Red Sky in the Morning

sunrise

Marina grew up with too many parents. She can’t be blamed for that, but how she learned to manipulate that situation was volitional. You could read it like a rap sheet. In the car on the way up, Marina got stoned and confessed her past and life MO to Jessie. Jessie disliked confessions because she could never forget them. Between them, Marina’s parents had racked up five semi-permanent mates after their divorce. So, Marina had had four fathers and three mothers, at one point and another. She had been bounced between households like a refugee.

The dictionary defines evil as “the condition of being immoral, cruel, or bad.” That’s pretty loose, isn’t it? All judgement calls. In Marina’s judgement, her actions had never—or at worst, rarely—been immoral or bad, only necessary; and as for cruel, well, that could only be determined by the targets of her actions, whether or not they accepted the fact that they deserved what they got. Pretty simple. Jessie knew simple was seldom a sufficient answer.

They were waiting in line for the ferry now, the windows rolled up. It was raining, of course—the default condition here on the sound. Marina’s cannabis cloud got so dense that Jessie had to open a window, one in the back seat so they wouldn’t get wet. Marina was explaining what happened to Frank, her mother’s last husband. Jessie was thinking, this could be a cable TV surreality show. Jessie had missed the exact nature of Frank’s digression, but Marina was clear about his retribution. Jessie wondered if Marina’s parents’ poor track records with mates didn’t have something to do with their daughter.

In Clinton, where the ferry dropped them, there were already Christmas lights up and lit, even though it was still three weeks away and it was the middle of the afternoon, a wet, dark-gray afternoon. They looked like lipstick on a corpse. There’s not much to Clinton. Jessie followed Marina’s directions from the ferry dock. They had to drive across the island. Jessie had tried pot three times. The first time she threw up. The other two times she fell asleep, once while having sex. It didn’t seem to slow Marina down.

Jessie envied that. And when Marina slipped in phrases like “I was in Morocco then” or “we had to get out of Oaxaca,” Jessie realized she had nothing to say, no reason to interrupt. Everyone wants to talk about themselves, but most don’t. Maybe because they’ve been raised that way, maybe because they’re too bored to say, maybe because they’re ashamed. Jessie would only talk about herself if someone asked; no one ever did. But Marina had a lot to tell, and she was not shy about it. Jessie never had to ask, just listen, or pretend to listen as she drove. There was no traffic to speak of.

The driveway was long. The house was big and on the water. Marina knew where the key was hidden and the code for turning off the burglar alarm. It was chilly, only slightly warmer, inside. It smelled abandoned. Marina found the thermostat and turned it up, but they stayed in their outdoor clothing. There was a fireplace in the parlor, but no firewood. Marina joked—?—about breaking up the furniture to burn. Among the framed photographs on the mantle was a black-and-white of a tall man in a suit and a frail-looking woman in a sun dress; between them a girl of ten or so in a dorky dress scowled at the camera. “That’s Dad,” Marina said.

 

Jessie had signed up because she needed every gig she could get and she liked to drive. It was a service offered by her local women’s co-op, a sort of feminist-protective Uber. Its logo was that silly symbol of a circle with a cross stuck in it like a vampire stake and the adjoined word trip. Let your sisters take you where you need to go. No more creepy male drivers looking at you in the rearview mirror. A righteous, empowering, solidarity service. Jessie had figured it would mainly entail taking old ladies to and from doctor and beauty-shop appointments. But this ride was different. Marina had hired her for several days at an hourly rate, a trip out of town. They would spend the night here. Jessie found a blanket and slept on a sofa.

She awoke to the sound of splintering wood. Her first thought was of the fireplace. But she was sleeping in the parlor with the fireplace, and Marina was not there making kindling. There was no fire in the fireplace. The half-hearted pink light from the windows said dawn. The house had warmed up in the night. The sound again—smashed and cracking wood. It came from above her. Jessie went to the foot of the stairs in the hallway and called out Marina’s name as a question. The only answer was the sound of more ripping wood.

Marina was seated on the floor in an alcove off what Jessie took to be the master bedroom. In front of her was a massive old rolltop desk. She was tearing at it with a screwdriver, hammer, and chisel.

“What in the world…?” Jessie said.

“None of your business. Get lost. You’re a driver. Go drive some place.”

Jessie did. They had passed through a small village a ways back. She went there and found a café serving breakfast. Coming back, she got slightly lost and drove up several wrong driveways before finding the right one. She had decided this gig was over. If Marina wasn’t ready to go back, she could just pay for her time up till then—Jessie figured twenty-one hours—and find her own way back or wherever. Jessie was just “a driver,” after all. She had no obligations. The car still smelled of pot. When she pulled up to the house, another car was parked there, a Mercedes. On instinct, Jessie turned around and parked headed out.

Well, good. Jessie wouldn’t have to feel like she was stranding Marina here. Sisterly solidarity and all. She would just check out, collect her pay, and wish Marina the best. There was someone sitting in the Mercedes, a woman in the driver’s seat. She was slumped over, motionless, her chin on her chest.

It wasn’t until Jessie approached the car that she saw the glow of the iPhone screen in the woman’s hands and realized the woman wasn’t dead but texting. She kept walking.

