An Anonymous Death
� 2004 by Richard Spiers
Sean Collins noticed her lying there, just as he pulled into a parking space under the office tower shadow. Concerned, he walked over to the girl, wondering why pigeons flocked around her. He shooed them away revealing the prostrate form.
Her office attire, blazer over blouse, did not fit a homeless or alcoholic profile, so he couldn't imagine what was wrong.
Collins kneeled beside her, "Uh, Miss? Are you OK?"
Nudging her, he attempted to wake her. Collins could not help but glance at the hiked short skirt that revealed her pantyhose-covered thigh - and more. Unable to rouse her, he brushed her long hair away from her face nestling it against his trousers. Lilac perfume made his heart race. Her pouting lips invited: love me. Wide, blue eyes were delicately tinted with light shadow, eyebrows trimmed, shaped into two expressions of: now. Collins leaned close to those lips, fingers gripping her soft arm, touching the curve of her breast.
Mere inches from a kiss, a spasm jerked the head letting a trickle of red run from under her broken skull. A cry startled him from behind: a woman who yelled. "Is she still alive? I'm shaking so hard. I saw the whole thing. Lord, why did she jump?" Check her pulse! The guy at 911 says check her pulse. The ambulance is on its way. Oh, Jesus, hurry."
He forced himself to confirm it. His hand pressed against her neck to see if a pulse was there. Warm, delicate, but there was no pulse. Pushing his trembling fingers too hard, the pressure moved the corpse's head aside showing that its skull had cracked open letting the yolk of her brain blob out.
Off-balance, too much in shock to be sick, Sean fell backwards away from the corpse.
"Is she���?" the cell phone woman asked.
He weakly stood up, shaking his head. "Yes."
The single uttered word; so matter-of-fact, so calm, rolled off his lips finalizing the dead girl's memorial.
Still compelled to help, he pulled off his windbreaker and lay it over her exposed thighs. He could not answer her, "Why?" but at least he could preserve her dignity. He looked at cell phone woman wondering if she had noticed his intimacy with the dead thing. She only stood and sobbed, comforted by a stranger in the gathering crowd.
A half-hour later, after the police detective finished his last of a series of gruff questions of Sean, he closed his notepad dismissing him. The plain clothes-man walked over to the scene investigator, "Suicide jumper, at least according to the janitor on the seventeenth floor. This guy," jerking a finger at Sean, "was the first to find her. My partner found out that her drunken boss didn't have a clue she'd jumped. His biggest worry seems to be his office closing. We can't find her purse anywhere, but left word with the building superintendent to let us know if it turns up. The drunk was able to slobber enough to give me her home address out of the files. We're heading over to her apartment to wrap up a few loose ends, maybe there's a note."
The CSI, jotting a few things on a form pad, said, "It's strange, though, women are not usually jumpers; like to leave pretty corpses. Oh, well, looks pretty shut and dry to me, if there is no evidence of foul play, its just another sad case. Give me a call later, I can always file an addendum if you find anything special."
Sean looked on as an EMT put her sheet-covered, lifeless body in the ambulance. His jacket lay crumpled just inside the doors. They closed with a slam. As it drove away, the lights flashed, but no siren announced her passing.
Over just like that? That unanswered, "why?" still nagged at Sean. Why had she jumped? Why had he nearly kissed a strange, dead girl?
He plodded through the building's entrance choosing on impulse the glass-enclosed elevator rather than the interior ones. As it moved upward, the scene below became smaller as it ascended: the policemen looked like animated Joe Cop dolls, standing amidst toy parked cruisers. As the lift moved past the fifth floor, a white pigeon rode upward on a windy updraft and slapped against the rising glass. Startled out of his introspection, Sean panicked as the elevator filled with the dead girl's lilac perfume.
Collins desperately slapped the elevator door just encouraging it to open at six. He exited the doors at his office, Software Choices, shaking like a leaf.
Maria Cortiz, the office administrator, dipped her coffee cup dripping it on the lobby carpet at his pale appearance.
"Sean! What's happened?"
He plunged into the nearest chair spilled his story to the gathering first shift gang, though carefully avoiding the near-kiss, the pigeon and the elevator panic.
He finished. Some hung their heads in sadness, others just wandered back to their workstations with a sigh and an "Oh, well, too bad."
His boss, Steed, told Collins, "You should go home. What a thing to go through."
"Nick, if I don't work, I'll just sit at home and dwell on it. Let me put my mind on programming."
"OK, but take it slow. Have Jimmy check your work, you know, just in case your thoughts drift."
Sean nodded. At his computer, though, lines of error prone code flew from fingertips despite Jimmy Simms trying to proof it.
