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Kerry Profitt’s diary, August 11-12

Just for fun, I looked back to see my first impressions of my housemates. Thinking to compare them, I guess, to current impressions.

Just goes to show how wrong you can be sometimes.

"Can you say insufferable?" I had typed about Josh Quinn. "Gay, goth, vegan, and obnoxiously adamant about all three. If he keeps it up, I’ll be surprised if he survives the summer. And I mean physically, not just that he could be ‘voted out’ or whatever. Not that, to push the metaphor to the breaking point and beyond, this is a reality TV show or anything. Real World, Big Brother, Survivor, they have nothing on the trials and tribs of five genuine strangers trying to get along in a house without cameras, supercool furniture, and a cash prize on the other end."

There was more, but why cut and paste all night when I can simply scan the folder menu and look it up? Suffice to say, his first impression was the kind that almost makes you hope it’ll also be a last impression.

Mace Winston, on the other hand. Then, I wrote: "Hmm…he’s got a body like Michelangelo’s David–not that I’ve seen under the fig leaf, figuratively speaking. But handsome, buff, and he tooled up in this sky blue Lincoln Continental–except for the left rear, I think he said quarter-panel, which is kind of rust colored and clearly taken from a different car. He said he found the whole thing in a desert canyon somewhere in New Mexico, full of bullet holes and snakes, but he cleaned it up and fixed it up and here he is. He really does wear the boots and one of those straw hats and he has squinty, twinkly eyes like Josh Hartnett or Clint Black and somehow it all works for him. I don’t know if there’s a brain in his head. Ask me later if I care."

But tonight, when the chips, as they say, were down, Mace turned away and Josh came through. Although the heaving and ho-ing would have gone better had it been the other way around, I’m sure.

O-kay.

Ms. Harrington, in eleventh grade Speech, used to give us holy hell when we started with "okay" or "umm." She said it was just a verbal time waster, a way of saying that our thoughts obviously weren’t well enough organized to begin with because, if they were, we’d start out by saying what we really wanted to say.

Boy, was she right.

So…okay. Umm…

There’s a man in our living room, passed out on that butt-sprung lump of fabric and wood that passes for a sofa. We managed to stop most of the bleeding, put bandages on the worst cuts, got a couple of blankets (mine, since no one else would volunteer) over him, elevated his feet higher than his head. Near his head there’s water, in case he wakes up and is thirsty, and he seems to be breathing okay.

He looks like he lost an argument with a wood chipper. I can’t even imagine what happened to him. Hit by a truck that hurled him all the way across our lawn? Picked up by a stray tornado and dropped there?

But he said no doctors, and that’s exactly how many he’s getting. Why? And why did I argue against calling the police? Rebecca woke up just before Scott and Brandy finally came home. I had the same argument with them that I’d had with Mace, although Scott came over to my side pretty quickly, and Rebecca, bless her huge hippie heart, lit a candle and dug right in to help with the bandaging. With Josh already allied, that made four against two: Mace and Brandy. Brandy did a lot of huffing noises and is now either sound asleep, or pretending to be, as I laptop this. Is that a verb, yet? If not, how soon?

Other good verbs: To delay. To procrastinate. To put off.

Okay.

Of course, what I wanted to do with my summer was to lead a life that might, by some reasonable definition, be normal. As opposed to the life I’ve led for the past, well, lifetime. Summer job, summer friends, maybe a summer boyfriend, even. Just, y’know, normal stuff.

I don’t think this qualifies.

And to be fair, they’re entirely correct (and "they" know who they are). We don’t know who he is, he could be dangerous, a felon, a crazy person. Or even, you know, someone from Lenny Kravitz’s band, although maybe a little senior for that. But, to continue being fair, he’s not the one who said "no cops." That was, not to put too fine a point on it, me. He just said "no doctors," and maybe he’s a Christian Scientist or whatever. I was the one who said "no cops," and I’m still not sure why I did that. But it was the right thing to do.

I hope.

Journaling is supposed to help one figure out her own emotions, right? Tap into the unconscious, puzzle out the mysteries therein? Not tonight, Dr. Freud. I don’t know why I trust the old roadkill guy snoozing on the couch. But I do.

Go figure. Go to sleep. Go to hell. Just go. See you tomorrow, if we’re not all murdered in our sleep. Or lack thereof.

More later, I hope.

K.

2.

Scott Banner was one of those guys who did lots of things well. Kerry hadn’t known him all that long, but then it didn’t take long to figure that out about him. He got good grades in school, hence the Harvard bit; he worked hard, he could cook and clean quickly and efficiently, both pluses where Kerry was concerned because that meant fewer household chores that she had to do. He played soccer and he looked fit and trim in the polo shirts, khakis and Topsiders that he favored, and while Kerry thought he was dressing about twenty years ahead of his age, he somehow managed to pull it off.

