Sleep with one eye open
Gripping your pillow tight
Take my hand
We’re off to Never Never-land
Enter Sandman, Lyrics by James Hetfield
Can’t ... breathe!
I hurled myself upwards in bed, yanking in deep lungs full of air through my mouth. My sinuses and head felt twenty pounds heavier and pain was thundering through my skull. Strings of numbers raced through my consciousness, pushing away all attempts at rational thought. I clung to them, desperate for something familiar and stable. Sequences, formulae, bits of order in a sea of chaos.
Still half asleep, I was instinctively pushing and slapping at Finn’s shoulder.
His arm closed around me, holding me to him tight. His own heartbeat was rapid, but as he held me, my pulse’s manic rate slowed to meet his. My breath steadied. I reached my hands to my face, pawing at the sweat—
My palms came back dark. Not sweat. Blood.
The reality of my dream crashed into me. I’d seen it before, been there before. Felt them before...
“They’re back. Finn, they’re back!”
Searing pain, like a ripping and tearing of my mind.
The screeching tires of Shiv’s Quadrifoglio was followed quickly by her voice as she barked at the guards.
“Open the fucking gate. Now!” My sister and brother-in-law arrived faster than any ambulance could have.
Moments later the beeping signaled the alarm going off and their steps echoed up the stairs. Our bedroom door burst open and Shiv quickly took in the sight. The phone I had called her with lay between my sheet-covered legs on the bed. I was cradling Jennifer, holding her upright. The lower half of her face was covered in blood and her pillow was a smear of dark red.
My sister, our rock, stood at the end of the bed, staring at Jen. “Oh my God. Oh my God.”
“Shiv. Shiv! Look at me. I called Dr. Khalil. She’ll meet you at the clinic. I can’t carry her. I think ... she was talking for a minute and then she collapsed.” My voice cracked, and I was afraid I was going to lose it. “I ... I think she had an aneurysm or something.”
Siobhan called out, once again in her take-charge persona. “Tommy! Help.” Her eyes darted to the window that overlooked the driveway and then shifted back towards the door. He came bounding into the room and she continued. “Carry Jen to my car. Then come back and stay here with William. Finn will follow and meet me at the clinic.”
Under any other circumstances, he would have balked at Shiv’s orders and made a joke. Now, he just picked up Jen and headed towards the stairs. The squealing of tires sounded again as I threw on some sweatpants and a shirt, grabbed my cane and slowly made my way down the treacherous stairs.
Tommy rushed passed me when I stepped off the stairs. He called over his shoulder. “Go. I’ll stay with William. Do you want me to bring him down there?”
“No, absolutely not. He can’t see her like this. I’ll call you as soon as I can.”
Stymied by my frailty, I made my way to the clinic as fast as I could. Test after test were performed, and I sat and waited. Updates saying nothing were delivered to me in calm, professional voices, and I sat and waited. Family arrived, expressed concern, brought me food and drink, and I sat and waited.
I was awakened by a soft hand and a softer voice. “Mr. Corrigan. Finn. You need to get up.” Dr. Khalil was leaning over me, looking far more human than I’d seen her in the past. She was the Iron Lady of our medical community, but there were times when her humanity shone through. One time was when William was abducted. This was another.
“Finn, your back can’t take you sleeping in the chair. We’re bringing you a bed. We’ll keep you right next to Mrs. Corrigan.”
My tongue felt like it was two sizes too large and I wiped the sleep from my eyes. “Has she woken?”
“No, but there’s been no relapse. She seems stable. Her EEG results are ... odd. We’re going to continue monitoring her. I have some of the best people in the world in on consults. She’s getting the best care possible.”
In spite of paying her salary and knowing her for years, I wasn’t brave enough to call her by her first name. I took her hand. “I know, Doctor. Thank you.”
It looked like it was killing her to have me touch her, but she nodded her head and patted me awkwardly on the shoulder. A new bed was rolled in and locked into place. I got in and lay down within arm’s reach of my wife.
