I couldn't see or speak, but I could hear footsteps creeping toward my hospital bed. Slower than careful, they sounded evil. My heart pounded, I swear, though I couldn't feel it. The steps inched closer—and vanished when my favorite nurse's squeaky shoes started down the hall to my room.
"Hey, girl," she said, nearing my bed.
Swirls of creamy blue and yellow filled my head as she rolled me like a log in water. If only I could ask about those footsteps. I know she'd tell. I'd been lying in Downtown Hospital long enough to know who cared. Other nurses never spoke when they turned me, just ambushed. For my comfort, maybe, but I never felt comfortable—or anything else. I couldn't feel a thing.
I wished I could see. Everyone kept raving about my view of the Brooklyn Bridge while I wanted to look west to Tribeca, our apartment in 7 Herbert near the Holland Tunnel. I wanted to hang on our terrace and watch the sun set on New Jersey.
My favorite's shoes squeaked out of the room, fading down the corridor.
After the bathroom door creaked, those other steps returned. I would've stopped breathing if the ventilator had let me. The feet did stop, waiting.
Then they came toward me—crap, where was she?
I heard a faint thrum …
It was Dad—his fingers drumming his chest. Matching that sound to a face without visuals, like his gray hair or tatty Velvet Underground T-shirt, wasn't easy. Not that I'd had loads of practice.
"Mornin', Mr. Lockes," said my favorite as her shoes squeaked back into my room. Dad must've pulled out an ear bud, because Lou Reed's voice was spilling out as she added, "Your girl's feelin' good today. Don't be surprised if she starts movin'."
"Shokeela, Mr. Lockes. Same as yesterday an' the day before."
"Right. Sho-kee-la," he repeated, like that would help him remember.
"Visitors comin', baby," she said close to my ear as she adjusted something. "So let's moisten those eyes, in case you gonna see." A moment later, she explained she was closing my lids. I liked to think she stroked my cheek, maybe laid a hand on my arm. Not that I'd know. Cloth rustled and a cord flapped against something metal. "I'm gonna comb back that hair, show your pretty face." Comb? My hair was way too long for—oh my god, they must have chopped it all off. Shit.
When Shokeela murmured, "Alright, baby, you lookin' good," I caught the scrape of a chair and pictured Dad pushing it farther back, to casual-acquaintance distance. A second later I heard tinny, ancient rock. He must've jacked the volume on his iPod to drown out the sounds of people actually working.
"What time is it?" Dad asked, loud, like he didn't bother removing the earpiece.
"Almos' lunch, a quarter to one."
Focused on a mystery sound—Dad's stomach rumbling?—and her shoes squeaking out of the room, I didn't expect what came next.
"Mr. Rambellais-Lockes?" The unknown voice swirled into my head in a mix of faded rose and murky blue.
"Just Lockes," he said, irritated. So typical that he'd get annoyed at people messing up his name when he never remembered anyone else's.
"I'm sorry. Obviously I had your daughter, Ecstasy, in mind—"
"And I don't?"
The fake outrage in his voice made it lucky for Dad I couldn't laugh. Keeping me in mind usually meant keeping an eye out while he stole one of my Oxys.
"No, of course. It's the caseload. This is my ninth patient already today—"
"So save yourself time—go."
But she said my name. I wanted her to stay.
"Is Ms. Rambellais here?"
"Do you see her?" I pictured the sweep of an arm that would accompany his sarcasm.
"I'll come back. I need both your signatures."
"Signatures? What for?"
Her footsteps already gone, the music vanished next. Dad had plugged in again.
Last New Year's Eve, I'd been leaning against the pipe railing that ran around our fourth-floor terrace at 7 Herbert Street. The sky was black, freezing rain falling hard. Leftover Christmas tree lights twinkled in windows blocks away. I'd been waiting forever like that dog carved on the old American Express building across the street. Glancing west down Laight, I could just make out that white building across the Hudson that looked like a dog. I zipped up the sequined-and-studded gold jacket, a relic of my mother's glam rock days.
Dad cracked open a French door from the dining room.
"Ecs," he said, "you're scaring me."
"What else is new?" After fifteen years, Dad needed to get the fuck over it.
The terrace was icy—perfect. My mother, famously successful Judy Rambellais, needed to be sorry forever. Breaking a hip wouldn't be punishment enough for what she'd done to Quigley.
She'd never liked my parrot. The first time she announced he had to go, I reminded her I'd bought him with my own money. Quigley was worth every penny. In two hours, I taught him to say "Judy sucks." I made that the ring tone for when she called. She probably dumped that phone along with my other stuff. It didn't include Quigley, but I'll get to that.
