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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Yelena

“Justine and Jack didn’t make it home yesterday from visiting her mother in San Francisco,” Roger said Friday morning when she picked up the phone. “I'm worried… they were supposed to be here late in the afternoon but they never showed up. I'm sure she would have called if they had car problems. I spent the night with Mouse… he has that over-sized truck… we searched all the main roads but we didn't have any luck… all the roads are flooded with this damned storm we're having… if it wasn't for the stacks on Mouse's truck we never would have made it through the water… Christ, it came up over the hood a few times. Anyway… you don’t have to come into work today, Yelena… Twenty Nine Katz will be closed while I’m going out looking for them again… we're leaving in just a little while.”
Yelena felt a deep sense of foreboding build in her stomach working its way up into that spot beside her heart. She tried to speak but she could not form the words. She felt dizzy… when she tried to reach a chair in which to sit down she instead fell on the floor, the room spinning violently out of control all around her. She lay there several minutes clutching at the legs of the table that towered above her to keep from sliding away on the suddenly tilting tiled floor, fighting off the urge to vomit.
She broke out in a cold sweat as the vertigo subsided, shivering even in the warmth of the kitchen. She sat up testing her balance and finding the dizziness gone she got to her feet. Her ears felt funny… like the time when she was a little girl and dived too deeply into the waters of the Volga trying to reach something shiny she saw at the bottom of the river. She swallowed several times trying to equalize the balance of pressure; when she did so she heard a crackling sound inside her head.
Yelena set the tea kettle to boil putting a healthy pinch of sassafras tea into a cup and pouring hot water over it once the kettle sang to a boil. After cutting a slice of lemon, squeezing it into the cup, and rubbing the rind in between the palms of her hands to coat her skin with lemon juice, she sat at the table sipping the hot tea. With each swallow the pressure in her ears seemed to ease a bit… finally she felt capable of driving.
She went to Twenty Nine Katz; the parking lot seemed empty, forsaken, and forlorn. Using the key Roger had given her she let herself in the side door, turning off the chirping alarm. She felt as if she was entering a forbidden place tiptoeing across the room to the bar where she poured herself a double shot of Stolichnaya Elit vodka, downed it in a single gulp, and then poured another.
The faces in the pictures secured to the walls seemed to glower at her out of the dimness of the lightless room. She went over to the light switches and flipped them all on… she felt spooked though she couldn't quite fathom why. A chill ran up her spine. The light helped chase away whatever ghosts were lurking in the corners but not those huddling in the blackest depths of her mind. She felt sleepy… sleepier than she could ever remember feeling. She laid her head on the bar for just a minute.
"What are you doing here?"
"Oh… I am so sorry," Yelena said, coming fully awake, realizing she had fallen asleep sitting at the bar. She felt embarrassed that Roger had caught her sleeping, as if she shirked her duty. She saw Mouse and Tom Three Deer standing behind him. They both seemed to be trying to appear as if they weren't looking at her but she knew they were. "I come to talk with you… did you find Justine and Jack?"
"No… we've been to San Francisco and back," Roger said. "We saw no sign of them or their car. No one called here, did they?"
"No… not while I sat here," Yelena said. She got up to stretch her legs. They'd fallen asleep she'd been sitting there so long. It had grown dark outside… she looked at the clock and realized she'd been sleeping for five hours. "Did you call police?"
"Those bastards said there is nothing they can do," Roger said, worry lines mixing with a frown that troubled his face. "They said the storm is so bad that all their manpower is tied up… they said that we have to wait a day or two before they can even begin to mount a search."
"We're going out again," Mouse said. "We just stopped in to see if there were any messages on the machine… we thought there might be a chance Justine tried to call."
