The vision has been completely robbed from his left eye with a migraine by the time Tom stumbles from the storage facility, replaced with a bright, white light that the sun outside just can't compete with. He's gone totally numb. It's peaceful. The distant sound of emergency sirens doesn't even bother him. He doesn't remember a thing. He doesn't feel a thing. He throws up when he reaches the car before he can even manage to open the door. A thousand photo flashes capture the moment.
A photo flash. No. Someone must have turned the light on. All she really wants is to sleep. Delerious, wild-eyed, and too weak to even push her own hair back out of her face. Had the room been dark or was it just the medication that made it seem that way? All she really wants is to sleep but fine, what the hell, she'll hold the thing, just for a minute anyway.
Someone must have turned the light on, because the baby was born right as the sun went down. Hadn't the room been dark? It's the baby, he's small and bundled in cloth but even through the blanket she can feel he's warm like a fever. She feels like she has a fever.
"Tommy," she tells him, but he's not paying attention. "Tommy." Well, he'll find out on his own one day anyway.
A photo flash. No. It was the bathroom light turning on. His hand is still on the switch. He turned the bathroom light on, and now he's wincing, cursing at himself for it. He can't see a thing, but he can feel it all. He can feel everything. All at once. Every layer to this migraine, the way it grinds in his teeth and the way it throbs on the left side of his face and the way his eye can't see a thing. He even feels that blindness, that white blank nothingness that pains, cringes away from the competition of the bathroom lights.
A footstep on the floorboards. No. He flipped the switch, shut off the lights with a snap. He knows he did, but he jumped anyway like the noise startled him. It did startle him. He can feel everything, all at once. The empty house around him, every cold draft and silent hallway. The weight of the attic pressing down on ancient beams. The heaviness of someone else's gaze, watching him, even through the closed windows, locked doors. He feels it all at once. Awake in the middle of the night, those harrowing few seconds in the dark reaching for Ana but before his hands found her. The taste of his heart in his throat. No, that wasn't his heart, that was the bile of adrenaline. The fear. He can feel everything, every nuance to it. Mortal danger. Survival instincts. Rising dread, that trapped feeling.
He feels everything. He feels trapped. He can see every single object in that vast storage facility in exquisite, pin prick detail. He can still smell his mother's perfume. He can see a final memory of her, smiling over her shoulder as she left -- no, he can only see Ana, her unescapable horror, her eyes too big to be real, staring over her shoulder as she was led away. He can see the detective, that humiliating smile, but he feels it all at once, the image blurring over with a distant figure raising it's hand in salute like a warning, like he's laughing. He feels everything, claustrophobic like he's still underground and yet terrified to leave the guest room, this room, even in broad daylight, even if he was alone, even crowded with journalists all still at the end of the driveway. It's all washing over him. He can't see a thing but the darkness doesn't make the pain behind his eye any easier. It's getting brighter, it's whiting out over everything.
He only came in here for aspirin, seeking pain relief and a glass of water (is that all?) but now he's got his back to the locked door just screaming into a towel, screaming into his hands.
The siren wail. Tom knows what this is. He's heard it before, and he's not an idiot.
He's a fuckup, a failure, and an addict. He is as powerless to stop this now as he was with everything else today, this week, in his whole lifetime. He is always getting things wrong, always losing control in the last few moments. He is always falling short. He is impulsive and reactionary. He is always letting people down. He is never fast enough, sharp enough, in the right place at the right time, able to hold all the facts in his head at once. He is easily out-maneuvered, out-smarted, out-strategized. He is easily caught off guard. He is not the son anyone wanted or planned for. He was never a brother or a protector. He was never even able to save himself.
He is an expert in trauma, in his own ways. It was never an education that required memorization, extensive readings, exams. It was William's education. It was the legacy he left his son. It is the family business and the family resemblance. It is the source of all Tom's expertise and survival instinct. It is the inheritance he is learning to be grateful for.
Tom knows what this is. He's not an idiot. He can learn a lesson once it's been beaten into him. He remembers more than most people think about the last time he heard the emergency siren:
Delerious, wild-eyed, so drunk he can barely stand. He is twenty years old and has been awake for the last three days, something people had warned him would happen, side effects of long-term adderall use. He is waiting for xanax to kick in, ground up and inhaled so it would work faster, hit harder, finally let him sleep. He can't wait any longer. His eyes are deep purple bruises. He has a cut across three fingers on one hand, something people had warned him would happen. He is in somebody else's house, in their bathroom, rinsing the blood down the sink, trembling at the sight of it. All he wants is to just go to sleep, he would do anything to just be able to sleep, but little things keep setting him off. He's jumping when people call his name, flinching away from the sight of his reflection, has had his phone powered off for the last thirty six hours because every time it buzzed he almost screamed. It doesn't matter how much he drinks, the pills have done nothing, nothing can take this edge off. He would do anything, anything, just to get some sleep. His cuts stop bleeding under the cold water. Somewhere far away he can hear emergency sirens.
