Chapter Four- Interlude: Aimee Braun
If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.
Aimee Braun’s Saturday started off as they always do. She made breakfast for herself and her husband Anthony, checked her email, and read some online news articles. On Facebook she commented on a post left by her daughter Colleen who was staying in Virginia with her cousin. Anthony was to meet with a man about getting a large shed installed in the backyard. Aimee told him she was going to take care of some chores around the house then meet some friends for lunch down at Lavar’s Crab House.
Anthony was talking with the shed man in the backyard by the time Aimee left. She drove her Mini Cooper the five minutes to the restaurant and found a parking spot outside. She enjoyed her luncheon with her friends Patricia, Karen, and Sue. They later said they found nothing unusual with Aimee as they parted, making plans for their next get-together. Aimee stopped in Suds n Stuff, a local shop specializing in locally made soaps, lotions, and candles. She bought several items.
Anthony was on his riding mower when he saw her come home. Minutes later she left again, but drove so quickly out of their development he thought something must be wrong so he called her cell phone.
“Listen to me Anthony,”—she usually called him Tony—”I want to open up a store in town called The Fox and the Hedgehog. The Communist Revolution didn’t work because the Russians skipped Capitalism. It’s a necessary step. You can’t go from Feudalism to Communism. We’re going to sell the means of production, we’re going to market the revolution. I’m going shopping for supplies now.”
If he hadn’t known her for over a decade he would have thought it was somebody else.
“Are you drunk?”
“No, I’m not drunk. I’m only seeing things clearly. It’s all pretty obvious. I’ll explain later.”
“How much did you have to drink out with the girls?”
“I had one beer.”
“Did you stop at Starbucks?”
“Yes I did.”
The caffeine was the only way he could explain her behavior. In the past she had gotten overly-excited about things after ingesting too much caffeine, but never to such an extreme. Like the one time she had gotten a second Venti coffee and talked about repainting the living room which they had just repainted months before.
And what’s this about opening up some kind of a Communist shop? In college she had majored in political science, but he had never heard her say anything about such theories. He wondered what he was missing—this was not making any sense.
He called her back.
“Aimee, are you okay?”
“Please. Yes. I don’t have time for this. You could check domain names for the website. Marx and Lenin didn’t have the World Wide Web. I have to go.”
Anthony waited anxiously for her return. When two hours had passed and she wasn’t answering her phone, he got in his truck and went looking for her at her usual destinations. It turned out he had just missed her at the Whole Foods in Fowl’s Point Plaza.
Aimee had shopped there, spending most of her time in the produce section. It is thought she bagged at least one of each fruit and vegetable taking great care to arrange them in the cart in a symmetrical pattern. And, employees later said, it appeared she was talking to the items.
Aimee had already attracted the attention of managers and security who kept a watchful distance. She waited in line in an agitated state, sporadically yelling things like “Cut out the middle man!” “Lead the sheeple!” or as the grocery manager thought, “We the people.”
When she reached the register she told the seventeen-year-old girl that she was interested in, “bartering, moving beyond monetary exchange.” She got louder, yelling that the corporation was obligated to submit to her and her authority, her “vision of perfection.”
Fed up with their lack of cooperation she left her filled cart behind and ran out of the store. Some employees followed her out to watch and the cart boy with the reflective vest saw things close up. Other shoppers, either coming or going, stopped where they were, saw the crazy well-dressed blond woman gesticulating in frustration with clenched fists, yelling about how nobody can see anything, how they just don’t get it. Some say they thought she was having a phone conversation, but then saw she had no phone, no headset.
Arriving at her car, Aimee hitched up her formfitting skirt and climbed atop her Mini Cooper. Her heels had no traction so she took her shoes off and tossed them among the cars parked around her. Then she jumped up and down, first on the hood, then the roof, stomping violently, causing dents great and small. Witnesses generally agreed on what she yelled: that she was the new queen, that she could see forever, the future was obvious, that the veils had been lifted. Things about space and time, subjects and objects, about theories or theorem—there was some disagreement about the fine points.
Now the crowd was waiting for the police. As if she sensed their approach, Aimee gave up on her harangue, got in her car, and drove off at a reckless speed. Comically the police arrived just as she turned the corner. By the time they were redirected, Aimee was nowhere to be found.
Anthony arrived soon after. He noticed the police car but didn’t connect it with his wife. Even though he thought his wife was acting strangely, never would he associate her with police activity. He drove past the restaurant where she had eaten earlier, then through that area of town where she might park her conspicuous yellow car for some shopping excursion. No sign of her. He returned home and while waiting, called her sister, her mother and some of the women she had eaten lunch with. Nobody had seen or heard from her in hours.
Night came and no sign of her. He thought he should call the police, but didn’t know if the circumstances warranted their involvement. After another hour of worrying he went in the kitchen to call the police. Just as he picked up the phone he heard the garage door rumble open. In there he found Aimee with dirty bare feet, a torn skirt. She was going through things they had in storage.
