It was the smell that woke her, an unfamiliar floral scent that made Eddie grab the first thing which came to hand—a sourly rank pelt—and bury her face in it, feeling it grow damp with drool and the flow of her tears. The light from the clocktower outside washed in over the mattress where she lay.
But now, someone else was in the room.
“Is that you, Mum?” Eddie said, her voice muffled behind the pelt.
But the face that loomed out of the dark was not her mother’s. Unlike Mum with her lumpy jawline and narrow forehead, and more like the house itself with its steep roof and gracefully dilapidated balconies, this face had good bones. Beneath dark hair haloed by the big clock from the brick works, black eyes narrowed down at Eddie, and full lips drew back in a grimace.
“Mum!” she cried, hugging the pelt to her chest.
But the woman was gone, leaving that lingering scent of flowers left unwatered in a vase. Eddie could not get up and follow her—not at first. She felt glued to the mattress. What if her mum came while she was gone? They had an agreement that if Eddie ever got lost, she was to get to the biggest clock she could find and to wait there. Her mother always said that best chance of being found when you’re lost, is to stay where you are.
I will find you, Mum had said. I promise.
Eddie had been waiting a long time.
She blinked into the cold morning light, the scrap of matted grey fur tossed aside while she had, finally, slept. The still white eye of the clock from the old brick works peered into the windows of this room high at the back of what had once been a boarding house—before that of course, some rich family’s city manse, but that was too long ago to even count. Eddie’s room was little more than a passageway on the third floor and right at the back, a narrow space that had maybe once been for storage. It was separated from an upstairs bathroom by one of many partitions hastily added to accommodate more lodgers. When she first arrived in the house she had chosen the narrow forgotten space because it was as close to the clock as she could get, and high enough so that she would see her mother coming. Louvred windows looked over the garbage-strewn yard and a crumbling brick shed. Under the windows was a pot on a one-burner stove. A rampant grape vine had broken through in places, splinters of glass on the hand-shaped leaves.
Eddie called out, but because she’d had nothing to eat and had been ill, the words came out slippery and at the wrong speed. She wiped a rosy leakage from her eyes. She wouldn’t cry. Reg didn’t like it. Reg was Mum’s boyfriend. He used to say that Eddie wasn’t all there, and that was the risk you took with foster kids. You never knew where they’d been.
The arrival of the stranger, this not-mum, had stirred the place into a guarded wakefulness. Eddie listened to the unfamiliar movements coming from below. She sniffed the intrusive smell, bitter and flowery. She kneaded the slate-gray pelt as if it could tell her what it meant.
Mum-m-m-m. . . . Eddie had been with her birth mother for two years until they took her away. Her adopted mum was the only real parent she’d known. The word squirmed inside her and twisted her bodily away from the light, as if to prove that it still held her in its power, could do with her what it would. And did, in the end, drag her off the mattress, setting her feet to the icy floor, and with one arm held up in front of her, compel her unsteadily toward the source of the intrusion. She emerged in a draughty room with a missing ceiling, the rafters given over to pigeons and dust motes. A bookshelf stood along one wall. A teaspoon on the floor and a torn red shirt stuffed into a hole in a partition. A litter tray and scattered cat bowls. Silted windows overlooking the driveway were shaded by the dusty leaves of the grapevine, the whole space washed in a dull underwater light.
The color of drowning.
An unfamiliar voice drifted up through gaps in the floorboards. Buzz-hiss. Other sounds wound around Eddie’s head, syllables that clung to meaning by the thinnest of strands—kettle, cup, plate—and a humming inside her of something stirred reluctantly to life. The new sounds and smells reminded her of a time before the house, when she had been on the road with Philly and the other runaways and how no one used their real names, not even Eddie who was just Girl, and sometimes, Philly’s Girl. Applying pink gloss to his lips and hers, Philly would drag her out onto the noon-day streets of wherever they were in a never-ending series of wherever-they-weres to conjure breakfast, an egg sandwich to share, an Americano for him and maybe kisses for her. Kah-fee. He’d do anything for a cup of what he called “Joe”—beg, borrow or blow for the smell of home, he said, which had been somewhere in America. Far from that somewhere, he would gulp 7-Eleven coffee in bitter, scalding mouthfuls, so that lying beside him, Eddie could hear the creature that he’d been once sloshing around in his belly. Trying to take him back.
