8FOLD/ACRA: Journey Into... # 1
twopointthreefivefilmwerks at yahoo.com
Tue May 3 15:06:34 PDT 2005
JOURNEY INTO . . . # 1
BY Rosen & Russell
Katie's fingers dance above the keys, touching them but never seeming to, drawing whispers from the piano like a lover. And Mr. Rabinowitz strains to hear the whispers, because the metronome is so loud, the way it clicks its mechanical tongue. This is not the Katie he knows: the Katie he knows does not play the piano, but attacks it, assaults the ears with her gusto: this is not the Katie he knows.
They take a break and he offers her some fruit. She nods and he lifts his heavy body out of the little wooden chair, the chair where his mother sat when he played this very same piano, and he saunters off to the kitchen. There's a stack of dishes in the sink, and it is the mundane irony of his life that he loves to cook but hates to wash dishes. He grabs a couple fresh plumcots (you see, momma plum and daddy apricot loved each other very much, and held each other very close...) and pours some orange juice.
His hands shake: he spills the orange juice; his hand shake: he doesn't play the piano anymore, he only teaches it. That joy is dead to him. He can only experience it vicariously, just like his pupils let him play father for an hour and a half, at forty bucks an hour.
There are some paper towels on the stove, wadded and used a few times each: it saves money this way, and he spills a lot of juice. After he cleans it up and replaces it atop the pile, he notices a towel that smells funny and sweet. Inside is last week's plumcot cores, rotting. He doesn't throw them out.
He hands Katie her plumcot and juice. "How am I doing?"
"Fine. Usually, you play more intensely." He squeezes into his mother's chair.
"Do you like it better this way?"
"It's fine either way. Just different. Which way works for you?"
"I guess I'm just not feeling it today."
She drinks her juice.
"Mr. Rabinowitz? You've been around a long time."
"Gee, thanks." He mock-grimaces.
"Is there such a thing as evil?"
It catches him off guard. "Evil?"
"I, I'm not sure what you mean, Katie. I mean, people do evil things, sometimes, yes. They make mistakes, they do things that seem evil but aren't, not really."
"Have you ever done something like that?"
"Why are you asking me this?"
He barks it out, and it's a little harsh to his own ears. Katie's arms pull inwards, and she stares at her lap, trying to pass off shock as embarrassment. "It's nothing. It's stupid, really."
She takes a savage bite out of her plumcot, tearing its flesh, holding it in her mouth as she starts to play again. Her fingers attack the keys, ten spindly battering rams trying to break ivory walls and sack a city of music. Adam Rabinowitz sits up; his eardrums are ringing not with the sound, but with the question. He grips the chair. Are his hands shaking more than usual? Is there such a thing as evil?
The session ends and Katie hurries off-- "my mom will kill me if I'm late for dinner"-- grabbing her bag and heading for the door. "See you next week."
And just like that, he's alone in his house again.
He stays in his mother's chair for a long time.
"Is there such a thing as evil? Is there such a thing as evil? Is there such a thing as evil?"
It takes him a while to realize that the voice is his own. He's talking to himself, now. That's never a good sign. Wearily, he hoists himself out of the chair, standing unsteadily on his feet. He leaves the glass on the piano, her pulp in the bottom and her lipstick on the rim, and he goes into his bedroom. You'd think a man his age would learn to make the bed by now.
He comes to a stop in front of the closest. He breathes deep (in, out, steady, fill the lungs). He breathes again, and opens the door, steps inside, nestled snugly between all the slacks and shirts on hangers; he reaches out his hand, which has become perversely steady, and pushes on the false back wall.
The costume is still hanging there, just the way he left it years ago. Even after all these years, not a single speck of dust; it's immaculate. That makes one of them. He touches the fabric and wonders if it still fits.
In his dreams, there are two of them: flesh and costume; Adam and Doctor Metronome. He dreams of city blocks levelled by a flush of hyper-symphonic noise; he dreams of daytime heroes and nighttime vigilantes shrunk down to rodent size and imprisoned inside his piano as their sidekicks unwittingly play the keys that threaten to squash out the candle of their lives with a pedestrian rendition of "hot cross buns"; he dreams of innocent women helpless, tied to giant metronomes. And though this is all filtered through dream-logic, none of it is too far from the truth, and when he wakes he is both frightened and deflated: a pathetic old man scared of an even more pathetic past.
