She was no longer in denial. She had become denial. It had taken three years, but here she was, pretending to be positively alive. Waking to the clock, she realised it was another day at the King of Burgers. Through the dusty, broken and askew blinds that covered the window over her bed she looked up; the sky was grey, that Rogue Valley pallid, bumpy canvass of smoke and cloud that settles in for days, sometimes weeks, at a time from December to March; the whole season is marked by rain, then drizzle, then pasty infinite nothingness.
Fast food, always a job to fall back on. On this particular morning Joanne decided to make a cup of green tea in the kitchen. Kitchens are places of trouble. Things killed get cooked. People try to make themselves feel happy, but the incessant need to eat always makes people uneasy, even if this queasy guilt is pressed to the deepest recesses of the unconscious. Joanne mother’s Christine was making coffee in an old machine from the 1980s in their abysmal kitchen, a cross between the kitchens of That 70s Show and Dr. Finch’s house in Running With Scissors. Adorned with green tiles and a cheap plywood-like table with a worn plastic cover. The cover had a floral pattern. It was repugnant, but no one ever acknowledged how terrifying this piece of thin skin really was. Christine, a woman in her fifties, plump and unable to properly dress herself out of the 1990s, promptly started the squalling that raged wherever she went. At work she hid her miserable hatred for herself, which was actually a hatred for her youngest daughter. But these things usually remain unknown to the living.
Joanne attempted to be nice. Although she had dissented, argued and yelled at her mother in her late teens and early twenties, now at 27, she had become demure. Some sort of New Age karma clicked for her, and she desperately needed saving. Jesus was too anal-rententive and besides it was a small town and Joanne was a lesbian. In other words, no church would have her even if she wanted it. So, she turned to the works of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, dabbled in the ideas of Theosophy and wondered about her own way of approaching the clouds. Reading the Upanishads one day she had glanced over at the plastic tablecloth and noticed a small hair. Her mother’s hair. Partially brown, partially grey. Almost like the turd of a sick cow; she’d seen a cow’s turd several years back when some of her friends smoked a joint in a cow field. She was frightened by her own hatred, and secretly, a secret guarded from her own conscious self, decided to suppress the hate she felt for her mother. Hadn’t she done enough? Handling the most intimate fluids of her stepfather, helping him move about so that he didn’t get bedsores, giving him his medicine on time? John, that was his name, had died exactly three weeks before this morning in the kitchen. He’d suffered from multiple strokes. Everyone knew he deserved them, but no one said why.
As Joanne poured the boiling water into an old, yellow teacup, Christine began shouting, “Your brother is slaving away, serving his country in Iraq, and look at you, pathetic, working at Burger King and still living at home.” Joanne pretended not to notice. Christine hit her over the head with a frying pan. Joanne sat down at the table, she was used to such things. A shot rang out, the window overlooking the large backyard shattered. The backyard was a large rectangular space, with four huge maple trees, patchy grasses, little hills and ruts dug by the the family’s two labrador retrievers. Blood splatted, oozed as Christine flailed, her neck gushing out bright, prepossessing and beautiful blood. Joanne’s cup had red dots floating in it, like a lava lamp, she couldn’t stop starring out the window and then back deep into the cup. Deeper still she stared into the seemingly bottomless cup, looking, looking and then sticking her finger into the hot water. She pulled it out and sucked on it. Her mother was on the floor yelling something about calling for something or another. Joanne decided to stare at her for a minute. Christine lost consciousness. A hunter had shot at a deer and missed. Ricochet. This happens in the remote backwoods of Merlin, but usually not so near the cloister of houses on Polaris Circle. Unusual as it was, shocking as it should have been, not even the dogs bothered to wake from their little houses near the back sliding glass door that led to the kitchen. A man, dressed in sturdy winter gear, boots that were made for walking in the deepest of muddy ruts, with binoculars dangling from his neck, ran and opened that very same unconcerned sliding glass door behind the table where Joanne was sitting, smiling at her mother.