You are reading Fiddleblack #5
Daniel was sitting in the glow of the drafting table drawing the baseball diamond at Knox Park when he heard a car in the driveway. It was well after midnight, as these nights had been going for him. The map, the project he had been working on for months, was nearly done in all of its minute detail, down to the trees that lined Windsor Avenue. Daniel envisioned hanging it on the living room wall, where he and Amy could study it together and feel confident that they could know everything.
Daniel looked at the clock. 2:37 AM. There was the rattling of the doorknob, the clatter of keys falling and hitting the metal entryway. He could have sworn Amy had gone upstairs to bed a few hours ago, but he opened the front door and there she was, slumped on the stoop, her hands in her thin blonde hair. Her keys lay in the entryway, a few turned askew from the ring. She didn’t seem to notice him.
Daniel sat down, watching the pale circles of Amy’s knuckles. He put his hand on her shoulder. “Where were you? I thought you were in bed.”
She picked her head up from the cave of her knees and looked at him. Daniel couldn’t help adoring her for her sadnesses, so specific and precious to her. He took pleasure in absorbing them, gathering her into his arms and placing his hands on her cheeks, his stumpy thumbs lodged like doorstops under her eyes to catch the tears. The rest of his fingers wrapped around her neck, reaching up into her hair.
Amy fell into the throes of wild—and to her, horrifying—scenarios. One day, she was convinced that someone had been murdered in the McDonald’s near their house. She had read about killings in fast food restaurants and thought that would be the most depressing place to die. As she’d described it, there was the worker blinking at the cash register, ready to listen always to each new and horrible customer. Then, BAM, shot in the chest by a deranged robber. This vision had sent her into a tailspin.
During these times, Daniel followed his process. First, he would bring Amy to their kitchen and make her tea.
“What’s wrong? What happened?”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” she’d say. “Don’t worry about it.”
She would laugh, shaking her head, and walk over to Daniel. Placing her hands on the solid mound of his chest, she would ask, “What are we supposed to do?”
He’d take her into his map room to show her the latest additions. She would run her small finger down different streets.
“Powotomac, I like that,” she’d say. “Shermansworth. Cumberland. Oh, Narragansett.”
“Here’s the public library. And this one’s the town’s tallest building, and there’s a water tower over here,” Daniel would say, proud of his attention to detail.
“Well, I guess everything’s all figured out. Everything is set and the people can find their way around.” But then a sigh. “I don’t know,” she’d say, and out would pour her newest scenario.
A week ago, it was an old grandma at the grocery store shuffling past the frozen vegetables, crinkled shopping list in her liver-spotted hand like some kind of lucky talisman.
“As if just by having it, she could navigate the grocery store,” Amy had said. “She didn’t look at it, really. I don’t know if she even knew she had it, but I guess it’s a thing of comfort. Some semblance of order.”
She’d explained to Daniel that the grandma would go home to her small apartment with whatever groceries she ended up with, and probably wouldn’t even know what to do with them.
“She’ll cry, or even worse, she’ll sit at her kitchen table and smile, oblivious.”
Daniel allowed Amy’s words to heave out. This was all part of the process. He would go to her then and kiss her as if he had found home, touch her as if he were foraging for sustenance, as if he could absorb her vitality into the tips of his fingers. They would end up on the floor, on the couch, in the bed, spreading themselves everywhere. Through this process, Daniel would steal her sadness and bring her back to reality—orienting her with maps, with physicality, with his body making its imprint on hers. And in the end, Daniel would be silent, elated, nourished.
Tonight, as he looked at Amy hunched on their stoop like a creature that didn’t belong, it never occurred to him that there could be a sadness from which he could not bring her back. She sobbed and sputtered, trying to speak.
“Take deep breaths,” Daniel said. “It’s going to be okay.”
“No, Daniel,” she said, shrugging his hand off her shoulder. “It won’t be okay. I was driving, and then there was a blur or something…”
Amy shook her head. Her palms kneaded circles into her scalp. She was trying to take deep breaths.
“There was a thump, and then—oh God, why didn’t I stop?”
Daniel was processing these words slowly, like he did all those nights looking at aerial photographs, piecing together sections of the map.
“Amy, I need you to look at me and calm down. Do you think you hit someone with the car?” Daniel tried to be serious but he could feel the twinges of arousal that Amy’s sadnesses always caused in him. “What were you doing out driving, anyway?”
