Rats Saw God


bolivar_icon.gif kayla_icon.gif

Scene Title Rats Saw God
Synopsis Dog Was Star. Bolivar comes to thank Kayla. He insists upon it.
Date February 6, 2009

Thomas Jefferson Trailer Farm — Kayla's Trailer

Five feet wide. Fifteen feet long, two and a half of them behind a flimsy door. The trailer is anything but noteworthy; it's as plain as they come. A dull gray couch curls around the front section, just to the right of the entrance; walking in puts a person at the kitchen sink, two-burner stove just to its left, a tiny little refrigerator beside that. Overhead cabinets hold dishes. Past the fridge is a narrow single bed, thin blankets rumpled. The wall across from all of these things features overhead cabinets for storage space, two shallow closets, and lengths of mostly-bare shelving. One shelf sports a varied collection of feathers; another a haphazard set of creased and torn paperbacks. There's nothing personal; nothing identifiably sentimental. The trailer says nothing about its sole occupant, except perhaps that she has nothing left to say.

He's still a long ways away when Kayla senses him coming. It starts at the feet, or that might merely have been her imagination. Three steps closer, and the ache is all over, all over again, winter's cold gnawing into bones and lancing through skin, sandpaper inside the windpipe, adding new weight to every short step taken by the small body, brittle limbs, the residual sense of wrongness caked up inside the lungs straining air and blinking eyelids, unalleviated, only but turning inside the husk of his torso whenever Bolivar thinks to cough or rub his face.

He does not, of course, know he's given her such forewarning. It was a slightly different concatenation of logic, though no less cynically inspired, that prompted him to schedule his visit for after curfew. Some police patrol wails and hurls bi-colored lights around in the distance, scattering figures from street corners and rats further down alleyways. Bolivar ignores all three demographics equally.

Pulling his feet out of the dirty slush, he sets his foot on the crooked step under the number marked 109. Nina Lou is oddly quiet at his side.

Odd not because she isn't normally, quiet, dignified, disciplined, but because he'd expected something at least small to have changed since the chaos less than a week prior, some vestige of agitation or hair-trigger tension. She's a smart dog with a long memory. You'dve thought her recollections of this place would have brought her little more than pain and agitation.

Sufficient forewarning, in this crowded, partially wrecked morass of the lost and bereft, that she could have ducked out, retreated to the illusory shelter of some other trailer, hidden behind someone else's door. Except… for the pain. The lingering kiss of radiation damage, unlooked for and unexpected, freezes the young woman first and foremost. It always comes as a surprise. Her left hand claws at the surface of a ceramic mug, the castoff of some student potter, one small part of a mass donation distributed amongst the refugees. The right remains in its makeshift but adequate sling, protected so much as Kayla can manage.

It's an agonizingly long time, and not more than a couple of minutes, before she slides from sitting on the bed to standing on her feet, managing three halting and small steps. Small even for the trailer interior. Glassy eyes stare obliquely through the wall towards the man outside the door. There's not much room left for thought, but she tries.

Don't stop. Don't stop here.

Kayla isn't a telepath. It doesn't do her any good.

Rap-rap-rap. Gloved knuckles on splintery wood. "Ms. Reid?" Bolivar's voice is familiar enough, if not by frequency of prior exposure then because of the memorable circumstances under which he had established himeslf. Pain is memorable. Even when you're as used to it as he is. His voice emanates through the door, deeper than his small size and lack of smoking would lead one to expect. Dogs' tags and lead clasps clink like loose change as animals and master shift slightly in the uncertain terrain.

There's nothing particularly threatening about his voice, but he probably could have picked better words to indicate his care for her ongoing wellbeing and legal status: "It's late. You'd better be home."

He could've picked better words. He could not be here. She could not be hurting. All of these things would make Kayla markedly less hostile. As it is, anger is the only emotion that readily crests through her taloned haze of pain. Her progress towards the door is slow. Slower than maybe five feet of linear distance merits. But the woman with the damaged arm whose good hand clings to every structure along the way as though it might be a desperately-desired lifeline makes enough noise for even human ears to notice. Floorboards creak.

