Debbie kicked her feet forward and threw her arms out to catch herself from breaking her nose on the glistening white linoleum. Her palms stung and her knees ached, but her confusion took precedence as she took in the open kitchen plan with light grey cabinets and white marble countertops. Natural lighting filled the space with a soft glow, and when Debbie stood up she could see sunlight reflecting off the rustic steel stairs to create linear patterns on the far wall. To the right of the stairs and directly across from the kitchen was the dining room where the ceiling swooped upwards and gave way to high windows and a skylight. Debbie furrowed her eyebrows and her lips pursed together as she continued to observe her new surroundings.
One second she was screaming at Lou — turning away to hide her tears, and slamming the bathroom door because she needed a moment — and the next thing she knew, she was falling horizontally through their apartment, through New York City, and through the countryside, as the skies changed from day to night and the trees skipped from orange to brown to white to brown to green. She blinked and then she was hurling toward a suburban home with too much velocity to avoid bodily harm. When she slammed into the white fiber-cement siding she flinched involuntarily but she passed through the material like a ghost until she was forcibly deposited in the kitchen on all fours.
W-wh-what just happened? Where am I? Debbie spun around — overwhelmed by all the unknown variables around her — and saw two of her closest friends sitting in the living room to the right of the kitchen. Finally, some familiarity that could tether her in this new environment and sooth the festering monster of panic that was growing in her chest.
“Tammy! Tammy hi, what’s happening?! Where am I?!” Debbie’s own voice sounded weird to her, like she was a thousand miles away. She then turned to address the man sitting with Tammy.
“Rusty? Rusty, is that you? Oh thank God. I haven’t seen you in forever - last I heard you and Danny were orchestrating a 15 month job at a Ritz-Carlton! How are you?!” Debbie starts toward her friends for long overdue hugs.
Giddy with excitement and relief, Debbie hurried around the counter and sprinted across the mahogany hardwood floors before realising that neither Tammy nor Rusty turned around or even flinched when she called their names. They were speaking to each other in low tones.Tammy looked like she had been crying, while Rusty’s eyebrows were furrowed, almost as tightly as his hands were clasped together. Two glasses rested on the table, next to a nearly empty bottle of wine. Jesus Christ, guys. The sun‘s still high in the sky.
“- it’s just horrible, and it hurts so much my chest physically aches,” Tammy sighed defeatedly and blinked her tears away; lately, she’d been finding that no matter how much she blinked, looked up, or thought happy thoughts, the tears were always there, balanced on a precipice and ready to fall — ready to bring an onslaught of its brothers and sisters with it.
Debbie had stopped running and was now sliding across the floor in her socks.
Rusty reached out to take Tammy’s hand and Debbie could see the white outline of his fingers on the back of his hand, like a ghostly scar.
“I just can’t believe that he’s gone. It feels wrong that the world is continuing so calmly without him,” Tammy continued. Suddenly, she gasped, “Oh my God, Rusty! Rusty, has anyone told Debbie?” Tammy tightened her hold on him and looked at him, eyes full of heartbreak and hope — hope that she wouldn’t have to be the one to tell Debbie.
Debbie was still sliding across the floor.
She thumped into the back of the couch and upon hearing her name, spoke up again, voice filled with curiosity and caution.
“Tell me what? What’s wrong?”
“No I don’t think so, I’ll call the prison and leave a message for her later tonight. Unless… you want to do it?” Once again, Rusty gave no indication that he had heard Debbie.
Call the prison? To leave a message for me? Why am I at a prison, Lou and I haven’t even planned a con in months. What did I do? Did they catch me for an old job?
“Oh no, definitely not. I’m already driving Lou to the funeral on Saturday. You can take care of Debbie,” Tammy continued speaking to Rusty as if Debbie wasn’t there.
Lou? Funeral?! Oh God, what’s happened?! Who died?
“Guys! What’s going on? Who died?!” Debbie barked, her hand curled into fists with frustration.
Just like after her previous attempts, neither Tammy or Rusty gave any indication that they had heard her.
How can I be in prison and here at the same time? And how did I get here? How did I go from fuming in my New York City apartment to being suddenly and violently vacuumed across the state to Tammy’s suburban home?
