“No Fury Like That” by Lisa de Nikolits
10. Beatrice The Administrator.
“I got kicked out of Cedar’s again,” I tell the others. I expect them to find this funny but they don’t. Of course they don’t.
“I didn’t mean to,” I acknowledge, “it’s like I had Tourette’s or something.”
“Cedar’s alright,” Grace comments. “You should try to work with him.”
“Why? So I can have a so-called realization? That clearly worked well for you, look, you’re all still here.”
They have no answer for that.
“What are everybody’s plans for the day?” Samia asks, brightly.
“Rest Room, Reading Room, Rest Room, cafeteria,” Fat Tracey says and she sounds grumpy. “I don’t know why you bother to ask us, Samia. It’s not like I can say oh, I’m going to Bermuda to lie on a beach or fuck it, let’s go to the mall and spend money we don’t have.”
“You are in a mood,” Grace says and Fat Tracey nods.
“I was telling her,” she nods her head in my direction, “my life story and I guess it got to me a bit.”
“Oh, I am sorry, dear,” Grace says and Fat Tracey’s eyes fill with tears.
“I shouldn’t have left my boys,” she says and she starts keening quietly. “Julia said so, and she was right.”
They turn to look at me. “I never said that!” I am indignant. “I asked her if they couldn’t have been reason enough to make her stay.”
“Well, obviously not,” Isabelle is scornful. “That’s a stupid thing to say, don’t you think?” I feel like she just slapped me across the face. How dare she speak to me like that? But what am I supposed to do, these are the only people I have in my life right now, and so instead of asking her just who the fuck she thinks she is, talking to me like that, I nod.
“I see that now,” I say meekly and the others accept this apology of sorts.
“I want my fucking Viewing time,” Fat Tracey says.
“Let’s go and see Beatrice again,” Grace suggests, and I am glad she does because any kind of activity will help pass the day, or whatever our strange allotments of time are.
“Enjoy your lattes first,” Fat Tracey says. “No point in wasting them.”
We sit and drink in silence.
I notice that Agnes has gnawed away the perfect manicure I gave her and I sigh.
“You okay?” Samia asks.
“Still trying to get my bearings on things,” I say, and she nods sympathetically.
“It takes a while.”
“I don’t suppose there’s a Massage Room here?” I am wistful. “I wouldn’t mind a four hour massage, that’s for sure.”
“No, dear, no Massage Room,” Grace tells me.
“No movie theatre either,” Isabelle says and they all chime in.
“No animals, sauna, hot tub, swimming pool, beach, no real grass or thunderstorms—,”
“There is the Rain Room,” Grace interrupts the long list and I gather this isn’t the first conversation they’ve had like this.
“Yeah, it’s super depressing,” Samia comments, and it is unlike her to say anything negative.
“Why?” I ask. “Rain can be soothing.”
She shakes her head. “I’ll take you one day and you’ll see. The whole place is grey and gloomy.”
“There are chapels,” Grace says “and there’s even a cathedral. It’s enormous, like St Peter’s in Rome.”
“I don’t see the point in praying,” Isabelle says and the others fall silent.
“We’re not supposed to talk about religion,” Agnes explains to me.
“Why not? That doesn’t make any sense. Of all the places, you’d think religion would be first on the list here.” I am baffled. “Are there priests and nuns?” I think about Intrigua with her hajib and nun’s outfit.
Agnes shakes her head. “Only Helpers like Cedar.”
“I find that pretty weird,” I say, and I finally get the group to laugh.
“Ah, ya, Purgatory is weird,” Samia agrees. “That might be the point.”
“If you’re all finished, let’s go and see the bitch,” Fat Tracey says. “But I’m not going to do the talking, someone else will have to.”
“I will,” Grace is firm. “I want to see my family too.”
“We’re not going to get anywhere,” Agnes says with a warning tone in her voice, “I can feel it.”