The door swings out. Not gently; that requires better hinges than a cheap trailer has. It also requires a desire on the part of the opener to be gentle. Knuckles whiten with the force of Kayla's left hand on the doorjamb; she leans her shoulder against the trailer wall. Keeps her from doing anything even less graceful like fall out. "Th'hell do you want?" the young woman snaps. She's here. Legal status is more of a gray area, on many counts. Well-being… not so much.

Through some coincidence of defensive training and the fact that Bolivar has been smacked around by worse in his time, he manages to step outside the radius of the door before it knocks his knee-cap in or shortens his nose. Kayla hurls a bar of light down on him and his girls, illuminating them all in its watery yellow glow, off-season lemonade light, makes the burned man look more sallow than usual and saps the luster out of the dogs' pelts. It doesn't improve much on Kayla's looks, either.

"I'm here to thank you," Bolivar states, after a moment spent staring at her, and then into her house, and then back at her. His gaze flicks pale one moment and dark the next, their medium color adjusting with every miniscule change in the trajectory of illumination. "I brought pain medication and I'm going to offer you a check and some contacts to help with that." He folds his free hand into a pointing finger that manages not to look entirely accusatory.

Her arm. His features are pleasantly blank looking at it.

That. Kayla's expression folds into something suspicious over the ever-present background pain, wary and disinclined to trust. To her deductions, right or wrong as they may be, he has no reason to offer assistance. People who do things without apparent cause don't exactly inspire confidence. They inspire questions. Like: "Why?" What's the catch? Some — many — of the people here wouldn't ask questions, just take the money and run. Kayla apparently isn't one of them.

Some — many — of the officers would perhaps have been surprised by that reaction. Bolivar isn't, particularly, but he makes a point not to be surprised at most things. You get caught off-guard by a nuclear explosion once, and you try not to be impressed by most other things afterward.

It takes him visible effort not to bristle at that tone, though less because of the tone than because his reaction to nine things out of ten — birds that sing, the color of that bus, the hairily zagged edges of newspaper — is to bristle. "You saved my dog," he responds. Plain terms, flat voice. Then, "It looks pretty fucking bad for you to have a cop standing outside your door for a long time."

Officers who hadn't worked with people whose pride or vulnerability — or both — make prickly bristles their attitude of choice. Kayla has no compunctions about displaying this. She couldn't hide it right now if she wanted to. "Don't look any better to let them in," she counters. They already have everyone's attention — although a majority of the onlookers are trying to be covert, not wanting to attract said cop's attention to themselves. There's nothing better to do here of an evening.

"Fuck. Whatever," is the delayed, ungracious assent. He's not going to go away, clearly. In here or out there, it's all the same difference. Still hurts. One step back from the door and Kayla is able to flump into a seat on the trailer's excuse for a couch. There's technically three cushions, but it'd only fit two people if they liked one another. Which is practically true of the entire trailer. And might say something about Kayla's solitude.

It's hard to do most things with one hand, and the off-hand at that, but the interior is neat. If only because there's nothing to make a mess with. But there's still a thin blanket torn from the bed and rumpled at its foot, where Nina slept one night not so long ago. Blankets are two-handed things.

Whenever Bolivar goes somewhere, he sounds like a crowd. He is. People get used to it, generally, the fact that his dogs accompany him wherever he goes, easily surpassing the socially normal standards of petkeeping behavior. One would have shown no less fear or care in thanking a man who pulled their child out of a flooded dam or a burning house. We all have our heroes. Bolivar's excuse happens to have her arm in a cheap sling and manners as poor as his, a commensurate lack of grace.

