Her voice penetrated his light sleep and bolted him out of bed. He snapped on the light, his chest heaved up and down.
Maddie looked up at him, her blue eyes clear and focused.
“Roger.” Her voice sharp and urgent.
He couldn’t move or speak.
Her eyes darted around the room in a panic before dulling over, and the old Maddie faded like a ghost in the night.
“Maddie,” Roger croaked.
He leaned over and grabbed her shoulders. She looked up with a sleepy expression. She smacked her lips a couple of times and continued to stare at him.
Had she not spoken his name a second time he might have convinced himself it had just been a dream. The second time, he possessed his faculties and had been looking right at her. Perhaps even more astonishing, remained the fact that her old self had peered up at him from those blue eyes. She had looked frightened, as if snapping awake from a nightmare.
She closed her eyes. Roger snapped off the light and went to the bathroom to splash some cold water on his face with shaky hands. He tiptoed back to bed and grabbed his cell.
Arty answered on the fourth ring. “What’s wrong?”
“She said my name.”
Roger paced around the dark bathroom waiting for Arty to speak.
“She just doubled her vocabulary. Friday and Roger. Huh. So this Malum guy is working some kind of miracle now?”
“I guess so. But . . .”
“She looked scared.”
Bedsprings creaked as Arty must have sat up or got out of bed. “What would she be afraid of?”
“I don’t know. I just wish I could be in her brain, you know? So I could know what’s going on and help her.” Roger scratched at the stubble attacking his neck.
“Alright, dude. Uh, can I drop by soon? I would like to see miracle Maddie.”
“Yeah, that would be great.”
That morning, Roger woke up before his alarm and got Maddie ready for the day. She seemed less interactive than normal, less cheery. Roger told Carla about the previous night as she hung up her coat.
She peeked around his shoulder at Maddie. “Guarded optimism, Roger. The brain is a mysterious thing.” She gave his cheek a quick peck and shooed him out of the door.
Roger strolled into the office with an occupied mind. He tossed his messenger bag on his desk and hung up his black wool coat on the flimsy hanger. He shoved it into his locker and closed the door to find Chrissy standing there.
She bit her glossy lip. “Roger, I’m going to my parent’s cabin this weekend. They’re out of town so I invited a couple of friends with me, but they both bailed.” She twisted her fingers together and looked up from under her eyelashes, “I was thinking maybe you could come up and hang out with me if you don’t have other plans.”
Roger scratched the back of his head. “Uh, Chrissy, that sounds like a lot of fun, but it’s probably better if I don’t. If I was single, I would already be on the road driving there right now.”
She shrugged. “If you change your mind, let me know. I would love to have you up there.”
“Thanks, that’s sweet.”
Roger reminded himself to breath and sat down hard in his chair, astonished at his own self-control. A part of him registered disappointment at not seizing the opportunity. He called Arty on his lunch break.
“I’m proud of you man, you did the right thing.”
“Yeah,” Roger sighed. “Odd how I feel one part deflated and one part super hero.”
“Use the regret test. If you went up there and shagged this chick, would you likely regret it?”
“There you go. Besides, is twenty two seconds of pleasure worth all that regret?”
“Twenty-two seconds, huh? At least that would beat your record.”
Arty chuckled, “Fuck you, dude. Anyway, I’m glad you turned her down. Keep me posted on Maddie. It’s exciting stuff man. You two deserve a god damn break.”
Roger finished the conversation and called Dr. Malum. He picked up on the first ring.
“What did she do?”
“She said my name.”
It was as if Roger could sense Malum’s frown over the phone. “What else?”
“That’s it. It’s huge. She’s only said one word since the accident.”
“We need to up duration and intensity of the therapy.”
Roger leafed through his castle themed desk calendar. “When do you want me to bring her into the office?”
“No, not the office,” Malum muttered. “Drop her off at my place this weekend.”
“Your place? For the whole weekend?” Roger blinked a few times.
“1247 Gloucester Lane. Bring her Friday night after work and you can pick her up Sunday evening.”