“Well, we’re going to try,” Grace insists and she stands up and brushes biscotti crumbs from her skirt. “We’re most certainly going to try.”
This time we don’t enter the maze. We walk the perimeter of the building, and we pass those eerie planes, those white sharks lined up on the licorice black, lined up and waiting for god knows what. We pass the counter where a group of people are still gathered and they are arguing and jostling, while harried flight attendants shout from behind the counter.
I want to check if it’s the same group of people or a new lot but we walk by too quickly. Besides, I hadn’t noticed much the first time.
I spot the womb that birthed my arrival, that steel and black leatherette chair, and I can still feel the burning pain as I surfaced. I look out the window. The immaculate green grass between the runways is unchanged, as are the cotton wool clouds which are two-dimensional and cartoon-like in their perfection. A movie backdrop, Grace had said. Sometimes, it’s as if I’ve stepped into a graphic novel that been assembled using clipart.
We walk for what feels like hours but of course, there’s no way of telling.
Shirley the Driver passes us, beeping and squawking, her lights flashing like a Christmas tree and we all press up against the wall.
“We’re nearly there,” Agnes tells me and I nod.
We turn down an unusually dark hallway.
“Everything’s on one level here,” I remark. “No escalators, elevators, stairs or ramps.”
No one finds my observation worthy of comment and I fall silent.
“We’re here,” Grace says after we turn a corner and walk past a series of yellow doors with yellow half-moon handles. I want to ask what’s with the yellow all of a sudden, but I sense it’s not a good time for questions. I don’t want the others to bounce me. They haven’t said they can do that, but I’m pretty certain they have the power.
We stopped at a door and no one wants to be the first to venture inside.
But then something creepy happens — the door handle twists down and the door swings quietly open.
“I know you lot are out there,” a hoarse voice bellows, “so come on in, you ninnies. I know what you’re going to ask me and I can tell you now that the answer is still the same, it’s no, nada, zip, zero, and I’ve got no idea why you wasted your time coming out all this way. I guess you had nothing better to do or you wanted to introduce me to your new friend. hear this, Julia, you’re a longer ways off from a Viewing than you can imagine. You, with your ego the size of Jupiter, well, you’ll have to wait in line like the rest of them, your charms hold no currency here.”
I feel as if someone has thrown a bucket of ice water on me. I can’t move or speak. I just stand there, dripping with the venom of this woman’s sarcasm.
“Come on in,” the voice bellows again. “Bloody rude to stand out there and make me shout.”
“Hardly a point in coming in, is there?” Fragile little Isabelle shouts back and I am surprised. The mouse has roared. But then again, this is a girl who had sex with strangers, she isn’t afraid of anything.
“You should at least give us a timeline,” Isabelle says loudly, and she marches inside and I can see that her fists are clenched and her face is white.
The others creep in behind her and I bring up the rear.
“Should? Fuck should,” Beatrice says and I guess she’s never had Cedar as her Helper.
Beatrice is sitting behind a desk, with her feet up. She’s wearing Birkenstocks and her toenails are as thick and gnarly as old tortoise shells. They are also inexplicably filthy. There is no dirt in Purgatory, so how did her feet get to be that dirty? Did she arrive like that, and never wash?
Beatrice is chomping on a large apple and bits of it are spraying everywhere. She chews loudly with her mouth open and I look away, studying her office instead. Her bookcase filled is with works by Dorothy Parker, Charles Bukowski, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hunter S. Thompson and Raymond Chandler and I wonder if she had been a drunk back on Earth. That, and heavy smoking, would explain her less-than-dulcet tones.
A large poster of a Hawaiian sunset covers one wall along with a framed picture of an old Cadillac convertible. A stack of needlepoint cushions is piled in the corner and I wonder if Beatrice was in the Needlepoint Room when I barged in looking for Agnes. A large framed embroidered canvas has a green alligator baring its teeth, with the slogan, Come In, The Water’s Fine!
