Page 16 of Mystic River

He kissed her palm. "So, yeah, he sorta pushes me back against the car and takes a swing at me and I, like, just duck the punch and that's when Homeboy slices me, and I feel the knife cutting through my skin and I, I just flip. I crack him in the side of the head with my fist, and he ain't expecting it. He's like, 'Whoa, motherfucker,' and I swing again and hit like the side of his neck? And he drops. And the knife goes bouncing away, and I jump on him, and, and, and?"

Dave looked into the tub, his mouth still open, lips half puckered.


"What?" Celeste said, still trying to see the mugger swinging at Dave with one hand cocked into a fist, the other holding a knife at the ready. "What did you do?"

Dave turned back, looked at her knees. "I went fucking nuts on him, babe. I mighta killed him for all I know. I bashed his head off the parking lot and punched the shit out of his face, shattered his nose, you name it. I was so mad and so scared and all I could think about was you and Michael and how I might not have made the car alive, like I coulda died in some shitty parking lot just because some crackhead was too lazy to fucking work for a living." He looked in her eyes and said it again: "I mighta killed him, honey."

He looked so young. Eyes wide, face pale and sweaty, hair plastered to his head by perspiration and terror and? was that blood?? yes, blood.

AIDS, she thought for a moment. What if the guy had AIDS?

She thought: No. Deal with the right now. Deal with it.

Dave needed her. That was not the custom. And at that moment she realized why his never complaining had begun to bother her. When you complained to someone, you were, in a way, asking for help, asking for that person to fix what troubled you. But Dave had never needed her before, so he'd never complained, not after lost jobs, not while Rosemary had been alive. But now, kneeling before her, saying, desperately, that he may have killed a man, he was asking her to tell him it was all right.

And it was. Wasn't it? You tried to mug an honest citizen, tough shit if it didn't go the way you planned. Too bad you might have died. Celeste was thinking, I mean, sorry, but oops. You play, you pay.

She kissed her husband's forehead. "Baby," she whispered, "you hop in the shower. I'll take care of your clothes."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"What are you going to do with them?"

She didn't have a clue. Burn them? Sure, but where? Not in the apartment. So that left the backyard. But it occurred to her pretty quickly that someone would notice her burning clothes in the backyard at 3 A.M. Or at any time, really.

"I'll wash them." She said it as the idea came to her. "I'll wash them good and then I'll put them in a trash bag and we'll bury that."

"Bury it?"

"Take it to the dump, then. Or, no, wait"? her thoughts going faster than her mouth now? "we'll hide the bag till Tuesday morning. Trash day, right?"

"Right?" He turned on the shower, looking at her, waiting, that gash along his side darkening, making her worry about AIDS again, or possibly hepatitis, the many ways another's blood can kill or poison.

"I know when they come. Seven-fifteen, on the dot, every week, except the first week in June when all the college kids take off, leave all that extra trash and then they're usually late, but?"

"Celeste. Honey. The point?"

"Oh, so when I hear the truck, I'll just run downstairs after them, like I forgot a bag, and toss it right in the back of the compactor thing. Right?" She smiled, though she didn't feel like it.

He put one hand under the shower spray, the rest of him still turned back toward her. "Okay. Look?"

"What?"

"You all right with this?"

"Yeah."

Hepatitis A, B, and C, she thought. Ebola. Hot zones.

His eyes went wide again. "I might have killed someone, honey. Jesus."

She wanted to go to him and touch him. She wanted to get out of the room. She wanted to caress his neck, tell him it would be okay. She wanted to run away until she could think this through.

She stayed where she was. "I'll wash the clothes."

"Okay," he said. "Yeah."

She found some plastic gloves under the sink, ones she used when cleaning the toilet, and she put them on and checked for any tears in the rubber. When she was satisfied there were none, she took his shirt from the sink and his jeans off the floor. The jeans were dark with blood, too, and left a smear on the white tile.

"How'd you get it on your jeans?"

"What?"

"The blood."

He looked at them hanging from her hand. He looked at the floor. "I was kneeling over him." He shrugged. "I dunno. I guess it splashed up, like on the shirt."

"Oh."

He met her eyes. "Yeah. Oh."

"So," she said.

"So."

"So, I'll wash these in the kitchen sink."

"Okay."

"Okay," she said, and backed out of the bathroom, left him standing there, one hand fluttering under the water, waiting for it to get hot.

In the kitchen, she dumped the clothes in the sink and ran the water, watched the blood and filmy chips of flesh and, oh Christ, pieces of brain, she was pretty sure, wash down the drain. It amazed her how much the human body could bleed. They said you had six pints in you, but to Celeste it always seemed like so much more. When she was in the fourth grade, she'd been running through a park with friends and she'd tripped. As she was trying to break her fall, she drove the center of her palm through a broken bottle that was pointing straight up out of the grass. She'd severed every major artery and vein in her hand, and it was only because she was so young that over the next decade they gradually repaired. But, still, she was twenty before sensation returned to all four fingertips. What she remembered most, however, was the blood. When she'd raised her hand from the grass, her elbow tingling as if she'd hit her funny bone, the blood had jetted straight up and out from her torn palm, and two of her friends had screamed. At home, she'd filled a sink with it while her mother called an ambulance. In the ambulance, they'd wrapped the hand in an Ace bandage as thick as her thigh, and the layers of fabric turned dark red in less than two minutes. At the hospital, she'd lain on a white gurney and watched as the wrinkles in the sheet formed small canyons that filled with red. And when the gurney had filled, her blood dripped onto the floor and eventually formed puddles until her mother screamed long enough and loud enough that one of the City ER residents decided Celeste should be bumped to the head of the line. All that blood from one hand.

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