Picking at Bones


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Scene Title Picking at Bones
Synopsis Bella is wandering around in the land of the dead (aka Upper East Side), looking for possible new residences. Tamara is… being Tamara.
Date May 29, 2010

Upper East Side

Before the bomb, the Upper East Side offered some of the most expensive real estate in the United States, which the upper-range of residences reaching upwards of 70 million dollars. In the wake of the bomb, the economic collapse of New York drove property values down through the ground. This was only compounded by the southwestern portion of the neighborhood being in direct proximity to the blast area, causing rampant fires that destroyed dozens of blocks of residential and business areas.

The Upper East Side has the privilege of being on the border of ground zero, with a barricade of one story tall concrete blocks forming a barricade around the ruins of Midtown. Entrances into these regions are protected by Homeland Security checkpoints reinforced by national guard. It is this jagged blight visible on the horizon of the neighborhood that has been a grievous scar on an otherwise well to do region of New York.

Despite itself, perhaps, the Upper East Side has done as good for itself as can be imagined in the wake of the disaster. Much of the western portion of the neighborhood has dropped so significantly in property values that it has become residential shelters for refugees capable of affording a living. The northern-most regions of the neighborhood though are beginning to thrive again in the wake of economic stimulus thrown into the area following modest reconstruction efforts. Private and public donations to rebuild the region has resulted in a recovery to some of its former grace, but the damage done by the waves of riots and arson following the bomb may never truly be recovered from.

Like so many young New Yorker suburbanites of privilege, Bella had often dreamed of living on the Upper East Side. The glamor, the old buildings, the ability to display one's status just by listing your address — all dubious, but all very real temptations. The Bomb changed a great deal of what anything meant in New York City, even its geography, but there remains nostalgia, and a certain personal humor that brings Bella to the slowly clearing streets.

It's almost just freezing, the kind of weather that just makes you say 'where's my less insanely puffy winter jacket'. Celebration is in order, and so Bella is out browsing for new apartments. This early into the recovery of the city, this activity is undoubtably ghoulish. There are still people in those apartments, many of them dead from hypothermia, and while this will likely mean many vacancies and lower costs on rents, coming out and taking advantage this early is… perhaps tasteless. But Bella has far worse on her conscience than crimes of tact.

She's wearing her green earmuffs, warmers that she didn't expect to get so much use out of in the merry month of May, as well as a jacket with a faux-fur lining and dark brown leather gloves. She has accepted that maybe a cane is a good idea when making her way across the urban tundra, so she has her standard hospital-issue walking stick with her (she's felt light headed and a little weak since last night) as she plays explorer, trekking across streets that are not yet open, or just barely. Just looking at facades for now. Just dreaming.

It's cold enough out that Tamara opted to leave Misty at home in Jupiter's company; just for a little while, anyway. Long enough. She's dressed in a crimson sweater, plum-colored scarf wrapped up over the girl's blonde hair, and black jeans. Watching the woman stroll down the street, she stands in the shadow of Upper East Side's buildings, errant breeze tugging at the fringe of her scarf and loose ends of hair. She herself has no interest in the buildings, the living and the dead within them; their concerns are not hers, not today. No, Tamara only has eyes for Bella Sheridan; she watches, and she watches, hesitating on the edge of decision until the moment has very nearly passed. She doesn't want the doctor's attention.

Breathe in. "Watch the slip." Three words clearly spoken, pitched to cut through the muffling green disks.

Bella is thoroughly inside her own head, her sole exterior perceptions set to the task of navigating the terrain and examining the buildings. When the call comes from Tamara, a warning about the terrain, it is no small irony that the warning is precisely what distracts Bella's navigational line of thought. The psychiatrist turns in surprise at the sound of the voice, turning to look for its source. She doesn't even register what was said before she's already placed her foot on a patch of adamant ice, and her balance is already slipping out from between her fingers (or, more appropriately, from under her feet).

Bella's free arm flails as she tries to stay steady, her walking stick pressed hard against the ground to give her at least one point of stability. It's a very near thing, and it ends with Bella clinging to her cane, both feet pressed out at odd angles, looking a little too much like modern art for her own comfort. She is very, very careful in shifting back to a normal stand, and she eyes Tamara with a sort of wariness. "Thanks…" she says, with a touch of suspicion. Obviously it wasn't Tamara's fault, but the circumstances make Bella's pride prick like it was.

