"Remind me, are you a hallucination?"
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A thick fog had settled over the valley in the night, and Heath could see nothing from his bedroom window when he pulled back the curtain the next morning. He took his phone from the charger and opened the banking app, hoping his account was empty and that Dominic had welshed. He could then quietly pack his belongings into his truck, find someplace with less unexpected history, and finish drying out there with a clear conscience.
He had five hundred more dollars to his credit than he had the night before.
Heath had resigned himself to a marginal existence while he got clean, and as much as he resented the position Dominic had put him in, the five hundred dollars boosted his spirits in a small but tangible way, representing as it did more money than he had seen at once in some months. He had been without a steady income for two years, and only a small inheritance had guaranteed the furnished house he had rented outside Rochester for as long as he expected to need it, and only as long as he was careful. If any one-word descriptor fairly applied to Heath, it would be “careful.” He knew this, and he wished it did not have to be the case.
He put his phone down and took the foam-rubber mat from behind the bedroom door and unrolled it. He did a hundred squats, two hundred sit-ups, and fifty push-ups on the mat, then got the pull-up bar from beside the dresser, clamped it to his bedroom doorway and did twenty-five pull-ups. His morning workout had been one of the few constants in his life for the last thirteen years. Sometimes he added to it, or modified the exercises if he was ill or injured, but the minimum did not change.
He was rolling up the mat when there was a rap of knuckles on the lintel of the door. Or maybe there wasn’t, Heath was never sure. A voice that could only be described as supernaturally perky said, “Yo, Freckles!”
Heath groaned. “What?”
Lola sashayed into the room and sat down on the bed. “You’re not looking so hot,” she said, looking down at him sympathetically.
Heath turned and eyed the curvaceous anthromoporphic rabbit balefully. “Remind me, are you a hallucination?”
Lola Bunny shrugged prettily. Heath didn’t watch much television, and had thus far resisted the temptation to watch the Space Jam movies in response to Lola’s entry into his life, so he wasn’t sure what the character was supposed to sound like, but the purple short shorts and yellow tank top the tan, blonde rabbit wore were, as far as he knew, accurate. “Probably,” she said, waving her paw airily. “Benzos give you brain damage.”
Heath sighed. “I’d heard.”
Lola reached behind her ears, which were pulled back in a simulacrum of a ponytail, and produced a carrot, which she nibbled at daintily. “You should probably eat breakfast, dude,” she said between bites.
Heath nodded. “I’m gonna shower first.” he said, standing up. “D’you mind waiting outside the bathroom this time?”
Lola blushed crimson and threw up her hands. “I said I was sorry!”
Heath trudged to the bathroom. The floor of the house was poured concrete, and it was beginning to hurt his ankles. He wished he had had more time to choose a place to live, but the situation in Philadelphia had been acute. “Why do you call me Freckles?” he said to the closed door. “I don’t have freckles.”
There was silence from the other side.
Heath showered and brushed his teeth. He hoped he wasn’t going to hear any more from Lola that day. Her visitations had become less and less frequent as the months had passed, and everything he had read indicated that hallucinations during withdrawal were temporary and stress-induced. He was optimistic that one day he’d wake up and find that he was cured.
He put on canvas Carhartt work pants and a dark red button-up work shirt and went to the kitchen, which took up most of the one-floor dwelling; it always seemed to him to have been scaled to fit a much larger house. He got a cast-iron pan from the hook over the range and a carton of eggs and a rasher of bacon from the refrigerator and made breakfast. He ate it, put the dishes in the sink to soak, and went back to the bedroom, where he put on his boots and concealed several weapons about his person. After a moment, he sat down on the bed and put his head in his hands.
“You gonna carry while you’re out of your mind?” Lola asked him from her perch on the windowsill. Heath turned and glared at her. She batted her eyes demurely at him. “Not a good idea,” she said in a sing-song Jersey accent that reminded Heath of both an ex-girlfriend he had particularly liked and Harley Quinn from the Batman cartoon series. “You are way paranoid, and I’m pretty your truck’s registration expires this week. You get popped with all that on you and you're going to jail.”
“I know,” Heath said shortly. He unclipped the kydex sheath of the short anti-grappling knife and pulled it free of his belt, took the sap out of his back pocket, and pulled the bead chain with the neck knife dangling from it over his head. He opened his closet, put his weapons back in the lockbox on the floor, closed it, and locked it.
“At least you can tuck in your shirt this way,” said Lola helpfully from behind him.
“Fuck off, Lola,” Heath said, but he tucked in his shirt.
The photos of Lisa Carver Dominic had sent him had been taken long after Heath had known her. Her hair, no longer cornsilk blonde, was crimson and severely cut, with a side shave. She stared into the camera with a combination of wounded defiance and cold rage that made his heart ache. He didn’t know what had happened to her after he had left, but he could hazard a guess. Dominic had appended her Instagram handle. Heath was unsurprised to find the account’s privacy settings locked down tight.
He was considering his options when the phone buzzed in his hand. It was Nora. There was a crazy smile in her voice.
“Hey, Mr. Mister. You free tomorrow night?”
To repeat what I've said once already, this is a fascinating read. You have a singular perspective on the culture war issues you've chosen to spotlight, and I'll admit that your angle of approach makes me uncomfortable at times. Not to say that I think you're a monster for (primarily) daring to depict Danny and his polycule so cynically; I don't even know how much I disagree.
What is shocking is the frank disdain in your writing, which would usually be more disguised or polite. Moreover: my discomfort over *enjoying* that disdain, that little rubber-band snap: "Hah! Yeah, fuck the they/thems and their stupid pronouns, which look ridiculous when used multiple times in the same paragraph." First I'm delighted, then I feel shame, then a pushback against that shame, then the urge to write a long comment describing the emotional journey the work is taking me on, just by nature of it being deeply irreverent and unashamed. This has not failed to entertain me or to make me think, and I'll be continuing to read through the discomfort. I appreciate what you've done here so far.