The last time I saw her, she was running through the shadows of the trees. She ran from a man hanging by his neck from the ceiling of the bathroom in Central Park. She was terrified. Running as if the hanging body had awakened, pointed a gun at her, and blew her a kiss from his pale blue lips. I chased her back to our black SUV where she frantically tried to open the door without a key.
“Lilly what’s wrong, what’s going on?” I said while she continued to pull the handle of the door desperately trying to get in. I hit the button and unlocked all the doors. She ripped open the door and hopped in the passenger’s seat, rocking back and forth, arms crossed over her stomach, panting so heavily I thought her heart might explode.
“Why did you do that Johnny, what did he ever do to you?” she asked still rocking in her invisible rocking chair, like an old lady whose tea had been laced with cocaine. Her eyes were as big as Q balls with a slight glaze and were staring straight ahead into the darkness of the small forest where the illusion had taken place. The man hanging from the ceiling was not a man at all, but a long black jacket draped over the light in the bathroom, so the homeless man could sleep without a spotlight. I explained this to her while I tried to get her to calm down, but she didn’t believe me. She was convinced I was a murderer.
“We have to go to church” she said over and over, still rocking vigorously while her blue hair hung over her fearful eyes.
“We’re going tomorrow morning. We are meeting your mother there at ten o’clock. Church is not open at midnight Lilly.”
“Just drive the fucking car!” she screamed and reached over and turned the ignition, starting the car from the passenger’s seat.
“O.K.” I shouted and smacked her hand away from the wheel and put the car in reverse. “Calm the fuck down. We’re going.” The ride was silent for a minute or two. Occasionally, I would glance over to make sure there weren’t horns growing out of her head, or blood dripping from her lips, or both.
When we finally turned onto the street where the church was, I glanced over one more time, secretly hoping that the seat would be empty, and this was all just a bad dream. Nightmares don’t scare me because ultimately there is an ending to the madness. Waking up in a pool of sweat, knowing that the faceless predators were defeated in the end, is substantially more consoling than a blue haired demon, peering out of the corner of her eye, at a switchblade that lies in the center console of our SUV. Her eyes looked up again. Then back down. Then back up. The rocking had stopped by now; she had found her solution. When I saw her plotting my doom, I quickly reached for the knife, grabbing it before she could. She scratched my arm with her chewed up fingernails when she lost the race to the knife. By now she was screaming with her back pressed up against the passenger door, kicking at me with a look on her face that could scare Jack the Ripper out of a brutal slaying of one of his whores. I rolled down the window and threw the knife out of the moving SUV, hoping this would deter any more madness. I was wrong.
“Hey Johnny, why did you do it Johnny?”
“Do what? Shut up Lilly. You’re really starting to freak me out.”
“Why did you do it Johnny” she said louder with the most immoral grin I had ever seen. Before I could think of what to say to her, the door flew open of the slowing vehicle and she leaped out, bouncing off the ground and running towards the church, without a scratch.
By the time I slammed the car into park and jumped out to chase her, she was nowhere in sight. I left the car in the middle of the road with both doors open as I crept apprehensively towards the church. I couldn’t see her. I didn’t know if I even wanted to. I kept walking when I suddenly saw a flash of white and blue coming from around the back of the church. It was either Lilly, or a cracked out Smurf doing laps around the cathedral, screaming a hymn which I could not quite make out. I stopped dead in my tracks, staring catatonically while the car remained in the middle of the road about fifty feet away.
I wanted to turn and run. I wanted to get back in the car and drive away and never look back. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t leave her. I loved her too much and couldn’t bear the thought of being without her. We did everything together. We were never apart and were always holding hands. Even in the darkest of times like this, I loved her. Something had taken over her body and soul and she wasn’t the Lilly I met earlier that year on a hot summer night, in downtown Huntington Beach at Gallagher’s Pub.
Over the past few weeks I noticed a change in Lilly. Her eyes had a glaze that was familiar to me but it didn’t fit her face. A cryptic shine I had seen only in my eyes a couple years back when I would gaze into what almost seemed to be a vacant mirror. When I would gawk at the keys of my white piano waiting for a response at all hours of the lonely nights. The look of a lost soul trying to find its way back home. When the days had the futility of a duel with an unloaded gun. When the night’s miraculous beauty was overlooked because I had surrendered to the demons. So helpless. So lost and frightened but no recollection of why. When my only friend was your shadow, even in a crowded room.
After a couple more laps, she veered towards me and started to walk. She raised her hands in the air like she was a human Y and continued her sexy strut towards me. Even in times like these she turned me on. That was how much I loved this woman. The hymn she had been singing was becoming clearer to me as she got closer. Louder. LouDER. LOUDER!!!!
“AMEN!!! AMEN AMEN!!! AMEN…AMEN!!!” she sang at the top of her lungs as if she were trying to summon God and the Devil simultaneously. “AMEN!!! AMEN AMEN!!! AMEN…AMEN!!!” again and again and again with the same look in her eyes. The same look of a woman caught in a spiritual hell. Trapped. And getting worse by the minute.
