Georgina sat in her car looking at her cousin Liz’s house, telling herself she really ought to go home. The peeling urine-yellow paint on the bungalow, the cracked picture window held together with electrical tape and the crumbling concrete steps did not paint an inviting picture. When Georgina was here last month there’d been a storm door, albeit with a torn screen, but only the hinges remained. The yard was a mix of overgrown patches of grass and an equal amount of dusty earth. Not even a boxwood or lilac softened the look of the place.
The curtain in the picture window moved. Liz knew she was here. Georgina sighed and turned off the engine.
Liz opened the door. She’d tried to cover it with makeup, but there was no hiding a shiner like that.
“Ouch,” said Georgina.
Liz tapped her cheek gingerly. “It’s not so bad.”
Liz was still in her pajamas although it was nearly six o’clock in the evening. “Come on in,” she said.
The lamp was missing the shade; there were several large stains on the wall. “Where’s the television?” asked Georgina.
“In the trash.”
She followed her cousin into the kitchen. Some shards of glass lay under the kickboard at the bottom of the cabinets. The place smelled of bacon and booze and something moldy. The recycling bin was full of beer and wine bottles. A vodka bottle stood on the counter, about three quarters full.
“You want a drink?”
“You should know better than to ask.”
Liz poured herself a mug full of vodka. Dark red bruises, not yet fully formed, mottled both her forearms. “I hid it from him last night.” She snorted. “Hid it in his tool box. Last place he’d look.”
“Looks like he had enough anyway.”
“He always does.” Liz drank deeply from the mug. She winced. “Cut the inside of my mouth all up.”
“You should put some frozen peas or something on that eye.”
Liz jiggled her front tooth. “I think it’s loose.”
“You ready, then?”
“Don’t start, Georgie. Not today.”
“You called me. You were supposed to be packed and ready.”
“I was upset.”
“And now I’m upset.”
“I should leave.”
Liz started crying.
“Oh, for Christ sake,” said Georgina. She stood up and put her arm around her cousin. Liz’s hair smelled oily and she stank of vodka. Why people thought vodka didn’t smell was a mystery. “It’s going to be okay,” she said. She patted Liz’s shoulder. She thought if she left right now she’d still have time to make the AA meeting.
Liz broke away. “It’s NOT going to be okay, it’s never fucking okay. Everything turns out to be crap.”
She pulled away from Georgina and then cried out in pain. She grabbed her bare foot. A piece of glass protruded from the heel.
“Ah, Jesus,” said Georgina. “Come on, sit down. Let me look.”
Liz hopped over to a chair and sat down, holding up her foot and crying. Georgina thought she looked about twelve, albeit a rather the worse for wear twelve. She pulled the glass out, as quickly as she could, and Liz yelled.
“You got any first aid stuff?”
Liz directed her to the bathroom cabinet. As Georgina walked down the hall she glanced into Derrick’s bedroom. He’d been gone for almost five years now, but nothing had been touched. From the looks of it, nothing had even been dusted. Liz always said she was getting around to it, that she was almost ready, but the room just sat. A candle had melted into the top of the desk. That was new, as was the photo in the gold frame next to it.
The ironically named ‘master bedroom’ was next. It looked like most of the fight had taken place in there. The sheets were tangled and spotted with blood. The mirror smashed, or had it been smashed the last time? There was a new head-shaped hole in the wall.
The bathroom wasn’t much better. Shower curtain ripped. Blood in the sink. A hideously swollen box of sanitary napkins floated in the toilet. Georgina found the bandages and hydrogen peroxide under the sink. She pulled her phone from her jeans pocket and dialed.
“Hi, Nancy. I’m at my cousin’s. I don’t think I’m going to make it to the meeting. I know. I should go. I want to go. But there’s a problem here. Yeah. Again. I keep hoping, you know?” She closed her eyes and listened, and then said, “I hear ya. I’ll ask her. If she won’t come with me, I’ll get there anyway, okay? Sure, even if I’m late.” She paused. “What? Say that again. I can’t hear you. Hello?” She looked at the phone. Battery was dead. “Goddamn it.” She picked up the first aid stuff and went back to the kitchen.
Liz had left bloody footprints on the floor. The vodka bottle now sat on the table next to her. She was drinking from the mug in big gulps. Her face was all puffy and shiny. She’d been the pretty cousin once.
“Come on. Let me fix your foot.”
As Georgina knelt in front of her cousin with a bowl of warm water, washing her foot, cleaning the wound and then bandaging it, she remembered the priest at Trinity washing the feet of parishioners on Maundy Thursday. She’d thought it rather embarrassing and too intimate and wouldn’t go up. Now, touching her cousin’s not-very-clean, delicate feet, with their blue veins and chipped orange polish and calluses, she understood why people did it. It was more than what it seemed. It was like a request, like a prayer, even. Please let me help you, for my sake as well as yours. She looked up at Liz. “We’re in this together, okay.”
“I don’t want to leave him.” Her words were slurry.
“You can’t stay with him. He’s going to kill you one of these days.”
“He’s the sweetest thing when he’s sober.”
“And when’s that?”
Liz kicked out with her good foot and hit Georgina in the middle of the chest. Georgina fell back onto the floor. Her head hit the cabinets with a crack. The water in the bowl spilled everywhere, wetting her pants.
“For fuck’s sake, Liz!”
“You don’t understand.”
“I understand plenty.”
“What do you know about love, you old dyke?”
We’ve arrived at that part of the evening quickly, thought Georgina. She rubbed her head. She’d have a lump, but nothing serious. She was very tired.
“Get the fuck out and leave us alone,” slurred Liz, who was crying again.
Georgina stood up. The water on her pants made it look as though she’d wet herself.
“Lovely,” she said. She looked at Liz. “Last chance. Come with me, Liz. Come on. You can do this.”
Liz drained her mug, poured some more and glared at Georgina.
Back in her car she looked at herself in the rearview mirror. Old dyke. She sighed. She ran her fingers through her hair and started the car. Up the street a red pick-up turned the corner and headed toward her. Maybe he’s come back sober and sorry, thought Georgina. The truck weaved into the wrong lane, weaved back, knocked over the metal mailbox and came to stop in front of Georgina’s car, with one wheel up on the curb. Nick opened the driver’s door and half-fell onto the pavement. So much for sober and sorry.
“Where are you, you goddamn bitch?” he called toward the house. “Daddy’s home.”
He carried a tire iron.
Georgina thought she should go. He hadn’t seen her. Was probably too drunk to notice her. She should go. She should phone the police. She pulled out her phone. Her hands trembled. She hit the buttons and nothing happened and she remembered the battery was dead. Nick stumbled around the front of the truck, waving the iron. He fell and she prayed he’d stay down. She should go to a neighbor’s house and call for help.
Nick hauled himself upright by hanging onto her fender. He leaned on the hood of her car, staring in the windshield. He grinned.
“Hello, George,” he said.
Oh, man. She really should go now.