Bella was prancing around the parking lot of Holiday Hall in those gaudy red pumps she thought made her look like a punk rock Sophia Loren. It had just rained and a harmless little bird hopped through the grape vines, past the sage plants, into the puddles. One of its wings was obviously damaged. Big, dumb Bella sloshed right through the puddle—stomping it to death.
I threw my cigarette and crouched down. It had been a beautiful bird—black and green with tiny flecks of yellow at the tips of its feathers. I didn’t even know what kind of bird it was. I thought about his bird family in their bird home, not understanding why he didn’t return, all because Bella Mezaros wasn’t watching where she was going.
Bella’s skinny shadow stretched over me. She hugged her arms to her chest. “Didi,” she said, “it’s just a bird.”
“But why did you kill it?”
“It wasn’t on purpose.”
“How did you not see it?”
“You’re being a drag,” she said.
A chain link fence separated the parking lot from the street. Lemon verbena, sage, and epazote grew along the curb. Old neighborhood ladies often came by and filled plastic grocery bags with the leaves. Bella and I once picked some of the epazote to put in our scrambled eggs. It made everything taste like gasoline.
One of the old ladies watched us hover over the dead bird and said something in Hungarian. Bella groaned and responded to her in Hungarian, but the lady rattled the fence and pointed at directly at me.
“What is she talking about?” I asked.
The old woman didn’t seem to want to cross the threshold of the parking lot and I got it. Everyone said Holiday Hall was haunted. For a long time, the only people who went near it were squatters and junkies. Then, in the early sixties, some hippies turned it into an urban arts community. Now, ten years later, it was mostly a spot for punk bands that were too weird for local clubs—and by that, I mean too awesome. The Die Obscure currently lived in the penthouse. They had gutted the entire second floor of the building and turned it into a giant stage area. Bella and I were there for shows almost every night, waiting for opportunities to bump into the singer, Paul Koz. He wasn’t in love with either of us, which was what made it okay. I would have died if he ever picked Bella-the-bird-killer over me.
Bella and the old woman chattered some more between the fence. Bella rolled her eyes at me and said, “she thinks we should bring it back to life.”
“How?” I asked.
Bella pointed to the wild grape vines that coiled around the stone steps of Holiday Hall. “She says to take three leaves and put them on the bird,” she said. “Or some shit.”
I stood, walked to the stoop, and looked for healthy leaves in the messy tangle of vines and branches. The steps were covered in cigarette butts and broken glass. In spite of the boisterous sage that grew from the cracks in the pavement, Holiday Hall always smelled like my older brother’s bedroom before he left for Vietnam.
The old woman kept talking to Bella, who gave short shrift responses. I loved when Bella slipped in and out of Hungarian. Her voice got a little huskier, like her throat was tuned to a radio station from Canada. When I came back, I held the leaves up and asked her to ask the lady if they were alright.
“Didi,” Bella said, “it’s just a bird.”
The old woman pointed at the leaves in my hand and gave me a thumbs up. I crouched back down and laid each one on the bird’s severed thirds. Above me, Bella muttered. The wind blew warm air across the parking lot. I tasted competing notes of citrus, grass, and motor oil. I heard Bella’s high heel grind into the pavement like the cue of a pool stick being chalked.
Beneath the leaves, the bird rustled.
Even though I knew that was supposed to happen, I still fell back on my ass and splashed right into a puddle. Bella jumped straight up when he rolled over and fluttered his wings. He zipped into the air, flying high above the grape leaves, high above Holiday Hall.
Bella and I both looked at one another. And then the old woman. She simply spun her plastic bag, tightened it into a knot, and said something else I couldn’t understand. Bella was too speechless to tell her thank you and so we just sat in our puddle and waved back.
I had rolled the three grape leaves into a cigar shape to keep in my purse. Just before the show, I went to grab a cigarette and saw they’d disintegrated. I found Bella sitting on our windowsill in the loft. The Die Obscure was setting up on stage, almost ready to play. Outside, it was almost completely dark.