His heartbeat is so loud in his chest, his hands are shaking, he can't breathe. So much for the xanax. He's clumsy and pacing and this isn't much of a party anyway -- a handful of people Tom barely knows, sitting around a shitty living room in east LA. They don't hear the sirens when he asks. They don't even care that it's an emergency. They tell him not to leave but don't do anything to stop him.
Something is going wrong. That's what sirens mean. It's an emergency. There is an emergency. Tom doesn't know what it is but it's happening. He has to go. Something is going to happen. He doesn't want to be around when it does. He's a fuckup, a failure, but he knows how to get out of the house before something breaks, whether it's a glass from the kitchen, a stony silence, William's temper. When you hear sirens, run. He starts to jog under yellow streetlights. Someone behind him does too. He didn't realize he was being followed.
He can hear their footsteps. He doesn't dare turn around to look. It's an emergency, there is an emergency. The sirens are getting louder, his breath is getting louder. He slips going around a corner, leaves a bloody handprint on the asphalt getting back up. The footsteps are getting louder too, closer. He could scream. He should scream. He can't breathe in enough to make a sound. Who would even hear him over the emergency sirens?
He's in his car. The locks aren't enough to protect him from whoever is following. The glass and steel haven't muted the sirens. It's an emergency. He has to get out of the house. Someone is behind him.
The lights are getting brighter. The pulse as he drives past them, and his head starts throbbing in time, making his vision swim. All he wants is to just go to sleep, he would do anything to just be able to sleep, to just make the sirens stop. He can still hear footsteps. Someone is behind him. It's three in the morning, the freeway is deserted, except for those footsteps. The car behind him. When you hear sirens, run. All he wants is to sleep, but it's an emergency, this is an emergency. Get out of the house before something breaks, before something goes wrong, something is going wrong --
The sirens are heading this way. The moon is so close in the sky, closer even than the asphalt at his back. He could reach out and grab it. He has it in his hand. He clenches his fist.
If she wants to keep this job she better not let her boss catch her one more fucking time putting the TV on when she's supposed to be cleaning the god damn rooms. His words. But the thing is that he's a cheap son of a bitch more worried about what it costs to keep the television on for twenty minutes while she changes sheets, bleaches down the surfaces, than he is about what's going on in the fucking country or something, and actually she doesn't really want to keep this job, so fuck him. It's an emergency.
She flips the TV on as soon as her and Belinda push the cart into the room. It doesn't matter what station, they're all covering it today. Belinda sets to work stripping the bed, casting nervous glances at the TV like she knows what their manager had said. Like she even speaks enough English to eavesdrop. She decides to ignore it, take the high road, you know? "You see this shit?" she asks her coworker instead, "They found a lady dead in a motel room just this week. A motel room like any of 'em. Could have been this one. What's a senator's wife doing in a shitty motel, I ask you?"
Belinda is piling old bedsheets into their laundry cart, while she stands in the middle of the room with the remote control in one hand at her hip, listening to local news anchors retell the story. "Like, doesn't she have some giant mansion somewhere? Kill yourself at home, why not."
Belinda is spraying bleach from a bottle, Belinda is stepping on a spider. "You know, because somebody that rich just doesn't have real problems. They think they have problems, but they don't. Their only problem is boredom. Nothing to do all day. Sit around and wait for your piece of shit husband to come home. You know? I'll tell you a secret --"
The TV picture changes from a closeup on the news anchor to footage from the funeral earlier that day, and she shuts up with a snap. Belinda is about to start vacuuming, so she shushes her in advance. "No, shut up, hold on a sec, look. Look at that." On the screen, shaky camera footage zooms in on a pair of kids tossing handfuls of dirt onto a grave. A young girl trembles. A young boy gives a sour look to the camera. This is what she really tuned in to see. "Look at that. That's my baby. That one. That's Tommy."
Belinda says something unintelligible, pointing at the screen as it changes from the kids to a professionally taken headshot, a dark-haired woman smiling in front of a state house backdrop.
"Yeah, that's the lady that died," she answers her anyway, "That's the fucking bitch."
A photo flash. A siren wail. A footstep on the floorboards upstairs. No. It was none of those. It was the sound of the doorbell, echoing through the house, one long sustained note. It's an emergency, and Tom just folds his hands over his ears, cowering in place. When you hear sirens, get out of the house. He's not sure he could even stand.
It chimes again, blending in with the distant sirens, completely out of harmony, enough to get his pulse racing again, migraine splitting down his forehead, nausea rising. And again, two more in quick succession. It's so loud, every sound echoing in both the empty house and Tom's own mind. Every note hits him like a hammer, like the blow of a closed fist. He'd been screaming earlier, he'll start again if they don't stop. The doorbell keeps ringing. He can't shut out the sound.
