Alan’s Extra Room

Alain Bontemps    |    Alan’s Extra Room    |    The Rorschach Painting    |    Goodtime Voice-O-Matic    |    The Siege of Calais    |    I Owe My Life to Alan Goodtime    |    The Alton Arsenal    |    The Death of Alan Goodtime    (other stories in the arc)

 

I co-wrote this story with Jessa Spencer.

 

It was the 23rd of December that I stood in the mirror, sucking in my stomach and powdering the bruises around my sore eyes. The high-pitched slice of the thighs of Nathan’s expensive slacks grew louder, warning me of his proximity.

“Are you ready?” he stood, brooding in the doorway and fidgeting with his cufflinks.

I nodded in reply and smoothed my dress, checking my backside before grabbing my purse. I had an ill feeling in my gut, like a clawing at my insides cautioning me. A feeling of unease threatening me to stay put and, as per my usual, that feeling went ignored.

Once we were in the car, he began his lecturing. My gaze fell to my black stilettos as he pushed stern instruction.

“Remember to excuse yourself from a table and mind the amount of chardonnay you put away. I don’t need my boss thinking I’m married to a loose drunk. You do understand how big this is for me, don’t you?” He said this with a finely rolled cigarette hanging between his lips. I watched it move as he spoke, and slipped hums of acknowledgement in when I could.

We arrived shortly after 8:00 PM and walked hand-in-hand up the bricked driveway. This was a moment Nathan had been waiting for all year. The moment to personally network with the higher-ups from other offices around the state. He had his eyes on a prize and I was advised not to “fuck this up.”

Nathan had a charm about him, which was how he landed both me and his job. He wasn’t a millionaire, but he wasn’t far from becoming one. This company Christmas party was nothing recreational. It was a room full of opportunity for Nathan.

We drifted from one crowd to the next, shaking hands over introductions and light discussion. The beginning of the night ran smoothly. Nathan got caught up in talks with a group of men in suits, and I was whisked away by one of the wives, Renee Campbell, who courted me around, filling me in on the who’s who of what department. It was a big company.

I was dizzy. So many names, positions, things I wouldn’t remember the next day. I kept my dialogue to a minimum and just listened on. Bringing my glass to my mouth, soaking my lips in wine to keep from talking.

Moments after laughter sounded from the circle in which I stood, Nathan’s thick, hot, growling breath slithered against my neck and into my ear from behind me. His warm hands coaxed my chilled arms, jolting me rigid.

“Meet me outside.” He seethed.

I excused myself from everyone and followed Nathan onto the balcony, immediately making note that we weren’t alone. Despite the glacial temperatures, another couple stood off on the far end of the stone, sharing a cigarette and clinging to one another for warmth. They looked completely inebriated.

My gaze fell to Nathan’s piercing blue eyes, narrowed into serpentine slits.

“What in the absolute fuck are you thinking?” He annunciated each word, slowly. The couple behind him were oblivious to us.

“Nothing. I wasn’t drinking, I was only pretending to…” He cut me off.

“No. I’m not talking about that. To be honest, I could give a shit if you doused your liver. I’m talking about you flirting with Craig.”

“Huh?” was all I could muster. I didn’t know who Craig was.

“Your uproar. Your obnoxious laughter. I’ve spent the last week reminding you to not make an ass out of yourself. It’s like there’s just marbles rolling around that pretty little head of yours.” He knocked his fist against my skull and watched me work to keep my balance on the high stilettoes. The look on his face was almost curious, as if he waited for the echo of the marbles he’d knock loose.

We had the attention of the drunk couple now. Though, their eyes only adjusted to us for a moment, then back toward each other.

If there were ever a perfect time to get brave, this would have been it. There were people around. There were witnesses. I argued with myself. How much damage could he inflict without damaging himself in the eyes of all these suits he aimed to impress?

I opened my mouth to bark back, but went quiet when I remembered we were suspended in the air, plenty of feet from the ground below. It wasn’t worth it.

“… I’m sorry.” I offered. My apology was met with a flick to my lips, and my hand flung to my mouth as if to catch the pain.

