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fitter happier more productive

by Zara Hemla

I: nothing so ridiculously teenage and desperate

Edward Martin puts down the copy of "The Dream Hunters" that his sister gave him for Christmas and smiles to himself. He's read the graphic novel about a hundred times, and it never stops surprising him.

A girl who's a fox, and a monk that dies for her ... Eddie doesn't like to admit it, but he's a romantic. He wishes, in a roundabout way, that he could have a girl who would give up her life for him. Well, maybe Allyson would, but a sister isn't the same thing.

"Oy, Eddie! We're goin' down to Atchafalaya! It's 80s night!" His roommate's light tenor floats in through the window, and Eddie jumps off his bed to peer out. The evening illuminates Chad, standing at the dorm's entrance with a few pretty girls at his side. Chad always has pretty girls floating around him. Eddie doesn't understand how he does it.

"Dude, I'll meet you there. I got this calculus homework."

"Okay! Text me!"

Chad and the girls go off and Eddie pulls his head back in the window. The calculus is a pretext. Eddie doesn't dance well, never has, and doesn't like going to 80s night. He doesn't really like 80s music - anything with a synthesizer makes him shudder. He has never admitted it to his friends, but he likes old stuff - really old. Swing bands, blues, early jazz. The ska movement briefly interested him, but had petered out too soon.

Eddie sighs. If he doesn't go out with Chad, though, he'll never meet any girls, and maybe he'll never find a girl for him. He desperately wants to know what sex is like - hello, he's a college boy - but not enough to just go out and do it. He wants romance. It's sick, but there it is. He wants a girl that would die for him.

He rifles through his CDs until he comes up with a jazz compilation and sticks it in the player. At the first sound of Bix Biederbecke's "Davenport Blues," his mind is away. Eddie's mind takes him places that no one can ever follow him to. Weird, fantastic places, often populated by demons or vampires or beautiful, willowy women, or all three.

"There's a magic sword," he murmurs to himself. "And if he wields it with skill and strength, then he can slay the mighty demon that's blocking out the sun."

He remembers vaguely that the sun went out over LA one time when he was a kid, but no one knows why. And then Jasmine came, and it seemed unimportant. But something had happened to Jasmine ... something that had torn everyone out of her love, kicking and screaming. Eddie remembers the loss that he felt, but he had mom and dad and Allyson and Mark to cry with. Luckily.

No, Eddie has no idea what blocked out the sun for real. But his mind insists that it could have been a demon. And if there was a demon, then there had to be a hero, right? Sure, it's all a story - but a good story. Like "The Dream Hunters."

Eddie rolls over and fumbles underneath his bed. Chad will be gone for awhile, and he won't be around to make fun of Eddie's writing habit. Chad's a good guy, but kind of dumb. He thinks writing is for morons, and maybe it is, but Eddie sometimes feels like he has to do it, like his fingers are magnetized to a ballpoint pen.

The notebook is plain, black, ordinary. Inside, in Eddie's gangly freshman print, is a laboriously printed title: "The Adventures of Angel. Private Eye by Day - Super Hero By Night!!!!!! He Fights Evil To Reclaim Justice In the City Of Angels!!!!!!!"

Eddie flips to a blank page. Bix slides into "Dardanella." Eddie, buoyed up by the transcendent trumpet, begins to write.

"'Oh Angel,' said Lelia, 'there's so many things you don't know. Just remember this - the Mob was so pleased at your cleanup of the Vampire Boys gang that they've given you this entire building for your very own.'

'And where do you figure into this?' asked Angel. He was very suspicious of Lelia's motives. After all, she'd been the moll of Stiletto Vezzini, the Mob's most dangerous hit man. 'Wouldn't Stiletto be pretty angry if he saw us together?'

'No, Angel, you don't understand. Stiletto sent me here to be your secretary. To do whatever you want. I'm your go-to girl.' She walked up to him until she was only an inch away. Angel could have taken her in his arms, if he'd wanted. But he'd seen how she looked at his second-in-command, Westley Edgington III. The two of them had been exchanging smoldering glances since the day they first met.

'Oh yeah? Well, go-to girl, go get me some coffee.' Angel sat down at his comfy desk and smiled. It was quiet and upscale in this part of Los Angeles. Angel thought he could probably get used to the quiet for awhile.