He sits up in his bed and sees the costume staring at him from the closet. He shouldn't have left the door open; hell, he shouldn't have opened it. He's done with it! There's a reason why it's called the past: you're past it, you're through with it, it isn't important anymore. He did his time, and that's that, isn't it? A man of his age... he doesn't need it. He doesn't need the costume. He doesn't need people laughing at him. And he doesn't need the rush.
He gets out of bed and catches sight of himself in the mirror: sweaty, naked, not the sort of figure that should be running around in tights. He goes into the closet and puts the false back onto place, then crawls back into bed and into his dreams.
In her dreams, Katie is pounding on Mr. Rabinowitz's piano in the middle of the night. He sneaks up behind her, nuzzles her neck, cups her breasts through her blouse, and though her hands leave the keys and they leave the room, the piano keeps playing. He undresses her and begins to lick her *there*, and when she wakes up in the darkness of her own room, she feels both weird and exhilerated. Mr. Rabinowitz? Yuck! He's like a father to her.
But the pleasant feeling between her legs remains, and so she simply thinks of another partner, and quickly sets about bring herself to completion. She keeps her eyes closed tight, so that there's no chance of seeing the crucifix through the darkness, no chance of the Jesus-on-a-stick damning her with his terrible severity. I'm dying, he says, and for what? For you to do this? How dare you, when I'm dying?
Before she finishes, the light flicks on in her room, and she opens her eyes and her mother stares at her, sitting in Katie's chair, clothed in a dingy white bathrobe. She's smoking a cigarette; Katie hadn't noticed the smell before. "You little slut."
Her mother gets up and walks out of the room, muttering to herself: "This whole house stinks of little sluts."
Katie turns off her light and tries to get back to sleep.
The next week Katie doesn't show up for her lesson, and he spends the hour pacing the living room in front of the piano, reliving their conversation as he had every other day that week. Had his outburst scared her away? Why had she brought it up in the first place -- were there rumours making the rounds? Or was it something else? Did it have anything to do with him?
He calls her house. That's not untoward; he's her teacher, and she's missing a lesson without an explanation. So he lets it ring. Three. Four. Five. Eight. Fifteen. The sound must be driving the neighbours batty, and it's obvious by now no one was going to answer.
Except someone does.
The connection lasts for only a split second, and for a normal person listening in it may as well have been silent on the other end. But for all the things that he has been in his life, one thing Adam Robinowitz is not is normal. And what he hears in that split second is not normal either.
The phone clunks into its cradle and he's back in his bedroom without realizing what he's doing. By the time he has the closet door open, he realizes, but he doesn't dare stop himself, not even when the false back is off and he's pulling the costume from its hook. Only when he stands there naked, with his costume in one hand and his underwear in another, does he even permit himself to think.
He can't risk that what he heard was wrong. His ears -- Dr. Metronome's ears -- are too finely tuned, too acute to take that chance. If Katie needs him, she needs him, and he could never live the few remaining years he has knowing that he did nothing to save her. But he can't save her. Adam Rabinowitz can't save her. He's just an old man with good hearing and the shakes.
But Dr. Metronome...
Katie needs him, and that means he needs the costume. He needs the Doctor. He laughs derisively at himself. He needs a doctor, alright. At his age who doesn't? Where does he get off thinking he can play hero, an old man who never played anything but the villain in his life?
Forget it. He struggles into the costume, making a point of not looking in the mirror. He knows he looks ridiculous, but there's no helping it. His trembling fingers find the switch hidden in his belt buckle and he turns it on, feeling the reassuring, tick-tock regularity of the suit settle him down again. His hands are steady, now -- it's the old trade off: stealing from tomorrow to pay for today. He snaps the goggles into place and lets the vibrations of his molecules shift ever so slightly, slipping through the wall and into the alley behind his house.
When Katie wakes up, she is gasping for air, water flooding her nostrils and her eyes. She tries to lift her head out of the bathtub, but her mother pushes her back down, and Katie thinks, I'm going to die. I don't want to die.