Suspicion turns to recognition in a slow swell of remembrance. "Goodness… I think I know you. Central Park?"

Tamara winces as Bella's foot skids, seeing the fall that doesn't quite happen as much as the save which does. She doesn't move from where she stands, arms folded against her torso in a vaguely defensive fashion; watches the woman obliquely, more from the edges of vision than straight on. "You think and you are but don't mistake covers for all the pages." If her appearance is not so familiar, the word choice remains distinctive; not many people litter their everyday speech with cryptic symbolism.

Blue eyes flick away from Bella, going to the buildings, the shadowed snow, the bits of white floating through blue sky above. If Bella is suspicious, Tamara is uncomfortable; and that, too, is consistent with before. Both befores. Not that the girl recalls either of them. "You're supposed to make sure they watch you," she informs the doctor; it might be a chide, if she would actually look at the woman. Or if 'they' were clearly identified. "Not chase after other things. Why ice is interesting, I don't know; it's cold and wet. I guess it's shiny sometimes. And sometimes just dark." But she's babbling, more than a little.

Tamara hesitates, not quite turning to Bella; fidgeting with the end of her scarf, she breathes in. "You were okay?" The query seems to imply more than just here and now, this one little slip.

It is, at least, more coherent than word salad. Schizophrenics possess loose association, but rarely does it manifest in things that make the almost-sense of Tamara's speech. Bella listens to Tamara as she always listens, through a clinical lens — it's the only means she has readily available of interpreting Tamara, and Tamara demands interpretation. Her smile is a little thin, but that's just because she's still recovering from the near-fall and the nasty adrenaline jag it gave her. "Well, it's because of all the potential watching that I'm out here," the doctor confides, very carefully stepping beyond the rank of the ice slick. "I'm really looking forward to becoming somewhat more invisible. Well, at least, I'm looking forward to the advantages of invisibility."

Bella frowns for a moment. Well enough dressed, looking healthy, well groomed — for someone in Tamara's condition (and that is how Bella thinks of it, a 'condition'), she is much too well taken-care of. Which makes Bella wonder if Tamara has been screwing with her this whole time. But Bella's instinct, listened to with careful if critical attention, does not make her feel deceived. "Honey," she says, adopting her rarely-heard maternal voice, "Where is it you stay? Are you supposed to be out here?" In the cold, in this city — you don't have to be crazy to be asked those questions in all seriousness.

Tamara looks at her now, direct and assessing; and the girl shakes her head. "Shadows weren't invisible, just distant. And better that way. Yours." Questions impending; the girl averts her gaze, literally sidestepping, brown-and-teal shoes crunching fresh holes in the frozen snow. "You don't. You don't! It's not your answer." Steps back, one pace, two paces, three; forward again, feet square in the prints they made just moments before.

Tamara looks at Bella, looks past Bella, at the cold and frozen city blocks around them. "Shouldn't have been there, here. It's not cold, not to keep the weasels in. They didn't mind snow. Are you coming?" she asks, again focusing on the doctor. "If it wasn't now, it couldn't be later."

Bella cannot shake the feeling that there is something of the structure of an inside joke, or even a long-running television show, to Tamara's words. They come out too sensibly not to mean something independent of simple interior metonymic association, but they mean too little to not have some sort of key, some context that would make what she says present themselves as not just sensible, but intelligible. Much more paranoid than dissociative, if it's schizophrenia at all. Which…

Oh, she's actually being addressed. This is a conversation (in some sense) and Bella is not in an observation booth. Bella snaps out of her purely investigative reverie and lifts her brows, indicating an inoffensive but interested confusion. "Are you asking me to go with you?" she says, not wanting to presume too much and scare the apparently skittish girl away, but not wanting to miss her in-road. Her curiosity is piqued. "Now is fine," she smiles, "My schedule is clear."

