Page 18 of Mystic River


"Christ, Jimmy," Annabeth said as Jimmy pulled a sweatshirt over the T-shirt he'd slept in and went looking for his jeans, "you're not going in, are you?"

"Just for an hour." Jimmy found his jeans curled around the bedpost. "Two, tops. Sal was supposed to relieve Katie at ten anyway. Pete's putting a call in to him now, trying to get him in early."

"Sal's seventy-something years old."

"My point. He's going to be sleeping? Bladder probably woke him up at four, he's been watching AMC ever since."

"Shit." Annabeth pushed the sheets completely away from her and got out of bed. "Fucking Katie. She's going to screw this day up, too?"

Jimmy felt his neck get hot. "What other day has she screwed up lately?"

Annabeth showed him the back of her hand as she reached the bathroom. "You even know where she could be?"

"Diane or Eve's," Jimmy said, still back at that dismissive hand she'd raised over her shoulder. Annabeth? the love of his life, no question? man, she had no idea how cold she could be sometimes, no clue (and this was typical of the whole Savage family) just how corrosive an effect her negative moments or moods could have on other people. "Maybe a boyfriend's."

"Yeah? Who's she seeing these days?" Annabeth turned on the shower, stepped back to the sink to give it time to warm up.

"I figured you knew better than me."

Annabeth riffled the medicine cabinet for the toothpaste and shook her head. "She stopped seeing Little Caesar in November. That was good enough for me."

Jimmy, putting his shoes on, smiled. Annabeth always called Bobby O'Donnell "Little Caesar" unless she was calling him something far worse, and not just because he was a gangster-wannabe with a cold stare, but because he was short and fleshy like Edward G. Robinson. Those had been a tense several months, when Katie had begun seeing him last summer and the Savage brothers told Jimmy they'd clip the prick if it became necessary, Jimmy not sure if they were morally repulsed because such a scumbag was seeing their beloved stepniece, or because Bobby O'Donnell had become too much competition.

Katie had broken it off herself, though, and outside of a lot of 3 A.M. phone calls and one near-bloodfest around Christmas when Bobby and Roman Fallow showed up on the front porch, the breakup aftermath had passed pretty painlessly.

Annabeth's abhorrence of Bobby O'Donnell could amuse Jimmy because he half wondered sometimes if Annabeth hated Bobby not only because he looked like Edward G. and had slept with her stepdaughter, but also because he was a half-assed criminal as opposed to the pros she assumed her brothers were and knew, beyond a doubt, that her husband had been in the years before Marita died.

Marita had died fourteen years ago, while Jimmy served a two-year bid at the Deer Island House of Corrections in Winthrop. One Saturday during visitation hours, as five-year-old Katie squirmed in her lap, Marita told Jimmy a mole on her arm had been darkening lately, and she was going to visit a doctor at the community clinic. Just to be safe, she said. Four Saturdays later she was undergoing chemo. Six months after she'd told him about the mole, she was dead, Jimmy having been forced to watch his wife's body puree into chalk over a succession of Saturdays from the other side of a dark wood table scarred by cigarettes, sweat, come stains, and over a century's worth of convict bullshit and convict laments. The last month of her life Marita had been too sick to come, too weak to write, and Jimmy had to make do with phone calls during which she'd be exhausted or doped up or both. Usually both.

"You know what I dream about?" she slurred once. "All the time now?"

"What's that, baby?"

"Orange curtains. Big, thick orange curtains just?" She smacked her lips and Jimmy heard the sound of her gulping water. "?just flapping in the wind, hanging from these tall clotheslines, Jimmy. Just flapping. They never do anything else. Flap, flap, flap. Hundreds of 'em in this big, big field. Flapping away?"

He waited for more, but that was the extent of it, and he didn't want Marita to nod off in the middle of the conversation like she'd done several times before, so he said, "How's Katie?"

"Huh?"

"How's Katie doing, honey?"

"Your mom takes good care of us. She's sad."

"Who? My mom or Katie?"

"Both. Lookit, Jimmy? I gotta go. Nauseous. Tired."

"Okay, baby."

"Love you."

"Love you, too."

"Jimmy? We never owned any orange curtains. Right?"

"Right."

"Weird," she said, and then she hung up.

Last thing she ever said to him: Weird.

Yeah, it was weird. A mole that had been on your arm since you'd lain in a crib looking up at a cardboard mobile suddenly darkened, and twenty-four weeks later, almost two full years removed from the last time you'd lain in bed with your husband and curled your leg over his, you were dropped into a box and buried beneath the earth, your husband standing fifty yards away, flanked by armed guards, shackles clamped around his ankles and wrists.

Jimmy got out of prison two months after the funeral, stood in his kitchen in the same clothes he'd left it in, and smiled at his alien child. He might have remembered her first four years, but she didn't. She only remembered the last two, maybe some scattered fragments of the man he'd been in this house, before she was allowed to see him only on Saturdays from the other side of an old table in a dank, smelly place built on haunted Indian burial grounds, where winds whipped and walls dripped and the ceilings hung too low. Standing in his kitchen, watching her watch him, Jimmy had never felt more useless. He had never felt half as alone or frightened as when he squatted down by Katie and took her small hands in his and saw the two of them in his mind's eye as if he floated just above the room. And the floating him thought: Man, I feel bad for these two. Strangers in a shitty kitchen, sizing each other up, trying not to hate each other because she'd died and left them stuck together and incapable of knowing what the hell they were going to do next.

This daughter? this creature, living and breathing and partially formed in so many ways? was dependent on him now, whether either of them liked it or not.

"She's smiling down at us from heaven," Jimmy told Katie. "She's proud of us. Real proud."

Katie said, "Do you have to go back to that place again?"

"Nope. Never again."

"You going to go someplace else?"

Jimmy, at that moment, would gladly have done another six years in a shithole like Deer Island, or even someplace worse, rather than face twenty-four hours in his kitchen with this daughter-stranger, this scary unknown of a future, this cork? in no uncertain terms? on what remained of his life as a young man.

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