I won't die.
Her hands are behind her back, taped together with duct tape. So are her feet. But that doesn't prevent her from kicking. She draws her knees in and then thrusts out backwards, hitting the sink. It hurts: her toes throb. She didn't hit her mother. But her mother let go.
And now Katie falls forward in the tub, and she turns around so that she's looking out from the tub, looking towards her mother, who is screaming something, something vile, and without a second thought, Katie brings her knees back like a coil and her feet spring out again, hitting her mother in the stomach.
Her mother staggers back, too winded to scream, and now Katie struggles to get out of the tub. I can do this. I can do this...
Third time's a charm, girl: she kicks again, this time trying to put enough force into it that her feet touch the ground and her head teeter-totters up. But she's no athlete, no gymnast, and as soon as her head is out of the water (gasp for breath! suck all the air in! be greedy!) she's falling back again, smacking her head on the side of the tub with very little grace. All the air she managed to take in is forced out of her again and now she's under, and on top of that, she's dizzy.
And now her mother's getting up, catching her breath, the stream of obscenities and accusations coming back with renewed vigor, and part of Katie says, let's just give up. She can't go on much longer like this. Her muscles ache and her toes hurt and her head is throbbing and her lungs are on fire, and yet, and yet, and yet-- there is something peaceful here. It's the lack of oxygen. It's getting her high. It's her brain dying, slowly, cell-by-cell-by-cell-by-. Just give in and it won't be much longer, won't be a bad way to go.
But all these thoughts come flooding in a second, maybe two, and Katie says, no, I will live. I will fight.
She starts kicking again, her blue-jeaned dolphin-tail legs thrusting forward and thrashing back and forth, tiny little furious desperate last-minute this-has-to-work kicks, not deliberate but indiscriminate, just trying, trying, trying.
She catches her mother a couple times but now mom's got a hold of her legs, a tight hold, and Katie doesn't know that Doctor Metronome is still five blocks away. She does know that she has to do something, and it has to work, or else she's dead. And if she dies, her sister will die. And her little brother.
It's up to Katie.
And it occurs to her that her hands are still behind her back, only now she's on her back, she's on her hands, and why didn't she think of that when she tried to teeter-totter up? She pushes herself up by her hands, by her elbows, her head lifting out of the water and her nose snorting in the air like crazy: and now, she has more leverage, and she kicks her legs free of her mother's grasp and, with confidence only her mother didn't know she had, she kicks herself up and pushes on the tub and she's over it.
She's still no gymnast, though, no ballerina, and it's hard to stand when your feet are tied together, and she falls, the toilet bowl colliding beneath her shoulder blade, and her head hits the floor.
And Katie lays there, writhing and bound, and she smiles at her mother and says, "I got out of the tub." And part of her would be content with just that. She managed that much, got that far. But that part of Katie is quickly silenced: I'm not going to die. I'm going to live. I'm going to fight.
I'm going to win.
I'm going to die.
He has never been so certain of anything in his life. His heart is pounding, his breath is scraping his throat raw, barely spending any time in his lungs. He can't remember the last time he had to exert himself like this. Katie's house is only four blocks away, now, but it seems like forever, and no amount of phasing and vibration can make the distance any shorter, or the pain in his chest any less.
Somehow, he manages the remaining four blocks without passing out, and finds himself standing in the shadow of the white split-level Katie calls her home. He tries to steady himself -- he's shaking, now, but its nervousness, not his nerves -- and slow his breathing. This is it. He either plays the hero, or plays the fool.
Closing his eyes he slips back out of sync with the world around him and disappears through the wall of the house. Inside, he can hear the sounds of a struggle; the phone is dangling half-in, half-out of its cradle on the hallway floor, outside the closed bathroom door. That's where the sounds are coming from, and muffled voices.
He shifts through the door and suddenly he knows how those costumed heroes he always fought must have felt when they would stumble across his latest death trap. Except this lacks any sense of style, any sense of fair play.
Any sense at all.
Katie can see him over her mother's shoulder, although of course she doesn't recognize him and his infamy has faded over time to the point where she probably doesn't recognize Dr. Metronome either. But she recognizes that he's *something* -- something unexpected, something out of the ordinary, something that might save her life.