The driver side window buzzed down. “Hold on. Who are you? What are you doing here? Be warned, I am armed.”

Jessie turned but didn’t come closer. “I’m here with Marina. I gave her a ride.”

“Is she here?”

“I guess so. I left her here.”

“Let’s go in, shall we?” There was a silver gun in her hand.

“Sure. Why not? Is that necessary?”

The woman didn’t answer, just gestured with her gun hand for Jessie to precede her. Marina met them at the door. “Sarah?” she said.

“I figured it was you when I got the message that the alarm had been turned off,” the woman said. “You know you’re not supposed to be here.”

Marina was looking not at the woman but at her gun. “We were just leaving. I had to come back for a few of my things.” She had a cloth bag over her shoulder.

“There was nothing of yours here,” the woman said.

“Do you have a permit for that?” Jessie asked. The woman ignored her. She had one of those hundred-dollar haircuts, gold earrings.

“Your father’s court order barring you from being here is still in force, even if he’s no longer with us.”

“Fuck you, Sarah,” Marina said. “What are you going to do? Shoot me? In front of a witness? Like I said, we’re leaving. You’re lucky I didn’t burn the place down.” Marina walked around the woman and said “Let’s go” to Jessie.

Jessie wasn’t sure she wanted to give Marina a ride, but then she hadn’t been paid. Marina tossed her cloth bag into the car.

“I’ve already informed the troopers of a burglary in progress. Now I can give them a description of the getaway car—the silver Camry with a bullet hole in the rear window.” The woman turned and fired a round into Jessie’s rear window.

“What!” Jessie said. “Why, you bitch.” It took her only a few steps to reach the woman and knock her to the ground. The gun bounced away. Jessie picked it up. “You’re going to pay for that.” The woman rolled over to push herself up. “No, I think you better sit there until your troopers arrive.” Jessie pointed the gun at the woman, and she sat down.

“Let’s go,” Marina said. “She’s bluffing about the troopers. Even if she isn’t, I don’t want to meet them. We’ll take her car keys and her phone, get off the island.”

“Who’s going to pay for my window? You?”

“Fuck your window. Let’s go.”

“I know your license plate. I’ll find you,” the woman said.

“And what? Bring me the cash for my window? Or come to retrieve your gun, which you used when you tried to kill me?”

“I never …”

“I’d swear you took a shot at me and missed. My witness here will agree to that. That’s our story when the troopers get here.”

“And I will say I interrupted a burglary.”

“How can it be a burglary when it’s her home and she has a key? Maybe she did break a court order by coming here, but that’s a minor misdemeanor compared to attempted murder. You probably don’t even have a permit for this attempted-murder weapon. You could be the first member of your garden society with a felony arrest record. I’m sure you can afford some good lawyers. And who are you, anyway? We were never introduced.”

“Meet my evil stepmom Sarah,” Marina said.

“She’s right,” the woman said, “I hadn’t called the troopers yet.”

“Well, why don’t you do that, then?”

“Maybe there’s another way to resolve this.”

“Yeah, pay for my window and we can agree to forget about it.” Jesse sort of liked holding a gun. She had never held one before. She liked the weight, the grip. It was comfortable. She wondered what it felt like to fire it.

“I can give you a check for your window,” the woman said.

“I don’t take checks from criminals.” Holding the gun gave Jessie a sense of power she had never felt before. “Marina, is this the stepmom you mentioned who got you busted?”

“Yes, the same.”

The woman had a half dozen gold bracelets on one forearm. “I’ll tell you what, I’ll take those as payment,” Jessie said, pointing with the gun to the woman’s wrist. “You can keep the earrings.”

“I don’t think so,” she said.

“Marina, get her phone. I think she left it on the seat. We’ll call the troopers, then. Bring her car keys, too.”

The woman went to get up. Instead of using the gun, Jessie pushed her back onto the ground. Marina brought the cellphone and the keys. Jessie put the keys in her pocket, and took the phone. “Will you call the troopers, or should I?” she asked.

“No, don’t call them,” Marina said, sounding panicky. “Sarah, please!” Then, tugging on Jessie’s sleeve, “Come on, let’s just go.”

“I need to get paid, for the damage and the trip. I have nothing to hide from the cops. I’m just an innocent bystander to your craziness.”

“This is all your fault, Marina,” the woman said. “As always. Here, take the damned bracelets and leave. This is robbery.” Marina brought the bracelets to Jessie.

“No, it’s payment,” Jessie said. She put the cellphone into her back pocket and had Marina slip the bracelets one by one onto the wrist of her non-gun hand. She liked having a gun hand. “Let’s call us even.” She went to her car.

Jessie wasn’t sure how it started, but Marina and her stepmom were suddenly going at it, not throwing punches but locked in a hair-pulling wrestling match. They fell to the ground. Marina was screaming something. As Jessie started up and pulled away, Marina broke free long enough to yell at her to stop. By the time she got to the woods along the road at the end of the driveway, Marina was up and running after the car. “My bag!” she called. Jessie slowed down enough to toss the Mercedes’s keys as far as she could into the underbrush. On the road she threw the cellphone into a drainage ditch.

She kept the gun. She would have to stop for gas. She didn’t know what times the ferry ran. Her bracelets jingled.

 

 

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