The Worst Way


A/N: After watching too many episodes of Law and Order SVU at once, this is what I've come up with. No, Girl for Hire is not dead, but I just had to get this out first. It's imperfect, I know; it's in the process of being edited for the fifth time but I just thought I'd go ahead and post it first in case somebody has more constructive criticism for me. Enjoy? Lyrics at the bottom copyright Josh Rouse.
At first it's just the roses. You pick them from the very best springtime yard you can find and in the room with all your ticking clocks you find some red ribbon to tie them up with. You're not very good with knots; Teddy mocks you—he always does. But you have to time for idle chatter, and wave him away before climbing down the long, long ladder to go down the route you memorized last week. Her week-old footprints are still on fire, because you see them like the yellow brick road telling you where to go.

Afterwards you reward yourself with some tuna you find in the cold place. Teddy sneers from above the kitchen cabinets: "you'll get tuna-breath, pet. You think she likes mouths that taste like fish? Do you?" You giggle. Teddy is so funny. He never means ill, he just likes to play.

The clocks go whirr, whirr, from here. You hum with them, and dig into your pocket to finger the broken cuckoo doll. It hasn't chirped at you for a week now; you contemplate putting it back into the clocks but Teddy takes it out to play with instead.

When you check on the roses the next week, they are still where you left them, now gray and brittle. It doesn't make sense… perhaps cellists don't like thorns, maybe she pricked her finger on it and can't pluck her little instrument today. It's your fault; you must find something nicer.

"What's she like, lovely? What's she like if she don't like roses?" Teddy sniggers. You go into the clock rooms and hum along with the clocks.

That afternoon you go back down your ladder and down the alley to her place again to look inside the windows. Charlene isn't home again, so perhaps she had another concert? You take some flash pictures to be sure, and take the film to the magic one-hour store with some pocket change to pay for it.

Afterwards, you go home with the glossy prints and study them. Teddy helps you tape them on your walls and he is the one who ultimately notices the stuffed animals in her bedroom.

"Get her a nice little stuffed cat. She'll appreciate that." Teddy points down into the neighbor's yard where Rufus is meowing like always. You look at the clocks, unsure. They clog on and on, and you jump into the yard with Rufus, grab him, and squeeze. He feels like he's made of stuffing. Perfect. But… what're those hard little bones, there? And claws—Charlene won't like sharp claws that scratch her fingers. So you squeeze harder, and take the claws out, until Rufus is just squishy everywhere.

The clock room has more red ribbon for you and you tie a bow around Rufus' neck before going back to her apartment. Rufus looks perfect next to her dark red bedspread.

At home Teddy laughs until he coughs and disappears into the clock room while you eat a raw onion, purple at the edges, sometimes red from your fingers.

A few days later when you slip into her place Rufus is stinking pretty bad, like; to make it go away you find a green shirt that smells like her and wiggle into it. What now? When you ask Teddy, he bursts into song and twirls around the big room: "I'm out in the street, the city lights above. It's the nighttime baby, don't let go of my love."

Tick, tock, ding, dong, clocks are accompanying him, and you watch the sun until it is gone, and then climb down your ladder. You walk to Charlene's house and climb in, ready. The moon is above you and it is right. There is somebody in front of you in the dark—is that a cello on their back? You run to them and squeal, laughing because she has finally found you and it is the nighttime and you are in her green shirt.

They scream with you. Now there is scrabbling. Both of you are on the floor—why? Why is that? This is no time for rolling. Besides, rolling should be done on the spring grass only. You tell her so. She is still squealing something you don't understand—where is Teddy? Oh, he's probably playing in the street. You yell for Teddy, tug at her skirt to ask may he can come in. Her screaming gets louder, and you join in, loving this loud game. But she makes you tumble again; she kicks you in the place your food goes. Ouch.

Then there is a sharp pain at the back of your head. Charlene is blurring in front of your eyes; you bring your cold fingers up to feel the wet sprouting from your hair. It is red—like Rufus—but it is in the worst way.

-o-o-o-

When you wake up you are in a white, white place. Something hurts your hand, a clear plastic tube moves when you do and something that is not a clock beeps with your heart. They are here and they are asking you, shining lights into your eyes. Where is the night gone?

"We caught you in the act," they say. Their eyes are accusatory. "What were you doing in that apartment?"

"Charlene," Teddy says, lying beside you on the bed, "we were finding Charlene." He cackles. It is dry sounding. You squint and pat at your ears. You don't know a thing!

They raise eyebrows at each other. "Charlene? Charlene who?"

Teddy gurgles and you gasp as he continues, pointing, "What do you think, morons? It was Charlene's place we were at." He is making his mad face. You feel emboldened by Teddy, and bare your teeth (oops, you have forgotten to use Crest on them for a while).

They don't look too scared. "Look, buddy," and they are impatient now, "I don't know who you're trying to play but you were at Denise Donovan's apartment last night."

Hmm…

They study you. "Yea. Denise Donovan. Does that name sound familiar to you?"

Hmm…

"Whatever. He's way fucking gone. I bet he's the one who left the dead cat on her bed."

"Roses, she thought… boyfriend…"

"What a sick bastard. Some kind of stalker he is."

"Yea, yea, just let the unit shrink deal with this. Let's go."

They start to leave, and you close your eyes. But Teddy will have none of it. He was always the troublemaker of the family.

"They think Charlene is Denise, my sweet," Teddy says, angry, and rolls over, facing the wall. He is done with questions. You stare at him, and he starts blurring around the edges.

"Ted-dy," you plead, alone. In this room your voice sounds weird. You don't like to use it much and in the stark white it sounds like a growl.

"What?" They pause at the door. "Who's Teddy?"

You point at your bed where he is lying. "Teddy," you say. "Here."

The clocks; there are no clocks here. You tick tock to yourself because there is a pause and Charlene--? Oh. She is at the corner of the room.

"There's nobody there," they say uncertainly, and there are clocks all around you, for one second, whirring and ticking and chirruping and chiming and faster and faster and faster—until they are gone. White walls surround you. Teddy is gone but Charlene's standing in a corner in her red hair and rain slickers, shivering behind their black coats. Like a smear of lipstick on a mirror.

Tick, tick. You lick your lips.

"I can hear my mind now," you inform them.

Apparently Teddy has melted away, though you hear him singing. You feel a snigger bubble from your lips. Charlene winks at you. There is fear in their eyes as you look past them to her messy red hair.

"Hello, Charleeeeeeeeeene," you bubble and hiss. "Want to go dancing?"

-o-o-o-

And maybe later on, after the late-late show,

We can go to your room, and try on your clothes.

I'm out in the street, the city lights above.

It's the nighttime baby; don't let go of my love.

...End