But as if to belie all his happy ideals, the door flew open. And there stood five foot ten of tall, dark-haired beauty. It was a woman in a long, flowing red dress, who looked mad enough to spit nails.

'Are you Angel?' she demanded. When he nodded, she launched into a tale of suffering and woe, her dark eyes flashing and her bosom heaving.

'Angel, you have to help me! My name is Cordana and my ex-fianc is trying to kill me! You see, it happened this way'" . . . .

II: now self-employed / concerned (but powerless)

Jake Peary is thirty-seven years old. It seems important to say that first. He has been married two times. Both marriages are over. He was supposed to go to university but dropped out. He served a year in jail for assault. He knows how to start a fire with barely any tinder and not a match in sight.

Jake is alone most of the time. He has taken a job mowing lawns for public parks, civic buildings, and churches. It pays all right. It pays for his small apartment and his collection of dreamcatchers. It means that it's mostly him and his lawnmower, every day. Good.

Jake's mother and father are both dead. His sister lives in Ottawa and has not spoken to him in sixteen years. Good. He doesn't want to talk to her, he hasn't wanted to ever since the day in July of his twenty-first year that he'd stolen a car and headed out of Los Angeles for ever.

He lives in Kamas now. It is a small town in the mideastern part of Utah. No one knows where he came from or who he really is, which suits him fine. Jake doesn't like to talk to anyone. It doesn't suit him anymore.

In his twenty-fourth year, Jake discovered that he liked it when he choked women. Oh, not enough to kill them - he can stop himself there - but enough that they gagged and clawed at him. It made him so hot that he wanted to do it every time. And that's what ended his first marriage.

His second marriage had lasted about three hours. She hadn't cared about the choking, but she had cared about his penchant for loud, panic-filled dreams. She'd said, "I can't sleep with you, I'm not gonna stay with you." And she hadn't. They'd both been drunk when they got married anyway. It was no big loss.

The Mormons are good to Jake and let him keep his job, even if he shows up late or mows slowly. He has a feeling that they think he's retarded. Good. Let them think it. There are so many churches in this damn town that he could mow all day and all night and still have church lawns left to mow. And no one else wants to do it.

Jake rides his mower from eight in the morning until five at night, with a break for lunch, if he arrives on time. If not, he often skips his lunch break, steering the mower one-handed while eating a cheese sandwich. It's not like it's rocket science.

There are two constants in Jake's life. One is the almost-nightly presence of tearing, clawing dreams. Jake collects dreamcatchers because he hopes that if he gets enough, one day, the dreams will stop. He does not even know what the dreams are about, only that they wake him up nightly, screaming. His first wife had stood it well enough until the choking had forced her to leave. The second - well. Good riddance.

Jake currently has five hundred and seventeen dreamcatchers. He has a book on how to make them and occasionally, when he feels that he can't stand it one more minute, he sits up at night and weaves yard or thread or shoelaces around and around and around. It's useless, he knows it. But it keeps him from shoving a newly-bought gun into his mouth. And that's a temptation sometimes.

The second constant in Jake's life is the man in the black coat. Since Jake was eighteen, he has been seeing the man in the black coat every once in awhile - sometimes once a year, sometimes once a week, on and off. Ever in the shadows, ever half-lit, the man is pale and dark-haired. And thought it has been almost twenty years since Jake first saw him, the man has not aged by a year.

Jake has not seen the man in black for five months, but has no doubt that he will see him again. The man usually just watches him or follows him from a distance. He and Jake have never spoken.

Jake motors around the corner of Kamas hospital's enormous lawn, leaving a perfect trail of cut grass behind him. He has decided that the next time he sees the man in the black coat, he will go right up to him. And he'll say, "How do I get rid of these dreams?" It seems the best thing to do.

Jake doesn't know how much longer he will be able to hold on to his sanity. He hopes the man in the black coat will show up soon. His hands itch: to choke, to buy a gun, to keep the lawn mowed. Perfectly.

III: favours for favours

It's life as usual for Darien MacEnroe. He comes home from his office, toting his big drawing pad, thinking about the new office building that's next to the park. Should they go for something contemporary or try to revive the a style that Los Angeles used to be famous for? And should there be a statue in the courtyard?

