Read My Soul to Keep Online

Authors: Tananarive Due

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Horror

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BOOK: My Soul to Keep
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“It’s called a stomach torsion,” David said mechanically, as though reading from a veterinary textbook. “It happens with big dogs. Especially Great Danes. Sometimes they’re too active or they eat too fast, and their stomach just … twists …”

“I’m so sorry, baby,” Jessica said. She replayed the dog’s last hours in her mind; Princess tearing around the clear patch of grass on the side of their house, barking at their neighbor, then coughing, the foam at her mouth. How could they have known? “Did he say it would have made a difference if we’d …”

“I didn’t ask,” David said quickly, and Jessica knew then that he had asked, and that acting sooner might have saved Princess.

David sighed, shrugging, his back still to her. He was slender but toned, and his shoulder blades poked gently against the sinews of his back. “I guess it was us being out of town, her cooped up at the kennel all that time. A damn week. She was just so excited. I don’t know. Maybe when she ate, it went down wrong. Something. Dr. Roman said it happens to Danes a lot.”

Now, with confirmation, Jessica realized how bad, really bad, this was. Very soon, they would have to wake their five-year-old and tell her that the playmate she’d known as long as her world had existed was gone. Just like that.

David Wolde climbed into the bed beside his wife, hugged her tightly from behind, and began to cry.

2
 

Jessica had filed her story with her editors before leaving for Orlando, at midnight to be exact. It had seemed like a painfully long story even then, but now that she’d come back to find the drafts cluttered with highlighted memos and questions, every inch of it weighed on her brain. The main story and sidebar made up ninety solid inches of newspaper copy.

The last thing she’d said to David before she left for work at eight-thirty, after not even two hours of nervous sleep, was that she would be home early. Now, it was past noon and she realized that leaving early, or even on time, would be impossible. This might be one of those twelve-or fourteen-hour days, today of all days. The exposé was the Sunday showpiece, so it needed to shine.

Jessica had been on the elite investigative team of the Miami Sun-News for a year, and this was her first major contribution without sharing a byline with another reporter. She’d spent two months researching the abuse and neglect of the elderly in nursing homes, which was sparked by an anonymous tip-off from a former worker at a place called Riverview in Little Haiti. She’d visited there and talked to an old Haitian man, Frederic, who was so infected with bedsores that he was permanently disfigured, his right foot amputated from gangrene. David tagged along to both of her interviews with the toothless old man to translate his Creole, since Jessica didn’t trust the nursing staff to accurately interpret his words. David was a master linguist, and Creole was one of eight languages he spoke fluently.

The old man’s bedsores were mild compared to the tale he wove. Frederic claimed that the man who’d shared his room, a former school headmaster, had died after two days of unattended moaning and gasping. “He sick, sick,” he’d told Jessica in broken English, his eyes running with water. “I say man sick. All day, all night. No listen. No listen.” In Creole, he told of how helpless he’d felt, saying the world is on its head because the young ignore pleas from the old. His stories made Jessica’s own eyes itchy with tears as she sat beside his bed, scribbling his words. After both visits, she and David went home and talked about Frederic late into the night. Those nights, she took special care to call her mother before she went to sleep.

Luckily, the dead man’s family had demanded an autopsy, which uncovered a partial throat obstruction, and Jessica found a physician who confirmed that it could have been treated easily. Then, Jessica harangued the county medical examiner into conceding on the record that Riverview’s handling of the man’s death “on appearance, may not be shy of neglect.”

Once printed, it would land Riverview in a state investigation. And this was only one of a half-dozen incidents she’d uncovered around the county, including one place that purportedly punished some of its more vocal wards by beating them with a strap.

The editors were excited. Jessica figured it was a long shot at best, but they were grooming her stories for a Pulitzer, which meant every sentence had been examined under a microscope. Her immediate editor, Sy Greene, had peppered the text with remarks like, Can’t we get the medical examiner to say what he means? and Why don’t you go back to Riverview and ask the old guy what he thinks about that?

Jessica sat in a far corner of the third-floor newsroom, which was filled with the clacking of computer keyboards, ringing phones, and the din from television sets playing the midday news on three channels. With each new question she read on her computer screen, Jessica’s jaw tightened until the pressure reached the throbbing veins at her temples. She hated the editing process most of all. No matter what, the stories were never good enough. Her editors didn’t seem to have the faith that she had pushed as hard as she could, since she’d come to the I-Team from the Features staff; there, her toughest assignments had been interviewing aerobics instructors who were occasionally too self-impressed to be civil. While Jessica was in Features, she couldn’t help believing that she wasn’t living up to her reasons for becoming a journalist in the first place: She wanted to change things.

