by November Tuesday
I thought I could do this.
I came back a week after the funeral. And now, now I'm tired.
I'm tired or grieving, of mourning, of guilt and of missing him and of missing loving him, and I'm too tired to do physicals or write in charts, but I do it anyway.
I know that any day now, Ryan O'Reily will get word that I'm back in Oz, and that any day now he'll show up here with some flimsy self-inflicted excuse of an injury. And I'll have to look in the eyes of the man who killed my husband.
Every day I listen to men's voices from over my shoulder, listening for him, waiting.
It's because of this that I'm most tired of all.
But it never happened, at least not in this way. It happened on Prestopnik's shift, and it wasn't self-inflicted. Hernandez shanked him in the abdomen, nicking a lung. Benchley discharged him without surgery, three days later.
Five minutes ago.
Since then I've been standing here useless at the window, dreading the trip to receiving. It is snowing outside, first snow of the new year. First snow since Preston. I feel the chill of the outdoors, grey sky and rooftops; despite the warmth of the old creaky radiator burning against my legs I can't get warm.
At the last minute Louise comes back from her lunch break, and I am flooded with warm relief. I ask her to go down to meet the ambulance, bring him up.
As soon as she leaves I regret it. I don't want to pace and let any of the patients know how much this is affecting me.
So I have to stand still. And that is killing me.
Mineo and Louise bring him up. He doesn't look like himself. He looks small, pale, a shadow of himself, as he did during the chemo. Lips peaceful, pale eyelashes downcast in deep sleep, face soft and harsh at once.
He is asleep. Thank god. He doesn't wake as we transfer him to a hospital bed.
There is no air in this room. I've dreaded this, and prepared for it. Still I am suckerpunched, blindsided by the force of emotion coursing through me. I stand there for a dumb second, feeling their eyes on me, searching for that neutral physician tone.
"Get his vitals," I tell Louise, though I am perfectly capable of doing it myself. I ask the CO to stay to help us lift him so I can listen to his lungs. He doesn't wake as we push him up to a sitting position.
I slap my stethoscope on his back. We hold him for long seconds as I listen, several different places.
I listen to this man breathe, from the inside, this man who killed my husband, and I am seized with the fact that he is breathing, and Preston, my Preston, is not.
I can't do this.
I turn away without a word. His breath sounds are fine, so I can physically walk away without compromising myself as a physician. I walk, out of the hospital, the wing, the building. In the snow, in the freezing cold, I feel stupid. My hands are shaking, arms crossed stiffly in my lab coat. My whole body is shaking. I breathe and breathe. It is a long time before I can go back to the hospital.
Later, he is out there, maybe watching me, maybe sleeping. I can feel his presence like static electricity, making me crackle with unwanted energy. I don't look out my office door. I sit here with my head on my palm and write without thinking into charts no one will read.
I rise and check on the patients. Too quiet. Busmalis snoring softly and two bikers playing cards, only sound the soft thwack of a thrown card and a sporadic shuffle. And him. Here. Ryan. He's sleeping the sleep of Demerol. I check his pulse ox, his temp, his pressure, sleeping like a baby. Hair pushed back from his pale forehead.
No one looking. The CO reads his paper, the bikers are engrossed in their game.
I could kill him. Take the pillow, hold it over his face. The coroner would find nothing out of the ordinary for someone recovering from a stab wound to the lung. Suffocation, lack of oxygen.
I can hear him breathe, see the shape of his face as it must have been when he was a boy, have an impossible motherly compulsion to move the hair back from his forehead and I feel lust coiling down in me and I wonder if I am wrong to feel this.
For the second time that day I flee the building.
The next morning as I walk down the long hall to the infirmary I realize my heart is pounding. Adrenaline? Excitement? Fear? Both?
I see him as soon as I enter the room, peripherally. Don't look directly at him. O'Reily is sitting up in bed, front covered by hospital pajamas. I bid good morning to the CO on duty, grope in my pocket for the keys to my office.
I can feel his eyes on me like a physical sensation, a burning, a vibration projected onto the wall of my skull. How morbidly fascinating to be loved by a person, for them to think they love you enough to go to such lengths.
Alluring and dramatic and horrifying, terrible.
I shut the door on his gaze.
I remove my coat and look at the pile of charts waiting, making a mental list of the things I need to do today. I need to make rounds in the AIDS word, catch up on charting... and see the two patients in my custody.
I don't want him to think I'm seeing him first.
I go to Busmalis' bedside even though he is the patient further away. I feel O'Reily's eyes. He makes me ten times more conscious of myself, of the physicality of my own body, the impact of every movement is heightened.
I think of a thing squirming in the floodlight of a microscope stage and that is me, infuriating and innervating and somehow arousing.
"Morning Agamemnon. How do you feel?"
"Like having some decent food."
"That's a good sign." I put my stethoscope on, press it to his chest. "Breathe. Again. Any pain?"
"Good. I'll draw some blood later, check your cardiac enzymes. Meanwhile get some rest."
I feel my skin hardening, vessels numbing, turning to wires. Only my heart is organic, and it is thumping and skidding out of control.
"O'Reily. How do you feel?"
For a fraction of a second I meet his eyes. There is desperation there, of a kind I have never seen.
"Gloria." His voice appeals to me, softens me inside. This makes me angry and I answer him by telling him roughly to sit all the way up, and slap the cold surface of my stethoscope on his back.
"Breathe." He does.
I'm standing beside him, and I can see into the sleeve of his hospital gown.
Either from the cold air or from my touch his nipple hardens, a tiny pink pebble.
Something in me coils tight. I look away, tell him to breathe again because I didn't hear a thing.
This time I close my eyes as I listen for the rattle.
He hasn't finished whatever sentence he was going to say. I wait, wanting to hear it.
"Please," he says.
You've gotta be fucking kidding me.
"Please what, O'Reily? Are you in pain?" That icy tone is slowly becoming more natural to me.
He is silent, and as I fiddle with the pressure cuff his eyes close. I've never seen him like this, subdued, without words, without the veneer of his bullshit, shiteating grin.
I pump the cuff up to 250 where I know it must hurt and slowly, slowly let the mercury down. I swallow and remember to breathe, and it hurts me that I'm hearing his heart beat. Preston dead in the ground and his heart beats on, perfect.
I had asked him a question. I stand there, waiting for an answer. He simply closes his eyes, resigned. My eyes are drawn back up and there are tears on his face, tears on the face of that hardened killer of a man and I can't help but see him as a battered child, eyes wide and searching, can't help but remember the healed fractures alluding in their fuzzy white x-ray language to bones broken before they had even solidified.
I think that this is a ploy, his latest terrifying attempt to get to me. But as I narrow my eyes in a hard mask of loathing, I know underneath that this is real.
In his mind, it is real.
I neatly coil the blood pressure cuff into a roll, fiddle with the pulse ox.
Finger, I say, my voice surprises me, as I am boiling inside. He lifts a finger with so little energy that it touches me somehow, makes me suddenly want to burst into sobs. Out of here. I need to walk out of here, and just as soon as I do this and take his temperature I will. I take his pulse ox, scrawling numbers onto the chart. "Any dizziness?"
Voice is raspy. Good god get me out of here.
"How did you sleep last night?"
