Dallas Tollway, North.
Tuesday evening . . .
As Ricky coasts in and out of traffic, playing what feels like a game of Leap Frog with our lives, I’m trying to study the Texas Drivers Handbook. This is the one that is dirty yellow, with large red, yellow, and green dots on the cover. I have to learn all of this stuff if I ever want a chance at getting a driver’s license.
Even though Ricky says he doesn’t mind taxiing me around, I have to get my license for personal reasons. I need to have my freedom. I want to be able to drive to the grocery store on my own, without risking going to jail. All kinds of horrible things happen in county jails. Not to mention that the place is probably crawling with spooks and gatherers.
Anyway, I need to get something other than my hospital ID card so that I don’t look like a damn mental patient when I try to cash a check. It’s all part of me becoming a functioning member of society . . . at least until I find and kill the 23 Evils that escaped the Land of Sorrows when I thought I was the savior of all mankind. Once that’s done, I don’t really care what people say.
I’m on page 5-6, reading the section on WARNING SIGNS. All of these little signs are yellow with a black border. Inside are a variety of arrows and squiggly lines and skidding cars to alert the driver to, “ . . . conditions which lie immediately ahead and tell them what to look for.”
When I read this to Ricky he starts laughing. Actually, it’s more of a cackle. Like a coyote or a hyena. “You’ll never see half of that shit. You just have to memorize it for the test.”
But what happens in an emergency?
“In an emergency you’re going to probably flip-out, anyway. No sign is going to keep you from doing that. You need to just get behind the wheel and learn it in the streets.”
I don’t know if that’s a good idea, I say. What if I get into a wreck, learning how to drive?
“No, Jack. We’ll head out to some old parking lot and let you drive around. Practice parking. Skidding. J-turns. Bat-turns—”
“Hold on,” I say, flipping through the manual, and I can’t find any section on Bat-turns. J-turns, either.
“Jack,” he says turning his head sadly, “you have so much to learn.”
As we near Addison Circle, where our penthouse loft is located, we stop, waiting to make a left across the tollway. I turn to the section on making left-hand turns in different scenarios.
We are turning left from a two lane, one-way, onto a four lane, two-way. There are several steps that need to be followed and as far as I can tell, Ricky is violating each and every one of them.
I think he sees me grading him, and he says, “What?”
I close the book, reaching to make sure my seatbelt is firm across my chest so that when we have a collision I might make it out alive.
He laughs and we somehow make it across the Tollway, and find ourselves at our parking garage. Three minutes later we’re riding the elevator upwards, waiting for our floor.
As the doors open we are bathed in cool, Freon-charged air as we walk across white, marbled tile on the way to our loft. We live in 6-A. It’s big—about 4,200 square feet. And it’s lavish. Ricky’s parents had the oak floors redone, even though they were brand new.
The loft is spacious, with the first floor being composed of a large dining area, a large living room with an entertainment center that rivals the movie theaters. In the center, just behind the staircase is a decked-out kitchen with every kind of appliance and cooking utensil known to man. We have a giant Sub-zero refrigerator and freezer combo that looks like it could hold a full cow, un-cut.
This penthouse, it has a balcony that runs around three of the four sides, since we’re out on the corner of the building. And really, it’s so nice that I feel like I’m breaking the law by living here. I almost feel guilty, except that Ricky says his parents like the idea of him getting me back together as a person.
As weird as this seems to me, I’m pretty sure that I wasn’t wealthy in my past life. The furniture is all white leather. The tables, thick glass—so thick that it has a blue hue to it. The lights are “moody,” Ricky says. “The perfect place to entertain.”
He’s also been pressing me to start talking to women. This is another one of those things that I haven’t been able to ‘get’ yet. I’m ordering every kind of romantic comedy that there is from NetFlix. But you know, they make it look so easy. I definitely wasn’t a Casanova in my forgotten past.
Ricky and I unload the bags of groceries near the mammoth refrigerator and then sit at the bar. I’ve got my Drivers Handbook. He’s got a small notepad.
I read, A flashing red light . . .
He says, “Give it a glance and then haul ass.”
A flashing yellow light . . .
“Slow your roll to around forty-five or fifty, glance, then haul ass.”
A flashing red light, with a flashing left-hand green arrow . . .
