Mary’s New Housemate

You know how it is with drunks and the itch of a question. Gary couldn’t help himself. At least he waited until they were fairly plastered, though not yet so ill-balanced that the tipsy had become topsy-turvy.

“So, Mary,” he said, “how do you live with the accident?”

She looked at him with a mixture of revulsion and heaviness. Gary recognized in that expression the burden of a secret, and half wished he had kept his mouth shut. But only half.

“There’s no living with it,” she said in a clear heavy tone. “But that was someone else. I’m me, now.”

Gary looked at her waiting to see if the meaning of that would suddenly pop open in his head, or poof like the proverbial light bulb. He looked over at Bluthe, whose pathetic grin had assumed more of the curvature of his usual smirk. “Mary,” Bluthe said importantly, “has compartmentalized her trauma, and seeks neither to disown it nor to dwell on it. She has recognized the necessity of both grief and anger, and she has moved beyond them, to acceptance.” A small guffaw escaped when he tried to breathe and take another slip at the same time.

“No shit,” said Gary. “So that’s how that works?” He looked back at Mary.

“Yes,” she said slowly, “you moron. That’s how it works.”

He said, “I think I can remember every stupid thing I’ve ever done, most like they were yesterday. They make me itch, actually.”

“That would not surprise me,” she added. As if for effect, a cat emerged from some other room, suddenly sat down, licked its bottom with a leg in the air, and then without transition got up and started to scratch its face with the other back paw. That ended just as abruptly and it stood up with a slight stretch and continued on its journey, disappearing into a hall.

Gary laughed but no one else picked it up. A minute passed.

“Gary,” said Bluthe in his best voice of condescension, “perhaps it would be a good time to introduce Mary to her new housemate.”

Ah, that was the angle — even in Gary’s head the light bulb lit up. She was going to get rent from this intergalactic interloper. Or from its guardian, more properly.

“Sure,” he said, “be right back.” But he didn’t move because something was telling him that he was being watched by less than generous eyes. Sure enough, Bluthe had a cruel little smile on his face. He laughed when Gary finally turned to him. “Keys, man!”

“I’m not letting you anywhere near my keys.”

“Then you can fucking get the antenna yourself.”

They exchanged a few flurries of expletives, and then took a break of an hour or so, during which time they went out back to smoke cigars that Mary produced. Gary puked and felt better. Later they went back inside and drank another sacrifice to the hard-proof gods. Gary found his head throbbing and vowed the drunk’s pledge: to never let himself sober up, which would mean having to deal with the hangover.

“Here’s to friends,” Bluthe said, and he wandered out to the car to retrieve the device. When Gary realized he had been gone a long time, he was a bit disconcerted. He became even more so when he found Mary looking at him as if she were expecting them to shed their clothes and get busy right there on the cat-haired floor. Not that she wasn’t female enough for him to do it. But Gary couldn’t get Bluthe’s smile out of his mind. There was no way he wanted that on his own face.