Eddie knew she should stay in her room, but she was drawn to those memories now by the smells and sounds that had summoned them back. That reminded her of how lonely it had been. A quick look couldn’t hurt . . .
Silvery dust floured the old boards, freshly footprinted by the intruder. Careful not to step-on-a-crack-break-your-mother’s-back, Eddie crept across the floor and up three stairs into another hallway, and through a door that led into a dorm-style room. It felt strangely familiar—the bones of empty bunks collapsed against one wall, a scribbled name in the damp-stained plaster, a feeling that she’d been here many times before. Everything was the same, but different.
An unfamiliar orange exercise mat lay on the floor, so bright it hurt her eyes to look at it. She stepped over a silky nightgown shed like skin. Intrusive travel bags and suitcases lay about. Against the wall and under another window, was a tiled area with a stove and sink—a communal kitchen, she remembered. Humming tunelessly to herself, mum-m-mum-m-mmmm, Eddie ran her fingers over make-up laid out on the counter beside the sink. Creams and lipstick, toiletry bags and a cheap pedestal mirror. Mum had worn no make-up. Philly never left the house without his “face-on.” She tickled the soft bristles of a brush—c-cat—and dipped a finger in a jar of powder so light it was like touching water. As she quickly withdrew her hand she knocked over a glass bottle. Glass sprayed across the floor and a pool of beige make-up spread in a sluggish circle. Droplets clung to the exercise matt, and a sliver of glass about three centimeters long embedded itself in Eddie’s shin.
Eddie stood staring at it from behind her tangled hair.
She did not know what to do. The sounds continued downstairs as if nothing had happened, and Eddie could almost convince herself that this was true, if it weren’t for the long piece of glass sticking out of her leg. It hurt. Mum would take care of it, when she came—Eddie must hurry back to the clock—but the piece of glass bothered her beyond the immediate pain. It felt connected somehow to the other intrusion—the face in her room. Eddie had always been good at what Philly called “connecting the dots.” The woman might have a message for Eddie. From Mum.
She ventured out onto the landing and peered down the curved stairwell into the entrance hall three floors below. The bittersweet smell that had woken her was stronger here, almost suffocating. A voice drifted up and grew louder. Laughter. The woman walked into the downstairs hallway with her hair wrapped in a towel and one hand pressing something to her ear.
“ ‘Sometimes the best way to find yourself,’ ” she was saying, “ ‘ is to get lost.’ Haha. Can believe it. And I’m all, ‘I’m paying you to say this? What kind of a therapist—?’ ” She laughed harshly but infectiously and Eddie felt her own lips draw up in a silent rictus of laughter.
Because hadn’t Philly always said that too—how the best way to stay lost was to keep moving? Don’t stop until you find yourself, and you always do, he said, even if it’s not you anymore. Running from or toward or around himself had left Philly misshapen and stretched and Eddie had hoped that it was different for her. She wasn’t looking for herself. She had run away from Mum because her birth mother had found Eddie and wanted to see her. Mum had been so distraught that she’d had to go to the hospital and Reg had yelled at Eddie and said that it was all her fault. And he told her to get lost. So Eddie did.
Eddie looked down into the musty entrance hall where she had stood so long ago, sneaking past the manager’s door up the stairs and along canted hallways past sleeping lodgers until she could go no further and no higher. Outside the window, the big blank face of the clock had hung like the moon, so close she could practically touch it, and she imagined her and Mum walking into that white moon together and going on from there.
Incapable of being away from the clock for any longer, Eddie returned to her room. She sat on the mattress with knees drawn up to her chest, staring at the long piece of glass sticking out of her leg. Was it getting bigger? It was jagged and glowed a milky white. A train howled from the tracks. All that she could remember and much that she couldn’t lay curled up inside her like a snake. Awake now. Lifting its head to the light.
“You smashed my last jar of La Mer, you little bitch!”
