“Penny for Her Thoughts…”
The night of the Bay Valley Medical Center explosion.
Everything about that night
A new kind of chaos
This time tomorrow
I remember running. I was running down the hall after the Fish Lady. I was running after her to help. I was running after her for answers. To this day, I do not have all the answers and doubt that I ever will.
“Why is this happening?”
A question uttered, screeched, whispered, prayed, so many times by so many people. Each with a different response. Or no response at all.
Mine was twofold. Why was this happening at the hospital? Who were these demented clowns in robes? I refused to believe that this was all really happening.
Was this a joke? Was this Halloween? These last two comments uttered, no, owned by my mother every time I came down to the breakfast table in my latest outfit. This time, I was the one recoiling with shock and awe.
The Fish Lady had no answers then. She was too busy trying to stop them. She didn’t. A convenient way to avoid my inquiries. What’s happening to me, Erika? That’s right, Erika.
Erika von Meer. aka Darkfin. aka Aleta Oscura. aka Duquesa Bay’s Maritime Vigilante. aka Lieutenant Fury’s Chronic Ass Pain. Fish Lady to me. She knew what was happening. She knows I know about her. She also knows I won’t say anything to anyone. Not yet.
I was running down the halls of Bay Valley Medical Center in a detached purple haze. There were plenty of opioids around me but none were in me. At least, not that day. Never did it occur to me that I might die. Was I too young and naive to think so? No, I just knew. I’m not sure how but I knew. Just like I knew on the jet when it was crashing. Just like I knew on the ship when it was sinking.
Denial is stronger than Dilaudid when it comes to recasting the realities of the scene. I was helping my friend Erika, not chasing a mermaid monster. I was there because of another trauma, not to battle hooded terrorists. I bit one to defend myself and Fish Lady. It was instinctive. I don’t understand why he or it burst into flames. Maybe it was a freak accident. Maybe I was a freak accident. I know I am a freak.
And my parents were going to get up and walk out of the charred remains of an exploded building.
The firemen held me back. My multiple attempts to push past them and run inside after mom and dad were met with strong, sooty, comfortless arms. It was too late they said over and over again. The police chorus sang the same refrain. As I stood there in the dark, and the smoke, and the flashing lights, people were screaming and running around me. Time distorted even more.
I punched the mental replay button constantly, each time hoping for a newer if not happier ending. Instead, the last 30 minutes were parsed into conflicting sensations and emotions. Relief that my folks and I made it off the Meeramar Titanic. Annoyance with the subsequent hospital eval and Anita’s hassling. Confusion surrounding Fish Lady’s powers and my own. Jealousy over Morrigan’s undeniable bond to her. Lust for Brad.
Jeremy was there. He came over to me. Yet, for some reason, he could not look me in the eye.
Solace finally arrived in a piece of peppermint sugar-free gum. The need to put it between my teeth and tongue, gnash it until the last bit of flavor faded, wrestle with the sticky strings. I focused all of my senses on this instead of what was truly happening. This would be my set task for the rest of the night and, when mourning arrived, I would spit it out into its waxy wrapper and everything and everyone would be back to the simulated normalcy I was used to.
The day after the Bay Valley Medical Center explosion.
God damn you, liar liar, liar, lair!
Everything you said to me was false, fake, full of it.
Of course, that’s nothing new for you, a closeted politician.
Remember when you said you’d always be there for me?
Grinning as I grew up, walking me down the aisle, awaiting your first grandchild?
Except that will never happen now, ever!
Life was always preparing me for the end of yours.
You were supposed to go before him,
Drawn out, drama in a different way.
I was to have time to say goodbye to you.
Argue, argue, argue! I hate the quiet even more.
Rescuing you both from yourselves was my full-time job besides the exalted title of disobedient daughter. It was a position, at first, I abhorred. But then I grew used to it, even enjoyed it as I was the ultimate referee. Not only referee but redeemer. With no other siblings around to share authority, I ended up the absolute ruler in a few short years. Poor God, even She would be jealous. You made me your gas giant in a solar system of sickness. Did you ever consider I might turn into a black hole?
Employment suddenly terminated - no warning, no joke - clean out your desk and leave. Where do I put the keys? We were the irrepressible Isosceles triangle, now I’m simply a wandering baseline searching for a sharp curve. I pad around this empty mausoleum of a house all the time. Today should be no different. The room lighting, the cold feel of the marble floors, the ugly art is familiar. But that’s all.
Now what am I supposed to do, where am I supposed to go? Leaving me with the Renselier Christmas card relatives is so not an option. Please! They mean nothing to me. Hollow holiday well wishes laser inked on overpriced stationary. They never forgave me for not being true blue blood. And the Martel side is already fucked up enough without adding me to the mix permanently.