"Damn, the subroutine crashed again." Sean looked at the red highlight, corrupted text.
"Man, you need to chill. Nothing you've done today is working. I can't find all the errors you're typing. I couldn't even keep up with you in college, much less now. You need to just go home like Nick said. That girl was a bad trip, but you need to move on."
"I do need to take a break, J, but I don't want to go home. You know, I can still feel her warm skin, smell her perfume like she is right in the room with me."
"Whoa, creepy, Dude. Why don't you go to the lounge and grab some java. I'll try to sort out this tangled code crap."
Collins poured a cup of coffee in the lounge. He looked into the coffee cup watching the bubbles swirl with no meaning. The deep chicory aroma suddenly smelled like lilacs while a thought popped into his head, "Death so swift, love so elusive."
Trying to shake the illusion off, he stared out the window. A flash of brown outside caught his attention: a hawk. Pigeons were freaking out, flying to get away from the predator. A white pigeon avoided its grasp but another gray was not so lucky. In a moment the raptor disappeared with the crumpled bird. The white bird reappeared and swished past Sean's window, then again. Was that her perfume he smelled?
He sat down in one of the lounge's chairs, staring into space trying to imagine what it was like to plunge from the top of the seventeenth floor. Some friends had bungee jumped last fall, but he had refused. Just watching them gave him vertigo.
Collins breathed in the steaming chicory aroma; sipped; sat the cup of java on the table and sank into the chair. From the steaming cup emerged a mist filling the lounge. Part of the fog formed into a white pigeon with deep blue eyes. It landed on his shoulder, beak leaning into his ear, whispering, feathers smelling of lilacs.
"Sean." Jimmy put his hand on Collins' shoulder.
"I wondered what happened to you. You're in here mumbling something about lilac pigeons. Look, it's already three, man, go home.
The sun filtered in the window casting an afternoon glare. He stretched his arms, reached for the coffee and took a sip. It was cold.
"Hey, what is that?" Jimmy pointed to where the sun shined on Sean's pants; they were dried blood streaks.
"I guess it's where her hair brushed my clothes."
Jimmy backpedaled, looked ill. "You've been wearing her blood all day? That's disgusting, man! Get those filthy things off!"
"Jimmy, I can't very well walk pants-less down to my car."
Steed popped into the lounge accompanied by Maria, both concerned by the commotion.
Jimmy said, "Sean's going home - now."
Nick reinforced this, sternly, like a father, "Get out of here. Take some time off, son."
"Everyone wants me to go home, so OK, I'll go." He threw his hands up in resignation.
Maria walked out to the office exit with him. She placed her hand on his shoulder and said, "Is there anything I can do?"
He shook his head, "No, thanks for asking, though." He ignored the new look in her eyes, one that had not been there - ever before.
Moving past the men's room, he didn't feel like trying to wash the hours-old stains off his pants there. He figured he would wait until he got home before he washed that girl out of his life.
On the ride home, he had daydreams, alternating between her haunting beauty and the gore. He thought about how he saw those pigeons dancing around her. Just around the corner from his apartment complex, an SUV zipping out of a shopping center pulled out in front of him, but miraculously he missed ramming it by mere inches. He didn't even remember hitting the brakes, but that damn perfume suddenly filled the car. His heart raced the entire next block home.
He grabbed his and his neighbor's mail, and climbed the two rickety flights of stairs up to the top floor apartment. Mrs. Harris, who lived across the hall, was out of town visiting her mother for another week. "Now, Sean, you don't mind getting my mail, now do you?" The frail lady had asked.
Inside, mail in one hand, he flipped on the living room light with the other. The lone overhead bulb popped dead. Well, without extra bulbs, he wouldn't be mail reading in the living room so he laid it aside. The bedroom clock flickered just 4:00 in the afternoon, but he felt so fatigued. He pulled his clothes off and tossed them in a pile on the floor inside the bathroom. Too tired even to take a shower he crawled straight into bed falling directly to sleep. From the bathroom, a fine mist smelling of flowers eased to entwine the fitful, unconscious Sean.
In his dream, a red-flecked white pigeon flapped about trying to keep a hawk away from its nest of fledglings. Meanwhile, Collins ran about, naked, chasing the raptor, trying with no success to protect the pigeon and her brood.
The brown bird of prey ignored Collins; swooped down, and snatched tiny fluffs of baby pigeons away. The white pigeon cried out, "No! My babies, my babies are dead! It's my fault. I've killed them. No love, and now no babies!"