"She said that you told her not to go on a trip," Roger said, as he walked behind the bar and filled four glasses with beer from the spigot. "She said you warned her to be careful of dark places she couldn't see. She didn't want to go alone… but I couldn't stand the thought of being with her mother for a whole weekend… God help me… maybe if I had gone she would be home now…"
"She ask me to tell her fortune," Yelena said, looking down at the floor, feeling as guilty as Roger seemed to feel. "So I read her palm… I no remember what I say… is the way with me… I never remember… but yes… I remember something about a trip… something no good. She say I tell her to stay home… not to go. Was not for you to go, Roger… only Justine and Jack."
"Can you help us find her?" Roger asked. "Can you help me find my wife and son?"
"Of course," Yelena said without thinking. She remembered the day she first walked into Twenty Nine Katz and the kindness Justine and Roger showed her. "We should sit at booth… better for me in case I fall."
"Fall? Why would you fall?" Roger wondered, picking up his glass of beer and following Yelena to one of the booths that hugged the outer walls.
"Sometimes I pass out," Yelena said. A sudden inspiration blossomed in her heart to try something she had never tried before… something she had never even seen her grandmother try. "Do you have map?"
"Yes… we have a map," Mouse said, walking over to the table while pulling a folded piece of paper from his jacket pocket. "It has all the roads on it from here to San Francisco… even the gravel roads no one ever uses."
"Please… find me pencil," Yelena said, unfolding the map and laying it on the table in front of her.
"Look behind the bar," Roger said looking at Tom. "There's a box under the cash register with pencils in it… please bring Yelena one."
Tom walked to where Roger directed, bringing her a yellow pencil. Yelena took it in her right hand while directing Roger to lay his left hand on the table palm upward.
"You must ask me where Justine is at," Yelena instructed him. "You must do this as I begin reading palm… I might seem to fall asleep but is not sleep… is trance. Ask question carefully."
"Where is Justine, my wife?" Roger asked.
Yelena hovered her left hand over his, palm to palm. She felt a blackness rushing in onto her as everything when dark and she knew no more.
"Are you okay?" Roger said as he stood over her.
"Yes… yes… I think so," Yelena murmured, coming fully awake. "What did I say?"
"Nothing… you said nothing… you shuddered, your eyes rolled back in your head, and then you stabbed the pencil into the map so hard that you drove the tip right into the wooden table under it. And then you just fell over like you passed out."
"Let me see map," Yelena urged.
"Here… it's right here," Roger said. "I moved it after you collapsed, afraid something would get spilled on it."
"Do you know this place?" Yelena wondered, pointing to the spot on the map that she had marked. "Does this place mean anything to you?"
"No… not at all," Roger said. "I'm sure Justine would never go that way… it's way out in the middle of the mountains… she wouldn't know her way around that area at all… she would stay on the main roads. Christ, Yelena… that road looks like it goes nowhere… why on earth would she go that way?"
"You must go there," Yelena said.
"There's no sense in that," Roger complained. Yelena sensed resignation in his voice bordering on anger. "I'm not going to that place… we'd just be wasting our time. I know she wouldn't go that way."
"Then you two must go," Yelena insisted, looking at Mouse and Tom and pointing to the map. "Must look along side this road… look for car in deep place."
"I'm sorry, Yelena," Roger said. Tears filled his eyes as he spoke. "I'm all fucked up with worry over Justine and Jack… I can't sleep… I can't eat… if I could I'd be out looking for them every hour of the day and night. Of course we'll go to that spot on the map. I asked you for help and now here I am… I'm acting like a jack-ass. Forgive me, please."
"Nothing to forgive," Yelena said. She wished she could go to Roger and hug him and tell him everything would be okay but she knew better. "I understand… must be very hard… the not knowing is much worse than knowing."
"If you two are up for it we'll drive down there right now," Roger said, looking at Mouse and Tom. They stood so still that Yelena thought they might be carved. "I know it's late and we've already been to San Francisco and back. If you don't want to go, I understand… I'll drive there myself. If I leave right now I'll get there before it gets too dark."
"Oh no… you're not going alone, old friend," Mouse said, seeming to speak for Tom too. "We're in this together, Roger. Come on… we're wasting daylight."

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