A very special thank you to Cindy Rosmus, editor supreme at Yellow Mama for sharing this story. Words cannot say enough.
XO, Twisted Sister
“Baby,” Angel said. “I think I’m gonna die tonight.”
Sure, Cass used to think. But no more.
In the dark, he was like a curly-headed Grim Reaper, shivering in his hoodie. Beneath the bedclothes, his legs were like sticks.
Her voice shook. “Wanna go to the ER?”
“Nah.” He felt on the nightstand for his smokes. “What’s the use, Mami?”
They’ll keep you alive.
He jabbed the cigarette in his mouth. “If I’m worse in the morning… then I’ll go.”
It was bullshit, so she’d feel better. For a moment, she did.
But when he lit up, the flame accented his sores. One, on his upper lip, kept him from kissing her.
No kisses, no sex, but you couldn’t pry her away. That she still loved him this much, was stupefying. Clean up his mess. Feed him his pills. Too many, so every morning she feared he wouldn’t wake up…
Oh, God, Angel! she thought, now.
When her cell rang in the kitchen, he snickered. “Your new boyfriend?”
“No!” He was always accusing her. “Don’t say that!” She got up, ran out of the bedroom.
New boyfriend, she thought, bitterly. Sure. She hadn’t got laid since… Even safe sex wasn’t safe with Angel, anymore. And she didn’t want anyone else. How sad was that?
Her cell lit up the kitchen table: Gracie.
Crazy Gracie. They’d been friends, through Angel, before he got sick. Clean now, years of drugs and booze had eaten Gracie’s brain. Worse, had left her broke.
Cass was broke, herself. With Angel out of work… and the mortgage way overdue. They would lose the house.
“Cass?” Gracie was crying.
Great, Cass thought. Some guy kicked her ass. Probably robbed her, too.
“I need help.”
Cass sat down, heavily. “I’m broke, babe.” And my man is dying.
“No, it’s… Lucky.”
“Lucky?” Gracie’s cat.
Gracie kept sobbing. Till she stopped, Cass stared outside at the yard. Everywhere were holes: trees to be planted. One for Angel, she thought, when he…
“He’s sick!” Gracie said, finally. “Hissing and biting me.” Even for hateful Lucky, that was weird. “And he just had a fit.”
Cass’s stomach tightened.
“Will you take us to the vet?” Gracie said.
“Now? It’s ten o’clock!” Cass couldn’t believe this. Angel could be dead by morning.
“Dr. Leeds is at the clinic all night. He sleeps there.”
Cass cringed. Leeds must be nuts. She squirmed in her seat. “Grace, it’s a bad time for me. Angel’s not…”
“Angel’s a tough fuck,” Gracie said. “He’ll be fine. But Lucky… he’s helpless. He can’t take himself to the vet.”
Or the ER.
Lucky never shot dope, or stuck it in a crack whore’s ass. Then Cass.
“I’ll be right there,” Cass muttered.
Their car was old, but it worked. As she floored it to Gracie’s, Cass’s heart raced. Tough fuck, she thought, about Angel.
“Have fun!” he’d said, before she left. “Get laid.” His voice already a ghost’s.
In the car, she realized how good it felt to get away from him.
“Baby,” he’d said. “Before you go, turn on the TV. And, please, baby, please… bring me… ”
His pain pills. More and more he needed, every day. Sometimes he lost count. Once he’d almost…
It was his right to do it himself.
Now she honked at teens, dragging ass against the light. “Fuck you!” one said. Another gave her the finger.
Gracie was on her stoop, with the carrier beside her. A dog carrier, as Lucky was huge. It shook like the Tasmanian devil was inside it.
“He’s having another one!” she wailed.
“Shaddup!” yelled a neighbor. Like it was 4 A.M.
Gracie ignored him. As they struggled to get the carrier in the backseat, Cass said, “He had his shots, right?”
“Years ago,” Gracie said. “I guess. Who has money for vets?”
Not me, Cass thought. She wondered how Dr. Leeds would get paid.
“Are you bleeding?” she asked Gracie, on the way.
“Stopped now.” Gracie faced the backseat, cooed to Lucky, “It’s okay, Big Guy.”
Lucky’s hissing was unnerving, but Cass felt bad for him.
He loved only Gracie. Cass, he tolerated, but she knew not to pet him. Tonight she sensed Lucky was the “unluckiest” of them.
“These fits he’s having,” Cass said, at the next light. “You mean he foams at the mouth?” When Gracie didn’t answer, Cass said, “You don’t let him outside, do you?”
“Oh, lay off!” Gracie started to cry again. “Yeah, on nice days, he bangs all the female squirrels.”
Rabies, Cass thought, but didn’t say it. She recalled the night Angel had fucked a crack whore with full-blown AIDS.
All the shit he’d exposed her to, she was lucky to be alive.
“Go down this street,” Gracie said. “He’s out back, waiting.”
Doctor Leeds, Cass guessed she meant. She recalled Angel’s apology: Mami, I’m sorry. You know what a pig I am.
Months of waiting to take the blood tests. Afterward, hoping… and praying. Watching rosy sunsets, planting flowers.
Then… peace, for Cass.
But not Angel…
“There he is!” Gracie said.
Cass had to look twice. In the clinic’s driveway was a bedraggled-looking man. His grizzled beard hung to his waist. Rip Van Winkle in a long, white robe and skull cap. He smiled, strangely.
“There who is?” Cass said.
Christ-like, Leeds raised his hands. He had on surgical gloves.
In the backseat, Lucky’s hissing had stopped. Cass wondered if he was dead.