Rolling to my side, I reached out and brushed my knuckles on her cheek. Pushing some loose strands of her black hair back, I silently begged her to open the shockingly blue eyes that held so much life. I shook as my tears came. Slipping my arm down, taking her hand in mine, I willed my wife to awaken.
Gargantuan concrete building blocks were assembled in Escher-esque constructs, looping back into themselves and bending reality. I stood on pavement stones the size of football fields and breathed in the essence of eternity. The air smelled ionized and felt charged with pregnant energy. There was a hint of synesthesia, as the air held aromatic hints of colors, and I could feel the thrumming sound that lifted from the stones.
This was the realm of my nightmares. I was here briefly years ago when I was in between 1968 and 2018. There was no dog with me this time. Alone, I felt like ... me. Somehow, I was the essence of Jennifer here. It was as if all the meaningless dross was sloughed off and I was the platonic ideal of who I was supposed to be. There was no pain, no hunger, no worry. Just me and infinity.
Their voices weren’t indistinct whispers this time. I could hear them and understand them. They were fewer than before. That was oddly unsettling. They had seemed to be almost immortal and now, in a few years, their deaths were noticeable. The Parasites were all communicating about One. No, that wasn’t it. It was The One. Their communications slower, messages simpler, depth of meaning growing shallow. They grew dull. They were ... dying.
Unlike the last time I was here, the underlying awe didn’t inspire dread. This was the center of creation and I knew that I risked madness if I looked too hard or too deep, but I felt I could somehow close in and keep my perspective narrow. Focus would maintain sanity. If my mind drifted, I started to see all the identities of myself that were possible. Flashing into my perception, one after the other; worn, vital, stunted, healthy, cynical, naïve, all versions of who I could have been. When I concentrated, however, I was back to myself.
Knowing what I was looking for rendered them visible. I don’t know how or why, but it did.
They looked just like they did before the showdown at Tesla’s laboratory. Fat, translucent slugs, immense in size and floating through an inky, black velvet sky. The majority merely hovered, long dead, husks of what they once were, floating lifeless, like ghost ships on an ethereal sea surrounding the machinery of reality. The others were on their way to the same fate.
One, one stood out. It was immense. Gauging size should have been impossible here, but I knew that it was a leviathan of parasitic evil. This is what the others were speaking of. Hale, hearty, powerful and carrying the seeds of their kind.
It pushed, pried and pierced at ... something. The blackness where it prodded was somehow less black. It was the veil barring it from our reality. Again, I didn’t know how I was certain, but I was. I felt a pull towards that area. I was loosely tethered to that space. A sense of comfort, a sheltering, a beckoning feeling of home anchored me to whatever was behind that veil.
I knew what would happen if it crossed over. William. Finn. Siobhan. Dink and the memory of that other dog that didn’t make it through the journey. A lifeless hulk sitting third from our sun. Everything gone. All I loved, consumed.
Flashes of memory ran through my mind. Finn holding my hand as contractions wracked my body. Seeing William as the nurse lifted him up. Lifting my eyes from the miracle laying on my breast to the loving eyes of my husband. I felt a surge of everything that comprised me, all of my love, all of my hate, all of my experiences.
“No. No. NOOOOOOOO!” Anger suffused me, ignited and grew to rage.
Its attention pulled from what it was doing. I sensed shock, umbrage and disdain.
But ... I had affected it. However insignificant, there was a pulling back. The slightest of tremors. The chatter of its kind grew in speed and intensity. Concern, an odd, sterile outrage, a cold anger and ... fear?
The One shifted its focus entirely to me, abandoning the pushing and prying. I sensed vast age. Age beyond reckoning. A part of me could see all of it and a part of it could see all of me. It took from me but left me whole. Absorbing what it is to be human. Emotions that are pure and hot.
I took from it but left it whole. Scope, patience, hunger, memory and an understanding of what true power is.
Pieces of me started to fall to the floor. I was being pushed out. What allowed me to be here was being broken down, disassembled. Holding onto who I was in my mind and soul and reaffirming what it was that made me who I was, I awoke in a bed in the clinic, Finn asleep, my hand in his.
