The Last Mess
My head is pounding as Jadsy straightens the throw rugs and vacuums the errant crumbs that still remain on them. She is a perfectionist and does everything in a slow, methodical way. This time she is being extra careful I, myself, couldn't care less about the remnants of cake she is gathering with straight, consecutive strokes. Straighten, vacuum, repeat. Straighten, vacuum, repeat. There is a sort of rhythm to her work and it lulls me even further into the befuddled state I find myself in. Straighten, vacuum, repeat. Straighten, vacuum, repeat. The repetition going through my aching head also gives me a reminder of the state my stomach is in. Too much liquor has a way of doing that to someone who does not imbibe on a regular basis.
She throws a hurried glance my way as I lay on the sofa, feet propped up on the back cushions, head on the arm of the comfortable old piece that used to belong to the previous tenants. A mixture of blue and purple flowers with dusky green leaves adorn the couch giving the impression that Mr. and Mrs. Elliot who used to live here just might have been color blind. My arm is over my eyes to shield them from the light streaming through the window. I can just barely glimpse Jadsy through the open space made by my elbow. She clears her throat and looks my way again, this time holding her stare.
“You could help, you know?” I sense both irritation and sarcasm in her voice. I groan and sit up. I feel both disoriented and dizzy and I can't imagine my cleaning techniques to be up to her standards. Certainly not this morning
“What do you want me to do?” I ask, not really wanting to know. She sighs and comes to where I sit.
“Get a trash bag and fill it with whatever you find that wasn't here before the party. Paper plates, cups, napkins.” She sits next to me. Maybe she is still upset about what happened at the party. Looking back I mentally shudder, but she seems calm. “ I think the mini sandwiches turned out to be rather tasty don't you?” Is she trying to talk about mundane things on purpose?
I don't really have an opinion on mini sandwiches even when I am not battling a hangover. And right now all I can think of is Layla. Layla who got herself drunk on the excitement of landing her dream job as well as on the freely flowing drinks. Layla who danced too close and left the scent of her perfume on my shirt. Layla, who I knew I had to see again.
“The food was delicious.” I say trying to come up with a generic comment that doesn't reveal that I really don't care much about the contents of the buffet. Come to think of it, I don't really care much about anything right now except for Layla. I don't think it would be a good idea to mention it to Jadsy though so I get up and retrieve a trash bag from the kitchen and begin gathering the remnants of last nights party. I struggle to think of something that happened at the party that I can mention to make me appear interested, but only one thing comes to mind and Jadsy is obviously not the one to discuss it with. I made a big mistake I know, but when hard liquor mixes with the engaging advances of a beautiful woman, what's a man to do? For a moment I allow myself to think that Jadsy has forgotten it by now. That she really didn't see me ask for Layla's phone number, that she fails to remember the closeness that we shared on the dance floor. But I know Jadsy too well to imagine that she doesn't have every smile, every held hand, and the kiss that Layla gave me as she said good night etched in her memory.
I made a big mistake I know. A huge mistake that could result in the dissolution of a relationship. Not that I care that much anymore. It's the coming confrontation that I fear. How could I have been that stupid to do that in front of her. I watch Jadsy take the tablecloth from the buffet table and throw it in the corner, waiting to be washed. I doubt that some of those stains will ever come out, but I'm finding it difficult to imagine it really mattering. To me at least. She seems so calm, as though nothing is wrong while my insides are churning. Maybe she doesn't really care. So much the better. For her, anyway. But a thought is nibbling away at me that things will never really be okay for me again. And it's all my fault. But why does it seem so final?
A breakup is a breakup and nothing more. Except when Jadsy is involved. Her temper is volcanic and she has the ability to back even the strongest of individuals into a corner of surrender, trembling and struggling to breathe. Of course I didn't really have a break up in mind necessarily, but if she remembered last night she probably would.
“Help me move this table back to the kitchen,” she says as I tie the bag filled with the left overs from the party. I help her without saying a word and wonder if she realizes... But she must, she must know and want to talk about it. What kind of game is she playing? I was never as good as Jadsy at that sort of thing. I wonder what she is up to. I've never known her to exert any restraint over her fierce temper. She screams, yells, and throws whatever unfortunate object happens to be near her. Yet now she is so calm.
We both return to the flowered sofa and sit next to each other.
“I love you Conner.” She puts her head on my shoulder. “I don't know what I would do if you weren't here with me. I'm so scared.” Of what I am not sure, because she doesn't sound frightened at all. No, not at all. I, however, am shaking.