The woman was back in Eddie’s room. She stood over the mattress, with hair kinked down her shoulders and pointing at the smeary spike sticking out of Eddie’s leg.
“Do you know how much that stuff costs, even Duty Free? It was meant to last . . . ”
The light from the big round clock lapped at a delicate vein in the woman’s neck.
Eddie shrunk from her.
“Jesus H Christ. Last thing I need right now is a fucking dead girl.”
Eddie backed further against the wall tasting that strong word that smelled of rotting flowers. Had it finally caught up with her then—everything she’d been moving away from, a part of her ready finally to be found? But now, hearing the word—d-dead—on the intruder’s spittle flecked lips, all Eddie could think about was how to take it back. She twiddled the piece of glass in her leg, and she felt the twist in her belly, which made her sit up straighter as if to resist the pull of something she couldn’t name. Eddie’s stomach growled. The pot on the ring burner had some mess at the bottom of it, but Eddie wasn’t that kind of hungry.
Eddie leaned into the woman’s weeping, feeling it as her own.
She glided above the footprints, soft as smoke, careful to avoid the grease-stains on the mat left by the spilled make-up. Eddie could hear talking down below, fingernails tapping impatiently, one-two-three.
“Thought I could stay, as good a forever home as . . . got a TV at a yard sale, but . . . ” Click click click. “Heritage, shmeritage. It’s a dump . . . neighborhood a ghost town . . . if my husband had known . . . nothing’s kosher. Plumbing is non-existent. The wiring is a nightmare . . . ”
Tendrils of black bloomed under Eddie’s skin from the barbed glass. All the doors off the landing were closed or pulled off, mattresses and uneven piles of debris glimpsed in the shadows. She thought of resting until the restless voice drove her on. “Then tear it down. I didn’t travel ten thousand miles to deal with rot, squatters, rats . . . ”
Eddie felt pulled toward the dangerous words, lowering herself step by step, hanging onto the bannister. The descent could have taken hours, or for all she knew, days. Shapes flared before her eyes. The risers lurched beneath her bare feet. Currents of musty half-known words, bent out of shape by the foreign accent, rippled under Eddie skin. Rhat, sqahterrrs. At some time on the way down, day turned to night, and Eddie heard the front door shut and the woman get into a waiting car. The reflection from the taillights arced across dangling bulbs and peeling wallpaper and down into darkness.
Night wrapped around the house once more. The grape vine hugged the windows. Even the foreign smell grew fainter as if it had fled after the intruder, afraid like everything else to linger in this place.
Over the long dirty years on the run with Philly, Eddie had wanted to make a call to her mum, ask if she was all right, and tell her she was sorry. But the others wouldn’t let her. They were all running from something but not all of them were dumb kids like Philly and Eddie. And they’d know if she tried to call home, and there’d be trouble, they warned. Best accept that she was one of them now, had done things that could not be undone—had started out one way, sure, but gone another. Even the parents who never gave up on their kids, Philly said, had second thoughts when they finally found them. Something missing and no name for the creature that had taken its place.
A bulb swung from an ornate plaster rosette in the manager’s room. There was a TV on a scratched black stand. There was another milk crate, and a wicker chair the woman had brought in from the yard. Eddie felt a flicker of rage at her for moving the chair. It wasn’t anyone’s to move. The house liked things the way they were, to stay put—Eddie had found it when it had been ready to be found. She owed it the same protection it had given her. She crept anxiously, her thinking scattered, into what had been the main shared kitchen. Corpses of dead candles marched along the mantel piece. Above it, a mirror reflected a barred window overlooking the vine-choked carport. The smell was stronger here and Eddie followed it to a spouted pot on the stove, in which sloshed a watery mud. The word for it flapped around her head like a moth and she opened her mouth to swallow it whole, half choking on the broken wings of memory. Kah-fee!
And suddenly she knew that Philly was probably dead and the coffee grounds were his messengers—she watched them float in the dregs—trying to read what they were telling her to do. There were packets of food on the counter. Some chips and chocolate and instant noodles. “Cooking isn’t your strong suit, love,” Reg was always telling Mum before storming off to the pub, leaving behind a plate of burned chops that Mum’d tearfully toss. “You should have thought about that before adopting a kid.”
