جکی رد فدر

کتاب: هیچی نیس، آرام باش / فصل 9

جکی رد فدر

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Jacquie Red Feather

JACQUIE RED FEATHER FLEW to Phoenix from Albuquerque the evening before the conference started, landing after the hour-long flight in a smog-filled gradient between green and pink. When the plane slowed to a roll, she shut the window shade and stared at the back of the seat in front of her. “Keeping Them from Harm.” That was this year’s conference theme. She guessed they meant self-harm. But was the problem really suicide itself? She’d recently read an article that called the number of suicides in Native communities staggering. For how many years had there been federally funded programs trying to prevent suicide with billboards and hotlines? It was no wonder it was getting worse. You can’t sell life is okay when it’s not. This was yet another Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration conference her position as substance abuse counselor was grant-required to attend.

The woman who checked her in at the hotel had Florencia on her name tag. She smelled like beer, cigarettes, and perfume. That she was drinking on the job, or that she’d come to work drunk, made Jacquie like her. Jacquie was ten days sober. Florencia complimented Jacquie’s hair, which she’d recently dyed black to hide the gray and cut into a bob. Jacquie had never known what to do with a compliment.

“So red,” she said of the poinsettias behind Florencia, which Jacquie didn’t even like because of how even the real ones look fake.

“We call them flores de noche beuna, flowers of the holy night, because they bloom around Christmas.”

“But it’s March,” Jacquie said to her.

“I think they’re the most beautiful flowers,” Florencia said.

Jacquie’s latest relapse had not left burn holes in her life. She didn’t lose her job, and she hadn’t wrecked her car. She was sober again, and ten days is the same as a year when you want to drink all the time.

Florencia told Jacquie, who was noticeably sweating, that the pool was open until ten. The sun had gone down, but it was still ninety degrees. On the way to her room Jacquie saw that no one was in the pool.

Long after Jacquie’s mom had left her dad for good, during one of the many times her mom had left her sister’s dad, when Opal was just a baby and Jacquie was six, they’d stayed in a hotel near the Oakland airport. Their mom told them stories about moving away for good. About getting back home to Oklahoma. But home for Jacquie and her sister was a locked station wagon in an empty parking lot. Home was a long ride on a bus. Home was the three of them anywhere safe for the night. And that night in the hotel, with the possibility of taking a trip, of getting away from the life her mom had been running down with her daughters in tow, that night was one of the best nights of Jacquie’s life. Her mom had fallen asleep. Earlier she’d seen the pool—a bright blue glowing rectangle—on the way to their room. It was cold out, but she’d seen a sign that read Heated Pool. Jacquie watched TV and waited for her mom to fall asleep with Opal, then she snuck down to the pool. There was no one around. Jacquie took her shoes and socks off and dipped a toe in, then looked back up at the door of their room. She looked at all the doors and windows of the rooms that faced the pool. The night air was cool but didn’t move. With all but her shoes and socks on she walked down the pool stairs. It was her first time in a pool. She didn’t know how to swim. Mostly she just wanted to be in the water. To go under and open her eyes, look at her hands, watch the bubbles rise in that bluest light.

In her room she threw her bags down, took off her shoes, and laid on the bed. She turned the TV on, muted it, then rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling for a while, appreciating the blank white coolness of the room. She thought about Opal. The boys. What they might be doing. Over the past few months, after years of silence, they’d been texting. Opal took care of Jacquie’s three grandsons—whom she’d never even met.

What r u doing? Jacquie texted Opal. She put her phone on the bed and went to her suitcase to get her swimsuit. It was a black-and-white-striped one-piece. She put it on in front of the mirror. Scars and tattoos spanned and bent around her neck, stomach, arms, and ankles. There were feather tattoos on her forearms, one for her mom and one for her sister, and stars on the backs of her hands—those were just stars. The webs she had on the tops of her feet had hurt the worst.

Jacquie walked to the window to see if the pool was still empty. Her phone vibrated on the bed.

Orvil found spider legs in his leg, the text said.

WTF!? Jacquie texted back. But the sentence did not really take. What could that even mean? She would look this up on her phone later, “Spiders legs found in leg,” but find nothing.

Yeah idk. the boys think it means something ndn.

Jacquie smiled. She’d never seen Indian abbreviated as ndn before.

Maybe he’ll get powers like spider-man, Jacquie texted.

Anything like that ever happen to you?

What? no. i’m gonna go for a swim.