I showed Bella the crumbled leaves in my purse. They looked like loose tobacco that had fallen out of a cigarette and we deduced that meant they only worked the one time.
“Should we tell anyone?” I asked, looking in the direction of the guys in the band.
Bella fiddled with a straw in her plastic cup of rum and diet coke. There wasn’t a real bar at Holiday Hall or anything, but everyone brought their own booze and mixers. She turned back to me and said, “I’m not telling anyone we brought some zombie-bird back to life.”
Stereo feedback squealed through the loft. People started crowding the area in front of the stage. Bella and I stayed near our window, since that was the best place to watch the bands without getting trampled. Paul Koz strapped his guitar around his chest and stepped up to the mic. He was dressed like some sort of demented shop teacher in a long-sleeved red plaid shirt, shredded black jeans, and a studded pit-bull collar. Once he was on, Bella and I didn’t talk. We didn’t look at each other. We didn’t do anything but watch.
Just because Paul Koz wasn’t interested in us didn’t mean no one was. The drummer of the Die Obscure was a short, chubby guy with wild, curly brown hair. His name was Chuck and he followed me around the same way I guess Bella and I followed Paul Koz. The bass player, a lanky guy named Rick who wore eyeliner and lipstick, had a thing for Bella. He always told us when we could go party up in the penthouse.
Once we were upstairs, Bella and I would raid the cabinets and mix vodka slushies in the blender. Rick would pass out joints and Tuinols. Bella said he kept his chloral hydrates tucked in the finger pocket of his Levis because he didn’t like to share those with just anybody. Sometimes she would even sit on his lap and let him smell her hair. He’d slip her red pumps off her feet and run his fingers along her bony tendons as if they were bass strings.
Chuck was too shy to make any real moves on me. Mostly, he wanted to drink beer and show me his comic books. He had this one from 1958 that he kept in a plastic folder so the pages would stay crisp and fresh. I always asked him lots of questions—just to keep him talking in case he did want to kiss me or something. I learned all about mint conditions and the Comics Code Authority. The closest he ever really came to hitting on me was when he said I’d look really hot if I borrowed Bella’s high heels and put on a “Saturn Girl” outfit.
And then there was Paul Koz.
On stage, he was a screeching fireball. Violent, spastic. Off stage, up in the penthouse, he was quiet and gloomy. Late at night, he drifted through conversations, occasionally lifting his brow to listen in on a story. Then, in the middle of it, before the conclusion, he’d drift to another. I’m not sure we ever saw him outside Holiday Hall in the daytime. He often called me “Bella” and called Bella “Diana.” Once, when I ran into him in the stairwell, he asked if I was the chick he took to see The Hissing Vipers.
“Are they from here?” I asked, wishing he would take me to a concert. Just me and him. I thought of Bella seething.
He glared at me like I had a face he’d seen a thousand times before but couldn’t place. A face in the crowd. Another face. This big empty air pocket expanded in my gut. It would have been fine if Bella was there and he looked at her like that, too. When it was just me, I felt flimsy and transparent. I mean, sure, if I saw Paul Koz on the street, I might think he was a homeless junky or one of those assholes like my brother Bill’s friend—Joe Sinkevich—who got out of Vietnam guzzling nothing but black coffee, cigarettes, and diet pills the week before his physical.
“Nevermind,” Paul said and kept walking away from the party, towards the back stairs. Later, when I told Bella about it, her brows shifted in a mixture of confusion and glee.
“He didn’t know who you were?” she asked. “At all?”
Bella got so used to pretending she was Rick’s girlfriend that she became Rick’s girlfriend. Nights that she and Rick got zonked on downers and hypnotics, Chuck and I stayed up watching movies. Sometimes, Paul would join us on the edge of the couch and it was almost like we were at the movies together. Chuck had this annoying, pig-honking laugh and you could always tell when he pissed himself a little because he’d get up and shuffle towards the bathroom. Then, Paul and I would be alone.