While deliberating her current predicament, Debbie’s gaze drifted out the living window and into Tammy’s backyard.
Tammy’s lawn was green — but it’s October, yet — her flourishing garden was filled with pink camellias, purple African lilies, and red begonias, the large and sturdy, majestic oak tree in the right corner of her yard was green; and are those children in the treehouse? But Tammy doesn’t have children ! Debbie squints to see the children better. Tammy doesn’t have children, but yet, the little boy has light blonde hair just like her’s, and the girl has Tammy’s nose .
Debbie could only draw one logical conclusion as to where she was, and while her suspicion was impossible and illogical, it seemed to be the only possible explanation as to what was happening to her right then.
Debbie stepped around to the front of the couch, walked right in front of Tammy and Rusty, who had still yet to acknowledge her. She was beginning to understand why that might be. Debbie walked in a wide circle around them — studying their faces, taking in her surroundings, noting the people in the pictures on the walls of Tammy’s house — until she was on Tammy’s left side, opposite Rusty. Finally, she was close enough to Tammy’s cell phone sitting on the coffee table. Debbie reached for it.
Debbie’s hand landed on the cold glass of Tammy’s cell phone, she could feel it, but could it feel her ? If I’m right then can I even turn on her phone? Will my physical touch be registered by the “real world”? She took in a deep breath, and reached her trembling finger around to the power button on the side. Clink. Tammy’s phone screen lit up.
“Yes!” Debbie yelled in celebration, then quickly cast a furtive glance at Tammy and Rusty to see whether they’d heard her or saw the phone light up. Nope, we’re all good.
Debbie looked back down at Tammy’s phone, and her breath caught in her throat. Tammy and the children in her yard beamed back at Debbie from Tammy’s lockscreen. So they are her kids… interesting. The next thing Debbie saw pushed all the air from her lungs and left her gasping for breath and grasping at any sense of reality and truth. Her theory had been correct, but that didn’t particularly make her feel any better.
The date and time on Tammy’s phone read 3:00 PM Tuesday, July 19, 2016. Debbie had been fighting with Lou in their apartment on Wednesday, October 10, 2012. Fuck!
Just then Tammy’s phone lit up again.
**REMINDER: PICK UP LOU AT 10AM ON JULY 23, 2016 TO GO TO DANIEL’S FUNERAL.**
Debbie wheezed and bowed her head down between her shoulders, pulling shaky breaths in, then pushing them back out, as controlled and regularly as possible. Her breaths remained short and erratic, but when she no longer felt like the rug was harshly yanked out from underneath her and her chest stopped inverting like a vacuum, she looked back up to read the reminder again and her world folded in on itself again.
...DANIEL’S FUNERAL…FUNERAL…FUNERAL… the words jumped out to mock her. Her vision tunnelled in on words as they swam closer and closer, until she felt like she might throw up, then they’d retreat back into Tammy’s phone. Again and again the words zoomed in and out of her vision, closer and closer and closer, and then away again.
DANIEL’S FUNERAL…DANIEL’S FUNERAL…DANIEL’S FUNERAL…DANIEL’S FUNERAL…DANIEL’S FUNERAL…DANIEL’S FUNERAL…
Her big brother is dead and his funeral was in two days.
Debbie dropped her head and tried to focus on her breathing again, maybe she hadn’t given herself enough time last time.
In and out. In and out. In and out.
Ok, maybe she could breathe again now. The world stops spinning momentarily and then Tammy’s phone starts to ring.
**LOU** flashed on the screen.
Debbie gasped and scrambled to grab the phone again, but when she tried to wrestle the phone from Tammy’s grasp, her arms faded into warm skin-tone hues, translucent and shadowless. Unable to do anything, Debbie watched in baited anticipation as Tammy clicked **ACCEPT**.
“Lou? What’s going on?”
“Tammy. I’m so sorry.”
Debbie was mesmerised. God, I love Lou’s voice. I wonder what she’s wearing right now. I miss her.
“For what? Lou, what happened.” Tammy replied
“I-I just can’t do this anymore.”
“Huh? Lou, what’s happening? Where are you, you’re scaring me.” Tammy put the call on speaker.
Debbie was confused again. What’s wrong with Lou? She better not do anything stupid to herself. She’s perfect. I miss how she wrinkles her nose every morning before getting out of bed.