Maybe cooking wasn’t the American woman’s strong suit either. Eddie sniffed a bowl of congealed instant ramen—Philly lived on the stuff—and a lipstick-smeared wine glass. In the dank bathroom next to the kitchen a white toweling robe and bright bottles of shampoo looked doomed and out of place. Eddie suddenly knew what she needed to do. Philly had left a warning in the coffee grounds, and Eddie needed to pass it on: the American didn’t belong in this place and she must leave.
This was Eddie’s home now, her forever place.
She went back into the manager’s room to wait, growing more anxious by the moment. She grew drowsy on the milk crate, and longed for her mattress and for the clock’s protection—her shield from grief and loss. By the time she heard the front door open, Eddie’s agitation had caused the milk crate to levitate an inch or two above the floor. The woman stopped in the doorway and stared. Her hair was in a bun, with dark wisps around the high flat planes of her cheekbones, and she wore earrings that brushed the collar of her coat, and she smelled of wine. Swaying, she took in the piece of glass sticking out of Eddie’s leg.
“How long have you been dead, girl?”
The crate thudded back onto the floor. How long? The clock, by stopping, protected her from that knowing.
“I can find out,” the woman said defiantly. “So you may as well tell me. Five years? Ten?”
Eddie had left the word alone. Mostly. Close enough to touch, but not to taste. She wrung her hands, hid her face behind her hair. A muscle twitched at the woman’s jaw. She went into the kitchen, high heels tapping. Eddie could hear the jangle of keys and the suck of a cork, and the woman came back without her coat, holding a smeared glass filled with golden wine. Eddie watched hungrily as she lifted it to her lips.
“Just looking at that hurts me more than it hurts you,” she pointed to the broken glass growing barbed and misshapen out of Eddie’s leg.
It was growing.
The woman kicked off her shoes. Such delicate feet—each nail carefully varnished.
“My husband owned this place,” she said. “It’s mine now.”
The woman’s pale hand gripped her glass of fire. Eddie shook her hair back and forth.
“I’ll have to get a cat for the rats,” the woman said half to herself.
“C-cat,” Eddie said, but the woman just reached for the remote and flicked through the channels until she came to a cartoon show.
“Happy now, dead girl?” She picked up her shoes and Eddie listened to the slow climb up the stairs and then a door off the upper landing open and close. The turn of a key in the lock.
Eddie watched cartoons, careful to hide a rotten smile under her hair.
Pale rainy daylight pulled her awake. She was back in her room but couldn’t remember how she got there. Thankfully, the clock was still stopped at ten to twelve. But the silence of the house was gone and in its place the bustle of work boots and the trickle of loosening plaster. She sat up and fiddled with the glass shard in her leg to remember who she was. Tentacles of shadow flared under her pale skin. She slept again and in her dreams she saw her mother waiting to meet her in a café, and there was a pot of tea. The tinkle of the shop bell as Eddie stood on the threshold.
But the tinkle got closer and louder and Eddie had to blink the memory back where it came from. She was not standing in a doorway, but sitting on the mattress, and the sound came from a ginger cat, a real one with a collar and a jingling bell. The cat was fat and healthy, not like the grey Burmese whose meagre pelt was soaked with Eddie’s tears. The ginger stopped at the edge of the mattress and arched its back, its ears flattened and its lips pulled back from tiny white fangs and it crabwalked from the room, hissing—k-k-k-k-k.
Eddie guessed that the woman had got the cat to deal with the rats. Eddie rocked back and forth against the wall. What would happen now? All kinds of horrors presented themselves, things that she had been incapable of thinking before she got to this place but which now brought Eddie to her feet, spun her around and slammed her face against the wall so violently that that she saw stars. “C-cat,” she said. “Love.” But it was too late for that. Compelled helplessly up the wall, Eddie spidered onto the ceiling and toward the window, where the baleful eye of the clock held her in place—too close, but never close enough.