One of the first assignments Jessica had as a new reporter in a suburban bureau was to write about a program for teenage boys that the county was about to cut. She’d spent only an hour talking to the administrator, got a quick tour, interviewed two teens too shy to do much more than mumble, and watched the photographer take a picture of them doing math homework with their tutor. She wrote the piece in an hour, then she forgot about it. Two months later, the administrator called her to tell her the county had changed its mind about cutting the program.

“Your story did it,” he’d said.

Jessica then realized how much even the most casual touch could change people’s lives, and she knew with certainty, for the first time, that she’d found her calling.

Sy was much less idealistic, an old-school relic, as though he’d styled himself after a brassy editor from a 1940s movie. Sy’s tenacious eye for “hokey,” as he called it—or bullshit, as Jessica called it—was the thing she both admired and hated about working for him. When he asked questions, three out of four times he raised good points. But it was turning into a long day, she’d already spent months on the stories, and Jessica wasn’t in the mood for any more hokey-hunting.

Since Sy was in his office and out of her eyesight, Jessica typed an e-mail message to S. Greene:

 

NO WAY THEY’LL LET ME BACK IN RIVERVIEW. AND OUR GUY CAN’T GET TO A PHONE.

 

She waited for a response and smiled to herself when none came right away. Sy was usually quick to snap

 

THAT’S BULL

 

or

 

CALL THE ATTORNEYS.

 

His computer was signed on, so the electronic silence meant that she might have found one of his precious few throwaway questions, one he could live without. If she could only ferret out a few more of those, her headache might go away.

A message popped across the top of her screen:

 

WHY THE LONG FACE, GIRLFRIEND? NOT SO ROSY WITH MR. PERFECT? (P. DONOVITCH)

 

Peter Donovitch sat only three desks across from her, maybe twenty feet away, but messages had long ago replaced conversation in the newsroom. She smiled over at him wanly. She’d looked for Peter as soon as she walked in that morning, wanting to clasp a friend’s warm hand to start her day, but he’d been out all morning and she’d been so preoccupied with her story that she hadn’t noticed him come in.

In a newsroom filled with reporters who wore drab, frumpy clothes that never seemed to fit, Peter always stood out in his pastel shirts, paisley ties, and suspenders. His red-brown hair, cut short around his ears, was noticeably flecked with premature gray, as was his moustache, probably thanks to fifteen years as a reporter. Peter was her mentor on the I-Team. Thank goodness he was also a family friend who would understand.

She typed a response:

 

TERRIBLE NEWS. PRINCESS DIED LAST NIGHT. (J. WOLDE)

 

She heard her message beep to his screen, and saw his shoulders jump. He whirled around to mouth “I’m sorry” to her. She shrugged and typed another note:

 

MASSIVE DEADLINE. QUICK LUNCH LATER MAYBE? (J. WOLDE)

 

SURE THING, SWEETHEART. GOD I’M SORRY. (P. DONOVITCH)

 

Then, an instant later:

 

WELCOME BACK. WE MISSED YOU. (P. DONOVITCH)

 

She couldn’t help smiling, this time from warm pleasure.

 

MISSED YOU TOO. NOW LEAVE ME ALONE. (J. WOLDE)

 

As soon as she sent the message, she laughed. He laughed, too, nodding as he read it. He understood. On deadline, all friendships were off.

Maybe she’d survive today, after all. Just having Peter nearby made her feel less anxious about the ordeal that morning. It wasn’t even so bad with Kira, but David’s sobbing anguish had really thrown her. He’d cried that way only once before, after a fight when they were still dating. She was frazzled from exams and she threatened to break up with him over some foolishness she couldn’t even remember now. She’d dropped the words carelessly out of the side of her mouth, and they hit their mark—and then some. To her amazement, he began to weep, a mourning cry, not a wounded one. Just like he’d cried again that morning for Princess.

 

YOU NEED TO PIN DOWN THAT EXAMINER. (S. GREENE),

 

the next message on her computer said.

Jessica set her jaw. Pin him down? How many more times could she get that man on the phone to repeat his same tired old statement? Why was Sy purposely riding on her nerves?

 

F-U-C-K O-F-F,

 

she typed. She thought, then decided not to send the message. She could save that one for later in the day. She would probably need it.

“How’s Mr. Perfect taking it?”