She awakened on the third day of her time in the clinic. We took her home that evening. She seemed so normal that it scared me. They couldn’t find the cause for what happened, and she felt hunky-dory, so everything was okay? That was complete bullshit. Something happened. Her pillow and our bed were stained with her blood. There was a cause, and just because we didn’t know what that was, didn’t mean we could stick our heads in the sand and ignore it.
Jennifer claimed that she was tired, but weary, the way people are after exhausting exercise, not the fatigued and weak feeling from illness. She said that she was fine, that her body had ‘reset’ itself, whatever that meant. Sometimes she dragged her outdated fifty-year-old hippie sensibilities into today’s world and expected to be understood.
That Carlos Castaneda mystic stuff didn’t stand up well to the test of time.
I could tell my wife was conflicted. She looked good. Healthier than before she went to the hospital, in fact. That persistent cough was gone and the deep cut on her leg from the nail on the pier seemed to have healed. It completely disappeared, actually. Jen also seemed mentally strong, if that’s the right word. There was love in her eyes, and vitality, but there was also fear. That fear contrasted with her health and strength. I didn’t bring it up.
Let her spend time with our son, fill her soul with his love. We could talk tomorrow.
That night, as we lay in bed, she rolled to her side and lifted her leg over my knees. Kissing my ear, moving down my jaw, she slipped her hand into my Jockeys. Kissing her, I gently took her wrist and pulled her hand back up.
“Let me just hold you tonight.”
“Finn, I’m fine. Really, I’m better than I was last week. Cough is gone, I feel great.”
“I know. I just want to hold you tonight, okay? I love you.”
Her eyes betrayed her as they strayed down to my legs. I knew she was wondering if I was feeling up to it and that tore at me. I just couldn’t do this tonight. Sixteen-hours ago she was practically in a coma. Cognitive dissonance was knocking at the door and I refused to answer.
We fell asleep with her spooning back into me.
The smell of bacon cooking pulled me from my dreams and, as I rubbed the sleep from my eyes I heard the quiet voices of my wife and son from the kitchen. After my morning rituals I joined them in time for a plate of pancakes shaped like Mickey Mouse. Jen was just pulling the cookie tray with the bacon out of the oven.
Taking the strips off the cooling rack, one by one, she spoke with her back to us. “William, that’s enough syrup.” He looked at me, both hands on the syrup, eyes wide and a frown of consternation on his cherubic face.
I tried not to laugh as I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t know, kid. It’s a mom thing. She has eyes in the back of her head.”
Jen crumpled up the aluminum foil, tossed it in the garbage and brought over the plate of bacon. Like a ninja, the heretofore unseen Dink appeared table-side, tail wagging.
“Finn, your folks are coming over to spend some time with William this evening. We need to talk.” She spoke softly, her words seemed to be tinged with fear and sadness.
“Okay, Hon.” The few hours last night wouldn’t be enough time with William for Jen. He was her oxygen. We’d spend the day together, just the three of us, and discuss what was scaring her that night. My feelings were a strange jumble of concern and a lightening of burdens now that I knew she would discuss what was on her mind.
Pete drove us to a miniature golf and bumper cars place where we spent the afternoon. We got our clubs and scorepads and it was William and Jennifer versus me. I had to take frequent breaks to sit and rest and had balance issues while swinging the club, but I was so damned tired of accommodating my injury that I didn’t care.
I knew my wife, and what she was showing on the outside wasn’t what she was feeling. There were some genuine, fleeting moments of happiness, such as when she teased William about his blue tongue after his shaved ice, but there was a deeper melancholy. She concentrated on the three of us, ignoring all the surrounding signs of life and happiness.
Pete’s perpetual smile, the teenage girl who yelled “Yeet!” as she cut off her boyfriend in the bumper cars, the other parents with their children were all ignored as she spent the day focused on our family.
Jen was looking up at the sky again. I followed her gaze, confused. “Expecting rain, Hon?”
“Hmmm?” Jen was distracted. “Oh, no. Just...” She sort of trailed off at the end, holding William close to her hip.