It is nine o'clock in the evening. Darien has been working all evening, feverishly trying to get his new ideas on paper. Architectural Digest has just hailed him as an "up and coming" guy, "someone "to watch out for." It's a heady thought, and also a cautionary tale. Many an architect has been hailed just so, and many an architect has burnt out before they could fulfill their potential. Darien would do anything to avoid that. So he cultivates his ideas quietly and slowly, working a spot in his brain that's peaceful and full of buildings.

Darien nods to the doorkeeper and heads up the stairs of his modest, but not too modest, condo. As he turns the key in the lock, he hears something odd but not unexpected - somewhere in his house, someone is breaking glass.

He pokes his head into the door first and doesn't see anything, so he lets himself in and places his drawing pad into the front closet.

"Rich? Rich, I'm home," he calls. He's met with silence. He sighs and calls again into the oppressive stillness. "Rich? Rich, I'm sorry I'm late, but I got the Martineau account and I've been working on the office building all day. ..."

"You bastard." The voice comes from the kitchen, and it is flat and matter-of-fact. The speaker does not appear, however.

"Come on, Rich, I'm sorry." Darien takes off his tie and puts it over the back of the chair, reconsiders, balls it up, and puts it in his pocket. "I swear, I have done nothing but sit at my desk all day."

"The fuck you have. I called Lisa and she said you were out. Where were you?" Rich's voice is rising, and Darien hears, with a wince, another piece of glass crash to the floor.

"I must've been in the bathroom or something. Geez! I even ate lunch at my desk. I don't know why she said that." He hears the rising panic in his own voice, tries to stamp it down. The last thing he wants is to have Rich mad at him. Rich isn't pretty when he's angry, and Darien hates conflict.

"You know what? You're a liar. A really bad liar." Rich finally stomps out of the kitchen, leveling an accusing finger at Darien. His dark hair is standing on end instead of in its usual gelled coif, and a bright flush burns on his cheeks. Darien realises with a sinking feeling that he is drunk. Well, there's no getting out of this now.

"Rich, I swear -- " He never finishes the sentence, for Rich hits him as hard as he can in the solar plexus. Darien goes down, gasping for air and clutching his middle. Faintly, he hears Rich letting out a stream of invective.

"Liar. Cheat. Who is he? Who is he?!" He hauls Darien to his feet and slaps him, hard, in the face. The sting rocks Darien's head back, smacking him against the plaster kitchen doorway.

"I don't - I don't -"

Rich punches him twice in the stomach, drops him, and kicks him in the side. Darien feels a dull stab in his chest, and curls up as best he can, protecting his head. The kicks continue for a couple minutes, then Darien hears Rich run into the bedroom and slam the door. A minute later, he hears Rich's wild sobbing.

Darien lies on the floor and tries to think of what to do. The stab in his chest, thankfully, dies down, and when he finally gathers the energy to prod his ribs, they don't pain him at all. Nothing broken. He drags himself off of his living room floor and staggers into the bathroom.

In the mirror, he is pale and hectic. He has a goose egg on the back of his head and a sluggishly bleeding cut on his cheek. He is breathing in hitches and his shirt is torn. He looks nothing like an "up and coming" anyone.

He closes the bathroom door quietly and locks it. Then he digs in the bathroom cupboard for the Neosporin. It's way in the back under a package of soap and an old hair gel bottle. Disconnectedly, Darien thinks that he really ought to clean out the cupboard.

Sitting on the toilet, he dabs at the cut on his face and wonders whether he ought to fire Lisa or not. He decides not, since he hadn't given her any instructions. Who would have thought that Rich would call? He was in one of his manic stages, organizing a shoot for his documentary, and Darien had thought he'd be safe enough.

It was true what Rich said - he was a liar and a cheat. But Wesley is like kismet. He seems to know Darien in ways that no one could, not even Rich. He sees Darien as someone with potential. He even says that he'll give him a commission to build something for his firm, Wolfram and Hart.

Darien knows he isn't the only one that Wesley sleeps with. At least twice he's seen other people leaving Wesley's apartment late at night - a curvy woman who always wore scarves, and a pasty white fella in a black duster coat. But at twenty-four, he's arrogant enough to think of them as "older" and stop there. Maybe they can't keep up.

It doesn't matter. Darien's content enough to have a few minutes of Wesley's time. He knows Wesley doesn't want a relationship with him. Sometimes he looks at him with a funny smile, or whispers halfjoking British endearments, but he never explains himself. And it doesn't matter that much. Darien isn't really into commitment.