His girlfriend Brandy, black, athletic, and as graceful as Kerry was not, appreciated those things about him, too, confiding to Kerry that he would make someone a great husband one day, and hoping that someone would be her. Kerry thought they made a wonderful couple, occasionally wishing she had someone who matched her as well as Scott and Brandy did each other.

Scott made really excellent coffee, that was one of the important things to know about him. And for those occasions when he wasn’t available, there was a spot called Java Coast in downtown La Jolla, next to an English as a Foreign Language School that attracted vast numbers of young, available men–all foreign, of course, but Kerry had picked up a few words of Spanish, French, German and Russian over the summer. Mornings that she worked early, or that Scott was otherwise unavailable for barista duties, she allowed herself to splurge on the pricey brews there. All of which went to the fact that, on this particular morning, having slept almost not at all, Kerry had the distinct feeling that there just wasn’t going to be enough coffee in the world to get her through the day. She had developed a serious caffeine jones over the summer. But some days, it was more crucial than others.

Today she sniffed the air hopefully, even before she rolled out of the sack. No fragrant aroma of the glorious bean. So Scott was sleeping in, or Brandy had been ticked enough about the way the argument had gone that she had kicked him out of the house or dragged him away for an early breakfast (and accompanying stern talking-to).

Or, of course, it meant that the stranger in their living room had in fact been an axe murderer, and all of her housemates were dead.

With that image in her mind, she kicked off the sheets and glanced at herself. Green cotton jammie pants and a tank top provided enough coverage. She padded barefoot across the hardwood floor, pulled the door open. A short hallway led to the living room, and she could smell him before she saw him. He was still there, and he needed a shower more than ever. But if he had, in fact, murdered the rest of the household, she’d have expected him to smell more like fresh blood–as he had last night–and less like stale sweat.

So all in all, an improvement over where things could have been.

And there had been no nightmares during the night, she realized, which was a bonus. She’d had recurrent nightmares before, but not since the days when she was young enough to comfort herself by hugging the rag doll clown she’d named BoBo. He was long since put away, though, stored in a trunk in her Uncle Marsh’s attic. Approaching the stranger, she found herself wishing for a moment that she had BoBo here with her, giving her courage as he had once done.

The living room was dimly lit–curtains still drawn, but they were moth-eaten and sunshine leaked through–and nobody was around. Kerry approached the stranger, whose breath was ragged but steady, and looked at his pale, drawn face. He looked different, somehow, than he had the night before. Still gaunt, but his cheeks seemed less sunken, the hollows of his eyes shallower than they had been. It was almost as if, she thought, the night’s sleep had not only allowed him to heal but had made him younger at the same time.

Even so, Rolling Stones young, not Radiohead young. Big difference, that.

A sound from behind her. Kerry turned. Rebecca Levine, her short-cropped orange hair reaching in every direction at once, like three kids in a toy store, stood there in blue fuzzy slippers and a cotton nightgown. Rebecca took a bath every day, never a shower, and she spent a minimum of forty minutes–more often an hour–in the bathroom. Lit candles, put in a bath bomb or bubble bath, something floral. Pampering herself. Kerry admired the dedication to it, even if–in a house with six people and only a bath and a half, the smaller one little more than a closet with a toilet and sink, practically on top of each other–she often resented the time spent. But a cloud of flowery fragrance usually surrounded Rebecca because of it, as it did now, wafting to Kerry’s nose across the room, providing relief from the stranger’s stench.

Rebecca blinked away sleep. "I stayed up last night," she said in a quiet voice. "Watching him."

Kerry felt an unexpected surge of jealousy, as if the strange man sleeping on their couch was her find, not anyone else’s. She knew it made no sense. Just tired, she decided. She hadn’t stayed up watching him. Thinking about him, though. "Did he do anything?"

A shrug. "Just slept. Maybe dreamed some–he moaned, a little, and kind of scrunched his face up, you know."

"How long did you watch him?" Kerry asked, hoping the answer wasn’t long enough to be creepy.

"Just a while," Rebecca said, shrugging some more. That was one of her signature moves, Kerry had learned. Maybe a sign of low self esteem, as if to accompany her statements with a shrug meant that they shouldn’t be taken too seriously. "I think he’s getting better."

Kerry had to agree, though it was absurd to think that just a few hours of sleep would make much difference to a man as wounded as he’d been. Well, she mentally corrected, a few hours of sleep and some basic first aid.

But she had thought the same thing when she first glanced at him. Now, as if disturbed by their soft conversation, the man on the couch groaned and rolled away from them. She waited another few moments, thinking that he might wake up. When he didn’t, she looked at Rebecca and stifled a yawn against the back of her hand. "Let’s make some java, Beck," she said.

Rebecca happily agreed.

