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Authors: Sarah Pemberton Strong

The Fainting Room

BOOK: The Fainting Room
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Table of Contents
 
For Jeannie Simms
 
1.
 
I
t was just after midnight and the last guests had gone home. Ray Shepard sat at his desk in the upstairs study, fingers pressed against his forehead. There was a dull throbbing there, a headache brought on by the combination of too much wine at the party and his wife’s bizarre exit afterwards. He took off his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose. One window was open, and through it came the sound of the spring peepers. Were they always this noisy? The sound was painfully high—sharp, almost. Ray rubbed his forehead, and this was what he knew: one minute he was sitting at his desk, wincing at the decibel level of frogs, and the next second he was—where?
His eyes were closed. He opened them; saw that his head was pressed against the knees of his khakis. His arms gripped his shins. The plane crash position, he thought, and realized there
had
been some sort of crash: his ears were full of a terrible splintering sound that had just ended. He lifted his head a few inches. Across the room, the window had been smashed. The picture window, his beautiful, curved, 1864 Queen Anne picture window. Long shards of glass lay on the floor directly beneath the sill; smaller pieces had flown farther. There was glass on the desk in front of him, glass on his papers, and one large shard that jutted out from the well of typewriter keys like a small transparent iceberg.
His Tiffany desk lamp had flown halfway across the room and landed on the rug; its pearly glass shade now hung from the bronze armature in pieces. And beside the smashed lamp lay a smooth gray rock the size of his fist. The rock looked familiar, though he could not think why. He shook his head and stood up, then had to hold onto the desk while his vision darkened, cleared again.
Something was tickling his cheek—he brushed at his face and his palm became warm and sticky. The sight of so much blood on his hand sent a surge of adrenaline through him that cleared his mind: was whoever threw the rock going to break in? He stuck his head out the window and listened. A car—was that Evelyn, changing her mind and coming back? Or was it someone leaving? He went across the hall to the bedroom and looked out the window. The driveway was empty. Wherever his wife was, it was not here. She, at least, was safe.
Ray went downstairs and switched on the backyard floodlights. Lit up, the lawn furniture looked slightly unreal, as if it were part of a movie set. The rock, he realized, had come from the border of his herb garden. In the bright lights, he could see the exact spot it had been; the gap in the border looked like a smile with one tooth knocked out. A soft breeze moved the tiny new leaves of the maple, but nothing else stirred. Whoever had thrown the rock had run or driven away, and he was alone.
A drop of blood splashed on his shoes. He checked his face in the bathroom mirror. There was a lot of blood, a wet coagulated mess that began at his hairline, along his temple just where he was going gray, and then dripped down over his cheek. He washed the blood off, looked again. The cut was long and clean: a piece of flying glass must have done it, not the rock. He wrung out a washcloth and held it to his head and sat on the lip of the bathtub for a while. He was cold, and his heart was thumping so hard in his chest it was painful. It occurred to him that he should do something more than just sitting here waiting for Evelyn to return. So he called the police.
The two officers who arrived on his doorstep seemed to have been chosen for a visual sight gag of comedic opposites: One was young, short, with dark hair and the build of a middleweight boxer. He came into the house with the eagerness of a young dog straining on a leash. The other officer was tall and weary, with thinning gray hair and watery blue eyes. He entered slowly, and once in the study, surveyed the room with an indifferent expression that made Ray think of a museum guard.
Broken window, broken lamp, glass all over the Persian rug. The rock on the floor near the bookcase. Ray repeated what he’d already said on the phone, that he had no idea who’d done it. There was a party here earlier, but the last guest had left twenty minutes before it happened, and his wife had gone out perhaps five minutes after that.
The young one bounced slightly on his toes as if preparing to throw a punch.
“Your wife went out at this time of night?” His accent was straight out of Southie, many generations of Boston distilled into his broad nasal vowels. “Where’d she go?”
Ray paused. “She wanted milk and we’re all out.”
“She goes for milk at one in the morning?”
“She’s a night owl. And she likes the Star Market that’s open twenty-four hours.” Ray hoped that would be enough. He couldn’t explain Evelyn’s behavior even to himself; there was no way he could explain it to these cops.
“Got any enemies?” the young one asked.
This made Ray think of a detective story he’d once written in college—he’d used the exact same phrase.
“Or anyone at the party you argued with?”
“No. They’re all friends from my firm. From work.”
“You a lawyer?”
“I’m an architect. An architect with no enemies.”
In his collegiate detective story, the shooting victim had plenty of enemies: a blonde spy, a sinister fellow businessman, a corrupt police chief.
“Anyone you owe money to?”
Dumb dialogue, Ray thought, and wondered if he were in shock. “No,” he said aloud, “nothing like that.”
The older officer wrote something down in his notebook, then looked at Ray and spoke for the first time since introducing himself.
“Some townies causing trouble, most likely. Or maybe the Newell Academy kids. Just last week a couple of them wrote IMPEACH REAGAN outside the front steps of City Hall over in Newell Center.” He smiled a faint, tired smile. “Your tax dollars pay to wash it off again, right?” He glanced at the washcloth Ray still held to his forehead. “The blood’s seeping through. Why don’t you let us take you over to St. Mary’s? It’s always better to have a head wound checked.”
“It was a shard of glass that cut me, not the rock,” Ray said. “I don’t have a concussion. Besides, my wife will be home soon. She’ll look after me.”
The young one was already halfway to the door. “We’ll cruise around the area,” he said, “see if we can pick up any punks.”
“We won’t find anyone,” said the tired officer, more to the ceiling than to his partner or Ray. “The kids are probably back in the woods by now.” He sighed and added, “Springtime of the year, there’s always kids in the woods.”
At the door he held out his hand and Ray shook it. “This kind of thing happens sometimes,” he said, “even in Randall. Sorry it happened to you.”
Ray watched them drive away, then went into the kitchen and looked at the clock. It was quarter past one now, and Evelyn still wasn’t back.
2.
 
