Woke Up Lonely A Novel - By Fiona Maazel




Woke Up Lonely

I. In which a cult leader does his thing. A bad idea gets its start. A sighting, a fat suit, the blues. In which no one is happy but everyone tries.

I. In which a cult leader does his thing. A bad idea gets its start. A sighting, a fat suit, the blues. In which no one is happy but everyone tries.

THEY WERE TOGETHER. In their way. Dad on a bus, gaping out the window at a little girl and her mom. The pair not five feet away. He swiped the glass with his palm. Stop the bus, he said, though no one heard him. Stop the bus. His wife and daughter tromped through the snow. His wife? His ex-wife, bundled in down, soldiering on. His daughter, whom he had not seen in nine of her ten years. She jumped a puddle of slush. Wore a hat with braided tassels. He told himself to get up. Get up, Thurlow. But he couldn’t. He was stuck being someone else. A man to whom life had become a matter of seconds, to whom a bus was the universe, and the instinct to watch, all that there was to being in love.

Ida yanked her tassels like she was tolling the bells. Esme kept eyes on her footing. The bus stalled in traffic. Thurlow willed his wife—his ex-wife—to turn his way. If she could just see his face. He squinted and winced as if to enlist those muscles in the recruitment of her attention. She said something to their daughter and then, poof—she looked right at him. At her ex-husband. Thurlow had many epithets of notoriety, but this was his least known. Ex-husband. How about: Cult leader. Fanatic. Terrorist. On a bus in D.C., staring her down with those eyes. Not the pellucid blue of men who compel for being unreachable, but the crepuscular blue of day into night, a transition as reliable as it is fleeting and, for these twin qualities, emblematic of the thing you’d love all your life. She was rooted to the ice like he’d staked her there. Her heart was like corn in the popper.

He put up his hand to wave and then to knock on the glass and then to pound on the glass, when she grabbed their daughter’s arm and began to run away.

No, no, don’t do that. Don’t run. Why are you running? He’d seen what he had seen. Esme’s face registering its thoughts up front, as if she’d forgotten all her training, forgotten how to lie and conceal. Forgotten, even, how to vanish successfully. A few years ago, he’d gotten word they were living in the U.S., but with no way to track them—God knew which government agency was protecting Esme now—he’d accepted the news like a guy at the peep show, minus the part where you get to look. After that, he heard they were in Tucson. Portland. Detroit. Every year a new city. But now: a sighting. And not just a sighting but a reason to live. Because what he’d seen in her face? It wasn’t all dread and loathing, which were vestigial, anyway, but rather a vacancy where some other feeling could bed down.

At last, the bus came to its stop. Thurlow pushed his way out and climbed a bench. It was just past eight in the morning. The sidewalk was packed; Esme must have been taking Ida to school. Think, think. How many elementary schools could there be around here? He was about to ask someone for directions when he remembered himself. He’d left his hotel on foot. Broken about four other rules that were especially paramount now: never take public transportation, never carry ID, always use the driver, never be alone. He bought a baseball cap and sunglasses from a gift store. Stopped the first person he saw, who said, “Sorry, not today, pal,” because the cap was pink and sequined and the glasses were opaque, as for a blind man. Someone else said there wasn’t any school within twenty blocks.

Thurlow spun around. The good news was, he had narrowed the terrain of his loss to one city, when before it had encompassed them all. The bad news? Just because you know where your arm is broken doesn’t mean you know how to fix it. Even if he found them, what would he say? Character is fate, my name is Legion, but love me, anyway? He’d been running his organization for ten years,