I taught him to speak only to her. She'd come into the apartment, and from my room, loud and clear, would hear "Judy's from New Jersey" or "Judy's a total fuck." Quigley kept me laughing.
At first, a red-and-green parrot swooping through our all-white apartment impressed even Judy. That ended the afternoon he pooped on her favorite billionaire designer, killing any chance he'd ever buy from her again. Dad's response? He bought a palm tree, thinking Quigley would hang there, but Quig ignored it. Anyway, it died.
It was months before my mother noticed Quig had also crapped on her million-dollar portrait by that English guy who'd made her look like a dead, cross-dressing hooker. Judy about had a heart attack and called a conservator from MOMA to deal with it. He got the shit off, which doesn't explain why she swore us to secrecy. She'd say it was so she could control the flow of information.
Best, though, was the night of her gallery opening for some asshole who was supposed to be the next Damien Hirst. Our maid, Carmen, left Judy's clothes hanging on her closet door as usual. I let Quig out, chasing him around the apartment until he let loose a crap as big as a fist down the front of her silk Versace. When she saw it, she started screaming.
"Cut it out and frame it," I told her. "It looks exactly like that shit you're selling."
"I will kill that fucking bird."
"Over my dead body," I said. She didn't wait that long.
It took me a while to catch the sound of Downtown Hospital's elevator. The ping when it arrived was hard to hear from my room, unless it announced my mother. Then it boomed like a gong. Since I'd landed here, her noises sounded ten times louder than anyone else's. That's how I heard her feet hesitate when she got off the elevator. She probably couldn't remember whether to go left or right.
"Where's that woman?" she demanded, her Christian Louboutin's clacking into the room.
Dad, ear bud out with what he called his "suicide music" playing, said, "She left."
"Left?" Judy's Bulgari bracelets crashed like cymbals. I wondered if she still wore Proenza Schouler or had reverted to Dolce & Gabbana. "Get her back here," she ordered Dad.
"Why me?" I guess he'd taken over my role: pissed-off, fifteen.
"You know what she looks like—go." A familiar hum announced a text on her phone. Dad mostly used his to watch porn.
Sixteen or seventeen texts later, I heard him return with that lady, Rose-and-Blue.
"What the hell, Judy."
Dad, angry at her? It was usually the other way round. Rose-and-Blue must have said whatever set him off, but what?
"About moving her to chronic care in Long Island," he said, "not killing her."
Jesus. My parents were fighting over whether to kill me.
Thoughts slammed around my head like pinballs where no bells sounded and nothing lit up. With my senses gone, it was like they didn't really count. I was desperate to feel them somewhere.
"Look at her, Dennis," she said to him.
"She's not dead."
"Oh, right, like you'll be having a heart-to-heart anytime soon. Go ahead, tell us what you'd planned for her birthday."
July fourteenth—shit, I'd been here six months? Thoughts ricocheted faster now, but were almost meaningless; my nerves couldn't send them anywhere useful.
"Mr. and Mrs. Lockes—"
"I am not Mrs. Lockes." That always iced Judy. She said she fought too hard for success to share by answering to his name.
"Whatever, let her say what she's here to say." I heard Dad flop into the chair.
Rose-and-Blue said, "My name is Marbeline Franks. I'm here to speak about your daughter, Ecstasy, and your choices."
"Get on with it." Mother, always impatient.
"Dr. Helmer will bring you up to date on Ecstasy's status," Marbeline Franks began. Her swirling colors distracted me until I heard her say, "I'll be right back with the doctor." Her footsteps faded down the corridor.
"Jude, we can't do this." Dad sounded desperate. "That's why we need to … not pull the plug," he said, and my brain froze. "I mean, even Long Island. We'll never see her."
"That's bullshit, Dennis. You've got plenty of photos, and they look more like her than this does." I could imagine her hand aiming at me, palm open, as if toward a wasted effort.
"Stop, Ecs has—"
"You stop! I'm the one working my ass off, not you," she said. "That body will suck every penny I make. What happens then? Are you going to live in a box on the street? Go ahead, but no way am I going to do that."
"Jude," he said, and she exhaled an angry sigh. "No, I'm working on a new book."
"Oh my god, hell's frozen over."
"It's about my time in a coma—"
"She's in the coma, badass, not you."
"I'll incorporate Bucky's trip, that Oz debacle featuring the Wicked Witch? It's based on that time I—"
"You were unconscious for two days."
"Yes, and came back. I can write about that using Ecs."
