Beau Garrett lay damning the devils that were trying to kill him. They had been at it again through the night, sitting on his lungs, binding his bowels into knots. Jabbing and twisting spikes into knuckles and knee joints. Hard to catch a breath. He rolled over on his mattress. He worked his oversized hands into fists and thought, What if I die here in bed? What about the kid?
With the shifting of his body he was able to fill his lungs. He looked around his room. The white ceiling had a dark-blue hue, not even a streak of dawn light yet. He turned his head and could just pick out the forgetme-nots in the forget-me-not wallpaper and the clutter of pill bottles on the window sill casting shadows. If he could only fall asleep again, that would be a good thing. But his mind was working now. Wondering.
What had he dreamed?
About ghosts from his past, that’s what. Evvy, his wife, Sharla, his daughter. Only natural he’d be dreaming about the two of them pretty steady since they’d each shown up at his doorstep just lately. Two separate visits, each stirring up the mud of his past, disturbing him with dreams that made no sense.
In all the dreams he’d ever had of Evvy, she was young, like when they were first married. There were no fights in his dreams. No violence. No fun, either. They’d be in strange places talking about things he couldn’t remember on waking.
Sometimes Sharla would be there in the background, a little girl instead of the dumpy fifty-something woman she’d become. Sometimes Sharla wasn’t even a girl, but a dog, cat, bird. One time she’d been an eel. He didn’t like dreams. Didn’t trust them. On waking he’d have to remind himself that the years had rolled on, and Evvy was no longer twenty-five like in his dreams, or thirty-five like when they’d split up. No, she’d be a seventy-nine-year-old bag of bones now, much like himself. Old and tired and full of pains of her own.
Or so he’d been telling himself till she’d shocked the living hell out of him early yesterday morning by appearing on his doorstep, banging on the front door, in spite of the sign telling visitors to go to the back, the back door being easier for him to deal with. And when the knocking had become insistent he’d made his way through the living room, out through the little porch with its clutter of old furniture, and opened the door to find a nice-looking older woman standing there, who he’d realized after just a flash of confusion was Evvy. Not a tired bag of bones at all. At seventy-nine she was looking as fit as a fiddle and not a whole lot different from the day she’d thrown him out and they’d told each other good riddance so loud the neighbours had called the cops.
Her attitude hadn’t changed a whole lot, either. Still antsy like he was about to deal her a blow, but still ready to give as good as she got. And down roadside sat a car, idling in the mid-March chill. The balding guy in glasses sitting behind the wheel was looking through the driver’s side window, staring up at Beau. Probably her new boyfriend, here as backup in case the abusive ex got ugly.
The meeting on the doorstep had been brief. Evvy said she was looking for Sharla, who’d up and left her Chilliwack home without warning, taking her grandson Justin with her. Had Beau seen her at all? To that question Beau had flat out lied, and he still wasn’t sure why. Probably spite. But lie he did, telling Evvy he didn’t know what the hell she was talking about and shutting the door in her face. Watched the car spit dust and drive away.
Truth was Sharla had come by just three days before that. Like Evvy, she’d ignored the sign and knocked on the front door till he opened up. Unlike Evvy, he didn’t recognize her, his own daughter. Nor did he know the little boy she’d had with her. Both of them were loaded with backpacks and suitcases and shopping bags and what looked like a fish tank half full of water. The woman had addressed Beau as Dad straight off, then more or less pushed her way in as he worked out that this was the daughter he hadn’t seen since she was nine, and had only spoken to once since then.
That phone call had been about twenty years ago, first day of the new century, as a matter of fact, her in her thirties wanting to reconnect, him not having much to say. And now she was back, standing in his living room, snapping words at him, saying how hard it was to track him down, wow, isn’t family great. Beau had never been able to keep up with fast talkers, and most of what she said went in one ear and out the other. The boy was Justin, she said. Her grandson, who she’d been taking care of for a couple of years. Since Justin’s mother, Kim, had died.
“Kim,” Beau had said, getting a word in edgewise.