Suddenly, everyone who used to fall over backwards with an opinion is suspiciously mute. Others suffered losses as well but I just don’t care about them. Sorry. I hide in my room. Dark sunglasses shade my eyes from the peering peepers of the prominent poisonous pretenders. We’re so sorry, Penny. Bullshit! Even with my glasses on, don’t think I don’t see you eyeing the silverware for your own goddamn golden dinner table. My three eyes are red from crying and my ire causes the irises to glow lilac.
Enraged at the reminders around me, I take mother’s crutch and assault anything that shatters and even things that don’t. Pillows and cushions let out mocking sighs until the stuffing emerges. The windows are the next to go, then vases, then faces beneath protective glass. Symbolism is garish at this time. Crystal lamps and their fragile light bulb babies meet the same fate within seconds. Mirror. Mirror. Another mirror. All shards after my swings. I cannot find enough mirrors to break, so I head for the garage and tackle the transportation. What if I don’t pay the boatman? God knows you two can’t do anything right without me.
Legal leeches stuffed in black linen suits and pseudo sorrow pepper me with repetitive papers and overeager pens. It hasn’t even been 24 hours yet. Tic1000k. Toc2000k. Tic3000k. Toc4000k.
I hate you both. I hate me even more.
Eulogies or euphoria or euthanasia?
Rope around my neck in the form of my father’s red silk tie but that would be too simple. I’ll use it as a blindfold instead. The moist coming of Eve alerts me to the fact that this will be the first night alone and the last night of believing tomorrow night will be better.
One week after the explosion of Bay Valley Medical Center.
Today is unseasonably warm. Hot, really. So hot, that the thought of wearing black seems an extra kind of torture - my parents’ last laugh for swathing myself in the darker shades all of these years. Red is out of the question. Aunt Ursula threatened me with multiple limb loss if I did one single thing to upstage the departed.
I wanted to cremate them quietly since they were half-charred already but it has to be a big show for everyone else. The first of three big shows, in fact. Society demands it. So, my dress is a safe choice of viridian gray with mother’s pearls choking my neck and father’s cuff links piercing the lace around my wrists. Black cherry lipstick forms a subdued alliance with octagonal sunglasses, the only outward signs of protest.
3,467. That’s the exact number of times I have ridden in limos with my family. 3,468 - today’s ride to a church we haven’t been to since an Easter photo op two years ago is agonizingly long. Each curve in the road, the hum of the motor, dirt specks on the window, the driver’s cologne bath, the slide of the leather underneath my legs are all amplified and examined. My neurons need to focus on something other than the obvious.
The next few hours are a blur of faces. Some I recognize, most I don’t. And they’re all touching me with sincere sentiments and trite lines, with warm hugs and air kisses. Did I mention how incredibly hot it is? Pockets of people flap my parents’ wedding picture back and forth as they use their programs to fan themselves. Yet, I am now freezing.
Beautiful truths and amazing falsehoods are spoken about George and Lydia. If they were listening, they would be totally touched and deeply horrified. It would be my turn soon. I never bothered to write it down. Writers don’t always have to write it down. Sentences I have said in my head a trillion times would now be voiced for the first and last time.
Temporary quadriplegia strikes me down. I cannot nor will not leave the pew. Gentle coaxing from a Renselier uncle with his Cajun cadence only cements the paralysis. My soul wails at my muscle fibers to contract but they refuse the order. My sinister index breaks rank and reaches up to wipe the perspiration from my cheek. It isn’t sweat but tears. The same salty rivulet that drains in the back of my throat also burns inside my nose.
My chance to say what was in my heart has now passed along with my parents.
Uncle Doug currently leads the procession at the cemetery. So much loss for so many in Duquesa Bay! But today, at least these few hours, belongs to George and Lydia.
In mom’s ornate box, she is at peace for the first time ever. The arm crutches, the other adaptive equipment, the endless amber bottles of meds will not be joining her in there. At last, people are finally comfortable being around my mother. Even her own family members! See, no one wants to hang out with a breathing reminder of mortality. It’s only tolerable when it serves a charity cause. Enjoying spare ribs at the annual kin picnic with a Grim Reaper isn’t fun, especially when said reaper can’t manage to wipe the honey mesquite sauce from the corners of her mouth. They no longer need to worry about that.
For dad, all I can think about is how he would pick me up from third grade in his always-shiny convertible Jag and we’d go to this little strip mall by the beach and share a watermelon gelato on hot days like this. I truly wish I had one now. Suddenly, they give me this flag what am I supposed to do with this colored cloth? Hang it on a wall? Stick it in a drawer? Make a unitard out of it? I suppose I’ll wait a few days and give it to Tim. There is more than enough colored cloth waiting to be boxed at home.
