Life After Rosy by Brian J. Helt

Almost a week had passed and still nothing, but they kept at it with the hounds.  I watched them every day through the window of my office, then at home through the screen of my old television with its tapering backside, bulky and outdated.  With each passing night and no news to hear or to tell, everyone’s hopes that Rosy Timmits would come home dwindled.

You could see them trudging through the mud and the flies day in and day out.  Even into the late hours of the night, they called to one another and the bark of their hounds carried through the open fields and disappeared into the nothingness of night where only the dull blades of their flashlights could find anything.  I began to wonder how much the woods carried away into perfect oblivion, noticing a part of me was lost among the pines.  I needed to leave this place.

Only hours after the newspapers printed Rosy Timmits’ story did television stations begin to circle like condors in the sky.  The day after it was first printed, you couldn’t so much as go to the gas station or visit a friend without hearing a radio announcement or seeing a TV with her picture, front and center.  There was nothing to suggest she was taken or that she ran away, no footprints, no shredded clothing, no blood stains anywhere.  Naturally people began to wonder if she simply evaporated into thin air, the girl that disappeared from this life like Tule fog, boiled off by high noon heat.

They talked about murder, kidnap, runaways and collected in civilian search parties.  Still, no one could find her, could find anything about where she had gone or if anyone had taken her.  I tried not to think of it, about Rosy missing, about what I could’ve done to prevent it, about the hopelessness that walled up all around me, closing in, suffocating.  I could feel it in my chest in the middle of the night through a haze of booze, ripping open the bag of a deep nightmare, the closest to dying I’ve ever known since.

Even before Rosy disappeared, I tried not to notice the Timmits house every day on my way to the clinic, failing every time.  The picketers pranced around, calling the Timmits “sinners” and “devil worshippers.”  Their front porch had the word “MURDERERS” spray painted across the steps.  Somehow I felt guilty, that the word belonged painted on my steps even though she never knew me, even though I had never been so close to even run my fingers through her tawny hair.  How much I would’ve done differently had I known.

 

I was running late the Thursday after Rosy vanished and on my way to the clinic, I saw the picketers still lingering on the sidewalk in front of the Timmits’ house.  In four days, they hadn’t found someone else to bother, something else to hate.  As I drove by, I caught the anemic blue eye of Charlie Timmits I could never forget, trying his best to ignore the picketers just a few feet from him.  If his wife had waited on the porch before to watch him leave for work and give him one last wave goodbye, she had stopped at some point.  I wasn’t sure if I imagined it, or if we truly locked eyes, Charlie and me, but a flare of regret shot through my stomach and my heart just about seized right then.

The clinic was nested in a womb of trees, secluded enough to keep the busier downtown traffic and noise out, but noticeable to those looking for it.  Beyond the immediate arms of pines, empty fields of marshy grassland spanned for at least a mile away from the road, empty and barren.  Nothing besides long reeds grew in that expanse only to die a few months later.  A forest, thick and impenetrable cut the fields with a sharp barrier of pine and fir.

When I arrived that morning, I began with my usual routine, tossing my coat on the rack by the door, dropping my bag at the foot of my desk.  I sat down and thought about Rosy Timmits, the picketers and Charlie Timmits’ face, wishing I could change what had happened before Rosy.

The intercom crooned its soft tone from reception, shattering my thoughts with a startle.

“Mikey is here,” she said.

“Send him to room three,” I responded with my finger on the button.

A lot of times the patients would cry and scream which is why most of the rooms were soundproofed.  It was a good design, and contributed to the integrity of privacy, but something about it always creeped me out.  It’s something you won’t understand without hearing the things the children say.  What scared me most wasn’t what they said, but what they didn’t say, the empty space between their thoughts, the suggested and unknown.  They say so much with their eyes.

I walked into the room, adorned with brightly colored pillows on a couch in the corner.  He sat at the table with our little terracotta pot, bonsai tree inside, slowly growing or slowly dying.  I could never tell the difference with them but always tried my best to groom and nurture them.

“Hi Ms. Carrie!” he said brightly.

“Good morning, Mikey,” I tried my best to return a cheerful greeting, “how are you this morning?”

“I’m great Ms. Carrie!  How are you?”