By the end of the day, I was leaning heavily on the cane, and my legs felt like bags of wet cement, but we all had smiles, even Pete. He had spent the afternoon flirting with the woman who ran the bumper cars.
As we drove home, Jen asked Pete to take some backroads. It was almost unnatural to see her not pay attention to William and instead look at the scenery out the window. Every tree, every field, every winery caused her to squeeze my hand. I didn’t understand, but squeezed her hand in return, offering my unspoken love and support.
We approached the home with the large field of Montauk Daisies and William leaned forward, struggling against his seat belt. “Pete! Pete! Stop!”
I could see Pete’s smile in the rear-view mirror as he looked back at William. “You got it, boss.”
He pulled over and we piled out. William started picking some of the flowers for my sister, his eponymous Aunt Daisy. Seeing the retired couple who owned the property looking at us from their large bay window, I waved. They had to be in their seventies, and stood there holding hands, waving back.
When William had first spied the field over a year ago, he had lost his mind. Now it was a weekly ritual for him to stop and get my sister’s namesake flower. We had approached the couple asking if it was all right and offering to compensate them. They wouldn’t take our money. We explained how important it was to us to allow him to do this and how close his relationship was to his aunt, but they refused compensation, offering free use of their field and bounty.
They loved seeing William and were happy to let us take what we wanted. We went back and forth on the issue until they told us to make a regular donation to the local animal shelter in the name of their long gone German short-haired pointer, Smiley. It was a little awkward as we already funded the shelter, so we agreed and instead made donations to animal rescue endeavors in other cities.
This couple was who I wanted Jen and me to be in fifty years. I turned and saw tears streaming down my wife’s face. She watched William romp among the flowers, looked about at the wildlife and then glanced back at our son. I did my best to rush over to her, but my rushing was now laughable. It was closer to a frantic hobbling. Taking her in my arms, I pulled her close and felt her shake with great, wracking sobs.
She whispered in my ear. “It’s all dying, Finn. It’s all going to die.”
You have to pay attention for it to be an active presence in your consciousness, but life is everywhere. It sounds obvious to the point of being stupid, but it goes unnoticed. I saw it in my son. I felt it in the love from Finn. It was in the nervous banter and flirting between Pete and the woman with the go-carts. The trees, flowers, grape vines, laughter of children, lovers holding hands all stood in vibrant contrast to the world that would be if the Parasite forced its way to our reality.
As miniscule as my effort was, I had affected it. My anger and vehemence had an impact. There had to be a way to leverage that. To find some means of enhancing what I was capable of.
I had to go back.
Finn had walked William to the door to thank Mr. and Mrs. Shockey for letting him pick their daisies. He gave them some of the smooth stones he collected at the shoreline in our backyard and thought it a grand bargain. They managed to keep the amused smiles to a minimum as they thanked him and accepted the deal.
He always exchanged value for value. Well, whatever passed for value to a four-year-old. Finn impressed that virtue into our son. They had at least half a dozen of his drawings of Dink, a transparent plastic cup with his sand art and a freezer with frozen oatmeal raisin cookies he made with Finn. He tried to convince his father to give them the cabin cruiser, as that would make them even ‘forever’. Finn nixed that.
My husband was paranoid about William becoming spoiled by our money and circumstance. Our son would never know privation and most of his struggles would be self-imposed. I saw the wisdom in Finn’s concerns, but also knew William’s heart. He was a good boy and would grow to be a good man.
But he’d only become that man if there was a world left for him to grow into that role in. And that was up to me.
Finn’s parents were there by the time we arrived at the house. We had a light dinner and they busted out all the classic board games and made some popcorn. They had their own family night with William while Finn and I went down to the cabin cruiser, the first place we had made love.
Our dog met us at the pier with a tennis ball in his mouth. Bending over, I ruffled his ears and kissed his head. “Dink, go watch William.” He pushed his huge head into my thigh and dropped the ball at my feet. “Dink. William.” He looked at me, looked at the ball, looked at me again and ran back to the house.
By the time I got on the boat and sat down, Finn came up from the galley with two wine coolers. I almost complained about his selection before realizing that the bottles were easier to carry with his cane than two glasses of wine.