Jacquie kneeled in front of the minifridge. In her head she heard her mom say, “The spider’s web is a home and a trap.” And even though she never really knew what her mom meant by it, she’d been making it make sense over the years, giving it more meaning than her mom probably ever intended. In this case Jacquie was the spider, and the minifridge was the web. Home was to drink. To drink was the trap. Or something like that. The point was Do not open the fridge. And she didn’t.

Jacquie stood at the pool’s edge, watching the light on the water wobble and shimmer. Her arms, crossed over her stomach, looked green and cracked. She inched down the pool stairs, then pushed lightly off and swam underwater all the way across and back. She came back up for air, watched the surface of the water move for a while, then went back under and watched the bubbles gather, rise, and disappear.

While she smoked a cigarette by the pool, she thought about the taxi from the airport and the liquor store she’d seen just a block away from the hotel. She could walk down there. What she really wanted was that cigarette after six beers. She wanted sleep to come easy like it could when she drank. On the way back to her room she got a Pepsi and trail mix from the vending machine. On her bed, she flipped through channels, landing here and there, changing the channel at every commercial break, devouring the trail mix and Pepsi, and only then, her appetite awakened by the trail mix, did she realize that she hadn’t eaten dinner. She stayed awake with her eyes closed in bed for an hour, then put a pillow over her face and fell asleep. When she woke up at four in the morning, she didn’t know what was on top of her face. She threw the pillow across the room, then got up and peed and spent the next two hours trying to convince herself she was asleep, or sometimes actually sleeping but having the dream of not being able to sleep.

Jacquie found a seat in the back of the main ballroom. There was an old Indian guy in a baseball cap who had one hand up like he was praying, while the other flicked water out of a water bottle at the crowd. She’d never seen anything like it before.

Jacquie’s eyes wandered the room. She studied the Native decor. The room was big, with high ceilings and massive chandeliers, each one of which consisted of a grouping of eight flame-shaped lightbulbs surrounded by a giant band of corrugated metal with cutouts of tribal patterns, creating tribal-patterned shadows on the walls—multiple Kokopellis, zigzag lines and spirals, all up there at the top of the room, where the paint was the brownish red of dried blood. The carpets were crowded with winding lines and variegated geometric shapes—like every casino or movie-theater carpet.

She looked around at the crowd. There were probably two hundred or so people, all of them sitting at circular tables with glasses of water and little paper plates stacked with fruit and Danishes. Jacquie recognized the conference types. Most of them were old Indian women. Next came old white women. Then old Indian men. There were no young people to be seen. Everyone she saw seemed either too serious or not serious enough. These were career people, more driven by concern about keeping their jobs, about the funders and grant requirements, than by the need to help Indian families. Jacquie was no different. She knew it and hated this fact.

The first speaker, a man who looked like he might be more comfortable on a street corner than at a conference, approached the podium. You didn’t often see men like him standing on a stage. He wore Jordans and an Adidas tracksuit. He had an unrecognizable faded tattoo above his left ear that went up to the crown of his bald head—it could have been cracks, or webs, or a half crown of thorns. Every few seconds he opened his mouth in an oval shape and wiped the outside of it with his thumb and forefinger, as if there was excess saliva there, or as if, in the wiping, he was assuring himself he wouldn’t spit and look sloppy.

He stepped up to the mic. He spent a long, uncomfortable minute surveying the crowd. “I see a lotta Indian people out there. That makes me feel good. About twenty years ago I went to a conference like this, and it was just a sea of white faces. I came as a youth. It was my first time on a plane and the first time I was away from Phoenix for more than a few days. I’d been forced into a program as part of a plea bargain I took to stay outta juvie. That program ended up being featured at a conference in D.C.—a national highlight. They chose me and a few other youth not based on our leadership skills or because of our commitment to the cause, or because of our participation, but because we were the most at-risk. Of course all we had to do was sit on the stage, listen to youth success stories and to our youth services staff talk about how great our programming was. But while I was on that trip my little brother, Harold, found a gun I kept in my closet. He shot himself between the eyes with that gun. He was fourteen,” the guy said and coughed off-mic. Jacquie shifted in her chair.