“I’m well, thank you.”

I sat in the chair across from the table, removed a tape recorder from my pocket and pressed the red button.

“Why do you always put that on the table Ms. Carrie?” Mikey asked.

“To keep track of the work we do.  You and I work very hard together, Mikey and I would hate to lose track of all of that.”

“But you could use a clipboard like other doctors.”

“We’re not like other doctors here.”

Mikey laughed, amused.

“How’s your week going, Mikey?”

“I made a new friend.”

“That’s great.  What’s their name?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know your friend’s name?”

“No, but she likes me.  We play together sometimes.”

“What do you two do together?”

“We play house, or talk about who we hate.”

“Who you hate?”

“I don’t like a lot of people.”

“You’ve said that before, Mikey.”

“They’re all stupid,” Mikey said, a furrow in his brow beginning to crease.

“That’s what you think of most people?”

“But not you Ms. Carrie!” an abrupt smile cut through, “you’re the smartest friend I have.”

“How’s school, Michael?”

“I don’t like that.”

“School?”

“My name is Mikey.”

“Sorry, Mikey.  Does it make you angry when people call you by your full name?”

“My full name is Mikey.”

His nostrils flared with the corners of his lips pinned down.  I could see his knuckles whitening from his grip.  These were Mikey’s tells.

“We’ll keep calling you Mikey.”

“I saw a dead bird yesterday,” he continued.

“Where did you see the bird?”

“It fell out of the sky and was flapping its wings,” he said through a chuckle.

“Does that give you pleasure?”

“But Mom told me to leave it alone.  Said I could get sick.  She never lets me do anything fun.”

“Are you and your mom getting along?”

“But I took her.”

“The dead bird?”

“I kept it under my bed.”

“Is it still there, Mikey?”

Mikey looked towards the window that looked out onto an open field of dead long grass before the cluttered pine forest began.  His lips wrinkled and I could see the tears collecting in the corners of his eyes.  It was only a matter of time.

“I did something bad, Ms.Carrie.”

“Did you tell your mom about the bird?”

“Something really bad.”

“Did you kill the bird?”

He looked up at me, perplexed, tears running glossy streaks down the sides of his face.

“What?” he asked.

“Did you kill the bird, Mikey?”

“She threw that bird away.”

“What happened?”

“That girl’s been missing for a few days.”

“What girl?”

“Rosy,” he said.

“Have you been watching the news, Mikey?”

“Do you think they’ll ever find her?”

“Rosy?  I’m not sure.  I hope so.”

“What do you think happened to her?” he asked.

“No one knows.”

“Someone knows.”

“How’s that, Mikey?”

He looked towards the door briefly.

“Our time is almost up, Ms. Carrie.”

We didn’t put clocks in our workrooms, but he was always able to guess when we had only a few minutes left.

“You’re right.  You’re good at guessing.”

“It wasn’t a guess.”

 

The next morning came to me wearily on the edge of a hangover.  I could barely sleep the night before, spending most of its earliest hours surrounded with thoughts of Mikey and what he had said about the bird and Rosy.  My mind wandered, cluttered with curiosity the way antique stores are filled wall to wall with the dusted discards stacked one on top of another.

Although on this day I was not late, it felt so, coffee in hand on the way to my car.  I drove through town with the warm cup lifting me from my fatigue and headache.  Thoughts from yesterday followed me like a shadow.

On the main road I saw the Timmits’ house half a mile away and as I drew closer, I slowed down to pull over across the street.  Through my window I could see Charles saying goodbye to his wife again with the picketers shouting their profanities across the front yard.  My hand shook as I opened the door, and a chill of nervous energy crawled up my arm and made my back quiver.  I knew his wife would go back inside like she always did as of late, was Charlie aware of it?  Did he wish things were like they had been?  I’d still wait for him, I thought to myself.  I wanted to wait for him, I’d have fought the picketers.

I found myself moving towards the Timmits’ house, thinking about what I was going to say to Charles for the first time since Rosy was born, and he married his wife.  I wasn’t ready for this.  I would never be, but it had to be then, there was no other time for it.  To break a restraining order, you have to have one hell of an excuse, and prepare for the worst of outcomes.