“Roger, this isn’t negotiable.” he hung up.
He set the phone down hard in the cradle and walked away from his cube. Chrissy walked ahead of him, her tight, round ass clearly in a thong, waved back and forth before him like a pendulum of temptation. He sighed. It was ridiculous how attractive she was.
Roger turned around and found another route. A few flights of stairs cleared his mind. He decided he would drop off Maddie and try his best to avoid Chrissy and her base charms.
Friday morning he stopped off at the local coffee shop for a large, black coffee. He didn’t like the frou-frou bullshit, just a nice cup of coffee thank you very much. In line, he sensed someone looking at him. He half-turned and held his breath for a moment. There she sat. The woman from the park.
She stared right at him.
He forced himself not to look back while he continued his wait and ordered his coffee. He stole a look in her direction. She continued to stare at him and motioned to the empty chair besides her. Roger stood still for a moment, looking at the door and then back to the chair. He swore under his breath and sat down across from her.
The heavily glazed wooden table had an artificial feel to it.
A long deep purple dress covered most of her smooth, dark skin.
“You don’t listen very well, Roger.”
Roger shifted in his chair and blew on his steaming coffee. He squinted over the brim and didn’t respond. A wave of guilt slammed into him.
She looked to the door and her mouth drew in. “I need to go, but you need to stay away from that man. This is your last chance.”
Roger took his fist sip as she stood, grabbed her coffee, and walked gracefully out of the door. Roger rubbed his eyes and shook his head. The guilt and the doubt evaporated as soon as she left. He didn’t care what she had to tell him. He had chosen this path and was going to ride it to the end. The bitterness and boredom of his life demanded it.
As far as Roger was concerned, the weekend could not come fast enough.
Roger turned into 1247 Gloucester Lane. The horseshoe shaped driveway promenaded in front of a brick beauty from the late 19th century. Roger thought the house had been designed by a locally famous architect, but the name escaped him. A series of ground lights illuminated the driveway and the stone path up to the staircase of the covered porch. A brightly white painted porch swing glided back and forth in the gentle breeze.
A dark muscle car sat in the driveway aimed at the street. It looked like a Camaro and appeared to be in pristine condition. It didn’t seem like the kind of car a doctor would drive. The shadowed darkness tried to cloak its aggressive lines. Roger shuddered. Something about the car both repelled and attracted him. He shook himself back to the task at hand.
“We’re here, Maddie.” He paused a moment with a frown before exiting the car and getting Maddie ready.
“Nice night, eh?”
The voice startled him. Malum smiled and lit a cigar. He wore a flannel shirt and faded jeans, similar to Roger.
The pleasant aroma of cigar smoke dusted over him as he finished strapping Maddie into her chair.
Malum caught Roger glancing at the car. He gestured with the cigar and a hungry look came over his features. “That beauty is a 1969 Camaro, the last of the first generation. It’s got a 396 under the hood and runs like a champ.” Malum nodded to himself for a few moments. “Oh, sorry. Why don’t you come in for drink? I think we should have ourselves a little chat.”
Roger licked his lips. “Uh, yeah. Some place you got here.”
Malum glanced over his shoulder, “I like the history of it. The roots in America haven’t been growing that long, but at least this girl has some story to her.”
Roger nodded and glanced for the easiest route into the house.
“We will have to carry her up,” Malum indicated with his cigar. “They didn’t exactly build these houses to ADA code back then. People made do and that’s unfortunate.”
Malum led the way to the stairs. He stuffed the cigar in his mouth and bent his tall frame over to pick up the front of Maddie’s chair. He lifted it as naturally as standing and took the steps as if he carried a jug of milk. Roger grunted and waddled up the stairs picking up the back of the wheelchair by the handles.
The doctor propped open the thick oaken door and motioned him into entryway. The warmth of the house brushed against his face. Roger took off his coat and hung it on the empty coat rack in the corner. He sat down on the bench to take off his shoes.
“That’s okay, you can leave them on.”