“It was a little kid. A little boy, Daniel. I’m pretty sure.”
“Are you serious?”
“I don’t know,” she said over and over. She looked at the ground, “Yes, I’m sure of it. I’m positive.”
“Christ, where did this happen, what street? We need to call the police.”
“No!” Amy said, peering up at Daniel with wide, headlight eyes, her hand at his shirtsleeve.
“Please,” she said. “I’m scared.”
He nodded, and falling back into his process, he gathered her small frame into his. “Come here,” he said.
He felt that he could always take her in, as one walks into a house and becomes a part of it—lives, breathes, and thinks in it. He looked out at their car in the driveway and spoke in her ear.
“Okay, Amy. I need you to get up with me. We need to go look at the car. There will be damage if you hit something, right?”
He pulled away and looked at her, holding her face in his hands. He tried to decipher the thoughts flickering behind her eyes, but he couldn’t. They got up and walked toward the driveway, triggering the motion sensor lights.
The car’s silver paint gleamed, and Daniel felt like they were inspecting something foreign, a thing that had appeared in their driveway. Sleek and completely free of dents or scratches, the car looked like it could have belonged to a neighbor or a stranger, anyone but them.
“You were in bed,” Daniel said quietly. He noticed for the first time that she was in her pajamas and slippers, her coat thrown on over, making her sleeves bunch underneath.
“I couldn’t sleep,” she said. “I got up and wanted to go see the lake. I like it when it’s dark at night.”
He stared at her.
“It’s not like you would have heard me leave. You don’t pay attention. You go into a trance with that map.”
“Okay,” Daniel said. “Well, I think we should go back to where you think it happened, then. Just to look around.”
“Are you crazy, Daniel? Do you want me to get arrested?”
These words did not sound like Amy. He watched her gesticulate and her mouth move like she was in a silent film. Even then, he couldn’t help but admire the milky glow of her skin, the slender curve of her arms, the emanating presence of her being alive.
“We’re going,” Daniel said. “You’re going to show me where this happened on the map, and then we’ll go there. I’m not giving you a choice.”
“I don’t need to show you on your map, Daniel. I know where it is. I don’t need maps to help me figure things out all the time.”
Ignoring her, he took her inside to the map. He wanted to pinpoint her current delusion, somehow reduce it to coordinates. He watched as she pointed to the corner of Garden and School Street, by Knox Park. Her finger pressed down on the map, near where he had been working. It smudged an unfinished line.
“Are you sure?” Daniel’s voice was low, and he put his hand on Amy’s arm.
“Yes, I’m sure,” Amy said, shaking his hand off. “Are we done now?”
He replaced his hand, giving her a rough squeeze and nudging her toward the front door.
Once they were in the car, he put his hands on the wheel and sighed.
“This is crazy. Why wouldn’t you stop if you hit a little boy with your car? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“I don’t know. Why does anyone walk away when they hurt someone? You can’t explain everything, Daniel. You can’t explain how people act in these situations.”
Daniel put the car into reverse. “Let’s just get on the road.”
They drove in silence. Daniel realized it was just yesterday that Amy had been particularly mercurial and irrational. She’d moped around the house, quietly picking up objects and setting them down again.
“Daniel,” she’d finally said, with their toothpaste tube in her hand. “Why have you been squeezing the toothpaste out like this?”
They had started a new tube recently, and Daniel had decided to squeeze the toothpaste out from the end of the tube instead of the middle. He’d always done that as a kid, and his toothpaste tubes eventually ended up flattened—curled up like a piece of paper after you lit it on fire. By the end of the toothpaste-squeezing process, he would begin rolling the tube all the way up toward the mouth, using every last bit.
“People who do this freak me out,” Amy had said, wagging the tube at him. She then listed flaws Daniel could secretly have: maybe he was too severe and anal retentive, maybe he would be a cruel father if they ever had kids, maybe he cared too much about perfection.
Daniel was still thinking about toothpaste tubes when they reached the coordinates Amy had pointed out on the map. It was dark and the streetlights bore down on the abandoned road, emptiness radiating. Everything seemed normal.
“Go up over there, by the big tree past that stop sign,” Amy said, and Daniel obliged her.
“Here, stop. This is where it was.”
