TG Universes & Series:
A Switcher Tale...
7. Shards of Memory
by Lulu Martine
I felt my knees turn to jelly, and I sank to the floor. It wasn’t a faint, but it was a near thing, and I ended up kneeling beside the door with my right hand still on the doorknob, almost the only thing keeping me from going all the way down. I heard a roaring noise and the edges of my vision turned dark.
I gasped, and that got Garth to look at me. “Honey?” he said to me. “Are you okay?”
“Huh-uh,” I grunted a negative. “I hadn’t—I didn’t—I’m not?” I tried to pull myself up, but I didn’t have the strength.
Suddenly he was there beside me, lifting me, picking me up — one arm behind my knees and one under my shoulders. “Now,” he said. “I’ve got you. You’re okay.” He somehow opened the bedroom door and carried me inside.
I felt tiny. I put my arms up and around his neck. I’d been so scared earlier, and now, this big hulking guy was holding me, carrying me, like my father had held and carried me when I was five.
“You’re freaking out a little,” he commented as he lay me down on the bed. “Have you been doing this all day?” He handed me my —Margaret’s— stuffed unicorn and wrapped one of my arms around it. “You didn’t go to the clinic because you didn’t want to know?”
I sniffed. “There was another reason,” I said. I thought about where I had first seen the girl throwing-up beside the sidewalk. She could have been heading the same direction I was, to an appointment at the Medical Center, though hers might have been a walk-in. The vomiting might have been significant, too; it had been a few minutes before eleven…
…and Anthony, the man I had been, had had only a minute or so to live.
My body shook, and suddenly I was wailing. Garth sat on the bed and pulled me into his lap, making comforting noises. On some level, Anthony was still rational and checking off boxes on an inventory. Morning sickness, check. Mental fog, check. Emotional rollercoaster, check. After all, I’d had experience with pregnant students for years.
On top of that, witnessing my own murder and being threatened by a monster who claimed to have been responsible for what had happened. I was probably going to be dealing with that trauma for the rest of my life, and…who could I tell?
“There, there,” Garth repeated for what might be the fortieth time. “You’re okay, and we can deal, it will be all right.” He had me wrapped up in his arms now, me sitting in his lap and the unicorn in mine. I rubbed my face on the fuzzy mane but stopped when I felt snot running out of my nose.
“Need tissue,” I said, almost gasping.
He reached a long arm across me to snag a box off the dresser and put it in my hands. I used wads to wipe my eyes and blow my nose. He kissed me on top of my head and then peered around to look into my face. “Better?” he asked.
“Gary,” I began then stopped. Did Margaret call him Gary? How did I know?
“Hmm?” he said. He kissed me above one eye.
“I saw somebody killed today,” I said. How was I going to tell him the rest of this without sounding stark-staring mad?
“You what?” he asked, his face distorted by surprise and the angle I was looking up at him from.
I recast what had happened with myself in Margaret’s role as first-person witness to a murder. “I was on the east side of campus, about eleven,” I told him. “I think I was on my way to the clinic.” Not a lie considering the flat out impossibility of what I was reporting. “I had to throw up, in the grass, next to the campus shuttle stop.”
He gave me a little squeeze, looking concerned. It was comforting, even though I couldn’t work out how I actually felt about being held by a man.
I tried not to cry again. “An old guy in a wheelchair came out of the big building there. A cop car stopped on the corner, and the cop got out.” I swallowed hard. Margaret’s terror and my own almost overwhelmed me again. I made a dry sobbing sound, like a painful hiccough.
“Shh, shh,” he whispered. “You don’t have to tell me if it hurts.”
“It hurts, but I need to tell someone,” I said. “I’ve been—I don’t—It’s not….”
He pulled me in closer and rocked back and forth. I made a sound that had no words, just not doing anything for a moment. Being held like this made me feel…safer?
I had gotten turned sideways in his lap, which made it easier to look up at him. I put a hand up to his chin. While it looked smooth, it felt coarse and stubbly. “Gary?” I said again.