Great. He wanted to make money off me like that novel he wrote using his friend's drug escapades. Dad had logged them all—oh my god. He was the one creeping around this morning. I wanted nothing more than to feel every ounce of fury.
"Dr. Helmer, this is Judy Rambellais and Dennis Lockes, Ecstasy's parents." Marbeline Franks made the introductions sounding proud, like she knew who Judy was, the creep.
"Will she wake up?" Dad, wanting to hear how his book would end.
"It's impossible to say." The doctor's voice was a dirty swirl of peach, maroon, and gray.
"A caloric reflex test confirmed the brainstem remains largely intact, but—"
"What does that mean?" asked my mother.
"The brainstem is largely intact," said the doctor, gray totally taking over.
"Don't repeat, clarify—you get paid enough," Judy's voice boomed.
"Let's step into the hall." Peach, giant stabs of peach.
"All right, but remember, I've got a decision to make."
"We've got," muttered Dad, as I heard them leave the room, "a decision." One guess who wore the leather pants in our family. Our alpha dog was an alpha bitch. I hated when she threw her weight around.
"Your daughter's skin conductance response is inconclusive. The DBS testing—"
"What?" My parents spoke, for once, in unison. Their idea of a whisper was little short of a shout, or my hearing was better than ever.
"Deep brain stimulation—"
"What the insurance made me pay twenty thousand dollars of," said my mother with sudden and bitter understanding. "Cut to the chase—isn't she as good as dead?"
I heard that loud and clear. Thanks a lot, Jude.
When the doctor said, "Let me show you," everything flared smoky gray before swirling into bile green, orange, and taupe as they trooped back into the room. I should have felt sick, but couldn't—and something else was going on.
"Look, her hand, it moved!" Dad. I bet he was thrilled for his book, the asshole.
"Fuck." My mother's one, almost inaudible word hit my ears like a scream of wrath.
"This is perfect," yammered Dad, "she's coming to! Hey, Ecs, I was out on the terrace yesterday, looking at that building across the Hudson. The one that looks like the white dog's head with his ears perked up, and I remembered how you and Judy—"
Machine gun fire sounded. Everyone went dead silent before the doctor said, "Yes?" His one-sided conversation told me that was his ringtone. After the call, he said, "You need to consider more than one random movement when making your decision. I have an emergency, but I'll be around later if you have questions."
This is an emergency to me, I wanted to scream as I heard Marbeline Franks trot after him.
"That was cool," said Dad. "About the final chapter—the book's, Ecs, not yours—"
"Shut the fuck up, Denny."
"No, I'll write this girl standing by the railing, glaring as her mother gets closer—"
No need to tell us, Dad. We were there.
"She killed herself." Judy bit off each syllable.
"She was trying to make you understand—" Dad, having wound himself up, needed to let it out, but Judy would make sure he didn't.
"That's absurd, Dennis, like you believing she cut herself for fun."
"She was getting better," he insisted.
"She was on every med known to man, who knows how much booze, and even more drugs than you."
Okay, that was funny. Judy started me on diet pills after her friend said I looked chubby.
"She loves us!" Dad, self-righteous.
"Not for years. It's over, Denny."
"No, no way. You saw her move!" Dad's shouting brought Marbeline Franks on the run.
"Mr. and Mrs. Loc—Mr. Ram, uh, both of you, why don't you take a break? Ecstasy isn't scheduled to be moved until Friday."
Moved? I was going?
"It'll be easier if you take a little time to think things over. Let's meet again tomorrow."
"We decide this now," growled Judy after Marbeline Franks left the room.
"She moved, Jude. How can you pull the plug, knowing that?" My favorite squeaky shoes walked in.
" 'Scuse me, Mr. Lockes, ma'am. You might wanna head down the hall while I clean up your girl."
I could have killed Shokeela. She was sending them out when I needed to hear—fuck. Long Island meant getting parked in some shithole where they wouldn't change my diaper; I'd get bedsores, and be raped over and over until someone noticed I was eight months pregnant.
Judy's Louboutins hammered across the polished floor, Dad right behind them.
"That's how the book'll end," he said, excited like he'd snagged something for free at the supermarket or his gym. "The girl is standing by the railing, and you decide—"
"Shut up." Menace made her voice deep as a man's. I could picture her stopping him at the doorway, poking a finger into his chest.
"Jude, I have to use it. It's perfect."
"I'm warning you, Denny."
Jagged lines of green and red—Quigley! The idea of him rushed at me a second before everything turned the color of shit.