Thump. Shuffle, click-a-click. For every toll of the man's strides, there's an elegant sway of the Shepherd's long legs and a girlish skitter of the other's manicured toes. Somewhat less resistant to the weather than her counterparts, little Rosie is aggressively protected against the cold by a blue knit sweater and a few bold neon stripes of night gear pulled over, reflecting headlights and flickering kitchen incandescence at once. Bolivar looks at the blanket.

Nina looks at the blanket also. Bolivar looks at Nina looking at the blanket instead of counting the caramel-colored hairs lying in the weave.

"And you didn't have to," he says, finishing the thought as if a half-dozen other, more hostile ones hadn't been spliced into the middle. His scarred features fade in and out of a tense knit. There is a predictable series of questions he isn't sure he wants the answer to. It's uncomfortable to think about for a variety of reasons. "How did you find her?"

The entrance of the trio is ignored less because it's beneath notice than because Kayla is powerless to do anything about it. She drapes her left arm over the back of the couch, folding it to prop head against open hand. Her eyes are closed. Bolivar's frown isn't even subjected to an attempt to elucidate the general thoughts behind it. So tired.

"Did," the woman counters, in a tone less hostile than distracted, the response an afterthought ranking somewhere below the itch of mendable injuries and the intrusion of a practical stranger into what passes for her home. "…She doesn't belong here." At the bottom of the barrel, amongst the wraiths too stubborn or proud to admit their time has come and gone.

For a period of time that might be determined as awkward by those with enough social sensibilities to perceive the difference between that and existential poetry, Bolivar and his dogs just stand around like assholes in the middle of her floor. The footprints they had tracked in do a good amount of melting in that time, powder turning to transparent crystals, and crystals sinking into diminutive puddles. It isn't warm in here, but it's a good deal moreso than out there.

"That isn't an answer," he points out. "Nothing does. It's a shithole." But — it doesn't matter, apparently.

He's already moving, looping the leashes around his wrist and freeing his hands to reach into his coat, locating a check book inside its cheap black plastic jacket. He opens his mouth to ask her for a pen, but ends up hunting his pockets for one instead, struck by the absurdity of asking her for anything in this place. When he writes, he does so slowly, brow furrowed and weary chagrin striking irises black. His voice, too, emerges distracted: "How much do I owe you?"

Enough of Bolivar's words penetrate to elicit a harsh, disparaging snort. It's anything but feminine. But arguing why that is an answer — why she belongs here and the dog does not — requires more energy and drive than the woman being questioned possesses. Even when she isn't vicariously experiencing a radiation survivor's pain. Whatever.

His offer of money is met with similar sentiment, only this time expressed in a slit-eyed, surly glower. You'd think someone with nothing would be grateful — would name the highest price they thought would be acceeded to. Kayla doesn't. "I didn't fucking do it for you." So you don't owe me. "Write it for whatever makes you feel proud or less guilty or whatever it is you're trying to do." Words made hostilely bitter by an interminable two years' experience with people who do just that and go home proud for being good Samaritans.

It's true that, unlike Nina, Bolivar does belong here. Doesn't deserve those words. But he isn't stuck at the bottom of the totem pole, and that alone makes any commonality pale into meaningless insiginificance. She may've said too much. Snapped too hard to the wrong person. Kayla's too proud and stubborn to admit it, to try and take back the words. Goes back to quiescent brooding instead, palm to her forehead, fingers hooked into brown hair, gray eyes closed tight beneath a stress-furrowed brow. She won't cry.

If someone were to start complaining about the over-personification of a dog or dehumanization of people, it wouldn't be Bolivar. He hates this because he hates everything, or so he would like to think. When he flinches, it isn't a break in the pattern of usual aches and pinches that besieges him every other minute of every single day. The eddy of air from underneath the door bit his ankle too hard, that's all. He jarred his knee crossing the park to bury lead in Eugene's the lung.

They are perfect strangers. There is no way they could injure the real flesh of each other. "I don't know what number that is because there isn't one," he snaps, just as caustically. He finds a number anyway, a scrape of pen on wadded layers of paper. Four hundred dollars. Fouuurrrr hunnndreddd. He has to watch his pen very carefully, shaping letterforms that appear, impossibly, to wobble. Best eyes for sixty miles in any direction, and it still gives him headaches, fitting words to a line…

Ri-ip. The scrap of white paper is held in her direction by one end. "What the fuck happened to your arm?"

