And the Frog

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14

The check-in counter was to her left. Marigold was not present. “You’re with Mary?” said a young woman, probably about the same age as Emma, behind the counter.

Mary? Mary was much less imposing than Marigold. “Yeah,” she said.

“She said to tell you she’s waiting. She’s in her usual room. Thirteen.” Ugh, thirteen. That was tacky. The young woman pointed to the hall that extended in front of Emma. “She said to just knock.”

“Thanks.” Emma nodded, and moved forward. The sign on the wall at the beginning of the hall said 1-12 with a little arrow. Emma rolled her eyes. The first door in the hall was room twelve. She moved all the way down to one, and there was one more. 13. Did that woman have her own special room at a La Quinta? She clenched her fingers in her palms, which were a little wet, and knocked.

No answer, and then Emma promptly noticed that the door wasn’t actually closed. The “U” of the U bar lock had been turned out between the door and the frame so that it wouldn’t close fully. Of course, Marigold wouldn’t be bothered to get up and open the door for her prey; she couldn’t even be bothered to give an ominous and villainous “come in” in response to the knock.

The dynamic of an exchange was entirely altered when being let into a room became letting yourself in. When the task of actually opening the door became your own. And the dynamic of this relationship overall had already been swiftly transformed by a gun in a car seat, so Emma had to take a moment to evaluate what really was happening here. Was she about to walk in, even opening the door herself, to the room of this dangerous woman? She thought back to when Marigold took over command of Ferrule, when she didn’t run because she had nowhere to go. Well, she could try to run now, but why would Marigold give her such an opportunity if she wasn’t confident that she could chase her down? These “Tillers” were very obviously habitants of the category Something Else, and in the end the only information helpful to this moment that she really understood was that the gun in her pants could do them a significant amount of harm, maybe even kill them.

Did she want to kill Marigold? That was too big of a question for her to answer now that she was standing outside her door. However, she was confident enough that she did want to shoot Marigold. She took a second to imagine what the other woman was doing behind the door. She didn’t hear a TV, so Marigold’s eyes were pointing somewhere else. Or perhaps she was in the bathroom.

No, her eyes were on the door. That much had to be true. She was waiting. Honestly, what were the odds that she didn’t know she’d left the gun in the RV? She was a professional in her field, after all. She was probably sitting in a cheap chair, a lesser version of Emma’s grandmother’s favorite, with her own gun trained on the door. It could even have been some clever test, or game, just to see what her captive would do. Emma realized that she hadn’t even checked for bullets in the gun, didn’t even know how to make the wheely bit come out. She did however, know how to pull back the hammer, and she reached back and did, which she wasn’t sure was a good idea but it made her feel slightly more secure. She decided though that she wouldn’t enter the room with the gun drawn, because she’d already seen that Marigold’s trigger finger could beat John’s, who was also a professional.

So, gun cocked but still in the waste band, hands in front and plain to see. This is what she was going with. She’d find another time to shoot Marigold, assuming it wasn’t on purpose that she had the gun. She nodded, trying to imitate the resolution of a John McClane or a John Wick or some other John with confidence to shoot someone at the right time – barring John Bain, incidentally – and pushed the door with her left hand.

Motel doors are almost always heavier than expected. She added her right hand and stepped forward as she pushed, entering a dark room.

A dark room with one very large bed, a California King by the look of it, in which slept Marigold. Yes, reader, the woman was sleeping. Here stood our main character, cocked and possibly loaded gun – and if you think about it the last place this gun had been was a showdown, and the only possible reason it wasn’t loaded was that John had only gone to meet Marigold with one shot, which he spent (unlikely? Up to you) – over her completely vulnerable, unconscious captor.

Talk about decisions. Chiefly: how much had Emma changed, really? She didn’t even know what her pre-crash self would have done in this situation. As far as she knew, that person had never been in any sort of a similar pickle. She drew the gun and pointed it at Marigold, because she had to do that much, at least. She held it with both hands, and her breathing became notably more laborious, so she tried to steady herself lest she wake her target.

It was like her ears could already hear the phantom of the shot, like they were ringing in anticipation of BANG. It became louder and louder, swallowing her head, and she bit her teeth down hard to try to expunge the sensation, which only seemed to add pressure to her skull. She squeezed the gun but her finger didn’t touch the trigger. The sensation crescendoed until she wasn’t even looking at Marigold, but only at the gun itself, and really it was irritating and really she just wanted to put an end to it and she slid her finger into the ring, in front of the trigger and really . . . really she wasn’t going to be shooting anyone tonight. But she kept the gun trained, and from this point forward things would be changed, for however much longer she was with Marigold, until they were very much changed when she ultimately wasn’t.

“I could,” she said, finger on the trigger and gun on Marigold, “I fucking could.” And then she took a deep breath and lowered the BANG!!

It took much less pressure on the trigger than she’d expected, maybe less than it should have, to make the revolver fire. In the moment it almost felt like it had gone off on its own, but later she’d know it was her that did it, she’d remember the correlation between her finger licking the trigger and the gun kicking violently back in her hands. It hit her in the belly, and she dropped to her knees in shock, scrambling to catch it. She did, and when she looked up, there was Marigold.

There was Marigold, sitting up in the bed, above her as she was now kneeling. She righted the revolver in her hands and pointed back at the woman. Pulled back the hammer without a thought. Marigold looked back at her, clearly confused. “Hm,” she said, quizzically.

Emma couldn’t control the sound of her breathing now. Son of a bitch, she’d shot the stupid thing. “I . . .” she stammered, “I fucking could. I could.”

From the end of the barrel, Marigold just looked back at her, and in the dark the expression of her eyes gave the look that she was trying to deduce something. Still, in this moment it felt like they were having their first honest conversation. No smoke and no mirrors, no clear advantage, despite the gun. I could seemed to be the most pure thing that anyone had said since the crash, and looking back on it even in this moment Emma couldn’t seem to be certain that it came out of her own mouth. From the moment she’d awoken, she’d been led, and the marching order had included a screen of opacity between her and the leader. Everything she’d been told was slathered in the goop of mystery, and for the life of her she couldn’t recall ever having communicated a single thing herself, until I could.

“Hm,” Marigold said again. “Later, I’m trying to sleep.” And she turned away and laid back. Emma heard springs protest as the woman plopped herself back in sleeping position. She lowered the gun.

Goodness. There was no ringing now, only the sound of her own breath, and the sound of Marigold’s. And finally a few logical things began to occur to her as she pushed herself to her feet. Someone had to have heard the gunshot, and someone was going to notice that hole that she now saw in the mattress, about a foot to the left of Marigold. But she heard no one stirring beyond the walls of their room. She could’ve gone back into the hall or over to the window on the far side to look for commotion, but really she didn’t want to know.

It also came to her attention that once she pulled back the hammer on the revolver, she had no clue how to put it back again without firing the damn thing. She surely wouldn’t be doing that again tonight. Sleep, all she wanted now was sleep. There was a couch under the window, and she drug her feet to it. She looked one more time at the gun in her hand, then she lifted one of the cushions and put it underneath. She replaced the cushion, turned for one more look at Marigold, who apparently was already back to sleep, and laid herself down. She was cold, but now exhausted. It didn’t take her to o long to fade away either.

She, of course, did not dream of her grandmother this time. This time she would dream a bit more like any average person does, the kind that she would remember only in bits and flashes, faces and tones. All she’d remember was her father, taken entirely aback by the words “I could.”

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