The night of the first resurrection, we were watching this Beatles movie that really wasn’t that funny. Chuck still lost his piss when Ringo got some gaudy ring stuck on his finger.
“Sorry, I’m sorry,” Chuck said, shuffling toward the hallway.
The movie kept playing. Rain pelted the windows. Gentle at first, then a deluge. I imagined the streets overflowing with trash and leaves. Paul sat on the edge of the couch and stared at the TV.
At first, he gave me that who-the-hell-are-you look. Then he asked, “Are you the one that doesn’t like drugs?”
“I don’t care if you do,” I said, smiling. “Go ahead.”
On TV, the Beatles fretted over obsessive female fans. Paul patted his shirt pocket and took out a packet of Juicy Fruit and a compact mirror. Instead of gum, the packet was filled with light brown powder. He didn’t even get a straw or roll up a twenty. He just sprinkled it on the surface and snorted it in bumps. Down the hall, I heard Bella snore in Rick’s room. Chuck took his time in the bathroom. I watched Paul settle back on the couch, his face slack, reminding me of the dead bird.
Chuck returned and asked what he missed. I told him that the Beatles were still on the run from their stalkers. They began playing Help! My eyes stayed on Paul, whose leg was so close to mine I felt the cuff of his pants scrape my ankle. Then the palm of his hand on my knee. His elbow on my shoulder. His head in my lap. The bliss overwhelmed me, and I forgot to breathe.
Chuck swiveled and shook his shoulders. “Paul?” he asked. “Paul, man, Paul?”
I clutched his forearms but couldn’t hold on. Paul’s body crashed through the coffee table, causing popcorn, plastic cups, and cigarette butts to scatter. Chuck knelt and tugged at his collar, slapped his face, and asked, “What did he take?”
“I don’t know,” I said, “coke or something.”
“Coke won’t do this,” he said, still shaking him. “Paul, come on.”
His dusty eyes rolled back in his skull and he smelled like pickled eggs. I hid behind Chuck and wondered if that’s how my brother looked when his body drifted to the shore in Cambodia. Pickled. I thought of Joe Sinkevich who skipped the whole thing and got to spend the war behind the shoe rental counter of a bowling alley. From down the hall, I heard Rick’s door fly open. He stumbled out into the hallway wearing nothing but one of Bella’s red mini-skirts. Chuck yelled to him from the floor, crying that Paul had done it this time and then I thought about the bird.
I bolted from the penthouse, flew down three flights of steps, and burst through the heavy oak doors into the rain. I sloshed through warm puddles to the grape vines on the side of the building. It was too dark to differentiate between the leaves, so I just picked an entire bunch and raced right back up to the penthouse.
Bella must not have come out of her trance, because when I returned, it was just Rick and Chuck arguing about whether or not to drive Paul to the hospital. I fanned the wet leaves before placing them over Paul.
The guys called me crazy, told me to stop, said what the hell are you doing you’re nuts.
I placed a leaf on Paul’s forehead, on his neck, on his sternum, on his stomach, on his groin, on both thighs, both knees, both feet.
Then I’m pretty sure Chuck pissed himself again when Paul Koz coughed and came back to life.
I watched the leaves shrivel like they were on the top rack of a four-hundred degree oven. Their points curled inwards and crisped, then crumbled into grit. The fog in Paul’s eyes cleared and he slowly sat, looking directly at me, as if—finally—recognizing me.
“Diana,” he said. “It’s you.”
“The fuck was that?” Rick asked. When Chuck returned in a fresh pair of pants, he also asked Paul what the hell made him stop breathing. Paul shrugged and picked up the packet of Juicy Fruit. For some reason, the guys were more interested in that than the wild grape leaves.
Rick told Paul not to overdose again and stumbled back to his bedroom. Chuck also retreated and, a few moments later, I smelled warm sage smoke. Paul traced his fingers along the edge of my chin, as if feeling for hidden dimples. His eyes flicked back and forth over my face.
