Chapter Three - Languages
She was up early on Friday, even by her own standards; the world was still dark outside, and James was curled into an S-shape on his side of the bed. In the quiet of the morning she could just make out his breathing, slow and regular, just on the light side of snoring. He looked good, and sweet, like a husband from a TV movie, and Kate felt warm and fuzzy watching him sleep. She could see why she'd fallen in love with him, why she'd married him.
She just couldn't remember it.
Quietly, she pulled a jacket over her workout clothes and made her way down the pitch-black stairs, cursing the dead light bulb that had led to this entire disastrous week. She stepped out onto the front step, feeling the cool October predawn air crash against her face and neck. She exhaled quickly, trying to see if it was chilly enough to see her own breath, but the weather hadn't gotten quite that cold just yet. The entire neighborhood was asleep.
Her feet left the porch as she broke into a steady jog. Across the front lawn and down the sidewalk, passing all of the neighbors whose names she somehow knew by heart but whose faces and personalities were a foggy mystery: the Clarks; the Delasalles; the Jacksons with their cute pink castle mailbox; the Khans. She wondered if she would ever see any of them again. Wondered what she would say to them if she ever did.
She was halfway down Fillmore Street when she first saw the van. White, beat-up, missing paint in spots. Slowly making its way towards her. She stared at it, trying to explain why it seemed so odd, and then she noticed that its headlights were off. It approached at a speed no faster than her own.
She kicked and screamed, twisting her body in every direction, squirming as if her muscles had been replaced with a mass of slimy, wriggling eels. The two kidnappers managed to hold on to her anyway. A sneaker flew from her foot and struck the side of the van with a dull thud. Her vision dimmed as she was roughly shoved into the rear of the van like a box. The male kidnapper crawled on top of her, pinning her to the rough floor. Splinters of wood from the dirty plywood jammed into the small of her back as she struggled. "Prepare her," she heard the female kidnapper say, as the man jammed a piece of cloth over her nose and mouth. The chemical smell was overpowering as she slowly-
The van slowed even more, and coasted to a stop.
Kate froze. The memory in her head faded away to join the others in the mist. The van was in front of her, idling at the curb. She could hear the rough clacking tumble of the tired old engine. Her nose filled with the smell of oily exhaust. A sudden whirrr filled her ears. It was the passenger window winding down, activated from deep within. A face peered out at her.
"Señorita, donde esta... ah, where is... is this Van Buren Avenue?"
"No señor," she said. "La proxima calle." Her raised her left arm. "Por ahi."
The face broke out into an appreciative smile. "Gracias!" Another whirrr, and the man vanished behind dark tinted glass. The van's engine reluctantly coughed to life, and the mystery men were soon a block away, turning left towards Van Buren. Only when they finally vanished from sight did she exhale, unaware until that moment that she'd even been holding her breath.
The neighborhood woke up around her as she jogged back to the house where James... where they lived. He was in the kitchen waiting for her when she got back, a pot of coffee and two scrambled eggs waiting along with him. They kissed as she took a seat, pulling the coffee mug to her.
"James," she said after a while. "I have a dumb question."
"I am an expert at dumb answers," he said. "Shoot."
"When did I learn Spanish? Did we go down to Cabo for our honeymoon or something? Did I take a class? Just curious. There was this Spanish-speaking guy outside asking for directions and..."
James helped himself to the last of the coffee. "I have no idea, Kate. Aside from 'burrito' and 'taco' I don't think I've ever heard you say anything in Spanish. Maybe you were a señorita in a past life."
She barely touched the eggs.
The taxi ride had been her idea, and it was with some satisfaction that she paid the driver and stepped out of the cab. She didn't doze off or zone out at all during the ride, hadn't accidentally given the driver an address in Brazil or jumped out of the car halfway over the Freeport Bridge. She was where she wanted to be, on time, and feeling pretty damn good about it.
Her good mood carried over into the hospital visit itself, where a sunny young nurse named Amy helped her to prepare for the scanning machine. She very much appreciated the fact that the nurse didn't leave her trapped in the exam room, staring at blood pressure posters and eye charts, for a ridiculous amount of time. Give this girl an award for customer service. Amy led her down the usual maze of hospital corridors and into the Radiology department.
