The Temple Of Air, Patricia Ann McNair

Short Stories

The Temple of Air

By Patricia Ann McNair

“Violently creative.”—Chicago Sun-Times 

Winner of Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year in Traditional Fiction Award 
Winner of 2012 Devil’s Kitchen Prose Reading Award
Finalist for Society of Midland Authors Award for Adult Fiction  
 

From the teenagers who witness a tragedy at a carnival to the twins who run the local ice cream parlor, the characters of each of the eleven linked stories in Patricia Ann McNair’s debut collection gives you a glimpse of life in the small town of New Hope.

The town’s residents navigate the world around them through faith and redemption, dreams and disappointments. Christy worries over her missing-in-action brother while babysitting a developmentally disabled teenager in “When Is a Door Not a Door?” After discovering a lump under his arm, Jim has to give the news to his wrongly suspecting wife in “The Way It Really Went.” “Deer Story” considers two couples and the things that bring them together – and those that push them apart. And throughout the collection, Nova, Sky, and Michael, the teenaged witnesses in the opening story “Something Like Faith,” move in and out of the lives of their fellow townspeople.

Binding: Paper
ISBN: 9780615434636
Pages: 178
Price: $16.00

Praise & Reviews

Author

Patricia Ann McNair

Patricia Ann McNair has lived 98 percent of her life in the Midwest. She’s managed a gas station, sold pots and pans door-to-door, tended bar and breaded mushrooms, worked on the trading floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and taught aerobics. Today, she is an associate professor in the English and Creative Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago and divides her time between city and small town with her husband, the visual artist Philip Hartigan.


Read part of the first story

Something Like Faith 

And even as it happened, Nova could not believe it. “Jim,” the wife said, Nova heard her. Like“Jim, pass the salt,” or something. But he turned then from where he stood in the center of the gondola, just a little shift, a slight release of all that attention he was giving his tiny, tiny girl –wheeing her like that, in and out, in and out, his arms a hammock, one two three whee. Nova’d been watching, scrunched in there between the boys, on their own side of the ride. She hadn’t wanted to go anyway, she was fucked up and scared of heights and it was a stupid shit ride: “The Gondolier”, big swinging cages, all that air. “Don’t,” someone must have said, but then the dad turned that slight, small shift, away from that last out swing toward those ridiculous, wide-spaced bars that are somehow supposed to keep everyone safe but clearly can’t when the dad turns his head, his attention, just a bit away but enough so the little girl (a baby, really, all tiny and tickly, all screaming and squirming) tilts somehow and slips from Dad’s arms, his hands. His fingers open up and his grip unfolds and gives way beneath the weight of her rolling off and apart from him and through the bars and over over over the side and down down down through the sky. And then it all runs together. The moments before and after become one absolutely single moment, a knot of time and activity that moves in a slow circle with the big carnival wheel. The dad goes down, just like that, sinks to his knees and his arms raise up, light as helium without the weight of his daughter to hold them, and it’s like he’s genuflecting. But no, Nova knows it’s worthless, this gesture. She knows there’s nothing out there past the clouds he’s tilted his face up to. How the fuck can there be? How the fuck can there be a god to drop to your knees in front of in a world—in a moment—that lets you dump your little girl over the side of some dumb fucking carnival ride? But he’s down there, low. Low like Nova’s insides. A heaviness in her gut, a force greater than gravity keeps her pressed in on her side of the cage, pressed in tight between the bony shoulders of Michael, the broad ones of Sky, pressed against the back of their seat, against vinyl against metal. And the ride keeps turning, and maybe it’s that centrifugal stuff, you know, like water in a swinging bucket, because Nova can’t budge, she’s held in solid and sure (and high, so very, very high) in the cage, in the air, in this tight, tight moment. Did it really happen? And for just a split of second, Nova thinks—no hopes, almost prays (but of course she won’t) that it didn’t really happen. It smells so good up here, after all. Like corndogs and cotton candy and fresh mowed lawns. Smells too good for anything bad. Smells safe, see? And they’re high, after all, she and Michael and Sky; and they’re kids. You know. Kids who are prone to imagining things. Only there’s the wife, the mother, up in an instant and gaping, eyes and mouth wide, wide circles, lips moving. But no sound, no sound. And Nova can’t help but marvel at how deeply silent the world is, all empty, safe-smelling air and sudden stillness. And the sky past the useless bars is so blue it hurts to look at it in the silence. But it’s just that one silent instant before they hear it as the baby bounces off of the other cages, off of the solid, unforgiving spokes of the stupid ride—a big old Ferris wheel type thing, too big for the small town, for the little carnival, for the dinky midway and especially too, too big for that tiny, tiny girl who makes (not with her mouth but with her body) the same exact sound after sound all the way down. A sound too horrific to be replicated, but a sound that splat and smacked its way into the souls of them all left behind on the still moving ride, a sound that played itself over and over in the dreams of Nova that night and, she would swear to it, each and every night forever after.