“Tim-Tam, I’m sorry, I’m just so tired. It hurts so much.” Lou’s breathy replied crackled through the speaker.
Debbie’s eyebrows furrowed in concern. Had Lou been crying? Oh no. She doesn’t make the best decisions when she’s sad. GO MAKE YOURSELF SOME COMFORT FOOD BABE! STOP MOPING!
“Lou, where are you?! It’s alright to have feelings about Danny, but don’t anything dumb, please .” Listen to Tammy! You know she’s always right!
“No! It’s not just Danny. It’s Danny, and Debbie, a-and everything else, but everything just hurts . It hurts to breathe and it’s all so heavy,” A staticky breath crackled through the speakers.
“Tam, there’s like a constant weight on my head and heart, and it never stops pushing and I’m just tired of it all.”
“Lou! Where are you? Oh my God, please don’t do anything. Tell me where you are and I’ll come get you.”
“I’m at our old apartment. Tell Debbie I love her and give your babies kisses for me. I’m sorry, Tammy. I love you.”
“Lou! Lou NO! LOUANNE MILLER DON’T HANG UP”
Debbie felt like someone had reached into her gut, grabbed her intestines and twisted them into a noose. I’ve done something to hurt Lou. I have to get back to her. I have to apologize and fix this. Throughout the entirety of the phone call, Debbie had drawn closer and closer to Tammy. She had hauled herself off the floor until she was sitting on the couch next to her. Her arms kept making desperate clawing motions at Tammy, but they just phased through her and landed on the couch.
Tammy turned wide-eyed to Rusty, her hand had grabbed his arm sometime during the phone call.
“We have to go!” Tammy exclaimed.
“I’ll get the car,” Rusty already had his keys jingling in his hand.
“You go ahead, I need to call a sitter,” Tammy nodded her head in the direction of the door and simultaneously speed-dialed her neighbour’s daughter, Betty.
Debbie scrambled to her feet and was running (sliding) after Rusty when suddenly, she pitched forward.
She was being sucked across time and space again. Rusty and Tammy’s voices faded away, the sun ran marathons across the sky — west to east, west to east, over and over —and the trees changed from green to brown to white to brown to orange again.
Debbie was once again deposited unceremoniously on glistening white linoleum. Ouch . Her head shot up and as she took in her surroundings, she found obsidian black cabinets, a soft grey bath mat, a white toilet, and a royal red shower curtain. She was home.
Panic filled her heart, she was home but, when was she?
“Lou!” Debbie yelled as she gripped her fingers on the sink ledge above her and pulled herself up onto wobbly jello legs. Huh, turns out involuntary time travel takes a lot out of you.
“Lou!” Oh God .
“Lou! Are you here?!” A vice of panic wrapped around Debbie’s heart as she burst out of the bathroom into their master bedroom.
“Lou?! Lou! LOU!” The vice tightened as the silence stretched on, absent of any reply from the woman in question.
Debbie sprinted out of the bedroom and frantically began searching the entire apartment; she banged doors open and never stopped yelling for Lou. She never got a reply.
If I was depressed and hitting a low because my girlfriend was a dum-dumb and got thrown in prison, and my surrogate brother was dead, where in this building would I be? Not the bathroom, obviously, because I was just there. Where else?
As she ran, she threw a glance over her shoulder at the calendar they kept hanging on the kitchen's back wall. Lou was meticulous about crossing the days off with a green market as they passed and while it often annoyed Debbie -- Lou would out of bed or pause sex just to go cross off the day -- right now, she was grateful for it. Even from across the room, Debbie could see the earliest day not yet crossed off: Wednesday, October 10, 2012. Oh thank God. I'm back in "the present".
Wait. Lou and I were fighting about something before this... why can't I remember what? Fucking time travel! I'm screwed. I have to find her.
Suddenly, a thought struck Debbie and filled her gut with a weighted sense of dread and horror. She was running before she even realised what was going on. She was flying out the apartment and up the stairs. Up and up she ran, never slowing down despite her legs starting to burn and getting dizzy from the tight turns, around and around until she reached the top of the grey concrete stairway, lit harshly with stark fluorescent tubes. Debbie ran headlong at the metal door, throwing her body on the push bar to open it and stumbled into the brisk autumn air. She squinted in the daylight. Near the edge, she spotted a tall figure wearing a long burgundy trench coat, leaning against a metal maintenance box sticking out of the roof.