That night I waited for my mother, freezing my ass off on our terrace, was exactly a year after the worst of it started. I'd spent that New Year's Eve uptown, partying with friends. When I woke at home a couple of days later, I realized Quigley wasn't in his cage—this Brazilian cherry thing with bamboo slats made by one of Judy's art slaves. Whoever designed it clearly didn't understand parrots, because it was way too easy for Quig to escape. When he did, our maid, Carmen, would panic, which made no sense. There must be heaps of parrots in Nicaragua.
Two lattes and a Ritalin later, I still hadn't found Quig. I didn't believe Judy when she said the window cleaners had been in, but Super Mario, our building's super, confirmed it. I wanted to check for Quigley in the other apartments. Super Mario said he'd handle it, but Quig never turned up. He was gone, and I didn't even have a photo; I lost that phone at a club.
So there I was, a year later, hanging with the same friends for New Year's. The guys were laughing at weird shit on the internet. I must've nodded off, but Parker said, "Hey, Ecs, don't you have one of these?"
Stupid me—I looked and saw a parrot suspended in yellow liquid. Titled "Saint Sebastian," its head was tilted to one side, and little arrows were stuck through it. Sick, I thought, because it looked so much like Quigley. His claws were even painted red- and-yellow, exactly how I'd painted Quig's the year before …
When I saw the artist was that guy who'd had his opening at Judy's gallery the night Quig crapped on her dress, I spewed before I could think. As mad as Parker was—I puked down his back—I made him print me the photo before I got a cab home.
Judy wasn't there. I told Dad to find her. I was jumping.
"FOR chrissake, Ecs, you pull me out of Mary Kate's party for this?" Judy shivered in chartreuse pashmina and black sequins as she stepped onto the terrace.
"You killed him!" I held out the photo of my martyred Quigley.
"Look at that," she said. "Beyond making shit, he made art."
"No, made into art. It's completely different." What I'd hidden behind the high concrete planter here on the terrace would prove it.
"Shut up, Ecs, and get inside. You're ruining that"—Judy's glam rock jacket—"and I need to get back. It's almost New Year's."
Judy started to leave, but a loud crack stopped her in her tracks. Looking back, she saw the frame I'd smacked down onto the dark, icy terrace.
"What the fuck?" The metal frame held her first major purchase, a Warhol silkscreen.
"I'll kill you!"
Before she could, I flung it over the railing.
"Aaargh!" When she came at me, sliding across the terrace in her Jimmy Choo's, I tossed the Basquiat, then her Keith Haring and—
Judy smacked me so hard I spun over the ice, into the planter. My feet slipped out from under me, and my head bounced off the top rung of the terrace railing.
"You crazy fucking bitch!" She turned toward the dining room, screaming above a sudden eruption of New Year noisemaking, "Dennis, get my paintings— now!"
While she screamed, I grabbed for the planter to pull myself up, but she yanked me away from it in fury, kicking hard with her spike-toed shoes. I pushed at her as I struggled to get away. When she skidded and almost fell, I clawed at the railing and got to my feet. I was turning to run inside when she let loose a growl that froze me in my tracks.
As if in slow motion replay, I watched her come at me like a rabid dog. She shoved me so hard, my hips slammed the top rail before my feet sailed over my head. Christmas lights near Tribeca Cinema shone from a window that was upside down. Cobblestones glistened below me like a moonlit stream …
After bouncing off a passing taxi, I landed near a blue message I'd seen chalked that week on the sidewalk: "Happiness," with an arrow pointing northeast.
That scene where I became "Teenage Victim of Tragic Accident" was history. I could tell from hearing the ventilator's click- woosh- poh-click- woosh-poh that I was still in Downtown Hospital, where the voices around me swirled with color so fast I couldn't make sense of them. That had to be because I could move, all of me, easy as could be.
Then I caught Dad's, "No, you have to save her!"
"Code blue," Shokeela called out, "code blue!"
Judy screamed words—imperceptible to the others, I'm sure— but when I heard them, the colors all changed.
"C'mon, baby," urged my favorite. "Hang on, stay with Shokeela now."
Her words bathed me while everything billowed into shimmering ice blue, yellow as pale as a January sun, white brighter than any I'd ever seen.
Copyright © 2014 Kate Lincoln. From Sisters in Crime anthology, Family Matters: Murder New York Style.
Kate Lincoln works in alternative and surgical medicine, and her writings reflect insights gained from each. In 2013, her debut short story “The Eighth Cup” was named a runner-up in the First International Homeopathy Short Story Contest by the online journal Hpathy.com. “The July Rebellion,” which appears in Family Matters, a Murder New York Style mystery anthology from the New York/Tri-State chapter of Sisters in Crime, is her second work of short fiction. Works in progress include her second mystery novel and a middle grade book set in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy.