Chapter Twelve: The Decision
I don't use drugs, my dreams are frightening enough.
M. C. Escher
Rayne and I walked home from the Hairpin after a long, tension-filled day. Four hours had passed since I had awoken to Sari plying my neighbor with beer to get information, followed by abetting her trespassing on a suicide’s property for the purpose of spying. Then we played cat and mouse with our own stalker, whom when confronted turned out to be a gargantuan Slavic barbarian who didn’t think it was worth his time to put me in the hospital when he easily could have. Then off to another suicide’s where I made my new girlfriend Rayne cry when I demanded answers. Finally settling in at the Hairpin, and just as I was getting somewhere with Sari, there appears her old nerd intern named Kyle who was blackmailing her because—it turns out—she stole this wonder drug from where she used to work and is now on the lam. Somehow Kyle found her and she had to buy him off with a measure of the drug so he wouldn’t call the cops on her. By that point Sari was through with the subterfuge and opened up about everything. Like about the drug. Did I want to top off the first half of this fifth day of summer vacation with the ingestion of a hallucinogen?
In the basement I again said no to the drug. She had made it sound tempting, made me feel like a prude after she reiterated its innocuousness, how everybody tries it, what’s the harm?
“Maybe some other time. I just want to go home and chill.”
Sari said nothing, cocked her head slightly as if writing off any potential she had seen in Rayne’s new boyfriend.
I also had the feeling that partaking would somehow further implicate me in this criminal behavior, which to her seemed quotidian and second nature. But I also didn’t want to leave her with the impression that I was a wuss, an unadventurous bore afraid to breach my comfort zone. And I didn’t want to be rude. I added lamely, “So maybe we can do it one of these nights. Summer’s just starting.”
She was off us, flicking switches and prepping chemistry equipment at her work station as if we had already left. “Whenever you want to, you know where to find me.”
Rayne remained taciturn and I started worrying that I had damaged our relationship so early on by demanding to be in the loop about things. Or was she upset about the drug situation? That Kyle had showed, that Sari offered it to me? Is she ashamed of her involvement?
We were shambling down the blocks to my place with the hurried impatience of not wanting to deal with the space between point A and point B.
I asked her if she was okay.
“Yeah, I just want to take a nap. What a day.”
“Is a day with Sari always like that?”
“Yes,” she said with no hesitation. “You can’t say I didn’t warn you.”
We said nothing else. Rayne plopped her purse on the floor and kicked off her sneakers inside the door, then went upstairs and got in bed. She didn’t seem like she wanted company so I lay on the couch downstairs and propped open Moby Dick on my chest. Within a paragraph I started nodding out, my grip slackening, and its heft face-planted itself below my face, the tome wearied by a century and a half of people struggling with it.
Rayne woke first and came down onto the couch and cuddled with me. I woke from meandering dreams of Slavs and Sari and funerals of the victims of suicide. At one point we were all milling about on a kind of floating dock in the middle of a lake. Around the dock swam huge bears and stingrays. My feet were getting wet and I was worried about somebody falling in the water where the dangerous animals encircled. And couldn’t those bears just climb up with us? Nobody else seemed too concerned.
As the fog of sleep cleared, I thought about the drug and Rayne’s involvement. I was replaying the scene in the basement: the lunch box, the hidden lab, Sari’s offer to try it. “What’s up with that lunch box? Is Sari into comics?”
Rayne had her head on my chest. She didn’t move, but said with the heaviness of her sleep not entirely dissipated, “It’s Kyle’s.”
“So Sari stole this drug and his lunch box?”
“That was Sari’s idea to get the drug out of the building so it she wouldn’t be suspect. Get Kyle to carry it out for her. He’s a man of routine. After lunch he always goes to the bathroom at the same time. While he was gone she replaced his Thermos and Tupperware container with the test tubes, made sure it weighed the same, knew he’d have no reason to look in there until he got home. ”
“Wow, that’s clever… almost ingenious.”
I was thinking through the steps of the plot. “So how’d she get the lunch box after he left?”
She propped herself up on her elbow and looked me in the eye to enjoy my reaction. “She let the air out of her tire and asked Kyle to help her. She knew he was all geeked out with tools in his van and would help the damsel in distress. She expected him to remove the tire and bring her to the gas station but he had a portable pump in the van and fixed it right there.”
“Ha, of course. So what did she do?”
“Sari’s like, shit, plan B. She insists that she take him out for a beer for helping her, hoping to snag the lunch box while they’re out. He won’t go, says he’s got to get home to his dog or something. She finally convinces him,”—at this Rayne’s eyebrows were as high as they’d go, reliving her shock at Sari’s audacity—”by telling her that I’d be joining them. We’d met once at a holiday party Sari took me to and Kyle kept asking her about me—if I was single et cetera. So Sari implies that I might have interest in that creep.”