“Lousy. He cried all night,” Jessica told Peter, stirring NutraSweet into the murky depths of her iced tea.

“All night?”

“You know how he is with that dog. How he was, I mean.”

At nearly four o’clock, it was closer to dinnertime than lunchtime, but it was Jessica’s first break all day. Peter convinced her to forgo the newspaper’s cafeteria and eat at O’Leary’s, a hotel bar across the street from their building, where they could sit on the patio in the muted warmth of the sun, which was emerging for the first time after a morning of rain. The only thing Irish about O’Leary’s—which served glorified bar food, hamburgers, and buffalo wings—was its name. Their table sat just beyond the shimmering waters of the hotel’s untroubled pool. The water was such a rich chlorine-blue, it seemed to glow. Jessica wanted to leap in— skirt, pumps, and all.

Thinking of Princess, Jessica was tempted to order a beer to go with her grilled chicken sandwich, but she held off. That would put her to sleep for sure. Caffeine would have to do.

“Jessica,” Peter said, lifting his dripping water glass in a toast, “that man of yours is a saint. This seals it. Any man who can cry over losing a pet has the most special of souls. Mr. Perfect, once again, earns his sobriquet.”

Jessica searched Peter’s kind, faintly green eyes. He had bestowed David with that nickname almost immediately after he met Jessica in the newsroom. David sent her flowers at work in the early days, when she was most frustrated, and on late nights he came to deliver a hot dinner from home. Only now was Jessica beginning to detect a vague longing in Peter’s voice when he spoke of David, a harmless envy.

Peter was intensely private, but she’d figured out that he must be gay even before she spotted him walking closely beside a bearded younger man at a Miami Beach festival two years before. He never mentioned a social life, a domestic life, any kind of life. His sentences were devoid of “we” when he discussed his weekends. He was so closeted that he wasn’t out to her even after nearly seven years of working together at the Sun-News. He never posted his name on the bulletin board as a member of the Gay Journalists’ Alliance, as a half-dozen other reporters had, but someone confided to her that while Peter never came to the meetings, he contributed generously and was on the mailing list. Despite that, there were rumors he’d been married once, and even had a son. He never talked about that either.

Peter’s secrets made Jessica sad. As many times as Peter had brought Kira Christmas gifts (and black dolls, at that) and joined them in sampling David’s honey wine in the backyard, she wondered when she would ever be entertained in Peter’s home with his significant other, if he had one. She just didn’t know, and she would never dare ask. Maybe Peter assumed that since she was a Bible toter, she’d fling passages on Sodom and Gomorrah at him. Christians got a bad rap for intolerance, and she just wasn’t like that. She worried about her own conduct, no one else’s, and she tried to live a good example if anybody cared to notice. But how could she bring up Peter’s personal life if he wouldn’t? She was becoming resigned to the fact that there was simply a great deal she would never know about her friend.

“What about Kira?” Peter asked.

“She was a mess, Peter. It broke my heart. We had to keep her home from school.” She sighed. “Well, at least Daddy is there. Looks like he’s the one who’s always there …”

“Oh, no. Not the oh-god-I’m-such-a-lousy-parent speech.”

“Listen, Peter, I’m serious. My mother had a job too. But she would have taken a day off if something like this had happened.”

“You sound just like one of those guilt-complex moms on Oprah. Stop beating yourself up. You’re a great mom to Kira. She knows you’re there.”

“Maybe I’m there in spirit.”

“Being there in spirit is important too.”

“Too bad spirits are invisible.”

“She knows,” Peter said with certainty, smiling.

David had quit his job teaching at the University of Miami as soon as Kira was born, two years after they married. Just like that. Now, he worked at home as a book translator and a contributing editor to a couple of foreign-language history journals, one in Madrid and one in Paris. He also earned some income from lecturing and from the textbook he’d written on jazz, Body and Soul, which was assigned to music students all over the country. It seemed to Jessica that David was accomplished enough to go anywhere and do anything, but he was perfectly content to sit in that tiny, 1,100- square-foot house and be a full-time daddy.

Was there something wrong with her because she couldn’t do that? She’d never considered abandoning her hopes of being a journalist, even though it was a job that ate parents for lunch because of the time commitment. She was about to be nominated for a Pulitzer at age twenty-eight, exactly as she’d planned for herself. But what about the rest?

“Let me take your mind off Princess,” Peter said, reaching under the table for his ragged brown leather briefcase.

BOOK: My Soul to Keep
2.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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