The chapters in “Uninvited” can be somewhat long, so I am breaking this one up into two parts. One today, and one later on.
The bottle of scotch between his legs was half-full. He smiled. What would Doctor Reynolds say to that? Maybe he wasn’t as cynical or depressed as she claimed. Maybe he was getting better. Maybe he was…
Maybe he was losing his train of thought. Maybe he was drunk. He looked to the television. He couldn’t focus on it. An infomercial, he thought. Something about cooking, either way. He brought the bottle up to his lips and swallowed. It didn’t have a taste or burn. Just the sensation of liquid flowing down his throat.
He choked and coughed, spitting some of the scotch out and down his hairy chest.
“Damn it, Mal.” He admonished himself.
Malcolm Evers forced himself to stand on wobbly legs and stumble on the cold hardwood floor to the kitchen.
“God damn it, where I did I put the towels?”
Most of Mal’s possessions, what few he had, remained in moving boxes. Between what Elise kept, and what little he could fit in the Explorer, Mal didn’t leave San Francisco with much to his name – beyond the rather substantial severance package forced on him by the SFPD and the union. But, somewhere in the boxes littering his grandparents’ house, were kitchen towels. He was pretty sure they were in the kitchen.
The first box contained a few plastic drinking cups and two wine glasses in newspaper. He grabbed one of the wine glasses and set it on the counter. Two more boxes of dishes, and some of his kids’ refrigerator magnets. He didn’t remember packing those. Michael probably put them in there – he knew Alice wasn’t about to give him anything, not even the time of day, but Michael – Michael didn’t understand what was going on.
Mal braced himself on the counter and let a wave of sobs wrack his body. Michael’s face came to his mind. Tears in his eyes, but putting on a brave face. Just what the eight-year-old son of a police officer would think he was supposed to do. Staring at his father with a trusting and uncomprehending gaze. He didn’t understand why his mother and sister were mad. He didn’t understand why his father was leaving. He didn’t understand why his father wasn’t a policeman anymore. He knew the words “divorce”, even “affair” – and he knew what they meant – but he didn’t know what they meant for his father, for his family.
But, he put on a brave face. He didn’t let the tears leave his eyes. He hugged his father one last time and said, “See you soon, Daddy.”
Elise and Alice refused to watch him drive off in the black Explorer.
Mal found the towels and used one to wipe the liquor from his chest and tears from his eyes. No use crying over it now. Elise would never understand how he didn’t really do anything wrong. There was no love with Erin, it was just lust – just sex. He still loved Elise; he still provided for her. As she approached forty, her desire for sex waned. At the same time, Mal began to notice Erin’s interest in him. And, despite what anyone else might say, he didn’t coerce her – it certainly wasn’t rape, no matter what the law said. He arrested many rapists in his time and talked to as many rape victims. Erin wasn’t a victim. She wanted it as much as he did.
He poured the scotch into the wine glass and drank another sip. A little less pathetic than drinking straight from the bottle in an empty old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.
Mal stumbled his way back to the couch and collapsed on it, bottle in one hand and glass in the other. The infomercial changed to something about a vacuum cleaner, but he didn’t care. He stared blankly at the screen and drank from his glass. His eyes grew heavy and his head nodded. The glass slipped from limp fingers and shattered on the floor.
– – – – –
He needed to throw up. Now. Right now. His eyes flew open and slammed back shut. The light stabbed – drilling down into his brain. He brought one hand over his eyes, and the other covered his mouth. He lurched to his feet, cried out, jerked his left foot in the air, and fell back on the couch. He risked the light to look at his foot – and saw a shard of glass skewering his sole, blood flowing freely. Reaching down to yank it out was the last straw for his stomach. He managed to roll to his side in time for his intestines to attempt an end-run out his mouth.
Mal lay on his side for several minutes debating whether or not he should get up, bandage his foot, and clean up the vomit. When he opened his eyes and moved his head, the pain throbbed without mercy. When he closed his eyes, the world spun.
“God damn it,” he muttered, wincing. “You drank too damn much last night, asshole.”
He sat up and leaned forward, head in hands. His foot left a trail of blood from the couch cushion to the floor, right next to the bloody remnants of the wine glass. At least he knew where the cut came from. He didn’t even remember getting a glass. Son of a bitch, just how much did he drink? The bottle lay on its side on the floor. There wasn’t enough scotch left to spill out.
Mal stumbled into the bathroom, bloody footprints following him. Somewhere in the boxes in the bathroom was a first-aid kit. He wasn’t about to dig around for it, though, so he grabbed the roll of toilet paper and wound it around his foot until it was substantially padded. He limped to his bedroom and pulled a sock over top. Good enough. He probably needed stitches, but the nearest hospital was an hour away. And he was in no condition to drive.
Instead, he collapsed onto the bed and curled in a ball.
– – – – –
It was mercifully dark when he awoke. The distant throb in his head was an improvement from the morning, and the sharp stab from his foot had dulled to an ache. He followed the trail of bloody footprints on wobbly legs with a limping gait. He sat down to piss. Not the most dignified, but dignity hadn’t exactly been his calling for the past few days. After his bladder emptied, with only a small amount squirting out between the seat and the rim, he turned unfocused eyes to his wounded foot.