“Mmm, hmm?” he murmured soothingly.
“I blacked out for a moment,” I said. “Then, I mean. The two guys were coming toward me, and they were asking if I was all right. Because…because I was throwing up? Then I woke up on the ground…and…and the cop was standing there with his gun out.” I swallowed hard, remembering. “He made me get up and told me to run, and he pointed his gun at me.”
“Son of a bitch,” said Garth. I couldn’t tell if he believed me or not.
“He said the cops would lock me up if I didn’t run away,” I whispered.
Garth moved, shifting me on his lap again to where he could look me in the face.
I blinked at him.
“Did you run?” he asked.
I shook my head. “Not at first,” I said. “But then, the guy in the wheelchair, he…he? I think he said something? And the cop just…and the cop just turned his hand with the gun and shot the old guy in the head.”
I buried my face in Garth’s chest. I felt so small, and he was a huge guy, and it seemed to help. I remembered being afraid, being terrified. At the time it happened, in that instant, I hadn’t known who I was or who the old guy was.
“What the fuck?” Garth said.
“The cop was yelling at me,” I said with my face still hidden. “He was waving the gun around and threatening to cut me to pieces if I didn’t run. He pointed the gun at me again. So I ran….”
“Ho. Ly. Hell,” said Garth.
“I think he shot at me or over my head while I ran,” I whispered. “I don’t know. I ran until I couldn’t run anymore and I hid under some bushes.” I grabbed more tissues and wiped my face and blew my nose again.
Garth took the tissues and threw them into the trash can by the vanity table. “Three points,” he said, making crowd noises. “Whu-u-uhh!”
I looked at him and giggled nervously. I still couldn’t tell if he believed me.
He took me off his lap and laid me on the bed with him still sitting there beside me. I still had my shoes on, and that bothered me. Some voice inside told me in a strident voice that I should keep my shoes off the bed. I struggled to sit up, but Garth put a gigantic hand on my stomach.
“Just lie there for a minute, okay?” he said.
“My shoes,” I said, pointing at my feet.
Smiling, Garth pulled the high-heel platform sandals I was wearing off my feet without undoing the buckles on the straps. “You should have called me,” he said. “I was at the studio waiting for Holzmann to call. I didn’t know where you were.”
I still didn’t know who Holzmann was, but I shook my head. “My phone was dead, no charge.”
He glanced at the dresser top where a wireless charging station was plugged into a power strip. “You forgot to charge it last night. Dummy.”
I blinked. He didn’t say that with a mean tone, more like he was teasing me. “I didn’t have a charging cable with me, either.”
“You never do,” he mentioned. “If I didn’t tighten the bolts in your neck every day, your head would fall off.”
I giggled again at his silliness. “You believe me?”
“Huh?” he said. “You didn’t make that all up, did you?”
I shook my head.
“So, what did you do?”
“I wandered around, rode some buses, got scared, did some more running. Got my phone charged.” I swallowed hard. “I was so freaked out, I called Mama.”
“Your mom? Down in OC?”
“Uh-huh,” I said miserably. “That didn’t go well.”
“Your dad wasn’t there, was he?” Garth’s voice sounded hard. I looked up at him, and his expression had hardened too.
“I don’t think so,” I said. “She said something about blaming him for me running away.”
“Yeah, well,” he said. “You shoulda called me. H-man called about two. He’d got the money together and put it into the special coin account. You hadn’t called, so I called you.”
I sighed. That money worried me, but how could I ask? Maybe I should just admit that I’m not Margaret. But I am Margaret, because if I’m not her, I’m not anyone at all. I looked at him. He didn’t seem to have a clue that I wasn’t the same Margaret, or rather Marla, he had said goodbye to this morning.
And where had she gone? I was here, thinking with her brain, and there were little crumbs of her memory left. Sometimes I remembered things Tony could not have known, like calling Garth, Gary. And apparently I moved and spoke like Marla, not like a middle-aged man who had spent a decade in a wheelchair. But where had she gone?