I took the offered drink. “Thanks.”
Maneuvering to a nearby chair, he centered himself and slowly sat down. “Okay, Jen. I’ve waited most of a day. What’s going on? Why is everything going to die?”
“All right. Okay.” I tried to gather my thoughts. “This is going to sound weird, but please bear with me.”
“Weird is relative and we’re on the far side of that spectrum anyway. Just tell me.”
“Okay. You remember when we were at Wardenclyffe and we saw those creatures that were trying to break into our universe or reality or whatever?”
“No? What do you mean no?” I pushed back in my seat, looking at him, confused.
“Well, I heard about them, but never saw them.”
“What? That ... Finn, that’s crazy. That’s like saying you didn’t see the blimp in the backyard or the giant neon unicorn in the living room.”
Looking at me incredulously, Finn seemed confused. “Jen, did you think that other people saw that? I know what you told me about, and I didn’t question it, but no one saw what you described. Just you and Cynthia.”
“You can’t be serious. And you never said anything? Finn, everyone saw them. They were like a mile long and just sitting in the sky.”
“No, honey, I’m telling you, no one saw what you’re claiming. I spoke to Shiv and Mort, and even Duhn.”
“What the hell do you mean ‘claiming’? They were there. I’m not making this up!”
He wouldn’t look at me while he spoke. Using his thumbnail, he pried up a piece of the wine cooler’s label and peeled it until a small section came off. “Right, this isn’t coming out the way it should. I’m not saying you’re lying. I believe that you believe that’s what you saw. Both you and Cynthia had just gotten out of the hospital. You had some sort of trauma. I ... I’m not saying that something didn’t happen. I mean, those cultists showed up intent on killing everyone, but, you know, giant life-sucking slugs from another dimension?”
What the hell was he saying? Staring at him, I grew angry and indignant. “You, you think I’m crazy. My husband thinks I’ve lost my mind.” I stood and started pacing.
“No, Jen, it’s just, I don’t know. Maybe they were there, and we just couldn’t see them.”
“Don’t try to placate me, you, you nerd!” He had the nerve to smile at me. “And don’t laugh at my terms or phrases or whatever. I’ve had to take in half a century of pop-culture in five years. You know what I mean. Don’t sit there and tell me what I want to hear to make me happy. You can be an arrogant fuck, Finn. Being smarter than other people doesn’t mean you’re always right.”
And he was smarter than almost everyone. Siobhan told me that soon after I met her. She said that he was smarter than their mother, who was a renowned scientist and author. Finn never went to college and he was as happy talking about the Mets and his clamming as he was world politics, but he read voraciously and easily held his own in conversations with his mother, his father the university professor, or Father Jesse, the theologian.
As I clambered off the boat and onto the dock, I could hear him behind me. “Jen, don’t go. Talk to me.” I kept going. “I can’t follow you. Don’t just walk off.”
I knew it wasn’t fair. His legs and back had to be killing him after everything that we had done that day, but I kept going. He thought I was delusional. Did Shiv?
I was on the grass by then. I kept walking.
I held a cold compress to the cut on my head as I sat with Mom and Dad while we played Monopoly with William. He made his own rules and we played along, happy to be together and not really caring about the game. William cared, that was for certain. He also knew exactly how much money we each had at all times. My son had memorized the values for every property card and never had to refer to the cards themselves.
He had inherited Jen’s gift for numbers and it was scary to see. We hadn’t had William assessed, but I thought it likely that he was a savant. Jen didn’t seem to care. It wasn’t a big deal to her. He was just her boy, the center of her universe. She also had all the cards memorized, so what was the big deal?
After my folks left and I let Dink out for a bit, I put William to bed. I took a bath, reveling in the hot water as it pulled the aches from the muscles in my legs and loosened my back. Jen was sitting up, reading her Kindle as I approached the bed. She was holding it too close and it wasn’t the first time that I thought she might need to see an optometrist. Studiously ignoring me, she concentrated on her reading.