No way for her to injure him, perhaps, with anything other than words. Contrary to playground wisdom, words can bite. Kayla rouses herself out of pained daze to crack open both eyes and stare at Bolivar. Not the paper he holds out; the man behind it. "What the fuck happened to the whole trailer park?" the woman counters, the obvious Don't you have eyes? Can't you think? answer that answers nothing at all.

Her lips twist in a grimace as she shifts her weight, inelegantly prying herself up far enough to free the functional arm. She doesn't look at the chickenscratch on the bit of flattened cellulose. "It'll be fine." As fine as anything else here. The phrase is defensive, in the way of a wounded animal wishing to display no weakness. Never mind that weakness is written across Kayla's expression as plain as the day which ended some hours ago.

If Bolivar hadn't long since familiarized his face with this configuration, his face would probably be cramping up. Christ. One good turn is supposed to deserve another. There are like, five billion idioms that say so. Quid pro quo, do unto blah blah, whatever, fuck, there is something wrong with her and money could probably fix some of it, so he doesn't see any point in her being stupid.


"What is this, like some bullshit with menopause? Do you need an estrogen prescrip? I can get that for you, too, but I only have one for Vicodin here right now." Another scrap of cellulose to join the first, slapped down on the chipped plastic counter that happened to be the nearest surface available. The sharp sound of impact makes his metacarpals ring like xylaphone bars. Too sharp. Rose's ears jerk at the sides of her head.

Bolivar is left to hold his hand too close to his body, though his shoulders are steepled sharp, stiff, as unwilling as she is to betray weakness, however absurd that effort is bracketed in keloids and the deranged monstrosity of his personality. "For fuck's sake. If my dog could talk, she'd tell you to let me help you."

Menopause? She's not that old. Far from it, in fact — younger than the scarred man's years, never mind his appearance. Youth is part of the problem. Kayla flinches from the impact of a thin hand against a surface hard despite its cheap construction; surely it was the sound that startled her. Her posture is equally stiff, breathing gone shallow and carefully controlled.

Something changed.

I don't think that's what she'd say. Mutinous protest interrupted by a slash of anxiety, apprehension. Gone as quickly as it appeared beneath Kayla's angular, poorly-fed features, buried by the rising ire in storm-gray eyes. "Get out." Two clipped, curt words. Wounded or no, this is still her pathetic excuse for a home, and Bolivar has overstayed his never-granted welcome. "Get the fuck out." Four words, certainty beginning to fray, something shaken just barely glimpsed beneath its tatters.

"You saved her. She isn't smart enough to be crazy. Of course she'd tell you," Bolivar states, as emphatic in his all-encompassing altruism as he is in blatant refusal to get the fuck out. He stands exactly where he is, accompanied by his lopsided canine army against the backdrop of the kitchen half of her trailer. His shoulders are square, a mad little soldier. He is probably armed, too. Cop that he is. Glazed-eyed patron saint of dogs and women who don't want your damn help. He matches her ire note for note.

"There are some people who can fix you. You know, those mutant fucks all over the news — well, these ones are harmless enough. This girl working at a bar called Old Lucy's, an EMT the name of James Harvard.

"Registered healers." The term invoked with the same skepticality as a dedicated non-fiction reader would have invoked the term pyrokinetic or metamorph before the revelations of 2006 made the terms relevant and backed them with facts, photographs, ruptured trailer parks. He badgers on, fiercely immune the hypocrisy illustrated in keloid down the side of his body. "It would be easy."

