LORIE'S JACKET

By Danny Santos 2011-2012

"I'm so sorry Nicky, It's my fault! I know that now." I see his face all the time, Crying my eyes out. Searching eye's like black marbles, hiding a horrible secret from the world. Talons scrape the stone-Cross. And that God-ugly thing looking over the entire service.

Did I make it up, from one of my dreams? Maybe. I watched it. "Why" I say out-loud. "Why my Angel?" I cream, Nicky's voice is somewhere inside that scream. I can feel the monster speed my way.

I wake in a bar stool, talking to a strange woman. I've never met her before. Have to check my jacket pocket, make sure the note's still there.

"Daddy!" I Don't bother opening my eyes, I know I'm going crazy. The woman walks away from me. And I hear him again. I have to ignore it. Seems like I'm the only one who can hear it. Rachel thinks it's in my head. She says she can't hear it, like a shout from my past. Like a curse. Try and keep focus, But I can't, feel the alcohol kicking in, and I think I want it to. Pass out one more time.

just one more night. How long have I been out? How long have I been sitting in my own filth? Scattered puddles all over the empty streets confirm my suspicions. I better get going then, before morning comes. I put the truck in gear and speed off, Leaving a long skid mark in the dirt behind me. Some vagrant shouts out an obscenity at me, but I couldn't care less. I'm headed for the highest bridge I could think of; The midtown bridge. My head attacks me in pounding waves, and my hands shake, either from nerves or from frost.

While driving I notice something, but I could still be drunk. I don't really know if I'm actually seeing what I think I'm seeing. It's that red bird again, high up in the sky. I've seen that thing before, In my dreams, at Nicky's funeral. Jesus! That thing's real? I thought I dreamed it up. I've been having twisted dreams.

At the funeral It perched on top of a granite cross. Looking my way, as it does now. It's eye's look very purposeful, a stare which I could only describe as wicked. Dodging trees along power lines, it flies above me. Following me. Struggling to keep up, but not too hard. It keeps pace with my truck. Seeing that thing must be a sign, I feel both flattered, and intimidated. I can see it trying to keep eye contact with me, like some tourist trying to get some snap shots of a famous celebrity.

I get to the midtown bridge. Without any care, I park my truck in the middle of the road. This is the spot. It's a good a spot as any. This is where I'll do it. I turn the music off, leaving the truck running. The giant red bird settles on top a nearby street pole. It'll be a silent witness to my self-destruction. Using some duct tape, I stick my 'Death letter' to the steering wheel. The letter should explain why my sorry ass ended up in the river.

Chances are good no one will understand the damn thing, since I wrote it while I was hammered drunk. I would rewrite the letter, but I can't even get myself to read it. I'm afraid of what it might say. I imagine my words are better left uncensored. I can see from here, without even trying, that it's covered with Nick's name. I just can't bring myself to read it. I know it sounds crazy, but I take comfort in knowing that the letter exists, and that it's firmly attached to my truck.

I chose this place because of the river. Here, feels right. This section of bridge is perfect for me. The street light shines on me like a spot light. I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with the icy atmosphere, as I step up to the ledge. I'm balancing myself up high. Don't want to fall until I'm ready. The cold, November air, find it's way through my jacket and chills me to the bone. If things weren't broken. For a brief moment I think about turning back, and going home. I'd go home to a wife who should hate me, but doesn't. Everything's broken.

I can't explain it any better then to say; Time's moving in bizarre intervals. I can see my alcohol-saturated breath, It shines by the half moon's light. I can also see the rushing water below me. It must be over 80 feet down. Those same blue waters I knew as a child were now looking back at me with threat. The water's deceivingly black at night, Tar-like. Accompanied by a heavy bass hiss, the river moves along steadily. Slowly.

The low toned rush calls out to me. Calling my name. Begging for me to play with it. I will, soon. I close my eyes and ready for the plunge, until I hear foot steps behind me. Without thought I turn around to see... A girl?

A little girl, wearing... a yellow summer dress? She's walked up to my truck and was now reading MY death note. What the hell? What's she doing? That's none of her business.

"Hey, what the hell are you doing? Get away from there!" I yell at her while running back towards my pickup truck. I grab this little girl by the shoulders and push her away. The giant red crow jumps off it's perch, swoops down and opens it's expansive wings as it passes overhead. It lets out it's unexpected, nerve wracking shriek which scares me from parts within my soul I never even knew existed. As quickly as it appeared, it was gone. Normally, I don't go around shoving strangers away from me, but there was nothing normal about tonight.

"My name's Laurie, mister. Laurie Lee. What's your name, mister?" She asks in the most innocent sounding voice I've ever heard. As if we had met in a park or carnival. Somewhere less threatening. Somewhere other than, The middle of a lonely, scary bridge, in the middle of the night.