“What I’m here to talk about is how our whole approach since day one has been like this: Kids are jumping out the windows of burning buildings, falling to their deaths. And we think the problem is that they’re jumping. This is what we’ve done: We’ve tried to find ways to get them to stop jumping. Convince them that burning alive is better than leaving when the sh@t gets too hot for them to take. We’ve boarded up windows and made better nets to catch them, found more convincing ways to tell them not to jump. They’re making the decision that it’s better to be dead and gone than to be alive in what we have here, this life, the one we made for them, the one they’ve inherited. And we’re either involved and have a hand in each one of their deaths, just like I did with my brother, or we’re absent, which is still involvement, just like silence is not just silence but is not speaking up. I’m in suicide prevention now. I’ve had fifteen relatives commit suicide over the course of my life, not counting my brother. I had one community I was working with recently in South Dakota tell me they were grieved out. That was after experiencing seventeen suicides in their community in just eight months. But how do we instill in our children the will to live? At these conferences. And in the offices. In the emails and at the community events, there has to be an urgency, a do-whatever-at-any-cost sort of spirit behind what we do. Or fu@k the programs, maybe we should send the money to the families themselves, who need it and know what to do with it, since we all know what that money goes toward, salaries and conferences like this one. I’m sorry. I get paid outta that sh@t too, and actually, sh@t, I’m not sorry, this issue shouldn’t be met with politeness or formality. We can’t get lost in the career advancements and grant objectives, the day-to-day grind, as if we have to do what we do. We choose what we do, and in that choice comes the community. We are choosing for them. All the time. That’s what these kids are feeling. They have no control. Guess what kinda control they do have? We need to be about what we’re always saying we’re about. And if we can’t, and we’re really just about ourselves, we need to step aside, let somebody else from the community who really cares, who’ll really do something, let them come in and help. fu@k all the rest.”Jacquie was out of the room before the audience even started its hesitant, obligatory clapping. As she ran, her name badge jangled around her neck, sliced at her chin. When she got to her room, she closed the door with her back and slid down, collapsed and sobbed against it. She pressed her eyes into her knees and bursts of purple, black, green, and pink splotches bloomed there, behind her eyes, then slowly formed into images, then memories. She saw the big hole first. Then her daughter’s emaciated body. There were little red and pink holes up and down both her arms. Her skin was white, blue, and yellow, with green veins. Jacquie was there to identify the body. The body was her daughter’s body, had been the little body she carried for just six months. She’d watched the doctors put needles in her arm then, there in the incubator, back when all she’d wanted in a way she’d never wanted anything before was for her new baby girl to live. The coroner looked at Jacquie, pen and clipboard in hand. She spent a long time staring somewhere between the body and the clipboard trying not to scream, trying not to scan up to see her daughter’s face. The big hole. The shot between the eyes. Like a third eye, or an empty third-eye socket. The trickster spider, Veho, her mom used to tell her and Opal about, he was always stealing eyes to see better. Veho was the white man who came and made the old world watch with his eyes. Look. See here, the way it’s gonna be is, first you’re gonna give me all your land, then your attention, until you forget how to give it. Until your eyes are drained and you can’t see behind you and there’s nothing ahead, and the needle, the bottle, or the pipe is the only thing in sight that makes any sense. In her car, Jacquie slammed the bottoms of her fists into the steering wheel until she couldn’t anymore. She broke her pinkie on the wheel.

That was thirteen years ago. She’d been sober six months then. The longest since she’d started drinking. But after that she drove straight to the liquor store, spent the next six years stomaching a fifth of whiskey a night. She drove an AC Transit bus, the 57 line, in and out of Oakland six days a week. Drank herself into a manageable oblivion every night. Woke up every day to work. One day she fell asleep at the wheel and crashed her bus into a telephone pole. After a month in residential treatment, she left Oakland. She still doesn’t know, doesn’t remember how she got to Albuquerque. At some point she got a job as a receptionist at an Indian Health Clinic funded by Indian Health Service, then eventually, without ever achieving any significant sobriety, became a certified substance abuse counselor through an online course her work paid for.

There in her hotel room, down against the hotel-room door, she remembered all the pictures Opal had emailed her over the years of the boys, which she’d refused to look at. She stood up and walked to her laptop on the desk. In her Gmail account she searched Opal’s name. She opened each email with the paper-clip icon. She followed them through the years. Birthdays and first bikes and pictures they’d drawn. There were little video clips of them fighting in the kitchen and sleeping in their bunk beds, all in one room. The three of them crowded around a computer screen, that screen glow on their faces. There was one picture that broke her heart. The three of them lined up in front of Opal. Opal with her static, sober, stoic stare. She looked at Jacquie through all the years and all that they’d been through. Come get them, they’re yours, Opal’s face said. The youngest one was half smiling like one of his brothers had just punched him in the arm but Opal had told them all they better smile for the picture. The middle one looked like he was either pretending to or actually was holding up what looked like a gang sign with his fingers across his chest, smiling a big smile. He looked the most like Jacquie’s daughter Jamie. The oldest one didn’t smile. He looked like Opal. He looked like Jacquie and Opal’s mom, Vicky.