Roger finished taking off his shoes. “Sorry, it’s an old habit and I feel more comfortable without them anyway.”
“Suit yourself.” Malum took a puff on his cigar and pulled it out of his mouth to consider it. “Did you want to try one?”
“No thanks.” Roger rubbed his sweaty palms on his jeans.
“Come with me to the study. I will pour us a couple of drinks and we can chat about Maddie and the future.”
The wall scones cast their yellow light against the wooden panels of the walls. The place looked like it had never witnessed a speck of dusk. A clean lemony smell floated above the polished wood surfaces. He followed Malum into a two-story library straight from a movie with hundreds of books, a lightly crackling fire, and overstuffed furniture facing each other in a conference.
Roger rolled Maddie in and perused the bookshelves. The faded book covers spoke to him in a myriad of languages. “How many of these have you read?”
Malum poured brandy from a crystal decanter. “I don’t find as much time to read as I wish. I always have good intentions, but . . .” Malum walked over and placed a heavy glass in Roger’s hand. “To good intentions.”
Roger clinked glasses and sipped gingerly at the vicious liquid. The oaky smell made his mouth water for more.
With a click of a remote, Malum invited Bach’s Fugue in G into the room. One corner of his mouth rose. He sat down on the couch and crossed his long legs at the ankles. He sprawled his arms and seemed to take in the music.
Roger looked at Maddie. She stared blankly at Malum.
A creaking floorboard pulled Roger’s attention back toward the entryway. He nearly dropped his drink. There she stood. The woman from the park and the coffee shop. She wore an elegant black dress that came down to a shallow V in the front. Pearl earnings dangled from her ears. Her hair was pulled up in a striking manner. She wheeled a black suitcase behind her.
Roger whipped back around to Malum. He had an amused look on his face. “Roger, meet my wife, Gloria. I thought you weren’t going to that retreat.” He sat up.
Gloria’s jaw tightened. She looked at Maddie and refused to acknowledge Roger. “You know I have no choice, dear. I will be back on Monday. I trust you will behave.”
Malum barked laughter. “You know I cannot promise that.”
She looked at Maddie with a pained expression and walked briskly down the hall and out the door.
Roger took a full sip of the brandy and tried to make sense of what he had just seen.
“Now let’s talk about Maddie.” Malum leaned in, resting his elbows on his knees. He took a sip of brandy then put out his cigar in the glass tray next to the couch. “I will be leaving soon, and I want my therapy to be completed before I leave, hence why you are here.”
“Wait. You’re leaving?”
“But, we’re just starting to see real progress. How can you leave?”
“Roger, don’t be selfish. Besides, I am not a miracle worker. I can only do so much. Don’t let that mislead you though, as I can do so much more for Maddie. I can bring her back, Roger. Do you understand? I can bring her back.” Malum leaned back into the couch and watched Roger closely.
“What exactly is it that you do?”
A perfectly white smile spread on Malum’s face. “Some,” Malum’s eyes went toward the front door for a second, “would say that I meddle in things that should not be meddled with. I see before me a world full of broken people. I can restore them. No one is going to tell me that isn’t the right thing to do. That is my gift, Roger. I fix what others cannot. I fix what others discard. I restore hope. Does it always fit the bill? Does it always turn out perfectly? Of course not.” Malum waved the idea away as foolish.
Roger stood and walked toward the fire. The smoke stained bricks seemed to press upon him. “I’m tired of,” he turned around, “all of this. The lack of communication, the diapers, the day care, the hollowness, all of it.” Roger threw his empty hand up.
Malum stood and placed a cold hand on his shoulder, “I know exactly what you mean. No more of that.”
“I’m going to go upstairs for a moment. I want you to finish your drink and say goodbye to this broken Maddie. When you return Sunday evening, she will be fixed and we can both move on.”
Malum pulled the two pocket doors behind him, leaving Roger and Maddie alone.
Roger polished off his drink and set the glass carefully down on the white marble mantle. He looked at Maddie.