"Kevin. Okay!" I yelling at her in a stern voice, but she gives no reaction, which, in turn, scares me. Little girls scare the crap out of me for some strange reason. And I don't understand why. At 5 or 6 years old. She's very much out of place here. So, calmly, I continue.

"There!" I say kindly but sternly. "Now you see what's happening here. You can move along now, Laurie. Go home. Your parents are probably worried sick looking for you. I can't deal with that right now."

"Oh no, Mister, not my parents!... No, I play here all the time. I'm here on my own all the time. I play on the bridge, see." She points to the ledge I was just standing on.

"They don't mind, really." That sounded like an out-right lie to me, and I gave her the look of it. But deep down I guess it was just as plausible as having a father who'd leave his 4 year old boy next to an unattended swimming pool.

"Nicholas." I whisper.

"Hey, Nicholas!" She repeats, in an unnecessarily loud voice. "I have a baby brother named Nicholas!" My mouth opens but I don't say anything. A creepy chill ripples up from deep down inside me. There's a question stuck in my throat now. I don't want to ask it, Because I'm too afraid of what the answer could be. But I ask it, anyways.

"Laurie!" Again, I place my hands on her small shoulders, then look at those huge baby brown eyes of hers. "How old is your little brother, Laurie? 5? Is he 5 years old?" I ask, realizing the desperation in my voice, one I'm sure she wouldn't even understand.

"No, Silly Billy he's not 5. He's only... one. 1 years old. But he's so funny, though, Cause he never shuts up. Our Father just laughs at him."

What does that mean? It has to mean something, but it doesn't?

She continues to talk about her family, unaware I've shut down; she goes on mute to me. Again, I see lips moving, a grin on her face, as she talks at me, feet fluttering about. She has no clue how close she came to, literally, giving me a heart attack. Though, I don't know what exactly I was thinking. I just have to get out of here, I was driving myself crazy.

She keeps those vast brown eyes on me, and I'm melting. Her cute face warms my heart to the core while simultaneously testing the limits of my patience. I can't go through with this crap if she's here. Watching me. I got to get rid of her somehow.

"Well, I mind. You hear me? I mind! And this is not a time or a place for little girls to be running around, prancing about like some kind-" I stop my self midway my 'Do's and don'ts of night time etiquette' speech.

I come to notice some strange things I'd missed when I fist met this odd little girl. First off, on closer inspection, I see she's younger than I had previously thought. I think maybe she was 8 or 10 years old. And more importantly, this poor girl's shivering and dripping wet.

"Come here." I take my jacket off. "You must be frosted over!" God help them, kids can do a great job of hiding discomfort when their distracted, but I know she must be So cold. I put it on her small shoulders. She should not be here. Actually, the more I inspect Laurie, the more out of place she seems to me. Either she just came up from swimming in the icy river, or she likes to walk in the rain.

"Hey, This is neat!... What is it?" Without warning, her tiny arms spring out, she snatches the phone from my waist and holds it up, glowing her face.

"It's my phone! It's new. My wife's always upgrading me. She got me this new Tee-1000 Smart phone." I tell her, and her eyes perk up "Girl, you act like you never seen a phone before." I grab and tug on the phone with the slightest force. She pays me no mind.

"Silly Billy, Course I seen a phone before. Just never seen this one, is all." She corrects me. "Well, now you've seen it. Now, come on, That there's a man's phone," I joke , taking back my phone I give her a firm look, but she continues to smile back. What am I gonna do now? Jump off the stupid bridge while she's looking? Well... She could wave good bye. No, That wouldn't be right, would it? No! What the hell am I thinking?

Great, I can't think, not of death, not now. I can't think of anything right now. I feel uncomfortably responsible for this stupid kid. "Come on, get in! Where do you live? I'm taking you home."

With a smile on her pale face, she doesn't ask a question, this miniature person waddles over to the other side of my car and steps in, my purple jacket over her delicate frame. The jacket's collar trapped against her cute, black hair. Pinching it down. She looks adorable under it. Tiny feet keep shuffling about her bright yellow sun dress while it spills out from underneath the jacket and I can't help but smile for the first time, in a long time.

I drive through some questionable streets. They're shady, even during the day, and not so honest streets. Garbage is spread sporadically over the whole place, and seedy characters who operate in the cover of dark, under hooded sweaters and puffy coats. Coming here's another first for me. I rarely stop on this part of town, never really.

Never had a reason, Till now, and truth be told, I probably won't be returning. I spend half the car ride hearing talk about her little brothers and sisters, none of them older than 8. The other half of the car ride's spent attending to her and keeping those small, snooping hands away from my glove box. But I'm good at multitasking, at least I used to be.