“Diana, Diana,” he said. “You’re a goddess, Diana.”
“Do you want to lay down?” I asked.
I helped him to his room and as he opened the door, it occurred to me that Bella was going to be so jealous. His room was surprisingly clean and devoid of decorations. The walls had the original art-deco wallpaper they probably did when Harold Holiday Jr. lived there. The only furniture was a twin sized mattress on the floor and a white painted dresser.
Paul plopped onto the bed and opened his arms, asking me if I’d lay with him for the night. “Just sleep,” he said. “No funny stuff, I promise.”
My socks and pants were still damp and Paul’s arms were dry and, as the rain trickled to a slow tempo, I melted into bed. I melted into him.
Bella was so jealous.
“Didi,” she said. “How could you do this to Chuck?”
We were sitting at a booth in Steve’s Lunch, eating eggs and drinking coffee. She twirled a cigarette in her fingers. I never knew how she could smoke and eat at the same time. In the booth behind us, someone popped a quarter in their tableside jukebox and played I’ll Be Your Mirror by Velvet Underground.
“The leaves worked,” I said. “They brought him back like the bird.”
She hit her cigarette and exhaled before dunking the edge of her buttery toast into the electric orange yolk. I spooned my scrambled eggs on top of white toast with jelly. She chewed, hit her cigarette again, and said, “And when he came back he was suddenly in love with you?”
“You think I did something?” I asked.
“Why else would he like you?”
“Aren’t you happy he’s alive?”
“What that old lady said,” Bella said, “what she actually, technically said, was that we should bring the bird back for you. Because you were sad. Because you needed it.”
I licked crumbs from my fingers and glared at her. She put her cigarette out in a gold ashtray filled with lipstick stained butts. From the other side of the window, I saw Paul’s shaggy head. It was eighty degrees and he was dressed in black slacks and a long sleeved blue shirt, as if going to work at a bank or something. He entered the diner and walked right to our booth.
“Hey, Gorgeous,” Paul said and scooted into the booth to give me a kiss. “I’ve been looking for you.” His cheek felt fresh shaven against mine. I covered my mouth with a napkin, embarrassed about my peppery egg breath. Across the table, Bella breathed through her teeth.
“Hi,” I said, as he sat down. The heat from the street radiated from his body, warming my leg and arm. “Do you want anything?” I asked.
“I’m not a breakfast person,” he said, showing perfect, straight teeth that were just slightly yellowed. He didn’t floss. I’m not sure how I never noticed that before. Still, he was Paul Koz and his hand was on my knee—not Bella’s. She curled her eyes and blew smoke at us from across the table. In the next booth, the song shifted to Space Oddity by David Bowie. Bella stood with her burning cigarette and left half her plate uneaten.
Paul and I spent the next few days and nights together. He kept his long sleeves on the whole time, even when we were having sex. At that point, I figured it had to be because his arms were covered in scars and track marks. My first thought was to run the theory past Bella—but then I remembered she wasn’t talking to me, which reminded me how awesome everything was. One day, Paul filled a Thermos with red wine and we wandered down to the beach. We skipped the clean, sandy shore and made our way to a secluded, rocky cove. Sticks crunched like bones beneath our sneakers. Everything smelled like fish and mud. Paul pointed up the hill and told me how, ten years ago, his parents and twin sister were murdered in a grocery store robbery in the neighborhood. I told him how my brother Bill died in Vietnam.
“No one really knows how,” I said. “They think a sniper scared him. Or maybe he just fell off the boat.”
“All they got,” Paul said, “was a hundred and fifty bucks and a case of Juicy Fruit.”
I didn’t really want to talk about Bill anyway and so I asked him, finally, about the contents of his Juicy Fruit from the other night. The powder that stopped his heart and shut down his lungs.
“It doesn’t matter now,” he said and put his arm around me.
“Because now I have you, Goddess.”
