It was a leisurely kind of rush compared to the rest of the day. Across the room instead of across town, cooking a little with dad’s old recipes, getting to see Annette and Kyle. Dad insisted on feeding himself in front of other people, and Kyle and Annette counted, so all she had to do once dinner was on the table was sit and chat and eat.
And that got boring, because of course it did, and she started thinking instead. How navigable would this room be if you were a centimeter tall? If you could only move while lying down? What if you had to follow the patterns on the carpet and only turn where they turned? Could you make it all the way to the front door from her seat? What if you couldn’t travel over the same line twice? If armed men came in, what would you do? No guns in the house, nearest sharp knife on the kitchen counter.
Assume three men, medium height and heavy-set.
Drop closest, break knee, kick chair into second, collapse first and attack solar plexus. Retrieve dropped weapon. Address third assailant, grapple, strike throat, shoulder throw. Address addled second assailant, catch, reverse momentum, knee to stomach, break arm at elbow, disrupt back-step, bring to ground. Just about ten seconds. Okay, what if there were five attackers? What if it took place in the kitchen? What if she started from prone? What if –
What if the lights were out?
She could just turn them off and see how he did it. Should she ask first? Kyle would just say to leave them on and that he was perfectly comfortable with them on, because Kyle was polite, but –
Have a normal dinner, and don’t treat it like a game of charades.
But she wanted to see how he moved.
No. No no no.
Thinking was beginning to lead her to places that would have to wait. She would observe instead.
Kyle Marshal was overwhelmingly tall and rail thin, like a scarecrow. Apparently he was closing in on seven feet in one direction or another. He had massive spider hands and a very long face with the dullest eyes Gret had ever seen. And he was always relaxed, uncoiled.
Relaxed looking was probably more accurate. She knew better.
She really did.
Gret had seen Kyle with the lights out four or five times, and only twice for anything more than a moment. It had been nauseating. Suffocating ink. Of course, he had done it because she asked and didn’t seem offended by her reaction, and afterward he had been utterly normal.
Maybe that was it. That incongruity. Kyle Marshal wasn’t even a little bit a person. She didn’t know what he was, but it wasn’t anything close to human. But his mask was perfect. He was one of the nicest people she knew.
Maybe she was the weird one. Jim had seen everything that she had seen and he didn’t care, and Annette was married to it.
Him. Come on now. Married to him for for seven or eight years now. She even said that they fooled around with the lights out. The mind reels. That was the most about the way their relationship worked Gret had ever gotten out of her.
Annette had been Gret’s friend for twelve years – she was an alumni when Gret was finishing school – and she had known Kyle for about as long. They had already been together for years even then, and they were in all honesty quite beautiful together.
When Izzy was born –
Her body was on fire. She was snapping in two. She felt it ring out all through her. She saw him run away nursing a broken arm. She fell. The lights went out. She felt an empty, acidic burn in her, starting from her throat and going down. A digging, worming sensation, and then she was numb. She looked up and saw –
Gret ate her food and thought about literally anything else.
Gret looked over at her dad and Kyle, talking and laughing like old friends, and Annette staring at Kyle with honest-to-god love in her eyes. She felt very strange tonight.
There. That’s a minute down. Only a couple hours left to go. It’s not that she didn’t like the Marshals; it was just that Kyle made her sit up very straight and hold her silverware tighter than usual. And if he knew he was doing it, he didn’t let on.
Walk over to the kitchen, grab a plate, accidentally brush the light-switch with your elbow. Just see what happens. It’s very quick, and you can turn it back on as soon as you realize your mistake. He won’t mind.
Or just fucking ask him. You want to see, and he doesn’t care, and why not?
Because Annette and dad are here, and everyone is enjoying dinner and everything is going fine.
When is dad going to ask about Jake and the house and the names?
How’s Izzy doing? They should be eating dinner by now. Is she being polite? What are they doing? Izzy knows well enough to wash her hands before she eats. Did she pack everything she needed? Pajamas, toothbrush, toothpaste, snack, a few toys, clothes for tomorrow. Are they –
Don’t think about that. Have a nice dinner. Compliment Annette. Talk. Have fun. Forget. They got him, anyway. Well, except for what dad’s been saying. There you go. Mention Izzy, they ask how she is, tell them she’s over with Matt and Charles Leigh for dinner, they offer condolences, and you say –
“That’s actually one of the reasons we asked you over here,” Gret said.
To Annette’s left, Kyle looked up over his glasses. “You went to see the kid today, didn’t you?” he asked.
And suddenly the room was very quiet, except for Jim, still eating. “You going to tell me you didn’t the first chance you got?” Another bite, steadily and methodically, trying as hard as he could to hide the tremors in his arms as he held his fork. Annette had been a nurse – he could barely chew.
“Yeah, I looked in on him after sentencing was over.”
“Am I right?”
“What are you right about?”
“He didn’t do it,” Jim said. He put his fork down and leaned back a little. Gret wondered if Kyle noticed that his breathing was –
Of course Kyle noticed. Kyle noticed everything. Gret got up and went to him.
“Jim, he killed her,” Annette said.
“That’s not what I said. Said he didn’t – excuse me.”
Jim had begun to cough uncontrollably. Dutifully, everyone pretended not to notice.
“I said he didn’t do it,” he said.
“Did he tell you that?” Kyle asked.
“Nope. Admitted the whole thing,” Jim said.
“Lean back a bit, dad,” Gret said. She wiped his chin and neck off.
“Kid, I know him when I see him,” Jim said. “The boy’s a shadow puppet. He doesn’t matter. He’s barely even in it.”
“But he admitted that he killed her?”
“Yep. He – thanks, Gret – said that Stag just whispers at him”
“Stag?” Annette asked.
“Mister Stagger Lee,” Jim said. “Like the song.”
“Really? Waring did it in 1911, and then Lloyd Price –”
“You were probably there when they recorded it,” Annette said.
“Quiet, you. Gret, throw food at her.”
“It’s what dad’s calling him,” Gret said, laughing.
“I figure he’s the worst thing I can think of, you know?”
“I’d say Lloyd Waring would find that offensive, wouldn’t you?” Annette said.
“Lloyd Price. May I continue?”
“Sorry, yeah,” Annette said.
“Anyway, I guess Stag showed the kid some people from the neighborhood, and now he’s pointing at one of you.”
“Sorry. You know what I mean.”
“Yeah,” Kyle said quietly. “I know what you mean. Who did he mention?”
“Nina, Allen Zimmerman, two guys I didn’t recognize, and you,” Jim said. “You know anybody who works the way you do named Travis, or, uh –”
“Zig, he said.”
“I know Travis Little. He’s a teacher. He’s okay. Good at hiding it.”
“Eh. Not if you know what you’re getting into. He’s fast, I guess,” Kyle said
“What about Zig?”
“I never heard of him, no. I can go snooping later tonight if you want me to.”
Jim had resumed eating steadily. Gret hovered, within arm’s reach without looking like it. “Yeah, do it,” Jim said.
“Thanks,” Gret said, tapping Jim in the back.
“Thanks,” Jim said.
“Mm-hmm. You always use your friends like this?” Kyle asked.
“Yep. And you get to eat my meatball recipe, so let’s call it even.”