Gone Lawn
a journal of literature
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Gone Lawn 13
Winter, 2013

Featured Novel Excerpt
New Works

Nancy Hightower

Till We Have Faces

The woman is in the act of committing suicide. The rhythm is methodical. Arm reaching down to pick up pill, lay it on the tongue. Each pill is adorned with a blue stripe down the middle. She has lined them up in neat rows, a cup of wine to wash them down. Communion. The writer thinks about what she can do to stop her. She unwrites the pills, one by one, blue stripe first, then the coating so it's all bitter chalk that disintegrates the moment the woman touches it. At first the woman thinks it's just the narcotic effect of the drugs—she has begun the hallucinatory stage. She keeps grasping at the disappearing pills, takes another gulp of wine. Now is not the time to give in to madness. The writer can type quickly. The pills have almost all been unwritten by the time the woman has finished her swallow. The writer sits back in her chair, watches. The woman now frantically pats down the table, the chairs. She gets on all fours to search the floor. Perhaps there has been an earthquake, causing them to roll off and she had just not felt it. But no, all she finds on the floor is an old gummy bear. She pops it into her mouth.
Stop that! The writer admonishes, causing the woman to draw up straight. She looks all around to see where the voice came from. The writer leans forward, face aglow in blue light from the computer screen. Here. She waves. Surely this magic portal works both ways, but the woman continues to search her house for the source of the unknown voice. She does so under the influence of many pills and wine, and so she bumps into walls, asking them to speak. She turns on the faucet and leans in, expecting something biblical, perhaps. Everywhere she turns, there is only silence.
The writer still tries to grab her attention by waving her arms and shouting louder. The woman continues to wander. The writer wonders if perhaps this is only a one-way mirror. She considers writing on the wall but the effects of alcohol and pills already consumed have caused the woman to curl up on the floor in her hallway, right in front of her bedroom. The writer stares at the woman for a long time trying to see any rise and fall in chest or shoulders but it is hard at this angle to see much. The woman's head remains curled down, face buried. The writer waits long into the night for the woman to make some sort of movement—surely she had not taken enough pills, what, with so many left to go, so many that she had unwritten. The writer wants to call for help, but where would she send the police? The writer continues to stare at the still figure until she has a crick in her neck and her eyes become sand filled. She puts her head down for just a second.
She wakes late the next morning, slumped over her keyboard. Everything is gone: the woman, the hall where she had been crumpled up, asleep or dead. Even the story was no longer there. The writer searches her small house for any sign of what had transpired last night but the phone rings, interrupting her. It is her best friend, who has survived another dating catastrophe.
"He had dyed his cat blue."
"What?" The writer is still looking around, not quite paying attention. Clearly, she had missed something.
"His cat, this beautiful Siamese piece of gorgeousness—he dyed it blue. Showed me pictures of it on his iPhone. Said it was part of being an artist, the fucker."
The writer shakes her head. Her best friend is an executive on Wall Street, with two books of poetry published and a smile as dazzling as the sun. How do such men find her?
"This has got to get better."
"Of course." The writer nods her assent, even though her best friend can't see. They are not talking about boys now. "Just tell me how." They are both in jobs that don't feed their souls. The writer is really an adjunct professor with too many classes to teach every semester on one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. She calls herself a writer to feel better. Her best friend, the one with two books, she is really the writer making a six digit salary on Wall Street. They are both miserable, living in cities bent on killing them. The sinking-lifeboat dating stories—they are just a diversion. The writer wonders if she should tell her friend about the woman trying to die, the one she accidentally lost in her small house within 24 hours. She decides it can't really compete with the blue cat story. Such is life. They say goodbye after another hour of commiseration and bad jokes. Her friend's laugh is like warm honey, assures the writer that everything will be okay. She goes to bed that night thinking she will find the woman creeping about her dreams, like the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper. She envisions a rope by which to catch her, tie her up for her own good until she can get the woman some decent help. But no matter what dark corridors she wanders about in her sleep, the woman never makes an appearance.
The writer wakes up with headache. She assumes it is dehydration, drinks her weight in water and tries to squeeze in an extra hour of sleep a night. By the middle of the week, the headache has turned into a migraine. She cancels class, spends the day in a darkened room, moaning until she can sit up without feeling nauseous. Her vision is blurry and she can't read that well. This makes grading papers even more difficult than normal. You have an eye infection, the doctor tells her when she finally schedules an appointment. He gives her a strange eye goo to smear onto the inner lid every night, and some migraine medication. The writer thinks there's something more going on that just a silly eye infection, but stays quiet. She's learned from that Yellow Wallpaper narrator that it doesn't work to argue with doctors.
