Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Come Back To Me, Elsie

Her eyelids flickered open; something had woken her, but she didn’t know what.  It was dark, quiet; as her eyes gradually adjusted to the faint light filtering through sheer curtains, she saw the unfamiliar shadows of a large bedroom.  The bedsheets felt thick, expensive; unlike anything people in her circle, fresh out of college and struggling with new careers, would have.  The pillow where her head rested teased her memory with tendrils of… something, and for some reason that scared her wide awake.  Something was lurking at the edges of her consciousness; had she been dreaming?  She didn’t know why she should be so afraid, but her heart pounded.  There was something about the entire setting that was giving her a macabre sense of deja-vu.
As she lifted her head from the pillow’s unsettling scent, trying to get her bearings, a sleeping body next to hers mumbled, dreaming.  I must have gone home with some yuppie, she thought.  She wondered, for the umpteenth time, who had coined that ridiculous acronym that everyone was using now.  Must’ve met him at the bar.  Which bar, though?  Who was I with?  She couldn’t remember.  Maybe someone (Sleeping Yuppie?) had put something in her drink, drugged her, because this was definitely a weird hangover; a vague headache but an overwhelming feeling of… fuzziness.  God, I hope I didn’t do anything stupid.  GRID was the current nightmare, only it wasn’t called GRID anymore because someone had found out it wasn’t restricted to gays; now they were calling it AIDS, and since apparently anyone could get it, everyone was terrified.  Seriously, she needed to stop these one-night stands.  And she had to get out of here.  Now.
She rose, trying to avoid waking the sleeping man next to her, and searched blindly for her clothes on the floor.  She was surprised to find it tidy; a passionate lover, her clothes usually ended strewn around the room.  Most of her going-out blouses had mismatched buttons; she smiled ruefully at snatches from some of her wildest nights.  Just last week she’d ruined a beautiful silk shantung skirt…  No, she really needed to be more careful; she’d been lucky so far, but this could end badly.  Maybe, she thought with a mental whimper, maybe tonight was the night her luck had run out.
She finally found a blouse and slacks with her scent, but they didn’t even seem rumpled; they’d been draped carefully over a chair.  Sleeping Yuppie must have put them there after I fell asleep, she thought.  Is he anal or something?  She couldn’t even remember their lovemaking, and that was a first; she was a stickler for those details.  This was creeping her out, and the unfamiliar-yet-familiar feel of the room was making it worse.  I’ll feel better once I’m home, she thought.  It’ll all come back to me in the morning, over coffee with Anna; we’ll have a good laugh over this.  
She dressed quickly; no bra or panties in sight, but no matter - he could keep them as a souvenir.  She was groping quietly along the dresser for her handbag when the bedside lamp turned on.
-‘Elsie?  What are you doing?’  Shit.  He was awake and she couldn’t remember his name.  He looked… old, but maybe that was because he was squinting against the glare.
-‘Uh… hi,’ she tried with a smile.  ‘I’m sorry I woke you.  I’ve, uh, got to get home.  Any idea where my handbag is?’
-‘Your…?  Elsie, are you all right?’  He was sitting up now, real concern on his face.
-‘I’m fine, I just… I need to get home.  Can you help me find my handbag?’  She felt the stirrings of hysteria in her voice; get a grip, Elsie.
He looked at her, sadness slowly diluting the concern on his features.  He really was old, not a yuppie at all; probably more than twice her age.  What had she been thinking?
-‘Sure, Elsie.  I’ll go get your handbag.  Just… wait here, ok?  Don’t go anywhere.’  He pulled on a robe over ridiculous satiny pajamas, something her dad would have worn to bed, and left the room, closing the door softly behind him.  What did he do with my bag, she thought, dismayed.  She couldn’t shake the feeling of paranoia; first he spikes my drink, I can’t remember anything, he hides my handbag somewhere, and now I can’t leave the room?  She spotted a futuristic phone on the night table.  Call Anna, stupid.  No, call the police; something’s very, very wrong.
She picked up the receiver quietly, stumped for a second at the unfamiliar buttons until she saw one with “Talk”.  Her finger was ready to dial when she realized the line was in use.
-‘It’s bad, Carrie,’ she heard Mr. Not-So-Yuppie saying.  ‘She’s up again, half dressed and in a panic, says she’s trying to get “home”…  I can’t believe it’s come to this.’  Elsie was confused.  Is he crying?  Who’s Carrie?
-‘Dad,’ a young woman’s voice replied, sounding shockingly like her yet… different.  ‘I’m so sorry.  I’ll come home over the weekend and we’ll make arrangements, ok?  It’s for the best.  Mom needs professional care; you’ll feel better when you know she’s safe.’  Mom?  Elsie’s world tilted; this was completely surreal.  She’d landed in a Fellini movie.
-‘I know, sweetie; it’s just… Institutionalized?  She’s so young.  I thought we’d have more time, but it’s advancing so fast.  Carrie, when she doesn’t recognize me, it’s…  It breaks my heart,’ his voice cracked.
Elsie pressed the “Talk” button again carefully, shutting out these disturbing voices.  Her throat tight, she was fully in the grip of something stronger than terror.  Who are these people?
Tears of frustration, confusion and dread blurred her vision as she stared, unbelievingly, at the family photographs on the night table.

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