“Lou! Oh my God!” Tension fell off her body in droves as relief washed over her like a wave.
The figure whipped around to face Debbie, a scowl fixed on her face and a cigarette dangled from her left hand.
“What?!” Lou snapped.
Debbie rushed forward and absorbed Lou into her arms, holding her flush against her own body, needing to feel every part of her, just to make sure that she was real. Lou was there. Lou was fine and in her arms. Lou’s chest was expanding against her own. Lou was alive. Lou’s hands were on her hips, pushing her away.
“Hey! What’s going on? Why are you being weird? I’m still furious with you,” Lou suspiciously raised her right eyebrow while confusion and surprise lingered on her face.
“I know, I know, I’m sorry. Honestly, I don’t even remember what we were fighting about and all I know is that you’re my perfect partner, in crime and in life, we fit like puzzle pieces. I don’t ever want to live without you. I want to wake up every morning to your messed up hair and watch your cute nose wrinkle when you realise it’s morning and that you have to get up. I want to watch you cook tantalizing meals and suffer your teasing about my cooking skills, for the rest of our lives. I want to watch you pick the most insane and bizarre outfits, I want to always think that they could never work, and be astonished everyday by your undeniable ability to make everything and anything look incredible. I want to watch you work on your motorcycle and admire your deftness with all those fancy tools and intricate parts. I want to worry myself into a frenzy when you drive off on that damn thing, because physics be damned, it’s unsafe as hell and you can deny it all you want, but the truth is, we’re getting old. I love you, Louanne Miller; and I want my forever to be with you.
“That may all very well be true but you can’t just come up here and make this big romantic speech and expect it to go away. You can’t just expect me to forget that you cheated on me with a man.”
Shit. Fuck. Debbie, what have you done?
“Did you expect that I would just forgive you after that speech? No! That’s ridiculous. Debbie, we’ve been together for 15 years and I’ve been your best friend for 20 years. You just devalued all that and threw it all away because I suggested that we slow down for a while and maybe start considering a regular life with less crime and more legal activities. And you didn’t just have a one night stand! You dated this man, while continuing to come home and sleep in my arms. You didn't respect me enough to grant me the truth, as a courtesy after all these years.
No, no, no! This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Lou’s supposed to be my wife. We’re supposed to grow old together, run cons as old ladies and constantly try to best Danny and his schemes. We’re supposed to be the best aunts to his children as they grow up, and only show up on holidays and special occasions. His children and wife should be the ones to plan his funeral, and Tammy, Rusty, Lou, and I shouldn’t have to be responsible for any of it. This isn’t right!
“No! Wait, Lou. Wait! Please listen. I’m sorry. I really truly am and if you let me, I will spend the right of my life proving that to you. I have never been more sorry and I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I wasn’t thinking, when I ran off with that douchebag. Because you are infinitely better, on any given day of the week. Again, I am so sorry. Something happened Lou, something happened to me and now I can see things clearer than I ever had before. I know what I want and what I definitely don’t want. I’m so sorry but, I promise if you just give me a chance, I’ll spend the rest of my life completely in love with you, and never take you for granted again,” Debbie gently took Lou’s hand and pulled her closer.
Lou’s baby blues filled with tears and she shook her head.
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” Lou’s hand slipped from Debbie’s.
“Wait, no! Baby, please. Just give me a chance to show you that I’m a changed person now,” Debbie’s eyes widened and she decided that she was not above getting on her knees and begging for the love of her life to take her back.
Lou smiled sadly at Debbie, and then something hardened in her eyes. Debbie’s heart sank.
“No. I’m sorry Debbie, but no. I can’t do this with you again. I don't want to live my life constantly scared of what you may or may not do. I don't want to live my life constantly wondering if I’m enough to make you stay. I can’t do it again, I won’t,” Lou tried to twist her fingers out of Debbie’s grasp, but Debbie tightened her hold.
“Let go. Please Debbie, let me go.”
“No! Please, you don't understand, Lou! Please can we just go inside and I’ll explain. I really am a changed person now. Please, I’m begging you,” Debbie pleaded, still holding on tightly to the love of her life.
