People stick to you inside and you can’t get them out, and the more you try the more whatever of them is inside you fights back. Shirl, for example, a woman I work closely with. Her voice won’t leave me alone, even staying with me during the night. She gets mad at me because I don’t want to hear her family’s problems. If she tells me her grown-up children are addicted or otherwise troubled I don’t have advice or a solution. It’s up to her to decide how much she can take from her husband, to decide how to deal with her crazy sister calling her up with her worries when she can’t sleep. I turn away from their details, which hurts her feelings. She wants a girlfriend to confide in, and I won’t cooperate.
After a night of drinking several glasses of wine that failed to drown her out, I went to work with a headache, determined to silence her if she started the morning with some horrible new tale. I put my things in my locker and took my usual path to the sorting area, where at once I heard people talking about her. Her son, Leo, had been killed. Around midnight he’d broken into an apartment looking for a woman who’d been hiding from him, and an armed man had rushed out of a hallway inside and shot him in the chest. Shirl’s husband became unruly when the police couldn’t answer his questions about the shooting and had to be restrained by more than one officer. Watching them, Shirl collapsed and lost consciousness and was now confined to a hospital bed.
I contributed to the collection the staff took up for her family, and I thought all day of visiting her, urging myself to do it no matter how uncomfortable it made me. I imagined her weeping and clutching me in a suffocating embrace.
Later, I drove up the ramp into the hospital’s parking garage and found a space with no cars on either side. But the thought of having to hear what she’d endured froze me. I didn’t want to stand at her bedside and hold her hand. If I touched her, something would change between us.
She stayed with me on the way home and as I sat drinking my wine. I woke the next morning thinking of her.
About the Author: Glen Pourciau's stories have been published by AGNI Online, Antioch Review, Epoch, New England Review, Paris Review, and others. His first collection of stories won the 2008 Iowa Short Fiction Award. His second collection of stories, View, is forthcoming from Four Way Books in February.