And then the screams come. From below at first, from those riders under them getting it finally, seeing that hurtling thing for what it is, not the doll that some of them must have thought, but a little girl at first, reaching and grabbing at the air and catching nothing except maybe some eyes here and there, some bright panicked eyes locked with hers. And then, mercifully, the little girl becomes just a body, dead and all, long (long, long seconds) before she hits the ground.

When Nova opens her own eyes—she hadn’t known she’d closed them—she stares at her hands in her lap, the good one with all five nails polished deep purple and pointy, and the other one. And then she sees the mom drop to her knees beside the dad (arms still raised) and then onto her belly so she can stretch her hands out through the bottom of the bars, reach for what she can no longer have, and Nova feels her own hands clutch, feels her one strong fist and feels the other one, stunted from birth, its tiny pink thumb all by itself tightening and holding on. And when the mom knows what’s true, knows that’s the end of it, she writhes on the floor and howls and the dad does, too, and they’re both down there, together, all they have left, and they braid into one another, one long rope of two bodies and a single, twining, rattling wail rising from them.

“Holy fuck.” It’s Sky who talks first. They are all squeezed in so tight together there, the three of them (brother, sister, friend) that Nova feels the words rumbling up from his body, feels the hollow breath of them on her shoulder. And she nods. And then the ride stops, a sudden, screeching jolt of movement halted. They rock forward and back in their seat and it’s Michael, the friend, who finally acts. He’s down there, too, on the floor between the seats at Nova’s, at Sky’s feet, all coos and rubbing and holding, and it’s like he’s left them, Nova and Sky, deserted them for these strangers. Like he has become one of the shattered family. And when he pulls these parents to him he’s much more than a kid, more than fourteen; he’s like some grownup now or something, some large being, bigger than Nova has ever seen him, and the three of them rock there together, holding and crying and shushing and patting, and the mother reaches for the dad and Michael is there in the middle and he kisses them, one then the other, on their heads, on their arms. And they cling to him.

“Damn, Mike, what the fuck,” Sky says, and Nova wants to slug him. Not like she usually does, not like the way all sisters want to slug their brothers, but she wants to hit him in such a way as to really hurt him. She wants to make him ache throughout. She wants him to feel some pain, some deep, numbing pain. Like the one she feels filling her chest, pushing at her throat. But Sky’s snickering now, and nudging her in the ribs with an elbow, whispering, “Copping a little feel there, you ask me.” And it’s too much for Nova. All way, way, way too much. So she slides as far from him as she can across the scarred vinyl of the bench (impossibly wide now with just Nova, small Nova, little for her thirteen years and big, thick, golden-haired Sky on it) and she turns and presses her forehead against the ice-cold bars and something lifts from the murkiness of her gut, from that low, heavy feeling that keeps her down, keeps her seated. Something rises up and through her and she gives into its rise, and she opens her mouth and lets it come. And first it’s a sound, something deep and unrecognizable. Wild. And then it’s something else. Something thicker. And she works to throw it up, this thickness. But even as she pukes and pukes and pukes, she can’t get rid of it. And she knows that. Even as she continues to try to free herself, moaning and crying and purging, Nova knows that this is something that will always, always be there inside of her. Something raw and hot and overwhelming. Something like faith.

 

The story was built at the kitchen table. Nova tried to listen as Sky recreated the scene for their mother, but it was as though she were underwater. His words, muffled by a rush in her ears, sounded round somehow, and empty as bubbles.

“They were going crazy, the mom and dad,” he said. And he took a large bite of his tuna fish sandwich. How could he eat, Nova wondered. How could anyone, anywhere, ever keep anything down again?

Their mother tsked, wrung her hands.

Sky talked through his mouthful. “I couldn’t just watch it, you know. I had to do something.”

Nova’s head swam. She crossed her hands, the good over the bad, on the table, and rested a cheek on her knuckles. The tablecloth smelled of cooking smoke and mayonnaise. Her stomach roiled. Her mouth filled with saliva, the sting of bile. She wished she were still high.