“Debbie, let me go!” Lou yanked her hand from Debbie, stepping back and pulling away from Debbie.
Lou was too close to the edge. Both of them had gotten too invested in the argument to notice where they were on the roof, and Lou didn’t know that she didn’t have the room to step back.
Debbie watched it happen in slow motion. Lou took two steps back, her right calf hit the edge of the roof on the third step. She started to pitch backwards, her left foot was in the air and Debbie was lunging forward, trying to grab any part of her. Debbie grabbed Lou’s hand, but then Lou’s right foot slipped and she was falling. Lou slipped out of Debbie’s grasp like a fish in water. Lou was falling, still reaching up for Debbie, her burgundy coat billowing around her as she fell down 24 stories.
Four years later
Debbie sat alone in a rowdy cafeteria, poking the mysterious grey slop pile on her tray. It’s viscosity gave it the strange ability to be both a solid and a liquid and Debbie gagged thinking about spooning it into her mouth, chewing it, and then swallowing it. Shaking her head, she set her spoon back on her tray, looked around, made eye contact with a guard, and slowly stood up with her uneaten food. She walked slowly and carefully to the trash can, scooped her meal into it, and then placed the tray on top for the kitchen staff to wash later. She turned around and tread carefully around the guard.
“I’m done with my meal, and I’m going to go make a quick phone call,” Debbie explained passively.
She made her way down the hall, took two lefts, and then a right, and arrived at the phones. She gave the guard there her ID number so that he could confirm her phone privileges, and then finally, finally she was free to call the only person she wanted to talk to today.
In New York City, miles away, a man’s phone rang.
“An inmate from Nichols Federal Prison is attempting to contact you. Press 1 to accept the call, press 2 to decli-” BOOP. The man pressed 1.
“Debbie? Are you alright?”
“Danny! Hi! Oh my God, thank you for picking up, I only have one call this week.”
“Of course, baby sis. Always. What’s up? How’s the slammer?” Daniel’s smooth, easy drawl echoed down the phone line to Debbie, and it overwhelmed her with a sense of softness, a reminder of love and comfort in this cold and unforgiving cinder block fortress.
“Are you outside? It’s so loud I can barely hear you. And you know damn well how it is in here, shut up,” Debbie shot back over the line.
“Oh yeah, I’m outside. I’m just on my way to do some more recon on our next target. Rusty thought of this one, and he’s really excited about it. But enough about me, how are you, Dee? You haven’t called in a while. You really doing alright in there?” Concern replaced the teasing as Danny gave in to his losing battle against his big brother protective instincts.
“Yeah, Danny, I really am doing alright. Keeping my head down and doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m not pissing anyone off and just keeping to myself. I’m meticulously planning my next job, for when I get out. It’s going to be the most amazing grand return to society you ever did see.”
“Oh! Is that so?” Danny knew he shouldn’t be giving her a hard time, but he couldn't help it.
“Yes! Shut up! It really is!” Debbie whined.
“Danny… Today’s the anniversary of Lou’s death.”
“Shit, I was hoping you’d forget about that.” Daniel sighed. He’d remembered. He’d gone to a memorial brunch at Tammy’s house with Tess, Rusty, and the rest of the gang last week.
“Forget about it?! Danny, are you kidding me?! She was the love of my life and I killed her, I let her slip right through my fingers!”
Danny dragged his hand down his face. He’d really thought that this was the year that Debbie would forgive herself, and allow herself to move on. He knew it’s what Lou would have wanted.
“Debbie, you have to let it go. She’s gone but she loved you and she wouldn’t have wanted you to be stuck on her. You need to mo-”
A long HONK.
A dull THUD.
A very loud CLATTER.
And the line went dead.
“Danny?! DANNY?! DANIEL?! What happened?! Are you OK?” Debbie was left standing there alone, in a cold and empty prison hall, with the empty, droning dial tone of advice she never got.
Two days later, the warden called Debbie into his office to tell her that her brother had been killed in a traffic accident in New York City, and she would be granted a three day leave from prison to attend his funeral on July 23, 2016.
Debbie had foresight, still she was left alone. She had a dead girlfriend, no wife, and a dead brother.