In the distance, his best friend Jimmy laughed at his awkward predicament, shouting Leno-style jokes at his expense. Nick, the father-boss, shook his head in disgust. Suddenly, from the shadows, Maria stepped in between Collins and the pigeon. She grasped his shoulders holding him tight.
"Let the damned pigeon die, Sean. Look at it, the hawk has its prey, but you, look at what's in front of you. I'm alive, I'm a real woman, love me not that pallid thing!"
With Maria's words, the pigeon fluttered in front of Sean, whispering through its beak, "Come away with me, Sean. You can protect me from the hawk. Choose me to love."
Cortiz spat at the monster, "In the name of Santa Maria, leave! Let us alone, La Llorona!"
Despite his attraction for Maria's new affection, it could not quench his lust for the phantom pigeon. Shoving Maria aside he reached for the bird. As he clutched the icy thing to his chest, it shoved its freezing feet deep into his heart. On the floor, Cortiz lay still as a cadaver; her head cracked open from the fall with a pool of red draining from it.
Collins moaned, "What have you done to her you horrid thing!"
The bird cooed, "She has taken my place, Sean, dear. Now we can be together."
That's when the pigeon disintegrated and the feathers turned into mists of lilac petals. Then, from the hazy cloud a hag's head formed, the sweet lilacs turned to old, stale cigarette breath and brimstone. The stench choked Collins making him gasp for air. The harder it was to breathe; the uglier the hag's face became; the stronger his erection strained. Taking the form of a droopy-breasted ancient, she straddled him, hands around his throat. Demon talons strangling the air from his lungs as the crone croaked, "I must live to love, and you will be my anchor to the world of the living."
His heart raged against his chest, lungs strained for breath, not knowing what to do. Praying to end the nightmare he tried to awaken himself to no avail. He was paralyzed, dying, the thing sucking his life away. With his last bit of air he begged for the help of God. Everything went silent save the pounding of his heart: thump, thump, thump!
Suddenly, he sat stark up, in bed, soaked in sweat. The clock showed 10:45 while the pounding at the door continued. "Sean! Are you OK? C'mon, Dude! Open the damn door!"
He pulled on some boxers and stumbled to the door. Throwing it open, there was Jimmy standing with concern pasted to his face, Maria behind him worried, too.
"It's about time. You had us worried sick. Look at you, man, you're a mess! Hey, Buddy, tuck your personality in, there's a lady with me."
Sean wobbled back into the bedroom looking for clothes.
"You scared the shit out of us. We called and there was no answer on the phone. Maria thought we should come over to check on you. I'm glad we did."
Maria said, "Are you sick?"
"I don't think so, I just had a nightmare or something."
"Hey, Dude, what's wrong with the lights? And why is like a refrigerator in here?"
"Jimmy, never mind that. Sean, tell us about this dream."
"It was weird, Maria. I don't remember much about it, except that there was a pigeon and a hawk in it," he lied.
Jimmy said, "Sounds like a John Denver song. I guess that would make it a nightmare."
"Hush, Jimmy." Maria continued, "There must have been more than that? As cool as it is in here, you're covered in sweat. Do you think you may have caught something from that girl?"
"I don't know."
Maria sat next to him, felt his forehead. "You're on fire."
"Hey, you got any beer, that'll cool you off. Let's have a party, that'll make you feel better!"
Jimmy walked to the refrigerator in the small apartment. Then, opening it, he let out a yell. "Dude! You didn't tell me you had a dead girl's head in the freezer!"
"Damn you, Jimmy, that's not funny!"
"Aw, C'mon, Guy. Lighten up, it's too dead in here."
"Shut up!" Sean was in no mood. "Just bring me that beer?"
"Oh, no, Sean-o! You get Pepsi. You're already too high. But look, Senorita Maria, I found you a golden Corona. It's just the thing to warm up my foxy Mexican's honey."
"What's wrong with you, Jimmy? I can't believe you said that." Maria was shocked at his sudden disrespect to her.
Maria snubbed the beer but moved even closer to Sean on the sofa. Jimmy leaned back in a chair gulping down his brew. Sean sipped at the cola.
Maria leaned in and felt Sean's forehead again. "You're cooling off a little."
"Sorry about the way I stumbled to the door while ago, Maria. I'm a little embarrassed at my overexposure."
Jimmy choked on his beer when she said, "From my point of view, I don't think you have anything to be embarrassed about." She nearly sat in Sean's lap now despite Jimmy's growing, jealous stare. "Tell me more about that dream."
"There was this thing in it. It's so hard to describe. It wandered around, afraid, calling out for her babies or something." He omitted the part about Maria. She and Jim had been on a few dates but here he was dreaming disgusting dreams about her behind his buddy's back.