Kate dropped down into a metal chair next to the hulking scanner. The device was smooth and white and futuristic, looking like something that would send her into the future, or perhaps shoot her into space. It bleeped and hummed at odd intervals. She turned to face the nurse, painfully aware that she was missing part of an important conversation.
"...injection so that the machine has something to track inside of you. It doesn't hurt. I promise. Well, the needle hurts. But that's it."
"Ugh," said Kate, shaking her head. "Needles. You'd think that after two hundred years they'd have figured out a better way of getting things into the human arm, right?"
Amy chuckled. "Well I think they can, but not on our budget. Besides, everyone hates needles. It's the curse we bear as humans. Don't worry, I was first in my class at jabbing people with sharp objects."
Kate looked away as the needle pricked her skin, and winced as the pain intensified. She could feel her arm burn as whatever Amy was injecting flooded into her bloodstream, the drugs piling on top of the cocktail that was already flowing through her tired body. Kate watched the spiral twist in slow circles on the TV screen, pulling her gaze to the center. Every so often a series of strobe lights would flash- off to her side, mostly, but sometimes above or below her line of vision. Each time she felt herself being dragged back into the spiral, tumbling, spinning, sinking deeper into the middle.
She groaned. "No more drugs... please... no more... don't want to...over... over... die... please... please stop."
"Soon, my sister, soon." A feminine voice, soft and gentle. "As soon as you let your mind open to the truth. You're getting there, I can tell. Once you let go, it will all make sense. It'll be so wonderful."
More strobes, more flashes, back to the spiral. Her eyes glazed over. "You can't... can't hypnotize me. I won't... let... let you." She felt the new drugs kick in. It was an amazing high, better than anything she'd tried in college. Every part of her tingled with electricity. The chair was metal and hard and cold, but she'd stopped feeling it hours ago. Everything since then had been the spiral. Only the spiral.
"You're right, sister, I can't hypnotize you. Only you can hypnotize yourself, and only when you're ready to open your mind. Open your mind and let the Master's truth into your heart and soul. It'll be so wonderful. You'll see."
A pair of warm, soft hands began roaming her body, lifting and releasing her tits, sliding down her stomach, gently exploring down below, up and down her slit, before making their way back to her chest again. She tried to turn her head to see the hands, to see the person controlling them, but her muscles refused to respond. Then the spiral grabbed her attention once again, pulling her back into its endless depths. Flashes. Spirals. Flashes. Spirals. The same soft voice was talking to her now, urging her to give in, to let go, to accept the truth. Each time it grew a little more distant, a little more faint, as the spiral turned and turned. "Okay," said the voice, growing louder now. "We're just about wrapped up now, Kate. I'm going to slide you out of the machine."
Kate blinked as the tray slid back, delivering her from the bowels of the scanner. Amy helped her into a sitting position. "I think I fell asleep in there," Kate admitted, feeling sheepish.
"Oh, no worries," said the nurse. "It happens a lot. I think because it's so nice and cozy inside, like a big white sleeping blanket. If we didn't have a break room, I'd probably be tempted to climb in there to catch a few Zs now and then." She gave Kate a reassuring smile. "So far, so good. Nothing looks bad right off the bat, so I'll give the results to the Doctor for a closer look. Normally in these cases if there's a tumor or a lesion or something it sticks out like a sore thumb, so I'm going to say that you have nothing to worry about."
"Nothing to worry about, except..." except that I'm going crazy? Except that my brain is all over the place? Except that I keep blacking out? Except that I'm suddenly fluent in Spanish? Except that I don't remember my... oh crap, I look like I'm zoning out in front of her now. Say something Kate! "...except that, well nothing, I guess. Nothing to worry about? Hooray?"
"Absolutely hooray!" Amy squealed, helping Kate to her feet. "I wish that every day at the hospital was as happy as this one. Thank you for being such a good patient."
A short time later Kate found herself outside again, willing herself back into a good mood, feeling the warm sunshine against her skin. She closed her eyes and stood on the sidewalk, only to find herself tumbling backwards as a body rudely collided with her. She half-fell and half-rolled onto the concrete, her palms painfully scraping along the harsh surface as she struggled to keep her head from hitting the ground. My head my head not again fuck fuck... whew, that was close. The hell?