The hypocrisy is not lost on Kayla. "Go see them yourself, if it's so easy," the woman spits. She isn't going near them; her tone makes that clear, anger laced with distrustful scorn. He isn't leaving. Given that the doorway is between them, she can't exactly make him go. An ungraceful lurch carries Kayla out the door instead, feet navigating the threshold with familiarity's unthinking ease. Open air, the clear cold evening with the sky hazed in city lights, gives an illusion of distance the trailer's inside lacked. It's not enough. But it's something.

The half-breed glances sidelong at the pieces of paper he had left compressed by the smack of his hand. Is reminded of the dull ache in his hand, and he has to fight down the instinct to peel his glove back and check his palm for blood spots or some other symptomatic harbinger of death. Bolivar is past that stage, at least. He's left glaring at the gap in the wall her figure vanished out of. His voice follows her even before his silhouette, mingled with those of his smaller companions, fills the bent metal doorframe. It's too dark for his glare to do much good with chasing the other residents out of earshot, but most of them are gone by now. "What is your problem?

"What the fuck could I possibly do to you that hasn't already been done?" One boot alights on the step, heavier than his size would imply. At least he's out of the trailer, now. Entourage clinking after him. She might be able to ninja leap around them and lock him out—

Might, perhaps, in other circumstances. Ninja leaping is not in Kayla's suite of tricks today. Very little is; it takes a corner at her back for that. This is only most of a corner. Less so, now. She stands on the left as Bolivar steps out, outside the wedge of sickly yellow interior light, left arm wrapped across her body, angle of the trailer's edge digging into her shoulder. It's a discomfort that barely even registers; the support is more important. Getting up was a bad idea. He could do a lot of things. Kayla can't remember a single one. Can't remember if she answered the question; verbalized thoughts do not actually a statement make. She watches him step out of the trailer, except not really. Those gray eyes, dulled by pain and the energy anger consumed, never make it up past the level of his hand.

Ten legs clomp-a-clop down onto the snow, packing down snow and the dirt under the snow. The wind eddies through Nina Lou's breath as she peels forward to the end of her lead, departing Bolivar's side in order to approach the woman with as much audacity as her master, if of a decidedly different sort. The Shepherd's nose ends up prodding gently into the point of Kayla's knee, another exhalation ballooning like steam into the folds of her pant leg. Her shaggy tail bobs to the left, once, and a whimper emerges from her boxy chest, a peculiarly small sound in an animal so large.

Bolivar's still talking, naturally, complaining at the relatively safe distance of two arms' lengths. Kayla isn't very smart. Who does she think she is! Jesus? Would getting herself nailed to a tree make her feel better? Do you have to be a fucking dog to get decent care? Gringo loco. She's going to freeze to death out here and he isn't going to clean it up.

Rose joins the larger dog after a moment. Ends up peeking out from between Lou's column-like forelegs even as the shepherd squares her haunches and sits down on them, mumbling fretful apologies in dog-speak. She had never meant to bring pain to her erstwhile benefactor, insofar as she is aware that they only came here because of her. She stares up out of liquid dark eyes, tries to warm Kayla's fingers or wrist with a rasp of tongue.

If two arms' lengths is all she'll get, then that's what Kayla will deal with. It's far enough she can't touch him. Freezing to death has its charm; Bolivar can't harass her then. But she won't. It's not that cold. Certainly won't ever be if he keeps ranting. Everyone's watching; you know they are. Not that she cares. Such idle, ultimately meaningless thoughts chase one another around her head, never making it out to her lips. So tired.

The dogs are safe; they have no imprint on her awareness save that of grumbling vocalization, saliva-slimed tongue, coarse fur. Kayla lets them approach, though for that same reason her gaze doesn't leave Bolivar's vicinity. He's the greatest hazard here. "You finished yet?" the young woman asks, breathless tone as pain-hazed as her eyes. Anger abandoned her somewhere along the way; the question carries little edge. Just leave already. Please.

No. Yes. No. Bolivar's face goes in and out of ugly angles and slightly less ugly angles. "If you don't cash the check in a week, I'll come back," he says, after a protracted quiet of droning wind and distant doors. The silhouettes of their spectators look like ghouls in the dark and over distance, shapeless, slow-footed, and prone to murderous secrets.