I was laughing, “She really is ruthless.”
“Yeah, and coincidentally I was on my way down for the weekend. This was like a month ago. Sari had already met Jerry and decided this town would be her hiding place and work place. I went innocently enough with promises of a girl’s night out. So she calls me and tells me to meet her at some bar north of here. She leaves me at the bar with him, pretends to go to the restroom, but goes out to his van and takes the lunch box. Puts it in my car.”
“So that means you’re an accomplice to the theft.”
“Right. Sari says there was an all-out investigation. She got it out of him today. That they didn’t go to the cops, used some private investigators. Kyle had noticed his lunch box was gone as soon as he went home, actually went back to work for it. He found his Thermos there, eventually figured out Sari’s scheme. I suspect he half expected her to do something like that.”
“So what happened?”
“He tells the bosses and they get this private firm to investigate, to gather evidence. They even dusted his damn van for prints. They need to connect Sari to the theft if they’re going to go to the real cops, or at least threaten to do so. And I’m pretty sure I touched the van when we left. Kyle wanted to show me his van full of tools, how manly and resourceful he is.”
I almost gasped. “So that’s why you were so upset about the fingerprinting next year.”
“Right. As it is my prints aren’t in the system, never been arrested before. Sari says she’d deny she was ever in the van, that any of it ever happened. She made sure not to touch anything. But I didn’t know…”
“Has she always been such a master criminal?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Maybe she’s on that drug.”
“Did you try it?”
“Sure did. A few times.”
“Is it everything that Sari says it is?”
Rayne nodded her head slowly, “It’s pretty incredible.”
“No bad side effects?”
“Maybe a little moodiness when you come down from it. Grumpiness. Not quite depression but a little sadness that it’s over. You know, like the last day of summer before we have to go back.”
I was imagining Rayne on the drug and the image came of Rayne acting weird in the park. “Wait, so were you on it when I first ran into you in the park?”
“Yeah, I was coming down from it. We’d done it the night before and went out all night.”
In my mind I was fast-forwarding through everything we had done since that morning I saw her, reviewing her and her behavior in light of this drug. Such preoccupations only made me more paranoid, made me question everything about Rayne and our relationship. It was a destructive avenue of thought to take.
We lay there in silence and I bit the inside of my lip, looked at the ceiling tiles as my brain sorted things out. Rayne’s use of this drug was gnawing at me deep down. She had used it who knows how many times and seemed to have enjoyed it. Sweet, nerdy Rayne using this hallucinogen. She seemed corrupted, led to the dark side by her sorceress sister. It rankled the puritan in me who grew up around church folk and subscribed to clean living and self-control. That I hadn’t left all that behind and still had this abstemious fascist at my core was not something I would admit to anybody—not even myself, my hip and urbane liberal self. But there it was, the straitlaced Bible boy deep in me that wanted to shun, to condemn license and decadent living, to grip the stone with righteous and purgative intent.
Rayne asked, “So were you serious about trying some?”
My reflex was to remain noncommittal. “I dunno.”
She didn’t say anything else about it.
Neither of us moved for a while and I thought she might have fallen asleep again. But then her hand crept up my stomach and rubbed my chest. She began inching her face up toward mine, pressing herself against me. We kissed for a while and locked amorous eyes. Hers showed arousal, lust. My fading church boy that had just come out caught glimpses of a siren, maybe the harlot—but now it was erotic, not neurotic. Our unspoken roles on that lazy afternoon were to be seductress and recipient. She took off all her clothes, but removed mine only partially. We did it there within the confines of the couch with me remaining on my back the entire time. She was in charge, this was her show, making love to me in her own slightly greedy way.
Afterwards she went up and showered. I remained there, feeling great again. All the Sari and drug criminality stuff, the tensions and distance between Rayne and I, all that had retreated into our background and what remained was a summer afternoon with no greater concern than where we would go for dinner that night.
When I heard the shower had turned off and she was dressing in our bedroom I went up and showered in turn, budgeting out my time until the remaining hot water inevitably ran out. I swarmed with positive energy over my Leuschner research, my Melville ambitions, the prospect of a good bike ride. Yes, things were good. Maybe trying that drug wouldn’t be the worst thing. It might be an antidote to my bouts of summer languor, light a fire under my sorry academic ass. If it was everything they claimed it might infuse my Leuschner studies with some needed fresh air. What could it hurt? By the time the water ran cold I had decided I would try it. I would maintain my aloof attitude toward it though—act indifferent. I wouldn’t announce my intentions, be overly eager, but let things take their course. No rush. Like Sari said, we knew where to find her.