“So what did you do?” Their mother asked. Like it was the first time she heard the story. Sky was making his way through it for what, the third?, fourth? time, the encores encouraged by their mom. She lived for this stuff, this crisis and courage, death and transcendence. She nodded her son on. And Nova couldn’t help but notice, and not for the first time, how much mother and son resembled one another. And Nova, small and bleached near to invisible in the light of the big, golden-haired couple, looked like the outsider. Their mother fingered a small metal cross in the hollow above her heart.

The story had become Sky’s own. He took the part of Michael, his friend, made himself a hero. He sat up tall in his seat, put his sandwich on the paper plate in front of him, wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand. “Well,” he said. He cleared his throat, gave a quick glance in Nova’s direction. Her hair fell in platinum sheets before her face, made a curtain between herself and her family. She knew he couldn’t see her eyes. “I didn’t want to tell you this at first, Mom. Just in case you might get mad.”

The older woman leaned forward in her seat, her hands flat on the table, nailbitten fingertips reaching toward her son.

“Go on,” she said.

“The mom was hysterical—as you can imagine. Crying. Screaming. So I—” Sky paused, Nova tried hard to hear through the rush in her ears. “I slapped her, Mom.”

Their mother fell back in her seat like she was pushed, like those people on the televangelist shows do when the preacher releases his grip on their foreheads. Nova stood up.

“Enough,” she said—or thought she did, she couldn’t be sure the word actually came out of the wetness that was her mouth. Sky went on talking.

“And then the ambulance came,” he said. “And of course I rode with them.” Sky’s story faltered here since it was Michael who had actually gone off in the ambulance. It was Michael who had helped the weeping parents off the floor and back onto their seat on the other side of the wide-barred cage, Michael who held them in place as the ride made its full circle and they were finally allowed to stand on pavement. Michael who clutched their hands and patted their backs as they fell to their knees next to the broken little body while Nova and Sky lost themselves in the crowd so when the cops got there they wouldn’t be pointed out and wouldn’t have to explain what happened or how it happened (like anyone could explain that) and why their eyes were red and their hair reeking. And they wouldn’t be asked to empty their pockets: “just a formality.” And since they weren’t around when the ambulance came and Michael left them, that was all of the story Sky knew for sure. He’d need some time to figure out his own ending, a better one than he’d come up with so far.

“It was just so horrible after that. And sad,” he looked at his mother again, and then at Nova like he’d just noticed her standing there. He shook his head, and made a slight wink in her direction. Nova flinched. “I just can’t talk about it,” Sky said.

“Enough,” Nova said for real this time. Mother and brother turned up to her, and Nova swooned, her whole body a wave. She gripped the edge of the table and looked down into the wide, blue-eyed, upturned faces of her family. “Enough,” she said again when she felt herself steady, and she turned from the pair and left the house. The screen door banged against its jamb and Nova stepped under the porch light and into a sea of tiny flying things, and then she was running into the dark and away from her home, from the lies, from her brother calling “Wait! Wait!” trapped by his own story in his own kitchen in the audience of his (and her) own mother.

 

The blacktopped road back to town was spongy from the heat, even though an hour had passed since the sun set. Nova breathed in the summer night. She wanted the waterlogged feeling in her head to go away, she wanted to think of something other than what happened, other than Sky making the story even more horrible (could it possibly be?) to impress their mother. The thing was, though, Nova’s mother believed this stuff. She believed most anything that had to do with heroes and faith, with saviors and those in need of salvation. But Nova couldn’t stomach this kind of blind devotion, the unwillingness to question, the absolute submission. At least not anymore. Not since she’d been duped that one time, long ago, into letting God enter her life.

Sky and his dad (her dad) were newly back in town then. Up until that time, Nova had come to believe she didn’t have a father. Her mother was cryptic and prayerful in her answer to Nova’s questions (“the Lord works in mysterious ways,”) so Nova couldn’t help but imagine an immaculate conception of sorts. When, at ten years old, Nova found out that she actually did have a dad, a real, flesh and blood one, and she had a twelve-year-old brother, too, it was like remembering the words to a song whose tune had been playing over and over in her head so long she barely even noticed it anymore. The two of them, father and son, had come full of apologies and ripe with stories, and at the heart of each of those was the word of God. Nova supposed that’s why her mother let them in, probably why she’d said yes when her father proposed. (“Finally,” she whispered to Nova when they stood at the back of the tiny church on the day of the wedding.)