It broke my heart to see how upset she was. I’m not an idiot. I know how it sounds, so I stopped talking to people about it, even family, but Jen and I were different. We loved each other like you hear about in sappy love songs. It was physically painful when I thought she was angry with me, that there was some sort of separation between us.
Leaving my cane against the wall next to the bed, I slipped under the covers and lay on my right side. She ignored me. I reached over with my left hand and ran it through her hair. She ignored me. I gently took her left hand and pulled it from the Kindle, drawing it to me. I kissed her hand. She ignored me.
Whispering, I hoped she could hear my pain, my concern, my contrition. “I’m sorry. I was ... insensitive. Talk to me.”
She gently shook her head, put the Kindle down and spoke as she turned to me. “Finn, when I ... Finn! What the hell happened to your head?”
“Oh.” I had forgotten about the bandage. “It’s nothing. I’m fine.”
“Don’t give me that poppycock. What happened?”
I couldn’t help smiling. “I slipped, it’s not a big deal. Really.”
“Damnit, poppycock is real. People say that. Where did you fall?”
Pulling her hand back to me, I kissed it again. “It’s fine, Jen. Just a scratch. Talk to me about what you saw and why it matters now.”
She started to tear up. “Did you fall on the boat?”
“Finn, did you fall on the boat coming after me?”
Why was it always this? Why is always about me and my injuries? My frustrations bled out into my voice. “Let it go, Jen. It’s a fucking scratch. I’m not made out of glass. It’s nothing. Just tell me what’s scaring you.”
Cupping my cheek, she ran her thumb just under the bandage. It took her a minute before she could start.
“When I got here from 1968, no, actually before I got here, I guess. There was a middle place. I can’t describe it in any way that would do it justice. How do I put this? It felt like the center of everything. Like all of reality was tethered to this place or radiated out from it, like spokes from the center of a wheel.”
She gathered herself, seemingly lost in thought.
“It felt like anything was possible there, and everything was happening there. It was like looking at the mind of God, Finn. If I looked too closely, I’d see universes being born or souls being created. It was terrifying and majestic and personal and impersonal all at the same time. And they were there. These creatures. They were starving and had been there for ages beyond counting. Don’t ask me how I knew that, I just did. They desperately needed out. I could hear their thoughts, but couldn’t understand them. They communicated in, in numbers and equations and formulas and in, I don’t know. It was all just so cold. Mentally.”
Shaking, she pulled the covers up around her.
“Jen, you wanna finish this up in the morning?”
“No, I just want to get through this. I was so ill when I, what? Transitioned? When I got here. You found me and I was vomiting blood. You brought me to the clinic and I recovered, but I had what I thought were nightmares about these creatures, but now I think it was something else. I was connected to them somehow, and they were connected to me.”
Her hand shook as she took a water bottle from the dresser next to the bed and drank deeply.
“That’s when my facility for numbers started. So, I was okay until that day Cynthia and I keeled over. I was in a dream that seemed like a reality. A possible future. The creatures were here on Earth and everything was dying. The plants, the people, the animals. These things fed on life and they were starving. I woke up, we got that machine working, we fought off the cultists and we lived and moved on. They didn’t make it through. But I saw them, Finn. I didn’t imagine it. I saw them.
And now they’re back. I can’t let them come here. They will suck the life out everything like the marrow from a bone. Everything will be gone. Mom and Dad, Tommy, Shiv. You, Finn. You. And, and our son. I have to do anything I possibly can.”
Jennifer told me what she had experienced that night in our bed and while she was in the clinic before waking up. I accepted everything she said, but I don’t know how much I believed. She desperately wanted to get back to that in-between place, or to the dreams where she had the premonitions. I didn’t have a clue as to how to get to either. Thankfully, we knew a lot of odd, well-informed people.
If I don’t meet you no more in this world, then I’ll meet you in the next one And don’t be late Don’t be late
‘Cause I’m a voodoo child, voodoo child Lord knows I’m a voodoo child, baby
Voodoo Child, Slight Return – Jimi Hendrix
The start was the most difficult part. How do you tell people you need to find information about traveling to different dimensions physically or through dreams? Unless you want to sound mad, you have to find a way to couch your interests. For example, you let them think you’re looking for consultants for a sci-fi film you’re bankrolling and then you pick the brains of these ‘experts’.