His eyes narrow, “Glance in all directions, then perform a late-apex, controlled slide to the left. Try not to let the ass-end come around.”
I’m in real trouble. I ask him, “How is it you’re still alive?”
Ignoring my question he scribbles something down on his notepad, chewing on the back of his pen between thoughts.
“These twenty-three Evils . . . will they be coming after us?”
I’m looking at the standard colors of road signs. “I’m not certain,” I answer. “ . . . maybe.”
Red: Stop or prohibition.
Green: Indicated movements permitted, direction guidance.
“If the Evils take a proactive approach, wouldn’t it behoove them to just come and kill us?” Ricky suggests.
It’s something I had considered, I say. I just don’t think they’d risk it. They’re on the run, and we’re like, INTERPOL or something. Mostly, I figure, they’ll try and stay hidden.
Blue: Motorist services guidance.
Yellow: General warning.
“But if they did come after us, they would certainly have an easier time finding us, than us finding them,” Ricky says as he writes something down. Then he taps on the page a few times, “We’re easy to find. Too easy.”
“And we haven’t even considered the art dealers and collectors that still want the Book of Sighs,” he adds. Just making sure I am totally and completely unable to ever sleep again. That’s a headache I don’t even want to think about. So I’m just reading colors.
Orange: Construction and maintenance warning.
Brown: Public recreation and scenic guidance.
I sigh, closing my ugly yellow little book, folding my hands on top. “What should we do about it? What can we do about it? Run and hide? Rich eccentric collectors will always find a way to get to us. They may even try to use your family.”
Chewing on the cap of his pen, Ricky says, “Maybe the more public recognition we get the better. Our exposure could be our safety net.”
Will that work? I ask him.
And even though he says, “Sure,” I don’t think he’s so sure about it.
Then something comes to my mind. “You know,” I tell him, “I don’t know if the Evils know that we’re on their trail. They all took off before the Angels gave me the third-degree. So, there’s a good chance they have no idea what we’re up to.”
Ricky nodded to himself, and went back to scribbling.
And even though I’m reading about pavement markings, all I can think about is Kristen. That one moment when I saw her in full color, on the other side of the door I wasn’t supposed to open. She was the most magnificently beautiful woman I had ever seen.
Of course, I was dying at the time, so my perspective might have been a bit skewed.
But that moment, seeing all her perfect and wonderful beauty, I felt like we had eternity to spend together getting to know each other. Falling in love again. And then, in that instant, her face turned cold and haunting. And there was suffering and contempt in her menacing eyes. And she told me,
“ . . . you killed me . . . you killed me when I was so young. I had my whole life in front of me. You robbed me of that. You stole my life away from me, Jack. And then I was sent to the Land of Sorrows. Why? Because my faith was not strong enough?! I was twenty-three years old!”
And right at that moment my stomach churns and I feel like the most horrible scumbag that has ever existed. Even though I know I would never have killed her . . . I know that I did. The fact that it was in my vile invisible past is no excuse.
I’m a monster that forgot his teeth.
The devil that misplaced his horns.
I killed the only person that I can remember loving. And the real stink of it is, now I have to do it again. To this girl that I loved enough to drown myself in the most exotic and terrifying ways, I have to do the one thing I could never do, but must have done. This delicate creature that I gladly walked among the dead for, I have to look her in the eyes and snatch the life right out of her.
And the thing about it is, I know when the time comes, that even though I can’t possibly do it . . . I will. I’ll do it because God and the Angels have ordered it. I’ll do it because she represents true evil in this place.
And I’ll do it because I’m a killer. Somewhere in my programming, hiding in my neurons, buried in my DNA, is the coded sequence for murderer.
I hate the me I used to be.
The me that I, biologically, still am.
“Jack?” Ricky says, startling me from my morose thoughts.
I look up, “What?”
Delicately he asks, “You want to talk about . . . her?”
I flip over to Vehicle Registration, and he goes back to scribbling. He’s avoiding me avoiding myself. We’re just one-upping each other with emotional procrastination.
It’s getting to be that darkening, aqua blue when the sun has run west for cover, and the sky looks like a thousand miles of deep ocean. The French say that this time of the evening—dusk—is the time between dogs and wolves.
For me, it’s just when the shadows start walking.