Surreal detachment surrenders and I start to shake as my parents are slowly lowered into the ground. This finality has me on my knees, sobbing softly, until a simple notion spirals within. What if I ultimately figure out what exactly I am dealing with, how to deal with it, and maybe make a deal with it? Could I bring them back? Would I bring them back? I do have these new bargaining powers and now might be the exact time to abuse them.
Two weeks after the Bay Valley Medical Center Explosion.
“Stupid girl, what are you doing?”
I laugh and smile.
“I am dying.”
My eyes are barely open but enough to watch the green she-creature crawl on top of me. There’s just enough strength left to jut out the tip of my tongue and lick the lower lip of snarled teeth chattering uncontrollably.
“You knew your blood scent would draw me here.”
A distinct possibility but I wasn’t sure of it at the time. I’m not sure of anything except dying in one form or another. A blanket of stars, a bed of earth, and a smothering pillow of liquid are the stepping stones to my destiny or the bridge to my parents.
RIP. Riiiiiiiiiiiiip. She shreds the ends of my wet dress into two thin strips and wraps them tightly around my wrists.
“Penelope Renselier, you are a coward.”
Her ferocious words are tinged with hint of empathy.
“You wanted me to make the decision for you let you live, let you die the choice has been made. What now?”
Indeed. I did not know. I just wanted her here. I need someone here to keep me here.
“Indulging your theatrical moods is a waste of my precious time.”
There’s no way I’m going to apologize because I am not sorry. Never had I felt safer nor more at risk.
“One day, when you fully emerge from your solipsistic cocoon, you will finally see the rest of the world.”
Spoken from experience, I gather. At least I don’t have a self-made shell over my soul masquerading as science.
“If you are seeking more answers, I have none to give.”
Oddly, I believe her. From what she had told me before and from what I have learned about myself since, she is as lost as I am. But she hides it better. Or, at least, the scales do.
“You must ask them about what is happening to you.”
This thought leaves me wishing I had truly died along with my parents.
“Am I on your side or theirs?”
She springs up and turns to leave. Before she does, her gleaming eyes meet mine with the same intensity.
“Only you can decide your side.”
Two hours later…
at the crack of dawn
a white light encompasses
I am now aware
of what I must do for them
and whom I must kill for her
A tiny crab scuttles across the spot where she had left me. I now sit back along the shore, immune to the cool breezes and throbbing pain of sliced wrists. Morning will be arriving soon. I’m already starting to heal.
“You called for me?”
I look up to find a man - I believe it is a man - in a blue robe standing before me. His hood covers his eyes and his lips do not move. How could he hear me? I haven’t spoken a word.
“I hear you, daughter, we all hear each other.”
How dare he? How dare he call me his daughter? I lunge at him and we are knocked back into the surf. I struggle to throttle him, I want him dead. He barely moves. Suddenly, his fingers clutch around my neck and he holds my head down under the waves.
“Never - you fuckers killed my parents!”
My mind is swimming in saltwater and vivid hues. For whatever reason, he stops and gently carries me back to the sand. I see his eyes for the first time and they are glowing white and I feel mine doing the same. I think I recognize his face but so much is happening so fast.
“They were not our intended targets, I promise you.”
And that is supposed to make me feel better? He sits motionless by my side and explains to me that it was not their purpose to harm the hospital and that they had only come to gather one.
“Someone very close to me, who was of my blood… as are you, my cherished child.”
Competing instantaneous reactions rock my body. The only answer I give is a gag reflex and regurgitated brine. I find myself crying again. His hand takes mine in his and he draws me into a nearly smothering embrace.
For the next hour or so, I listen to him as he describes the circumstances of my birth. How George and Lydia were completely unaware - at first. And how much they loved me and needed me. Then, this hooded man goes on about how deeply in love he was/is with the woman who gave me life the same mother of my graveyard lover.
“You need to become a part of us.”
He then proceeds to tell me why. There is a rift in the ranks over what happened at the hospital. The Clergy is no longer a unified front with fissures forming in unexpected places. He attempts to explain their origin, as well as that of the magic metal that thrives in the hills of my home.
“Stop, stop, I can’t deal with all this!”
“You must and you will.”
This hooded man who claims to be my natural father instructs me on how to explore the gifts I had been given at conception. As soon as he leaves my side, a burning whiteness emerges from deep within. Brilliant lights in the ocean and in my mind join together.
It is through these gifts, and with the help of Fish Lady, I now realize I can change the deadly days ahead for Duquesa Bay. Otherwise, what happened at Bay Valley Medical Center is simply the beginning.
Surfaced on July 1, 2000
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