Sand – Part Ten (Finale)
Serial Short Fiction
The elevator doors slide open, more quickly than I thought. Stepping into the lobby, I go cold. A sleepy receptionist is sitting behind a desk next to the entrance. There’s no way for me to remember if she was there when I came in. As far as I know, I could have murdered twenty people on the way here. Even if I didn’t do anything but walk straight to the elevator, I don’t want anyone to know I was ever in the building.
My fear leaps forward another notch. Out of the public bathroom on the left, drying his hands on his shirt, walks out a security guard. He glances at me, nods nonchalantly, but keeps looking for a fraction of a second longer than he should. The elevator doors closed a couple seconds ago. I’m not doing anything but standing in the middle of the lobby, staring straight ahead like a stuffed deer. The gun in my pants feels more conspicuous than ever. I might as well be holding a fucking sign.
I start to walk to the front door, a million miles away. It feels like I’m dragging a safe behind me. The revolver shifts under my shirt, against my muscles. I’m absolutely fucked if it falls out, but adjusting it would be even worse. So I take every step like I’m walking on land mines, arms bolted to my sides. As I move past the desk, the guard doesn’t seem to be interested in anything beyond his cell phone, but that could easily be a bluff. For all I know, he’s calling the cops right now. The receptionist, in the friendliest voice I never want to hear again, feels a little more responsive.
“Have a nice day,” she quips with a smile spray-painted on her face. I flash a smile just as fake and nod. There’s no way I’m opening my mouth to say anything. I have no idea what would come out.
I decide to take one last, desperate glace at the security guard. He’s still absorbed into his phone, flipped on its side. I’ve never worked security, but I’m pretty sure that you don’t text the police in an emergency. Using all my willpower left not to run, I open the door into the cold, morning air and walk down the sidewalk in the first, direction I pick.
Once out of sight of Maddy’s apartment building, I re-adjust the gun and set to work flagging down a taxi. This ends up being harder than it should be. To be honest, if I were a cabby, I wouldn’t pick me up. After two blocks, four passed cabs, and one middle finger, I finally succeed in flagging down a dirty yellow taxi with an old, Asian driver. Almost jumping inside, I blurt out my address. Taking the hint, or maybe just as talkative as I am, the driver nods and hits the button on his meter. A little ball of panic punches me in the stomach as I remember my wallet. As the next in a long line of impossibly lucky breaks today, I find it in my back pocket. Thank Christ for old habits, I guess.
Making sure to keep it out of sight, I lean forward in my seat and pull out the revolver. I look it over, numb, as my right hand drifts once again to the bullet. Setting the gun on the seat next to me, I feel a weight in my left pocket. Along with the gun and wallet, I guess I brought my cell phone with me, too. Something about this feels significant, like a sign. It doesn’t take me long to decide what to do, but it takes me another few blocks of driving to work up the courage.
Scrolling through my near-empty list of contacts, I dial Maddy’s number.
After ringing, there’s a soft click on the other line.
“This is Madeline Wilkson at Twist Magazine. I just missed your call, so if you leave me a message I’ll get back to you as soon as you can. Thanks.” A beep. I hesitate.
“Uh…Hey, Maddy. Um. I know that- I’m calling really early and I guess you’re not up and I don’t know why you would be. Uh, Maddy. Maddy. I fucked up. I fucked up really bad, way more than you can ever know. I’m happy you didn’t pick up the phone ’cause I don’t think I could ever say this to you flat out. I’ve been in a really bad place for a really long time and everything’s just gotten worse over time. You’re the only good thing that’s happened to me since I came back from Kabul and I don’t know why, but you care about me more than I do. Things got really bad last night and I almost did something… stupid. I don’t want anything to happen to you. I won’t be coming back to the office. I think I’ll be leaving town soon, too. And I’ll get help and I’ll get better and I’ll see you again, but not any time soon. Take care, Maddy. Wish me luck.”
I hang up and drop the phone to the floor. Taking the bullet from my pocket, I turn it over in my fingers. I kept it for so long because I thought it reminded me of who I am. But I don’t like who I am. I don’t want to be this person anymore. I pry my fingernails into the tip of the bullet. With a good grip, I twist and pull on it until the lead comes loose of the casing. I drop it to the floor, beside the phone, and watch as gunpowder sprinkles into my hand and falls through my fingers.
The bullet used to be symbol, but it’s really just a shell full of sand.
previous: Sand – Part Nine
more by WILL HEMLEPP
photograph by John Cobb