Everything is pristine and polished but the items are old and show wear; the Scrabble set, the stacked, empty margarine tubs, the cans of Sanka. A tiny black toy cat is perched inside a glass bell jar on the edge of Beatrice’s desk and behind Beatrice’s head is a framed picture of a vase and a bowl of fruit and the artwork, if you can call it that, is so dreadful that I am mesmerized. It looks like it was drawn with thick crayon and then melted over an open fire.
Beatrice stops chewing for a moment and the silence is so thick that I stop my inventory of the place and glance at the others to see what is going on but they are fearfully looking at Beatrice who is calmly watching me.
“Enjoying yourself?” she asks. “Very nosy, aren’t you? Nosy parker.”
Beatrice, resplendent in plaid shorts and a red and black man’s checked shirt, cocks her head to one side and I can’t think of anything to say. She shrugs and returns enthusiastically to her apple and juice spurts out in an arc onto Grace’s blouse and Grace flinches.
“Well, when?” Fat Tracey can hold back no longer. “When can I see them?”
“Should have thought of that when you left them,” Beatrice counters. “It’s not up to me, anyway.”
“It is so,” Isabelle insists. “We all know that.”
“You don’t know fuck all,” Beatrice aims the apple core at a bin in the corner and slam dunks it. “You think you do, but you don’t. Who would you View, Isabelle? Huh? Tell me?”
“No one. It’s not for me. It’s for Fat Tracey and Grace and Agnes,” Isabelle says. “I never had anyone, I don’t care. I’m fine with things the way they are, but it’s not fair to the others.”
“Fair? Fair? Like life was ever fair?” Beatrice is mocking. She whips her feet off the desk and pulls her chair close to her desk. She gives her mouse a thwack, to wake up the computer. She peers at the screen and then she fumbles for a pair of reading glasses, searching on her desk until she realizes they are strung around her neck on a beaded cord.
She puts them on and examines the screen, using the rough, thick nail of her forefinger to scroll down. She mutters all the while, and we stand there, silent and unmoving.
She taps furiously at the keyboard, so hard I am surprised it isn’t damaged, and then she slams a fist on the Enter key.
The printer next to the desk springs into life and jerkily delivers a single page.
We hold our breath.
“Here,” she says handing the sheet to Agnes. “Access for you for the Viewing Room. You’ve got half an hour tomorrow.”
Agnes looks stunned. “But I’m not ready,” she says.
“And I am,” Fat Tracey and Grace both chorus at the same time.
“You’re ready when I say you are,” Beatrice retorts. She looks at Agnes and holds out her hand. “You want to give it back?”
“No.” Agnes clutches the paper to her chest.
“Thought so. Well then, goodbye all of you. Don’t come again, why don’t you?” She laughs and coughs up a wedge of phlegm that she spits into a Kleenex and lobs at the bin, narrowly missing my head.
“Go on, shoo! Out you go!”
We turn and file out slowly, and the yellow-handled door swings firmly shut behind us.
We stand in the corridor for a while, in silence.
“I can’t do it today,” Agnes says. “I’m not ready.”
“Yeah, well, you heard her, it’s for tomorrow in any case,” Samia points out.
“When you do it, do you want us to come with you?” Grace asks and Agnes nods.
“Yes, I can’t do it alone. We’ll go after coffee.”
“Will you wait to have coffee with me?” I ask, sounding unfamiliarly unsure of myself. “I have to go and see Cedar, first thing.”
“Of course we’ll wait,” Samia says when no one else replies, and my confidence level drops even further.
“I’ll come and find you,” Samia reassures me. “We’ll wait. Don’t worry.”
I thank her, and before I can say anything else or ask the others what they’re going to do next, I am back in the Makeup Room, alone.
Excerpt from No Fury Like That by Lisa de Nikolits. Copyright © 2017 by Lisa de Nikolits. Reproduced with permission from Lisa de Nikolits. All rights reserved.