###

A few hours passed. The day, as they had a tendency to do in San Diego in August, heated up. Kerry put on a green V-necked T with soft, faded jeans and the red and white zigzag sneakers that were even more comfortable than being barefoot, and brought a book into the living room. She sat in the big easy chair that had come with the furnished house, silently turning pages while she watched over her patient. The last thing she wanted was for him to wake up alone, in a strange room, not knowing where he was or who had brought him there. She plugged a freestanding fan over by the doorway, hoping its whir wouldn’t be too loud. Its breeze wasn’t exactly cool but at least it moved the air around.

Occasionally, one of her housemates–none of whom, as it happened, had been murdered in their sleep–would wander by. When Mace came in he stood with his hands on his hips and cocked his chin toward the sleeping man. "Dude still alive?"

"Seems to be," Kerry told him. "Disappointed?"

"Surprised, I guess," Mace answered. "Didn’t think he’d make dawn."

"I guess he’s tougher than he looks," Kerry observed.

"Seems like." He shook his head and moseyed on.

When it was time that Kerry should have left for work, she called in sick. It was the first time she had done so all summer, and a pang of guilt caught in her stomach when she hung up the phone. But her boss, Mr. Hofstadter, wouldn’t have understood or accepted the real reason.

Through it all, the man slept. And Kerry wondered about him.

What was his story? How had he wound up in their yard? What had injured him? Was anyone looking for him? These questions, and many more, kept her from concentrating on her book, a paperback chick-lit novel she’d borrowed from Brandy, for more than a few minutes at a time. Her own tastes tended more toward suspense and thrillers, and if there were some exotic locations and romance mixed in so much the better. But she would read anything she got her hands on, and this one was available.

Every time the man shifted in his sleep, she tensed, thinking he was waking up. The rest of the household went to work. She paced or sipped a soda or tried to read, and waited.

Eventually, she dozed off in the chair. The book slid to the floor, but that didn’t wake her.

Neither did having a blanket draped over her.

Later, she did open her eyes, startled that they had been closed at all. More startled to see that the man sat up on the couch, watching her. On her lap she clutched the blanket that had once covered him.

"You didn’t have to do all this," he said. His voice was soft and smooth, not the ragged husk of the night before. His eyebrows raised as if to encompass the "all this" to which he referred.

He was definitely younger than he had looked, even that morning. Sleep and recuperation had erased wrinkles, filled furrows. Still years older than her–but maybe not decades. His eyes were steel gray and clear, dancing with a light all their own in the poorly lit room.

She patted at the blanket. "It looks kind of like you’re the one who’s been taking care of me."

"I owed you," he said, as if that explained everything.

Or, really, anything.

"All I did was–"

He cut her off. His smile was, she realized, quite enchanting. "All you did was take me in, against the wishes of most of your friends. Clean and dress my wounds. Allow me to sleep, undisturbed, for as long as I needed. Accepted without question my desire not to be taken to a doctor. Refused to call the police. That, I have to say, was more than I could have asked, even if I’d been capable of asking, and I appreciate it."

Kerry blinked a couple of times. "Weren’t you, like, unconscious for most of that?"

"Yes," he said, flashing her that grin again. She felt it down to her toes. She hadn’t noticed what a handsome man he was–or, more accurately, the apparent years with which his pain and exhaustion had saddled him had obscured it. "But not unaware. Thank you, for everything."

As he spoke, he made to rise from the couch, pushing off with his right hand. But he hadn’t even reached his full height when his legs buckled and he flopped back down. He tossed her a sheepish smile that dimpled his cheeks. "I guess I’m not as strong as I thought."

Kerry rushed to his side to push him back down, dropping the blanket to the floor. "You shouldn’t even be awake, much less trying to stand," she insisted. He was already sitting, so when she reached him she wasn’t sure what to do with herself. She stood there a few moments, feeling embarrassed, then simply sat down beside him as if that had been her plan all along.

Graciously, he ignored her awkwardness and extended a hand. "My name is Daniel Blessing," he said.

She took his hand in her own. His was large, engulfing hers, and as warm as if he’d been holding a cup of hot tea. Holding it felt comfortable, like being hugged by an old friend. After a few moments she realized he was waiting for her to let go, say her own name, or both. She couldn’t understand why she was so flustered around this man.

Except maybe that he should be dead, she thought. Or at the very least, still comatose. And years older.

There was something very strange going on here. Part of her wanted to know what it was, but a bigger part–the dominant part, she realized–wondered why she wasn’t more concerned. Why she trusted him, almost instinctively. Why she had brought him into the house and dismissed the concerns of housemates who didn’t want to leave her alone with him.

"Kerry," she managed at last. "I’m Kerry Profitt."

"Yes," he said, as if that name meant something to him. Though, obviously, it couldn’t have. His voice and his manner were both, Kerry thought, oddly formal. "Yes, of course. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kerry."

