I’m Not Your Keeper

Insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops.” Cary Grant

They were out in the parking lot, yelling at each other. Marguerite had Adrienne by the arm. “Lay off, Marguerite,” Adrienne kept saying to her mother. “I’m finishing my cigarette, okay?” Marguerite stood there in her big down-filled coat. “You’re only fooling yourself, lady,” she said. Adrienne gave her the yak yak sign. She had a gauze patch over one eye.

“Stay out here and freeze then,” Marguerite said. “I’m going inside.”

She dragged the last of Adrienne’s garbage bags to the front doors of the apartment building. “He’s not coming, Adrienne,” Marguerite yelled, leaving her daughter smoking her cigarette. “Consider yourself lucky.”

René, Adrienne’s father, had the rest of the garbage bags in the apartment already. They contained Adrienne’s things, everything Barry threw out the window. Maybe she’d get the rest of it when Barry cooled off. That’s generally the way it worked with those two. Marguerite said they were doomed. Adrienne said, “Like you and Dad, Marguerite?”

Earlier that morning, Adrienne called from the hospital. Barry was hitting her again. Marguerite and René were just getting home from driving cab all night. “Come on,” she said to René, telling Elise to make room in her closet for Adrienne’s stuff. Elise was Adrienne’s sister.

It was the third time in six months Barry had hit Adrienne. Whenever it happened, Marguerite and René would bring her back, stopping by Barry’s place first. He’d throw her things over the balcony.

Before Adrienne married Barry, she and Elise shared a bedroom. They’d been sharing since they were little girls. There were two beds and a night table. Across the hall was Marguerite and René’s room. Little Ray, their five-year-old brother, had to sleep on the couch. He was sitting there now, eating a bowl of cereal, waiting to be taken to Mrs. Evans’s apartment across the hall. Mrs. Evans took care of Ray when everyone was at work.

Elise’s bedroom window looked out over the parking lot. They were on the ground floor, near the main entrance. She liked having her own bedroom, except now she had Adrienne, and Marguerite telling Adrienne to take her stuff in the bedroom, and Adrienne giving her another yak yak sign. Next thing you know, Marguerite’s dragging the bags down the hall, giving Adrienne shit for leaving them in the living room.

“Someone’s going to break their neck, Adrienne.”

“Give it a rest, Marguerite. I just got in the door.”

Adrienne flopped down on her bed, lit a cigarette, and put the ashtray on her stomach. “You got any 222s?” she asked.

“Why do you need 222s?” Marguerite said. “The doctor gave you eight codeine. What did you do with them?”

“I took them, for chrissake. My eye’s killing me.”

“They were supposed to last you three days.”

“When are you getting my prescription?”

“I’m not your keeper, Adrienne. Go get your own prescription.”

“Looking like this, for chrissake?”

“Well, I can’t help you. Your father and I haven’t been to bed yet.”

“Can you get it for me, Elise?”

“Your sister isn’t your keeper either, Adrienne.”

“I’m asking her not you.”

Adrienne and Elise were two years apart. When Adrienne was eighteen, she started bleaching her hair. Then she got a job at The Locomotion. Adrienne liked stripping. Between her and Barry, they were making good money. He was a bouncer over at The Flamingo’s Dance. Marguerite never liked her daughter stripping. When Adrienne would show up at the apartment in a new coat, Marguerite would say, “Whore’s money.”

She’d tell Elise not to get any ideas. “You’re prettier than she is, Elise,” she’d say, “and you’ve got brains.” Elise was just finishing secretarial school at the time. She already had a job lined up at a local trucking plant. Adrienne kept telling her to get her own place. “How do you stand this?” she’d say. Elise’s friends said the same thing. “Do it, for chrissake,” Adrienne kept telling her. “Get away from these assholes.”

“I can’t, Adrienne,” Elise said.

“Why the hell not?”

“Mom needs me to help take care of Raymond.”

