have to do is act casual as if you’re saying: “Talk, don’t talk. It’s all the same to me.” But I know you’re waiting for some big revelation, something to do with Meggie. Maybe I have something to tell you and maybe I don’t. Maybe you should ask Meggie because if anything ever happened, long ago or not so long ago, it will always be silence between us.

When I think about it, I hate her so much I can’t see straight. I don’t want her dead, but I want her erased from my head. If there’s any blame, I’m the one to blame, but somehow she’s the one that ended up with good grades and friends. She can read. She does it all the time. How did I end up the one having to sit with you three days a week? And how did I end up the one standing in the middle of this room talking into a hunk of junk?

If she doesn’t come back, who’s to blame? I’m stuck in this spot. I can’t move. The bacon smell is rising from the hotel kitchen. I’m hungry but the smell makes me feel sick. A little light is coming in around the blackout shade. I just don’t think I’ll give this to you. Not for a while. There’s the key in the door. Shit.

*  *  *
Meggie’s hair was a mess. Her cheeks were red and she had smudges of mascara under her eyes. The new pointy-toed boots were water stained.

“Shut up,” she said when she came into the room, not even looking at me. She walked straight into the bathroom and I heard the shower go on.

The tired from being up all night overtook me and I lay down on the bed, in my clothes, which is where I am now, fading. When Meggie comes out of the bathroom with her hair wet from the shower, wrapped in the Shaftsbury terry cloth robe that’s too big for her, if I’m still awake, I might ask her what’s what.

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