MillVille Chapter 6: Maddie has a bad day
Cover image mural art by Osiris Rain
Editor’s note: The Agenda is serially publishing this novella by local author Eric Linne. This is the sixth installment, and you can read the previous ones here. Look for new chapters on Tuesday and Thursday. Heads up: There is adult language and adult themes. Read about Eric’s other work here.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
I wake with a piercing shard of sunshine slicing from a dingy white window blind directly into my eye. And a thirst like I’ve crawled across a desert for days. And a huge need to pee. I sit up in bed and my head throbs. My heart starts to race like I’ve just run a mile at a flat-out sprint. Drop my head back against a pillow that is not mine and wonder, not for the first time, Where the hell am I?
Instinctively, I reach for my cup of bedside water. It’s where I usually put it, but it’s not my cup. My normal coffee mug with the name of my favorite bakery from back home has been replaced by a flimsy styrofoam cup. I grab it greedily, sloshing a bit onto a once-white sheet, and drink the entire tepid contents. Reach to set it down on my nightstand, miss and drop it on the linoleum floor. I look around the tiny dingy room, filling up much too quickly with morning light, and think again, Where the hell am I?
I stumble out of bed and take a minute to steady myself. I’m wearing my softball team T-shirt from last night and a pair of underwear. The T-shirt is substantially more stained than when I started out last night and the underwear are mine. I take a couple of steps toward one of only two doors in the room, guess right and find the bathroom. A bathroom that looks like it hasn’t had a solid cleaning within my lifetime. I pull down my underwear, sit to pee, close my eyes and try to remember. Where am I and how did I get here?
Last thing I remember clearly was talking to Kelly and Richard at The Shop last night. They got up to leave and something happened. Somebody came in. Think! I remember a man’s shirt and a face. Yes! That guy. The one from the highway. In the pickup truck. Who helped me out my first day here. What was his name? Mike? No, it was Mark. Mark something or other. I finish peeing, pull up my pants, take one step to the mirror. A quick glance and what I see scares me. I look like somebody ten years older than I am. Somebody who’s been living on the street or under a bridge. Somebody who hasn’t taken care of herself for a long, long time. I look away in disgust, turn on the faucet and drink the tepid water straight from the nasty spigot. For a long, long time. Wipe my mouth off and switch the water to hot. When it warms up, I grab a handful, reach under my shirt and clean my underarms. Then get a bit more and wipe off my face. With my hands still wet, I run them through my hair and venture one final glance in the mirror.
At least now, I can tell that the women looking back is me. But I don’t like what I see. Or how I feel.
I try to recall last night. I met Mark at The Shop while I waited to use the bathroom. Then we left together. I think. Yeah, I remember. Through the haze of the long sunset and multiple beers. We were sitting outside at the Hound. I remember talking to somebody. Oh crap, it was Christa. My teacher friend. And her husband. Joe, I think his name is. Did I call him Jack last night? They were all laughing about something, but I can’t remember what.
I can picture Mark and me walking up and down Henderson Street, our arms around each other’s waists. We made at least three other stops. Had a burger at The Publican, I think. Really late, right before they closed. Yeah, we did because I remember Kelly staring daggers at me from the kitchen. Like she was mad at me for something. I can’t remember what. Right before that, we walked a few blocks to look at some of the new stuff at The Art Stop. It was electric bright neon art. And a cool illuminated blue head, all displayed under black lights in an otherwise dark room. It was cool stuff and I felt comfortable there. Maybe because I didn’t have to talk to anybody in the dark.
Mark and I had last call at a place on the edge of the the neighborhood. A place I’ve never been before. What was that place? Called Alter Bar, I think. It was really late and there were mostly guys in there. Somebody was joking around with Mark. I remember the guy laughing and pointing at me. Said something about the double I ordered at last call. And something else. Something bad. What was it? My face begins to flush, slowly at first, then it burns. My throat tightens up and I feel something weird, something high up in my stomach. Something moving up. I take a quick step to the toilet, yank up the seat and bend over. Doesn’t take long before everything I ate and drank light night comes shooting out. Like a geyser. Nothing subtle about this puke. It’s all exploding out of me at once. I feel my eyeballs pressuring the bones of my skull. And then it’s done. No aftershocks, thankfully. I take one final long drink, wipe my mouth again and turn to leave this pit of a bathroom.