One of the people we have watching over our money was in charge of new business development. After I explained what I wanted, she found a schlocky sci-fi book that was popular two years ago and optioned it. The story was about Area 51 and how the aliens were actually from another dimension. We then put a substantial deposit down on studio time at Grumman Studios in Nassau County.
Our cover was in place by noon. Enough money accelerates everything. Now we needed to hire ‘consultants’. We researched some possible candidates and spoke to a few. They all fell under the categories of flakes, scam artists or theoreticians whose thinking was too abstract to be of any help.
Father Jesse recommended a professor at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington. The man was brilliant but crazy. That was a short and disappointing trip.
We did manage to get a recommendation from the professor to see a Dr. Prudenovis in New Orleans, so our time with him wasn’t a total waste. Supposedly an expert in Louisiana Voodoo, he had special interests in what the professor called ‘passages’. It sounded too vague to be useful, but we had a jet, so what the hell.
When we picked up William at Shiv’s place, I made my plea.
“Look, it’ll be two days at most. You can stay at our house. You and Tommy. William loves to spend time with you guys. Bring Marisol. She loves babysitting William. We’ll give her, I don’t know, what’s a lot for a high school kid? $150 a day?”
Looking up at me, her smile crept up on us, hesitant and amused. “And if we stay at your house, you’ll have both me and Dink to protect William.”
“Well, yeah, but it’s not that. I trust you. You don’t have to have Dink there. Pete can watch Dink. But, if you’re going to be there anyway...”
“Sure. We’d love to watch William. And Dink.”
I kept my son up way too late that evening as we watched Lilo and Stitch twice. It was ‘our’ movie. I had promised that Finn and I would take him to Hawaii and he memorized every fact he could about the state. William could quote lines from the movie at the drop of a hat and when he played with Dink, the dog was often Stitch.
Shiv would indulge me and my frequent phone calls while we were gone. She would put William on the phone and he would tell me about his day, his adventures with his aunt and uncle, cousin Marisol and his best friend, Dink.
It killed Finn to bring his wheelchair, but we took it and stored it on the plane. If he grew too fatigued in New Orleans, at least we would have it with us. The jet was wheels up by 9:00 AM and we were on our way. We had no idea how soon we could get the meeting with Dr. Prudenovis, but our odds of seeing him quickly would be better if we were nearby.
Father Jesse played the mutual acquaintance card and had an appointment for us that evening at six. It sounds like I live in my own little world to say that the flight was pleasant. I get that. We have our own jet. I’m not oblivious to our blessings and how our lives are different from most peoples. No check-ins, no waiting on security lines, no invasive TSA gropings, no uncomfortable seats, no miniscule packages of peanuts. That being said, we were off, I enjoyed the time with my husband, I spoke to William twice, and we landed at the Louis K. Armstrong Airport in Kenner, Louisiana.
Stretching, I stood by my seat as they opened the door and lowered the stairs. Finn grabbed his valise and put his sunglasses on his handsome face. My hair must have looked like I stuck my finger in an electrical socket. It plumped and frizzed as soon as I stepped foot out onto the stairs. I was on the third step down when I heard him.
“What the...” Turning back, I saw him looking around as he continued. “Yeah, this is the right place to look for strange portals, ‘cause we’ve obviously landed close to the gaping maw of hell. It’s got to be 105 out, and if there was any more humidity, we could swim off the plane.”
He was right, it was unbelievably hot and damp, but this is the same man that made his living clamming in the hot summer days for most of his life. “Suck it up, buttercup. The sooner we’re done, the sooner we can get home.”
Smiling, he looked down the stairs at me. “That was good. Buttercup works.”
I tried not to grin back. “Oh, that was good for 2018? So happy to have your stamp of approval. Let’s get in the car and the air-conditioning.”
“As you wish.”
