The Strange Shape of Anne's Grief Part 23
by Shane Migliavacca
The Strange Shape of Anne's Grief chapter 23 Anne and Sam (IV)
Sam had fallen asleep during an episode of Night Court, the only way to watch it really. The only reason she watched it really was her crush on Markie Post. When the phone’s insistent ringing stirred her from a peaceful nap, the credits for Night Court wererolling by on screen. After quickly wiping some drool on her sleeve and some crust from her eyes, she reached blurry-eyed for the phone. Knocking over an empty bowl of pretzels in the process.
“Fuuuccck.” Sam grabbed the phone. Trying not to sound like she was about to reach through receiver and rip out the caller’s throat, she answered. “Hello?”
“Sam?” The voice on the other end sounded frantic.
“Anne? Everything okay?” Sam sat up on the couch.
“No. Somebody’s following me. Stalking me. And I-I found something. Something crazy,” static crackled over the phone. A clicking sound in the background. “I don’t know…don’t know what to think. Everything is wrong.”
“Somebody’s following you? What are you talking about? Where are you? What did you find?”
Sam waited for Anne to answer. Trying to wrap her head around her friend’s ramblings.
After a few moments of silence Anne spoke again. “Can you go with me tomorrow?”
Sam hadn’t intended doing anything tomorrow. She had the day off and planned to sleep in. “Go where?”
Pottersville. What the hell was there? She tried to not sound a little annoyed. “Anne, why do you want to go there?”
“Please. Please Sam, it’s really important. I need to. I was born there.”
Sam stared at the TV. Vapid commercials trying to sell her crap she didn’t need shouted at her. Sam tried to think of a reason to say no. There were many she came up with. None of them outweighed on simple fact: Anne was her friend and she needed help.
Maybe she’d be able to talk some sense into her. She was worried about Anne. Over the last couple of months, she’d become more and more paranoid. First it was her mother and now a mysterious stalker character. Anne need help and she needed to get out of that house. Sam would try to get her to leave the house again.
In the morning she sat in Anne’s cold ass pick up. Watching snow covered trees pass by. The morning sky was cloudy. The sun hadn’t woken up yet. Sam sighed, watching her breath escape. She wasn’t quite awake herself. Reaching down between her legs she grabbed a small tin with a Norman Rockwell-looking Christmas scene painted on it. The cold metal stung Sam’s fingers. After a short struggle the lid popped off.
“Rum ball?” Sam offered the open tin to Anne.
At Sam’s house her Aunt Maggie’s rum balls were a holiday tradition. Now that she had her own place, she got her very own tin every year. Granted it wasn’t as big as the one her parents received, but it was better than bumming some off her folks. Sam could still remember the night Anne had slept over. They’d been fifteen. They were up late watching some film about a black dude with a white guy’s head stitched to his body. The pair had hit the tin of rum balls pretty hard. When her parents had found out, they hadn’t been pleased. They loved the damn things as much as Sam.
“Sure.” Without taking her eyes off the road, Anne snatched one from the tin. “Do these count as a DWI?”
Anne shrugged before downing it in one gulp.
“How ya feeling?”
Anne took a moment before answering. “Insane. There I said it. I know that’s what you’re thinking.”
“No.” Sam lied and felt guilty for it. “Well, I wouldn’t use that word…ya know?”
“I would if I were sitting there.” With one hand on the wheel she reached into her jacket pocket, digging out a folded piece of paper. “Here. Take a look.”
Sam unfolded the paper. It was a birth certificate, Anne’s. The word Pottersville sat there on the paper. Dark blue ink. No different than anything else on the paper. Yet it stood out.
“Yup, Pottersville.” Sam folded it up, setting it on the seat between them. “It doesn’t necessarily mean anything that you were born there.”
“No. But I can’t remember anything before I was twelve. I mean there’s bits and pieces. Do you remember ever seeing me around, before we met?”
“Not really. But I didn’t really pay attention to many of the other kids. Just kept my head low.”
Sam remembered how she’d first met Anne. It was during lunch break, not long after the new school year had started. She was sitting all alone under a tree not far from the football field reading a book. The House of the Seven Gables. Sam had found the whole scene very odd. She’d know right away they’d be good friends. Finally, there was somebody as different as she was to hang out with.
“There were pictures. Photos of holidays and birthday parties. At some other house. A place I’d don’t recognize. At first I thought it was a relative’s.”