"Okay." It's a throaty whisper. "OK, get some rest." I slam the chart in place louder than I mean to turn to walk away.
O'Reily's fist is around my wrist, pulling me back to him with strength that shocks me, whirls me around.
"What?" I hiss.
My heart is thudding high in my ears, his hand feels hot where it is clasping my wrist. Training somehow remembered I turn my wrist into the open part of his fist and yank it free, quick. Harder than necessary.
"I did a terrible thing."
Preston, dead. I see him in memory, closed casket, smell of flowers, too many flowers. Remember how it felt when I got the call, an impossible lead ball in my stomach. that wouldn't go away.
"Yes. You did."
"I know. You won't believe me but I love you. I did it for you."
"No," I hiss, feeling my teeth press together in front. "You did it for you."
I turn, grab the AIDS wing charts off my desk, and leave.
There is a long corridor from the infirmary to the AIDS wing, stretching in cream colored tile all the length of Ad Seg. No one ever takes the shortcut and charts in hand I run down the stairs. I sit on the bottom stair and cry and cry and cry.
It is a quarter to ten before I am composed enough to go down the hall. Pete was right. I came back too soon.
Until well after lunch time I give meds, draw blood, examine patients. When I return to the infirmary O'Reily and Busmalis are sitting up, eating from their lunch trays and listening to the football game on the CO's radio. I make a beeline for the office and shut the door.
I put on my face again, hiding all the red and wiping away my blurry eyeliner. When I am done, I breathe for long minutes, and then open the office door. I won't hide out from the mick motherfucker.
Immediately, peripherally, I register him there, Cyril sitting next to him, mournful baby eyes on me. I open my first chart to begin writing and there is a figure in my doorway.
"Hey Gloria, how you holding up?"
"Just fine What's up?"
"I was looking all over for you, see if you wanted to do lunch?"
"Oh, I was down on the AIDS block. Did ya eat yet?"
"No I was waiting for you."
"Well I could eat, let's go."
We leave, the ache of O'Reily's eyes heavy on the back of my head, gaze trailing us.
Over lunch at a greasy retro diner Tim tells me his opinion on Quarnes, sister Pete's nunhood, and my returning to work. In his opinion, too soon. I am in my own little world, picking at my salad, when he comes around to the latter topic.
"It's just too soon. You should take at least a month."
I look up at Tim wearily. He has consumed his whole sandwich and is looking at me, awaiting a response. Tim knows fucking everything. Suddenly I see him in a new way, regimented, squared off in a way that makes me want to throttle him. A well-meaning pain in the ass who thinks he has all the answers. Staring at me patiently, waiting for me to agree with him.
Either I tell him he's wrong, or he's right, always right. Or I tell him that it's my life and I will cope in any way I choose to. But I say nothing. Just shrug. I'm so tired. I pick up the check and decide to go home instead of Oz. Beg off with a headache and flag down a taxi. The winter wind is bitter.
The next day I stay for ten hours, finishing charts, making phone calls, doing physicals. I should send Busmalis back to Oz, particularly with Weigert breathing down my neck, but I can't bear being alone here with O'Reily. It would feed his delusional head too much.
Still, in the three days that he has come back from Benchley he has seemed a different person, subdued, tearful. probably the front of a master manipulator. Once he realized that killing my husband wasn't going to win my eternal love.
Jesus Christ. When I think it aloud like that, it still stuns me.
I don't understand how somebody with that many street smarts can be so blind, so passionately, single-mindedly obsessive. That's the part that scares me. That he could kill so easily. I'm ashamed to admit that I'm flattered; through my numbness and intermittent anger there is a twinge of something else. Of being flattered? Of desire? Of wanting to be desired?
No one has ever loved me like that in my life. That softens me, just as it pisses me off. What is there for me in the future if he loves me with such devotion? Who could ever compare? He screwed me, ruined me.
I think of the way his breath caught when I touched him to take his pulse. The nipple hardening to my touch. I think of the way he looks at me, eyes never leaving me. One time during a breast exam I caught him with a bulge in his jeans, nearly squirming. I ignored it, acting cold and professional even as my cheeks warmed and there wasn't enough air in that room and I prayed he couldn't see the redness of my face.
This is what I can't stop thinking about, that night, in my empty bed. I've thought of him like this before, before it all went down with Preston, nights that he slept at his place and I slept at mine. What it would be like to let go, damn common sense and the Hippocratic oath and all of it. I close my eyes and imagine what Ryan O'Reily's fingers would feel like on my skin. His hands, his lips, as he hovered over me, kissing...
He would be good. That intensity would be...
I'm lying in bed, circling a nipple that hardened without a touch.
What kind of woman am I? My husband is dead not two months and I'm lying in bed practically masturbating to the thought of the man who had him killed. None of it makes any sense. I've never cheated on Preston or as much as lied to him, and now this? It doesn't fit with my concept of myself. Is there any way that these feelings are normal? I desperately want for someone to tell me so.
I roll over to my side. I am so frustrated. I can't stand this. I've been turning these thoughts over in my head like a ball of gum and I can't extricate myself from them.
I need to talk about this with someone. A woman, someone who can understand. Pete? No, Pete is too close to the situation, a fellow physician, not really, but bound by the same code of ethics.
Does this make me a bad person, this desire that I have to admit I still feel? Because that's how I feel. But I never felt this way before. I liked myself, the doctor, the friend, the self-admitted bleeding heart liberal who made people feel better.
So why they hell am I having feelings for a punk shit like O'Reily? After all he's done?
Well, he's easy to look at, that's for sure. My favorite is the mouth, sensual and spare. When he tried to kiss me, begging me to kiss him, I felt like gravity was pulling me down heavier than normal and...
Some girls just go for the bad boys. But that was never me. I dated valedictorians, lettermen, preachers' sons. Isn't 33 a little old to be going through this phase? I don't get it.
And the question that kills me: is this ironically related somehow to the problems Preston and I were having, the decided lack of passion in our marriage, in his life? He never wanted to leave the house. He didn't seem to want to live.
I feel a pang of guilt. Shame on me. This man loved me, nurtured me, loved me...
But not like Ryan.
So, OK, if that is it, if it's the crazed passion that I want-
But I don't want it. not like this. Christ.
Life plus forty fucking years, Gloria!
All for you.
How can I move on? How can I get this out of my system?
I tried getting away from Oz, that was bad enough. divorced from my work, all I could do was sit all day and stew and ruminate until I was pacing and climbing the fucking walls.
I get up, climb out of bed.
This is terribly unhealthy. I need to be talking to a shrink about all of this.
Unable to sleep. Despite this exhaustion, again. I cross the room, go to the computer desk. Glimpse my reflection in the uncovered window. Hair tousled, eyes wide, blue satin nightgown hugging my waist. I look ready. Like an embodiment of sex. Like the prime of my life is now. And I can't enjoy it.
The computer whirs to life. I log in to my email account. Sympathetic email from friends, ads for hot teen chicks, and an email from Wylie, my best friend.