“Go clean yourself up.” He stuttered, rubbing his fingers against the bridge of his forehead.

I have always been a doll to him. Something he can dress up and throw to the floor when he’s finished or displeased. I trusted him, with every ounce of my being. He’d build me up just to break me down. I was defenseless.

A year after we got together, he asked me to quit my job. He reminded me that he made enough for the both of us by layering me with diamonds so flawless, it’d make someone lightheaded. He proved himself more than capable to provide for me. He put so much effort into making me feel secure… telling me I’d never have to work another day in my life. Yet here I am, working harder than ever to keep myself alive.

It was in the bathroom, dabbing my mouth with a piece of tissue that was beginning to resemble pinkish-orange Rorschach sheet and staring at my swollen lips that I decided to take control.

Shortly after Christmas, I lapsed back into courage. Before meeting Nathan, I had rented out a room of my apartment by putting an ad on Craigslist. I was overwhelmed with the idea of leaving Nathan, and I figured the best way to do it was by getting as far from him as possible and leaving no trail to be found. Craigslist would be my ladder – rickety, slippery, and imperfect – out of the cold, confining well I had fallen into.

I ran to the local library early one afternoon and studied the postings for cities that bordered ours. I was limited on money, considering I wouldn’t want any ties to Nathan, so I made sure to be discreet when making withdrawals. It was an account he would fill once a week for me, as if I were a child receiving an allowance. Every Tuesday I would take money out of the ATM to buy groceries. Each time, I’d stuff a hundred or so into my purse for safe keeping.

Eventually, I had enough to buy my ticket to freedom: a house 40-minutes outside of town with a room papered in molded rose wallpaper.

I waited until the following day to make the drive. I loaded the address into my phone’s GPS and took the freeway as far as I could before ending up in backwoods territory. The air smelled dense, wet, confining in a comfortable womb-like way. There were patches of fog strung throughout the small town. I passed tons of old, rundown businesses and shacks before realizing I was going in circles. The robotic voice continued repeating that I was approaching my destination, but all I saw were thrift stores and deserted shops.

When it sounded again that I was nearing the address, I pulled off to the side of the road and checked the map. I saw the glowing orange dot dance on the screen as I came to a standstill.

My destination was on the right.

An old rickety pawn shop sat nestled between an instrument store and a boutique. A wooden sign suspended from a wrought-iron rod, swung in the wind. I caught a glimpse of it through the dew that had condensed on my windows, but not enough to read it. I used the arm of my sweater to wipe some of the fog away from the inside of the window.

The sign read “All in Good Time” in what looked like hand-carved oak. The top of the building only slightly resembled the picture from the ad, and I was sure I hadn’t seen the sign in the photo, either. With a shrug, I gathered my purse and exited the Audi, which looked completely out of place parked against a hydrant on the long, narrow stretch of road.

As I walked through the door, a bell chimed overhead and I heard a voice echo from the back of the cluttered store.

“Hello?”

I could hear someone making their way toward the front of the shop, intermingling with the sounds of items toppling over. This place was anything but organized, and stacked to the brim with oddities. It was unlike anything I had ever seen.

I clutched my purse out of nervous habit and moved toward the messy counter in front of me.

“Yes, hi. I responded to your ad; I’m here to see the room,” I called.

Almost instantly, a man emerged from behind a wicker shelf lined with porcelain clowns, almost sending the shelf to the floor as he bumped into it making his way forward.

“Yes! You!” He gleamed.

I widened my eyes and for some reason, my smile widened, too. He was an odd old man, but something about him made my hair stand. I felt an instant comfort wash over me. The same feeling you might get when your mother tends to you while you’re sick. It was soothing. He moved behind the counter, pulling out a bag of nuts, popping one into his mouth.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news but, I just rented the room out. Pistachio?” He extended the bag out in front of him toward me. I shook my head.

“Listen…” I was pleading. “I really need this room.”

“I can’t do that. I’ve already promised it to someone else. How’s about I give you something for your trouble, yeah?” He set the bag down and retreated to the back of the store, signaling with his hands for me to follow.