Daniel pulled over next to the big tree. Amy took a deep breath and unclicked her seatbelt. They both got out of the car and stood in the street. Daniel looked around at the quiet houses—the people inside sleeping, occupying their units, their spaces on the grid. He couldn’t shake the feeling that he had just drawn this space into existence.
“Look,” Amy said, and he realized he hadn’t been paying attention to her. She was crouched down to the road holding a dirty baseball mitt. She looked like a child.
“This must have been his,” she said.
“Damn it, Daniel. The little boy’s.” Amy slammed the mitt to the ground, pushing it down against the pavement as she hoisted herself back up. Then she was standing, staring at it in the streetlight.
“So this kid was playing baseball when you think you hit him with your car? At this time of night?”
“I guess,” she said. She put her hand inside the mitt and held it up to him as if waiting for a ball.
“Look how small his hand was.”
“Amy, I need you to focus. We need to make sure this is real. I mean, this is bad. You think you hit…”
“We need to make sure it’s real?” Amy’s arm was shaking as she lowered the mitt to her side. “You don’t believe me?”
She looked back down at the mitt, tracing the worn stitching with her free hand.
“Well, okay, then we should go knock on some doors and see if we can find the owner of the mitt,” Daniel said. “Or we should call the hospital and see if they can give us any information.”
“I want to go home,” she said.
“You’re not being at all responsible in this situation. You realize that, don’t you?”
She looked up from the mitt. “Well, you seem to think this isn’t real, so maybe we should just go home.”
“Fine, then. Let’s go home, because nothing about this makes sense. Okay? It’s nuts.”
He struggled with the key in the car door. He felt a new defiance against Amy’s imagination, against the world in which she had them living. He wanted to cut this process short, wanted to take her now.
He opened the car door and told her to get in. She obeyed, the mitt clutched to her chest.
As soon as they got home, she went up to their bed and lay down with the mitt. Daniel opened the door to his map room and turned on the light to illuminate his creation. For once, he felt disappointed that it was flat, that it did not rise up with life, whir with noise, challenge him.
He went into their room and lay next to Amy. He wanted to do crazy things to her, wanted to touch her body all over with the baseball mitt and confuse her worlds. He put his hand on her abdomen, breathed on her neck, but she was despondent.
“Is this how you want to live?” he asked. “You want to indulge so much that you’ll never come back?”
Amy still wasn’t facing him. Her voice was tense. “I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.”
“Tell me how it happened,” Daniel said.
“How the accident happened. How you hit this little boy, the owner of the baseball mitt you’re holding.”
“I want to sleep, Daniel.”
“Tell me,” he repeated.
“I wasn’t driving carefully, okay? Hit and runs are terrible. People actually do them, and they’re terrible. It made me so sad to think about.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m just telling you what I was thinking at the time. What I was thinking while I was driving, and then a boy, so little, with a little red baseball cap on, throwing his baseball up and catching it, and up and up and up again. Lost in his own world. And then suddenly he stepped out into the street without looking, and the last thing I saw was his ball in midair, frozen.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” Daniel said. “Why would a little boy be out late at night throwing a baseball by himself? And he would have heard your car coming. He would have seen it.”
“Daniel,” Amy said. “I’m going to sleep now. Turn off the light.”
He didn’t feel like talking anymore and rose from their bed without turning off the light. He felt the sickness of living in his unit—he and Amy, their house, the rooms.
He went to the map room. At his drafting table, he put his head in his hands and closed his eyes. He took deep breaths, but his heart was beating fast. It struck him then with sudden, sharp clarity that it was possible Amy was capable of the accident she had described.
He felt the need to get up, to do something. He walked past the map. The lines of the streets looked so rigid, the buildings all square, and the unfinished line of Knox Park haunted him. He couldn’t stand the map’s presence. The plain fact, the embodiment, of all these things he had unfolded, all these things he had lain out as existing.
The cold of the wood floor shocked his feet as he walked back to their bedroom. In their bed, Amy slept curled up and docile. The baseball mitt had fallen to the floor beside her, where it didn’t look so out of place. He leaned on the doorframe and watched her chest move up and down like a small animal.
Ellen Frazel is the author of several nonfiction children’s books published by Bellwether Media. She is also a founding staff member of Ostrich Review. Originally from Chicago, she now lives in Lake Charles, Louisiana, where she is pursuing her MFA at McNeese State University.