It's something he ought to tell Rich, who expects a return of feeling that isn't there, but Darien hates conflict. In awhile he'll say something. If he ever gets up the courage to fight back.

From the other side of the door he hears a tap, and Rich's voice follows, rough from crying.

"Dare? Dare? I'm so fucking sorry, honey. I don't know what - I don't know why - I'm so sorry."

Smearing the Neosporin on the cut, Darien rises from the toilet and opens the door. He smiles tremulously at Rich, the picture of the wounded lover, and keeps his mouth shut. Rich does the babbling apology thing, and Darien just smiles and lets him. Their makeup sex is very very nice, and Rich mumbles something about love afterwards. Darien just pretends to be asleep. It's easier that way.

IV: slower and more calculated / no chance of escape

It's partial. Some days he's Hal Weathers, one-time basketball player for the Detroit Pistons, and some days he's Connor the Champion, some kind of fucking superhero saving the damned or whatever.

Started slowly enough, with pieces of his day he didn't remember, things people said he did that he never did. Then there was the picture in the paper, and that cracked him up good. Now he's in the Eleazer B. Wirthlin wing of the Detroit hospital, in a white room with black curtains, like the song says.

In college he found out that he could run faster than other players. Jump higher. Shit like that. He joined the UNLV basketball team, scouts saw him, he went to the NBA. It might have been more complex than that, but it just wasn't. It was fucking easy. Too easy. 'Cause two years later, here he is in the funny farm. Hal. Or Connor. Or both.

The photo in the Detroit Free Press had shown him in the act of jumping from the top of a five-story building. It had been captioned, "Leaps Tall Buildings. ..." The second photo, captioned "In A Single Bound," had shown him upright, apparently unharmed, walking away from the scene. It had generated a huge uproar of publicity for the Pistons. It had also generated many, many questions.

Hal could not answer those questions. In fact, Hal had no idea what the fuck the interviewers were talking about. He had deflected questions with a joke about manipulated photographs. Just been completely puzzled. Until someone got themselves a bona fide interview with Connor the Champion. Great.

It had run nationally, that interview, in such prestigious papers as the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post. Hal can remember parts of it quite lucidly.

Connor: So we had sex, right? Really great sex. Once. And then she turned up pregnant, only it was this demon baby, right? That's what we thought. Reporter: Only it turned out to be -
Connor: Jasmine, yeah.
Reporter: So you're claiming to be responsible for the Jasmine phenomenon that swept the Western US three years ago?
Connor: I was her father.

Hal cannot remember giving this interview. As far as he knows, he was in bed with two blondes from the opposing team's cheerleading squad on the night in question. But the reporter claims that Connor was, on that smoggy summer night, out keeping the streets clean from the criminal element.

Reporter: So then your, quote unquote, "father," ... Connor: Tried to wipe my memory clean and put me with a foster family.
Reporter: Why would he do that?
Connor: (shrugs) He's an idiot.

The reporter, one Mike Whitney, has photos to prove that Hal - Connor - was the one talking with him. Hal has no explanation for this. When Joe Dumars himself had called Hal into his office, Hal had ended up almost in tears. The frustration was even more palpable because on one hand, he was sure it was a lie - he'd never heard of this Connor person - but a small, definite part of him knew that something was very wrong with him. Very wrong.

Reporter: What do you plan to do, now that you're back?
Connor: I'll cleanse the world of hatred and injustice. Of course.
Reporter: That's a big job.
Connor: (looks down at himself and grimaces) At least that moronic other personality kept me in shape.

Dumars had looked at him very, very patiently, and had said, "Hal, man, I think you need to see someone." Someone had turned into someones - Connor had reared his ugly head - and here Hal was, staring through a window that has bars on it.

Doctor Wexel comes in, consulting a chart, and Hal turns around to watch him. Wexel is a short man with a tic in his nose that makes him look like a rabbit. He takes a chair and looks hard at Hal.

"Who are we today, Mr. Weathers?"

Hal snarls at him. "Who the fuck do you think, rabbit-face?"

"Ah. So nice to see you, Hal. And how are we feeling?"

"'We' are feeling fine. 'We' would like some lunch. 'We' would like our fucking lawyer."

"I'm afraid that's not possible."