The only time Paul left my side that week was to set up for his show. While he moved amps from the practice room, I slipped into the public restroom in the basement of Holiday Hall for a long pee. When I came out of the stall, I almost expected to see Bella standing at the water spotted mirror, turning a black eyeliner pencil inside the flame of a Bic lighter. However, the restroom was empty, reeking of black mold, wet cigarettes, and maxi-pads. I washed my hands and wondered what ever happened to the bird. Did it fly home? Find a new tree? Hurt its wing again and drop to the ground so someone like Bella Mezaros could just stomp it again?
On my way up the stairs, I heard bands lugging equipment through the freight elevator. I emerged on the second floor and instinctually looked to Bella’s and my window seat—but there were two other girls there, drinking from plastic cups, laughing like they were the ones who owned the place. On stage, I saw Paul set up the amps. He looked right at me and I felt this hard chill in the center of my spine. I trickled my fingers in a wave and he smiled in approval.
Maybe it was the crowd, but I started to feel suffocated. All I wanted was a minute alone, away from anyone. Now that I was Paul’s girlfriend, it seemed alright to go up to the penthouse without permission.
I took the steps and crossed down the narrow hallway lined in that blue and gold wall paper. When I reached the door, I pushed, expecting a little resistance. It opened and I stood at the head of the empty apartment, seeing the wine-stained couches, the cracked TV set, the coffee table, the milk crates filled with records. I walked down the hallway, headed to Paul’s empty bedroom, when I felt a hand on my arm.
It was Chuck. Standing a little shorter than me in a white and red WMMS t-shirt and his thick rimmed glasses. “Diana,” he said, “we need to talk.”
“Oh, Chuck,” I said, wincing. “I didn’t think we were, you know, together.”
“Whatever Paul is,” he said, hushed, “it’s not natural. We have to change him back.”
“I mean, you never asked me to be your girlfriend or anything. Not technically.”
He took a 350 milliliter of Gordon’s vodka from his pocket. “I went to St. Mary’s,” he said. “Filled it with holy water. He’s being weird with us, but I think you can get him to drink it.”
The flask felt warm in my hand. I rubbed my finger over the ridges on the bottle cap and thought of Paul returning to himself. He’d go back to drifting in and out of conversations, not remembering my name, asking if we’d gone to concerts I’d never heard of. Then, I thought of Bella and I: sitting in our window sill, mixing cocktails, waiting around for Rick to invite us upstairs.
Before I could answer Chuck, heavy steps creaked down the hall, followed by a heavy voice: “What’s going on here?”
Chuck and I turned to see Paul at the end of the hallway. He was taller than both of us, over six feet. It was a dry night, but the amplifiers from the second floor crackled with thunder.
“She’s my girl now,” Paul said, glaring at Chuck. “She’s my girl.”
“Okay, yeah,” Chuck said, nodding. “Yeah. Diana was just telling me.”
I kept my thumb over the Gordon’s vodka cap. Slowly, Chuck tried to back down the hall but in the process, he bumped into me. I felt his hand on my knee, pinching me, motioning to the vodka. It wasn’t subtle. I don’t know what he was thinking. Then Paul spun in a half-circle, grabbed his neck, and threw him against the wall so hard it cratered.
“You don’t touch her,” Paul said. “Diana is mine.”
Chuck squeaked for air and kicked. His glasses fell off his face and he cringed in my direction, motioning to the bottle of holy water. I hesitated, unsure what he meant for me to do.
Then Bella and Rick ran out of the other bedroom. She was in a tank top and mini skirt, showing off her flat white belly. He was dressed and made up for the stage, holding her red high heels by the crook of his fingers.
“Paul,” he said, “the fuck? We’re going on in ten.”
Bella’s eyes burned on mine. “What did you do, Didi?” she asked.
I fumbled with the holy water, wondering if I should just splash it over Paul’s head. Meanwhile, Chuck’s face turned a shimmering shade of blue like spoiled turkey.
“Paul,” I said, keeping the holy water capped. “Just let go. It’s Chuck.”