“Well… I…”

The man interrupted with his mouth full. “Nonsense. You made a journey. You have travelled a hard road…” he carried off into a mumble, catching tumbling boxes as he strode past.

“Aha!” He exclaimed. Startling me and a bird I hadn’t noticed caged off in a corner.

He turned and presented me with a jar. It appeared to be a simple sandstone colored terra cotta vase, but two ovular cutouts on opposite sides of the vessel showed that the stonework covered a thick glass container. The terra cotta and glass were both crude in design, not the thinner, more elegant (and cheaper) work you would see on any modern vase. This thing was old. It was mundane and ordinary, but I sat in awe of it. It pulled at me, like it was a source of gravity. Like it was made especially for me.

“Well, aren’t you gonna take it?” He shoved it toward me.

I grabbed it gently and he brushed past me. I stood motionless for a moment, admiring the container.

“Thanks for coming!” he hollered as he ran into something.

I stuffed the jar in my bag and took it home, setting it atop a shelf in my closet. I had just closed the door to my bedroom when I heard the security system chime that the front door had been opened. Nathan had returned home from work early.

I began walking down the hall toward him, forcing a genuine-seeming smile to my lips. Not too big, not too small. Friendly. Placid. He met me halfway with a slap to my cheek. The surprise of the violent outburst rocked me more than the sting on my jawline.

“Where’d you go?” He spoke through grinding teeth. I paused before replying and was sent to the floor by his hands. I panicked. He knew.

“The mileage, bitch. The car. Where’d you go?”

He towered over me and I cowered below him. This was a position I had come to know too commonly, though despite what I knew was coming, I was immediately thankful that his only trigger was the mileage. The evidence was minuscule enough that I could lie by way out.

His hand raised above him, and I raised mine to cradle my cheek.

“Nowhere! I went for a drive!” I shrilled.

He stood, breathing heavily, like a bull before it’s released from it’s pen. We stared at each other for a moment, and then he bent and grabbed my ankles.

I screamed. I called for help and dug my hands into the Berber as he dragged me. My shirt flew up against the carpet as I moved against it, burning my stomach and hip. I kicked and butted at him, flailing my arms as I was flipped onto my back and pulled into the living room.

He had been straddling my hips when it happened.

He just fell. Collapsed right on top of me. I don’t know how long I had still been screaming before I noticed, finally shoving him to the side. He was out cold.

I called 9-1-1, and I contemplated during the time it took for them to arrive whether or not I would make up another story to cover for him, or tell them the truth. I guess I had lost my courage, because within hours I was standing beside his bed in the E.R, holding his hand as he shivered.

The doctors ran some tests, but all came back fine, save for some anemia. They went through the list of mandatory questions, asking if he had been under any stress recently. That was enough for them to rule out any disorders or disease. Eventually, we were told the cure would be for him to take it easy, so we went home.

He was weak when we got back to the house, immediately climbing into bed and going to sleep. I don’t know why, but I felt a swell of victory.

The next day, Nathan was back to his normal self. He ignored the requests of the doctors and headed back to work as if it were a regular day. He mentioned nothing that morning of the car mileage, though I knew that didn’t mean it was over. The evening proved that to be true. He hadn’t been home for more than 10 minutes before he was sinking his teeth into my arm and on top of me again, emptying my purse out onto my face.

“Where’s Craig’s number? You didn’t put it in your phone, so it has to be in here, right? You save it in there under someone else’s name?” He scrabbled through everything that had fallen on and around my face, frantically searching for something that wasn’t there.

I yelled, “I don’t know who Craig is!”

“You are a lying whore. It runs in your fa-” He paused and I saw his eyes flutter from one bill to the next, counting the cash that haloed my head.

He looked to me.

“$1,200, yeah?”

I pleaded in a series of ‘No’s’.