“Come on.” When Cass didn’t budge, Gracie said, “He’s legit. Real gentle with animals.”
Behind Cass, the hissing began again. She got out of the car. Leeds had the carrier, and was speaking in a low, hypnotic voice to Lucky.
As they went in the clinic’s back door, a thunderous barking shook the walls. Lucky yowled.
“Stop that, you hear?” Leeds said in that same low voice. And the barking stopped.
In the clinic’s back room, inside a cage, was the biggest white lab Cass had ever seen. Around its neck was a pink print bandanna. A plaque on the cage read: “Killer,” and Cass believed it. Pacing, the dog eyed her like a midnight snack.
“Why’s this dog here?” she said. “He looks healthy to me.”
“His owner passed,” Leeds said, sadly. “AIDS.”
“Oh,” she said, thinking of Angel.
Behind his glasses, Leeds’s eyes twinkled. “But in the end, he was right with the Lord.” He slipped something in her hand.
A tract. As they went in the examining room, Cass read the excerpt from 2 Kings.
“ ‘… The Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.’ ”
Nice, Cass thought.
From behind, something nudged her, and she jumped.
Killer looked friendly, now. It was his nose that had brushed her. She hadn’t realized how close she was standing to his cage.
Timidly, she held out her hand, and he sniffed it.
“No!” Gracie yelled, from the examining room. Cass rushed in.
Inside, Lucky looked like a fuzzy cobra. He clawed Gracie, who clutched him to her. Needle in hand, Leeds had wormed himself between them.
“You can’t!” Gracie said. “I won’t let you!”
“It’s just a… sedative.” Sweat dripped into Leeds’s beard. “But… we may have to put him down.”
“No!” Gracie wailed. “He don’t have rabies. I was kidding about the squirrels!”
“We’ve both been bitten,” Leeds said. Cass saw blood on his robe and gloves. “Has she?” he asked, about Cass.
“Not yet.” Lucky hissed in Cass’s direction.
“Get back outside,” Leeds told her. “Before you are.”
When Cass came out, the barking started again. It felt like the walls would cave in.
“What’s up?” she said, softly.
Killer stopped barking, gave her an inquisitive look.
“Are they nice to you here?” She looked around the clinic. In smaller cages were other animals: an asthmatic black cat, a dachshund in a back brace.
Eyes still on Cass, Killer lay down.
“You miss your daddy?” Cass said. Tears were coming, but she blinked them back. “I’m gonna miss mine.”
Killer rested his head on his paws.
“Even though he’s no good.” It was no use fighting tears. “Cheated on me. With toothless bitches.” With one motion, she wiped her nose and eyes. “Robbed me. I ran out of places to hide money.”
Killer’s eyes looked sad, for her.
“But I still love him.”
She reached into the cage, stroked Killer’s head. “Least you got a home. I’m losing mine.”
Killer turned his head, licked her hand.
“Or I’d take you home with me.”
She imagined the day she would move, alone, from her small, shabby house. Pictured the bed, without sheets and the soft green blanket Angel draped over himself. How long till the blanket would lose his scent?
She thought of the crummy linoleum. The paneled walls.
Those holes outside, for the trees.
When she came out, cradling Lucky, Gracie was smiling, strangely.
Leeds was behind her. “I’ll send you the bill.”
Good luck, Cass thought.
He looked stern. “Are you sure,” he asked Gracie, “you won’t let us test him? He bit us both!”
“He’s fine,” Gracie said.
Cass had never seen Lucky so calm. As tight as Gracie squeezed him, he didn’t even fuss.
“Will he be okay?” Cass whispered, but got no response.
Leeds followed them outside.
“Where’s the carrier?” Cass said, but Gracie ignored her, resting her chin on Lucky’s head.
As they got in the car, Leeds handed Cass another tract. “ ‘He was delivered over to death for our sins,’ ” she read aloud. “Enough!” she said, and he walked stiffly away.
They drove off.
“He wanted,” Gracie said, “to cut off his head.”
“What?” Cass almost crashed the car.
“To test for rabies. But I said no. Not my baby.” Gracie began kissing Lucky, who was totally limp.
Cass felt sick. “He’s dead?”
“Can we bury him,” Gracie asked, “in your yard?”
Cass had no clue what time it was, but it had to be late. In case Angel was watching, she parked up the block.
Baby, she thought, are you still alive?
Out back, Cass gave Gracie her hoodie and stood, shivering, as Gracie wrapped up Lucky up in it. When his tail drooped, Cass feared she’d cry.
Gracie was silent as Cass placed him in the hole. Bags and bags of soil Cass dumped on top of Lucky. Though it was dark, Cass saw Gracie smile.
Damn, she thought, you are crazy.
But a good friend. Cass glanced up at the dark bedroom window.
They were lucky to have each other.
“I can walk home,” Gracie said. “It’s not far.”
Cass didn’t stop her. Upstairs, a tiny flash of light gave her hope. Had he lit a cigarette?
Or was it just the TV?
With a leaden heart, she trudged inside.
— THE END
Cindy Rosmus is a Jersey girl who looks like a Mob Wife and talks like Anybody’s from West Side Story. She works out a lot, so needs no excuse to do whatever she wants. She hates shopping and shoes, chick lit and chick flicks. She’s been published in the usual places, such as Hardboiled; Shotgun Honey, A Twist of Noir; Beat to a Pulp; Pulp Metal; Thrillers, Killers, n’ Chillers; Mysterical-E; and Powder Burn Flash. She is the editor of the ezine, Yellow Mama. She’s also a Gemini, an animal rights activist, and a Christian.