Eddie had managed to stay in the room unnoticed for many months—the manager was too drunk most of the time to climb the stairs, let alone navigate the rambling hallways and low doorways. Eddie had listened to the boarders whisper about how if you were gone for too long, he gave away your room. But who would be desperate enough to take a piss-stinking dead-end with a broken window anyway? Who except Eddie? Scattered plastic cat bowls crawled with maggots. She knew that if Philly were with her, they’d be alright. Philly would offer the manager a hand job, because survival sex came with the territory, he said. But hand jobs had never been Eddie’s strong suit.
So instead she had stolen what food she could find from the upper shared kitchen—there was sugar and tea and milk and a bread crust or apple core from the trash, if she could get to it before the rats did. Over the months and maybe longer, those lodgers left and smarter meaner squatters came to take their place, and they were not interested in food, but in territory. She knew from her days on the road that these kinds of squatters would get rid of her however they could, as she was certain Philly had been gotten rid of. Eddie has seen too much, knew too much—Mum would never forgive her for dying.
“I wanted you,” she’d told Eddie over and over again. “You’re my best thing.”
So Eddie lay low, waiting for her mother, and getting weaker and sicker, her belly knifing, her anus dribbling, language fleeing. “M-mum?” she asked, hanging onto this word above all others. The answer had come in the intrusive tinkle of a bell, and Mum must be on the other side of that sound, waiting in the café for Eddie, but it was only a handsome Burmese wearing a bell around a frayed collar. The cat was as weak and wasted as Eddie herself. It had come home, found Eddie there instead of its owner and nothing it could do about it except die. Flowers of blood bloomed across the cat’s eyes and now and again, it got up to press against the wall as if looking for a door. Eddie drew the once-fine creature to her and held it as it breathed its last, each breath rattling its skeletal frame. One, two, three.
Eddie knew another thing from her runaway days—that hunger seeds something in your belly, a between-creature both lost and found. She skinned the grey cat with the tines of a fork, pulling the pelt off its bones like a sweater. While the manager slept, she boiled the skinned cat in a pot with water from the bathroom faucet and then she ate it.
She’d seen the time on the big clock tower just before she lost consciousness. It had said ten to twelve.
“How could you?” the woman said, leaning over the pot. “No wonder you died.”
Eddie had not seen her come in.
‘Lepto.” The woman sniffed at the bones and the maggot-blown gristle. “Leptospirosis. A hell of a way to go. Kidney failure. Lung and brain damage. Red Conjunctivitis. Explains your eyes, dead girl.”
Eddie didn’t like the way the woman came into her room like she owned the place. Time alone owned it now, possessive in its refusal to pass on. Autumn sighed in the grape vine and the woman looked up to where Eddie hung from the ceiling, her hair dangling down in restless ropes of filth.
“You don’t scare me,” she said. “And whatever separates you from what you were before, it’s too much ground, now. You’ve been dead more than a decade. I looked it up. Cops rounded up the tweakers and sometime after that a neighbor noticed the smell. They pegged you at fifteen-sixteen years old. No one cared. You were just another runaway.”
Eddie hissed at her, red drool webbing from her eyes.
“Seriously. You’ve come too far. No one’s coming for you, now. And if you really love whoever you’ve been waiting for, you better hope they never do.”
Eddie was back on the mattress. The house spasmed. Masked contractors stomped around with crow bars and drills. Words like demolish and asbestos and develop flew about like trapped birds.
Eddie mostly stayed in her room twiddling the glass that sprouted from the black hole in her leg. She didn’t know how to remove it. Sometimes she went downstairs to watch TV. One rainy day Eddie limped into the kitchen, where the woman sat at a plastic table, make-up streaked down her face. The ginger cat lapped at a bowl of cereal on the table. Eddie parted the matted strands of her hair and bared her teeth stumps. The cat arched its back, upturning the bowl, and leapt out into the yard.
“Saffron,” the woman called. “Come back. Come to mommy.”
Eddie swept everything off the table onto the floor. The woman pushed the table over. Her mask of fearlessness already slipping as if attached to her face by nothing more than the wavery ribbon of her painted-on clown mouth.
“My husband was born in this country,” she slurred. “He got sick a long way from home. The sickness ate him from the inside out, and here I am.”
