Martin and Carrie are sitting in his living room. Carrie is nursing little Jane. Martin is trying not to look at her exposed breast. He doesn't know where to look.
“Is this making you uncomfortable?” she asks.
“What? No. No, you... feeding your baby is... fine, it's totally fine. It's natural, it's the most natural thing in the world.”
Carrie takes Jane from her breast to her shoulder to burp. Martin looks away as quickly as he can. He sees more than he is comfortable seeing.
“Yeah, it's a little weird. I'm sorry, I have two daughters, I should be used to this sort of thing.”
“You're such a man,” Carrie says, laughing. “So strong and so... weak.” She pats Jane on the back and bounces up and down in the chair. “But it's sweet.”
“I'm not used to it, is all. It's been a long time.”
“I'm not used to it, either,” she says.
“Breast-feeding? Yeah I guess you wouldn't be, yet.”
“No, breast feeding is fine. I'm not used to... awkward men. Sweet men.”
This makes Martin even more uncomfortable. She knows that and she likes it. She is really starting to enjoy his discomfort. She likes having a little bit of power again.
“I don't mean to be... rude, or anything, and maybe I shouldn't say anything...”
“What, I said you were sweet so now you have to say something rude to reclaim your manliness?”
“No, I'm just, wondering... last night you were... and maybe it was because you were scared or in shock, or something, but you were... stuttering. You seemed to have a stutter.”
“Did I? That's weird. I do stutter when I'm nervous, sometimes.”
“I'm sorry, I'm an idiot.”
“Is thi... thi... this bet... better?”
Martin's head drops. He is beyond embarrassed and can't look at her in this moment.
“Ask me about my mom?”
Martin looks up, confused, and still mortified.
“Hey Carrie, you're living with an abusive, violent, drug-dealing boyfriend, how did it feel talking about that with the mom you abandoned? Well, Martin, I'm glad you asked me that because it wasn't easy.”
“How was it, talking to your mom?”
Carrie smiles. She truly is enjoying this.
“How long had it been since you'd seen her?”
“Since before Jane was born. She knew I was pregnant, but I left when I was, like, seven months along.”
Martin is blown away by this information. She left seven months pregnant and had the baby by herself, without any help from her own mother. He shakes his head, amazed. This is a tough girl.
“So your mom hadn't seen Jane before last night?”
Carrie shakes her head.
“I can't even begin to process that. She had to be ecstatic. What did she say? What did you say to her?”
“Well, she still doesn't like Nate, I think she thinks I can do a lot better. Maybe she is right. But he isn't a bad guy. She thinks he is but he's really not. He loves me.”
Martin squints. He doesn't understand what he is hearing. Something is happening, something is wrong. How did she get here? Why is she in his apartment?
“She never liked him, never really liked any of my boyfriends. That is probably common with moms, but she always seemed to hold an extra special dislike for them. No guy was ever going to be good enough.”
Why is she talking about him like she didn't shoot him in the face last night?
“Wait, so... she knows? She knows about Nate? What did you tell her about... last night, about him? Did you...”
“Last night? Martin, what are you talking about?”
Another voice, behind Martin:
“What are you sayin' about me?”
Everything changes in Martin's head. The walls warp and shift. The colors change. Reality is coming apart all around him but no one else seems to notice. On his left, a figure appears. It is a large man, big like Nate. Martin shakes his head because it can't be Nate, Nate is dead. This man who looks and sounds like Nate steps up to Carrie's couch and leans over to give her a kiss. Martin can only see the right side of his face. It looks pretty normal. Then Nate turns.
“You're not harrassin' my lady, are you, Martin?” Nate asks.
Everything slows to a crawl. The left side of Nate's face is a bloody crater. His jawbone is exposed and flesh is hanging from his jaw and cheek. Blood is streaming down from the wound across his neck and chest, soaking into his shirt. His ear is gone.
“What... what is happening?”
“Now you know I can't let you bother my lady, Martin. I just can't have that, can I sweetheart?”
