1 november 2004
Jackie and I hadn't spoken since she went to get dressed, and most everyone living at the apartment was home within an hour of the incident. We'd all spent the evening playing games over pizza, but Jackie kept to herself. I was out on the fire escape at dusk, smoking and sending a text when she came outside.
"Hey," she said, leaning on the railing next to me. I offered her my lighter and she gave a weak smile before taking it and lighting her cigarette.
"Is there anything I can do?" I asked after she blew out the first line of smoke.
"I don't know. But thanks."
"I hope you haven't just been dwelling on it. I'm no expert but that sounds unhelpful."
"I haven't." I nodded and we both stared off at the alley. We watched as one cat entered the alley and caught the attention of another, and after a brief and tense standoff, the newcomer was driven out. I flicked my butt down and the other cat scurried away from it back into the shadows from whence it came. The sky was growing dark, or at least as dark as it gets in a neighborhood this packed. I squeezed the railing and rocked back and forth for a moment.
"So." She took the last drag from her cigarette and flicked it into the alley.
"We did it wrong." She didn't even look at me as she said it. I took a deep breath and looked up at the clouds.
"The exorcism. The rest was...appropriately awkward." I coughed out half a laugh before catching myself and putting my hand up to my mouth. I looked down at the alley again and leaned on the railing.
"Hm. Yes. Okay. Well, I haven't done very many of those."
"This was my first, yes." She nodded and wrung her hands on the railing.
"Yeah," she said, "me too."
"So, well, admittedly, the only thing I had on hand was for driving out a demon, and if I'm completely honest I've never actually tested it for that purpose either, so I'm not sure it would even work properly for that, it's just-"
"That's not what I mean. It did what the ritual was intended to do. Probably what we needed to do, given the circumstances."
"So...what's wrong?" I turned to her, but she was still staring off into space. When she didn't answer, I pulled out my pack and lit another cigarette before offering her one.
"Thanks," she said, finally turning to accept it and a light. Once we were both smoking again, she looked me in the eye for the first time all evening. "We didn't help her, John. She's just been kicked out of me, and this house. She's untethered, out there somewhere," she waved her arm to indicate the city beyond the alley, "with no resolution and probably insanely angry and I don't know if we'll even be able to find her again, let alone help her cross over." She said it all so fast that it took her a moment to catch her breath afterward, and as soon as she had she took another drag and looked out toward the buildings outside of the alley, turning her back to me. "She's lost and hurt and we promised to do better than that, and I...I don't know how to fix this." I went to put my hand on her shoulder, but stopped short and, deciding she'd probably touched me enough for one day, pulled my hand back.
"I mean, we could...go, or something, if you think we could find her?"
"And do what?"
"I don't know." I stared at the back of her head for a moment, as if I would find some clarity in her hair or something, and then turned and leaned on the railing again to take a drag. "I just know I'm flying home tomorrow," I said, softly. "Can't imagine I'll be of much use after that." After a moment, she turned back, and rested her hand on mine.
"That's fine. I'm not sure what your presence would do to her right now. But I...do have a favor to ask of you." I looked at her hand, then let my gaze follow up her arm and neck until I was looking into her face.
"What is it?"
"Look, I. I don't even know if it'll work."
"I need just one good night's sleep. But, between Alethea and my mentor, it's just been..." She straightened up and inhaled sharply before staring at me. "I want to sleep on your couch with you tonight. I don't know if your...thing extends to other people, but when I tried to hop into your dream I was stopped a good distance from you, so I suspect that there's a proximity effect and I think it's worth a shot." I went to speak, then exhaled, and looked away, then turned back to her.
"I have to say, I didn't really see that coming."
"Neither did I, but, I really just want to be left alone. I can't deal with it all tonight. Not tonight."
"Okay. I just...the couch isn't very big, you know."
"Are you against cuddling now?" I straightened up and raised my hands defensively.
"I never said I was against any of it. I'm just concerned with your comfort being so intimate with me right now."
"You've shown yourself trustworthy. And besides, I wonder if you aren't asexual."
"I...what? That's not a thing."
"It is a thing. There's nothing wrong with it." I leaned in closer.
"I've had sex."
"Okay." She leaned on the railing and gave me a side-eye look. "Have you ever had sexual desire?"
"I've...found people attractive."
"In what way?"
"I don't know! Like, art, I guess?" She chuckled and took a drag from her cigarette.
"You should look into asexuality."
"Maybe later. Look, about tonight, though."
"Do you want me to ask formally or something?"
"No. I'm fine with it if you are." She nodded.
"Good." She smashed her cigarette against the wall of the building and then chucked the butt over her shoulder into the alley as she walked back to the door. "I'll see you inside, John." I watched her until the door closed behind her, then checked my phone. One new text message from my dad.
"I have a couple books about possession. I'll bring them to the airport tomorrow." I thanked him, finished my cigarette, and went back in.
The blog of John Matteson.