The scab came off with the toilet paper and revealed a wide red gash.
“Fuck. This should be stitched.”
The drive into Yelm was about an hour. There was probably a clinic somewhere closer, but Mal didn’t know if they would be open or if they provided quality care. He wasn’t about to trust even a cut to some bumbling country doctor. If they were any good, they’d be working at a real hospital and not some backwoods clinic catering to the white trash and tweekers of rural Pierce County.
Instead, Mal dug around the bathroom until he found his first-aid kit. Inside was exactly what he needed: rubbing alcohol, super glue, bandages, and a cloth wrap. He hung his foot over the lip of the bathtub, grit his teeth together, and poured the alcohol liberally on the angry gash. Despite being alone in the house, he allowed only a whimper of pain. After carefully sponging off the excess, he opened the tube of glue. “The soldier’s stitches” a guy on the force used to call it. Mal winced from the shock of pain and cold in the open wound, but it was nothing compared to the alcohol. The glue went into the cut, a padded bandage over that, and then he wrapped his foot.
He stood up and put some tentative weight on his injured foot.
He stretched, catching a whiff of his armpits. Then he looked to the ceiling.
A limping trip to the kitchen and back and he had a plastic bag taped around his foot. He needed the shower.
Mal turned on the water and jumped back from the tub. The old showerhead, encrusted with lime, sputtered and coughed before spurting stuttered streams of orange liquid.
“Fucking well water.”
He let the water run. He remembered this from his childhood visits. It could take a few minutes if the water hadn’t been run in a while before the dirty, iron-rich water cleared and the clearer stuff came through. Rather than waste the time, he used the water to wet a towel. He followed his drying bloody footprints to the couch, wiping them off the hardwood as he went. At the couch he wiped up the blood and used the towel to pick up the shards of glass. After throwing the towel and glass away, he returned and took care of the vomit.
The shower sputtered out water clear enough for Mal to think he could get reasonably clean in it. He adjusted the knobs until it felt warm, and limped in.
Mal stood under the shower for several minutes before it occurred to him he hadn’t unpacked any of his toiletries. He didn’t have a wash cloth, soap, or anything to aid in cleaning himself. The only towel he unpacked was in the kitchen trash, covered in blood, vomit, and shards of wine glass.
To compensate, he stood under the water until it ran cold. At least he would be cleaner than when he climbed in. After he shut the water off, he remained in the tub, letting the water drip off.
The cold began to prick his skin and he forced himself out. A trail of wet footprints was better than a bloody one. In his bedroom he found a towel in a gym bag. The first set of clothes he could find – plain black jeans and a t-shirt – went on.
He needed something to eat. He didn’t have food in the house, so a trip to town was his only option.
The clock in the Explorer said it was ten at night. Mal checked his phone. Still no service. He could get signal upstairs in the house, and in the town itself, but it was spotty. He drove down the long gravel driveway – nothing more than twin ruts lined by old barbed wire fencing – and pulled onto the road. He was driving on the epitome of the “country road.” Two lanes, bordered by ditches with no shoulder, a single yellow line down the middle. It was called “Old Ambrose Road”, named after his grandparents, who founded the farm. The farm was the only possession he could be guaranteed to keep in the divorce – he inherited it from his mother, and Elise hated it. She wouldn’t want it – and if he was lucky, her lawyer wouldn’t demand he sell it or pay for it. It would cost him the house in San Francisco, but he expected that. At least he wouldn’t have to pay alimony – his severance package was pretty much untouchable, according to his lawyer. It is hard to argue for alimony when the husband has no income and the wife is making nearly six-figures. Of course, he had to remain unemployed until the divorce was finalized. Mal laughed at the thought. That wouldn’t be too difficult – nobody was going to hire an ex-cop forced into retirement for fucking a seventeen-year-old girl.
The road wound through several miles of woods and fields. Most of the fields had long been abandoned as the small-town family dairy industry was inevitably swallowed up by the larger farms. Mal’s nearest neighbor was over three miles away – he didn’t know who lived in the house, but it was the only one one the road that didn’t look completely abandoned.
Between that house and Mal’s was a long stretch of overgrown reforested land. When Mal was a child, it was still a common practice for logging companies to clear-cut an entire forest and replant it, with the intention of harvesting it again in a few decades. But the logging industry changed, and so many such plots of land grew unchecked into a tangle of untouched first- and second-growth trees and underbrush.
There was something unusual about this stretch of woods. Mal thought he could see some light filtering through the brush and bramble to the north. It was bright, and looked somewhat artificial. It could be a fire, he supposed, or just some kid with halogens plastered all over his truck like Christmas lights. He looked down at his phone. Still no signal. Well, that answered the question of whether he should report it to the sheriff.
The road merged onto Route 7. Mal brushed the light from his mind and turned towards Copperside proper. He wasn’t sure there would be an open store at this time of night, but there was sure to be a functioning tavern. If there was one thing you could guarantee in this part of the state it was every town, no matter how small, had at least one tavern open until two in the morning.
Mal’s arrival in the town brought confirmation. The town looked empty – no other vehicles on the streets, nobody outside the houses or stores. The sole traffic light switched from green to orange to red in defiance of its uselessness. Mal stopped with a humorless chuckle, and waited for the light to turn green so he could safely drive down the empty highway.