I’ve only got one eye, but I saw too much. Rain dragged me out to the mall so she could get new clothes for work. She said I needed to get out more and acclimate. Every baby screech or dropped package echoed in the open spaces and hard surfaces of commerce. My right hand gripped the staff tighter on its own.
“What?” My attention returned to my wife. She stopped ahead of me, long black hair tied back behind her in a braided ponytail. Her head nodded toward the tables in the food court in her people’s way of pointing. “Can you go find us a table? I’ll get us food.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Well, I am. It’s why I need to buy new clothes.”
A cutting remark readied itself, awaiting breath to form its dark art. Things aren’t well between us since I escaped Helheim last year. I’m not well. Every sound threatened me, and every sight angered. All of it feeding the other side of me. The one I made an oath to. The words won’t help. So I packed the anger into another ball and stuffed it into my Ragnarök chest back in the corner of my mind.
I watched the back of Rain walking away to the pizza place. A normal man would ogle that. But as they say of all things that return from the land of the dead, “I came back wrong.” I unclenched my grip and released my staff. Too many eyes stole furtive glances at the pale white haired man with an eye patch. I pulled the hoodie up to shroud them from view.
Grabbing my staff, which had remained upright, I set out to find a table to not eat at.
Choices. I should have made a better one. I could replay how that moment went down, but I knew where all mine would lead. Small choices that still bounced downward in the giant pachinko of wyrd. At best, I could avoid the table with pop spilled. People occupied most of the tables. Couples. Mothers with children. Teens. The usual mall fare on a Saturday.
I found a table near the exit. Technically, it was an entrance, but when you’ve spent time in a combat zone, they’re exits. A few crumbs I could brush off littered the table. A normal person would sweep them off without a thought, but not me. I’ve got to weigh the pros and cons of an irritated Rain. Who does that? Did I used to do that? Now that I’ve thought about it, does this make everything I do cold and calculated? What is wrong with me?
A glimpse of movement to my right snapped me back to the here and now. A woman bearing a tray of food, followed by a bearded man of scowling countenance. She opened her mouth to speak, but the man talked over her. “No not that table. Go over there.” He pointed and the woman shifted course. As he passed, he leaned in and said, “Sorry man, you know how women can be.”
A faint whiff of cigarette breath blinded me as he moved past me, making it too late to send a frown his way. Who talks that way? Skit. I’m back to asking myself questions again and I haven’t even sat down. I settled into a chair and brushed the crumbs off with my left arm. The right kept a firm grip on the staff beside me.
Time swirled in eddies of motion around me as people laughed and argued. At one table, a father blathered on to his son about making assumptions. I assume the boy screwed something minor up and the man found this to be a fine moment to pontificate on assuming things that didn’t align with his preference was wrong, but his assumptions were right. I could envision his hand moving to take another sip of pop only to miss as his glass had floated upward due to the sudden reversal of gravity at that point in space-time. That didn’t happen of course, but assumptions my ass.
A tray with two plates plopped down in front of me on the table. Another inward vision disrupted. I turned my head to the left to find Rain taking a seat next to me. Of course, she chose my bad side. I snuck a quick look a few tables over at Scowling McPubeFace and his woman. His, only in the sense that he seemed to keep a tight leash on her. I don’t want to be an asshole like that.
“Rain, I’m sorry.”
She placed the plate with a slice of Hawaiian pizza in front of me. “For what?”
“You said something, and I was going to say something unkind.”
“A man should only apologize for what he’s done.”
She picked up her slice of pepperoni. “Just eat your lunch. I know I’m fat. I can’t be skinny like you anymore.”
Relatively speaking, it’s true. I lost more than hair color, stereoscopic vision, and appetite during my year being dead in Helheim. Meanwhile, Rain filled out. Perhaps due the stress of losing a husband, or running the company she founded to keep our house. Or just life. Modern society called her fat. Thicker arms and hips. Clothes that seldom fit right. The natural shape actual people have. I don’t know the magic words to make her comfortable in her own body. She used to be. I used to be. We didn’t choose this.