"Time to get some new fabulous glasses," her friend consoles her during their weekly catch up. "I've started writing again. A novel this time. Apocalyptic fare."
The writer finds herself nodding into the phone again. They had both survived end of the world childhoods. Neither thought they would live past 25. Both were surprised to find themselves in their forties, somewhat successful and intimidating as all hell to most of their friends. This is what comes with end of the world childhoods, she thinks. The lights start flashing in her eyes, signaling another migraine is soon hovering, waiting to attack. She takes a pain pill while listening to her friend outline the novel, loves listening to the sound of excitement in her voice, the horror of blue-cat man a distant memory.
"I bought a blue, fuzzy fingered rug; it practically swallows up the apartment," her friends says as they're about to hang up.
"Are you missing blue-cat man?"
Her friend laughs. "Wait till you walk the New York City pavement. You'll kill for a fuzzy finger rug."
"We only have mountain trails here," the writer laments. She does not find it relaxing, exploring those dirt paths. She can only think about being eaten by a bear. She says as much to her friend.
"There you go, seeing things that aren't there. How's that medication working?"
The writer wishes that question were really a joke. The friend is not asking about the headache medication, but the other kind. They were both taking the other kind. "If by 'working' you mean the side effects have stopped, then it's a miracle drug."
They hang up, each wishing the other a week of blue sky days, sleep-filled nights. They know the chances are slim. Neither of them are integral to anyone's life. They would both gladly trade their fabulous jobs and successes for a daily hug. They don't like talking about this much. It is easier to discuss blue-cat men or bears or any other word that begins with "b."
The headaches get worse despite the pain pills. Her wrists start to lock up, turning her hands ice cold and fire filled by turns. She has never had such physiological issues before. She begins to suspect that perhaps it is the woman, the one she thought she saw die, possessing her. She goes to the bathroom, half expecting to find the woman's face peering out from the mirror like in the science fiction shows. What if, by un-writing her story, the writer kept the woman trapped between worlds, like the narrator's shadow self that crept behind the wallpaper? She goes to a priest and confesses all her sins. She visits her therapist who tells her to try meditation. She calls her friend, who sympathizes with her madness. "It's the voices—they get you every time.
But she didn't say anything, the writer thinks to herself.
"Just keep hoping," her friend adds, sounding more tired than normal. She is taking accounting classes on nights she doesn't work on the novel.
"That blue-fingered rug is not doing its job," the writer sighs, gazing at her cranberry colored walls. She was told that red helped people be more creative. "Can't you get a magic carpet that massages your feet if you put in a quarter?"
They talk of vacations. The writer wants to visit New York soon, but isn't sure she can, with her wrists and headaches and blurry vision and doppelgänger self. The friend came home early from a weekend in Connecticut. She's living in a two dimensional world where her friends seem like paper dolls, their words only reaching her in flattened shapes. They talk of possible dinners when the writer visits, of stories still unwritten.
That night the woman is there again, at the table with all her pills and a bottle of wine. She stares directly at the writer, hand lying beside the wine like they're in one of those old Western showdowns. The writer sits away from the computer, but the pen is only an inch away from her hand. The woman reaches for a pill. The writer's index finger twitches nervously. She waits, watches as the woman takes the first pill, then the second. The migraine behind the writer's eyes explodes in flashes of blue light. Between the lightning she catches a glimpse of white paper. She reaches for a sheet. The woman takes another swig of wine. The writer begins tearing the paper into shreds. The pen is knocked off the table. The woman's movements are starting to get clumsy. The writer's wrists begin to unlock. She can bend them now.
See how little it hurts? The woman's words are slurred, her face is going slack. The lightning is gone from the writer's eyes and the stabbing pain has lessened. She keeps tearing the paper and rolling them into little balls. The pen is somewhere at her feet. She is crying. The woman's hands move slower and slower. Her pills now miss her mouth at times. She gets every third one in. The writer lifts up her hand in a gesture—to stop or to bless or to see if the other woman will reach out to grasp her hand—perhaps it is all three at once. The woman notices this through the slits of her eyes, mouths a goodbye before at last slumping onto the table. The writer stares at her for a long time, rocking back and forth, whispering no no no even though she is at last free of all pain.
At some point, she must have slept. At some point, she must have stumbled down the hall and into her bed because she wakes curled up, hugging the pillow. She slowly rises, goes to the kitchen to make coffee when the phone rings. She looks at the balls of paper on the table and floor. The phone keeps ringing. At last she picks it up. "I've got something to tell you." It is her best friend's father. He is crying. He cannot stop. The writer closes her eyes, sees her friend's shadow waving goodbye in the moonlight.

Nancy Hightower's fiction has been published in Gargoyle, Word Riot, Prick of the Spindle, Bourbon Penn, and Prime Number Magazine, among others.