“Aimee, what are you doing? I was worried sick.”
She didn’t turn around. “Getting rid of all this crap. Going to need this garage.”
Out the open garage door he saw her Mini Cooper with its front smashed in. That would explain why he saw no headlights come in the driveway. He took in the crumpled-in roof and hood of the car, but all that was just background to his worry over Aimee’s agitated state.
She said more to herself than him, “If hoarding is the psychological aberration of capitalism, then what would its communist counterpart be?”
He walked over to her. “Where were you?”
She didn’t answer. She was going through a bin of old sports things: wiffle bats and balls, lawn darts, badminton rackets.
He took her by the shoulder, turned her to face him and jerked back at what he saw, “Where…oh my god… Aimee, what the…”
She had gotten her face tattooed. There were three of them, fresh, glistening and swollen, one on her forehead and one on each cheekbone.
“What the hell is on your face?”
Aimee pointed to her right cheek, “A mandala. It’s not done, I have to go back. The one over here is a chakra of my own design. You’ll have to get one too. The forehead is a Möbius strip. Do you still have that power-washer, the one we used on the back deck?”
He didn’t know what to say. “Aimee, you…this isn’t you. You went out and…and got your face tattooed. What’s wrong?”
She pursed her lips, decided how to proceed. “Listen hon, you know I love you, but there are going to be some changes around here. Everything we knew is wrong. Things as we knew them are to be turned upside-down and inside-out. We can keep the house but I’m turning it into a headquarters. We’re going to live a ten hour day. You’re quitting your job.”
“What are you talking about? What the hell’s wrong with you?”
She suddenly got very still, looked into his eyes and smiled her normal smile that squinted her eyes in the corner. She declared, “I’m fine. Really.”
“You’re not acting fine. Something’s wrong.”
She smiled at him from behind her welted face like she did to Colleen when she was little, “No, nothing’s wrong. It’s hard to explain, to make you understand. But imagine if you could suddenly read the logic of everything like you hear music, like you breathe and walk.” She held up her palms toward him and looked intently at the space in front of them. “We’ve been living in illusion, living like we’re asleep and I’ve finally woken up.”
Anthony suggested he bring her to the hospital or call their friend the psychologist, but she got peeved, insisted she was fine, never better in her entire life. She had perspective now, things had never been clearer. “Stop it. Have you ever considered the fact that if time and the universe are infinite, then everything has already happened. There’s nothing special about this point in time.”
She kept talking like that and he stared at her, his face losing any expression. This is a fucking nightmare. Could this be some midlife crisis event? But she was only 35.
His wife had gone nuts.
He walked away when she started going through the cabinets and boxes again. He was going to call her mother, the only authority she ever listened to.
He picked up the phone, but Aimee was right behind him, “Don’t even think about it.”
He looked over his shoulder at her.
“You’re going to call my mother.” She held her hand out for the cordless phone. He gave it to her and she threw it as hard as she could against the brick fireplace. He winced at the impact. The phone broke into several pieces, plastic shards glancing off the ceiling and side walls, the battery clonking across the floor.
They stood facing each other in the ensuing silence.
Aimee was much smaller than he and never hit him or broke things. She rarely even got mad and never yelled. At worst she could defeat him with some ultra passive-aggression, be the bitch from hell, but never had she gotten enraged or violent.
She stepped up into his face, got up on her toes, nostrils flared, and stuck her widened eyes inches away from him. It was like she was searching his eyes for his intentions, his inner leanings. He could smell the tattoos, oily and metallic. Her voice got deep, barely controlled, quavering, “You are going to get with the program. Do you understand? You’re not going to call anybody. If I catch you using the telephone I’ll rip the fucking wires off the telephone pole.”
She looked at the phone in his shirt pocket and took it. She spun and threw it at the brick wall, this impact raining bits of glass everywhere in an explosion.
His throat felt clogged with impending tears. This was not his wife. What had happened?
He could tell she sensed how upset he was getting and she backed off, tried to laugh it off, “Sorry ‘bout that.” She made a face of mock guilt, “Don’t worry, mine’s gone too. Bottom of the canal.”
Anthony was shaking his head minutely, not able to comprehend this surreality, knowing only that his wife was gone, their lives were gone, nothing would ever be the same.
“I know this is a lot to take in, but everything is going to be so much better. Trust me. Now get the vacuum and clean up all that broken glass before you cut your feet. I’ll be in the garage if you need me.”
He hoped she would do whatever she felt compelled to do in the garage, get it out of her system, go to bed and wake in a different frame of mind. In the morning he’d talk to her again about seeing a professional. She would be willing to or not. Either way he was bringing her to the hospital. He’d tie her up if he had to, lock her in the trunk of her car.
