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Black Dreams

Chapter Text

 

At eleven the next morning, Alison received a series of texts from Sarah. The first was merely a photograph. It was a close-up of nothing in particular, a metallic-looking smudge of colour.

Alison received the text while in the middle of Susan Duncan’s tea party. Drugged by the poor sleep in Rachel’s old bedroom, numbed by the demure socialization occurring all around her, and haunted by the fight with Rachel, she didn’t immediately process any possible implications of such a photograph. Understanding was only beginning to prickle when a second text came in.

before you hear it from anyone else, i wrecked the Bugatti

Alison was suddenly very awake.

but don’t worry i got it under control say hi to her mom for me

In most ways, the timing was lucky. Because Alison had

inherited from her mother an extreme distaste of showing the uglier emotions in public (“Everyone’s face is a mirror, Ali — make yours reflect a smile”), receiving the news while surrounded by an audience of fine china and laughing ladies in their fifties bought her time to figure out how to react.

“Is everything all right?” asked the woman across from her. Alison blinked at her. “Oh, yes, thank you.”

As she accepted a tray of cucumber sandwiches from the woman on her right to pass to the woman on her left, she wondered if Rachel had woken up yet. She suspected Rachel wouldn’t come down, even if she was awake.

Her mind replayed the image of herself casting the figurines to the floor, spliced with invented footage of the Bugatti crashing devastatingly off-road.

“These sandwiches are delightful,” said the woman on her right to the woman on her left. Or possibly to her.

“They’re from Clarissa’s,” Susan said. “The cucumbers are local.”

Sarah stole Rachel’s car.

At that moment, Alison’s memory of Sarah and her dirty grin didn’t look very different from Rudy Castor and his matching filthy smile. Alison had to remind herself that they had very important differences. Sarah was broken, Sarah was fixable, Sarah had a soul.

“I’m so pleased with the movement to keep food local,” said the woman on her right, possibly to the woman on her left. Or maybe to her.

Sarah had charm. It was just buried deep.

Very deep.

“It tastes fresher,” said the woman on her left.

 “Really, the advantages are in the reduced fuel and transportation costs,” Susan said, “that are passed on to the consumer. And to the environment.”

But what did she mean wrecked?

 “One wonders about those trucking jobs that are lost, though,” said the woman on the right. “Pass the sugar, would you?”

Say hi to her mom?

“I feel the local infrastructure needed to process and sell the produce will end up with a null sum job loss,” Susan said. “The biggest challenge will be adjusting people’s expectations to the seasonality of produce they’ve come to expect year-round.”

Wrecked.

“You’re probably right,” said the woman on her left. “Though I do love having peaches in winter. I’ll take the sugar, too, if you would?”

She passed a bowl of lumpy brown sugar cubes from the woman on her right to the woman on her left. Across the table, Ira was gesturing to a creamer shaped like a genie’s lamp. He looked fresh as a newscaster.

Glancing up, he caught Alison’s eye, and then he tapped the corners of his mouth with his napkin, said something to his conversation partner, and stood up. He pointed at Alison and gestured toward the door to the kitchen.

Alison excused herself and joined him in the kitchen.

The door swung shut behind Ira.

“What is it?” she asked in a low voice.

“You look like you spent your last joy bill.”

Alison forgot herself and hissed, “What does that even mean?”

“I don’t know. I was just trying it out.”

“Well, it doesn’t work. It doesn’t make sense. And anyway, I’ve got plenty of joy bills. Loads.”

Ira said, “What’s happening there on your phone?”

“A very small joy debit.”

Ira’s smile was triumphant. “You see, it does work. Now, did you or did you not need to get out of that room?”

Alison inclined her head in slight acknowledgment. It seemed that Rachel wasn’t the only Duncan sibling who was unusually perceptive.

“You’re welcome,” Ira said. “Let me know if you need me to write a joy check.”

“I really don’t think it works.”

“Oh, I think it has promise,” he replied. “Now, if you excuse me, I must get back to Ms. Capelli. We’re talking about space adaptation syndrome and the Coriolis effect. I just wanted you to know what you’re missing.”

Missing is a strong term.”

“Yes. Yes, it is.”

He pushed through the swinging door. Alison stood in the bright, root-vegetable-scented kitchen until it had stopped swinging. Then she called Sarah’s number.

“Alison,” Vic said. “Hendrix.”

Pulling the phone back from her head, Alison confirmed she had actually dialled the correct number. The screen read SARAH MANNING. She couldn’t quite understand how Sarah’s phone had ended up in Vic’s hands, but stranger things had happened. At least now the text messages made sense.

“Betty Crocker,” Vic said. “You there?”

“Victor,” Alison said pleasantly.

“Funny I should hear from you. Saw your girlfriend’s car running around last night. It’s got half a face now. Poor bastard.”

Alison closed her eyes and let out a whisper of a sigh.

Finally she said, “Are you planning on giving this phone back to Sarah at any point?”

There was silence. It was a slick sort of silence, the sort that would make bystanders turn their head to note it, same as a loud laugh.

Alison didn’t care for it.

“Here’s what’s up. The Sarah you know is no more. She’s having a coming of age moment.”

“Vic,” Alison said evenly. “Where’s Sarah?”

“Right here. WAKE UP, BITCH, IT’S YOUR GIRLFRIEND!” Vic said. “Sorry. She’s totally pissed. Can I take a message?”

Alison had to take a very long minute to compose herself. She discovered, on the other side of the minute, that she was still too angry to speak.

Rudy’s voice replaced Vic’s. “Hendrix. You still there?”

“I’m here. What do you want?”

Rudy said, “Same thing I always want. To be entertained.”

The phone went dead.