Jacquie wanted to go to them. She wanted a drink. She wanted to drink. She needed a meeting. Earlier she’d seen that the AA meeting for the conference would be on the second floor at seven thirty every night. There were always meetings at conferences, it being a mental-health/substance-abuse-prevention-based conference, full of people like her, who had gotten into the field because they’d been through it and hoped to find meaning in their careers helping other people not make the same mistakes they had. When she went to wipe sweat from her face with her sleeve, she realized the air conditioner had been turned off. She went to the AC unit and turned the cold air on high. She fell asleep waiting to cool down.

Jacquie walked into the room in a hurry, thinking she was late. Three men sat in a small circle made of eight folding chairs. Behind them were snacks that nobody had touched yet. The room was a mess of fluorescent buzzing, a smallish conference room with a whiteboard on the wall in front, off-whitish light, which encased them all in its flatness—which made everything feel like it was happening a decade ago on TV.

Jacquie went to the back table and looked at the food spread—a pot of coffee in a very old-looking auto-drip coffeemaker, cheese, crackers, meat, and mini–celery sticks fanned out in a circle around various dips. Jacquie picked up a single stick of celery, poured herself a cup of coffee, and walked over to join the group.

All of them were older Native guys with long hair—two wore baseball caps, and the one who seemed like he was probably the leader of the group wore a cowboy hat. The guy in the cowboy hat introduced himself to the group as Harvey. Jacquie turned her head away, but the face embedded in an orb of fat, the eyes and nose and mouth, they were his. Jacquie wondered if Harvey recognized her, because he excused himself, said he had to go to the bathroom.

Jacquie texted Opal. Guess who im in a meeting with rt now?

Opal responded immediately. Who?

Harvey from alcatraz.

Who?

Harvey, as in: father of the daughter I gave up.

No.

Yes.

You sure?

Yes.

What you gonna do?

Idk.

Ydk?

He just got back.

Opal sent a picture of the boys in their room, all of them lying the same way, with headphones on, looking up at the ceiling. This was the first picture she’d sent via text message since Jacquie told her not to, that she was only allowed to email pictures of them because of how it could mess with her day. Jacquie reverse pinched then pinched and repeated to see each of their faces.

Will talk to him after meeting, Jacquie texted, then switched her phone to silent and put it away.

Harvey sat down without looking at Jacquie. With a simple hand gesture, a palm facing up, he pointed to her. Jacquie wasn’t sure if this not looking at her, plus the trip to the bathroom, meant that he knew. Either way, it was her turn to tell her story or share whatever she felt like, and he would know as soon as she said her name. Jacquie rested her elbows on her knees, leaned into the group.

“My name is Jacquie Red Feather. I don’t say the I’m an alcoholic thing. I say: I don’t drink anymore. I used to drink and now I don’t. I currently have eleven days sobriety. I’m grateful to be here, and for your time. Thank you all for listening. I appreciate all of you being here.” Jacquie coughed, her throat suddenly rough. She put a cough drop into her mouth so casually that you could tell she probably ate a lot of cough drops and smoked a lot of cigarettes, and never quite beat the cough, but beat it enough while she was sucking on a cough drop, and so ate them constantly. “The problem that became a drinking problem started for me way before the drinking was even related to it, though it was when I first started drinking. Not that I blame my past, or don’t accept it. We’d been on Alcatraz, me and my family, back during the occupation, in 1970. It all started for me there. This piece-of-sh@t kid,” Jacquie made sure to look right at Harvey after she said this. He squirmed in his chair a little, but otherwise just stared off toward the ground in a listening pose. “Maybe he didn’t know what he was doing, but then again maybe he went on to fu@k over a whole line of women, used force to stretch a no into a yes, assholes like him, I know now, are a dime a dozen, but I suspect, from what little time I spent with him on that island, that he went on to do it again and again. After my mom died, we lived in a house with a stranger. A distant relative. Which I’m grateful for. We had food on the table, a roof over our heads. But I gave up a daughter to adoption at that time. The girl I birthed came from that island. From what happened there. When I gave her up, I was seventeen. I was stupid. I wouldn’t know how to find her now even if I wanted to. It was a closed adoption. And since then I have had another daughter. But I fu@ked that up too in my addiction—fifth a night of anything ten dollars or less. Then it got so bad they told me I had to quit if I wanted to keep my job. And then, as it goes, to keep being able to drink I quit my job. My daughter Jamie was out of the house by then, so it was easier for me to fall completely apart. Insert endless succession of drinking horror stories here. Today I’m trying to make my way back. My daughter died, left her three sons behind, but I left them too. I’m trying to make my way back, but like I said, eleven days. It’s just, it’s that you get stuck, and then the more stuck you get, the more stuck you get.” Jacquie coughed and cleared her throat, then went silent. She looked up at Harvey, at the others in the group, but their heads were all down. She didn’t want to end on that kind of note, but she didn’t feel like going on. “I don’t know,” she said. “I guess I’m done.”The circle was silent. Harvey cleared his throat.