Carrie shakes her head and smiles. She continues to burp Jane over her shoulder. When she looks back into Martin's eyes, her eyes are bloodshot, deep-set, crazy.
“Well, there you go, buddy, you heard the lady.”
Nate goes for a gun. Martin puts his hands up and realizes he has a gun of his own. He levels it and begins firing. The bullets have no effect, they go through Nate and do nothing to him, nothing to the wall behind him, nothing at all. The explosions of each round are blinding, the booms impossibly loud. They take Martin's senses.
Nate is unaffected, he can take his time. There is nothing Martin can do, he is frozen to the chair. He can't move, he can't scream. As Nate's gun rises, Martin looks to Carrie. She is sitting in her chair, the baby crying in her lap. Her neck has settled into an extreme angle and her head is resting on her shoulder. She, too, is bleeding from wounds. Her wounds are in her chest. The baby's feet thrash and her hands grasp at the air above her.
Nate begins pulling the trigger.
Nate's bullets don't disappear. They slam into Martin's body, punching him into the chair. The bullets rip through his chest and take his breath. He fights for air, tries to suck it in, and can't. Nate's teeth glow in the warping light and he hisses laughter as he steps in front of Martin and points the pistol toward Martin's head. Martin screams.
Martin wakes up screaming and sits upright in the chair he was sleeping in. He has a gun and he points it wildly around the room. Nate's face flashes in front of him one more time and then fades. He screams. His hands are up, pawing at the air in front of his face and shielding him from bullets that aren't there.
He is coming down now. He knows it was a dream. He doesn't hear sirens. He peers out the curtain by the window near him. He doesn't see flashing blue and red lights outside. No one is coming for him, yet.
His breathing slows. He closes his eyes. He talks to himself, bring it down, breathe slowly, deeply. Breathe.
“Come on, Marty.”
Breathe. He gets up. In the bathroom he turns on the shower. being in the warm water helps. He feels it run over him as he lets his head hang. The shower floor goes crimson and brown as the blood washes away. That's better, just wash it all away.
Another flash memory of Nate's face, open, lifeless yet glistening and hot. Martin clenches his jaw and lips and closes his eyes hard, as if he can squeeze the thoughts from his mind. He doesn't want these images.
He shuts the water off but stays there, head down, forehead pressed to the shower wall. Breathing. He breathes in, then out slowly... in... out slowly. In. Out. Just breathe, Martin. Just breathe.
Knocking. The sound of knocking.
It is daytime now. Martin sits up suddenly in bed. Someone is here. Someone is knocking on the door. Now the doorbell is ringing. Martin scrambles to his feet and stands still, silent, trying to get a hold of himself and what is happening. Is it the police? he wonders, have they found me already? He considers the possible ways out of this. He considers whether he is ready to try to shoot his way out.
He grabs his gun. He is in his boxer shorts as he enters the front hallway and levels his gun at the door. He waits. More knocking. He hears voices. They are small, feminine.
“Daddy, wake up!!”
It's Saturday. It's his Saturday with the girls.
“Let's just go, Hill,” Juliette says, reaching out to take Hillary's hand.
“Do you think he is still asleep?” Hillary asks.
Martin puts the gun on the fridge and opens the door. Hillary is there, Juliette a few feet behind her, and Victoria has gotten out of her car and is walking up the front path. She stops when Martin opens the door.
“Hey!” Martin yells, blinking in the sunlight. The phlegm of a rough night's sleep rumbles from his throat. He tries to clear it. “Hey, girls, sorry, sorry. Come in, come in!”
He says this without thinking. This is not a good time to come in. He doesn't remember a lot about last night. What did he do with his bloody clothes? Where are his clothes right now? The TV is a shattered, whiskey-soaked mess and the place probably smells like an armpit died in it.
“Daddy, did you just wake up?”
He considers lying, making up a quick story about working out or waking up so early to work that he had to take a nap. He considers saying he has been sick. He dismisses all of these thoughts.