Hal sighs. "Look. Can't we just get this over with? I had my blood test today, but I need my mindfuck."

"Hmmph. Right."

Reporter: So "Hal" is just a figment of your imagination?
Connor: That's right. He's nothing. Just a made-up person.
Reporter: What'll happen to him if you rise up permanently?
Connor: (shrugs) I don't care.

Wexel has left and time has passed, but Hal doesn't know how much time. Outside the window, the sun seems to be going down.

Suddenly he hears the lock click open and Wexel comes in again, leading another man in a lab coat. This man is bald and looks completely out of place, completely un-doctor-like. But Wexel doesn't seem to notice.

"Dr. Gunn," he says. "As you see, the patient is exhibiting signs of breakdown and multiple personalities. You have surely read the literature on the subject and reached the same conclu - " He breaks off as Dr. Gunn thumps him over the head with a closed fist.

"Never got into that sciencey shit anyways," says the man that Hal has simultaneously never seen before and recognizes perfectly. "That's Fred's gig. How you doin', Connor?"

Hal opens his mouth to say, who the hell are you, and how did you get into my room, but what comes out is, "Never better, Gunn. You took your sweet time."

Gunn looks abashed. "Well, once we saw the papers, we knew someone had to come."

The voice that is not Hal's says, "Why didn't Angel come?"

"Lots of daylight travel. Plus, I think he's afraid of airplanes. Those old guys fear the new inventions, all that."

"Some brave vampire."

"Yeah. But time's a-wasting. I guess you want to come home?"

Hal feels himself slipping under, claws to the surface, screams silently, is gone.

"Home," muses Connor. "Sure. I guess."

V: less chance of illness

The hospital room is a white and cool window into hell. Will Crandall sits on a bed and watches his second-born lose her fight with leukemia, and wonders if life can get any worse.

She has not been conscious enough to speak for five days. Last Saturday she said goodbye to her two siblings and her dad and mom, but she hangs on still. Still, though she is barely breathing, though her lungs are collapsing, though her brain is probably mush in her head.

Anneke is twelve years old, and last year she had been the captain of her soccer team. But Will can't think of that, because the sobs still threaten to overcome him, and he's cried enough over the last week to fill a reservoir. Instead, he watches her struggle to breathe and he holds her hand.

He and Melanie have taken turns at her bedside for quite awhile. At first she sat there most of the day while he worked, and Jenny had picked Aaron up from school, but eventually he'd just taken time off of work. It's not like he did anything there anyway except sit and contemplate whether Anneke had died or not.

The nurse pokes her head in and enquires whether she can get him anything. He shakes his head and she leaves quietly. The hospital staff here are very kind, but they feel that there is nothing more they can do. She has been moved back from the children's hospital in Austin to this little one outside of Killeen, about five miles from their house, to die.

Will checks his watch - eight fifteen - and his daughter's heart monitor - the same. The steady beeps of it are not reassuring, but they are there.

The door opens and Melanie slips into the room. She has a habit of walking quietly, even though Will isn't sure why. It's not like Anny can hear them, after all. He thinks.

"Hey, sweetie," she says, kneeling at his side and looking up at him with big, dark eyes. "How is she?"

"The same." Will can't look back at her, because he'll start crying, and he's promised himself he won't cry anymore tonight. It's already given him a big sticky headache and he feels sort of sick. Not sick like leukemia, no, but sick like dread, like freezing.

"Will-boy, I'm so sorry." She uses the pet name she made up for him in college, and she leans her head on his knee. He can feel her defeat reaching out for him and joining his own. The two of them just sit there for a few minutes, silent.

"What about the kids?" he rouses himself enough to say.

"Jenny's doing it again. She's really a saint." Mel's voice is weary but full of pride. "She said she'd put Aaron to bed and do her homework. She might even be doing too much, but I haven't got the strength to stop her."

"She'll make it. She's a tough kid." Jenny had Will's determination and Mel's steel backbone. It had caused them endless frustrations when Jen was a kid, but now that she was fifteen, she had turned into a self-sufficient almost-woman. And just in time to watch her sister lose fifty pounds and die. Now there was a trial by fire.

"Why don't you go get a sandwich?" asks Mel. "Or a doughnut or something."

"That cafeteria food is shit."

"Shush. Do you want your daughter to hear you talking like that?"