“Is this how much you charged Craig to let him fuck? A hundred per thrust of his little peckerwood?”
His fists slammed into my arms – raised to protect my face – a blow accentuating each phrase. I could feel him growing weaker with each pound. It wasn’t the deep, internal pain I was used to. These were frail and feeble, more like the superficial slaps I was used to receiving almost daily. Nathan’s body fell limp again by the sixth hit, and this time I didn’t call for help. I let him lie there until he woke the next morning.

I was roused by the sound of a ceramic bowl clattering on the kitchen counter. The tinkle and rush of cereal flakes flooding into it. I pulled my sweater around me tightly, taking comfort in its illusory safety. I wasn’t sure what I would encounter when I got to the kitchen; a calmer version of Nathan as he was after the more brutal nights, or a man enraged at being denied his violent catharsis.

I found neither. Nathan stood in front of his full cereal bowl, staring deeply into the dehydrated raisins, brow creased and mouth hanging open in confusion. He noticed me in the doorway.

“What do I need now?” he asked.

I shrugged, unsure of what he was talking about and not wanting to incur a fresh wrath at being ignorant.

He pointed feebly at the bowl. “What else… I think there’s something else that goes with this. Right? What… What else goes here?”

“Milk?” I offered.

Nathan closed his eyes and rocked his head back slightly. “Milk. Yeah.”

I watched Nathan shuffle to the fridge and struggle with the door. He was a big guy. Powerful. I was always afraid that he might underestimate his strength during one of his bouts of anger and injure me in a way that couldn’t be covered up with makeup and long sleeves. And now he was having trouble pulling against the light suction of the fridge door like a young child.

I thought of leaving. Of picking my cash up from the living room floor and walking right out the door. What could he do?

And then he spilled the milk. Just a few drops. I expected him to curse and knock the bowl across the room, then order me to clean it up. Instead, he made a soft noise somewhere between a sigh and a ‘no.’ His face wasn’t the hard, steely warrior mask bulging at the temples and jaw from clenched teeth that was so common. It was the softer, boyish face I remembered from some of our first dates. It was the face of a different man.

I walked over to him and placed my hand lightly on his back. “Go sit. I’ll bring it for you.”

I filled a bowl for myself and Nathan smiled at me as I sat down. “Thank you, Bari,” he said when I pushed his toward him. It had been so long since he used my name. Since he saw me as a human. It was a perfect breakfast. The kind of meal we hadn’t enjoyed for years.

The tranquility didn’t last long. I noticed Nathan’s breathing start to get faster as he walked over to set his bowl in the sink. He sat down on the couch, complaining of a headache. I hoped sitting would slow his breathing, but it seemed to make it faster. He sounded like a panting dog. I rummaged through the mess of money, lipstick, gum wrappers, and keys strewn about the floor looking for my phone. I called an ambulance.

Nathan was out by the time the paramedics arrived, but still breathing. I was sitting in a hard plastic chair next to his hospital bed in a small cloister of a room with a sheet for a wall when he began to stir. The fluids dripping steadily into his arm must have been doing the trick. His eyes looked more focused than they had back at our house.

He inched his head closer to me, the strain evident in the taught muscles of his neck. I thought he might be moving in for a kiss, for comfort and reassurance, so I bent toward him.

“What did you do to me, bitch?” he growled, hoarse and strained.

I stood, taken aback at the sudden reversal of mood. I was about to walk out on him, but then I saw him. Pale, sweaty, eyes bloodshot, the weakness already taking a toll on his physique. He was ugly. Disgusting. Like a sick, featherless baby bird. He looked like the piece of shit he was. I sat back down and put my lips close to his ear.

“Fuck you, Nathan. I didn’t do shit to you. I can’t believe I’ve put up with you bullshit for so long. You’re a fuck. A coward. I hate you, Nathan.

“I have done nothing but help you and you accuse me of, what? Poisoning? For anemia? You’re a fucking idiot. You can die alone.”

His right arm shot out toward my face, but with his condition slowing his reactions, I was able to pull myself away and avoid the blow. The movement jostled the needle in his other arm and he let out a short growl of pain. I smiled.