Paul kept him in his grip. His jaw clenched and he didn’t even look like himself. Or, rather, he looked like he did on stage. Manic and possessed. I reached to touch his arm, trying to calm him. He used his free hand to shove my chest. His palm smacked my jugular and I stumbled so hard that I knocked into the toilet and chipped my chin on the edge of the claw foot tub.
The impact jammed my back teeth together, sending vibrations through my skull. Bella hesitated outside the door, glancing between the guys and me. Then, before anyone could do anything else, Rick spun one of Bella’s red pumps in his hands, held it by the toes, and aimed the sharp part of the heel at Paul’s temple. In one fluid snap of his wrist, he hit his target.
We all heard a thwunk.
A bloody hole formed on Paul’s face. It slowly widened, and more blood trickled from it. Paul’s eyes went milky. Blank. Both he and Chuck fell to the floor. While Chuck gasped, Paul fell breathless. Bella shrieked and dashed down the hall.
Rick knelt and put his fingers to Paul’s neck, checking for a pulse. Paul’s silent features glimmered like smooth marble. I touched my bloody chin and made myself look. Dead. This time for real.
Once Chuck caught his breath, he sat against the wall and asked Rick what the hell they were gonna tell the cops.
“I have no fucking clue,” Rick said, lifting Bella’s bloody shoe.
But it didn’t come to that.
It didn’t come to that because Bella returned with an armful of grape leaves, which she flung over Paul’s body like an autumn pile. Once Rick and Chuck realized what it meant, they flailed their arms, swatting at her to stop.
“No,” Chuck said, “you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Babe,” Rick said, “stop, it’s not right.”
But Bella knew what she was doing. She knew. Because after the last leaf fell from her hands, she knelt beside Paul, waiting.
And when the high heeled size wound on Paul’s skull threaded itself together, he opened his eyes, gazed right at her, and spoke as if waking from a dream.
“Izabel,” he said, “it’s you.”
I stayed up the rest of the night with Chuck and Rick. We sat in a booth at Steve’s Lunch. Rick was still too freaked to eat but Chuck guzzled slaw dogs down like party nuts. One of the waitresses gave me a bottle of rubbing alcohol, Band-aids, and a sympathetic nod towards the bathroom.
When I came back, my chin marred by a bandage, I flipped through the tableside jukebox, looking for songs. Let it Be. I’m the Man for You. I barely listened to Chuck and Rick’s back-and-forth about wooden stakes and silver daggers. I peered past them at the yellow walls, thinking of Paul beckoning Bella to his warm, dry bed, promising her no funny stuff only to then engage in funny stuff. Knowing her, she’d start it first. Bella.
I Got You Babe. Bad Moon Rising.
“First,” Chuck said, “we have to get rid of those grapes. So he can’t come back.”
“Someone still has to kill him,” Rick said, his hand shaking over a pack of Lucky Strikes.
Some Velvet Morning. I Want You Back.
We all knew that, didn’t we?
Since Rick killed him last time, that meant it was Chuck’s turn this time.
First, they’d rip out the grape vines, bag them up, burn them, and either slip rat-poison into Paul’s Juicy Fruit stash of heroin, blast him with squirt guns filled with holy water, push him down the freight elevator shaft, or put a plastic bag around his head and seal it up with duct tape. I thought about what it actually meant to hold someone down until they stopped breathing—even if it was someone who already came back to life twice. I thought about walking around the beach with Paul, listening to him talk about the way his family died and how—if he could—he’d give his life to switch places with his twin sister. And sitting there, beneath the canary yellow light of Steve’s Lunch, I realized what he meant by that. And I realized that I never really thought about how my brother Bill died. Whether or not he was spooked by a sniper and slipped off the edge of the swift boat or if he jumped on purpose. I never thought about how, the day he left for basic training, I stole his toothbrush from the hallway bathroom—figuring that if he didn’t have a toothbrush, he’d have to stop and buy one, and if he was late to basic training, maybe the army would just say: Oh nevermind it then, we’ll call you next time there’s a war. I thought about the day I came home early from school and saw Aunt Patty’s station wagon parked in the driveway and I just knew. I thought about how the first person I rode my bike to see was Bella. How she sat with me under the Lorain Carnegie Bridge and didn’t say anything because she didn’t know anybody who had ever died. I thought about how I told her how much I hated Joe Sinkevich for figuring out a way to get out of the draft. Her eyes lit up and she said, Then let’s go slash his tires. And then, when we were actually following him from his job at the bowling alley to the parking lot to figure out which car was his, I just thought Bella and I are actually doing this. Me and Bella. But it didn’t change anything, not really. It just gave us a story, but maybe that was enough. Remember the time your brother died and we slashed Joe Sinkevitch’s tires? And now, at this diner, talking about the logistics of pulling off a paranormal murder, I realized that it was never Paul Koz I loved.