Will hears a sound come out of his own chest, a kind of half-moan. "Mel ..."

"I'm sorry, hon." She touches his arm and then nudges him a little. "Go get some coffee. A banana. Something."

"All right." He stands up, feeling his knees crack and his muscles protest. Mel takes his place at Anneke's bedside, holding her hand and singing something softly. He closes the door on the sound of it.

Where Anneke's room is, the hospital is mostly quiet. Will had gotten a disjointed impression from "ER" that hospitals were busy and full of people yelling, but that never happened in the terminal wing. Here, people waited quietly to die. There was no need for hurry.

Will goes down the stairs toward the cafeteria but runs out of steam. The food there really is shit and he has no desire to smell the mashed potatoes and badly ground coffee that overpowered the place. Instead, he heads for the revolving door that leads out to the air, feeling guilty but determined.

Outside it is clear and hot. The late July sun, even as it's going down, makes the very air shudder and bakes everything in its path. But to Will, it feels less hellish than the cool, white air of the hospital.

He walks without looking, hands in his pockets, feet shuffling in their old Adidas. He is almost forty years old, but he feels like a little boy who wants his mother very, very badly. Too bad she'd been dead thirteen years. He'd thought it was torture to sit by her bedside and watch her take her last breath, but it was cake compared to doing the same to his little girl.

Low and slow, he hears the sounds of a jazz band playing "Everybody Cryin' Mercy." He looks up and finds himself in a park. Nearby, a fountain splashes against the heat. Will sits down at its edge and thinks about how Anneke loves fountains. Any kind of running water, really. The Crandalls had gone to Yellowstone two summers ago in a cramped RV, and Anneke had wanted to dabble her feet in every river they passed. It became a running joke. Hey Anny, want to dip your feet in this mudhole? No thanks, dad, if I wanted that I'd just go to a spa. Say, want to pay for it?

"Everybody cryin mercy," he murmurs, "when they don't know the meaning of the word."

He trails his hand in the water, trying not to cry and mostly failing. The sun sends its last rays over the horizon and sets. And he hears, rather than sees, someone sit down beside him.

"I am so sorry about your daughter," says a voice. Will looks up and sees a small, dark-haired woman looking at him with more compassion in her eyes than a stranger ought to have. She has a hint of a Texas accent, wears black-rimmed glasses and a white lab coat.

Will scrubs tears from his cheeks. "Are you a doctor? Is Anneke all right? How did you find me?"

The woman shakes her head. "I'm ... I'm Winifred Burkle. From a lab in Los Angeles. I've come to make you an offer on behalf of my boss." She laughs a little nervously. "He should be along any minute . . . he was just waiting for . . . a call . . . in the car."

Truly puzzled now, Will frowns. "Why would you come all the way out from Los Angeles? What do you care about us for?"

She sighs. "It sure was a long trip. Ang -- Mr. Angel . . . he's my boss . . . he insisted on listening to the Bee Gees most of the drive."

"The dri - you drove all the way out here from LA?" Will stands up. "Listen, lady, I don't know who you are or what you want, but I'm out of here."

"No, please!" She stands up too and puts her hand on his arm. "Please, Will. Give him a chance." Then her expression lightens as she looks over his shoulder. "And here he is now. Mr. Angel, this is Will Crandall."

"I know," comes a voice from behind Will. A dark shape moves past his vision and resolves itself into a pale man, maybe thirty to Will's forty, in a black trench coat. He puts his hand out and Will, bemused, shakes it.

"I'm Mr. Angel of the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram and Hart." The name means nothing to Will, so he just nods politely. The man scrubs a hand through his short dark hair and continues. "I have a proposition for you and your family, if you want to consider it."

"I don't think so." Will turns away and brusquely begins walking toward the entrance to the park, which he can see at the end of a path. Tall white lights are coming on, illuminating the park in an artificial glow.

"Will Crandall." The pale man's voice stops him, burns through his forced calm. "Father, Jim Crandall. Mother, Pat Wilkins Crandall. Deceased. Sister, Mary Crandall Barlow. Sister, Jill Crandall. Wife, Melanie Smith Crandall. Daughter, Jennifer Christina Crandall. Son, Aaron Crandall. Daughter, Anneke Maria Crandall. Deceased."