“So you don’t scare me, dead girl. Because I’ve seen it all before.” Black tears streaked her face. “Whoever I buried wasn’t Dennis any more than you are . . . whoever you were.”.
Eddie felt her stomach knife and she howled.
“Who’s going to come looking for you?” the woman said, as if reading Eddie’s mind. “No one, that’s who. No one even remembers your name.”
“Mummmm,” Eddie keened softly, hopelessly.
“Forget it. They’ll pull down this shit hole to build townhouses, and then where will you be?”
Eddie went to watch cartoons, leaving the woman to cry over her spilled milk.
But she was right. With every piece of partition, every floorboard or rotten rafter the builders hauled away, Eddie felt herself fade, grow lighter. Where would it end? Contractors looked right through her, talking in booming voices how much it would cost to prepare the house for sale. The whole rear section had to be torn down, they said, because most of it was built from illegal material which contained asbestos.
“My late husband had no idea,” the woman said pitifully to the contractors, “and by the time he knew, he was too sick to travel.”
Eddie listened to her on the phone with the bank trying to arrange loans to cover the cost of the demolition and repairs until it went on the market. Eddie wailed and climbed the walls and wondered how she was going to stop the tearing down of her room and the building of unforgiving townhouses where she could never pass on.
The woman came up to Eddie’s room and sipped her coffee. “It was the therapist’s idea for me to come here, find some part of Dennis I could say goodbye to.”
Eddie growled that there was no part of the husband here, or she would have found it. But wait. She suddenly remembered the wasted Burmese who came home to die—could it have been, somehow . . . a message from . . . ?
“Dennis,” the woman laughed grimly. “You’re the only part of this whole damn place that reminds me of him.”
Eddie woke up to see the face with its luminous, strangely coarse skin in her room day and night. There were cups left behind, empty bottles of wine. She brought a chair up from the yard. Eddie threw it out the window and the woman brought up another one.
“Tell me about your mother,” she said.
Eddie glared with wrong-red eyes and felt the wound of that word pulse in whatever she had now instead of veins.
Eddie’s mum had finally found her. Three years after she ran away and one year before she ate the cat. It was in a remote wheat town in the far west of the state, no one to move them on except an ineffective constable. Mum tracked Eddie down, left a number with one of others at the camp. Philly tried to talk sense into her—it was a bad idea, a trap, he said. Parents turned their kids over to the cops all the time if they thought it’d get them back. And the cops’d round them all up and throw away the key, and it’d be her fault and the others’d never forgive her and that’d be bad, Philly said in his sadly swaggering voice. Reel bad. He kissed her and called her His Girl, and maybe that was it.
Because she wasn’t anyone’s girl and her name was Eddie. Suddenly she saw through Philly’s warnings and his terrible kisses, and that she would never find herself if she stuck with him. All she wanted was to tell her mother she was sorry and be forgiven. Eddie agreed to meet at the one café in town, and made her mum promise that there’d be no cops, no Reg.
“Reg is gone,” her mum said sadly. “It’s just us and I won’t try and talk you into anything. I just want to see that you’re all right.”
But when Eddie had come to the café, her mum had looked up at the tinkle of the bell on the door and did not recognize her. Had the three years on the road changed her that much? Transformed her from Eddie into . . . what? Into something stretched out and gangly with tangled, matted hair and rotten teeth and features made alien by what she’d done and been, an emptiness inside like the musty air inside a cicada shell—and whatever creature had crawled into that shell, her own mother didn’t (want to) know what it was (some no-name druggie intent on snatching a purse or begging for change), when all the time it was Eddie who was so clearly trying, as the silent seconds ticked by in that country cafe, so hard to be seen.
To be taken back.
“Wait,” her mum suddenly twigged, stood so abruptly she spilled hot tea down her dress. “Edwina?”
But Eddie was already gone.
The American went into the little bathroom on the other side of the partition and tried to reason with Eddie over the sound of piss. “I was like you at your age. Messed up. Every teenager is.”
She flushed and came out. She folded her arms and stood over Eddie’s mattress. “You ever think what might happen after you ran away?” she asked. “You ever stop to think about what would happen next?”
