(Not) Knowing

Suspense / A parking garage / A fortune cookie / 957w

Rosie is looking for her car, the white Ford with the carriage like a tank and the back seat done in cream leather, where Jim kissed her on their second date. It isn’t where she left it.

She’s on the second level of the garage now, peering at featureless sedan after featureless sedan. In her hand is a waxed paper bag, containing a box of congealing lo mein and a fortune cookie, which she’d broken open on level 1. The fortune hadn’t made any sense to her, so she’d rejected the cookie out of spite.

Where is that darned car? Rosie thinks. I’m getting old.

A man in a wool coat, walking the opposite direction as her, gives her a lingering look as she passes. She straightens up somewhat. Maybe I’m not quite that old yet, she thinks, with a bit of a smirk.

The second level yields no Ford, so she proceeds to the third level. She’s getting a little winded, and feels a headache begin to throb at her temple. Is the sun setting already? She wonders, staring at the long shadow she is casting. A slice of orange sky is sandwiched between the concrete slabs of the garage.

“Ma’am?” comes a voice, just behind her, and Rosie jumps, dropping the bag. She turns quickly.

“Ma’am,” says the man again. It’s the one from earlier, in his wool coat – who needs a peacoat in the summer? ­Rosie wonders – looking a little nervous. “Are you alright?” he asks.

“Of course,” Rosie says. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

The man chews at his lip. “I thought maybe you were lost.”

Rosie’s heard this line before. “I’m just looking for my car,” she says. “You know. Forgetful.”

“Maybe we should…” and the man reaches out and puts his hand on Rosie’s arm. It’s pleasantly warm, but Rosie recoils, jerking away.

“Don’t touch me!” The nerve! Rosie is thinking. But she is disturbed, even more than she expected to be. There’s now something odd in the unknown man’s expression that she cannot place.

The stranger raises both hands. “Alright…I’m sorry.” And he walks away, but not without glancing back over his shoulder once.

Rosie watches him go, and as she does so, realizes she feels a little chilled. The wind gnaws at her ankles as it hisses through the garage. She shivers a little, although she’s dealt with his ilk before.

She turns back around and, in the process, accidentally kicks a paper bag that’s sitting on the ground near her feet. A tiny shriek of surprise escapes her, and her heart lurches, which sends a pulse of pain to her head. Noodles and crumbs fly out onto the concrete and Rosie stares at the mess for a moment. Her heart is going wild. She calms herself by being disappointed, which comes easily to her. She’s disappointed now in people who litter in public places.

She needs to hurry up. Jim said to meet upstairs, and the sun is setting already.

On the next level she begins to feel uneasy, watched. The vehicles are sparser. Another person, this one a teenager, stares at her as she walks up, up, up the incline. Rosie examines herself now, checking for wardrobe malfunctions, rashes, something that would draw attention. She pauses, bewildered. She sees what she sees, but is not able to make heads or tails of it. Nothing wrong, but also nothing right. She gropes for her pocketbook, finds none, keeps groping. Her heart kicks back up again.

Now she hears voices, an echo from the lower level, like an auditory blur. The sound is distant, but she detects the tenor of fear. It leeches quickly into the tender parts of her mind; Rosie is also afraid. She starts walking, and then running, and her feet are bare on the concrete and a sob slips from her because where are her shoes, and where is her pocketbook, and where is she.

The echoes crystallize into distinct voices. She recognizes one! But her relief curdles into confusion when she turns around there are three unfamiliar faces, two women and a man. Rosie falls and lands on her tailbone, hard, and cries out. The strangers rush upon her; they’re out of breath. It’s the man whose voice she knows, but whose face she doesn’t.

“Rosie. Oh, my God. Thank God we found you.” The man has taken one of her hands. She feels paralyzed, because she knows the hand, but when she looks at the man, his face slips and slides and flickers like dappled light on a pool. “Listen, love, you need to come with us.”

He kneels in front of her. He’s got a nametag stuck to his flannel shirt; there’s a grainy photo of him, and words alongside it, but they are meaningless.

“You’ve had a fall­–“ says one of the women, as the other one says, “Does she have my food?”

Rosie doesn’t pay attention to these women in blue. Without realizing it, she’s buried one hand in the man’s shirt. She squints again at his face, but all she recognizes is the same expression that the earlier strangers had worn, a squeezing of the brows and a pinching of the mouth. But his voice does mean something to her. And so does his touch. He sets his coat around her shoulders now, and the smoldering fear is dampened by the smell of cigars, and a soap she remembers, and the impression of cream-colored leather against the backs of her thighs.

The man picks up a small scrap of paper from the ground where she fell. She knows and doesn’t know what it says: We are everything and everyone we know.

Who are you? Rosie wonders, not for the last time.

Writer’s Note

Bad title is bad. Feel free to submit better ideas.

I’m not altogether unhappy with how this one turned out, although I violated probably the most sacred tenet of suspense: the reader is supposed to know more than the protagonist. I wanted the reader to become disoriented along with Rosie, but maybe (maybe?) some of the things I planted ahead of time had the effect of increasing the suspense anyway.

Traumatic brain injury is what I was thinking with this. Feeling like your own mind is not under your control is pretty damn scary, I think. Knowing and not knowing something, like recognizing what words are but being unable to glean meaning from them.

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