He rips open the front door on an impulse -- not even sure when he'd crossed the house to get there. A photo flash. A microphone in his face. A camera, rolling. All before his vision could even adjust to the bright sunlight. All before he can even get the dizziness to retreat. He's gripping the doorframe like it's the only thing keeping him upright. It's the only thing keeping him upright.
"Thompson Richards, Thompson --" Someone is shouting. It's an emergency. Someone has been following him. Sirens in the background. He can't make out a thing. All he wants is to sleep, he would do anything just to be able to get some sleep.
He's still trying to get his bearings, still trying just to be able to stand on his own two feet, when a woman's voice cuts through the rest of the noise, the roaring of blood in his ears. "That's him, that's my baby, that's my Tommy --" He knows that's what she says even though when her lips move all Tom can hear are sirens. Something is going wrong.
The moment is so surreal, his vision snapping in and out of focus, he gets just a flash of the woman pushing her way past someone, running towards him. Tom is laughing, he's hysterical. He can feel everything, all at once. There's a microphone in his face. How quickly hysterics turn to rage and he shoves it away. People are crowding him, his back is against the front door, he's about to start screaming or sobbing or laughing. Tommy -- that's not even his name. The woman is throwing her arms around him, she's still talking, her face turned still towards the cameras, she's been turned to face the cameras this whole time, letting them catch every moment. A photo flash.
"Oh my god, he's bleeding," the woman shouts, pulling away from him but holding up his injured hand, waving it around. A photo flash. Tom lets himself get dragged around like a rag doll, he doesn't even realize what's happening until it's happening. Is he bleeding? No. He was just inside. He was screaming into his hands. He was screaming into a towel, soaking up his blood. When did this happen? "Oh my god, my baby, what did you do to yourself? He needs his mother! He needs his mother!" She's announcing it, not talking to him. He feels it all, everything. All he wants is to go to sleep.
The woman's hand around his wrist is strangling him, he can't breathe under her touch, she might as well be crushing his throat. When he opens his mouth for a second he thinks he's going to scream but all he says is, "I had a mother. Her name was Eleanor Richards. I don't know who the fuck you are." He wishes he would have screamed instead.
Slam the door. Lock it. Throw your body against it for good measure, even though you've never been able to keep out anybody who really wanted in. Cover your left eye with your hand, like you think you can stop the pressure there from exploding outward. Like you think you have a touch that heals. Like you think you deserve that. You're gasping and every exhale sounds like a scream. You are screaming, harmonizing with distant sirens. It's an emergency. Get into the house.
Fling yourself forward. Past the foyer, past the living room, past your mother's ghost. All you want is to go to sleep. You would do anything just to be able to sleep. So prove it to yourself.
Start in the kitchen, then work your way upwards. Open every drawer, every cabinet. When a first look shows you nothing, pull things out. Don't care about the mess you make. You said you'd do anything. So do anything.Hope that the kitchen, the first floor bathroom, the guest room, turn something up. You're just looking for an aspirin -- this must be true, because you can hardly keep your balance. Your left eye has gone blind. Your jaw is completely numb. No wonder you can't see the ibuprofen on the counter. You can't see anything.
Let the search become increasingly desperate. Try your bedroom, the first time you've entered. It's a mausoleum, but not in memorial to you. It's been completely papered over -- a photo flash, and suddenly you're back in that haunted motel room -- no. You're here, in your childhood bedroom, searching beneath the mattress, in the closet, in every old hiding place but William's gaze is omnipresent and if there had been anything you left behind it's all gone now.
It's an emergency. You can feel everything. It all begins and ends with fear. You can't hear yourself scream anymore, all you can hear are sirens. It is an emergency, Thompson. Tommy, baby. Behind every blink of your eyelids is Ana, is Eleanor, both of them wide eyed in terror, looking at you to save them. Footsteps cracking over ancient floorboards -- are you sure you're alone?
There's only one place left to check. It's almost not worth it for the fear you have, but the sirens are somehow getting louder still. Clap your hands over your ears. Like you think that matters. Ana, Eleanor, watching you. Are you sure you're alone? It's an emergency, Tom, Tommy, baby, delerious, wild-eyed.
You can't see a thing on your way there. Lock the door behind you. Check the drawers, check the medicine cabinet, check below the sink. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Footsteps, camera flashes, every time the wood panels bang open. William is laughing at you. No. William is saying nothing. William is not answering the phone.
Look yourself in the mirror. You can see half of your face, an addict's face. The rest is that bright white light taking over your vision. You know what it is. You remember now. It's the moon. So close you could reach out and take it. So try.