Sky could talk the word of God better than anyone; back then, he even believed it himself. He had the gift, their father said, a direct connection to the absolute truth. Pretty soon Sky started having bible study meetings in their living room, the place filled with kids from the elementary and middle schools, a few from the high school. Nova sat at the feet of her new big brother and listened to him tell stories of the places he’d been all over the Midwest. From Clinton to Mount Vernon, Milwaukee to Normal. He told of sick children on the road to recovery, of families pulled apart and brought back together. Here he’d always look down into Nova’s eyes, and smile a smile that made her face burn.

“All you need to do is ask,” Sky would say. “Ask God into your life. Ask him to protect you, to save you. He’ll come, you’ll see. The Father always comes when the children need him. When they are ready to receive him. Let your Father know that you are ready.” And of course, Nova couldn’t help but think of the return of her own father, there suddenly in her life just when she needed him, there to protect her from the unrelenting boredom of the small town, the dumb, undirected faith of her mother. Like some sort of hero he’d swept in and carried her off in his dusty pickup, just the three of them, Nova, Sky, Father, and they’d driven the gravel roads of New Hope to the lake where he held her hands, both of them, and walked her out into the water and dunked her head and pronounced her newly born—now of the Father. And before then, Nova might have believed in God, but it was similar to riding a bicycle, her belief: something everyone did without thinking about it. Simple and unremarkable. But this child and Father reunion thing, Nova knew was something else. Something better. Like riding a bike without using your hands. Or feet, maybe. Like riding on air.

So she tried it. That night after the lake she laid still and silent in her twin bed, squeezed her eyes closed so tightly her forehead hurt. In her mind, and in her heart, too, she prayed. Not the usual stuff: Now I lay me down to sleep; The Lord is my shepherd; Bless us, O Lord… This time Nova spoke, she was pretty sure, directly to God. “Save me,” she said. “I’m ready. I’m finally ready.” She stretched herself long and taut and steadied herself as if preparing for a blow. She listened to her breath in the dark, she squinted into the darkness so hard it began to swirl. And then he came. She felt it. A bright whooshing sensation ran over her and through her, a wash of something cold and hot at the very same time. A feeling like panic and excitement, like joy and terror. She shuddered under the sweep of it. She nearly screamed. But she kept quiet and held tight to her sheets and rode it out under the blanket for the seconds (minutes?) it lasted. And when it passed, Nova’s whole body tingled. And then she was asleep.

Later that night, something woke her. A noise, perhaps. The quiet bleat of a car horn, a door closing. And in that moment of blurred awareness, Nova felt a fat lump in her throat, a hollow pain in her chest. She thought it must be God still, working her over, having his way. But in the morning she was fevered and sore throughout, stricken with the flu. And at the breakfast table her mother was crying and Sky wouldn’t look up from his cornflakes and Nova knew that the father was gone.

 

Headlights came around the bend in the road ahead of her. Nova stuck tight to the shoulder, as close to the weeds as she could get without stepping into the opening of the ditch. A white sedan slowed as it passed, a four-door family car, and Nova nodded when the old guy lifted a small finger in a wave and drove on. She wondered if maybe she were dreaming. It felt like it. Not the whole day, she knew what happened on the Gondolier was real, she could still hear that body against machine sound in her ears. But maybe this was a dream. This walking in the dark like she walked through water. It felt like it does in dreams, legs and arms moving in slow, slow motion. She lifted her hands up in front of her face and studied them in the light of the full moon. She wasn’t dreaming. In her dreams she always had two perfectly formed hands.

She passed the occasional farm or trailer set back from the road. Some shone in the bright spot of an outdoor security light. Others, dark on the outside, had wide open windows that flashed with the pulse of nighttime TV. Evidence of life. The night sounded around Nova, crickets and frogs in the ditch mixed it up with the far away plastic noise of laugh tracks and sirens.

The smell of skunk filled the air, and Nova breathed deeply. She loved the smell of skunk. Ahead in the road there was a dark lump with its unmistakable stripe glowing white in the moonlight. Nova looked both ways down the long, flat plane of road before she stepped onto the pavement and up to the body. Right over the thing like this, the smell was almost unpleasant. Too much of a good thing. But as she breathed the sharp odor, Nova felt the rushing behind her eyes ease, felt her limbs pull out from the weight of whatever it was that had held her. She knelt on the road next to the body and pressed her tiny hand against a spot on its tail where there was more fur than open flesh and blood. After a minute, she lifted her hand to her face. There it was, the thick, sharp, wonderful smell on her small, pink palm, on her perfect, miniature thumb. Satisfied and clear-headed, Nova stood up and continued her walk into town.

