Page 35 of Mystic River

She adjusted the volume and resisted the urge to rip the cheap knob off the piece-of-shit TV and went back to the ironing board. Dave had taken Michael out half an hour ago to shop for kneepads and a catcher's mask, saying he'd catch the news on the radio, Celeste not even bothering to look at him to see if he was lying. Michael, small and slim as he was, had proven himself a talented catcher? a "prodigy," his coach, Mr. Evans, had said, with a "ballistic missile" for an arm, a kid his age. Celeste thought of kids she'd known growing up who'd played the position? big kids, usually, with flattened noses and missing front teeth? and she'd voiced her fears to Dave.

"These masks they make now, honey? They're like friggin' shark cages. Hit 'em with a truck, the truck breaks."

She'd taken a day to consider it and come back to Dave with her deal. Michael could play catcher or any other baseball position as long as he had the best equipment and, here was the clincher, never went out for organized football.

Dave, never a football player himself, agreed after only ten minutes of perfunctory argument.

So now they were out buying equipment so Michael could be a mirror of his old man, and Celeste stared at the TV, iron held stationary a few inches above a cotton shirt as a dog food commercial ended and the news returned.

"Last night in Allston," the newscaster said, and Celeste's heart sank, "a BC sophomore was assaulted by two men outside this popular nightspot. Sources say the victim, Carey Whitaker, was beaten with a beer bottle and is listed in critical condition at?"

She pretty much knew then, as small clumps of wet sand drizzled inside her chest, that she wasn't going to see anything on the assault or murder of a man outside the Last Drop. And once they turned to weather with a promise of sports to follow, she knew beyond any doubt.

By now, they would have found the man. If he'd died ("Honey, I may have killed a man"), the reporters would have picked up on it through sources at the precinct house, off the police blotter, or simply by monitoring the police radios.

So maybe Dave had overestimated the fury of his violence against the mugger. Maybe the mugger? or whoever it had been? had simply crawled off somewhere to lick his wounds after Dave left. Maybe those hadn't been pieces of brain she'd watched swirl down the drain last night. But all that blood? How could someone lose all that blood from his head and survive, never mind walk away?

Once she'd ironed the last pair of pants and put everything away in either Michael's closet or hers and Dave's, she returned to the kitchen and stood in the center of it, not sure what to do next. Golf played on the TV now, the soft thwacks of the ball and the dry, muted cackles of applause temporarily calming something inside of her that had been itchy all morning. It went beyond her problems with Dave and the holes in his story, yet had something to do with that at the same time, something to do with last night and the sight of him coming through the bathroom door with blood on him, all that blood on his pants staining the tile, bubbling in his wound, turning pink as it swirled down the drain.

The drain. That was it. That's what she'd forgotten. Last night, she'd told Dave she would bleach out the inside of the drainpipe under the sink, eradicate the rest of the evidence. She went to it immediately, dropped to her knees on the kitchen floor and opened the cupboard underneath, stared in at the cleaning supplies and rags until she saw the lug wrench near the back. She reached back there, trying to ignore the phobia she had about reaching into the sink cupboard, an irrational feeling she always got that a rat lay waiting under the pile of rags, sniffing the air at the scent of her flesh, raising its snout from the rags now, whiskers twitching?

She snatched the lug wrench out, then rattled it through the rags and cans of cleanser just to be sure, quite aware that her fear was silly, but determined nonetheless, because, hey, that's why they called them phobias. She hated sticking her hand into low, dark places; Rosemary had been terrified of elevators; her father had hated heights; Dave broke out into cold sweats whenever he had to descend into the cellar.

She placed a bucket under the drainpipe to catch any excess runoff. She lay on her back and reached up, loosened the trap plug with the wrench, and then twisted with her hand until it came free and water came with it, splashing down into the plastic bucket. She worried for a moment that it would overfill the bucket, but soon the flow diminished to a dribble and she watched as a dark clump of hair and small kernels of corn followed the last of the water into the bucket. The slip nut closest to the rear wall of the cupboard was next, and that took a while, the nut refusing to budge and Celeste getting to the point where she was pushing off the base of the cupboard with her foot and pulling back on the lug wrench with so much force she feared either the wrench or her wrist would snap in half. And then the nut turned, just a fraction of an inch, with a loud metallic screech, and Celeste repositioned the lug wrench and pulled back again, the nut turning twice as much this time, though still fighting her.

A few minutes later she had the whole drainpipe on the kitchen floor in front of her. Her hair and shirt were damp with sweat, but she felt a sense of accomplishment that bordered on pure triumph, as if she'd fought something recalcitrant and indisputably male, muscle against muscle, and won. In the rag pile, she found a shirt Michael had grown out of, and she twisted it in her hands until she could thread it through the pipe. She worked it through the pipe several times until she was satisfied the pipe was clear of everything but old rust, and then she placed the shirt in a small plastic grocery bag. She took the pipe and a bottle of Clorox out onto the back porch and bleached the inside of the pipe, allowing the liquid to spill out the other end and into the dry, fuzzy soil of a potted plant that had died last summer and sat on the porch all winter waiting for them to throw it out.

When she was done, she refitted the pipe, finding it much easier going back on than it had been coming off, and reattached the trap plug. She found the plastic trash bag she'd put Dave's clothes into last night and added the bag with Michael's tattered shirt to it, poured the contents of the plastic bucket through a strainer over the toilet, wiped the strainer clean with a paper towel, and threw the towel in the bag with the rest of it.

So there it was: all the evidence.

Or at least all the evidence she could do anything about. If Dave had lied to her? about the knife, about leaving his fingerprints anywhere, about witnesses to his? crime? self-defense?? then she couldn't help him there. But she'd risen to the challenge here in her own home. She'd taken everything that had been thrown at her since he'd come home last night and she'd dealt with it. She'd conquered it. She felt giddy again, powerful, as vibrant and valid as she'd ever felt, and she knew with a sudden, refreshing certainty that she was still young and strong and she was most definitely not a disposable toaster or broken vacuum. She had lived through the deaths of both her parents and years of financial crises and her son's pneumonia scare when he was six months old and she hadn't grown weaker, as she'd thought, only wearier, yes, but that would change now that she'd remembered who she was. And she was? definitely? a woman who did not shrink from gauntlets, but stepped up to them, and said, Okay, bring it. Bring your worst. I will get back up. Every time. I will not shrivel and die. So watch out.