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Merle ambled from the hall to the door, walked up the nine steps, looked at the corners of each wall, saw a table, pulled his knife, and with the its tip, pounded in a loose nail while explaining how that makes a table more sturdy, then followed in line behind Rachel.
At the restaurant, the server introduced herself, then Merle introduced himself, Rachel, and Nicole to the waitress. He forgot David’s name. David looked at Rachel and shrugged, indicating his wish to ignore the oversight.
Rachel held up the menu and named and pointed to the choices she wanted. Merle placed his order, “I’ll enjoy the halibut.” He added, “Could you bring some jalapeños or poblanos with that?”
He proceeded to tell the group his story of his epic basement project in a 15-minute soliloquy. “Even though our house is built on an old river bed, that’s no problem, my basement will go down three levels. My office will be on the first, on the second there’ll be a bedroom and bath with a small living room. And I’ll have an exercise room and sewing room on the bottom level for Rachel.”
Merle continued, “You can never be too careful with all the strange people moving in. That’s why I have a Bahamian driver’s license, I refuse to have a social security number, and my public address isn’t even in this county. I won’t let Rachel use a national credit card. We get ours pre-paid at Western Union, and I certainly would not have an American bank account. Mine are all offshore.”
He ricocheted from one subject to another. “Let me show you the fifty-dollar gold piece I carry around. The government doesn’t want anyone to know these can be bought, because they want everyone to have paper money.”
Without stopping, “Someday I’ll show you our pre-nup. It bases our marriage on Biblical obligations, and not on state laws, which are contrary to the laws of God.”
And on and on. “The security cameras in the basement are working now. Maybe I’ll install a sex-slave dungeon too. Never know.”
David, Never again. Screw this.
Nicole, I’ll keep quiet, no need to embarrass Rachel.
Rachel, They’ll never go out with us again.
After her classes, sitting at dinner with her friends and listening to their conversation, Rachel remembered Merle’s call from that morning.
“I’m getting out in two days. Call me.”
She decided to drive to the hospital. Hadn’t planned to go there tonight. Probably should. Just endure his blathering, then go home.
She walked from the hospital parking lot toward the entrance, stopped outside the entrance, pulled out her cell, shook her head, placed the phone back in her purse. Moments later, she was walking down the main floor hallway to the elevators.
Closer to Merle’s unit, the hallways were narrower, there was more supervision, more electronic monitors. Rachel stood outside the unit door and waited for an attendant to open it. She walked toward Merle’s room and stopped, then impulsively gazed at the wall monitors, not knowing what she was searching for. Rachel looked for a chair in the hallway, but found none. She walked to the nurses’ station, made an excuse to the nurse, and, leaving the unit, found herself in the cafeteria, a windowless, featureless, low-ceilinged white room.
She sat, turned her face toward the blank wall. Her eyes cast down, her lower lip slanted down, she adjusted herself in the chair, slowly tilted her head back, then stood up for a moment, trying to decide.
She walked away from the cafeteria and headed back toward Merle’s room, resigned to her fate.