“Um, yeah... yeah I did. Daddy was really tired this morning. I didn't really sleep very well last night and I guess I didn't hear my alarm.”
Martin looks out at Victoria. He shrugs and shakes his head.
“Sorry, Vix, I've got them. I'm here. Thanks.”
Juliette turns to Victoria and smiles. She stretches her arms out toward her father.
“See mom, dad is more than ready and totally capable of taking care of us today. You should probably just go, I'm sure we'll be fine.”
Her sarcasm is sharp and nasty. It is meant to punish both parents, in different ways. She is getting good at that.
Hillary pushes into the apartment straight away. They don't spend much time here so it is something new and different to be explored. Juliette follows. Victoria's face suggests she would like a word with Martin.
“Really, Martin? What, you go out and get hammered with the guys last night, the night before your one full day with the girls this week?”
The image of Carrie holding the gun flashes into Martin's mind. Nate's face, at once sneering with hatred, then open and blood-soaked and lifeless.
“No, nothing like that.”
“Jesus! Well, it looks like you did, it looks like you've been living on the street.”
“Just had a rough night, is all.”
She is visibly shaken by his breath.
“I just slept through my alarm. I'm sorry.”
“Don't apologize to me.”
Hillary's tiny voice calls out from within the apartment.
“It smells like onions and mustard in here!”
Martin winces. Victoria is not pleased.
“Vix, it's fine. I'm fine. I have a whole fun day planned for us and the girls are going to love it, so don't worry.”
“Good, that's good, I hope they do. Just...” she stops, reconsidering what she was going to say. “Just... call me when you want me to pick them up.”
“And... the money? The money for...”
“I have it, it's fine. Thanks.”
Hillary, from inside the apartment again.
“Daddy, what happened to your TV?”
Victoria gives him another exasperated look. The look asks, “What next?”
Part of him never wants her to know. He doesn't want to give her the satisfaction, another incident to point to in order to pass more judgment. But part of him wants to grab her by the neck and yell it straight into her face. He wants to tell her he threw the bottle through the TV in a fit of drunken rage. He wants to tell her he imagined the TV was her face, that the TV was one of the few remaining sources of what could be called joy in his life and wanted to, needed to, destroy it and leave its jagged and ruined remains out in the open for everyone to see. He wants her to know what sorts of destruction he is capable of.
He swallows hard and clears his throat.
“I can't wait to tell you about it, Hilly Billy!” he yells back over his shoulder. Then, turning to Victoria, “Don't worry, it's nothing. It's fine.”
“I'm sure it's not fine but... (yelling to the girls) have fun, girls!”
“Bye, mom!” Hillary yells. Juliette raises her hand as if she is going to wave, but an overwhelming loss of caring sends her hand swinging back down to her side, where it hangs limp.
Once inside, Martin closes the door and runs toward his room.
“Back in a second, girls!”
While he rummages through his drawers, the girls survey his living space. Hillary bounces around the apartment like it's a museum. She loves the open space due to the lack of furniture. She is fascinated by the smashed TV. She reaches gently towards the shards, knowing she probably shouldn't be touching any of it.
“Don't... don't touch it, Hill. Don't touch anything.”
“What do you think happened to it?” Hillary asks.
Juliette ignores her and leaves her to examine the remains of the TV alone. Juliette heads into the kitchen. There are some taco wrappers on the counter, Tuco's. Juliette sits at one of two bar stools and lays her arms on the counter. After looking at the wrappers for a moment, she removes her arms from the counter. She stands up and brushes off whatever bacteria might have jumped onto her butt while she was on the stool. She decides she is going to avoid contact with everything in the apartment, if possible.
Martin returns, just getting his shirt over his head. A quick mouthwash, some deodorant, and a splash of cold water to the face make him seem less ape-like, slightly. He pulls the shirt downward.
“Okay, sorry... that's better” he says, breathing in deeply and sighing loudly out. He has on a cleanish pair of jeans and a red collared shirt. He does look a little better, marginally better. His eyes go to little Hillary who is pointing to the broken TV.