“Is the old lady working again tonight, buddy?” I remember. That’s what that dipshit with the scraggly beard said at the Alter Bar last night. And Mark kind of laughed and looked quickly at me; to see if I’d heard. I heard, alright. I remember feeling like somebody just touched my arm with a lit sparkler. Like my high school friend Raven did that one time. Just for a kick. She liked to do things like that to people. Just to see how they’d react. Some friend. I didn’t do anything back then except laugh it off. I didn’t laugh last night when I heard about Mark’s wife. But I also didn’t get up and walk out on him. Instead, and this is what makes me sick in a place deep in my heart, I took Mark’s arm and followed him out the door of the last bar, and up 36th Street to this place.
So that’s where I am. And that’s how I got here. Now, right now, it’s time for me to get the hell out.
I stumble around the room collecting my clothes. They are everywhere. Like we were playing some kids’ game last night. A game to see who could throw Maddie’s plaid button-up shirt and her paint smeared blue jeans and her hipster brown laceup boots as far away from the bed as possible. And in as many directions as possible. Don’t know who won and don’t really care. I get my stuff on as fast as possible and head for the door. On the scratched up, pathetic looking desk, that seemed to have been light gray at one time, I see a note. Written in the meticulous penmanship of a pharmacist, it reads: Had a fun night with you, baby! Let’s meet up again sometime. I scrunch the note up in the smallest ball I can make with my fist and jam it into my pocket. To the right of the desk, on the side with the bed, I pass a cracked, white plastic trash can. In the bottom of the can, obviously out of their packaging and used, I spy two rubbers. Thank God for small favors.
I open the metal hotel door, walk through and it slams heavily behind me. I blink into the blinding morning sunlight, shielding my eyes from the unrelenting brightness. Yank my phone from my pocket and check the clock. It’s 9:52 a.m. I have four missed messages, all from my boss, Alex. I skim through them and start breathing fast. Then faster still. Then I can’t catch my breath. I run down the stairs of the WestHend Motel and look around. I’m at the far end of 36th Street. The opposite end from Henderson Street and the center of MillVille.
I walk sharply toward the village then stop abruptly and turn around. Where the hell is my bike? No, no, no! I run back to the motel parking lot and glance around. Three cars are scattered in the few parking spaces out front — two of them beaters. Like my old POS car. There’s no bike rack here. No big surprise. I remember last night. Hopefully for the last time. I rode my bike to The Shop. But I didn’t lock it up because I could see it right out the window and I was only planning to have a quick drink with my housemates. But after that, I only remember walking. With Mark. To all those other bars. Having all those other drinks.
I head back toward The Shop. Fast, then a little faster. I was a high school lacrosse player, a decent athlete. I’m still in pretty good shape. But when I get up to race walking speed, I feel my heart beating like a bass drum against my chest. And my breath is coming even faster. My eyesight starts to blur at the edges. I’m seeing a tinge of yellow in everything around my field of vision. Like I’ve put on some kind of glaucoma-inducing goggles. Only it’s inducing the glaucoma pretty damn fast.
I keep walking down 36th Street, slowing, thinking about those times, those things. The feelings that I hate. The feelings of pressure in my cheeks and my eyes and my neck and my stomach. The ones that come on either fast or slow, however quickly they damn well please. The ones I know about, but I can’t control. I had my first full blown panic attack my sophomore year in high school, when I was sixteen. Back then I didn’t know what was happening. I know this will sound crazy, but I thought I was going to die. Right there in the Felton High School study hall room. Since then, I’ve learned how to recognize a panic attack, but not how to stop it. Which almost makes it worse.
But that first time, I was sitting at a desk with one other person. A girl from my English class. It was an advanced class for her, a freshman. But a makeup class for me, a grade ahead of her. She was my enemy. I know I’m sounding like a drama queen, but at the time, I hated that girl. Hated that smarter-than-everybody city girl from Chicago that the whole school was in awe of. Kids admired her partly because she was a new kid, and partly because she had experienced things that nobody else in our hick town had. But mostly they thought she was a bad-ass. That tiny little Chicago girl, Kayla Burbadge, was plenty brave. Here’s why I say that. After she had the fight with my boyfriend Donnie, she went and joined the all-guy wrestling team. And she went out and wrestled and beat a bunch of boys in wrestling matches. I’m not lying about this.