No longer trying to hide it, I smiled and took his hand when we got to the bottom of the stairs. The day he quits quoting The Princess Bride is the day I bring him to the clinic instead of him bringing me.
Getting in the waiting Town Car, we waited while our luggage and Finn’s wheelchair were loaded into the trunk and chatted with the driver. Needing to kill some time, she took us on a driving tour of New Orleans and a few of the nearby parishes.
As we got into the city proper, I called Tommy. After hearing Finn’s questions for the driver, I knew what to expect.
“Hey, how’s my favorite brother-in-law?”
“Good, everything’s good. Gimme a minute. William’s in the back with Daisy and Marisol. I’ll get him for you.”
“No, Tommy, I wanted to talk to you.”
“Me? When your son is here? Let me sit down, my knees are weak.”
“Don’t be a spaz. I love talking to you. Listen, can you guys be at the house at noon tomorrow? Finn’s going to be overnighting a ton of food up.”
“Oh, sure, you love to talk to me when you need me for deliveries. I see how it is.” He laughed. “No problem, we’ll be here. If you want to include something specifically for William, it won’t go amiss. It’s been less than a day and he’s missing you guys already.”
“Thanks, Tommy. You know I love you and Shiv, right?”
“I do. We’ll see you soon.”
I was right. Finn must have had the poor driver stop at every famous or interesting eatery in the area. Massive amounts of caffeine was ingested with the café au lait at Café Du Monde as we sat near the window, almost within view of Jackson Square.
Finn tilted his head and looked at me smiling. “Something funny?”
“Not a thing. Just happy to be here with my husband.” I’m not sure why I was so amused at the ring of powdered sugar from his beignet on his black shirt. I also didn’t know why I didn’t mention it. Maybe it was just the frivolity during a dark time in our lives.
Before we continued our tour, he took my hand and we walked over to Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. After admiring the beautiful building, we sat in a pew and prayed. Exiting, we found our car and hit the next stop.
We sampled etouffee, had boudin sent home, had sausage with alligator, shipped some of that as well and made a half-dozen other stops. I had our driver stop at the famous St. Louis Cemetery in Treme. Sitting on a bench, I watched the tourists and a few locals meander through the headstones. In spite of the heat, I shivered. They were visitors in the domain of the dead, walking blissfully, ignorantly through their own imminent future.
Our four-hour jaunt through New Orleans had us making immediate plans to return. The people were friendly, the architecture was beautiful in the French Quarter and the accents were rich and warm. And, of course, Finn was in his own little gastronomical world.
It was a wonderful escape for me. My husband and I, alone in a romantic city. I could hide from my thoughts and push back my fears. As we drove to the bookstore Mr. Prudenovis owned I grew slightly nauseous. I kept a smile on my face and turned towards the window as I blew my nose. Red flakes of blood stained the white tissue. I balled it up and stuffed it in my pocket, hoping Finn didn’t notice.
Pulling up in front of Orleans Ésotérique in the suburbs of the city, Marie, our driver, told us to take our time and she would be waiting when we were ready. We needed to tip her well. Finn already bought her what likely amounted to half her weight in food. Whatever he had sent back home, he bought half that amount for her. We were coming back, and we wanted her to be happy enough to work with us again.
We walked in and I held the door for Finn. He moved well with the cane and often grew frustrated when I did things for him, but I didn’t have a choice. I couldn’t not do it. He’d deal with it. It felt like a store from my childhood. The little bell over the door chimed and I walked down the main aisle, huge wooden bookshelves lining the way.
I’m not sure what I expected, but he wasn’t it. “Mr. Predenovis?” He was a short, thin white man with a pot belly and a shock of what seemed to be prematurely grey hair. A loud Hawaiian shirt had the top two buttons open and he was wearing board shorts. He looked like a diminutive, aging surfer.
“Yes? You Mrs. Corrigan?” he asked.
He stretched out his hand, which I slowly took, staring a bit too obviously.
“Not quite what you were expecting, huh? Come all the way down to New Orleans see some voodoo expert and here I am. Expected some big old bald-headed black guy. Probably with an earring, some white pants and white shirt and some sandals? Disappointed?”