“Thank you,” Harvey said. He gestured for the next guy to speak.

He was an old guy, Navajo, Jacquie guessed. He took his hat off, like you see some Indian men do when they pray.

“It all changed for me in a meeting,” he said. “Not one of these. These have been what’s made all the difference since. I’d been drinking and drugging for most of my adult life, off and on. Started a few different families up, let them fall by the wayside to my addictions. And then a brother of mine put up a meeting for me. Native American Church.”Jacquie stopped listening. She thought it would help to say what she said about Harvey in front of him. But looking at him, listening to people’s stories, she figured he’d probably had a hard time. Jacquie remembered the way he’d talked about his dad on the island. How he hadn’t even seen his dad since they got on the island. Then, thinking about the island, Jacquie remembered seeing Harvey the day they left. She’d just gotten on the boat, and she saw him in the water. Hardly anyone ever got in that water. It was freezing. And—everyone had been convinced—shark-infested. Then Jacquie saw Harvey’s little brother, Rocky, running down the hill, yelling Harvey’s name. The boat started up. Everyone had sat down, but Jacquie was standing. Jacquie’s mom put her hand on Jacquie’s shoulder. She must have thought Jacquie was sad, because she let her stay standing for a few minutes. Harvey wasn’t swimming. He seemed to be hiding in the water. And then he was yelling for his brother. Rocky heard him and he jumped in with all his clothes on. The boat started to move.

“Okay, we’re going, sit down now, Jacquie,” Vicky said.

Jacquie sat down, but kept looking. She saw the boys’ dad stumble down the hill. He had something in his hand, a stick or a bat. Everything got smaller and smaller as they made their way slowly across the bay.

“We all been through a lot we don’t understand in a world made to either break us or make us so hard we can’t break even when it’s what we need most to do.” It was Harvey talking.

Jacquie realized she hadn’t been listening.

“Getting fu@ked up seems like the only thing left to do,” Harvey went on. “It’s not the alcohol. There’s not some special relationship between Indians and alcohol. It’s just what’s cheap, available, legal. It’s what we have to go to when it seems like we have nothing else left. I did it too. For a long time. But I stopped telling the story I’d been telling myself, about how that was the only way, because of how hard I had it, and how hard I was, that story about self-medicating against the disease that was my life, my bad lot, history. When we see that the story is the way we live our lives, only then can we start to change, a day at a time. We try to help people like us, try to make the world around us a little better. It’s then that the story begins. I want to say here that I’m sorry for who I was.” Harvey looked up at Jacquie, who turned away from his gaze. “I get that shame too. The kind that’s made of more years than you know you have left to live. That shame that makes you wanna say fu@k it and just go back to drinking as a means to an end. I’m sorry to all the people I hurt all that time I was too fu@ked up to see what I was doing. There’s no excuse. Apologies don’t even mean as much as just…just acknowledging that you fu@ked up, hurt people, and that you don’t wanna do that anymore. Not to yourself either. That’s sometimes the hardest part. So let’s close out tonight like we always do, but let’s be sure to listen to the prayer, and say it like we mean it. God, grant me the serenity…”They were all saying it in unison. Jacquie wasn’t going to at first, but suddenly found that she was saying it with them. “And wisdom to know the difference,” she finished.

The room cleared out. Everyone but the two of them, Jacquie and Harvey.

Jacquie sat with her hands in a pile in her lap. She couldn’t move.

“Long time,” Harvey said.

“Yeah.”

“You know, I’m going back to Oakland this summer. In a couple months, actually, for the powwow, but also—”

“Is this supposed to go like we’re normal, fine, like old friends?”

“Did you not stay to talk?”