“Let Mrs. Evans take care of him.”

“She can only do that during the day.”

“She’s on welfare, for chrissake. Just dump the little brat and let her worry about it. Marguerite won’t give a crap.”

They were always arguing about Little Ray, and Marguerite and René. To make matters worse, her mother was ordering Adrienne around again, pulling her down on the couch to check her eye.“The doctor said to keep checking this,” Marguerite said. “No arguments.”

“Fuck off, Marguerite.”

“You want to lose your eye, lady?”

Little Ray climbed up next to Adrienne. She pushed him away. He fell and hit his head on the coffee table. He started wailing.

“For heaven’s sake,” Marguerite said to Adrienne. “He’s just a little boy.”

“Just keep him away from me.”

“Look at her eye, René,” Marguerite said. “My God, girl.”

René stood with his hands in his back pockets. He didn’t say anything. He hadn’t said much since the night he caught Marguerite with another man. They were outside in the back seat of the cab drinking. He pounded on the window and kicked the door. They wouldn’t open up.

“You’re going back to Emergency if this gets worse,” Marguerite was telling Adrienne. “You hear me?”

“There’s nothing wrong with my eye.”

“There’s blood in your iris, Adrienne.”

“What else is new?”

She went off to the bedroom.

Adrienne was on the bed with pillows bunched up behind her head. She was watching Elise getting ready to go out. Marguerite and René were driving nights, so things were quiet. Little Ray was watching television. The room stank of cigarette smoke.“Where are you going?” Adrienne was asking.

“I don’t know yet,” Elise said. “We’ll decide in the cab.”

“Just you and Melanie?”

“Unless Alison calls. I doubt she will. I think it’s just the two of us.”

“She still pissed at me?”

Melanie and Adrienne used to best friends in high school. One night, here in the bedroom, Melanie accused Adrienne of stealing Elise’s boyfriend. Adrienne pulled her down between the beds and punched her in the face. That was three years ago. They hadn’t talked since.

“I have no idea, Adrienne.”

“Why don’t you guys come back here later?”

“Melanie has to work tomorrow.”

“Just ask, for chrissake. Tell her I wanna catch up”

Elise finished her make-up. Adrienne followed her out to the living room, grabbing her mother’s 222s off the hall table. Little Ray was sitting on the couch with his blanket. Elise kissed him on the forehead, put on her coat, and opened the door. “Don’t drink all of Marguerite’s beer,” she said.

Adrienne grabbed a beer out of the fridge. She wasn’t worried. Two years ago, her parents’ cab license came up for renewal. Adrienne loaned them the ten grand. Any time Marguerite complained about Adrienne drinking her beer, Adrienne would say, “I’d shut up if I were you, Marguerite.”

Later that night, Elise and Melanie showed up. The television was going, Little Ray was asleep on the couch. Marguerite and René were probably still picking up people along the airport strip. Elise took Melanie down the hall to the bedroom. Adrienne was on the bed, two pillows over her face. She pushed them aside when she heard the door open. Her hair was all tangled and greasy, adhesive strips dangled down her face.

“Hey, Melanie,” Adrienne mumbled, sitting up. “Long time no see.”

Melanie came over and sat across from Adrienne on Elise’s bed.

“Look at your eye,” Melanie said. “Poor you.”

“Yeah, well, poor me needs a beer,” Adrienne said. “Want one?”

“I start work at eight, Adrienne.”

“One beer won’t kill you. Come on, I haven’t seen you in ages.”

“Just the one.”

“Now we’re talking.”

Adrienne went out to the kitchen. Elise sat down next to Melanie.

“Her face looks terrible,” Melanie whispered.

A pickup truck was pulling up outside, stereo blaring. Adrienne came back with the beers. “Who the hell’s that?” she said, pulling back the curtains.

The guy’s high beams were right in her face.

“Ignore him,” Elise said. “He’ll stop in a minute.”