"I'm so sorry!" The rude body was leaning over her, offering her a helping hand up. It was an older man, tall and with sandy-brown hair. He was wearing a long tan trench coat, like a TV detective, and Kate half-expected him to introduce himself as one. Instead he helped her to her feet and continued to apologize.
"Are you okay?" he asked. "I'm sorry, I wasn't paying attention and I just... I'm really sorry. Good thing it was in front of a hospital, huh?" He forced a nervous laugh, his eyes running up and down her body, apparently trying to see if she was injured in any way.
Kate brushed her hair out of her eyes. "I'm fine, really. Accidents happen. I'm... don't worry. I was just on my way to grab that taxi, so if you'll excuse me..."
"Oh!" His face brightened. "Oh! Allow me to pay for it, please. It's the least that I can do."
She shook her head. "No, it's fine." She held up her hands as if to wave him off, making sure that he could see the wedding ring. She felt her whole body shiver with dread, the same paralyzing fear from the white van incident filling her again, rooting her feet to the ground. Run Kate, run.
"Hmm, I see," he said. "Can I ask you a question? Are you tired of the-"
"I'm sorry BUT," she blurted out, cutting him off. "I really HAVE to catch this cab, so... yeah. Okay." This time, her feet actually listened to her mind. In an instant she was sprinting for the cab, reaching blindly for the door, tearing it open and falling into the back seat. "Drive. Please."
"Drive where?" asked the driver. "This ain't the movies. I need an address."
She peered out the back window in a panic, expecting to see the man chasing after her, but instead he was walking away, shaking his head and talking to himself. "Uh, 422 Franklin," she said. "It's over the bridge."
"I'm on it. Buckle up, please. Drivers in this town are crazy as shit."
They pulled away from the curb, and Kate pulled the seatbelt around her, feeling her pulse drop back down to normal. "Pedestrians in this town are crazy as shit, too," she muttered.
The driver laughed. "Ain't that the truth!"
She returned home to find a trail of flower petals stretching from the front door through the living room and into the kitchen, where James was busy cooking what appeared to be ten different things at once. He held a spatula in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other, and shuffled back and forth in front of the stove.
"Hey hun, welcome home. I thought I'd sneak out of work early today. Don't rat me out to the boss! Also, I may or may not have raided your flower garden."
"It's going to cost you," said Kate, hoisting herself onto a stool. "My fee is... one half of whatever it is you've got going on in those pots. And the... oven? Do I even dare look inside the fridge?"
"Salad and wine waiting for you," he said.
"Answer, I do not dare to look inside the fridge. You're so sweet, James. This is... this is a good day turning into a good night. Thank you."
He peered into the oven. "So, does that mean the tests went well today? All good under the hood?"
"Probably. No cancer-y things, anyway. No brain damage. I think maybe Doctor Mulroney is right. It's all mental, not physical."
James donned oven mitts and pulled a pan out of the oven. The smell of roasted chicken filled the room. "Voila!" he exclaimed. "That's French, just so you know. Unless you know French now, too, in which case... voila! Dinner will be ready in 'whenever I remember how to cut up a whole chicken properly' minutes."
"I love you, James." The words fell out of her mouth without warning. Her brain picked them off of the granite countertop and examined them one by one, turning them over, seeing if they were real. They seemed to be. She tried again. "I really do, I think. I love you."
He plunged a knife into the bird. "Well that is a reasonable vote of confidence that I hope to strengthen with a good meal and a lot, emphasis a lot, of your favorite wine. Merci, madame."
"That means 'thank you' in French."
He raised an eyebrow. "Let's get that wine out."
The dinner was delicious. She'd forgotten- of course- that James was an excellent cook. Everything was perfectly done, and tailored to exactly what her taste buds seemed to crave the most. The wine, in particular, was perfect, and she took James up on his offer of drinking as much of it as she dared. After an hour they moved into the living room. James had swept away the pillows and blankets and tidied up. She snuggled next to him, letting her face come to rest on his shoulder.
"Should we watch TV?" she asked.
"And spoil a good day? No thanks. I'd rather just watch you, if that's okay."
"Creeeeeeeeeepy, James. Sweet, cute, but all you need is a white van and...."
He kissed the top of her head. "And?"