My heels snapped against the asphalt as I crossed the street, glossed in the nightly mist that had yet to burn off with the day’s sun.  When I got to the sidewalk I had to fight my way through the fanatics in their snow jackets, armed with hate and plywood signs.  Reaching with my elbows, I pushed through, crushed by the density of the horde.

I broke through as Charles opened the driver’s door.  I called to him before he could sit down and shut it.

“Charles!”

He stopped, brows pitched down towards his blue eyes in confusion, blue like death, blue like yearning, like love, like the pain that is lived with and never forgotten, never subsiding.  I could never forget his eyes from that night, like something planetary and intangible.  They were Rosy’s eyes, a gift she could never thank her father for.  When he set those eyes on me, they widened with a mix of astonishment and fear.

“Carrie?” he asked.

“I had to see you.”

“You can’t come here.”

“I said I had to see you, Charlie.”

“You should’ve called.”

“I’m so sorry about Rosy.  I really loved her even though I wasn’t around.”

“Are you fucking kidding me, Carrie?”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t do more for her and it tortures me every day, seeing you fight through this and watching your wife leave the porch.”

I found myself muted by the picketers.

“Look, you did what you could, we all did.  This isn’t over yet.  I have to leave,” he said, trying to close his car door.  My fingertips caught its edge and kept it open and I knew it was dangerous, bordering on the insane.

“Charles?” his wife chimed in, having reappeared on the porch and I began to consider what I had said, what I was doing.  There was no good to come from this, but I could make the best of it.

“I don’t know what happened,” I began, rushed and frantic, “but if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change what happened between us.  I just wanted to tell you that I’m sorry for what happened to our daughter, and if I could’ve done more, if I could’ve been a part of her life, if just for a day, I would have.  I would have traded everything for that.  I won’t bother you anymore, I just needed you to know because it all eats me up inside and I can feel everything slipping.  I hate it, I hate it all.”

He looked down to the ground with pursed lips.  I could see the watery shine in his eyes he was fighting back then.  Did he still love me?

“Thank you, Carrie.”

He closed his door, backed out of his driveway and drove off.  I looked back at the porch to see his wife had gone back inside.  She’d report me; that much was obvious.  I didn’t care.  The picketers must’ve been getting tired as their shouts were quieting and they dwindled in numbers.  I wondered how many more days they’d last.  Even the worst people in this world must rest for their vocations.

 

I put my bag down next to my desk as I always did and looked at the clock.  I had twenty minutes before Mikey came in for our second and last session of the week.  From the filing cabinet in the right corner closest to my desk, I removed his file and unfolded it.  I updated the notes and the progress briefly before opening the drawer at my desk and removing the tape recorder.  With a press of the small eject button, the recorder snapped open and I took out the tape, placing it squarely on his not closed folder.  I put a fresh tape in from the same drawer and closed it before walking into room three.

When I walked into room three, I saw Mikey sitting at the table, swinging his legs under the chair.  He looked at me with a smile, backpack still strapped to his shoulders.

“Hi Ms. Carrie!”

“You’re early, Mikey.”

“My mom dropped me off and we always use this room so I knew where to go.”

“You should’ve waited, Mikey.  What if another doctor had to use this room?”

“No one told me to leave.  Are they afraid of me?”

“Why would anyone be afraid of you?”

“What I might do.”

“What might you do, Mikey?”

“How long did you see Rosy?”

The question cut the deepest and for the first time in the twenty three years I had been in practice.  I wanted to slap him across his face for daring to ask a question like that.

“I can’t talk about Rosy with you,” I said, trying to maintain my cool.

“Why not?” he pressed.

“Because it’s the law.”

“I knew Rosy, before – you know.”

“Were you two classmates?”

“Friends.”

“Mikey, I wanted to talk to you more about that bird,” I said, placing the tape recorder on the table with the record button pressed.

“I knew you had that in your pocket.  You always record us.”

“That’s right.  Helps me keep track of where we are, like a bookmark.”

“You’re so smart, Ms. Carrie.”

“Tell me what your mom said about the bird.”

“She was going to tell on me.”

“Who was your mother going to tell?”

“Now she’s gone.”

“I thought your mother dropped you off today, Mikey.”