Some of her remained. I almost smiled. As Marla, I thought of Tony as being an old man, but he’d never really gotten old. For a teenager, though, late forties is not just old, it’s ancient.
I guess I’d been staring off into the distance because Gary said, “Earthman to space chick, come in space chick.” He reached out one of those big hands and tapped a finger on my forehead.
I looked at him and smiled shakily. “I guess I did space out, huh?” I said.
He nodded. “I’m used to it, but maybe you had more excuse than usual. This cop that chased you, you haven’t seen him again, have you?”
I shook my head. “I’ve seen a few cops, and they freaked me out, but none of them were him.”
“Were they looking for you?”
I shrugged. “I’m not sure, I was real paranoid and—and I think I just reacted like they were. But—but Gary, what we do? Uh—the money—uh, we’re criminals?”
He put a fingertip on the little triangle of hair under his lower lip, same color as his mustache, and rubbed it back and forth. “Technically,” he said, “yeah, I guess. But we’re taking the money off guys who are a lot worse than us, you know? The boss says they deserve it, and that’s good enough for me.”
He made a big gesture like he was taking in the whole apartment. “Besides, we live good, don’t we?”
That did not reassure me. Who was this boss? Another question, I couldn’t figure out how to ask. And did we deserve to live well?
We were sitting on the bed now, side by side facing the mirror. His feet in his big old shoes were flat on the floor, but my bare feet lacked a couple of inches of reaching. I wiggled my toes. The nails were painted red, though the nails on my hand were black and terribly chipped.
Was it some kind of scam? Or maybe a badger game with me as bait? Or a shakedown since I was underage? Some variation on all of the above?
Garth put an arm around me and gave me a squeeze. “Still time to go to the clinic,” he commented.
Oh yeah. And I may be pregnant.
I shivered and wrapped my arms around me. “I’m not going anywhere alone. And the clinic is, like, four blocks from where the cop shot that guy.” Like? Sheesh.
He nodded. “You want a bath? Then I could take you? I got some stuff to do—and maybe I can look on the internet, see if there’s any news.”
“I didn’t hear any when I was in Starbucks,” I said. I frowned. “If cops are going around shooting people, maybe they’re covering it up?”
“Was it a white guy that got shot?” he asked.
“Uh, yeah, old white guy, older than you. Maybe fifty. In a wheelchair.”
He nodded. “They might cover that up, all right.” He grinned at me. “But fifty isn’t old, baby darlin’.” He had a drawl when he wanted to use it.
I pushed at him, hopping down off the bed and putting Yoonie the Unicorn back in the middle of the bed. “Older than you, and you’re old enough to be my dad, ain’t ‘cha?”
He winced. “Barely,” he said. “But I don’t think I would have had the nerve to fuck your mom when I was in high school.”
I laughed at him. Standing there, me barefoot and him sitting on the bed, I was hardly taller. Looking at him, a mountain of muscle with a cuddly-looking mustache, he made me feel funny. But I wasn’t afraid of him at all.
“Go get your bath,” he said. “You smell like wet dogs fucking.”
“I do not!” I protested with absolutely no justification or confidence. I knew I probably reeked.
He waved me away, standing up. “I’m gonna go surf the ‘net, look for this insane cop.”
I felt a chill and nodded.
I started toward the big bathroom, and he headed toward the hallway. “Don’t get your hair wet,” he warned me. “They could solve global warming by the time you got it dry.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “Don’t give me a hard time, old man. You’d have a conniption if I ever got it cut off.”
He paused at the door, looked at me and grinned. “Got that right, baby,” he said. “Remember, I promised to paddle you if you ever did.”
I made a face at him. I wasn’t worried. Somehow I knew Garth had never lifted a hand to hit me and never would. I felt safe with him, but there were plenty of other mysteries.
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