"Was it like a bloody thing in a filmy white garment and is she wandering around looking for something - like babies?"
"Oh, God, no. My grandma told me that story when we lived in Gary, Indiana. It's the La Llorona story."
Sean's heart skipped a beat at the same name from his dream: a name he had never heard before tonight.
The name tangled against Jimmy's tongue as he repeated it. "Lah Yoh-roh-nah?"
"Yes, Jim, La Llorona is an old legend from Mexico. You see; Great-uncle Hector was about twenty when he moved up to the Gary, Indiana, Cudahey barrio in the late 40's. The immigrants in those days came up to work nightshifts in the steel mills for pennies, but it was still better than starving in shacks outside Mexico City. Anyway, the residents started seeing this thing on their street - Cline Avenue - in a bloody torn white night gown. Some said the gown flowed like fog, others like a feathery set of wings. They said she walked about crying, "Mis hijos? Mis hijos? Where are my children?"
"When Grandfather moved up to take Uncle Hector's place at the mill in 1969, Daddy came along, too. He met Mom in Gary. So you see, I grew up with this thing being talked about.
"I was just a little girl, eavesdropping, but I heard them saying that Daddy saw it a few times on the way home. Once, Daddy's best friend, a cab driver, said a girl got in the taxi, but when he turned to ask where she wanted to go, the ghost vanished. On the seat was just a tiny strip of her gown, like a feather, with a drop of blood on it."
Jimmy said, "Jesus, Maria, you're giving me goose bumps. I ain't kidding."
Ignoring the scared kid, she continued, "I asked about it when I was older, so Grandmother said that sometime, four hundred years ago or so, there was a girl in love with a wealthy guy, a Don, a nobleman. He lived the life of wealth. Well, he had this mistress on the side. One day, finding that she was pregnant; he banished her from him. She was an Indian girl, a low caste, so she had little recourse. Living in a shack on handouts from the priest, she plotted a way back into his life. Later, sneaking into his lavish party, she approached him and confronted him with his two year old little girl. He scorned her as beneath his station in life, that she was just a tramp. The crowd snickered at her: the little whore mistress. In those days, every rich man had these kinds of things happening, so no one thought anything of her or cared for her situation. Running away, she cracked up. Looking at the pretty child, all she saw was her heartache. In her madness, believing that the child was the problem, she ended up stabbing the child through the heart.
"Thinking to herself, that if she would not have any more children he might take her back, she next turned the knife plunging it through her belly, to cut out her womb. The shock of the pain made her stop before it went to deep, but she ran out the door bleeding in shock. She ran through the rows of shacks toward the river leaving a bloody trail in her shabby nightgown, finally falling off the edge of the pier. No one knows if she drowned, died of blood loss, or what. The priests met and decided to call it a suicide rather than an accident, thus banishing her to Hell. She couldn't even be buried in the church cemetery, so she ended up in an unmarked potter's field plot.
"So, forlorn, her ghost wandered the alleys all those centuries, moaning about her lost baby and her predicament. When the migrants moved to northern Indiana, they were shocked that the legend followed them."
Jimmy interrupted, "If you're going to sit around and tell ghost stories in the dark at midnight, I'm outta here. C'mon, Maria, cut the ghost crap and let's go girl - now."
Maria blanched at the rude command. She said, "Just wait just a minute. Let me check Sean one more time." Maria reached over and felt his head. "Do you feel well enough for us to leave you?"
Possessed, overcharged, Sean leaned the few inches in and kissed Maria.
Maria gasped, but did not slap him. In fact she enjoyed the deep richness of his lips.
"Damn, Dude! We're friends, and you're sick and all, but get your hands off of my girl before I kick your ass!"
Maria flushed, not at the kiss, but at Jimmy's statement. She turned to him, pointed her finger at him, and shouted. "Look, get this straight, I'm not your little Mexican 'girl', do you understand, you racist, sexist pig?"
The emotions running raw in the room snapped the ghostly spell. The three of them kept frozen quiet for a few moments.
Jimmy sheepishly started it off, "Maria, I'm sorry. I don't know what's the matter with me. I think I'll just leave.
Maria stopped him, "Wait, Jimmy. I think we're all just stressed out. Look, I never meant to give you the wrong idea, we're friends, we've had fun and all, but���"
"Yeah, I know." Then to Sean, he said, "Hey, Dude, some party, huh? Look, you just feel better, OK? Later, man."
Sean's head came unscrewed, splitting, but he managed to sputter, "Um, Maria, I'm sorry, too. I don't know why - why I did that. I feel bad how it went down between the two of you." He found himself holding Maria's hand.