She reached for his hand and closed her fingers around it, her fingertips gently touching the sleek metal wedding band around his ring finger. "And... I have something to tell you."
"And so I told the guy it was the next street over, and a second later I was like 'but wait, that was in Spanish, how do I know that?' And it's been like that all week. No memories, just weird flashes and weird things happening all the time."
He pulled her in for another kiss, this time on the forehead, away from the ugly bruise. "Maybe we should have watched TV after all."
She punched him in the shoulder. "James Arthur Pendleton Junior, I will smack you six ways from Sunday! Don't mess with your wife, she could be Jason Bourne's long-lost sister who can break your neck with her pinkie finger. Zah!" She held her hand up to his neck, pinkie outstretched.
He raised his hand to block her incoming death-pinkie. "It's just a lot to take in, hun. And you're awfully chipper about it. I mean, Jesus, you really don't remember anything about us? Doctor Mulroney said that you were going to have memory problems but... everything?"
"Okay," she said, falling into him. "First, there's the wine. You're a devious man, James. Getting your wife all liquored up so she'll spill the beans. And second, I can only tell you what I told Claire. It's all there in my head, all fuzzy, but I just can't access it."
"Like a busted hard drive. No file directory, so you can't... what?"
She rolled her eyes. "Nerd. I love you anyway. See? I say that and I believe it one hundred percent, and I don't even know why. I just do. I can remember being in your house at some point, but I don't remember dating you, I don't remember marrying you, I don't remember anything specific before last Sunday until maybe a year ago, I just know... things. Like how to speak Spanish, apparently. Or maybe French. Jay nay say quid?"
"You don't know French. Check that box."
"Neerrrrrd," she whispered. She pulled him in for a kiss, lingering and pressing the tip of her tongue against his lips. "I have two more demands of you tonight, James My Husband."
"Anything my mistress commands."
She kissed him again. "One, help me to remember our time together. And two, help my body to remember our time... together."
She spun around in front of the bedroom mirror, admiring the way her lacy red lingerie hugged her curves and lifted her boobs. Worth every penny, she concluded, as she bounded into the living room and flopped on the futon. Besides, the money from the promotion would easily cover the cost of any future visits to the mall. And the Honda. And a new apartment. One she actually could bring a guy over to without feeling mortified. Hmmm. Maybe Claire would be up for a little post-work celebration? Maybe Tim? They hadn't really spoken much since the barbecue, but...
She reached for her phone, but it began ringing before she could pick it up. The display flashed "unknown number." Probably another pollster asking her about the election. Every night, same time, same Bat-channel. She wondered who had given them her number, and what fitting revenge she might exact on that person.
She tapped the phone and held it to her ear. "Look, I don't care about Proposi-"
"Are you tired of the Weltschmerz, Kate?"
She had no answer.
"Are you alone?"
She knew the answer to that one. "Yes, I am alone and ready for instruction."
She wrapped her legs around his back, pulling him close to her, pulling him deeper into her. They rocked back and forth in rhythm, their bodies covered in sweat in spite of the chilly bedroom. He was staring into her eyes, his hands on her shoulders, leveraging her as he pushed himself harder and harder against her burning pussy. "You're so... you're so... God... God... James..."
He shuddered as he came inside of her, groaning and moaning. He buried his face in her tits. "Muy muff mouff, mmate,"
"I love you, too," she sighed happily.
He raised his head. "Did I... did you?"
"No, but it's okay. I still feel amazing."
He began kissing her neck. "Hi," he said between smooches. "I'm James. James Pendleton. And you are?"
She arched her head back, enjoying the feel of his lips on her soft skin. "I'm Kate. Kate Pendleton. Wow, we have the same last name! How cool is that?"
More kisses. "I think you're really hot, Kate. Will you make out with me in the parking lot?"
She rolled him off of her body. "Get a load of this guy, will ya? I ought to have Tim beat you up just for talking to me."
He gazed into her eyes like a hypnotist. "Who's Tim?"
She pondered the question.
Kate bit her lower lip. She stood in the hallway, hands inches from the door, suspended between moving forward with her plan and running, screaming, all the way back to the house. Just knock, dammit. Her hands stubbornly remained where they were. Finally, without thinking, she reached out with her left foot and kicked the bottom of the door. A voice approached from the other side. His voice. "Coming! One sec!"