Mike lives on a typical Beltway street in a typical Beltway neighborhood. Colonial style houses and sprinkler grids, two car garages, and lawns cut down to Astroturf length and edged professionally right at the curb. Each street winds in little half-circles that repeat regularly all the way through the neighborhood. You could drive through these little lanes, changing neighborhoods, even changing towns, making a complete loop around DC, and you would never know where you were. The only difference between Mike’s house and all the rest is that his car is out on his driveway instead of resting in the garage. This is because his garage door opener still hasn’t worked. He and his wife just had an argument over it. I don’t think it was a very intense argument – he was just annoyed, not really mad about it. But the reason I know this is because of the other difference between Mike’s house and all the others – his house has a tiny black wire leading from his phone connection down the wall, through his lawn and out onto the curb, where I’ve parked my rental car. I’ve parked between houses, just far enough away from both of them that neither group might even see me. But my car is fairly new and unobtrusive, and a cop car has already driven buy without stopping to check me out. I’m down in the backseat, keeping low, and listening in to the phone line. Mike’s wife is talking to her sister about the garage door opener, her baby, and everything else there is to talk about when you’re a new wife with a nice house, a young child, and all the happy responsibilities that come with them. She has a sweet voice, and she sounds relaxed. That could be a brave front, but I don’t know. I think about Julie – how it ended up with Julie – to harden my resolve. But I don’t know.
In the background I hear a child cry, and there’s grumbling from Mike about dinner. “Your boy’s crying,” her sister says. “Both my boys are crying,” Marie answers, and they laugh. Say their goodbyes. Say their “love you’s” quick. I see the lights in the front room go out, and I can only imagine she’s called him into the kitchen for dinner. That Monday I’m going to get my driver’s license. I have to wait a few weeks, and then I can get a gun. There’s been no cell-phone traffic, but I have a receiver set for that. I also think about getting information in other ways – maybe I can break into the place. They might have a security system, but there are ways around that, and they’re surprisingly easy. But the big question is whether I want to go through with it – I don’t know what I’ll find in that place, and I don’t know what effect it will have on me, but it makes me scared. I scurry into the side yard to remove the wire. Then I scurry out and drive away. I decide not to think about it unless I have to.
“How was it?” “What?” “The shore?” “Oh,” I say, and I telegraph guilt while I try to come up with something specific. People always want you to talk about something you know nothing of, and you have to just come up with something to placate them. Isn’t every conversation like that? “It was… great.” “Maybe you need to go more,” he says, chuckling. “I don’t think you qualify as well-rested yet.”
“She needs you.” “What?” “They can’t get her to go with them.” “Can’t you do it?” “No.” I wish he could have done it – Tim or Tom or whatever his goddamn name was. He was Julie’s new boyfriend, but it was beyond him. It was a couple months after Julie and I had met, and I was trying to keep my distance. Now she was bleeding again, and Tim or Tom or whatever his goddamn name was couldn’t handle it, so he was waking me up to see if I could talk her into going along with the paramedics. “It’s really bad this time. Blood started pouring out of her nose, and she was coughing – I thought she was choking on it.” “Can’t they make her go?” “They don’t want to restrain her, but she’s really arguing with them.” By now we were out in the stairwell, me edging up toward her room and arguing that I shouldn’t go. Suddenly Julie ran by in her pajamas and bare feet. It was ridiculous. She opened the main door and ran out into the walkway. I took off after her, but I was in my pajamas and bare feet too, and she was better at it than me. She’d already rounded the corner. The walkway led past the cluster of dorms and to the main road that went through the university. I didn’t know how far she wanted to go, but I wasn’t in the mood to chase her. With her dating this guy, dodging Mike and the illness getting worse, I was mad, and I couldn’t be mad at her, but I was mad nonetheless. And now I was going to have to go tearing after her, probably stubbing my toe, and I was barely awake.
“Julie,” I yelled after her in my best mad parent voice, “Julie, you come back here this instant.” There was a long pause, and I almost started running, but then she came around, cowed and docile, her head down. “You have to go up there and let them treat you,” I said. “They want to take me in.” “Well, you have to let them do that too.” “I don’t want my parents to find out.” “Julie,” I said, “you might not have a choice. Besides, you’re here, and it’s going to be okay, because… it just is.” Her face brightened. She looked up at me, and I could see the two dried streaks of blood trailing from either nostril. She was a little kid, and I wanted to tell her that everything was going to be better, and even though I didn’t have reasons, when she said, “Promise?” I said, “Yes, of course I do,” because what else was I going to say? She went into the hospital, and ended up staying there for two weeks, and I visited her every day, and whatshisface broke up with her that Wednesday, and even though I knew they’d get back together as soon as she got back to normal and wasn’t a problem for him anymore, I didn’t bring it up. I did tell most of the staff about Mike. “She has a restraining order against him, so it’s serious,” I said, “I’d just like you to make sure no one gets in without clearing it with her.” Most of them gave me a benevolent vacant expression, like they didn’t really pay me much mind. So part of why I came constantly was to make sure he wasn’t anywhere near.
Marie always gives Mike his way. At least that’s what her sister thinks. They have friendly arguments about it, and sometimes the sister says Mike’s a baby. But she doesn’t think he’s a bad man. I hear Marie mention Mike’s therapy, and the sister seems to approve, but Marie doesn’t describe it, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a cloud. “He’s grown a lot as a person,” she says, and the sister “uh-hum’s,” and for once I think maybe he used to have a real problem with her. But there’s nothing else. And much as I’d like to think otherwise, there’s no other evidence – nothing in Marie’s voice or what her sister asks her – that’d make me think there was anything going on. I have to be sure. The medical records might prove something, and if they don’t there might not be anything to prove. I might have to leave Mike alone. I tell myself maybe I should just let it go. I’m listening to Marie’s car phone. I have a headset on, and I’m tuning the receiver equipment, trying to keep scrunched down in the back seat of the car. Suddenly a car passes mine, and Marie says, “Have to go; almost home.” And I realize she’s just passed me. I also realize I’ve never seen her before, and now’s my chance. I climb over to the front seat, headset flipping off my head, and start the car. I roll ahead, keeping back, giving her time, and I’m moving slowly past their front lawn just as she gets out of the car. She doesn’t even notice me. It’s perfect. She’s tall with short brown hair and one of those almost but not quite tomboy bodies. She looks so much like Julie I almost roll through the stop sign at the end of their street. I might have to leave Mike alone – he might be a perfect husband. But I’d rather paint the side of his nice new Lexus with the contents of his fucking head.