There were kids in the woods, just as the officer had said. It was the last Friday before summer vacation and two parties were going on—one boarding school, one townie. The public school townies were down near the reservoir, and the Newell Academy kids were up on Swan Hill. Each party had as its centerpiece a pony keg of beer, in both cases Budweiser, both bought by seventeen-year-olds with fake I.D.s from the same package store in Newell. By the time the police car passed, both groups had dwindled. Among the townies, most had gone home when the beer ran out. Up on Swan Hill, one couple had gone off behind the trees, a few boys were pissing over an outcropping of rock overlooking the reservoir, and two girls had taken their paper cups of beer and gone to lie on their backs at the top of the hill.
“See?” said the taller girl, the pink-haired one. She swung her arms across the grass as if she were making a snow angel. “I told you you’d feel better up here.”
The other girl was small, with spiky black hair and black army boots. She rolled over on her side and looked at her friend. “Yeah, I feel so much better I think I’ll kill myself at the end of the weekend rather than now.”
“Come on, Ingrid,” the pink-haired girl said. “You’ll figure something out. Maybe Ms. Luce will change her mind about suspending you.”
“Oh, don’t talk about it,” said Ingrid. “Let’s just sit and smoke and listen to Rob Jacobs throwing up over there.” She sat up and kicked the heels of her boots against the ground. They were real combat boots, bought second-hand at an Army Navy store in Boston. She could still feel against the soles of her feet the contours of the soldier who had worn them before her. In moments such as this one, when the future looked particularly bleak, it was comforting to imagine what hells her boots had been in, perhaps even having their previous owner get killed while wearing them; she kicked her boot heels hard against the trampled grass, down into the damp June earth, and felt a tiny bit better.
She had been summoned to see Ms. Luce, the dean, that afternoon. She’d expected a weekend of community service and a talking-to, which she had been given so many times that it didn’t hold any real unpleasantness for her, or, she suspected, for Ms. Luce, who unlike some teachers never pretended she didn’t like you anymore just because you’d screwed up.
She went in without knocking, and the dean looked up from her desk, on which a manila folder labeled “Slade, T. Ingrid,” lay closed.
“There you are, Ingrid,” she said. “You’ve changed hair colors, I see.”
Ingrid’s hand went to her spiky head. Jessica Rosen had helped her dye it black a few days earlier.
“I like it better than the purple,” Ms. Luce said. “Sit down.”
“Your necklace is purple,” Ingrid said. Ms. Luce was wearing her usual aging hippie jewelry, and today the beads around her neck looked like they were made out of painted Tinker Toys.
Ms. Luce ignored this and looked hard at the manila folder without opening it, as if she could see through the cover to the writing inside. “This is your second drinking offense this semester,” she said after a moment. “You already have fifteen demerits for smoking, so J-Board has suspended you for six weeks.”
BOOK: The Fainting Room
6.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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