"Are you going to call your wife, Kevin?" She stares at me without that smile I've come to know from her.

"Huh?..." She goes on, and I look at her in a strangely new way. With somehow wider eyes, she says, "Because if you did, you should tell her to look in the bedroom closet."

"Why should she look in there? What's in the bedroom closet, Laurie?"

Her head springs to the side, and she smiles big again. "I don't know, Silly Billy! Just tell her, and find out. Gggeeesh." And just like that she was back to her old self again, smiling big like every little girl should. The moment's honestly freaking me out, but what can I do?

"There it is, stop, Stop!" She yells. I park in front of some Laundromat, and though it's not open at this time, "THE BIG CLEAN" shines on me and the truck brightly, above the roof in big red letters. I guess the large gloomy house across the street is hers, and I'm proven right when I see her walking away from me, towards it.

"Thanks, Mister!" she squirted, a fading sound of tapping black shoes is the last I hear of Laurie before, she disappears. And just like that, the most beautiful part of my night slips away. I hadn't noticed it, but she took my jacket with her. Now I'm just sitting here, alone.

'What now?' I think to myself. Guess I'll just go home. And as soon as I make up my mind to head back a secretly hidden anxiety from somewhere deep within me deflates, and I feel at peace for the first time in a long time. I can go home. I want to see Rachel. The drive home seems too long for me, I guess I'm just excited. Along the way I try and call Rachel. I'm caught off guard when I hear that she's happy to hear from me.

NEXT DAY

I wake in my king size bed with the sun on my face and a beautiful queen next to me. My phone's woken me up, singing, calling out for me to answer it, until I do. On the other end of the phone line's an angry bartender screaming in a thick country accent. Something about large unpaid bills. I didn't catch the exact amount but it was in the thousands. I guess I'll have to deal with that unpaid tab after all.

"Click." Rachel found a pair of baby shoes in our closet, which was next to a pregnancy test, which she took, which gave her the great news last night; I'm going to be a Dad, again. So yeah... I've got things to do. I think Rachel asking me about the Jacket last night was a sign, Cause I know she hates me wearing it. But she knows I love it.

Today there's not much on the agenda; First, get my jacket from that little brat, Laurie. It was dark when I dropped Laurie off, And I was drunk, So I don't think I could find the house now. I use the Laundromat as my guide, and I think I find the place. I park in front of the "THE BIG CLEAN" Laundromat. This is the place, I know it is. But I don't think the house I'm looking at is the same one. I see a house, but it can't be it. There's only one house across the street from the laundry matt, only one. This can't be right, can it? The house I'm looking at is wrecked. Beyond repair. It looks like it went through a fire. There's no way this was done overnight, And there's no way anyone lives here.

Openly, I want it to look like I only came to get my jacket, but secretly, I wanted to see that little brat one more time. What can I say... she grew on me. She probably saved my life, too. The house across the Laundromat's not there, though. There's a house there, but it's burnt to the ground. Unlivable. Plus, it looks old.

The crackling of leaves beneath my feet disturb what I imagine was silence before I arrived. Cemeteries have always been an unusual place for me. The graves are smaller in this section of the quiet outdoors. I get to my son's grave, and ready to kneel, Pour my heart out. But I notice something before I do; The colors purple, and white, this stops me in my tracks. My Jacket "That shouldn't be here." I thought, But there it hangs. On the tombstone next to Nicky's. It's laying there, like if it's always been there. When I take the jacket I see it's dripping wet, and it's cold to touch. This has been the strangest 24 hours of my life. The day turns from already unusual, to down right bizarre. Chills run up and down my spine when I peek the name inscribed on the tomb. It can't be, but there it is; Laurie E. Lee.

I never saw Laurie after that night, and as I go about my business, trying to pretend that this is all somehow 'normal,' I start a monthly ritual. I clasp my hands after kneeling over Nicky's grave, and I talk to him. I talk to him about the memories we shared. Private and only ours. Moments like secrets, shared only by friends and only ours. I talk for hours, I know he's listening.

Now, I'd be lying if I told you I'm not freaked out by all this, but I don't want to think about it too much. Actually, I'm not going to spend any more time trying to figure this stuff out. I don't know what happened last night, and I don't want to know. There's some peace inside me, now, I can think about Nicholas and smile. There's no probably about it. I was a fool to even think about jumping off that crappy bridge. That little girl saved me from myself. After visiting with Nicholas, I get up and I place the jacket back on Laurie's gravestone, it's where it should stay. Then I decide to go home, where I'm meant to be.

END