How are you doin', baby? I'm worried to death about you up there. And it's killing me that I can't visit. Things are good down here - these kids are running me ragged though the practice seems to be able to stand on its own without me working ten hour days. I miss you, girl. Why don't you come down here and stay for a while? The kids miss their Auntie Glor like crazy. Come down, stay with me as long as you want. If it's work you're worried about I've got pts in droves that I don't have time to see, and hey, it would be so great to work with you again. Like old times. Hey, I tried to call you last night, but you were out. I worry about you working in that pen with Preston and all. I can't imagine what you're dealing with right now. You call me any time, day or night. And for fuck's sake, come visit soon! Love, Wylie
I disconnect without reading any more and call Atlanta.
2: Escape from Oz
"A month, Leo. I can't do this."
Leo pauses and looks at me for a second, that typical Leo second that makes me wonder what he's thinking, even though his features are relaxed and amiable.
"Gloria, you've finally come to your senses. Go. get some sun. We'll wait for you, as long as it takes."
* * *
In New York, in winter, I wear sensible clothes. Long pants, scrubs, heavy boots, warm coat. Weather channel says its 70 degrees in Atlanta. I wear a yellow sundress that hasn't seen the light of day since college. As the plane rises in a woozy arc from JFK, I watch New York retreat. This is what I need, I remind myself, fingers pressed to the window.
I let myself in to Wylie's sprawling house and take a second to breathe the air, the familiar cooking smells. Pictures of children are everywhere, uncles and aunts and cousins.
The guest room is blue and white, aquatic, soothing. I unpack my suitcase of light clothes, taking my time, filling drawers.
There is beer in the fridge and I lie lazily on the hammock in Wylie's garden, drinking Corona at two o'clock on a Tuesday, watching the rustling superimposition of leaf on leaf in sunlight, and above, clouds passing slowly.
Something is on me and I startle. A skinny gray cat, barely a kitten, throws his slight body into the hollow of hammock and waist, grooms himself, and purrs.
The light shifts on its axis, and the afternoon with it. I watch the wind moving grass growing long without Wylie's husband. Close my eyes and don't sleep.
I am in the kitchen playing Vivaldi and chopping onion when the kids come in, my godson and his sister.
The kitchen is a great stone enclave with a fireplace and sprawling kitchen island, pots hanging from above. I have ordered onion, garlic and cilantro into neat piles.
I can see myself staying in this kitchen forever, everything ordered and neat, no one bleeding and no one dying, just me chopping and smiling.
"Jamal? Letizia? Come give your auntie a hug."
Ten and seven, they come running into the room and I hug both at once. They are beautiful, roughish, tousled mocha children fine skin a mix of Wylie's Spanish ancestry and Peyton's chocolate blackness. I hug them tight and inhale their lingering baby smell.
"We missed you Auntie Glor." Letizia smiles sweetly. I give her a half dozen small kisses on the top of her head, tickling her.
"Oh, I missed you too. Now hop up here on a stool and tell me what's up with my favorite kids."
At seven the kitchen smells of onion and pepper and baking when Wylie comes in. She sets her bag on the table and gives me a wordless hug. I can feel her ribs. As always she is too skinny. "Glor. I'm so glad you came."
Startled out of the hug by cooking smells, she looks at me. "Now what did you go and do that for?"
"And waste a chance to take over Peyton's kitchen? No way!"
I'm putting down plates on the long table when Jamar, my true favorite nephew and the eldest, saunters in, a good foot and a half taller than when I'd seen him last, rail thin and pants sagging low with his forced homeboy swagger.
"Jamar! Get your ass on over here and give me a hug." He grins, despite his best attempts, and gives me a hug that crunches my ribs. "Jesus, you're tall!"
Later, kids in bed or at least in their rooms, Wylie and I sit on deck chairs and polish off the Corona.
I met Wylie Miller in first grade of St. Theresa's in the Bronx, where she had an endless fascination with my long braids. In memory I see her and I stomping puddles in the sun, walking home in our regulation skirts and shirts, going away to summer camp in the Catskills. We grew up, went to different junior highs, and the inevitable drift heightened so that in medical school, when I saw the beautiful biracial woman studying anatomy in the lounge, I could hardly believe it was her.
We had missed each other, and marveled at our similarities - the only Latinas in our class, we had married Preston and Peyton several weeks apart, had both chosen UCLA for med school. Since then we were inseparable, studying together and doing little else, for after all, we were med students. That first year of med school, I saw Wylie more than I saw my own husband.
Some evening soon, when we're sitting out here in the buzz of Corona and the unearthly blue of the bug light's intermittent crackle, I'm going to tell her all about Ryan O'Reily, and Oz, and Cyril, which seem so far away. Spill it all and ask her to tell me if I'm crazy. But not tonight. Tonight I keep it inside me as I sip and pull Peyton's work shirt close against the chilly night.
I tell Wylie that I'll come to work on Friday and she is thrilled. Peyton isn't due back from his conference until Sunday and she is swamped. Wylie is guilty about having me work, but I explain to her that the point of my trip was to get away from Oz, not to sit around and do nothing and ruminate about things. My work has always been my truest solace, and this is no different.
Until then, I mow the lawn and tend Peyton's garden live in the shade of the old trees and the kitchen, thinking about nothing beyond the work of my hands.
Sister Pete calls me on Thursday. "Gloria, how are you doing?"
"Pete! I didn't expect to hear from you!"
"Of course you're hearing from me. I wish I was in Atlanta right now. Now tell me, how are things?"
I tell her, all about Wylie, the kids, about cooking and gardening and keeping busy, about falling asleep in the hammock in the middle of the day.
I realize that I talk so much to keep her from telling me about Oz.
But Pete is so much smarter than that, so of course she says nothing.
"Anything good going on at Oz?"
She thinks hard. "They caught they guy that raped Leo's daughter."
Pete's voice fades. "I'm talking to Gloria. Hold on." Pete fumbles with the phone. "Gloria, Ray wants to say hello."
"Hey, how are you doing down there?"
"You're missing a nasty Nor'Easter."
"So I heard" I laugh wickedly. "Sixty and breezy down here, baby."
"You sound good."
"I am good."
"Maybe I should come down."
"Maybe you should." I realize that I'm smiling, and that though I've tried to distance myself from Oz all week, I need this. To salvage the good from it. To rally the support around me. Taking it all, the good with the bad, will help.
* * *
Miller-Jones family health is located in an outbuilding of a sprawling mini mall, several miles from Wylie's house. We drive to work together, like old times, Wylie blasting gangsta rap all the way there, head bobbing along, occasionally emitting phrases like "Nice turn signal, asshole!" Eight in the morning and we are in giggling slumber-party mode.
Wylie is still chuckling as she gives me the grand tour. "Ok, this is the waiting area, duh, reception." The place was warm and inviting, recessed halogen lighting and rugs on hardwood, magazines and toys. "Here are exam rooms one two and three. Patient restroom, staff restroom, x-ray and lab is there, autoclave and narcs locked up there, supplies there. We do urines and spin crits but send the rest out. Maggie can help you with that. Medical records are here. Here's the schedule for today, their charts. You pick what you want to see."
I fetch coffee from Starbuck's across the way and sip it while perusing charts. It isn't until I see the number of sore throats, upset stomachs, and routine physicals that I realize how much I usually deal with blunt force trauma and shank wounds.
Just before nine, a slight black woman, old enough to be my grandmother, comes in. "Hello, darlin', you must be Wylie's med school buddy. I'm Maggie."