"Stop it, I'm not ready to deal with all these feelings - right now. As for Jimmy, his silly schtick is old and getting next to me."
She pulled away.
"I'm going to go, too. It's a good thing Jimmy and I took separate cars. If you get feeling worse, you should go to the doctor."
Maria picked up her purse and swept out the door as if something pushed her along. As soon as the door closed, the room chilled. Sean retreated, back to the bedroom.
To no one he muttered, "Hmm, Next thing you know, I'll be talking to myself. I haven't been this freaked since Boy Scout camp ghost stories." Sean checked the door twice to make sure it was locked, and then shuffled to bed.
Exhausted but afraid to fall asleep, he lay awake in bed, covers pulled up to ward off the growing chill. About 2 AM, slow footsteps paced in the room, like eerie high heels on hardwood floors, but every room in the apartment was carpeted except the tiled bathroom. It wasn't Mrs. Harris and the people below would not return from their night shift jobs for a few more hours. He listened, but the sound died off.
"I sure wished I hadn't drunk that soft drink. Uh, La Llorona, I'm going to go to the bathroom now." He felt foolish. Still, his full bladder needed relief so he went to the bathroom, closing the door just as a reflex.
Standing on the cold tiles in his bare feet, the bathroom door eased open making for a very weird moment. He tried to stretch to the door while attempting to finish what he started. With a push, the door clicked shut, but it immediately eased open again. Never in the three years he had lived there had it happened.
He exited the bathroom pulling the door shut: It never reopened.
Still unable to sleep, he pulled out one of his programming texts to read in bed by a small reading light above the headboard.
So cold, it felt as if frost might form on the windows. Then the reading light extinguished itself. The room filled with lilac perfume. A mist formed near the foot of the bed. It coalesced into the form of a nude woman: the dead girl.
The ephemeral image's gossamer hair lay loose highlighting the curve of a breast. Collins fear faded as he took in her erotic beauty.
The phantom spoke. "You were so kind to me today."
His tongue, thick and dry, scraped out the words. "Uh, you're naked."
"This is new to me, but I don't think I need clothes anymore, Sean. Maybe that's why I'm so cold. You, though, you are so alive, so warm. You can be my strength, my way back to this world. There are so many things left for me to do."
He couldn't resist her. The covers pulled back of their own volition allowing the revenant into bed. As her cold corpse thigh rubbed his, her velvet voice whispered. "I need your love. Love me, Sean."
His life's heat drained in to her, yet her icy passion needed more. Intoxicated by her aroma, he tasted her pale skin, until a burning desire within him needed volcanic relief.
The alarm rang 6:30, waking him to sweat soaked, sticky sheets.
Collins arose, and untangled himself, disgusted at his wet dream. Then he sniffed. The smell of lilacs in the air engulfed him. What if it had not been a dream? He became nauseated at the thought.
He just made it to the bathroom in time purging yellow bile. The disgust matched the burning in his throat.
He rinsed his mouth glancing through the open bathroom door at the dirty sheets. No revenant lay there, but turning to the mirror, it told the full story: His frightened face stared back, emaciated, pale, with dark circles around its eyes.
He knew Nick would tell him to stay home if he called in sick, but he was afraid to stay. Whether these were nightmares or whether he was really haunted by a ghost, the effect was the same. Already weak, he knew he would die if he spent another hour there alone.
It was a strange sensation pulling into the office parking lot. He glanced to see if she still might be lying prostrate there, but not even a bloodstain remained. A flock of pigeons waddled in front of the car blocking his path, though. He rolled the window down to look at the white bird in the midst of the otherwise harlequin-shaded brood. The driver behind him blew his horn scaring the pigeons off.
The guy shouted, "Hey! Watch the pigeons on your own time!" and then flipped Sean off as he pulled off toward a parking slot.
Maria couldn't believe the change in him, "Oh, Sean. Why in the world did you come in? You look worse than last night. I've never seen you so pale, it's like you have no blood."
Instinctively she went to his side. When he leaned on her he felt weightless, maybe less than solid. She guided him to a lobby chair.
He leaned in close to her cradling bosom and confessed, "It was so awful last night after you left." Maria hugged him, unsure what else to do. She deeply wanted to tell her secret dream, but timing had to be just right.
Jimmy rounded the partition wall and stopped cold. He shook his head, worried about his pal, but again he couldn't seem to control his words. "Man, one day a dead girl, the next day a vampire. What's next, stigmata and stakes?"
Maria scolded, "Jimmy, don't talk like that. It's not only rude, it's sacrilegious"
Embarrassed at his lack of control, stung by the rebuke, he lashed out, "Hey, Cortiz, I thought you told me you're an atheist - or is it some kind of Hispanic mumbo-jumbo you buy into?"