Sam ran a hand through her short black hair. “A few years before we met, my parents separated for about a year or so, dad ended up staying at this shitty apartment building on the other side of Frostwood for a while. You think it could be something like that?”
“Honestly I don’t know. I try to remember back and there’s only bits and pieces. I try to connect them, but there’s huge gaps. Like a half-done jigsaw puzzle. It’s driving me nuts. Why can’t I remember?”
“What about the other thing you mentioned, this stalker?”
Anne told her a fantastic story about meeting a strange woman wearing her clothes. Chasing them into an alley. Finding a picture of a baby named Emily. And following them onto a rooftop. Anne was worried this mysterious person might be the killer of her coworker. She believed they knew something about her past. Something Anne couldn’t remember.
It was so incredible. How could any of it be true. Yet Anne sounded so convinced. Sam worried that this might be some kind of hallucination on Anne’s part. That her sanity had finally broken.
Just making the trip gave Anne a little relief. She wasn’t scared of what she might find. Only anxious to get on with it. How bad could it be? Anne wondered if there had been some marital difficulty between her parents. Similar to what Sam described. That would explain quite a lot with her mother. Perhaps her young mind had shut the troubles out. Erased it from being. If there was something in Pottersville, some kind of truth. She was ready to face it.
The town was a few hours’ drive back and forth. Anne had called into work because there was no way she could make her shift in time. Hendricks would be pissed for sure. Work be damned. She had to know. These thoughts gnawed at her brain.
She was beyond grateful Sam had come along. She couldn’t face this alone. Sam would be able to help her think straight. Be her voice of reason. Her mind was to addled by all that had happened in the last couple months.
“When your grandma said I was cursed.” Anne asked. “Did you…do you believe her?”
“I’m so used to that shit by now.” Sam said. “Not sure if I believe or not. Guess I’m like dad. Waiting to see proof one way or another. So cursed? I’d say no. Bad luck on the other hand? You got that in spades.”
Anne laughed. “Got that right!”
An hour later they entered Pottersville. It was a drab looking town. Like Frostwood, main street had its share of empty storefronts. Spread out between them were a handful of stores: a pharmacy, a pawn shop, a pizza joint, a bar and dozen or so more. Unlike Frostwood nobody had bothered to hang up any Christmas decorations.
Anne’s eyes passed over the street signs as they drove through. Their city hall wouldn’t probably be located on this main drag. She would have to either ask somebody or luck into it after some searching. Reaching the end of town, Anne pulled into an empty parking lot and turned around.
“Well Stevie Wonder, what are we doing here?” Sam spoke up. Until then she’d just been taking in the sights.
“Looking for their city hall. You know where they keep their records and shit.”
Sam popped another rum ball in her mouth. “Why don’t you stop and ask somebody?”
“That would be the smart thing I guess.”
The first rays of the sun started to pierce the morning clouds. Pushing back the cold winter blue. The warm light felt energizing. Anne was feeling a bit hungry. It was after ten and she hadn’t eaten anything except for a rum ball. They’d passed a diner on their first pass. It’d looked open. They could kill two birds with one stone.
There it was. Just as she’d thought, it was open. The morning breakfast crowd no doubt.
“How about there?” Anne pointed. “Grab some directions and a quick bite.”
“Now you’re talking.”
The air inside was thick with frying grease and cigarette smoke. There was the loud clanking of plates under the dull monotone of the newscaster on the TV hanging on the wall. Only a few customers were there. A few at counter and couple in the booths. Most of them forty or older. Anne went to one of the booths in the back. She sat facing the front of the diner. A habit her dad taught her. The table looked freshly washed. She could still smell the cleaner. She took her jacket off. Setting it next to her, noticing cracks in the seat cushion. White cotton bulging out.
Anne could feel their eyes on them. Her and Sam stood out like big brown turd in the snow.
“Charming spot you’ve discovered.” Sam picked up a half-filled bottle of ketchup.
A chubby woman in a tight-fitting waitress uniform walked over to their
table. “Get you-” Her eyes flicked from Anne to Sam, lingering there. “girls anything to drink?” She handed them two menus.
Anne’s eyes caught the woman’s shiny name tag. Tess, it said. Its shiny surface marred by a greasy smudge.
“Coffee please.” Anne answered.
“Same here.” Sam said.
“Sounds good ladies. I’ll bring them right over. And give you a few minutes to decide on your order.”
“Thanks. Can I ask you a question?” Anne asked.
“Sure honey, what’s that?”
“Can you point me in the direction of city hall.”
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