“Roger,” her blue eyes darted left and right in wild fear, “Get me . . .” then they washed over to their usual dullness.
He rushed over and kneeled in front of her. She reached out and grabbed his watch. Her eyes roamed the room in disinterest. He rested his head on her lap and cried.
“I can’t wait to see you on Sunday.” He leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. She offered him a crooked smile and wiped at her cheek with a balled up hand.
Roger got into his car. He turned the ignition. Nothing. Not even a protesting rattle. The battery had nothing to give.
“Fuck.” Roger gave the steering wheeling a quick jab and looked back toward the house. Malum came out the front door with the cigar in his mouth.
Roger got out of the car. “Sorry, I got to call a truck. Battery’s dead.”
“Nonsense, take my car.” Malum tossed him the keys to the Camaro.
Roger snatched them out of the air and looked at the dark beast. It needed to be driven and he wanted to oblige. Normally he would not ever consider driving someone else’s car, but this was different.
Malum held up his hand. “I’m not going anywhere and I got other cars. I know the guy that owns the shop down the road. He owes me a favor.” Malum smiled. “He can bring a battery out here over the weekend and swap it out. I just need you to trade your keys for mine.”
“Wow, thanks. I appreciate it.” Roger dug the keys out of his jeans, detached the car keys, and handed them over to Malum.
“Don’t be afraid to give in to the speed. She likes it.”
Roger shook his hand and walked around the car to take in every angle. The keys buzzed in his hand. He opened the unlocked front door. It welcomed him with a soft screech of hinges. The spotless vinyl looked slick in the dim light. He sat down in the driver seat and closed the door with a satisfying heavy thud. He felt around the steering column before realizing the ignition was on the dash. The engine turned over instantly and the throaty growl of it filled his ears. He eased it into drive and crept out of the driveway. He looked left and right and goosed the gas pedal. It leapt on command kicking up some gravel. The tires connected with the road and issued a screech when the car lurched forward as it purchased traction.
Roger found himself one hour later in a park. He did not remember driving there. A confusing image of a bloody girl flashed before his eyes. A sickening tug erupted from his stomach and he barely got out of the door before retching the meager contents of his stomach. His shaking hands made a difficult time of starting the car again. He no longer had any desire to drive it. He just wanted to go home and crash.
Weekends were fleeting things normally; a tiny pillow on an uncomfortable bed. This one however refused to leave and instead lingered for Roger. His thoughts bounced between Maddie and the fantasy weekend he surely could have had at Chrissy’s cabin. He looked at his phone often, aching to call Arty, but he couldn’t make himself do it. How could he explain to Arty that he had left his wife with a near stranger? He poured himself glass after glass of cheap wine.
His drunken mind offered him no release and conspired to induce the same thoughts his sober mind obsessed over, but now at half the speed. He closed the curtains inviting darkness into the room. Sleep evaded him though he clawed for it. No position offered him comfort.
The wine lasted through Sunday morning. A cold shower slapped Roger awake and he mindlessly surfed the net. His phone rang at 6:30 pm.
“You can pick her up now,” Malum spoke into his ear and hung up.
Roger took the elevator down to the underground parking garage. Malum’s Camaro stood ready for him. The engine eagerly roared to life. The 396 growled down the ramp. The car tore into the street with screeching tires. Roger normally would have been mortified at calling such attention, but now he didn’t care. He had a purpose.
He resisted the urge to stamp down the pedal and kept the car below seventy. It hummed along smoothly. Malum’s house loomed in front of him. The car bounced up the driveway. Roger slammed the brakes to avoid hitting into a stone bench. He cut the engine off and closed his eyes. He put his head against the steering wheel, exhaling slowly. The cold metal pushed him onward. The car door opened with a regretful screech.
He jumped up the steps two at a time and before he could knock on the door, it opened for him. Maddie stood there. Not in her wheel chair, but actually standing on her own. Her blue eyes no longer held the usual flatness, but the dullness remained.
“Hi, Roger,” she said in a flat tone. Her dead eyes lingered on his.
His shoulders slumped.