The combination of a timely nap, lusty sex and some resolution in my mind over trying this drug allowed Rayne and I to press reset on our still formative relationship. She excavated from her unpacked suitcase a cute dress which she ironed and we went to a nice restaurant, a small one in the old part of town called El Picador which served wine-paired tapas. We managed to go through the entire evening without talking about Sari or her drug or the people killing themselves all over the town. Instead we talked about current deplorable politics and our mutual fantasies of living in Europe away from it all, of what careers we might have outside teaching. She dug into my past girlfriends, my days as a younger man in Philly. I told her about LeAnne and how psycho she was. I hadn’t intended on telling her—hadn’t really discussed LeAnne with anybody before—and I was surprised by how much it pained me to get the words out, to admit to another and somehow make more real this ignoble situation I had once found myself in. It was as if I was talking about somebody else.
Rayne must have sensed my embarrassment over it so she shared her relationship war story. She had a serious relationship with a man she’d met in college named Josh. It seemed like they were on their way to getting married when he started getting too friendly with his sister’s friend. They fought over whether it was weird he did things with her socially, even going to the movies one evening with her when Rayne had a grad class. Rayne thought this woman was interested in Josh and that he might have even cheated on her. When he wouldn’t refuse to see this “friend” any longer Rayne called their relationship quits. She never found out how Josh ended up or if he went out with that woman. She didn’t want to know.
We watched the sunset from a bench at the edge of the park, held hands, pecked each other with kisses. We sat there until a family showed up with whiny young kids whose ice cream cones were melting down their arms. That spoiled our romantic spell so we got walking again, took a roundabout way homeward. The evening was warm and we walked holding hands with our sunglasses shielding us against the lowering orange to the west that was in no hurry to give up the day.
We hadn’t gotten over the canal bridge when a car stopped next to us and a voice said, “You guys need a ride?” It was a sunglassed Sari smiling from the open window of her bimmer.
Rayne answered, “No Sari, can’t you see we’re having a romantic walk in the sunset?”
Sari said, “Aww…” not even kind of sincerely, then asked, “What are you guys going to do now?”
Rayne looked at me and I shrugged because I really didn’t have any idea.
Rayne in turn shrugged to Sari.
Sari smiled, “Mind if I come over for a visit?”
Rayne reverted to a teenage teasing tone, “Why, is Jerry still off with his wife?”
I felt obligated to be polite said, “Sure Sari, we’d be glad to have you over.”
“Okay kids, take your time. I’ll be over in like an hour.”
We were quiet for a bit after Sari drove off. She had the same mood-altering effect as those kids with the ice cream. We had an unblemished evening so I couldn’t really complain. We had to come back to reality some time. There was no escaping Sari. I was wondering again about the drug, if she was going to offer it to me tonight.
I asked Rayne, “Why is she so interested in getting me to try that drug?”
“She needs guinea pigs. She hasn’t tried it on many people—but don’t tell her I said that, she’d take it as a professional rebuke. She doesn’t like any doubts raised about her miracle drug.”
“Is there any reason to think it won’t work on some people or that they might have a bad reaction?”
“No, it’s not that, it’s more that different people react differently to it. Has a lot to do with your personality, your psyche. How open you are to the psychotherapeutic aspects. She’s testing its consistency. The more people that try it, the better.”
“Makes sense. Maybe I should try it then. Be a guinea pig for her.”
Rayne didn’t have much of a reaction, simply said, “She’d be tickled if you did.”
We got home and poured ourselves a glass of wine. I got a glass out for Sari but wasn’t going to fill it yet. Just then I heard Rayne saying something to her as she arrived so I poured it and met her at the door with it.
“Well thank you Cliff. I began the day here with a can of cheap beer, now I end it with…” she sipped it, “a Pinot Noir?”
Sari sat on the recliner and set her wine in front of her on the glass-topped coffee table. It made the distinct tapping sound of glass on glass, like a quickly muted gong. Rayne and I sat on the couch and we small-talked about the restaurant we had been to.
Then Sari got right to it. “Have you given any thought to trying the Mix Cliff?”
I held back a laugh at her abruptness and single-mindedness over it.
“I have and you know, I’ve decided to go for it.”
She smiled like a kid that gets to play with their new favorite toy, “Okay, great.” She picked up her small purse from the floor and from it took a small metal tin of breath mints. She opened it and from within took a small plastic bag filled with white powder. A tickle went through my nerves at the sight of it, a deja vu of those Dean days in the city. How corrupt we were, what deviants!
Sari pushed aside some magazines and books then wiped an area of the glass with a tissue. “Do you happen to have any drinking straws?”