"Stop." Is that really his voice? Of course not -- it's Dr. Metronome's voice. Deeper, steadier, more commanding. Katie's mom turns around, and he can see that her daughter is bound hands and feet with duct tape, blood trickling from somewhere in her tangled, matted mess of hair. Somehow, he's expecting her mother to have wild eyes, the eyes of a crazed killer, but she doesn't: her eyes are clear and lucid. Her shirt sleeves are soaked, her blouse has been splashed with water from the tub behind her, and there is blood on her hands.
Blood on her hands.
In the instant that this all takes Dr. Metronome has solidified again, the tile floor of the bathroom cold even through the soles of his costume. "That's enough, Mrs. Morgan," he says. She regards him for a moment, and then, her eyes still calm, she lunges at him.
Dr. Metronome lets all his molecules vibrate, and she hits her head on the door, cursing. She thrashes about but cannot touch him. And Dr. Metronome remembers what this was like, how deft he used to be at this, timing it perfectly so that no hero could touch him. God: it was glorious. Katie's mom stops abruptly and opens the door. "I need a cigarette."
He isn't sure what to do, but something tells him that his first concern should be Katie. That's what the hero does, right? What the hero always did: save the girl first, then take care of the nut. And so he lets Katie's mom go and lets his molecules return to normal, and he walks across the tiny space of the bathroom and helps Katie to her feet. He touches the duct tape on the back of her hands, and vibates it until it hold her wrists no longer. He's about to do the same with her feet, but Katie says that she will do it, and somehow he knew that, that was like Katie. She would do as much as she could for herself. He inspects her head: a little bit of blood but nothing serious, no huge gashes. Of course, you wouldn't know if there was a concussion till he got her to the hospital. He tells her that he'll take her there. She smiles.
She squeezes him, tight, and Mr. Rabinowitz, deep inside the costume, realizes this is the first time he's been hugged in years. It feels good. It feels like he has worth, like he is a person, a father. He hugs her back, puts his arms around her, pulls her close to him, so close he can feel her heart pump, and her chest rise and fall with her breaths that gradually, gradually, are slowing down. She's calming down.
"Are your brother and sister here?" he asks.
"Still at school. They'll be home soon."
"Why is she...?"
"I don't know."
"I have to stop her. So she won't hurt you, or them. Will you be okay if I leave you alone while I do this?"
"I'll come with you."
"I don't think so, Katie."
"I'll come with you."
She isn't someone you'd argue with. In a strange way, she reminds him of his mother: once she had decided something, that was that, and that would always be that, and so, the two of them shuffle out of the bathroom, the erstwhile hero and the defacto damsel in distress, neither of them very comfortable with their role.
Mrs. Morgan is waiting for them, a cigarette in one hand and a gun in another. "So, what's your name? I want to know so I can pray for your soul at mass."
"Doctor Metronome. But I don't need you to pray for me. Drop the gun."
"Fucking whoremonger, god-damn man-slut." She fires the gun.
In his time, he's had guns fired at him. And he always dealt with them like a punch, or a boomerang, the same way he dealt with any obstacle: by eliding it, by making his molecules as effervescent as soap bubbles.
And the bullet starts to pass through him, and in a split-second he realizes that Katie is behind him. He doesn't even think about it: his bones, muscles, blood cells and tissue all rush back into being, and become dense and the bullet stops inside his chest. And, since two objects cannot occupy the same space, it explodes inside him.
He doesn't scream. He only gasps for air.
His body begins to shake: he's going into shock. He can't control the molecules: he's fading in and out, in and out. This is it, then. He did stop the bullet. He saved her life, at least for the moment. And part of him would be content with that: hey, I got this far, didn't I? But that part of him spent his time conconting death traps, serving time in prison, being yelled at by his mother. That part of him was a loser a hundred times over, a minor supervillain whose legacy was a footnote in the history books, the kind of guy the other guys laughed at. That part of him was Dr. Metronome, and even though it was the part that could vibrate through walls, it was the weakest part of him.
