“She’s gone,” he says, a shuddering shot of bristled nerves. “She’s just gone.”
We are awash with Western sands. I choke on my breath and cover my mouth and –
“Bee, stop with the drama. C’mon.” He walks away from me. He can’t look at me.
But she can’t be gone. She – stage name, Lily; real name, unknown to this very day – needs to know things that happened to me in the last twenty-four hours. She needs to know that vodka held by a tiny mason jar tastes better than when it’s placed in a shot glass; she needs to know that the elusive, wonderful, horrifying Stranger gave me lingerie crowded with gothic black bows; she needs to know I am still Claire for her, Claire Fantine, a body to be sold but intellectualized by a cheeky Les Miserables reference.
She needs to know. She can’t be gone.
“Where is she?” I ask.
“Don’t fucking know.”
“She said she wasn’t feeling well. Was that a mental thing, then? She gets in these head spaces. She gets a little unwell.”
He shrugs. He’s known her for years and years, and he shrugs about this? I can’t look at him. He’s known her for a sizable chunk of her life, and he shrugs. I want to throw up. I really just might.
I run to the trunk of the car, pound the sweet spot as I jimmy the key. Inside, Lily’s dirty plastic hooker heels. She had wanted to hand them down to me, muddied proven jewels, and I said sure but never wore them. I lift a nightie that Claire wore the other day for a family man during business hours. Black, razor-thin polyester. I become Claire for a nanosecond, then, and feel even her bubbly stupidity vanish under the thick weight of a kidnapping, a murder, a possible get-away. I often spoke to Lily about flying to Europe for our final breaths, a spectacular Siamese suicide. I wonder now if she went through with it, the very thing that gifted us temporary spiritual relief. I know I would if I had the money she raked in every week, sweet lord. Candles tumble from a bag, presently tearing, shoved up in the back. I remember a wedding from a few years ago, from before I knew Lily or this weird, ex-military, ex-husband of hers, this Connor person. The wedding makes me think of altars. And with my other ego Claire so close to my surface; this trunk, an altar for alters. A rusted pocket knife slides out of the bag and falls into another bed of lingerie.
“She could’ve gone off with a trick, I guess,” Connor says. He lights a menthol and puffs out, chapped lips, “but even she’s better than that. Girl knows how to push buttons.”
“She’s impulsive,” I offer.
“Impulsive.” Connor snorts. “She’s a turbo-slut. So are you.”
A truck whistles down the road. I grow antsy, think maybe she’s in the bed of it praying for someone to think that people are always lying in the beds of trucks, in need of saving. Because how else would you know? You just have to be paranoid.
My phone’s dead. I shuffle through bras and g-strings for a phone charger but I only find an old flip phone and a few burned out lighters. “She’ll turn up,” I say, more to myself. “She has this way about her, of turning up.”
Connor crushes the menthol and picks up a rock. Looks at me. I seize up for a second, watch his mouth tremble.
“You’re both sluts,” he mutters.
I step back.
“She did this before.” He squeezes the rock. I take another step back.
“With who do you think? That fuckin’ loser who gave her that fuckin’ purse!”
“That was different and you know it, c’mon – “
He lugs the rock across the road. Thuds soft and dull into a cavern of dust.
Another car rolls by. An old man in the driver’s seat looks us up and down, keeps a longer eye on Connor, keeps going. Connor bolts, tags after it like a starved dog, screaming and hitting the back. The car revs up. A cackle from somewhere.
I sigh and sit in the front seat. Connor’s almost caught up to the front of the car. The old man’s swerving, messing with him. They get pretty far. I turn on the radio, dial in on some bluegrass. Dolly Parton’s on there. She’s crooning about lost love, about harsh winters.
She leaves me with a whispered lilt, something quietly sinister: Something about bags and bags of bones, and how could life be like this?