“I don’t know why I stayed yet.”

“I know you said what we did, what I did on Alcatraz, how you put her up for adoption. And I’m sorry for all that. I couldn’t have known. I just found out I have a son too. He got ahold of me through Facebook. He lives in—”“What are you talking about?” Jacquie said, then stood up to leave.

“Can we start over?”

“I don’t give a sh@t about your son, or your life.”

“Is there any way to find out?”

“Find out what?”

“Our daughter.”

“Don’t call her that.”

“She might want to know.”

“It’ll be better for everyone if she doesn’t.”

“What about your grandsons?”

“Don’t.”

“We don’t have to keep doing this,” Harvey said, and took off his hat. He was bald on top. He stood up and put his hat on his chair.

“What are you gonna say to him?” Jacquie said.

“About what?”

“About where you been.”

“I didn’t know. Listen, Jacquie, I think you should think about coming back with me. To Oakland.”

“We don’t even know each other.”

“It’s a free ride. We’ll drive all day and then through the night ’til we get there.”

“You got all the answers then?”

“I wanna do something to help. There’s no way to take back what I done to you. But I gotta try.”

“How long you been sober?” Jacquie said.

“Since 1982.”

“Well sh@t.”

“Those boys need their grandma.”

“I don’t know. And you sure as hell don’t know a goddamned thing about my life.”

“We might be able to find her.”

“No.”

“There are ways of—”

“God, shut the fu@k up. Stop acting like you know me, like we even have anything to say to each other, like we wanted to find each other, like we didn’t just—” Jacquie stopped herself, then stood up and walked out of the room.

Harvey caught up with her at the elevator.

“Jacquie, I’m sorry, please,” he said.

“Please what? I’m going now,” she said, and pushed the already lit call button.

“You don’t wanna be sorry about this later,” Harvey said. “You don’t want to keep going that same way you been going.”

“You can’t really think you’re gonna be the one who finally turns it all around for me. I would fu@king kill myself if you were the one to finally help. Do you understand that?” The elevator came and Jacquie got on.

“There’s gotta be some reason for all this. That we would meet like this,” Harvey said, holding the elevator by putting his arm across the threshold.

“The reason is we’re both fu@kups and the Indian world is small.”

“Don’t come with me then, that’s fine. Don’t even listen to me. But you said it in the circle. You know what you want. You said it. You wanna go back.”

“Okay,” Jacquie said.

“Okay,” Harvey said. “Okay you’ll come back?”

“I’ll think about it,” she said.

Harvey let go of the elevator doors.

Back in her room, Jacquie lay down on the bed. She put a pillow over her face. Then, without even thinking about it, she got up and went to the minifridge. She opened it. It was full of shots, beer, little bottles of wine. At first this made her happy. The idea of feeling good and comfortable, safe, and all the first few, the first six could do, and then the inevitable home stretch to twelve, sixteen, because the web stuck to you everywhere you reached once you were trapped, once you started. Jacquie closed the fridge, then reached behind it and unplugged it. She slid the fridge out from under the TV, then using all of her strength, she walked the thing to the door. The bottles clanged as if in protest. Slowly, corner to corner, she made her way. She left the minifridge outside in the hallway, then came back in and called the front desk to tell them to come get it. She was sweating. She still wanted a drink. There was still time before they’d be up to get it. She needed to leave. She put on her swimsuit.

Jacquie stepped around the minifridge, walked down the hall, realized she forgot her cigarettes, then turned around and went back for them. When she came back out of her room, the fridge caught her shin.

“fu@k,” she said, looking down at the fridge, “you.” She looked to see if anyone was coming, then opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle. Then another. She rolled six of them into her towel. Then ten. In the elevator she held the bundle of bottles with both arms.

She walked back to the empty pool, climbed in, and stayed under until it hurt. Every time she came up, she checked on the towel bundle. There’s an ache when you keep yourself from breathing. A relief when you come up for air. It was the same when you drank after telling yourself you wouldn’t. Both broke at a point. Both gave and took. Jacquie went under and swam back and forth taking breaths when she needed them. She thought about her grandsons. That picture of them with Opal, Opal’s face, her eyes saying to Jacquie, Come get them.

Jacquie got out of the pool and went to the towel. She heaved the bundle back, then threw it high into the air, into the water. She watched the white towel slowly float down to the water, then lay flat. She watched the bottles sink to the bottom. She turned around, went out the gate and back up to her room.

The text she sent Opal was just this: If i come to oakland can i stay?

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