I puzzled over what to say next while Rain chewed and I watched the bearded sexist a few tables over. Nothing like taking a cue from that which you don’t want to be. He shook his head at something she said. I pictured him with a dick for a nose, flopping around his short and curly beard. Now and then he’d flick his tongue out at the itch on his hairy lip, or scratch at the balls below his chin. I have a terrible imagination.
Then Captain Nosedick stood up abruptly. The table scraped as it shifted a few inches sending my nerves into overdrive. He jerked at the woman’s sleeved arm to pull her up. She tried to tug her arm free and her lips mouthed the words. Words I’d spoken, whispered, pleaded, cried, and prayed for a year until I found myself free.
Granite flooring cracked when I slammed the butt of my staff down. The sound echoing in the now silent food court. I stood with our table behind me and maybe ten feet between us.
“She said, let her go.”
Details flowed in as adrenaline rushed through me. Muscles flexied under his too tight black polo shirt. The man tightened his grip on an arm I knew held bruises past and present hidden under those long sleeves. “Oh yeah? What the fuck are you supposed to be anyway?”
I lowered the head of my staff toward him and gave a flick of my wrist. The tri-pronged tips ratcheted open and a red dot traced its way down his dickless face to his chest. “I’m a wizard. We’re in Texas. Figure it out.”
His right hand let go of the woman and he began reaching behind him to the inevitable buttcrack pistol he kept back there. I kept my eye fixed on the man, my Arctic stare known to put the fear of me into folks. So I didn’t notice the woman pulling away until Rain’s natural sized tanned arms with a hint iron rust red came into view. Rain shifted, to put herself back to the woman so she could keep an eye on the local wife beater. Heroic, but I could see a problem as time slowed down for my inner monologue to kick in.
Rain is a chess grandmaster. I’m sure she played out all the possibilities the millisecond it looked like I was getting up. Granted, I missed that part. But the version where I threw my staff and beaned him in the noggin and got arrested, or the version where she put her hand on mine to talk me out of it and the woman ended up dead two weeks later. I can’t do that. All the choices and outcomes. I can’t do that. I just see and know.
So the surprise is only for Rain and crotchbeard when the woman grabs her ponytail and pulls while screaming, “No.”
I love how people in abusive relationships flip the fokk out when their abuser gets comeuppance. The triple snap came as Rain turned slightly and sent a lazy side-kick straight into her rescuee-turned-attacker’s knee. Oh no she didn’t. Rain is Lakota and her hair means her culture. White women yanking her hair leads to white women in hospitals. She’ll have time to sort out her life choices free of the beardy bad-choice.
Speaking of which, his hand made it to the small of his back. I don’t have speed powers. He’s going to whip it out and shoot me or Rain. Might even hit some bystanders. If it doesn’t kill us, the medical bills will. We have a good self-defense case, but I’d like to remain unholey if I could help it.
I pushed the button on my staff. It blinked.
Yes, I made a big deal about how my staff was a gun. And yes, carrying a long gun in a mall is legal in Texas. But, my staff only held a strobe effect. He clutched at his eyes, as his gun clattered to the ground.
That’s when some would use a cliché about breaking loose, but I can tell you Hel never needed to escape. But yes, everybody ran and screamed the moment the gun came out. I kept my staff aimed at Curly as I approached. A strong urge to whack him in the nuts came over me. The feeling grew as the whiff of cigarette hit me.
Rain appeared at my left side. “We need to go. Now.”
Road noise and stoplights filled the interminable silence on the right home until I opened my mouth. “Sorry.”
“Alex, when you do something you need to apologize to me for, I’ll let you know.”
“Somebody had to do something.”
She looked over at me as she navigated traffic. “I can see why you don’t like to go out anymore. But that was the first I’ve seen of the man I married since you got back.”
Rain continued after changing lanes again. “Everybody chose to look away but you.”
“But I don’t trust what I’ll do.”
She slowed the car as we approached a red light. “My grandfather told me he went through something like that when he got back.”
“He did? He never talks about Vietnam.”
Rain rolled her eyes. “Well not to you. He warned me about it.”
“That’s nice of him.”
“I think he wanted me to divorce you.”
“I made my choice.”
We drove home on FM-1960, the slowest road with the most lights. Rain made her choice. I can see that now.