"You too…Daniel," she replied. She had almost called him "Mr. Blessing," something about his age and that strange formality making her feel like she ought to treat him as she would a friend of her Aunt Betty and Uncle Marsh. She regarded his handsome face again: high forehead, intense, heavy-lidded gray eyes, a straight nose that she might have considered large on a different face but that here seemed somehow fitting. His lips were thin but quick to smile, and when he did his whole face took part, cheeks creasing, eyes crinkling, dimples at the edges of his mouth carving themselves into his skin. His jawline was pronounced but firm, his chin square. Thick brown hair that could use an encounter with water and a shampoo bottle swept away from his brow, covering his ears, flowing over the collar of the Deftones T-shirt they’d borrowed from Mace to dress him in when his own, torn and blood-soaked, had to be cut from his damaged body. Impossibly, he looked even closer to her age than he had when she’d suddenly awoken–within a decade of her, she guessed now, or not much more.

"You have questions," he said. He tried to stand again, stopped mid-rise to wince and grasp at his ribs, where his worst injury had been, an open gash that looked like he’d been attacked with a meat cleaver. His skin blanched, eyes compressing against the evident pain. But he composed himself and pushed through it.

"Well, yeah, Sherlock."

"I wish I could answer them for you, Kerry. Really, I do. But if I did–well, you saw what I looked like when you brought me in, right?"

She had hardly stopped seeing it. His body had been lean, with the stringy muscularity of someone who worked hard, instead of working out, with yardstick shoulders and a deep chest–but bruised and shredded, as if he’d made a dozen laps in a demolition derby, only without a car. "Yeah, I saw."

He nodded gravely. "If I answered your questions, then you’d be at risk for the same. And, I suspect, you’d have a harder time surviving it than I do."

"So this is, what, a regular thing for you?" she asked, surprised at his use of the present tense.

He showed that grin again. "Not to this extent, no. And I don’t know if I’d use the word ‘regular.’ But it has happened before, and likely will again. I’d rather you didn’t get mixed up in it, so that’s all I’ll say about that." He walked away from the couch, away from her–stiff-legged, clearly sore, but still, considering the shape he had been in, miraculous. "If you don’t mind," he called over his shoulder, "I’m starving. Okay if I raid the kitchen?"

Kerry Profitt’s diary, August 13

He’s gone.

I can’t quite sort out how I feel about it. Night before last I risked the wrath of my homies–and maybe our lives–playing Florence Nightingale to a stranger who could have been just what Mace and Brandy were sure he was–a random drunk who’d been bounced off somebody’s fender. But once he woke up, once the years fell away from him and he started to speak, it didn’t take long to see that he was not that. Still, mega-mystery man.

But we talked, and eventually the others came home from work–where I had been, they lied, sorely missed–and Daniel Blessing seemed to draw energy from them. He became enchanting: witty, interesting, the kind of conversationalist to whom you could apply the term "sparkling" without being too off base. Even those who had distrusted him the most had been charmed.

Did he tell us anything about himself, other than his name? He did not. And that name is probably as fake as the phone number Rebecca gives out to the tourists who hit on her at work (aside, in case I didn’t mention it: while Rebecca considers herself a few pounds overweight, what she is is zaftig, and though she hides it with the hunching and the baggies, the powers at Seaside picked her, of us all–being the only one of us over twenty-one–to make a cocktail waitress in their oh-so-cleverly named bar, the Schooner. And part of the cocktail waitressing involves wearing a uniform that, while not as desperately provocative as they probably were ten or twenty years ago, is still, let’s just say, snug. And short-ish. So the aforementioned hitting on? Happens a lot).

So, no personal details from Mr. possibly Blessing. But he was informed and erudite, able to discuss books and movies and modern music, as well as the state of the world (about which he’s not much impressed), environmental and social issues, and even, much to Josh’s amazement, film noir of the thirties and forties. By the time people dragged themselves away from the table to go to bed, he had won them all over. I’m only guessing, but I think Josh may have fallen a little bit in love.

He may not even have been alone in that.

But then, this morning. Not just early-ish, but genuinely early. The kind of early where your eyelids are sort of glued together and the clock’s face swims just out of focus. He taps on my door a couple of times, then lets himself in before I can mumble incoherently. He kneels–kneels!–beside the bed, takes my hand, kisses it once, says, "Thank you, Kerry Profitt. Thank you so much, for all you’ve done," and then he stands up and walks out.

I fumbled out of bed but the front door closed before I reached the door to my room, and when I hit the street he was gone. Out of sight. Maybe there was a car waiting for him, though I didn’t see or hear one. Maybe one of those big mythological birds picked him up. Or a UFO.

Gone.

I only knew him for a day. And "knew" may be too strong a word, since I know so little about him, even now.

So why does it feel like there’s a vast emptiness in the house?

Anyone?









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