364 days before his suicide, Judge Haloran loses a day.
The day after you commit to killing yourself, Ricardo the Vampire joins you for breakfast. You are whooshing pockets of air from the bellies of soggy Rice Chex between your tongue and the roof of your mouth when he slithers around the coffee and sugar canisters on your countertop like black ink through milk. The spindle of his body materializes on the countertop and he crosses his legs at the ankle. He fiddles through packets of tea arranged in a recipe box, wrinkles his nose at ostentatious Elderberry Bliss-Out and Spearmint Chill!. Neither of you wants to be the first to speak, so for a while, you busy yourselves not watching the other: you tonguing the gluey cud of your cereal from your molars, Ricardo the Vampire shuffling your meticulously gradated tea bags like playing cards.
You tell him you’re serious this time and he says he knows, that he wouldn’t be here unless you were serious. It’s impossible to speak to him this way, through the detritus of last night, when you sat in a room at the Hotel Indigo in your second-best suit, felt the weight of a gun in your hands. He wasn’t there then, but he’s here now, which means something has changed. He oozes off the counter, feline, and suddenly he is standing beside you, his arm around the shoulder of your robe. His claws push their way through your scalp when he pushes the hair from your eyes, and the pocket of his jacket against your cheek smells like leather and broken-down leaves.
Give me half the paper, he says, and you divide it between you. Ricardo the Vampire thumbs through sports and world news with his one free hand while you sift through the police blotter, through a review of Our Town that debuted at the black box last week. When you’re finished, he helps you to your feet and guides you to the sofa. Together, your eyes glaze through video menus and he reminds you as he wraps you in a thin purple throw that you’re going to watch the same few seasons of Law & Order: SVU you’ve been cycling through for months.
Not for the first time, the slice of sunlight on your living room carpet shifts and lengthens, dulls and falls away. It’s dusk again when you shake the gauze of a disappeared Sunday from your eyes. The room is dark around you, and Ricardo the Vampire is nowhere to be found. This doesn’t surprise you. He rarely says goodbye. When you rise to stand, the crack of your stretch climbs your back like a rope ladder. Your thighs cramp from disuse when you climb the stairs to the bathroom. You shrug away your robe, swish the film of old milk from your mouth, and try to stand up straight. Water-spotted pink Post-Its halo your reflection, each of them swirled with your therapist’s clipped, tidy hand. Around the edges, corollary affirmations whimper meek make it a good days, each message getting louder as it climbs toward your line of sight.
Be kind to yourself!
Try again tomorrow.
You have so much time.
343 days before his suicide, Judge Haloran returns home.
You are in Quincy again. You are in Quincy because the flight from Nashville to Boston was the cost of a meaty phone bill, and your mother doesn’t retire every day, and didn’t you hear, baby, Margie in Tortes said she was the best damn office manager the Attorney General’s office had seen since Victoria back in ‘71, so you are in Quincy and your tie is too tight—they have chummed the water with crudité and mini quiche, and a dozen public servants in public servant suits play litigator over sweaty glasses of white wine, circling you, circling you with their doll’s eyes and tight smiles and I heard you were at Vanderbilt, whatever happened to that, circling, circling, and your tie is too tight and we were so sorry to hear when Miri told us about the divorce and custody will get you every time, you are in Quincy again, like stepping backward in time to a night when your tie was too tight and your shoes were too big and her arm loops around your waist like a life preserver and look at my boy, look at my sweet boy, he takes such good care of me and she’s telling the story again to that sea of doll’s eyes and their poly-blend suits and she beams when she tells them you have no father, that she hasn’t spoken his son-of-a-bitch name in all your 34 years, wouldn’t waste the ink on the birth certificate; you can stand on your own, just you two against the world, and my boy, my sweet boy, she will never need another man, never love another man because she’s got you, sweet baby, and that’s it, that’s all she needs—can’t you see, baby boy, you are in Quincy again because you are all she needs, all she ever needs, just like when you zipped her dress, just like every Christmas party she wore you on her arm like a cuff, just like that time she thought it was cancer and you spent a meaty phone bill to slingshot yourself to her side, but when it was just acid reflux you didn’t call Angie or the kids to explain that you had to be there, you just had to and nobody could ever love me like my boy so you swallow white wine from a box down the cotton of your throat and watch as Ricardo the Vampire steps out from behind a drooping ficus (you don’t remember inviting him) and cuts his teeth on a matchstick carrot, chewing, chewing so loud across the room and where will she go, his chewing says, when your bones are laid to rest and you are nothing but grass; your tie is too tight and the wine from the box goes down sour so you paw at the knot Ma taught you in the bathroom mirror and wish you were naked and home on the sofa instead of watching Ricardo the Vampire slither his tongue into Carl from Elections’ ear—he doesn’t seem to notice, doesn’t seem to mind—but neither feels right so you shake him from view and turn to your mother, her eyes bright and wet, her arms tight around you like a noose. My boy, my boy, he takes such good care of me.
29 days before his suicide, Judge Haloran says thank you for being a friend.
It’s September, you haven’t been to work in two days, and Ricardo the Vampire is sucking on your neck while you watch old episodes of The Golden Girls in the dark. His hair has grown longer in the months since you saw him last. He’s been a permanent fixture at your side since that day at the airport last month. When you tell him he should stop being so codependent, he laughs, but there’s not really much joy.
You want to ask him if he’s still mad at you for sending him away, but you’re afraid he’ll say yes, so you run your fingers through the thick of black hair that hides black lashes, black eyes, tuck it behind his ear the way you did Oscar’s when his bangs got too long. He says the time away from you made him weak, which would explain the feeding, but you’re not sure if that’s true. Once, twice, you try to stand up to pee, for more popcorn, to get ready for work, and his claws press into your forearms, gentle, to remind you that he’s there and still hungry.
You want to ask him if he’s ever going to let you leave again, but you’re afraid he’ll say no, so you sit with him in the quiet of another lost afternoon. The two of you slip in and out of deep, heavy sleeps, cottoned with fog when you shuffle from room to room. He lets you go to work sometimes, to therapy, to just enough places to keep your phone from ringing, so it hasn’t rung in weeks. You suspect he turned it off, or maybe that you forgot to pay your bill, because you want to believe someone would have noticed just how gone you’ve been.
You want to ask Ricardo the Vampire if anyone’s noticed, but you both know there’s no answer to that question that will satisfy either of you, so you don’t ask that either. Instead, half asleep and overheated, you ask him where he goes when he’s not with you. He raises his head, drags his palm across the trickle of blue-black on his chin, and asks you if it matters. You open and close your mouth again, a fish on dry land, and he tightens his embrace. You shake your head no and he mirrors the gesture, one corner of his mouth lifting in a wry half-smile. He rests his face in the crook of your neck and tells you it doesn’t matter, that he promises never to leave you again. When his teeth break the skin for the second time, you are warm and immobile. You are not hungry, and Ricardo the Vampire is fed. His hand on your shoulder is cool water—his tongue, your heartbeat, adjoined metronomes, lazy and slow.
Jacqueline Boucher lives and writes in Northern Michigan. Her work was a finalist for the 2016 Write Bloody poetry manuscript contest, and has appeared in BOOTH, Hobart, Barrelhouse, SmokeLong Quarterly, and other magazines. She can be found on Twitter as @jacqueboucher.