The Gray House — Part Four

By Megan Cummins

Mindy walked to the restaurant early the next morning – the guilt having arrived in droves – intending to clean what she could. When she arrived, she found her key still worked, and she went in to see Miguel scrubbing the floor, much of the mess gone already.

Mindy was ready to let Miguel come up with the story – vandalism, robbery? But Miguel said simply, “I left my phone here last night. I came back for it.”

Mindy watched him wheel the trashcan near the counter, where he swept away the remains of his plants. She was sure she would tell him the truth, eventually, even as she walked out of the door. She hadn’t yet talked to Colin about making Miguel a manager, and now it was probably too late.

*   *   *

Nolan stormed into the kitchen where Gwynn was flipping misshapen pancakes, holding a clump of hair, matted with water and shampoo. Gwynn had made a batter out of flaxseed and oats and water and it was not holding any kind of shape.

“Whose hair is this?”

She shrugged. “Not mine,” she said, though she couldn’t actually say. She and Mindy had the same hair – color, length, both curly. Twin dirty-brown tumbleweeds.

“This hair,” Nolan said, pausing, “is absolutely everywhere.”

Gwynn followed Nolan to the bathroom, and he pointed to the strands curled in the drains, caught on the wall of the shower, floating loose through the air.

“Every fucking day,” Nolan said.

“Hey,” Gwynn said, “It’s not mine. You’re the one who decided to live with girls.”

But Gwynn surveyed the bathroom worriedly. There was a lot of hair, more than she’d ever seen during the time she’d lived with Mindy.

“She’s gotten out of hand,” Nolan said. “This isn’t all right.”

What were the worms doing to her? Gwynn knew the basics: her colon had nothing better to do than self-destruct, so she had given her immune system something to occupy itself with, and the worms gave the added benefit of making the lining secrete a soothing mucus. But they were parasites; they were trying to kill her, even if they couldn’t succeed. Could they get in her blood, her brain? And then there was the drinking, the drugs, which Gwynn judged to be stupid but didn’t doing anything about.

Gwynn heard the door open, and she and Nolan listened to Mindy sigh, and heard her purse hit the couch.

“Gwynn!” Mindy called from the kitchen suddenly, and Gwynn jumped. “Gwynn, your shit is burning!”

Gwynn hurried back to the kitchen to see her pancakes blackened and smoking in the pan. She tossed them in the garbage while Mindy pulled out a plate and a pink pastry box tied with string. Inside, an éclair glistened, it’s chocolate top cracked and dusted with sugar.

“I’ve been wanting one of these for so long,” she said. “I got fired today.”

As she brought the pastry to her mouth, her hand began to shake. Gwynn could see the pendant she wore around her neck shudder from the thrumming of her heart. Then she collapsed.

*   *   *

Nolan and Gwynn carried Mindy to the street to see the tires of Nolan’s car had been slashed. There was a note from Sara under the windshield wiper, demanding he give up the dog. Mindy was conscious, but barely, and she had enough energy to grab Nolan’s wrist when he took out his cell phone to dial 911.

“Don’t,” she gasped, “Don’t you dare.”

She knew how much an ambulance cost. She had itemized with Gwynn before: IV, linens, oxygen, fuel, blood pressure reading. They charged for everything.

Gwynn and Nolan each held one side of Mindy and the trio limped a few feet, awkwardly, Mindy’s feet bumping along the concrete. Gwynn wondered briefly if what they were doing was illegal.

“This is ridiculous,” Nolan said, letting go of Mindy, who swooned downward, pulling Gwynn halfway to the ground. But less ridiculous to Nolan was the idea of pushing Mindy in a wheelbarrow, which had been left in their neighbor’s garden. He trampled through their lavender bushes to retrieve it. Mindy settled down into its palm, lifted her feet up and said, “Let’s go.”

On Stockton Boulevard, an ambulance careened down the street with its siren on, off to save someone else. The homeless man who stood every day outside the Deville Hotel watched them curiously, without his usual line, “For change, my good good good friend?”

The hospital grounds were alive and well kept as they crossed Stockton on a diagonal and passed the first of the medical buildings. Passing students and visitors veered from their way. Gwynn glanced down at Mindy, who had closed her eyes.

Outside of the ER, Nolan left his two roommates. “I can’t do this anymore,” was all he said, and he retreated at a slight jog with his hands in his pockets. He disappeared across the hospital grounds. An orderly came out and gaped at Mindy in her wheelbarrow, but he shook the disbelief away and called for a gurney.

*   *   *

Gwynn walked home alone later, head down against the strong blowing gusts. Sacramento had found its wind, which threatened to sweep up anything unmoored. Loose pollen and dirt needled Gwynn’s face.

The physician had guilted Gwynn into telling him everything. The helminthes, the coke, the occasional bulimia. He’d seemed almost smug when he’d given his opinion:

“Cocaine,” he said knowingly, “is never just cocaine. We often see it adulterated with an anti-helminthic agent called levamisole. Your illegal therapy was ruined by your illegal drug use. Your symptoms right now aren’t an overdose of anything. It’s just your disease. You need to take the medication we prescribe and get clean of the other stuff.”

Gwynn was furious with Mindy, but also furious with this doctor: acting like he was on a medical show, solving the mystery, making the patient feel small and idiotic. For making herself feel small and idiotic for not knowing better. Gwynn left Mindy to her IV fluids, her heart monitor, her sass, which was already returning.

“Well, gee, doc,” she said as Gwynn left. “Thanks so much for saving me from myself.”

The gray house was quiet and dark. Inside, things were as they had been: Mindy’s hair was in the bathroom sink, where Nolan had dropped it, and the éclair had grown stale on the kitchen floor. Gwynn thought of Mindy, high in her hospital bed, before falling on her knees and stuffing the pastry in her mouth.

*   *   *

Gwynn had just wiped the chocolate from her face when the doorbell rang. Sara stood on the porch, wearing her running clothes. Gwynn realized she had never even seen Sara alone. She’d always been flanked by Harriet, or Nolan, or both. Up close, Gwynn noticed a mole half-nestled in one of her eyebrows, which made her look like she was scowling, and though she was fit, she was plain, just another dogged runner, and now without her dog.

“Gwynn,” Sara said, “Where’s my dog?”

“Gwynn,” Sara said again, when she didn’t answer. “Don’t protect him. Do you know what he called you? The fat one.”

Sara was angry. And it wasn’t her fault – she had no idea that Nolan had run off, that Mindy was in the hospital. Gwynn understood this but she couldn’t give up Nolan. She didn’t know why, especially knowing what Mindy had revealed about him, but she couldn’t. She knew she was picking the wrong side, but either way, the dog was gone.