"Hi, Gloria Nathan."
"Boy, are we glad to have you."
For a second I watch her clean the counter, scrub the phone until the buttons are shiny. Wylie had said that everyone couldn't believe she was still bustling and cheerful at her age, but she is a widow, and I understand.
That day I listen to hearts and lungs and give little kids shots and lollipops, remove stitches, prescribe birth control pills, read X-rays. Soon, it is seven, and I realizing that I'm starving and that I haven't thought about Oz or Ryan O'Reily or Preston all day.
We close and take the kids out to eat. As I watch Wylie mothering her brood I feel a grief coil sharp in my chest, and its intensity shocks me.
Saturday I sleep in and pick at brunch and take a nap in the afternoon. Wylie calls a sitter and that night she and I and a friend of hers go out dancing. It feels like a very different Atlanta as we walk, legs bare, down humid streets, smells of cooking and car exhaust wafting in wind that blows our skirts and hair with undercurrents of sex and danger.
We play cutthroat and flirt with the fine chocolate men who play on the table adjacent ours, one of whom Wylie knows, and me, being the one without a wedding band, is the one he cozies up to. It turns out we went to neighboring colleges. He smells good, talks good, and has a fine dark face with sensual lips and I feel the attraction. We play later as the bar gets crowded and noisy, and I beat him thinking of nothing more than balls in motion, simple movement and velocity and interaction. When he tries to kiss me, I turn away.
"I'm sorry... I was... my husband was killed several months ago. I find you very attractive right now but I need to just-"
"-just be, you know, no entanglements-"
"-just be out, having a good time, nothing-"
"Gloria!" he says firmly, taking my hands in his. "I had no idea. I'm sorry. Of course."
"Thank you Malik."
"You're welcome." His warm eyes look at mine for a few long seconds, then he lets me go. "Come on. Let's play again."
I'm flooded with gratitude and liking Malik. Sunday morning Peyton comes home and the day is spent in low-key familial ease the little ones climbing on him, giggling. I come back from the market, hug him hello. "Gloria, I'm so glad you're here." I wrest the kitchen from him one last time, and jetlagged, he doesn't complain when I chop and cook and make a feast for them all. Letizia perches on a stool and helps as I teach her things my grandmother taught me, but the continuity of life leaves me hollow inside as I watch her plump baby hands make tortillas, while Peyton and Wylie are probably making love upstairs, and me, the missing link, mother of no one, tending to criminals and an empty New York City apartment.
That evening I sit in my room, on pretense of taking a nap, but merely needing to be alone, and I do nothing but watch the sky over the garden darken and heighten, close my eyes and feel the winds blowing the white curtains, cooling my hot cheeks. The sudden rough crack of thunder startles me, shakes my whole body with its low lingering rumble, as the wind coils and picks up and the sky opens, the storm breaks fluttering white flowers on the bush, spilling their petals and I sob and sob until I sleep, so slowly that dreaming is no different than crying.
The days pass much like Friday with a constant flux of patients, ebb and flow of work that lulls me. That weekend, Peyton stays at home while Wylie and I take the kids to the beach. Saturday, we zip around on jet skis, Wylie on one, Jamar and Jamal on another, Letizia in front of me in her pink bathing suit, weaving through each others' wakes. When the boys balk at returning to the shore I, their favorite aunt, splurge and buy them another hour, and suddenly they are gone from our sight. Letizia falls asleep under the huge wilting beach umbrella and, some feet away, I finally tell Wylie about Ryan O'Reily.
"So how are you doin', Glor?"
I shrug. "It's good to be down here."
"Do you miss him?"
"Yeah." I sit quietly and stare out at the ocean.
"I don't know how you could go back there so soon."
"Well, I needed to work, needed it for myself. It was just that I couldn't work there."
"I'm not surprised."
"Well, it's more complicated. I've been meaning to tell you the whole story."
She nods, turns in her beach chair to face me. "Spill."
"Ok, so like a year ago there's this prisoner, right? White guy, Irish. Wylie, he was so fucking hot. All full of shit, slicker than shit, charming as all fuck. So one day this guy's nipple starts bleeding, and it turns out he has this big old breast carcinoma."
"Yeah, and like Mr. Macho and shit. So you can imagine how this just rocked him, you know, this 'women's disease.' And the aspiration showed it was malignant. So, he gets surgery and chemo, and insurance didn't want to spring for the mastectomy because he's just a lowly con, and I go to bat for him, get him the surgery. And I see a lot of him. And he flirts with me. At the time Preston and I were separated and this guy is so hot and dangerous, you know? And I liked it. I liked the attention. I wanted him."
"Yeah. Even though he was an inmate and a patient and probably a murderer, I liked it."
"Did you flirt back?"
"I don't know. I stayed professional. I know that much. Never touched him outside a medical context. But..." I stop and stare off at the ocean, catching a glimpse of Wylie's boys on the horizon, loud gulls nattering and screeching overhead.
"Of course you liked it. He was hot, and you were nearly single, and he had that bad boy thing going on."
"Thank you. And oh, shit, he was so hot, and he had this vulnerability to him, and it really made my heart go out to him, so then there was some emotion involved."
"Please tell me you didn't fall in love with him."
"But there was something there and we both felt it. And then, it all changed. He told me he loved me. He was obsessive. He wrote me letters. These scary declarations of love. They got all the cancer in surgery so he was fine, but he cut his hand so he would get to see me. I'm telling you, it got scary."
"Yeah. But even then, even when it scared me, I still liked it. Who has ever had a man be so passionate about them? So incredibly dramatic? I hate to admit it, but there was this small part of me that liked it. So the psychologist, Sister Pete, talks to him-"
"Yeah, Peter Marie, don't ask why. Anyway, she tells him to stop, that not only am I a doctor, but I'm a married woman and it's not appropriate."
"Oh my god. He was the one that killed Preston. How-"
"So Ryan has this brother, this brain-injured brother who worships the ground he walks on, who will do anything he says."
"Yes. So I find out that Preston is dead, and the guy that did it, this mentally retarded guy, has the same last name as the guy that's been obsessing over me."
"Oh my god."
"Yeah. And Cyril gets life. And Ryan gets 40 years tacked on for conspiracy to commit. You know that he said to me? One day I was leaving and a guard was taking him somewhere and he said 'I did it for you Gloria. All for you.' Like he'd bought me a car or something. Like he did me this incredible favor. As if we could be together."
"What about the brother? Is he in Oz too?"
"Don't tell me you've had to treat him."
"I have. He has a seizure disorder secondary to his brain injury."
"Shit, Glor, how could you do it?"
"Cyril is easy. I actually like Cyril."
"I do, really. His this poor little kid in a man's body I place the blame squarely on Ryan's shoulders. He made him do it. Bullied him. Cyril has nightmares every night about what he did to Preston. When he apologized to me I cried. He was a wreck, this baby, not understanding how he could have done what he did."
I stare silently at the ocean. Suddenly Jamal and Jamar are here, talking about dolphins. Wylie has a ten in her hand before they can even get a sentence out. "How about getting us all some cokes?"
They retreat happily. Jamar looks back. He knows. He's a smart boy.
"So. Ryan. Someone shanked him in the back and hit a lung. And I'm the one there when he comes back from the ICU. I had to treat him."