She spit back, "Listen up, Jimmy Simms, that's the last remark you make about my heritage or I'll kick your ass. And another thing, just because Catholicism is out of tune with the times don't make me out as an atheist."
Sean got up and escaped their escalating squabble; shuffled to the lounge. He looked out the window for a moment, sniffing at the air for lilacs, searching the empty sky for - something. Then he saw it, a white pigeon, now with blue eyes, fluttering close by the window trying futilely to land on a ledge covered in barbed bird-wire.
He felt the thick pane of glass for a few moments until the bird gave up and flew off. He walked over and crashed on the lounge couch dozing off as soon as his head leaned back.
Fleeting images forced into his brain.
A fifteen-year-old blonde, the young image of the dead girl said, "Mom, don't guilt trip me, it's not my fault that Daddy's in jail. He molested me while you stood by!"
Months sped by until, the freshman co-ed in a long tee shirt and panties; her hair still mussed from waking up at the phone's ring, answered. "Mother! How did it happen? Stabbed? He's dead? No, it's not my fault, damn you. Look just sober up, will you. No, I won't go down to the prison to make funeral arrangements for that bastard. That's your job. For once do something responsible."
Alone, estranged from her Mom but persevering, even after a harrowing date rape her senior year, graduation finally arrived. She dodged the ceremony afraid her drunken mother, who now had a new biker boyfriend, might show up to make a scene. Her college debts overwhelmed her, and job prospects in a weak economy were slim even with her business degree.
"Sean!" Gray-temple, fatherly Nick shook him out of his trance. "Wake up. I'm worried about you, son. Do you want to see a doctor?"
Standing by, Maria offered, "I'll drive you."
"I didn't get any sleep last night. I'm just tired."
"I won't force you to go to a doctor, but I am telling you to go home." That's an order.
Jimmy spoke up, "Look, Maria can drive you home. I'll follow in your car. Is that OK with you, Nick?"
"Alright, but our client is going to hang me if we don't get that program ironed out. Look, I'll shift it over to another team, but Jimmy, I need you back here, soon. Don't stop at the pub!"
The two of them helped Sean to her car. Sitting close to Maria in the compact, Collins could not take his eyes off of her bronze thighs. His shaky hand followed the gaze and rested on her leg. She made no move to push it away, enjoying it, sighing in a soft breath.
This time he didn't even have to close his eyes. The vision powered itself into his mind.
The blonde, now out of college, living in a cheap flat, went to answer the phone in a dirty tank top and unwashed baggy jeans. She had to save her one clean dress for her job interviews. It did not fit her emaciated form any more, but it was all she had.
"Hello." She answered praying it was not a bill collector. It wasn't.
Finally a job!
It wasn't just any job, but a job as an executive assistant. Nice Mr. Lumley was more than her boss. He became a mentor over the next few months. Before this, collection calls had terrorized her night and day. Her lecherous landlord propositioned a lay for the three months back rent, but she had been able to dodge him. Now with this great job, she was starting to pay down bills.
Mr. Lumley's lower lip quivered as he replaced the receiver. "Thirty-seven years. I'm retired without a warning. A replacement is coming tomorrow so I have to leave." She was stunned.
They both wept as he cleaned his few things out of his desk promising to keep in touch.
She never saw Mr. Lumley again. Taking his severance check to the bank's ATM, she read the next day that he had been killed in a botched robbery. The nervous thief that had shot him was already under arrest, but her friend, her mentor was gone.
The new boss, Jim Grissom, cut the bottom line for corporate while still skimming a few thousands of dollars for himself. Embezzlement was but one of his may sins. Just three weeks after his arrival, the drunken man pinned her up against the copier with his hand up her skirt. She slapped him, threatened to either sue for harassment, turn him in for embezzlement or both.
It was a standoff - she needed the job but was afraid that they would still terminate her and then drag out the suit forcing her into bankruptcy. He left her alone, now frightened that she might turn him in, yet he escalated skimming cash out of the agency and boozed heavier each week that dragged by.
Miserable and alone, one day, watering a plant, she peeked out the fifth floor window and saw a pigeon building a nest. Some time later, there were eggs. The pigeon could not see her for the thick glass reflection, but she enjoyed watching them. Soon hatchlings arrived, which gave her joy. As the fledglings grew, though, she thought about her miserable life. If the pigeons could have babies, so could she - a way to be loved.
Of course, even that meant getting to know someone, so she let her guard down. One weekend, she and an acquaintance, Megan, found two guys at a bar. Megan went home with the taller man; she took the more muscular one back to her apartment.