“Bitch!” he spat. “Fuck you!” The last came out as a wheeze. He took a few deep breaths and clutched at the left side of his chest with his hand. A strangled sound escaped his throat, tendons popped out on the sides of his neck with tension, his eyes began to roll back into his head. I hadn’t noticed the loud beeping of three different machines until the nurses rushed in to turn them off and tend to Nathan. The silence, punctuated by their shouts of “tachycardia!” and “not responding!” was almost overwhelming. I pulled my sweater tight around me and allowed myself to be led from the room by an orderly.

“Ma’am?” a pretty dark-skinned woman in a white doctor’s coat asked. I glanced at my watch. Two hours had passed while I stared at an imperfect seam on the linoleum floor. When I looked up at the woman, she continued. “Your husband suffered a heart attack, but there appears to be no lasting damage. However, the attack was brought on by severe anemia. He’s not producing enough red blood cells to carry oxygen to all his muscles. He’s stabilized now, but we’d like to give him a blood transfusion to bring his strength back while we figure out what’s causing the problem.

“Under normal circumstances, we would draw blood to test for type, but I’m hesitant to remove even the least amount; he needs everything he’s got. Do you have any documentation of his blood type?”

Nathan’s supple, black leather wallet was in my purse. I opened it and slid out card after card, knowing he kept a blood donor card inside for drives at work. Everything was a show for him. He couldn’t give two shits about helping people. I handed the card to the doctor.

“A negative. Perfect. I’ll keep you updated,” she said, rushing down the hall.

I could have kept the card and Nathan would have died. He deserved to die.

“Why are you so weak?” I asked myself out loud.

Because I’m not a killer. I couldn’t knowingly let Nathan die even though he had turned my life into a glitzy, diamond-studded facsimile of Guantanamo Bay. What did that say about me? Did I deserve to be stepped on by more dominant people?

It seemed like a long time before the doctor made her way back to me, but through the small window at the end of the hall I could tell it was only mid-afternoon. The doctor wasn’t rushing like she had been earlier. Her face, previously impassive, was now long and her eyes tired. I knew what was coming.

“Mrs. Rick.” The doctor steeled herself for what was coming by letting her eyes blink one single, extended blink. “There was an issue with the transfusion. We’re not sure if the blood packet was labelled incorrectly or the card from BDS was inaccurate, but your husband’s body rejected the blood. His weakened state and the inflammatory response caused too much tissue damage to make even extreme measures a possibility. I’m sorry, Mrs. Rick; your husband didn’t make it.”

Without a word, I walked out of the hospital. I vaguely remember the doctor and a nurse trying to flag me down as I walked out the sliding double doors of the emergency room, but I didn’t notice them in the moment. I didn’t notice much. I remember getting into the Audi and heading home. I have a very sharp, clear memory of stopping at the light on Euclid Avenue and craving peanut butter with raisins. I remember slamming the door of the Audi and looking at the constellation of Orion for a few minutes before heading inside. I remember looking at the pair of bowls in the kitchen sink.

I awoke the next day to tears, but couldn’t place their cause. I was ambivalent to losing Nathan, so it wasn’t that. They weren’t tears of joy. And then something cued the memory of the dream I had right before I woke; me, doing my own thing, being my own person. When I woke up – before I completely recalled the events of the previous day – I worried that freedom would be taken from me. But It wouldn’t. I was free. I let myself drift back to sleep with no fear of Nathan punishing me for not having breakfast ready. I had a late brunch out with a book – an actual work of fiction like I used to enjoy. I went on a mini-shopping spree and bought myself clothes that were comfortable and colorful and cute, not the tight-fitting, rib-squishing black status symbols Nathan demanded I wear at all times.

I returned home in the evening with Chinese takeout, kicked off my shoes, and had just started browsing through Netflix for a mindless comedy when three sharp knocks sounded at the front door. That was odd. No ring of the bell?

I feared it was someone from the hospital demanding that I take care of the issues lingering with Nathan. I didn’t want to think about it. I considered not answering, but the raps came again.

I didn’t expect to see the grey-haired man from the antique shop standing in front of my door when I looked through the peephole. He had a placid smile on his face as if he knew I was observing him. His hair, which had been somewhat disheveled when I first saw him was now finely combed. He seemed younger, somehow. Handsome, even. I opened the door.