"God. How did you do it?"
"I don't know." After saying it, I realize it's true.
She is quiet for long moments, burying her toes in the sand.
"What did you feel? Did you want to kill him?"
"Yes. One night when everyone was gone I stood there and watched him sleep. I thought... I can take this pillow, hold it down, and no one would ever know." I stare at the seagulls in the sky. "Of course I didn't. I feel- I don't know how to describe what I feel for him Wylie but there's like this ball of stuff, all mixed up inside of me, lust and mostly rage and hurt and more rage and... I just need to get it out of my system. And I don't know how to do that. I can't get past this until I get some closure, and I don't know how to do it."
"You should have killed him." She has the righteous anger of someone who would kill for their best friend, anger I would surely have had if it had been her.
"Sometimes I think I should. Sometimes I think it's the only way. I would look at him and feel this pity with the anger and god help me, but mixed up in it was this... lust. Does that make me evil? Does it make me weak? And this was no ordinary lust, it was... Now I can understand why men rape. And that's horrible but it's true. I want to fuck him and kill him, all in one act. Just... obliviate him."
Wylie just looks at me and that is all I need. She just looks at me with total understanding and without reproach.
That night I have a dream, and when I wake there is clarity.
3: Taking Back the Night
I leave Atlanta feeling as if carry a small seed within me, seed of an idea, a desire, a plan. An answer to the question "what now?" I'm back working in Oz, alert and intent on my plans.
Pete insists on taking me to lunch. She sees my more ready smile, tanned skin, and relaxed demeanor more clearly than I feel them myself, and I'm afraid her near-supernatural keen sight can see right into me, into the plans I'm brewing.
A month away from Oz has seen changes: Inspired by Beecher, a young prag of Schillinger's bit off a substantial chunk of the Nazi's dick. Schillinger is in the infirmary, post-surg, in a drugged up haze, and the CO on duty, a strapping man black as the night itself, barely smothers his laughter every time he glances in Schillinger's direction. Keller turned up with lung cancer. Another woman is rumored to be coming to death row, this time one who starved her son to death during a crack binge.
In my office I peel last month from my desk calendar, throw it away. Look at the fresh new days of February. I have three days.
O'Reily's chart has been maintained by the temp doc, and is uneventful, recording typical postsurgical milestones.
I ask a CO to bring me O'Reily, Busmalis, and the newest patients. They file in, shepherded by Murphy, and I surreptitiously watch him.
He looks better than last time, better color, hair longer, making him look more dangerous and more vulnerable all at once. I want to soothe that hair back from his eyes, I want-
He has caught me looking, scanning the room for me. I meet his gaze, bite the bullet, approach him first.
He is staring at me, with a different, more complex sort of intensity than before, more reserved, subdued, but eyes still burning with desire that makes my skin tingle.
"How's your wound?" I want to rip the fucking thing open.
"Fine." I take his temp, pulse while he holds the thermometer in his mouth, and for the first time in my life, god and Hippocrates help me, lie on a chart, writing 101.8.
"You have a temperature."
Oh, voice so deep, so throaty.
"You might be getting an infection. Your lungs would have been left vulnerable after that shanking. I'm gonna hold you here tonight and do some tests."
I don't want to see the look on his face. I turn quick, go see my next patient.
I'm set in the rhythm of my work, work that I love, but all the while feeling his gaze on me like a living thing.
Later I come back, sink the needle into his taut vein, see his blood spill. I could keep this tourniquet off, needle in. I could bleed him out, quietly, and he'd be dead.
His eyes are on me, steady with intensity, and I watch the blood flow, quick and ready. He is strong, young, healthy. Vital. Will my hands to be steady.
Then it's done, I pull out, and wonder what it would be like to rape him. How sweet that would be.
In the course of that day I send Schillinger back to Unit B with a half dick and otherwise clean bill of health, tend to that evening's shanking victim, and when I send him off to Benchley, the place is clear. He knows it; I know it.
He eats his dinner with quiet intensity. I think he thinks I might kill him.
After the evening news I brew some tea. For some reason chloral hydrate is nowhere to be found, but I find the next best thing. The CO on duty is new, a young kid right out of school, I think, and I offer him a cup of tea. In five minutes he has gone from trying not to show that he is resting his eyes to snoring openly on the counter.
O'Reily is watching me watch the CO. I can tell without looking. The plan is working well, except for the leaden heaviness my body assumes, heightened gravity making it impossible to even breathe, let alone turn around and face O'Reily.
If I can do this, the rest is nothing. If I can do this, I can move on.
His eyes are wide with the realization that something is about to go down. I walk, slow, to his bed. It takes a minute to unravel his expression. He isn't sure whether he should be aroused or afraid for his life. That walk lasts forever. All the way, until I am standing at his bed.
He's wearing jeans and a loose black shirt. Barefoot. That gets me, his bare feet. Something inexplicably vulnerable about that. He killed my husband and now he's laying prone here in front of me, feet bare, skin pale, vulnerable.
All for you.
My eyes trail up, past the tightness of his jeans, up to his tight stomach, to where his head rests on a few pillows. His mouth is slightly open as he watches me, wondering, and I can hear his quickening breath.
Oh, to kiss him, right there, cut off that excited breath. Choke him. My heart is thudding high and tight in my ears.
I raise my hand, palm up. His slight brows momentarily tighten in confusion, then he takes it.
Fingers glide up my fingers like ivy on a trellis. In a moment of resounding dissonance I realize how soft his hands are, these hands that killed Preston. More or less.
The warmth there is intoxicating and for a second I want to burst into sobs, but I am leading him, out of bed, to my office. He is dazed, following, bare feet on the cold cement floor. Inside my office, he watches as I shut the door.
He knows to be quiet as I flick off the harsh overheads, leaving us in the warm glow of my desk lamp. His silence resounds with so much more than quiet; his eyes are lit with such intensity that if I didn't know better I'd think he loves me and I love him and we are any people but us and any place but here.
He is just standing there, behind the door, waiting for me to move, even after all of this he restrains himself, waits for me. He's completely forgotten that I could kill him. He's really that far gone.
Then he touches my face. I flinch, then am ashamed for flinching.
So, so whisper soft. His hand is so gentle, it's brutal, and I was a fool to think I could keep these tears from my eyes.
"Don't cry," he whispers, voice so low and husky, and he is so tall above me, and he presses his lips to my forehead.
I will not lose it I will not lose it I will not lose it.
I can do this. And, as my eyes overflow I realize the only way I can do this is to let it all go, let it be real, and relinquish control.
He is kissing my face, again and again. My cheeks, my eyes, all the while I can't stop myself from sobbing. Reverent hands tangle in my hair, and I hate him for touching me with tenderness my own husband never did.
"Gloria" he whispers, and then he is kissing me, so slowly and delicately as breath and I can't breathe and I suck in my breath to realize that I am kissing him too. Ryan O'Reily, I think dumbly. Crossing that boundary. Kissing my husband's killer. Kissing this slow, elemental, sacred and timeless dance of a kiss and it is so easy, like gravity, and electric lights are dancing up and down my spine. His mouth is all softness too, his shaven skin, and he tastes like water, nothing else. His fingers are falling, too, down the length of my neck.