 

“Mmm, skunk.” The words came from the rear of the HiLo Foods parking lot, and even before she saw him there in their usual spot, Nova knew it was Michael, the only other person she’d ever known to like the smell. She made her way to him and held out her hand so he could get a whiff. “Mm-mm,” he said and breathed deeply.

Above them, the neon HiLo sign made its quiet hum; its light bathed the lot in a watery blue. Nova sat down on the blacktop where Michael crouched low and tight against the wall. He didn’t look good. His eyes were red and shiny, his face blotchy and streaked with grime. He sniffled, wiped his nose with the cuff of his flannel shirt. He was shaking.

“Cold, man, don’t you think?” Nova nodded even though it was at least eighty out still, and her neck and back were slick with sweat.

“How are you?” She asked. It wasn’t what she meant to say, but it was all she could come up with.

Michael nodded. He lifted a bottle in a brown paper sack from between his knees, swallowed hard, then shook it in her direction. “Some?”

Nova took the bottle and swigged. She had to fight down the wet burn of the booze, had to give her throat and stomach and head time to get used to it, to recognize this feeling as something different, something better than the boiling that had filled her before. With the second swallow, she felt a knot in the back of her neck loosen.

“Where’s Sky?” Michael asked. He wouldn’t look at Nova, instead he stared at a dark spot of something on the back of his hand. Blood, maybe.

“Not sure. Home? Probably not, though. My mom must’ve let him loose by now.”

“He in trouble?”

“You kidding? Sky? The golden boy?” Nova slugged on the bottle again. She passed it back to Michael who, instead of drinking, held the bottle, his fingers working its neck, wringing it. “Nah, Sky’s not in trouble. He’s never in trouble. You know how he is. Too slick for getting into trouble.” She laughed a little. “Nah, Mom’s just all over him cause of what happened.” Nova paused, she wondered if she should tell Michael that Sky had taken his story away. He was always doing things like that, taking things from Michael—his silver lighter, his ten-speed, his leather jacket. Nova thought maybe that’s why Sky let Michael, a skinny, loner of a kid a year behind him in school, hang around. She leaned back against the bricks of the grocery store. Inside they had started the baking for the next day. The warm, full smell of fresh bread came out of the exhaust vent above their heads. “Skunk and bread,” Nova said and inhaled with her whole body. “This must be heaven.”

“Or hell,” Michael said. He drank from the bottle again, swiped his nose, rubbed his palms over his eyes. “Fuck it, man.” He looked her dead on, blue eyes gleaming. “Got any weed?”

“Matter of fact,” Nova reached into the breast pocket of her tee shirt, pulled out a skinny little joint, the one she’d been saving for when they got off the carnival wheel that afternoon. The one she’d hoped would help her get her land legs back.

Michael struck a match against the wall, and they huddled around the glow of it. Nova sucked deeply and watched how Michael’s eyes flecked gold with the match light. She held the smoke in, her chest full, her shoulders lifted, and passed the joint.

“Thanks,” he said, and leaned his head back. He smoked towards the moon.

It went like that for a while. Drag and pass, drag and pass. Joint, bottle, joint, bottle. Nova waited. Something should be happening soon. She should feel fucked up. Michael should say something. Something, something, something. A car moved quietly down the street in front of the store. A dog barked a block away, another one answered. Nova stayed painfully sober.

“Want this?” Michael held the stub of roach out towards Nova. She shook her head so he popped it into his mouth and swallowed. “Lemme smell that hand,” he said. His breath felt hot and damp on her shrunken palm. When he’d got enough of the skunk, Michael held her hand in his lap. For as far back as Nova could remember, no one else had ever held her bad hand like that. Like it was just a hand. Like it was meant to be held. She thought then, and wasn’t entirely surprised by the thought, that maybe she loved Michael.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hmm?” He stroked his thumb up and down her tiny one. His face looked white and blue in the moonlight and neon. Luminescent, she thought. He blinked heavily.

“You’re fucked up.”

“Thank God.”

Nova let that pass.

A couple strolled along the sidewalk at the front of the grocery store’s parking lot. They each had a hand pushed into the back pocket of the other’s jeans.

“Pretty late for a walk,” Nova said. It was probably not yet midnight, but in the small town nothing was open past ten-thirty.

“Gawkers,” Michael said. “Rubber necks.”

“What?”

