Eventually, he found himself in the hospital's emergency room. He often did. Standing amid the sea-green walls, orange, welded-down chairs, and the worried and weeping faces, Winnick observed a dark-skinned man blankly feed coins into a soda machine. He pressed his palm against a large, bright drink logo and watched his drink plummet into view with a rich thunk. The man retrieved the can, opened it, and then just stood there. Winnick thought his eyes looked disappointed. This isn't what I wanted from my weekend, they said. At that moment, another man approached him hurriedly and hissed something. The first man flushed and his eyes showed alarm. As the two of them rushed away, the first one let his full soda fall into a nearby trashcan.
How did they do it? Winnick thought. How did they wait here for hours on end with their brains sparking on terrible thoughts and their hands turning the pages of magazines so quickly that nothing could be read, only to eventually have the inevitable worst confirmed by an apologetic man who barely had time for them, so that finally they could get into their cars and drive home? How did one drive home from that sort of news? How did you remember to make the correct turns? It seemed to Winnick that under such circumstances, a red traffic light could be so soul-crushing as to finish the job that losing your loved one had started. And then you pull up to your home, turn off the engine, walk to your front door, go inside, and do what? Fix a drink? Go to bed? Turn on the TV? Winnick imagined the dark-skinned man with the untouched soda going home later and eating a sandwich, with tears in his eyes.
Winnick sat down in one of the orange chairs. It always amazed him how quiet it was here. This was a place where people stuck with their own, and everyone kept their heads down.
Winnick looked up. A nurse, a dry-looking woman of about forty, was staring down at him. She didn't appear to be wearing make-up and had freckles sprayed across her forehead. He'd seen her before.
"What?" he said.
"You know what. We've told you. There's cops here, and I can go get one who'll make you leave, or you can just leave by yourself."
"I'm waiting for my brother," Winnick said. "We're waiting to find out what's wrong with our mom. He should be right around here."
"No, you're not," said the nurse. "I know you're not. You just come here and sit and stare and you scare people. You scare me."
"Not this time," said Winnick. "This time's for real. There's something really wrong with my mom. I'm worried."
The nurse watched him for several seconds.
"What's her name?" she asked.
"...Jane," he said.
Winnick gaped. He always knew that one day his brain would fail him when he could least afford it. His silence stretched on.
"Fuck it," the nurse said, looking around quickly. "I don't got time for this shit. Linda, where's Officer Brady?"
Winnick stood up and walked away from her.
"Linda, get Officer Brady."
As he passed through the automatic doors, Winnick spat on the floor.
* * * * *
He sat on a bench in the dark near the emergency room parking lot. He was waiting for a nurse to leave. He hoped it would be her, but it didn't have to be, and it wasn't. The nurse who finally left after what seemed like a long time was a good deal younger, though not, Winnick found it interesting to note, especially pretty. She was blonde, yes, but also had what Winnick had referred to as a "weak chin". And her arms were as thin as straws.
It was easy to follow her home, because she walked. This was a break. He'd thought he might have to get a cab, making the cabbie a potential witness, or simply let her go, or maybe on the same bus with her. But she walked, alone, through the breezily humid night air. It felt like a Southern night. Winnick knew what that felt like, having at one time in his life walked the streets at night in that part of the country. Those weren't great days.
She lived in a townhouse, and he watched from across the street as she dug around in her purse for her house keys. As she rattled them free, Winnick considered that he simply didn't have the energy to try and talk his way into her home, or even to talk to her at all. It had been a long couple of days, and he simply wanted to get on with it, so as she slid the key into the lock of her front door, Winnick took long, light strides across the street, making as little sound as possible so that when she was pushing open her door he was springing up the front steps behind her, shoving her forward into the door, which banged and shook against the wall inside. She fell against a set of steps leading up, her nurse's cap tumbling from her head as she grunted, "What?"
Winnick gently closed the door behind him. It was dark here, in the woman's foyer -- he hadn't given her a chance to turn on the lights. He kicked out at her, in the vicinity of her ribs, and her hands and nails scrabbled at him as he slapped his hands along the walls, trying to find a lightswitch. When he found one, hit it, and drenched them with a kind of medicinal white light that put Winnick in mind of the hospital they'd both just left, she spoke again, shrieking, "Get out!" Her face was wild, like a mental patient about to be locked up for good. Quickly, he hunched down towards where she was still sitting against the stairs, and punched her as hard as he could in the jaw. She collapsed sideways like he'd just driven a bolt into her brain. Grabbing her by her long hair, he dragged her across the hardwood floors, into the shadows of her home. He turned on every light he could find until he was able to locate her kitchen, which was where he took her next. There was an iron pot in the sink, which he filled with water. Standing over her, he turned the pot upside down over her bruised and slack face. The water landed on her with a slap, causing her eyes to flutter and roll in their sockets. Winnick filled the pot and doused her again. She gasped and sputtered, and this time kept her eyes more or less open. Winnick said, "I'm going to murder you." She said, "What?" "I'm going to murder you," he repeated, and she coughed and said, "I don't..." "Can you hear me?" he asked. "Yes, I'm, I can't..." she said. "What's your name?" he asked. "Can't...can't you just leave and go home?" she asked. "What's your name?" he asked again. "Jennifer," she said. "Are you lying to me?" he asked. "No," she said. "Please don't kill me," she said. "Who are you?" she asked. "Jennifer," he said, "I'm the man who is going to murder you," and by this time he had a large kitchen knife, like the one he'd used last night, in his right hand, and he used it to slash at her face and cut into her abdomen, from which he was eventually able to remove some of her organs, which he later placed in her bed upstairs.
She had a living room that seemed so quiet to Winnick, under the circumstances, and there was a deep leather easy chair. He sunk into it. He believed, from what he'd seen when he was upstairs, that Jennifer had a roommate, another nurse. Presumably, this nurse was working a different shift and wouldn't be home until much later. Winnick was undecided as to what he should to about that: leave, or wait for her? He sat in the chair to think about it. And then he noticed, on the squat glass table to his left, there was a card, mostly eggshell in color, with golden lettering and curls on the front. The front of the card said IN YOUR TIME OF SORROW... Winnick opened the card, and on the inside cover was a handwritten message that said:
I am so sorry for you loss. I can't even imagine what you must be feeling. Does it help to know that I think your sister is finally safe now? I think she finally feels well again.
You were such a good sister to her. And she was to you, too. Jennifer, you weren't lucky to have her, and she wasn't lucky to have you. You both deserved each other. You were so good for each other. I hope you can remember that and think about that in the sad times ahead. She loved you as much as you loved her, and she is going to watch down on you and guide you during your good times and your bad times. She's there with you now.
I love you so much. Take care of yourself and be safe.
Winnick thought that this card was very beautiful. What a sad girl Jennifer must have been, to see such tragedy at her age. But she was with her sister now, at least. That was something.