We part; I swallow tears, grapple with my own breath. I am so naked, here in his eyes, my bare heart, my tearstained face.
I can tell from his face he is aching. "Don't cry."
I can't not. This release is too much. He wraps his arms around me and holds tight, and this is the cruelest thing he has done to me so far. He holds me with comfort and solidity that shocks me, splayed hand holding my head to his chest.
Then I feel his fingers snaking under the hem of my scrubs, rising slow up the furrow of my spine, and all the way he is whispering Gloria like it's a fucking prayer and not my name, in my hair and in my ear and against my skin and a vague memory comes to me on a waft of incense, in exelsius deo, and his fingers are at the nape of my neck and he is holding me and kissing me again, lips so soft, and mine feel as if they have twice the nerve endings, raw and exposed, my flesh under his, kissing hard.
Apart, he can hear me breathe, affected, bothered, and I want to take back the power of that. I reach down, pull my top off, raising my arms above my head to throw it off, feeling the jut of my nipples into the cool air. Watch him stare, eyes tracing, gentle as fingers that rise to touch me, defining the circle of an aureole, slow with just one finger, and he won't touch my nipple which hardens impossibly inside the limit he has defined.
I reach for the hem of his tee shirt, cashmere soft with thousands of washings as I knew it would be; push up, past taut stomach, softer yet, past hard nipples. Skin so smooth, touching is like drinking him in and I am intoxicated.
He lifts his arms so I can pull off the shirt and I press his chest to mine. He moans, hand slowly traversing the length of my back.
But I am hungry and pull him down to me to crush his lips; he gasps in ecstasy as I bite his bottom lip, hard. A delicious squealing sound comes from him, and I just might do that again, just to hear that sound. Then he regroups, giving as good as he gets, kissing me hard, and I stumble back.
I am where I swore I would never be, pressed hard against a cold cinder block wall to my back, and the warm silk of him to my front, pressed so hard and there is no room to breathe. I like it like this. This rock-and-a-hard-place bondage, this highest, most thrilling place I have ever been.
And even as he presses me so hard I can't breathe his hand cradles the back of my head so that I'm not hurt, and he is bruising my neck with a series of kisses and I can feel him, so hard, under his jeans.
If I could die like this, far away from Preston and the rest of it all.
His thumb is kneading my nipple, as he is holding me to the wall, and I can't loll my head back because he is there and the wall is there and all I can do is feel and shiver. Pressing into me and kissing me and again wanting to put him off balance I thrust up my hips there catching the furrow of my crotch on the bulging of his jeans.
We both moan, but I am in control, and I shove him down onto the mattress that I had brought in earlier.
"Take off your pants," I whisper.
As he does, gracelessly, the muscles of his stomach and thighs move and I watch. Tosses his jeans away.
He lies there, naked, watching me, cock pink and hard, tight against his stomach. I watch him trace a line from his thigh to nipples, idly scratching, touching himself. I stand there perusing him for long seconds, watching him watch the sway of my breasts.
"Jerk off. I want to watch you."
And I realize, shocked, that I do. I want to witness this, the hand tentatively grasping, the blush on his cheeks and neck, the humiliation in his eyes.
"You want to watch me?"
"Yes. Fucking do it."
He does, eyes never leaving mine. I stand there, naked from the waist up, and watch him touch himself. See how he does himself as he meets my eyes, penitent and giving. Grazes himself with fingers. Encircles himself, squeezing hard, so hard my eyes widen and I think it must hurt, and his head arches back and his mouth twists into a lopsided open grimace.
I think that this is it, this is how he has touched himself during long nights while thinking about me, coming wanting to scream my name.
This is why he killed a man.
And now he's showing it to me, all of it. A wave of warm arousal floods through me, from me.
Then, pulling fast on himself, breath huffing as his eyes return to me-
"What." Whisper like dessicated leaves in my throat.
"I'm gonna come for you, Gloria."
"Stop." His eyes are quizzical and pained.
He does, hand flattening on his stomach as if to keep from touching. I slide my scrubs from my hips. Bend over to step out of them and the air is cool on the wetness that has slicked me down, all the way to my ass.
"I want you to fuck me. Do you want to fuck me, Ryan?"
I could ask him a million questions, just to hear that deep, rough whisper. "Yes." So desperate. Feel his eyes all over me, drinking me in, and I have never felt so beautiful.
I lower myself onto the bed on knees, kiss him, and it still shocks me that it's tender, giving, desperate all at once. His hand rises to my hair, pulls my barrette out of my hair, and it all comes falling down. I realize that he would kiss me like this forever, forgetting the surge of heat and need in his cock.
But I am feeling his fingers gentle on my side, and shiver.
"Do you want me?"
What is wrong with me? What need am I hoping to fill?
"Yesss." His voice is a hiss.
"Do you love me?" I hear tears in his voice.
"Yes, Jesus Christ yes I love you so much, so fucking much."
I don't believe him, he fucking killed my husband, but he's so pretty when he cringes with desperation, those lips so pained and earnest. He's trying not to beg but he will take from me whatever I will give, nothing more, hough he is already pulsing on the verge of orgasm. And when I look in his eyes, I realize that he thinks I will maybe kill him, and I realize that he doesn't care, and I think maybe he really does love me.
I crawl up, taking him in my hand, his cock, so silky soft, so hard. We are breath to breath and I hold him nearly inside there, hover just over him, watching his eyes. He can feel the wetness there, the warmth it radiates, knows that with one thrust he would be in me to the hilt.
He is trying so hard to be patient, gently tracing the curve of my waist as if painting my silhouette. I wonder if I could make him come from wanting alone, make him come naked into the cool air.
And there is such warmth in his eyes, I can't bear it; it is either cry, or slide down.
Slowly. He's so huge, and it's been so long. His face twists, mouth opening in one long huff of air, eyes closed I hover there, just an inch inside, and then spread my legs, press down all the way.
His whole body shudders, giving rise to the keening crescendo of a scream before I press my hand against his hot breath. The forward motion makes me tighten around him and I reel back and moan. My entire body is alive. His eyes are shocked, wide, incredulous all at once
His eyes close, and then his gaze is desperate. "Slow Gloria, please, it's not going to last."
The begging makes me tighten around him, and I clench down, searching for that spot that will induce my own orgasm. Hit it, and warmth radiates there. I ride him faster. Harder. He is shaking all over, his legs and thighs and breathing that comes out jerkily.
"Please." Again. I forget my own orgasm, go fast just to spite him. To make him keen and moan and a beautiful gasping look come over his face. I feel him convulse, tighten, thrust up into me. Hold tight on the wetness inside.
"I'm gonna come. Oooh!" The words drag out into the slow breath; the twisted sound of his voice is balm to my hatred of him. Fingers tighten painfully on my arms. He bucks and writhes, eyes widening with shocked desperation, desperate to drive him in deeper, even deeper.
Then he stops, and I feel him shoot and splash inside of me.
"No, I wanted-"
"Shhhh," I whisper, directly into his ear. I cover him like a blanket, head tucked into his neck, breathing air that smells like him, clean warm saltiness. I kiss his neck as he softens in me, taste the sweat there, suckle it. As I explore the hollows of neck and ear I marvel that someone so hard and cruel could feel so soft, his skin and his hair and all of him, over the rock hardness of muscle.