At times, Mikey was known to lapse in and out of certain realities he lived in.  Almost every session I had with him, he’d seem to snap, so to speak, back into our shared reality and join in the same conversation.

“She did, why?” he said, smiling.

“Mikey, what did you mom say about the bird?”

“She made me throw it into the garbage.”

I let a moment pass between the two of us.

“What were you talking about, Mikey?”

“Talking about?”

“Just now, you said she was gone.  You said she was going to tell on you.  Who were you talking about?”

Mikey looked down, skewing his lips at a slant the way someone shares bad news, or can offer no help.  He chuckled, trying to hide it with his hand held to his mouth guiltily.  After a few chuckles escaped between his fingers, he looked at me from his lowered brows, grinning.

“Mikey, do you know where Rosy is?  If you know where she is, you need to tell us so we can find her.”

I found my right hand gripping his cheeks from under his chin the way that mothers do when their children swear.  Was I yelling?  Could they hear me outside the room?  My words fell on deaf ears, that or Mikey enjoyed watching people struggle.  He stayed silent for the few minutes left in the lesson, up to the point where he looked up and said in his typical jingle tone, “Time is up, Ms. Carrie,” after which he got up and softly walked out of the room.  Right then was when I began to question who needed the help.

 

That night, a knock at my door broke the silence with an abruptness that made me jump.  Through a haze of vodka, I stumbled through the stacks of filled cardboard boxes, taped together and opened the door.  He stood there, wet from the rain that began once I left the clinic shortly after Mikey’s lesson.  The pain in my chest had returned and everything was crushing me in the most invisible way.

I could smell the alcohol on his breath and I already knew what he was going to say, some things we still had in common.  He stepped in breathing heavily, did he run here?  I shut the door, still processing everything from the day and then there was this, and I began questioning not just my humanity, but my sanity because I was so happy he was here and not with his wife, who truly needed him.

“Does she know you’re here?” I ask, wiping the beads of water or maybe tears across his cheek with one hand.  The picture of Mikey’s cheeks pressed between my fingers flashed in my mind and I recoiled, sickened with myself.

He shook his head.

“She’s gone, Carrie,” he said through a heaving weep.

I looked at him, head tilted with question in my eyes and mouth.  The words “body,” “creak,” “washed up,” and “Rackeshuta County” passed over me like a thin watercolor.  I was too drunk to really feel and knew the next day would be the worst kind of hell.

Between the sobs and the half-drunk haze, our lips met when the thought crossed my mind that it’s a funny thing about sorrow and sex.  Afterwards I laid there, on the floor, while he stood over me, buckling his belt and tucking his shirt in.  The worst part of me hoped I would be pregnant with his baby again but knew it would never happen again, with anyone.

“She’s gonna know,” I said and he knew I was trying to hurt him.

“Stop it, Carrie.”

“What?”

Right then, he looked at me with a stare as intense as dusk when it climbs in sideways through the windows, painting all the white walls the richest peach and orange.  He looked down before raising his eyes to me and again, I already knew what he was going to say, because I knew him so well and was glad for that.

“I love you,” he said in the faintest tone, cleared his throat and continued, “I’m divorcing her.”

I found myself without words, without feelings.  How could I allow myself to be happy?  I took his hand and drew him closer to me until we embraced.  With my hand at the back, I tilted his head so that my lips were pressed against his ear.

“Go home to her, Charlie.  Go home to your wife that I know loves you, who deserves you.  Don’t ever think about tonight again.  Forget me, forget everything about us.”

A moment later, I slipped from his embrace and sauntered into my room where I collapsed on my bed.  On the ground, among the clutter were more cardboard boxes I had assembled and taped together, but had not yet filled.  I heard the front door open and close softly.  That was the last time I ever saw Charlie Timmits and thank God.

I rose from the bed and began to pack all the things I could still bring myself to love about my life neatly into boxes, swearing I’d never come back.  There was no life left for me here, no one I loved, no one I cared to know, or to help except myself.

________________________________________________________________________

About the Author

Brian was born in San Diego and spent most of his life moving to different areas of California including the central coast and San Francisco.  After being accepted to the California State Summer School for the Arts in 2006 and 2007, he decided to pursue a degree in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. Currently, he resides in the San Francisco/Bay Area and is finishing a novel.