Blue eyes flick to the distance again, and Tamara starts to move — away from the building she stood beneath, a bit, out to where the sidewalk presumably lies beneath a few feet of solidly-frozen snow; and backwards down the street. This should pose a problem. There may be no other people out to trip over, and the trash cans at least are buried, but lampposts and street signs remain a hazard.

"Then walk," Tamara encourages the doctor, even as she herself dodges a metal pole she couldn't possibly have seen. Or — probably couldn't have seen? "They were faster." For all her apprehension — of Bella, of some nebulous other thing, of whatever — she sets a pace the woman can easily make, cane and caution and all. Anyone else could be faster, indeed. "Didn't have to be with but away is better," the girl asserts.

This improbable means of backwards conveyance does not go unobserved by Bella, who is inclined to grab onto any hint at this point. She proceeds, oddly enough, with the visible caution and care that herself Tamara seems to lack, even though the shrink is walking forwards. Bella's taking on the burden of being cautious for the both of them, just to handle a certain anxiety about Tamara's well being. It's not that Bella doesn't care about people or their welfare. It's that people and their welfare are on a long list of priorities and don't always come at the top.

"If it doesn't need to be with," Bella says, "why did you ask me to come?" It may seem crazy to debate semantics with a crazy person, but it seems like tense and grammar play some part in Tamara's lexical disorganization. "How could I come without someone to go with?"

Once Bella is moving, Tamara turns around to walk more normally — which is to say, facing the direction of travel — but promptly glances back over her shoulder as the woman begins to speak. Her expression seems slightly bemused. "Do I?" the girl asks. "Do you always walk in company?" she continues a beat later, though whether it's truly a related thought, however quick on the first it follows… She unfolds the scarf from around her head and shoulders to wind it over her arms and hands, perhaps with purpose, perhaps simply a fidgeting action. The breeze tugs at her hair; if Tamara's person is generally sufficiently well-cared-for, her hair has definitely gone a long time without being trimmed. "It must be nice."

"No," Bella says, "But I think of that more as 'going' rather than 'coming'. Even when I walk alone somewhere, it doesn't become 'coming' until I someone asks me. They say. 'Get over here, Bella!' and I reply, 'I'm coming!'" This all said while carefully keeping pace, following Tamara's safe steps as best she can, not eager to risk another topple. The blonde girl's last statement simply cannot but beg the question: "What must be nice? I'd like to know before I agree."

Keeping pace is also keeping distance, and Tamara is content with that; near enough, since she too is one of those who are always watching. At least while she and Bella are in the same neighborhood. "You didn't know?" the girl asks, with honest confusion. It was evident enough to her — well, when she made that statement. "You're the one that says it," she continues, glancing back over her shoulder. There's a moment's hesitation in the seeress' step as she continues that glance further still, gaze seeming to darken in its contemplation of the distant street. Tamara nods slightly, affirmation, and resumes motion. "Didn't matter, really," she finally says, letting the subject pass. "The mirror is as it was and the rest were their own. Wrong side of the glass. Would you have agreed anyway?"

Bella is trying to piece this all together. It's maddening that there is some sort of method here, she's almost sure of it. And while a certain speculation pricks against the back of her mind, insisting despite the odds, she can't help but test it. "I almost fell back there," she says, "You warned me. Why?" This concern overrides any examination of Tamara's more recent words. It's getting no clearer the more she hears of it, so Bella's going back to basics.

Basics indeed — but not her basics. Tamara visibly flinches from the question, pausing in her strides, fingertips of one ungloved hand pressed lightly against another lamppost. "Falling? No, almost not falling." Quieter words, her eyes distant, inward-turned; consulting memory, perhaps… consulting, and finding its specifics wanting. A beat later, the girl shakes her head, jolting herself back into motion. "Why floats and the river's under the bridge. Ghosts, too. Even if time was here the place wasn't. You'd get cold." A sidelong glance is shot Bella's way, wariness resurrected from its unsound slumber. "And your shadows are white. Can't trust them."

Well, that doesn't do her much good. Bella imagines herself a fairly apt psychic detective, but she's pretty much stumped at this point. This may be a case where perspiration must fill in while waiting for inspiration to get its act together and arrive. "What's not to trust?" she asks, and, just in case this gets her nothing useful, she adds, "And where are we heading?"