Barely aware of himself, Will spins in place and launches himself at the source of that voice. He is dimly amazed at how far he can jump, and then he's knocked Mr. Angel into the dirt and is holding himself an inch from the man's face.

"Shut UP!" he hears himself scream. "She's not dead yet! You fucking bastard! Who are you? Who are you?"

"I'm no one," replies Mr. Angel calmly, "but oblivion." He seems completely unsurprised to have been attacked. His face barely twitches a muscle as he speaks. It's eerie.

"What then?" spits Will. "Come to kill her? Got a brand new drug to put her out of her misery? Well, fuck you. She already has all the drugs she could ever want. Want her for a lab experiment? No. A thousand times no. Want her eyes for donation? We'll think about it. Get in line. Get in line for her kidneys and her heart too, okay? Just get in line." To his everlasting, unsurprised disgust, he is crying again. And the man in black rolls out from under him with fluid grace, rolls out and over and enfolds Will in his arms.

"Oh, Will," he says. "Not her. There's nothing we can do for her. We came here to offer oblivion to you."

"Wh - ?" It is just a soft explosion of sound, but Ms. Burkle seems to hear it.

"We . . . that is, Mr. Angel feels that we are qualified to help you forget that your daughter's illness was so long and painful. Our firm has a specialty in . . . rewriting history for people who are interested."

Mr. Angel's arms are very comforting, like the mother that Will hasn't had in a long time, but he still twists out and stands up to face Ms. Burkle. "Are you kidding? You want to make me forget her?" His voice, incredulous and choked, must be affecting her, for her eyes become even sadder.

"Not . . . precisely. You would remember her fondly, but we could take away the pain of her illness and death. For you and also your family."

That stops him for about a minute. He stands there, swaying in exhaustion, thinking how it would be to remember all this fondly, like a dream or something that happened to someone else.

"Why me?" he finally says, looking at Winifred Burkle but speaking to the pale man behind him. "I never asked for any rewriting."

Mr. Angel says, "We - we knew each other once. You wouldn't remember. I just want to help you. I promise. Say yes and it will happen."

A longer silence commences. Will begins pacing toward the entrance to the park, but slowly, and the other two walk silently a few paces behind him. He is trying very hard to remember where he met Mr. Angel, and failing. He hasn't been in Los Angeles since he was a kid. But he doesn't need to know why Mr. Angel is offering to turn down the offer. That's pretty obvious.

At the entrance to the park, Will turns around. "Look," he says. "It's not like I don't appreciate it. But forgetting isn't the human condition. I have to go through this pain and I have to remember it. How much of Anneke will I have anyway? Only twelve years. This is part of it. Okay? Sorry you had to drive so long to get here."

Mr. Angel looks at him for a minute as if he's assessing every shadow under Will's eyes and line on his face. Then he nods curtly, seeming disappointed but resigned.

"Well, thanks for your time," Will says. Mr. Angel nods again and walks past him, over to a very classic black Mustang convertible that's parked at the curb. Ms. Burkle makes as if to follow him, but she stops and puts her hand on Will's arm again.

"I told him this wasn't a good idea, to approach you like this, but he insisted. And it's very difficult to talk him out of things. He just . . . doesn't think very human anymore." And with that completely cryptic statement, she squeezes his arm and hurries off to the car.

Will wonders absently if he's just been dreaming. The Mustang peels away from the curb, and he hears a strain of "New York Mining Disaster":

Or have they given up and all gone home to bed, thinking those that once existed must be dead?

He hasn't wandered too far off course. Off to the right about half a mile, he can see the familiar lights of the hospital where his wife is waiting. Where his daughter lies, taking and taking her last breaths.

Slowly he begins the walk back to his vigil. He realises that he is sort of hungry and that he has been gone for a long time. Mel won't be mad; she'll just figure that he went out for awhile. But Will doesn't want to be out anymore. He wants to be back with his family.

He speeds up a little. He wants to kiss his wife and remember how she looks; he wants to see the needles in Anneke's arm and remember them. He wants to remember everything.

--end--

Notes: Hey, look at me! I'm writing fic about someone I don't even like! Well, good luck, Connor. Don't come back. Title and section quotes are from Radiohead's "Fitter Happier." "Everybody Cryin' Mercy" is Mose Allison & Bonnie Raitt, 1973. "New York Mining Disaster (1941)" is the Bee Gees.


If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Zara Hemla

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