Maybe the woman thought that if she haunted Eddie she could get her to leave. But Eddie couldn’t leave. This was Eddie’s forever place, where under the full-moon of time, she would be finally forgiven.
The American brought her laptop up to Eddie’s room and talked non-stop in those sing-song syllables—and Eddie could always tell when she was calling “home” because there was a yearning in her vowels and the consonants got even more pronounced. When she talked to her “people,” she stuck out a hand to one side, her palm raised to the sky. “No shit?” she’d say. And, “Just kill me. Please.”
Eddie had never seen anyone so lonely.
Eddie woke to those glittering heavy-lidded eyes staring at her in the night, the tongue poking out between perfect white teeth. She sat at the window, drinking coffee—the smell making Eddie weak. She talked about the dates she went on. “Consider yourself lucky you were born before Tinder,” she said.
She twisted a brown grape leaf between her fingers and told Eddie about places left behind—Echo Lake and Angels Park. Sang along to songs that made them both cry.
“If the demolition is too expensive,” the woman paced in Eddie’s room talking to no one. “I’ll just sell it to developers. They can tear the whole place down, heritage or not. Like I give a rat’s ass.”
The woman dragged Eddie’s tear-soaked mattress to the back yard. Eddie dragged it back. The woman threw out the pot where Eddie had cooked the cat that killed her. Eddie scrawled on the walls of the dressing room in clown-red lipstick, goodbye, goodbye. The woman sobbed, “Why did I ever get on that plane?”
She tossed the cat pelt into the weeds. Eddie dug it up.
“What was it like?” the woman asked one beginning-of-winter evening. “Panhandling? Sex for food? No one to tell you what to do?”
She’d was wearing a white nightgown. She’d brought pizza and a bottle of wine up to Eddie’s room. “I get it,” she said, with the faintest of shivers. She leaned with her back to the window and the milky glow of the clock tower aureoled around her unbrushed hair. “For me, running away seemed like a plan. Leave it all behind—my messed-up life. Find a new country to adopt, a new me to be. But you can’t adopt something that doesn’t adopt you back.”
Eddie banged her head against the wall, one-two-three. The glass shard sticking out of her leg quivered like an extension of her own bones, like if she pulled it out or broke it off, something inside her would be fractured forever.
Saffy yowled from the roof of the shed. The woman half-turned to the stars dimly glimpsed through the leafless vine. She was very beautiful, even unkempt and on foreign ground. But she wasn’t all there. If she was she’d know that she didn’t belong here, and that Eddie had not yet had time to ask for forgiveness or to forgive herself. If the American was all here, had found herself, she would also see Eddie for what she was. Not a diseased message from her dead husband but a nameless creature stretched and broken on the rack of time. A monster eaten away by doubt, doubt about whether forgiveness would ever come, or if it was the American that Eddie had been waiting for all along.
In a mounting rage, she yanked and twisted at the branching glass in her leg and finally pulled it free. The agony jerked her head back in a silent scream. Sludge flowed from the wound. And with it, something within Eddie let go, a surrendering of the need to prove that whatever ground separated her from herself—it could, in time, be reclaimed.
“Not a chance,” the woman said. “No one’s coming.”
And then Eddie was on her. She jammed the glass spike into the lovely blue vein on the woman’s neck. Again and again. One-two-three. The woman screamed and fell, arterial spray spurting through fingers she pressed to her throat. She ruddered her feet on spilled blood and broken glass. “G-g-guh,” she gurgled. She lay there finally with Eddie hissing behind her hair and backing slowly onto the forever mattress where she belonged.
The TV is always on. Eddie watches cartoons downstairs sitting on the milk crate. She hears the tinkle of a cat bell and peers through the blinds to see Saffy preening herself or letting one of the neighbors tickle her under the chin. They leave food for her inside the gate. Sometimes they stare up at the lovely bones of the balcony or peer down the tunnel of grapevine into the yard. But they never come any further. When she’s done watching TV, Eddie goes up the stairs and back to her room, past a woman in white sitting at a rusted mirror applying make-up to her wounds.