Poor targets fore his ire. Confused, too stubborn to consider the available signs, and disoriented by the weather, the officer finally cedes her this promise of departure — even as he closes the gap between them with a short step forward. A tug of leads, and the dogs fall out of their portrait-perfect posture, tumbling onto all fours.

"It was nice speaking to you again," he says, despite the absurd amount of available evidence to the contrary. He offers her one gloved hand to shake.

The hand can't sting her through his glove — her own are regrettably inside where they do the healer no good whatsoever — but suspicious hesitance precedes the awkward, left-handed shake anyway. She lets go as soon as possible, some semblance of token courtesy paid. Kayla doesn't move. "Don't worry," is her dry response, too quiet to carry a bite. "I won't give you any reason to come back." Not if she can help it. Not him. Not anyone else.

"Great. You'll lose the sling." Not what she said, nor what Bolivar had stipulated. He says it anyway, relaxing his hand out of its clasping configuration before he can overthink the weakness of his own grasp, if not before the woman actually snatches away. The leashes straighten in his grasp and he clicks his tongue once, smears snow crisply under the turn of his boots. His feet are beginning to hurt, noticeably, and therefore more than usual. Coat panels bang into his knees, brush Rosie's curly shoulder. "I'm not." Worried, he means.

Whatever he wants to think, as long as he goes away. The woman shifts her weight a bit, changing nothing relevant; watches the officer with impatient eyes. "Acting like it," Kayla points out wearily. Ranting over a stranger's lack of care. Complaining that she won't accept his money, drugs, contacts. If that isn't worry…?

Storming someone's trailer, hurling paper and lipservice kindness at the poor, swearing, insulting, refusing to get the Hell out. It — passes for worry. Not the kind that she was talking about when she told him not to, but the kind that they've meant, between the lines for the past half hour. Perhaps also the days before, waiting, after he had retrieved Nina's vest from Trent. Resonance from the note they had parted on at the park last month, sympathy called by mirrored pain. "Well," he says, either a grudging admission or by way of explanation. Possibly both. "I lost a dog before."

She's quiet for a few moments, looking at Bolivar, at Bolivar's dogs. Burned-out anger, aching bones, remembered loss. Later, she'll resent his good fortune; he only lost one of his family. Right now she just wants to go inside and sleep. "Go home." Unlike so many of the words words Kayla throws at those about her, this soft statement isn't unkind. Not even in intent. "Go home… Bolivar." Spend the evening with your dogs. In their company. Enjoy your blessing before something else overshadows it.

For a dedicated atheist, Bolivar is pretty good at that: enjoying his blessings. Giving them, also, even if his decorum leaves something to be desired in the eyes of most. Aside from sympathetic pain, his girls are having a good evening, and his burdens are halved across their fuzzy shoulders.

Nina Lou orients him with a bump of her haunch on his leg, and Rose plots a course around the sheet of frozen vomit up ahead. The woman's tone surprised him into a long silence. "Yes." The lower register is an ill fit to his throat after so much scolding. He coughs. Forgets to rub it in, that his departure was already in progress. "All right. Kayla. Good night." He wraps two fingers and a thumb around his nose, briefly, and takes his time leaving sight.

She's aware of every step he takes in the right direction. Even after he's out of sight; each slow motion closer to the end of her ability's influence. For her part, Kayla doesn't move. She remains leaning against the trailer corner, waiting… until all senses fail to register the crippled man's presence any longer. At last.

Given that abrupt relief, the sudden subtraction of so much pain that what's left seems negligible, Kayla stands there and breathes. It isn't until somewhat later that she hauls herself back inside, closing the door that is only good at keeping cold out, and even that not very.

By then a rolling blackout has pounced upon the trailer farm, but that only matters to the people still awake.

February 6th: You See Us As You Want To See Us
February 6th: The Devil On Your Shoulder
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