The strongest part was Adam Rabinowitz, who had put the costume up years ago, moved to a shitty inner-city ramshackle and started teaching the piano to kids. The strongest part was Adam Rabinowitz, who watched his pupils grow from age ten to twenty-five and in Katie's case to nineteen, and who wished the costume hadn't robbed him of his fertility, who wished he could have been a father. The strongest part was Adam Rabinowitz, who seldom dated but instead resigned himself to a lonely, solitary life, a silly fat old man and his piano and his plumcots and his orange juice.
The strongest part of him was the part that got up every morning and went to bed every night, and endured the constant throbbing pain, be it physical or emotional, that Dr. Metronome had left in his wake. He endured this and did not take his life, and for twenty years he got up every morning.
The strongest part of him was Adam Rabinowitz, who was a hero in a small way for twenty years, and who would be dead in two minutes, and who would spend that last two minutes making sure that Sheila Morgan never hurt another living soul again.
He knows that if he does this thing, he'll surely go to hell. He wonders if there are such things as hell, as souls, as evil. He stumbles towards her and she's too scared to even fire the gun at him, and she drops both the gun and the cigarette.
Adam tells Katie he's sorry and his hand vibrates and flies into her mother's skull. Her brain implodes as he solidifies his hand, and then just as quickly, he vibrates it out of her.
Her mother falls to the ground, and Adam Rabinowitz turns to Katie. Her mouth is open, and she wants to scream. But no one says anything. All is silent, and Adam feels his body start to fade away, his molecules evaporating and the pain fading away, replaced by something... something peaceful...
And he wonders, will she ever play the piano again...?
When her siblings come home, Katie doesn't let them in at first but tells them sharply to wait outside. She removes the empty costume from the living room and stuffs it into her old bookbag. The bag is missing one of the straps; it doesn't matter: she always wore it over one shoulder anyway.
She zips up the bag and heads outside, and its cold.
"You're all wet," Princess says, touching Katie's blouse.
Princess. Princess is not a name for a girl, or a woman, or even a human being: its a dog's name, and Katie thinks it should be considered a form of child abuse to name a little girl Princess (also, Precious, Star(r), and Eva). It might seem cute when she's eight, but what about eighteen, or eighty?
Her brother had the opposite problem: Simon is too solemn a name for a little boy; its a man's name, a professor of ecclessiastical studies or a well-tailored-and-windsor-knotted handshake that sells you office supplies. But it fits him: he is a solemn ten-year-old, and is his happiest (not that he ever smiles) in church and a suit.
"Why can't we go inside?" he asks abruptly. Katie hesitates, and Princess stops feeling the dampness on her blouse.
Katie decides to tell them the truth as simply and honestly as she can.
"We can go inside in a minute, Simon. There's something in there that I think you have to see. It's going to hurt you, Princess. It's going to make you cry and that's okay. It's okay to cry, okay?"
"I won't cry. I'm a big girl."
"Okay. Now, listen. This is about mom. You know she's been acting weird lately?"
Princess shakes her head.
"Something was wrong with her, and she was acting very strange. She's been acting very strange for a long time, and I've been very worried. Not just for me, but for you. Now, today..." How to say it? "Today, mom tried to hurt me. She tried to kill me."
Princess laughs. Katie isn't shocked; it's a knee-jerk reaction.
She stops laughing. "Why?"
"I don't know why. I wish I did. I wish I could say she went crazy, but I don't know. Just something was wrong with her, and she tried to kill me in the bathtub. And I was very worried about you, because... oh, Princess. Please. Don't cry."
"You said it was okay!"
"Yes, yes it is. I'm sorry. Come here, sweetie."
Katie hugs her. She extends her arm to Simon, to try to bring him into the hug, but he is unaccomadating.
"Mom's dead, isn't she?"
"Yes. Yes, she is."
He waddles towards Katie. She hugs them and explains about the mysterious Dr. Metronome who saved her, and then disappeared, costume and all.
She tells the same story to the police when they arrive. One of the officers is Bethany Proust, who used to babysit Katie when she was younger. She is a familiar face and thus is able to distract Princess while they remove her mother's corpse. One of the officers explains that they have to do an autopsy, and then the body will be sent to the funeral home. Which home were they going to use? Katie doesn't know, but says she'll get it figured out tomorrow and call them, do you have a direct number I should call? He gives her the number and lingers for a moment, and mentions casually that he knows a really good funeral home, and would that be any help to her? Bethany shoos him off and explains that his brother runs the home in question, and Katie is not surprised.