"Shhhh," I whisper, though he has been silent. I bite his earlobe, feel him spasm in shock.
Inside me he hardens again and I can't resist grinding my swollen flesh around the length of his shaft. I roll off him, lie next to him. Like normal lovers. The normalcy of it is surreal as he pulls me in, kisses me as if he will never tire of it. I allow myself to touch the skin of his neck, touch his silky hair.
Slow, he moves over me, taking control, eyes and hands drinking in the lines of my body.
He is quiet and I meet his eyes, struck down as if by a blow when I see tears there, slick as glass, see him solemn and restrained as he touches me. His fingers graze my flesh, gently cover me, over my crotch, teasing gently through the hair there then up to my breasts. He pinches hard, my left nipple, and I cry out. I am so hot and wet inside, shameful, caliente, and god help me but I love it.
He kisses a line from a nipple where he suckles, down to my navel, delivering a simple kiss there that is chaste and somehow impossibly endearing, and tears rise back to my eyes and he is gently parting my legs, parting me, and I can feel his breath there and he is licking gently, caressing the folds with his tongue, leisurely, dipping down and for a ridiculous moment I panic, thinking that he is going to encounter the profuse wetness there, and then his hand is on my thigh and he is tasting that very stream of liquid, directly from its source, inside of me.
I shudder, see my breasts shake with the convulsion. His eyes are on me, so help me gentle, loving as he swirls around the periphery of my erogenous zones, licking, opening, spreading. His tongue lights on my clit and flutters there. I tense, then relax from the inside out. He is lapping me like a kitten, so sweet, dipping again and again to press his tongue's wetness into me. A finger slips in, and he moans into my flesh as I press and buck up into his ministering tongue as a second finger slips in, presses up, searching.
I feel it coming, building inside me, and I'm bucking up rhythmically, fucking his tongue with my cunt, and words slip like traitors from my mouth. "Don't stop!"
That is all he needs. His fingers quicken, fluttering manically inside of me, tongue flicking fast. I can't control the moans that are slipping from me. I look down, see his eyes on me as I come, feel tears on my thigh and his wet eyelashes but still I come, biting my lip shut, whole lower body quickening and melting into another form of liquid self. It takes a few long seconds before I open my eyes again.
I watch him rise up, watch me. Wetness glistening on his lips. I pull him to me, lick my juice from him. His breath quickens as I suck his tongue. I can feel hairs on the back of his neck, erect, on edge as he shudders.
"You're so beautiful," he whispers.
The urge to rip his jugular vein open is so sudden, so overwhelming, that I am paralyzed. He sees it in my eyes and looks down, tears still falling.
I've caused him enormous pain and I'm suddenly on the verge of tears, hurting because I hurt him, and how fucked up is that?
He collapses, lying on his back, eyes closed. But I pull him close, kiss him so hard, hold him, arms and legs wrapped around him, kissing him as if I love him. He stumbles along, determined to take whatever I give.
I tighten my legs, pull him home. He is slow, watching my eyes as he slides in, so wet, harder than ever, and he won't take his eyes off of mine or wipe his drying tears from his face. I wonder how many people have seen Ryan O'Reily cry.
His stare is so intense I have to close my eyes for a heartbeat, for long seconds as he tools in and out of me, slow.
Oh, I knew he would be like this, and I think I want to die here, like this, or get him from here, take him away and keep him hidden somewhere that he can do this to me forever.
His hand is in my hair and he is touching my face and tears rise again and one pours down my face and I'm thinking at him "Why? Why did you do this to me?"
He looks at me with infinite tenderness and he kisses me, high on my cheek and I stumble into sobs again, and he kisses me, fucking coos to me while he is fucking me, whispering Gloria and I love you and god help me, I rock with the cadence of it and of his fucking and of his cock hitting me just right, my legs pulled all the way up and around him, I feel close, dizzy, breathing fast and very little air getting in; cry out, raggedly, not wanting to give him this, but say without wanting to "I'm going to come!"
He pulls back, stares at me as if in wonder, touches my lips with the pad of his thumb, and then starts fucking me so hard, so fast, shaking my whole body with each thrust, and I feel it so deep inside me as I spread impossibly further and hiss "faster!" my voice harsh, and unbelievably he goes harder and faster yet, hitting that spot again and again. I press my mouth to the bull on his shoulder and he is unbelievable, reaching between us and pressing my clit in this pulsing hard pressure and I bite his shoulder as I come, pulsing around him, fluttering everywhere, tightening rhythmically. I've broken the skin and my tongue dabbles in the iron-smelling blood and I recoil with a doctor's ingrained fear of mingling bodily fluids but then I remember I'd checked his chart, and besides, it's really too late for that as he is fucking me still, hard, slicked with my wetness and his own come.
He doesn't notice that he's bitten, or feel a thing, because he is fucking me so hard, eyes closed tight, and then as if feeling me looking he opens his eyes, looks at me whispering in a shaky voice "Oh, god, I'm gonna come," and I tighten inside so hard with this, and he feels it and his eyes light up and the circuit is complete.
His voice makes a strangled sound in his throat.
"Gloria, look at me. Please! Look at me while I come! I'm going to come in you so hard!"
And then his mouth is open and crying out and I stare defiant at the ceiling and he cries "please" and at the last minute can't look away and so I look into his eyes, defiant, capitulating and aroused all at once, then soften and melt with the love in his gaze. His mouth is open and crying out and he quickens, pulses, comes into me. His eyes are so wide and round and pupils dilated in the dim light and I see, I think, something snapping there.
"Please," he whispers one last time, but the word turns into a sob and he crumples down onto me, lying on my breast, just breathing.
I can't take my eyes off his face which I loathe even as I find it beautiful. He lies there, spent, shaking, and I realize he is sobbing, look down, startled. Shaking, head to toe. Not bothering to turn away, this master of the bullshit game face, not hiding his shame, giving me all this nakedness in every way.
I can't handle this, but I can't move either. I close my eyes, curse my hand as I put it on his head, soothing.
He feels me as I soothe the hair back from his forehead, sobs all the harder, takes me with him.
"Why are you crying?" My voice sounds weak and gritty, barely audible.
He doesn't answer me, not for a long time. My body succumbs to the rough, terrifying quake of his sobs; mine are traitor hands, traitor lips, traitor eyes that cry for him again, and I am sobbing too.
He rises on one arm, sniffles. Finally speaks. "All the things I've done in my life... I'll never leave here, ever."
I can handle anything, everything, walk away, as long as he doesn't tell me he is sorry.
My fingers move through his hair. He lies back down on my breast. "You know, I don't know if you love me or hate me. I don't know why you're doing this, or why you were even ever so good to me to begin with, but I'm glad. If I can touch you and show you even one tiny bit of what I feel for you, I'm glad. If I can give you just one second of pleasure to make up for all the pain I've caused you, of how I've fucked it all up, I'm glad."
He swallows. "I know you don't believe me but I love you Gloria. I fucking love you so much it hurts."
I can't breathe, his body is too heavy on mine and I am suffocated in sweat and there isn't enough air in the room.
He pauses for a second, swallows. "Because of all the things I've done in my fucked-up life, I regret causing you pain the most."