“So? What happened to it?” she asks.
Juliette cuts in.
“It probably killed itself to escape this hell hole.”
“Hey! Go easy. Mr. TV didn't kill himself. I just turned on The Bachelor and it self-destructed.”
“You watch The Bachelor?”
“Of course, I watch it every week. And any reruns, too.”
“You're silly, daddy. That's a girl show.”
Martin slams his hands into his cheeks. His mouth and eyes go wide, shocked.
“What? How dare you! It's called 'The Bachelor,' and bachelors are men so I think men should be able to watch it, too.”
“Well,” Hillary retorts, “he is a bachelor but there are like a hundred women and they have all the drama and girls like drama. So it's a girl show.”
“Well I loved it and I will miss it dearly.”
“Maybe that's why you can't sleep. Watching TV always helps me feel sleepy.”
“Did the TV down a bottle of Jack before it blew itself up?” Juliette asks. She stares over Hillary's head, stares at Martin. She flicks an eyebrow up. In her stare is annoyance and judgment and disappointment. Her look is asking how long Martin is going to keep lying straight to his youngest daughter's face. Her look is judging him for the untold times he must have done the same to her when she was younger. At the end, when her one eyebrow goes back down and her lips tighten together, her look asks if he will ever stop lying to the women in his family.
Humor is his last shield here.
“Well, Juliette, I'm afraid you're right. He'd been drinking heavily, too heavily in my opinion, for weeks before this happened. I had been trying to get him to quit for some time. I tried and tried but it was no use. Sometimes people just won't accept help.”
Her face shifts quickly in and out of something different. Remorse?
Martin sees it. He lets it go, and instead looks back to the ruined TV.
“I knew he would end up like this,” he says, shaking his head.
“You should've done an intervention, daddy,” Hillary says.
“Maybe someone should hold an intervention with you,” Juliette mumbles.
Relentless, blow after blow, Jules won't stop trying to hurt him. The pain and poison in her words are acidic, scalding, and seem to be about more than just a divorce or his broken TV or his broken life.
“Why does she know about interventions?” Martin asks, looking to Juliette.
“We've been watching Intervention. It's educational,” Juliette says, “so she understands the world.”
“I need to know what's what,” Hillary says, giving a single proud nod.
“The real world of movie star drug addicts?” Martin asks.
“The realest,” Juliette says.
“The realest,” Hillary echoes.
“By the look of this place,” Juliette says, looking around through squinted eyes and a furrowed brow, “she'll probably learn more about hitting rock bottom by hanging around here for a few hours.”
“Well, miss sunshine, I bet I can make you stop being so grumpy and mean. What do you think,
Hillary? Do you think I can make miss sunshine over here smile?”
“No way, she never smiles.”
“Do you think I can make her stop being so mean?”
Hillary shakes her head.
“Maybe just a little bit?”
Hillary shakes her head harder and pouts. She just doesn't see any possible way. But then she looks up with a tiny spark of hope.
“Well, dad... you could always try.”
Martin steps forward and offers his hand to Hillary. She obliges, a clean, hard high five.
“Come here, Jules, right here,” he says, moving a chair so they have a little clear area to face each other.
“No thanks,” Jules says.
“Come on, please. Just stand here, right here in front of me.”
“Just here,” he says, pointing.
“Come on, step right up.”
Hillary begins to clap and giggle. She has caught on. Juliette is not as excited.
“Please don't do a magic trick.”
“Yay, yay, magic, magic! Do it dad!”
“Yeah, see, yay magic, yay magic. All the cool people like magic. You want to be cool, don't you, Jules?”
Juliette's lips curl up and she lets the burning fury in her lungs slowly hiss out. She closes her eyes and hates herself for giving in. She knows to refuse would hurt Hillary more than Martin, so she makes her decision. She breaks.
“Okay, great,” Martin says, guiding her by the shoulders. He tilts her and guides her to a spot on the carpet near the kitchen linoleum and plants her in place with a single downward pull. “Here, stand right here, this is going to be amazing. Hillary will be amazed, you will be amazed, heck... I might even amaze myself.”