“You know, like when you slow down on the road ‘cause there’s a cop there with his lights on. Like how we watch that war stuff on the news. Want to see the villains, the dead. In this case, the scene of the crime.”

“What’re you talking about?”

“Been going on all night. People going down to the midway on Main. Checking out where the kid fell. The big wheel. Putting their hands on the yellow police tape.”

“There’s police tape?”

“Yup.”

Nova let the TV-ness of the whole thing sink in. Yellow tape, gawkers—she looked at the dark spot on Michael’s hand—blood.

“How’d you know what to do, Michael?” Nova asked.

“Whaddaya mean?”

“You know, up there.” She lifted her chin as though she were pointing to the top of the wheel. “How’d you know how to do the right thing?”

“I didn’t.”

“I was there, Michael, remember? Yes, you did. You knew exactly what to do.”

“Don’t make me out a hero here, Nova.” He looked at her, pushed a fine strand of her hair behind one of her ears. “I mean it.” His lips drew into a tight line.

“Sky’s the hero at home,” she said. “He’s telling my mom he did all those things you did. It’s his story now.”

“Good. Let him have it.”

“But you should be proud, Michael—”

“Look!” Michael said and let go of Nova’s hand. He pushed himself up from the ground, kicked the empty bottle across the lot. It shattered against a parking curb. “I didn’t do anything, see? I didn’t do anything!” He turned away from Nova, and she saw his shoulders shake. She waited a second before she stood up next to him and put her good hand on the small of his back. She could feel the knobs of his spine. “Don’t you get it?” He said, his voice wobbly and wet. “That’s why I had to do what I did when I did. I didn’t do anything earlier.” Michael swabbed at his face with the back of his hand then hugged himself with both arms crossed over his chest. “I saw it coming, don’t you see? I saw it coming.” He cried hard now, his whole body pummeled by the sobs. “I should have said something. I mean, what was I thinking? It made me sick to my stomach to watch it, the guy letting his little girl fly around the place like that. It was just waiting to happen. I should have said something. But I didn’t. I was afraid, I guess. Tried to mind my own fucking business. Shit, I don’t know. Maybe I was too embarrassed to say anything. I mean, who was I to tell a grownup what to do? Just a kid. A fucked up fucking kid. So I just turned my head. I ignored it.”

Nova didn’t want to hear this. She’d watched the guy, too, swinging his little girl and all. Only to her, it looked nice how the baby laid there stretched out in the cradle of his arms. Innocent. Something she wanted to watch, to be part of. How could Michael see the same, exact thing and see something so entirely different?

“Damnit, how could I ignore it? I mean, I’m sure the guy must’ve thought he had a good grip there, but let’s face it, if a kid wants to get loose from its father, how hard is that? I must have done it a million times when I was little. You must have done it.” The more Michael talked, the more Nova wanted to stop him, to yell at him to shut up, to close his Goddamn mouth.

“Son of a bitch! Stupid, worthless, mother fucker!” He was yelling now, and he punched the wall once, twice. Then, almost too quiet to hear, “Damnit, why didn’t I say something? I should have said something.” He rested his forehead against the building and bent at the knees and slid down to the ground again. His head scraped and bumped over the bricks. He looked up at Nova. There was blood in his bangs, purple in the blue light, but he didn’t seem to notice. “So I had to do what I did, because I didn’t do what I should. Now do you get it? I’m no fucking hero, Nova. Sky wants to be one, fine. Me, I’m just trying to survive it.”

Why did he have to tell her this? Couldn’t he see he was spoiling everything? Why couldn’t he just be a hero and be happy? Why couldn’t he let her be happy? Why did he have to ruin it all?

“You need to go back there,” she heard herself say.

“What? No fucking way.”

“No really,” and it was like things were spinning out of her mouth, advice and shit that she’d heard somewhere, on television or something, or maybe one of Sky’s meetings. “Like when those people all got killed in that plane crash, remember?” She didn’t have any particular plane crash in mind, there was a new one every year or so, but Michael nodded at her like he knew just what she was talking about. “Or that restaurant where all those people got killed when the roof fell in. Or those guys in the war.” He nodded again. “Remember how all those people—the survivors—went back to those places where those terrible things happened? And when they went back, then—” and here she reached both hands out to him to help him stand— “and only then, did those people really get past it.” A load of crap, she knew. But something made her want to take Michael back to where the thing had happened. She wanted him to see the place again. She wanted him to feel it all again. She wanted him to pay for what he’d done to her by telling her his story.

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