Oh. Damn him. Goddamn him.
"Goddamn you." It slips out. I need to say it like I need to breathe.
I sit up, because I'm swimming in my tears; I can't breathe. He gives me his shoulder, an arm wrapped around me, and his weight supporting mine is its own shaking counterpoint with his own sobs.
We cling to each other.
I was such a fool to think I could do this unscathed.
Still I cling to him, and him to me, until I stop crying, until our breathing slows.
* * *
When I leave that night I sit in a taxi, silent, inert, like a piece of porcelain, dead on the outside.
Inside I'm resonating with sound and scent and touch. His voice ringing. Resounding in my ears, in the soreness of my muscles.
I'm never gonna see you again, am I?
I close my eyes.
Can I kiss you one last time?
My whole body aches, not from the fucking. I can still feel the warm rub of his lips on mine, so real.
At home I fall into bed, still smelling of him, too profoundly exhausted to shower or undress. I fall, and my sleep is dreamless.
4: Killing Hippocrates
December 10, 2001
Gloria stares at the photo until it loses meaning.
She planned, so many months ago, to send this picture as an act of vengeance, to taunt him with a family line he would never see. Luck of the fucking Irish.
Gloria the bleeding heart, would never hurt a fly.
Send this photo, and what? Torture him? Comfort him? What would he do? Didn't he have a right to know, even if that was all she will allow?
In the end it is the healer that wins out. She turns over the picture and writes.
Not every choice is regrettable. She is alive because of you.
* * *
Oswald Correctional Facility
December 23, 2001
Tobias eyed his hand and threw down a card. "They threw him in the hole, dude," Hill said.
"He got something in the mail and freaked out."
Cyril walks slowly back to their pod. On Ryan's bunk is an envelope, and a picture of a little baby.
* * *
December 24, 2001
"Unto you a child is born. One life the redemption of a multitude of sins..."
Father Mukada recites the words rote, meeting the eyes of prisoners one by one, by practiced habit.
When his eyes land on O'Reily he is startled by the depth of expression there.
Scowling, maybe near tears but likely not, but hearing the words down deep, something changes behind his eyes, clashing things, pain and joy, as Ray watches, fascinated.
The second stretches forever, until O'Reily looks away.
Ray continues speaking out of habit, but wonders what that look could possibly mean. O'Reily looked as if he were shaken, beaten, physically and spiritually.
But when Ray says "go in peace," it seems he does.
5: The Phoenix
"Mami! You promised!"
"Did I?" She smiles indulgently, a little sadly.
Slowly, Gloria sits down. "Of course I'll tell you, baby. I just hope you're old enough to understand."
"Motherrr!" Twelve year old Hope whines. "I'm not a child."
"No?" Gloria tries not to show her smile.
Gloria watches her daughter. "Okay, sit down."
Little Hope sat down at the kitchen table. My baby girl, she thinks, so tiny, born too early with the loudest voice in the nursery, pale little child, miss Hope Erin, with long dark hair, insatiable eyes, deep as the whole world.
"Okay. Do you remember that I told you I used to work in a prison?"
"Well" she stares out the kitchen window for a second, then meets her daughter's eyes, continues. "One of the inmates got sick. He got cancer so I had to take care of him a lot."
"What did he do?"
"What do you mean?"
"To be put in jail."
"A bunch of stuff. Accidentally killed someone with his car, got caught with some drugs, I think. Anyway, this prisoner that I took care of, he got cancer so I had to take care of him. Because I was so nice to him he fell in love with me." She sighs.
"I was married back then, so he thought that if he killed my husband, he could be with me."
"That's how your husband died," Hope says.
"Right. That man, he had a brother on the outside. He got his brother to kill my husband."
"What does that have to do with my father?"
"I'm getting to that.
"So, you see, my husband was killed, but I still worked at the prison. And I still had to take care of both the brothers sometimes because that was my job. But I still worked there, and everyone told me I was crazy."
Gloria smiles. "Probably.
"So working there was driving me crazy, and I knew I had to get away for good but I couldn't do that until..."
She stops, wondering how to say what she has to.
"Hope, you know how when you have an itch, it drives you crazy, even if you try to forget about it, it just itches worse until you scratch it?"
"Well that man, the one who was in love with me, he was like an itch. I hated him, but he said he loved me. I took some time off, came down to see Aunt Wylie and your cousins, and did a lot of thinking, trying to decide what to do next. And I thought of all the things in the world, what do I want? And it was you, Hope, I wanted you."
"I don't understand." Hope's little face pinches in confusion.
"Honey, that man, he thought he loved me. And maybe he did. But he hurt me, so I took something back from him, nearly the only good thing in him, and I made you."
"I don't understand," Hope repeats, but her eyes say that she does.
"Honey, that man, the man with cancer that I took care of, he's your father." She swallows, watches her daughter's face with a thudding heart.
"You're lying. You're lying to keep from telling me who my real father is! My father is not a criminal!"
Gloria sits, stunned, amazed that someone so tiny can slam a door so hard.
* * *
One day, at breakfast:
"What's his name?"
Gloria looks up from her coffee, surprised. "Why do you want to know, honey? You want to see him?"
"I just wanna know his name."
"His name was Ryan."
"Yeah, I wanna see him. No I don't. Not ever."
"You just wanna know?"
"I'll see if I can dig you out a picture."
* * *
Weeks later, in the attic:
"Hope, is that you?"
"Come up here sweetie, I have something for you."
Gloria stares at the photo in her hand. She'd lifted it from Peter Marie's psych file, long ago. An ID photo, for internal purposes only, not a mugshot. He was looking slightly off into the distance, hint of a smile on his face.
It had been so long ago. Over twelve years ago.
Looking at it brings back so many painful memories, a lingering ghost of desire that dematerializes like smoke on the wind.
But what surprises her was that these things fade like the photograph itself, and what she sees most clearly in it was Hope - her stance, her alert, mischievous, tense energy, waiting to move. And it makes her smile.
Hope pokes her head through the attic door.
"Hey sweetie. Come sit over here." She pats the space next to her. "Do you still wanna see the picture?"
Hope nods, and Gloria gives it to her. While she looks and looks Gloria strokes her long hair, watching her face, wondering what she might say.
"This is my dad?"
"Where was this taken?"
"Inside the prison. It was a part of it called Emerald City."
"That's a dumb name for a prison."
"Yeah, well, that's what I told my friend Tim but he didn't listen."
Hope fingers the back of the photo, flipping it over to show a bit of the page it had been glued to. "Did you steal this for me?"
"Yes," Gloria whispers, tears threatening to fall. She is so smart, missing nothing.
She pulls Hope's small form into her lap, huggs her. "I know you don't understand. I think maybe someday when you're older, when you find a boy who infuriates you even though you want him, you'll understand.
"But what I need you to know now is that because he is your father doesn't mean you're a bad person."
"Actually, you remind me so much of him."
"You do. You're so smart, so quick, and you got that from him. Your eyes, your pretty Irish eyes, those are from him too. You're just as pretty as he was handsome.
"You're smart like your dad, and beautiful like him, but it's your choices that make you a good person and you're a good girl."
She kisses Hope's head, and they sit like that, looking at the picture of Ryan O'Reily, quiet among the dustmotes trickling down through the attic light.