Bethany and Katie talk a while, glossing over the nostalgia portion of the conversation fairly quickly and moving on to the future: what's going to happen with the kids? Katie's going to keep custody of them. "But weren't you going to school, to study music?"
"It can wait."
"Princess is eight. That's at least ten years..."
"It can wait."
Katie tucks her sister in and she falls fast asleep. Exhausted.
Simon is still reading when Katie comes up to check on him for the third time. "It's twelve-thirty, bud. Don't you think you should get some sleep?"
"I perfer to read."
She doesn't argue.
Katie sleeps irregularly that night, fifteen minutes here, ten here, a half-hour apart, sometimes more. She expects to have nightmares and maybe she does: when she awakes she can't remember having had any dreams at all.
After the funeral, Bethany calls her from the police station and asks how everything is. Simon has been distant, more so than usual, and eats his meals alone, in his room. Katie's been inclined to give him his space, but isn't sure if that's the right thing to do. After the first night, Princess started having nightmares where her mother is trying to flush her down the toilet. She's afraid to go into the bathroom and has started wetting the bed. Bethany seems suprisingly unsympathetic.
"I understand the kid being freaked. That's why I wouldn't have told her what happened. At least not right away. At least not exactly."
"Well, I did. Maybe it was the wrong thing to do. I don't know, Beth. But I know that I would want to know the truth."
"Speaking of. The main reason I called is, we found out about Doc Metronome. Very minor supervillain from the sixties and early seventies."
"Yeah. He did his time and, as far as we know, had remained on the straight and narrow. His name was Adam Rabinowitz."
Katie tells Bethany she has to go and hangs up the phone. She sits down in the kitchen.
Simon knocks on Katie's door and hands her a shoe-box. She opens it. Inside is her sister's stool. "She put it in my closest."
"Mom's not in the bathroom. Mom's gone. She can't hurt you."
"You won't hurt me, will you, Katie?"
Katie's taken back. "I would never hurt you. What makes you ask me that?"
"I didn't think mom would hurt me, either."
"I'm not going to hurt you, sweetie. There's nothing wrong with me. There was something wrong with mom."
"What was wrong?"
Katie doesn't have an answer. Princess remains unconvinced.
"I don't want to die, Katie."
Princess wakes up and has to go to the bathroom. She takes her shoes out of another shoe-box and is about to go when someone walks through her wall. Its a woman with goggles and a loose, baggy costume. There is a shining belt around her waist.
"Are you the little girl whose afraid of the bathroom?"
Princess nods her head.
"I'm Doctor Metronome."
"Katie said you were dead."
"I came back."
"Does that mean my mom can come back?"
Nice move, Katie. Why don't you make things worse? "No. Only superheroes can come back."
"What if my mom was a superhero?"
"Well, she wasn't. I know."
"How do you know?"
"It takes one to know one."
Princess laughs, and Dr. Metronome escorts her to the bathroom.
"You're not scared anymore, are you?"
Princess shakes her head and gives the doctor a hug. "I won't let anything happen to you, Princess, okay?"
"Okay." She starts to head up the stairs, and then she turns around. "On second thought, I can take care of myself, okay? You should go help other people use the bathroom."
Katie buys a piano with her college money, and starts teaching. It only brings in a little bit of money, but it's enough. And for right now, that's all they need.
She charges thirty bucks an hour and each student gets a plumcot and a glass of orange juice. One student she teaches for free.
Katie's fingers dance above the keys, drawing whispers from the piano like a lover. She hasn't played this way in months, and it's amazing how quickly it comes to her. "Now you try."
Simon plays clumsily, always has, and probably always will. But it's an hour and a half where Katie sits in the same room with him, and maybe that's enough. At least it's a step.
He stops in the middle of the piece and looks at her. "Katie, can I ask you something?"
"Is there such a thing as evil?"
Katie thinks of her mother and the bathtub. "Yes. Yes, there is." Then she thinks of the costume she's been making, and the man who wore the original. "But there is also such a thing as good."
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