“I love you too.” I answer without much conviction. But she seems not to notice. I am a failure at hiding my fragile state right now, waiting for her to begin berating me for last night. She has every right to, but still I am hearing the clock ticking inside of me, pounding out the seconds until she loses control. A countdown to unmanageable rage.
We both lean back on the soft, flowery, cushions and rest our feet on the coffee table. She sighs, a deep sigh of what I mistakenly think might be one of resignation. We sit there long enough to fall asleep and when we awaken the room is full of shadows. I turn on the lamp and look at her. She goes to the kitchen to put on some coffee. When she returns I am still sitting in the same position. My nervousness is becoming overwhelming, and for the first time today, she looks a little nervous too. We sip the coffee in silence. When both cups are empty, she looks around the room.
“I think we did a pretty good job in getting the place back to normal.” She says. “At least nobody threw up on the rug,” she attempts a joke. I let a small smile pull at the corners of my lips. But I am in no mood for humor and normal seems a untenable distance away. Then she gets serious and looks down. “What do we do now?”
“I don't know.” I answer pushing the hair from her face where it has fallen. “I honestly don't know where we go from here.” As I say this I find myself wondering if I'm talking about the same thing that she is.
“We have one last mess to clean up.” And she looks right at me with that unwavering stare of hers that could bore a hole through a concrete wall. She is torturing me more than any bamboo shoots ever could. She maintains this penetrating gaze for what seems like hours. I decide to break the silence.
“Look I'm sorry about last night. I behaved inexcusably. Am I forgiven?” This last comes out in a begging tone. Not what I was going for, but it will have to do. A slight grin appears on her face and I cannot fathom what is happening.
“Don't apologize, Conner. Everything is just fine. I wasn't exactly a good little girl myself at the party last night.” She reaches out to me and we embrace. I still don't know what is going on. Did she do something last night to get even with me? Did she flirt with some other guy. Is that what she is trying to tell me? Did she do worse?
“Jadsy, whatever you did, I probably deserved it. Don't think about it ever again.” Even as I say these words my mind is drifting to Layla. I shake my head to help me concentrate on the moment.
“Then you forgive me for what I did?” She asks in a small voice, so unlike her. I want to ask what exactly she is talking about, but I answer.
“Of course, I forgive you.” And I truly do. I find myself not caring about anything Jadsy has done. My mind is elsewhere getting lost in the smell of Layla's soft flowing hair, her lovely brown tempting eyes looking up at me.
Jadsy smiles one of her most endearing smiles and for a brief moment I begin to believe that everything is going to be alright. I kiss her on the cheek. Part of me feels sorry for her and part of me fears her coming reaction.
“You've been forgiven since last night,” she says. “Everything is perfectly okay with us. We're even.”
This last statement has an ominous tone to it, but I chalk it up to my nerves and nothing else. And no, Jadsy, everything is not even close to being okay with us. If there even is an us anymore.
She stands and grabs both of my hands. “Now we have one last mess to clean up. Will you help me?
There is a teasing quality to her words and I stand to join her.
“What kind of mess” I ask, looking into her light blue eyes which at the moment are sparkling with anticipation.
“You'll see,” she grins, “You'll see”
She leads me down the dark hall to the guest room door and stops.
She opens the door and turns on a small lamp which doesn't throw much light. I scan the room for whatever it is Jadsy wants to show me. The lamplight is not bright and I squint as I look around the dingy room. And then my eyes find it. I almost faint but hold on to my composure long enough to let a few words tumble from my lips.
“What happened.... Why... For the love of God...” My inner disarray spilling out in fragmented phrases. But then what I am seeing isn't your average party aftermath
I don't realize it but I am slowly backing away. I suddenly turn and and walk towards the front door. I should be running, but I walk. I vaguely hear Jadsy's wails demanding I return.
“Don't you see, we're even now.” she screams, following me. But I don't fully take in any of her words. I merely walk towards the door. I stumble in my shock and bump the end table where a lamp falls to the floor and shatters. As I reach for the doorknob I feel something whiz past my head, and a mug shatters on the door frame in front of me.Then she is coming at me with a deranged look on her face and a kitchen knife in her hand. I slam the door behind me and race to the stairs.
For the next hour or so I roam the dark streets aimlessly. My headache is gone and I begin to think clearly on the events of the day. I spy one of the few phone booths left in the city, sitting on the corner ahead of me. The relic beckons me. I anonymously dial 911.
“I want to report a murder.”