“I think so.” I went into the kitchen and found some in a drawer.
While I got them Sari was saying, “I’m sorry we have to snort it—it’s so louche—but at this stage in its development I can’t make pills. But some day…”
I returned with some spare fast-food straws still wrapped in paper.
Sari cringed apologetically, “Scissors?”
I returned to the kitchen and retrieved kitchen scissors.
Sari was was peeling off the straws’ paper wrappers as if they were candy canes, not stabbing them on the table to husk them like I always did. “Wow they really make the diameters on these things huge nowadays. Greater the diameter, the more soda people can slurp down I suppose.” She cut each straw in half.
As she talked she used a credit card to portion out three white lines of powder. “This is going to be a guided experience, Cliff. One needs a coach to focus and guide experience. That’s me. I’m going to ask you to think of a frustrating dream, preferably one that keeps repeating itself. Preferably one based on actual experiences. I’ve found such dreams offer just the kind of deep-seated neuroses which we can work on. The more haunting the dream the better.” She smiled at herself, “Trust me, I have advanced degrees in dime store psychology.”
I was mulling frustrating dreams for a bit, decided that the unconsummated sex dream category was out of the question.
Sari helped me out, “So Rayne, why don’t you tell him what your dream was.”
“Okay, so I always had these dreams where I was with people in a normal setting but there was a large cat—a lion or a tiger usually—and although I’m freaking out everybody else is acting normal as if it wasn’t there. In the dream I’m thinking everybody is insane or foolish. Don’t they see this deadly wild animal? Don’t they care? I think it was because as a kid I went to one of those drive-thru Great Adventure safaris and was freaked out that these animals were the ones loose and we were confined by our car. And people would not be worried, roll their window down. An ostrich got its head in our car and scared the crap out of me. Everybody else thought it was funny, but to me it was an invasive species, invasive to our relatively safe world."
Sari let Rayne finish then explained, “Under the drug we put Rayne in one of those situations, she visualized the lion prowling through the picnic, made others cognizant of the danger and Rayne the lion tamer caged the animal and had it sent away to where it belongs.”
I asked Rayne, “Did it work?”
“Totally. Haven’t had that dream since and I feel closure about it.”
Sari continued, “So we’re not solving the deep-rooted psychological issues at their cause but we’re owning them by taking control of them in their current manifestation.”
“Like in lucid dreaming.”
“Yes, exactly like that. But lucid dreaming is hard to do. With the Mix you can create such a controllable dream state immediately.”
“Okay, I think I have the perfect dream.”
“Great, let’s hear it.” She held her knee up in interlaced hands and leaned back attentively.
“When I was a kid—I don’t know if you know, but I was a foster kid—my foster father bought me a race track for Christmas one year. It was one of those things you snapped together the black track and plugged it in. It was your basic piece of junk from the local Kmart. On the box there were pictures of kids playing it and the cars looked real, and they zipped around like real miniature race cars. Probably TV commercials made it look cool too. But when I put it together and tried it the cars would fly off the track at the turns unless you slowed down and almost stopped. There was little control over the speed. It was either flooring it or stopping it. I’d rarely get it to go around more than once without the damn things flying off. The worst part though was that my dad would watch me play with it, all smiley and proud, like he was almost jealous that he wasn’t a kid, but happy for me. I tried to keep the cars on but they’d fly off. Dad laughed at it, as if the fun were in the cars crashing, but for me it was torment, a hell of not being able to do it right. There I was accelerating the fucking cars, and them lurching forward, tumbling off at the turn. I can still hear that plastic sound they made crashing onto the linoleum. I wasn’t bothered so much by it not working like we expected it to, but more that I felt it reflected on me not being worthy, that I was defective, not the track, that I was failing at being a son in his eyes and behind his smile he was groaning, thinking I get this kid something special and look how it ends up.”
I stopped and took a few breaths because I had gotten worked up about it. The girls didn’t speak, didn’t move, just waited me out.
“So that’s the dream I have constantly. I’m playing with that god-damned racetrack and this time I’m going to be able to do it right, the cars will stay on and my dad will see how good I am. But no, the fuckers go flying off, nothing works right and the whole time I can feel him looking back there, expecting me to get it right.”
We all sat there for half a minute in silence.
“Fantastic,” Sari finally said, “That’s perfect. Now let’s do our line and we’ll get started.” She tossed her hair over to the one side of her head and leaned down with the straw in front of her nose. With her head turned like that it was as if she were listening carefully to the tabletop, but then the slightest puff and the line disappeared up her tiny nose.
I bent over, put the straw in my nose and inhaled the white line forcefully. To me it felt like a Friday night in 1999.