“Miss Rick, sorry to bother you,” he began.

“Actually it’s…” I thought for a moment, but the man was right; it was Miss. But maybe not Rick. Did I want to keep Nathan’s name, a sharp monosyllabic that sounded like a pike being driven into the ground when it was spoken? I decided right then to switch back to my maiden name, the name of a person I liked far more than the cowering maid I had become. “Fielding,” I finished. “Bari Fielding.”

The man took my proffered hand lightly. “Alan Goodtime. Nice to meet you properly, Miss Fielding.” He smiled and it brought warmth to my body. Not like a blush, but a contented warmth. Like when a parent or grandparent praises your accomplishments.

“I’m afraid I made a mistake the other day,” Goodtime continued, looking sheepishly at his clasped hands. “I’m mortified by my error. I’d like to buy that vase back from you. In my haste, I must have overlooked that it was already promised to another party. I’m prepared to give you $2,000 for it.”

I was stunned. “Um. You don’t have to pay me for it, Mr. Goodtime. I’ve had some…,” some what? Abuse? Death? “Personal… stuff to attend to and I haven’t even thought about where I might put it, much less begin decorating.”

Goodtime smiled again. “I wouldn’t feel right leaving you without some form of compensation. Maybe less? $1,000? Either way, I must have the vase by tomorrow. I apologize for my insistence.”

“Oh, no! It’s alright. Come in, I was just watching some TV.” I waved Goodtime inside.

I led him to the bedroom closet and climbed up on a small stool so I could reach the rustic vase. The tips of my index and middle finger made contact with the terra cotta exterior and I attempted to use the friction to roll the vase slowly toward me until I could get my whole hand around it. I found it too heavy to move. That was strange, the terra cotta was thick but I didn’t remember it being too heavy to slide across my closet shelf when I brought it home.

“Do you mind if I give it a go? I’m a smidge taller,” Goodtime asked, and I noted that his speech pattern was strange. He used a conglomeration of American, British, and archaic phrases and idioms. He may have had a slight accent. I stepped aside and gestured for him to take the stool. He effortlessly found a grip on the vase, but his thin form tensed noticeably against the weight. As he slowly lowered it to cradle it near his chest, I could see that the vase was full of some kind of liquid. A dark, viscous substance sloshed against the glass near one of the stone cutouts. It could have been wine, but it seemed a little too thick. Maybe melted Jell-O?

“What is that?” I asked. “In the vase?”

Goodtime flashed me a large smile and walked past me out of the closet. “I best be going, ma’am. I’ll just get this into my car and bring your money right back.”

Did he not hear me? “Mr. Goodtime? What’s in that vase? When I put it on the shelf it was empty.”

Goodtime turned and looked back at me. He took a deep breath and blinked long and slow.

“Are you happier now?” he asked.

“What?”

“Today. Was today a good day?”

“Yes,” I answered slowly, unsure of where he was going with that line of thought.

“Let’s sit,” Goodtime suggested and moved to the living room where my Chinese food sat, getting cold. He placed the vase on the coffee table and lowered himself elegantly onto a sofa.

“This,” he gestured with an open hand to the vase, “is no ordinary vessel. It’s not a vase or a decorative jar. Well, actually, that last bit isn’t quite accurate. It is a jar. And it was decorative in the sense that it was part of a larger array of possessions that were to be made available to the Pharaoh Neb-Aha in the afterlife.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. I began to wonder if I was safe or if I had let a madman into my house. My eyes flicked toward the kitchen, searching for a knife or something heavy with which to defend myself. I wouldn’t fall back into the pattern I had been in with Nathan.

Goodtime put his palms out toward me in a placating gesture. “I don’t mean to say he got them. I’m just referring to the burial practices of the Ancient Egyptian civilization. This is one of the canopic jars used to store the organs of the dead after embalming.”

“That’s a canopic jar? Shouldn’t that be in a museum or something? With other… mummy stuff?”