Aimee had pulled his truck out of the garage and was using the space to create a scaled model of her utopian city. It was impressive, given the materials she had to work with: cardboard boxes, cans and other things mostly taken from their recycling bin. She had white paint smeared accidentally on her jaw and was on her knees working in her bra and panties. The soles of her feet were brown with filth. She didn’t acknowledge his presence, but fixated on painting the columns, measuring the lengths of structures and the spaces between them, made calculations with a pencil on the cement floor. Anthony thought there was something Third Reichish to it, but said nothing, just stood at the threshold and watched her. Throughout the night he stopped in and checked her progress, but finally he fell asleep on the couch.
When he awoke she was still making the city. It had grown to fill most of the garage floor. There was now a reflecting pool before the main columned building, a large park and what appeared to be a series of massive high-rise apartment buildings. Anthony was no expert on architecture or urban planning, but he thought it was impressive. Just the sheer craft was amazing. He had no idea she had it in her.
He suggested breakfast and was surprised when she agreed to it, walking past him and sitting down at the kitchen table like it was any other day. He made their usual Sunday omelet breakfast, glancing over at her while he worked. His hopes for a more sedate state of mind seemed to be coming true. Aimee was no longer manic, but calm, almost dreamy. She looked at everything—her fork, the egg, the yard out the sliding door—with a wistful and content demeanor. She might be getting back to normal, but there were still the tattoos and the Albert Speer mock-up in the garage. Was it possible she doesn’t remember the tattoos? Could she have been in some kind of fugue state and now she’ll look in the mirror and freak out? He wanted to keep her calm, sane, and get her to a doctor. He was considering getting her out under some pretext like Starbucks and driving instead to the hospital up Route 11.
She wasn’t eating her food.
“Aren’t you hungry?”
“How do you feel?”
A knowing smile. “I’m fine Tony. I know you’re concerned. You’re thinking maybe I’ll be the same old Aimee and you want to take me to see a psychologist. But I’ll never be the same. Once you’ve reached a higher level and kicked away the ladder there’s no coming back. Get used to it.”
His frustration returned, hopes vanished. He had an impulse to lunge at her, pick her up in a bear hug and carry her out to his truck and drive off.
She took his hand, “I have another idea.”
Anthony was wary as she stood up and came around to him. She turned him in his seat to face her, then took off her bra and panties and got on him like a lap dancer. She kissed him slowly, warmly, with a passion he couldn’t remember her having. Then she unzipped his pants.
She was usually overly neurotic about anybody seeing her even partially undressed through a window. Now she was naked, on her knees, performing oral sex in front of the huge French doors with the neighbor’s house within sight. Anthony was more concerned, looking outside groggily but seeing no spectators.
For the rest of the morning and into the afternoon they had sex and lay in bed. It was more sex than Anthony had ever had in a month. It was like she was his wife but also not. He had been a faithful husband for twelve years and now he was having sex with another woman who was technically still his wife. He wondered if it was her intention to have him embrace this new Aimee and their new life, one of adventure, fascistic communism, and copious sex.
Aimee fluctuated between bouts of sensual energy and distracted sleepiness, but by late afternoon they both fell into a peaceful deep sleep. Anthony woke up at eight o’clock to send an email to work saying he wouldn’t be in the next day. Back in the bedroom he sat in the $4,000 armchair the old Aimee bought last year. For a while he watched her sleeping soundly, thought she looked like a kid crashed out after a night at the fair where she had gotten her face painted. He thought about her destroying the car, the phones, her anti-materialistic flip-flop, her newfound political idealism—if you can call it that. Maybe she’s right, he thought, maybe they do need to change everything. Maybe she hadn’t been happy before when she was buying the armchairs and going to lunch with the girls. He felt confused himself, couldn’t tell now how much of her outburst was some kind of clinical insanity and how much was an over-the-top emotional breakdown that could have been brewing for a long time. But no, the tattoos, the phones, the thing in the garage. Something was wrong. He was starting to feel depressed about the whole thing so he got back in bed and after a while fell asleep.
The next morning she was gone. He went to call her but remembered he had no phone. When he checked the land line it was dead. He checked everywhere: she was nowhere in the house and everything was as they left it last night. But her car was gone.
He got into his truck and like he had on Saturday, drove to the shopping plaza then toward town, scanning for her small yellow car. As soon as he crossed over the pike he spotted the police car lights down near the water. This time he knew it had something to do with Aimee. When the road dead-ended at Bay Road, he turned right and headed to the flashing lights. An ambulance with its lights off passed him going the other way, its engine roaring against the steepness of the hill.
That was when he knew Aimee was dead. He called her name. He wiped the tears from his face with the palm of his hand. Up ahead an old cop stood in front of a barricade, waving traffic away from the closed road. Anthony stopped his car and got out. The cop was coming toward him telling him he couldn’t stop there. Over his shoulder Anthony saw down by the water a scuba diver dressed in black with a bright yellow oxygen tank on his back. Behind him, a tow truck backed up to the water and being raised onto its back was Aimee’s battered, dripping Mini Cooper.
Next Chapter: Chapter Five: Rayne