“Kim, my daughter, who I told you about when I phoned,” Sharla had said. She gave him a little glare, too, and looked something like Evvy. Then she said meanly, “Kimmie was three then. Day one of the new century and I gathered up the nerve to get in touch. Thinking you might want to see us. You said you did but I could tell you didn’t. So why bother. Well, you’ll never see Kimmie now, as she’s dead. Leaving this little guy, who’s your great-grandson, which is why you should be happy to get to know him a little. Bloodline, right?”
Beau had stood looking down what seemed like a mile at the shrimpy white-haired child, who had only stared right back at him.
Sharla then said something about going south with a guy she’d met who was into hedge funds or something, and she was leaving Justin for just a couple days as she didn’t trust Evvy to use it against her in some kind of custody thing they were having over the boy. Just a couple days, here’s his stuff, Sharla had more or less said, and then she’d left without so much as a please or thank you for taking care of Justin, in spite of Beau saying he could do no such goddamn thing.
That’s what the dreams were all about. After years of living alone, these people were back, littering up his thoughts. Evvy most of all. Showing off that her life had carried on without him just fine, thank you. New boyfriend and all. Nice car, too. Older model, but good set of wheels. A Buick.
His thoughts cycled back to the questions he’d been asking himself. The old question that didn’t bother him much: What if I die here in bed? And the new one, which did: What about the kid?
He knew he’d die one of these days. The pain told him so, coming on pretty much the day he’d moved here to the North Shore. He wondered if the house was cursed. Except he didn’t believe in curses. He’d gone to the doctor, but didn’t believe in doctors any more than he believed in curses, and sure enough the pills had helped a little but bothered his stomach, so he’d quit them. And quit doctors, too.
Serve them all right, he thought. I die here in bed and they come back to find the kid has starved to death. He pictured them all in tears. Then he pictured the kid waking up and looking for breakfast, and when breakfast didn’t come, finding his great-grandpa laid out here stiff as beef jerky, mouth an open suck-hole for moths and flies.
No. Mustn’t do that. Get dressed, put the teeth in at the very least, give the kid instructions about going to the nosy neighbour, Louise, when the time came, he could damn well die in style. He pushed himself up. Puckered his eyes, had a bit of a coughing fit. Then he set his feet on the floor and cranked himself upright. The bridge no longer fit so good, but damned if he’d go back to that maniac who called himself a denturist.
Maybe because he was dying, Beau felt like he was watching himself from above as he went about his daily routine. He watched himself select his best clothes and pull them on. Watched his big knobbly hands fight with buttons and zippers. Watched himself shuffle down the hall to the bathroom, duck the doorway, wash his face and comb his silver-black hair. Wanted to be cleanish as they packed him up and shipped him off to hell. He saw himself peering at the mirror and knew what he was: a train wreck of a once-strapping old man who’d never been anything to look at, not in the best of times, now going through the motions of living a life he had never been good at.
Why was he feeling so grim? So angry? The fantasy was blown, that was it. Fancying that Evvy missed him. Imagining her attending his funeral and remembering the good times, realizing what she’d missed out on, all full of regret and mourning.
Now he knew. She wouldn’t mourn him one bit. She’d celebrate. She’d get the house, sell it, go off on some world cruise with the new boyfriend. Fit as a fiddle. Laughing in the sunshine. Like a girl again.
He’d get his revenge. He’d put off dying for a while. Live, get fit himself. No chance he’d find a new woman to show off back at her, but — it struck him now, a genius plan — he’d do one better. Connect with the child who she was fighting over with Sharla. That’s what he’d do.
Justin would call him Grampa — Great-Grampa being too much of a mouthful. And once this visit was over, the boy would beg to go visit Grampa. Prefer seeing Grampa Beau over Gramma Evvy. She’d always been a jealous bitch. The kid preferring him over her would drive her apeshit.
With hair combed flat with water, Beau lifted his chin to glare at the mirror. Not so bad. What had attracted Evvy to him in their teens was his size. He saw his young self through her young eyes, such a big, broad-chested powerhouse. The flesh had withered now, but the frame was still intact. Just needed to get out more, build up the muscles and work out the kinks. That’s what the doctor had said. Exercise is a must.
Come to think of it, he hadn’t been outside in over a month. Least not out walking. Just the cab ride for groceries a couple times, and taking out the garbage.
He’d do it. Go for a goddamn walk.