Rick and Chuck looked a little like old neighborhood ladies as they filled plastic garbage bags with grape leaves. They spun them at the top, tied knots, threw them in the dumpster, and lit a match. It mostly smelled like the toxic shit pumped out of the factories by the river. The idiots didn’t really think about the plastic. They kept a couple extra bags to use on Paul—in case they decided to go the suffocation route. I wandered around the steps and picked up a few leaves that had gotten lost in the thicket. Chuck and Rick were on the other side of the dumpster fire, checking their pockets for rat poison, duct tape, and wooden crosses. I folded three stray leaves in a triangle and slipped them into my purse.
Before we actually got to it, Rick wanted to get high. He drove his van to see the dealer who lived above the convenient store on Franklin. As he pulled out of the parking lot, I told Chuck I didn’t get why Rick wanted to get stoned before we killed Paul and he said, “I think he’s getting high-high.” Then he made a gesture with his nose and I nodded, “Ah.”
The two of us stood in silence for a few minutes until Chuck said, “I was always just trying to be nice, Diana. I didn’t want you to think I was like everyone else.” I told him I appreciated that, but maybe we should talk about it another time. Knowing—even as I said it—that we never would. Above us, the early morning sky rippled with blue-gray clouds as if it might open up at any moment.
Rick was never coming back. Once we accepted that, Chuck left his duct tape, wooden crosses, and holy water on the stone steps. He walked out of the parking lot and got on the bus heading west to the suburbs. As far as I knew, he never played drums again. Last I heard, he ran a comic book shop in Elyria. Rick, I think, left Cleveland that night, too. He became a park ranger in Oregon and the only reason I know that is because I ran into him on a camping trip with my son a decade later. He handed me a brochure about the local wildlife and we pretended not to know each other.
After we gave up the plan to kill Paul, I waited around the parking lot to talk to Bella. When the two of them finally came out of the building the next day, Paul, unsurprisingly, looked at me as if he’d never seen me in his life.
“He’s not natural,” I said to Bella.
“You’re just jealous, Didi,” she said, laughing.
“Please come with me,” I said. “You don’t want this.”
“I won, Didi,” she said.
Soon after, Bella and Paul got married. I split town. From what I heard, Paul continued to make music. He started a few other bands but I don’t remember all their names. Then he died for real in 1979 and didn’t come back. Liver failure, if you can believe it. By then, I had been living in California for a few years with my son, William. My mother mailed me Paul’s obituary from the Cleveland paper since it mentioned Bella. A couple days later, I called to check in on her. Bella admitted that the last chunk of years hadn’t been all that stellar. Paul’s passing was no surprise to her, not with how he’d been drinking. She had her daughter to think of and she was going to try and get her act together. I didn’t mention my son, and I didn’t tell her how I kept the last of the grape leaves tucked in a plastic comic book folder at the bottom of my sock drawer. To be honest, it sounded as if she wouldn’t have used them on Paul again anyway. And I didn’t tell her how happy and free I felt in California. How I wore red high heels in my garden. How I planted jasmine trees and jacarandas. How I learned all the names of birds.