Adrienne opened the window.

“Hey,” she yelled. “People are trying to sleep here.”

A guy in a baseball cap leaned out the driver’s side.

“What?” he said.

“Turn it down,” Adrienne yelled.

He flicked his high beams off and on. Someone yelled over their balcony. He stuck his arms out the window and gave them both fingers.

Adrienne’s jaw muscles were going like crazy. She pulled the curtains back even further. “Hey, what’s your name?” she yelled out.

The music went down.

“Pardon?” he said.

“What’s your name?”

“Frank. What’s yours?”

“Adrienne. Wanna beer, Frank?”

“You shitting me?”

“Knock off the music and I’ll give you one.”

“Adrienne — “ Elise said.

“You serious?” the guy asked.

Adrienne wiggled her beer.

“Want it or not?”

“Sure I want it.”

He got out of the car, hiking up his pants. For a minute, he just stood there, looking around, pushing his cap back. He couldn’t believe his luck. Then he started across the grass. When he got about halfway, Adrienne let the beer bottle fly. It shattered against his windshield. Frank went down on one knee, then came up throwing his baseball cap on the ground. “Fucking bitch,” he screamed. “Come here. I’ll knock your other eye out.”

Adrienne slammed the window down. Then she opened it, pulled off her eyepatch, threw it at him, and slammed the window down again.

“Bitch,” he yelled.

He picked up his baseball cap, slapping it against his pant leg. Someone yelled down from an upper balcony.

“What’d you do to deserve that?” they yelled.

“Fuck you,” Frank yelled back.

Melanie and Elise were standing next to Adrienne.

“My God,” Melanie said.

“Serves him right,” Adrienne said.

Little Ray was wailing in the living room. Elise was going to check on him when the bedroom door burst open. There was Marguerite, still in her coat, hair stuck to her forehead. “What the hell’s going on?” she yelled. “Who’s out there? Is that Barry?”

“It’s not Barry, for chrissake,” Adrienne said, flopping on her bed.

“Who is it then?”

“How should I know?”

Tires screeched in the parking lot. The pick-up was pulling away.

“I can’t leave you alone for a minute,” Marguerite yelled. “Where’s your eye patch? René, get my glasses. Elise, take Melanie in the other room.”

Little Ray kept wailing on the couch. Elise went over and put her arms around him. “It’s okay,” she said to him. “Dad’ll be here in a minute.”

She got Melanie’s coat and walked her to her car.

“She’s crazy,” Melanie said.

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” Elise said.

“You should get out of there, Elise.”

Elise came back inside. René and Little Ray were curled up on the couch together. She made tea and took it to the bedroom. Her mother was on the bed, next to her sister, smoking one of Adrienne’s cigarettes.

“I brought you some tea,” Elise said.

“Thanks, honey,” Marguerite said. “Put it on the night table. I’m just going to close my eyes for two seconds, then I’ll go check on Raymond. Don’t let me fall asleep.” Her eyes were already starting to close.

Adrienne groaned and rolled over towards the wall.

Marguerite leaned back, her heavy cheeks sinking into her big coat.

Another car door slammed. Marguerite suddenly sat up.

“It’s just a car, Mom.”

“What time is it? Where’s Raymond?”

“It’s around one. He’s with Dad.”

Elise watched her mother get up, breathing loud through her nose.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“I’m dog tired, Elise. I think I’m spotting again.”

Marguerite went out in the hall. Another car pulled up, lights sweeping the curtains, door hinges creaking. Someone coughed and spat.

Elise sat on her bed. She thought about getting out of there. She and Melanie could find something. They both had jobs. A one bedroom would do for now. She was used to sharing. Why not do it? Adrienne left when she was eighteen.

“Maybe I will,” she said out loud.

Adrienne rolled over.

“Who are you talking to?” she mumbled.

“Nobody,” Elise said. “Go back to sleep.”

Photo by Alexandra I. on Unsplash


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