"Out," Tamara replies, addressing the second question first; it seems to be a much more palatable subject. "The weasels were almost gone but could've still come this way. You don't want them." Her shoulders rise and fall in a rather unconcerned shrug. "Then your thread was your own." Then, apparently, Tamara's shepherding comes to an end.

Ice crystals crunch under their steps, the sound undisturbed by conversation for a time. The city itself is preternaturally silent, few people daring the roads, fewer animals — particularly the winged rats that are city pigeons — about in the background. If nothing else, there's a distinct lack of fast food bits for them to snack on. Inevitably, the net result of this pensive consideration isn't an answer — instead, Tamara asks Bella a counter-question. "What was?"

Bella blinks. The answer she thinks of is this: 'My whole practice is founded on trust.' But this is not only self-aggrandizement, but the height of hypocrisy, and while Bella may be a liar she tries to be enough aware of it that she avoids becoming, in her own eye, a hypocrite. Moreover, it's not her Tamara's talking about, it's her white shadows. So instead she replies, "I can't speak for my shadow." She glances over her shoulder as well, back from whence they came. "You thought something was going to happen back there?" she asks, coming nearer to the mark than she's yet been able to, though remaining almost entirely unaware of the fact.

"You are your shadows," Tamara observes offhandedly. "You just don't know it." She pauses again, casting a glance of her own along their backtrail, blue eyes narrowing in concentration. "I think — there were…" Possibilities shift continuously, and back there isn't what it could have been; not now that they've left. She brings her hands up as if to take hold of something, something nonexistent — unless it's empty air — pressing her fingers together briefly; she catches her lower lip between her teeth. "Picking at the bones of the dead," the girl finally states. "You didn't want to be theirs, did you?"

This causes Bella to wrinkle her nose. This sounds too much like the sort of thing her wacky hold out psychodynamic professor said back in undergrad. The unconscious, the repressed, the phantasmatic — all mysticism, impractical and impracticable. But what follows, her answer… it's lucid enough. All things considered. It's also, just like that professor's moments of lucidity, effectively impossible to test or confirm. "Scavengers have their ecological niche," Bella says, in the interests of fairness. "But I'm not a carcass yet," she pauses, "Thank you," she says. She does not know whether or not any danger was genuinely averted, but it seems Tamara thinks it was, and Bella can at least appreciate the sentiment.

Tilting her head, Tamara nods after a moment, as if confirming the woman's statement. "No," she agrees. "Not yet." She stops at the intersection, looking down each of the routes open to them — left, right, forward. "Now you take your shadows," she says, turning to regard Bella, her lips pressed together. She's still decidedly out of arm's reach. "Take them and follow them. I'm not."

Is this goodbye, then? "I am guessing I'll be seeing you again?" Bella says, pleasantly enough. It certainly does seem to happen. Big city, small world. "May I at least know your name? I'd like to know what to call you, on our next meeting." Bella isn't herself sure if she believes she'll actually see this woman again. If she does, well… then she will have to seriously rethink the meaning of all of this. She is already beginning to.

"The mirror knows when it's spoken to," Tamara answers, as she unfurls the scarf from its lump in her hand and drapes it back over that too-long blonde hair. "It was enough." Knowing Bella's likely route, she chooses a different one for her own; turns, and begins across the intersection, cutting across it diagonally. It's not like there are any cars on the roads to make such hazardous. "It's all might-be," she adds, without looking back. Presumably, that relates to see you again… and from the girl's tone of voice, that particular possibility isn't one she fancies. But then, is that a surprise?

Bella has no notion as to why she may have gained Tamara's ill will. But she also doesn't take it personally. This young woman is obviously quite unbalanced, and sees, Bella is sure, things that effectively aren't there. This, at least, is the view she tries to hold onto. That something else is going on she cannot but feel, but without evidence… what sort of scientist would she be to attribute much to the unreliable and skewed inclinations of instinct. As the psychiatrist turns to consider the path Tamara led her away from, and the path Tamara is taking, she finds herself limited, by her gut preference, to the two other paths. Two remaining threads. She makes her informed decision, and starts to walk. It is, after all, all she can do.

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