“It should, it should.” Goodtime nodded. “Your husband suffered from anemia, correct?”

“I… yeah.”

Goodtime ripped the receipt for my Chinese food free of the staple that held it to the greasy plastic bag. “And he had no history of anemia?” While I mumbled my assent, Goodtime rolled the receipt into a straw and plunged it into the jar.

He tapped the roll against the side of the jar to flick off drips and drew it out. It was red. Deep red and thicker in places with clots. He laid it on a napkin in front of me.

“What is that?” I asked, afraid I already knew.

“It’s human blood,” Goodtime said, folding his hands in his lap and leaning back. “The jar fills itself. I know it sounds fantastic and beyond all imagination, but I’ve seen it at work before. A long time ago.” As he spoke, his eyes unfocused and he seemed to retreat into his own thoughts. Then, suddenly and with a small, pained smile, he came back to the present.

“I don’t know how it works exactly, but I do know some aspects of its function. First, do you know about conservation of matter?”

I shook my head.

“It’s a law of thermodynamics – a physics principle. Essentially, matter cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed or transferred. Blood does not fill the jar out of thin air. It requires a… A donor.”

“Nathan?” I asked.

“Nathan. But, Miss Fielding, the jar doesn’t fill by itself. It’s tied to malicious intent; again, I don’t know how.” Goodtime shrugged.

“That’s why Nathan had anemia?”

“Yes. And, if I may pose such a personal question, did it seem as though his symptoms worsened when he became violent?”

I nodded.

“It’s as if the jar knows the old adage ‘the blood boils’ and it sloughs off the cookover into its confines, leaving the attacker weak but unharmed. If the attack occurs only once, that is. Continued violence leads to much more serious consequences. As you well know.

“Miss Fielding, it is my sincere hope that you are able to live to your full potential. I really must be going.”

He rose and walked to the door. I was too stunned to follow after him, much less speak, but there was one more answer I had to have. I watched him walk away, struggling to bring myself together and ask. As soon as he passed through the door, my opportunity for questions would be gone. I could feel –somehow – that was true. I knew I wouldn’t find the antique store again.

“Why?” the questions exploded from my lips. “How did you know about Nathan and why me?”

Goodtime turned and cast his most comforting, paternal smile on me. It felt like physical warmth was bathing my cheeks.

“When you came into my store, I got the distinct impression of a sapling tree bearing just one or two of the most beautiful pieces of fruit per season. A tree shadowed from the sun by a giant, oppressive oak that also sucked the nutrients from the soil without putting anything back. I was surprised that a fruit bearing tree could have survived such conditions and lamented its eventual destruction. But then, when I turned you away, I thought I might be able to prune the oak; to let both trees grow side by side. Failing that, I could continue pruning and let the truly stronger tree survive.”

He laughed. “Forgive me for being so cryptic and for my extended use of an arborist’s metaphor. I’ve been somewhat preoccupied with trees of late. I can’t say why you, specifically; you answered the ad and I saw a need when you arrived. Maybe it’s fate.

“Do you believe in fate, Miss Fielding?”

“No.”

“Neither do I,” and with that, he left.

I took a few minutes to process what Goodtime had told me, mulling it over while I reheated my Chinese takeout. It made sense while he was sitting in front of me but then, not even a full half hour after his departure, the perfection of the story began to fall away. How could blood be siphoned from a living body without a wound? It had to be some sort of trick. Did Goodtime poison Nathan and use the jar to throw me off? But why, when I suspected nothing but a normal medical problem?

Whatever the case, Goodtime was right; I had had a better day without the fear of Nathan’s hands finding me in the evening. I guess I owed him for that.

I found a movie on Netflix and settled in to watch it, pushing Nathan and Mr. Goodtime out of my mind completely.

 

Alain Bontemps    |    Alan’s Extra Room    |    The Rorschach Painting    |    Goodtime Voice-O-Matic    |    The Siege of Calais    |    I Owe My Life to Alan Goodtime    |    The Alton Arsenal    |    The Death of Alan Goodtime    (other stories in the arc)

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