But the thing that shocked me, and I’m guessing everybody else, is that she made friends with the two scariest, most dangerous dudes in the school. Jimmy Dole and Dave Sperry were foster kids from Indianapolis. I heard they were gangbangers or something up in the city. Down in Felton, people stayed the hell away from them. There were tons of rumors flying around. About them putting a full grown man in the hospital. And that one of them had killed a kid in Indianapolis with his bare hands. I have no idea if any of this was true. Cause like everybody else, I stayed the hell away from them. But damned if little Kayla didn’t make friends with both of those guys. And one time, when Donny and his asshole friend Todd were hassling Kayla, those two scary guys got in the middle of it and threatened to kick both of their asses.
So the first time I had a full blown panic attack, I was sitting at a desk with Kayla. Because the teacher made us go off to another room together to work on some stupid project. I just remembered. Sonnets. We had to write a stupid sonnet like Shakespeare. Kayla and I started working on it and for some reason, and I started having a vision of my miserable future there in Felton. Being Donnie’s or some other loser’s wife and having to live out the rest of my life in that miserable little place. And I guess I lost it. Right there sitting with that girl, I had my first panic attack. And what did she do? Not laugh or make fun of me. No, that girl that I hated so much talked me down. Got me off the ledge. Then, she told me I could change my life. Become another person. That I could create a new future for myself and escape from that place.
Kayla was right. I did change and I did get out of there. But my panic attacks followed me. They followed me here. Right now, one of them was crawling up out of the shadows and starting in, tightening its invisible lock on my body and brain. And I don’t care how many times I’ve met up with these attacks, they scare the hell out of me. Every single time.
I walk as fast as I can to The Shop. Like I feared, my bike is gone. I start to cry and my breathing gets more and more ragged. People are walking past me, staring. Alone and in twos and threes and a few with their dogs, they walk past. All carrying their vegetables and bread and flowers and cheese in their little recyclable bags. I knew that Saturday was farmers’ market day here in MillVille. Held in the big green lot next to the fancy church with the funky red sign. But I’ve never been up early enough to get over here.
Thoughts race through my head and threaten to drown me. Here’s the playlist. I’m about as hungover as I’ve ever been. And I woke up in a strange bed in a sleazy hotel room. And apparently I had sex with a man a barely know. And the damned dude is married! And I got four texts from my boss this morning — none of which I answered. After I told him I’d work Saturday if he needed me. Which I offered because I’ve already been late twice since I started working there. And now my fucking bike is stolen. The bike that Mr. Tom gave me and….
I’m sitting on a log stump just off the side street next to The Shop. I’ve got my head down, sobbing, my breathing getting more and more ragged. Like something is going to burst out of my chest. I notice a shadow slide up beside me. A really tall shadow. I keep my head down. The last thing I want to do right now is talk…to anybody. I’ve got to get away, fast!
A hand reaches out and grabs my shoulder. I feel an arm across my back. A man’s arm. I try to pull away, but it holds me firmly. What the hell is this? I look up through my tears and Mr. Tom looks down at me. With a look of concern, and maybe, I don’t know — caring? Like I’d imagine some other girl’s dad might look at her if she was in trouble.
He speaks to me slowly and very softly. So that only I can hear him among the small crowd of shoppers who walk past us, happily oblivious. “Child, where have you been? I was so worried about you when you didn’t come home last night.” I don’t answer, but attempt to wipe my flood of tears away. I take a deep breath and try to calm myself. “Are you alright? Did somebody hurt you?”
I nod my head ‘yes’ to answer his first question but then realize he might confuse it with the answer to his second question. I speak for the first time today, “I’m just having a bad day.”
I see just the slightest hint of a smile at the corner of his mouth, as he replies. “I’d say that’s the understatement of the month.” Mr. Tom helps me to my feet, looks me over from head to toe and for the second time in a few weeks, pulls out his fancy handkerchief for me to dry my tears and wipe my nose. “Maddie, just take a few slow, long breaths.” I do as he said and I start to feel my chest and shoulders relax, just a little. He threads my arm through his much bigger arm and turns me toward our house. “Let’s get you home, honey. I just bought some nice tea at the market that will make you feel better.” We walk down 36th Street, arm in arm, turn right on Henderson and head up toward Berber Lane.
I think of Dorothy waking up back in Kansas. After all of her adventures, with all those friends and family around her. Even though I’m about 600 miles from where I grew up, I can’t help but thinking, There’s no place like home.
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