“Probably not hard to do,” Juliette says.
“Hush now, hold still, hold still, stand up straight, here we go, chin up, shoulders back...”
His hands bounce around her head and shoulders and back . He pulls at her head, lengthening her neck. He jostles her shoulders, first lifting them, then pulling them down, then crunching them forward before pulling them back. His hands go to her hands, first left then right. Her pulls up on her chin, reinforcing posture. His hands flit here, there, all over.
“Hey hey hey, shush shush shush. This will only take a second.”
“Don't break the spell. Don't ruin the magic vibes.”
“Yeah, Jules, don't ruin the magic vibes,” Hillary says.
She rolls her eyes. He rolls his back at her. Then his eyes ask nicely. Please indulge your stupid father, just this once, please.
She relents, again.
“Excellent, excellent, awesome, okay now look, look at my hands, we can all see that there is
nothing in my hands, right?”
He waves his hands around his head. He shows the girls the palms of his hands, then the backs.
“And we can all see that Juliette has nothing in her hands, yes?”
He takes her hands and raises them up above her head. She is keeping her arms limp, trying to help out as little as possible.
“Nothing in her hands, daddy!” Hillary affirms.
“Yes, yes, indeed. But... what about...”
Martin steps back, waving his hands like a dark sorcerer.
“What about... in your HAIR?!”
He claps his hands twice, a lackluster alakazam. It's cheesy showmanship, but his plant was smooth. Juliette reaches for the top of her head and is a little surprised to actually feel something that isn't supposed to be there. She pulls it out. It is thin and light and crunchy. She smiles, knowing what it is. Martin has scored a rare and brief victory.
“Wow!” Hillary says, seeing something in her sister's hand. “Daddy, how did you do that?”
“Wait, is this real?” Juliette asks. She is pealing the bills apart and seeing that they are hundreds.
“What is it, Jules, what is it!”
Juliette holds up the folded bills. She opens them. There are three green and shining one hundred dollar bills. Three hundred dollars, cash.
“It's money,” Juliette says, trying to take the creases out of the bills.
“It's for your trip to Portland,” Martin says, smiling, “I told you I'd get the money.”
“That was actually pretty good,” Juliette says. She reaches back up into her hair, feeling for more.
“That was amazing, dad, how did you do that?” Hillary squeals.
“Magic, of course.”
“But I won't tell you my secrets. I'll never tell!”
Hillary and Martin giggle together at his silliness.
“Dad wait, sorry... is this it? This is only three hundred. The trip costs...”
Martin stops giggling and his eyes go wide.
“WHAT?! Only three hundred? IMPOSSIBLE! I told you your bad attitude would break the magical vibes.”
“No, Jules, why did you break the magical vibes?”
“Unless...” Martin begins. He closes his eyes and holds out a hand, scanning. “Unless... one of the bills got lost... taken, to the nether regions... taken to a dark realm when I cast my spell.”
Hillary is transfixed.
“Hmm... hmmmmm... interesting, Juliette, very interesting... do you, by chance... have a sister?”
“Uh, well... I...”
“She does, daddy, she does. It's me... it's me, daddy!”
Martin moves closer to Hillary.
“Well, then it is possible that some of the money may have... passed to the younger... kinder... sweeter sister, instead.”
Juliette is relieved, then annoyed again. Enough already, stop embarrassing yourself, dad.
“To me?” Hillary asks. She reaches to the top of her head, to the same place Juliette found her money. She squeals. Sure enough, she pulls down a folded up one hundred dollar bill. Martin takes the money and inspects it. He turns it over and back again. He looks back to Hillary.
“You are a crafty little one. And you almost got away with it. But no one can fool the great Martini!”
Hillary giggles and spins around. Even Juliette has to laugh at how stupid her father is, and the fact that he did actually come through with the money for her trip.
Her face and tone soften.
“Thank you, dad.”
“You're welcome. Now... who is ready to catch some fish?!”