His ass was fine and she was drunk with wine and lust. His hands were strong and firm as he pulled her clothes off. She threw her head back while he massaged her breasts and then he moved lower. Woozy from the alcohol, she dozed off at that moment.
"Bitch. Drunken whore, I want some response." He took her hard.
Afterward, he peed, dressed and left her weeping into a pillow. Though he hadn't used a condom, she did not get pregnant or sick. She curled up tighter into her aloneness.
She began to change. Each morning she carefully, lingeringly applied make up, choosing her outfits with slow deliberation. She never looked better, but there was no one to see her. The ritual made her late for work most days but her boss, Grissom, did not care since he was already snoring in his office waiting for the mail's checks to come in from clients and a chance to slough off any cash deposits brought in by walk-ins. The sales agents never saw their manager any more and profits plummeted.
The fateful day she checked the fax machine sorting junk faxes from corporate memos. One was a letter from the district VP addressed to Grissom. Unable to reach him by phone after repeated tries, it announced that the office was set to close by the end of the week. A special rep was flying out. She choked when she read that though the staff would be farmed out to other agencies, she wouldn't: she was terminated.
His jig was up and she would be cast into destitution. She would default on those college loans. There would be no money for rent! Oh, God, she could not imagine sex with the decrepit landlord to pay the rent. It was too much. Desperate, she needed to escape, to get some air. She grabbed her purse out of her desk. Walking by the thick pane of glass, peering out at the nest one last time in order to say, "Goodbye, little pidgies!" she was stunned.
Instead of a pigeon nest, a brown shadow gazed back at her. A huge hawk, beak covered in pigeon gore, dipped its head amongst scattered carnage: necks broke, torn shreds, feathered tufts in the wind.
She ran out to the lobby, did not ride the elevator down; she took it to the rooftop restaurant instead. Beyond the glass French doors, the rooftop terrace would let the breeze settle her nerves. If she could just clear her brain and think what to do next. Despite the sign, "The Terrace opens at 5:00", she walked out to the balcony.
"Ma'am, can I help you," the janitor said looking up from his mopping. Ignoring him, she gazed out into the air, watched the clouds billow on the breeze, and imagined she could fly with her pigeons. Setting her purse aside, it teetered on the edge of the building with the strap dangling over. A white pigeon flew and then down out of sight. She leaned to see where it went. Her purse slid, falling over the edge landing on a ledge below: a balcony for the tower's conference floor. She leaned farther over the edge to see where it landed, to figure out how to get it. It had all her money. She had to get it back.
The janitor ran, but was too old, the hip too weak to carry him faster. He let out a wheezing gasp as she slipped over the edge, without even a sound. The janitor, not seeing the purse fall, misunderstanding the accident, assumed the worst.
"Wake up! You're sleeping like the dead, Dude, like you're in a trance."
Jimmy was kneeling on one side of him, the compact car door open. Maria, still sitting behind the wheel, was shaking him for all she was worth.
"I thought you were dying," she said. "I've been shaking you forever. I was afraid you would stop breathing."
It took both Jimmy and Maria to help him up the flights of stairs. Jimmy turned the lock. "Wow! You must have the air cranked inside. This knob is like ice."
Inside, a mist smelling of lilacs came from nowhere, enveloping Sean.
"Hey, what's with the broken bottle of perfume, man? It's wicked."
Sean's eyes were glazed.
"Jimmy, help me put Sean over here on the couch. You damn, dead girl, this has got to stop. I kicked you out of my dreams, now I'll push you out of his."
Maria spoke a few words in Spanish and the icy air blew out of the apartment door dissipating the perfumed fog. Sean wobbled over to the living room couch.
"Maria! That was gnarly. What'd you say?" Jimmy was unsure what had happened.
Maria slumped into a chair, tired. "I spoke a Castillian exorcist phrase my grandmother taught me when I was a girl, Jimmy. Back when we used to live in that small house on Cline Street, my Dad and Mom worked all night leaving me with Nana Castilla. Besides La Llorona running up and down the dark streets, the run-down place was haunted too, so my grandma cast spells to keep the spooks at bay. Otherwise, they would pinch me black and blue in my bed while I slept."
"Awesome. You're like the conductor at spook central, baby." Jimmy said, "It's a shame we don't have a Ouija board."
"Jimmy, we don't have a lot of time, so stop with the jokes. La Llorona will bewitch Sean to the grave if we don't stop it while it's still weak. Go back down and get the box out of my car trunk. Here's the keys."
From inside the box, Maria took a silver rosary and placed it in Sean's right hand. She removed the crucifix placed it over his head. She next extracted her grandmother's bible and a wooden rattle.