When the cathedral bells rang, alerting us of the new day, her arms jolted upward, reaching at the heavens as if God were pulling at her arms, while the Devil grasped tightly at her feet. The spiritual warfare was irrefutable. She screamed the hymn louder and louder as God and the Devil played tug-of-war with her body—with her precious soul and spirit. Her blue hair covered her upper back as she shouted up at God. I was still frozen, watching with my arms out in front of me. Reaching for her. Trying to save her, but from a healthy distance. This was between them. Only a fool would intervene in a duel between the Prince of Darkness and The King of Kings.
I slowly began to back up when her hands dropped from the sky and down to her thighs. “Where are you going Johnny?” she said with the same malicious grin. The voice was not hers anymore. It was deep. It was raspy. She sounded like the product of a Tom Waits and Jack Nicholson lovechild. The glaze in her eyes had turned to fire. She lifted her arms to a horizontal position and continued her strut.
“Where are you going Johnny? Come back here Johnny” she said as she swayed her hips, arms still spread as if she was waiting to be crucified and fucked at the same time. I had never been so petrified and so turned on in all of my life. She was getting closer and closer and her smile was getting bigger and bigger. I lifted my hands like a boxer and told her to stay the fuck away. I had never hit a woman in my entire life and I wasn’t about to start now. Especially a woman I loved so deeply and unconditionally.
Not even thirty seconds later, I heard sirens in the distance. They were getting closer and coming from more than one car. The squad cars turned the corner one after another. Their red and blue lights lit up the sky like a kaleidoscope. There must have been ten cars; two ambulances; paramedics…they just kept coming. A spotlight was shining from the sky. Again she raised her arms as if her hymns had been answered. She looked up and started laughing as the light shined on her as if she were center stage of her own show at The Palladium, and the cops were our uninvited audience, yelling and pointing their guns at us, telling us to get on the ground.
“Get on the ground Johnny” she said now looking at me with her arms spanned out like Jesus once again. I did. She stood there suddenly looking perplexed at the situation, looking around at all of the turmoil, like someone flipped the switch and the light went on. But a very dim light. A light so dim not even the spotlight could make it shine bright enough. Not even God Himself.
As soon as the cops saw that we were unarmed, they put their guns back in their holsters. I lay face down on the hard black concrete in the middle of the street. Two of them were approaching me carefully. She stood there looking more muddled than ever and her arms were now at her sides. The singing, the laughing, the smiling, had stopped. We were surrounded by at least ten or fifteen men wearing badges and all dressed in black uniform, like an army of ants ready to rip us in half and carry us to their underground lair, as if we were helpless insects waiting to be feasted on. The spotlight remained on us for another thirty seconds before it was eventually shut off. One of the officers knelt down, put a knee in my back, then slapped the cuffs on me before lifting me up by my blue Frank Zappa shirt and sitting me on the curb. Lilly was now backing away from the cops. She was scared. She didn’t know what was going on.
After a few more seconds of feuding, they got her to sit on the curb about twenty feet to my left. They were asking her questions but I couldn’t hear. About five officers huddled. They were whispering but I couldn’t make out what they were saying nor did I even care. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her sitting on the curb, trying to talk and explain what this madness was all about. Why someone driving by had called because of the bizarre behavior that was taking place at the church around midnight. I was waiting for them to question me about the hanging at Central Park, but they never did.
“Get up,” one of the officers said holding a clipboard and a pen. I stood up. What next? I peeked over to Lilly and she gave me a crooked smile. I didn’t know her. She was someone or something else.
“How much have you had to drink tonight?”
“How much has she had to drink tonight?”
“Why are you guys singing in the church parking lot at midnight on a Saturday? You don’t look like Christians,” he said sarcastically while his fellow workers started to chuckle. I didn’t answer.
“So you haven’t had anything to drink?”
“No, nothing” I said again, getting irritated with the same question. He was staring straight in my eyes trying to catch me in a lie or force a confession out of me. They were all staring at me like I was something to eat. One of them whispered in another’s ear, looking me up and down, enjoying my distress.
“O.K. then you don’t mind if we give you a couple of tests?”
“Nope go right ahead,” I said as I took another peek at our star of the evening. She was sitting on the curb while they spoke to her. But she wasn’t listening anymore. She had drifted off and was not responding. They were getting nowhere with her.
They told me to tilt my head back, close my eyes, and open them when I thought it was thirty seconds. I nodded my head and waited for them to tell me to start. My head went back, my eyes shut. 1,2,3……..inadvertently, my head went somewhere else. To a most desirable dream….