She reached over, a tear running down her cheek, and hugged him. "These are the holiest items I have, Sean, Honey. An archbishop in Indianapolis blessed the crucifix and rosary. The rattle is from a Mexican shaman that my grandfather once lay stone for in Los Alejandros. These things will help us focus our faith."
"Thank you, Maria. I'm already feeling better."
Jimmy looked worried. "Listen, Guy, I'm just a half-ass Episcopalian, but if you want, I'll pray for you, too."
Maria said, "Jimmy, I'm sure we can break her spell. She actually wants release. For a time she thought his kindness was some kind of love, but take my word for it, I know she is beginning to understand that she is dead. She wants to move on. She didn't commit suicide. It was an accident by a troubled girl."
Jimmy stared, "And you know all this how?"
Sean also stared as she revealed, "She came to me, too. In the middle of the night, she came like a white bird with sharp claws. She grabbed me by the throat and tried to pluck my heart out. Her ghost has only been at this a few days, but I grew up fighting these things off. I beat off the ghost bird in my sleep, waking to that awful perfume. The mists were still in my bedroom, so I cursed her with a Castillian banishment spell. We might have been poor after the Mexican Revolution, but we were once a proud family once and by the grace of Santa Maria I'm not letting some wretched little bitch mess with me no matter how depressed she is. She can just take a phantom Prozac and chill out. And I'm sure as Hell not letting her pick on Sean any more."
"Meow, Girl, you go Cortiz." Jimmy laughed.
Let's get in a circle, use the sacred things to focus our faith, we can try to reason with her spirit."
Sean feeling stronger, said, "I'll start. Uh, ma'am, I don't know your name."
"Lisa." Jimmy whispered.
"Jimmy? How did you--"
"I read it in today's paper, the obituaries. Lisa Schmidt."
"OK, um, Lisa, you did not have a lot of people in your life who loved you, but now you have three new friends. We're sorry we didn't know you before, but we will make you a promise. We'll remember you by putting flowers on your grave each year on the anniversary of your death. We'll respect your memory, but now you have to respect us."
Icy lilac air circulated; electricity crackled in the air.
"She's back, Sean. Be careful." Maria gripped his hand.
"Lisa, send us a sign that you understand us."
Just then, the top window in Sean's bedroom fell with a bang.
Jimmy jumped as did the other two. "Sean! That sure sounded like a sign to me."
Then Jimmy's eyes popped, staring past Maria and Sean, his lips moving but unable to speak. Collins and Cortiz turned to see a white pigeon with blue eyes sitting in the bedroom window staring into the living room. Then, ducking its head, cooing a little, it suddenly flew away. The room began to warm.
"Is that it?" Jimmy asked.
Sean, exhausted, fell into Maria's arms. He hugged her as tight as his weak limbs could, trembling, crying. She hugged him close to her bosom, hand cradling his head. Jimmy got up and paced.
A knock on the door made all three of them turn to look. Jimmy went to the door and opened it sheepishly. The building maintenance worker stood on the other side.
"Sorry to interrupt," He cleared his throat at the sight of Maria embracing Sean. Looks like you young people are busy. I just wanted to let you know that the A/C is fixed. I guess you noticed that it's been blowing freezing cold all through the building off and on, but it's OK now. Uh, I'll let you get back to your affairs. Good day."
With that, he left. Jimmy pushed the door closed. "Sean, has all this been our imagination? Maybe it's been some mass hysteria."
"Yeah, maybe so, Jimmy, I don't know what to think."
"Oh, the two of you think so?" Maria stood.
Maria unbuttoned her blouse before the two guys. Under her blouse, raw scratches and black and blue marks covered her torso from her battle.
"Guys, as you can see, this was not an illusion. Now, though, maybe Lisa Schmidt can rest in peace."
"Well, I promised to put flowers on her grave, so who wants to help me find her marker and do it?" Sean asked.
At the city cemetery, each placed a bouquet of lilacs on the grave. From the top of a tall monument, a white pigeon flapped its wings skyward.
Maria, with Sean's arm around her, stood next to Jimmy each looking up at it. Serious, he said, "The hawk in your dream must have been death and the pigeon is the girl's soul. You were her temporary savior in the parking lot, but I think she needed a greater Savior. Death had to take her to Heaven. There she will get all the love only God can give."
Sean smiled, "That's not bad for a half-ass Episcopalian, J."
" Look!" Jimmy pointed.
Above, in the air, the white pigeon was now dead, dangling lifeless in the talons of a red-tailed hawk. It soared with its prey, upward and out of sight over an old oak tree.
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