I was sitting at the piano. It was a black 1933 Steinway and Sons. Black as the darkest night. It had been in our family for as long as I can remember. She was sipping her champagne with a grin of serenity enjoying her own private show. I sat and played for hours. Her eyes were closed as if she were in a sleepless dream, telling me how lovely that was every time I ended a piece, which I chose precisely for her. The sky was an impeccable shade of purple. The moon had now taken its throne, shining through the window, landing effortlessly on me and the piano, extenuating our humble existence. Above the piano hung a chandelier that sparkled like a starry night, smothering the piano in a sea of crystals, customizing the finish with its own imposing grandeur. The wind started to howl, as if it were a choir singing in seamless harmony gifted from God. And she was still stunning. She sat there and sipped her champagne and smoked her cigarette. Her black dress covered only half her thighs. She wore fishnet stockings and white high-top Doc Martens. Her hair was black just above her shoulders. She had the most beautiful face. An utmost masterpiece’. Her eyes were blue, hidden in black, with the perfect amount of shadow beneath her lower lids. I played and I played. The moon descended behind the hills leaving the chandelier in charge of its duties. She was humming along. Smiling. Touching herself on her breasts. Touching herself on her thighs. Lifting her dress exposing her purple lace. I kept playing. Her cigarette rested in the ashtray; burning; smoke spiraling to the ceiling; the end stained from her ruby red lips. I kept playing. With her eyes still closed she walked gracefully to my side. She slid the black dress off her shoulders letting it fall to the ground. Her hand was on my back; her touch so soft. I kept playing. She was touching her now naked breasts. Humming. Her baby blue eyes still hidden in black. She lifted her right leg and straddled me; kissing my neck; her hands gradually slithering up and down the flesh of my arms; my neck; my face. She gracefully ripped a hole in her fishnets still kissing my neck. She made love to me with such placid poise then fell asleep. Still straddling me; her head on my shoulder….and I kept playing.
When I opened my eyes it had felt like an eternity. I wanted to close them again when I saw her strapped to a gurney and being put in the back of the ambulance against her will. She looked so helpless and disarrayed and there was nothing I could do. They were taking her away. Probably to commit her to a place where schizophrenia and delusions are the norm, leaving the minds of reality the outnumbered minority. Where imaginary friends waltz with their masters, and the shadows of the souls who are lost in their world of absurdity. I looked at the officer, and gave him a demeaning smirk. I looked him straight in his shit brown eyes….
“Thirty,” I whispered not taking my eyes off him for a split second. He looked at one of the other officers with a look of mild bewilderment then looked back at me.
“Fuck man. That was right on the money actually.” He looked at his watch again to make sure he didn’t need to hitch a ride with Lilly to her new home and reserve a bed for himself as well. I could already see they didn’t want to waste their time with another meaningless test, so they told me to turn around so they could uncuff me, and sat me back down on the curb. The ambulance doors were now shut and she was locked inside. I asked where they were going but they would not tell me. I begged the officers to let me go with her but they unanimously said no. Tears built up in my eyes as I proceeded to try and convince them that it was vital that I go with her.
“I need to go with her. You don’t understand. She is pregnant and I can’t leave her. We are supposed to go to the doctor in the morning to get an ultrasound to see if the baby is ok. Please. You have to let me! Why won’t you let me go with my fiancé? This is fucked up. I can’t believe you would treat people like this! Stop the ambulance right now and let me go with my fiancé!”
But they wouldn’t budge. They were not oblivious to the toxicity of our relationship. The ambulance drove away and I remained on the curb waiting for my release so I could chase the ambulance like a wild dog, all alone in the middle of the winter night.
“Where are they taking her?”
“I don’t know.”
“Yes you do. Where is she going?”
“I don’t know!” raising his voice just a little. I couldn’t understand why they couldn’t tell me, but was convinced I was getting nowhere, and that wasn’t going to change.
All this time the car remained running in the middle of the street. The doors were all open and the lights still on. A couple of officers peeked around inside for less than a minute, then retreated to their own vehicles and drove away. By this time, there were only four officers left and the whole fiasco was winding down to its conclusion. I remained on the curb, now in silence, as the last of the officers spoke with each other, giving me an occasional glance. I stared at them with vicious eyes, hating every bit of them. They had taken her away. The one who holds my hand. The one who laughs at my stupid jokes. The one who tells me I look gorgeous even when I know I don’t. The one who dances slowly with me whenever we hear a song we love on the radio, no matter where we are, or who is watching. Who never denies me a kiss, or a fuck. Who I would generate a fictitious child for, so I could ride with her to the nuthouse and risk blowing my cover, revealing my lack of sanity. And the one who gets in the car with me and forces me to drive to church, even when she thinks I murdered a man, by lynching him in a public bathroom. The one who is the one.
About the Author
Jon Vreeland was born in Long Beach, California, and raised by his parents in Huntington Beach, where he became an accomplished musician and struggled with addiction most of his life. His short stories paint a picture of the struggles he faced and eventually overcame. Vreeland now resides in Santa Barbara where he attends City College and is a father of two beautiful daughters.