Dawn breaks. I return to the empty apartment. Brandy has fled. I need to immediately sever all connections with her. My anger has beensimmering. Now it flares into white hot metal, ready to sear its imprint on anything it comes into contact with. I reach for the phone.
I gaze over the massive bridge linking this city to the rest of the world. I imagine Brandy in a taxicab, crying to the driver and then to anyone else who will listen that I, Sigismund Notorious, am a lacivious creature, preying on unsuspecting talent, demanding romantic favors in exchange for fame. I cannot prevent this scenario from playing out but I can do my best to control the damage.
The first call I make is to my attorney. I weigh the consequences of telling him the whole truth. He is my lawyer and it is best to be honest with him but my lack of sleep and my ever-growing fury make it impossible for me to relay the story. I promise to give him full details later but for now I tell him to terminate the contract between Notorious Talent and Brandy Lookingglass due to irreconcilable differences.
I am toying with my next move. It has to be a surgical strike of pure and utter retaliation and I cannot have any regrets. I enter the shower and breathe in the clouds of steam. My muscles do not relax under the rivulets of hot water, but become more tense as I rehearse in my mind what I am about to say.
I wander into Brandy’s now-abandoned bedroom. In my mind for the millionth time I witness her rejection, her face a mask of repulsion as I reach to embrace her. Bile rises up in my throat at the thought that she, or anyone might think they are better than me. I swallow the bitterness and yet again, reach for the phone, my weapon of choice.
The phone rings and then an automated message picks up: “Hello, you have reached the voicemail of Dina Nieves and I am very happy to hear your news and gossip! For life announcements, such as births and deaths, press one. For nominations and awards, press two” and the list drones on. I wait and then hang up. Maybe I shouldn’t give Dina the scoop. She may not run the story.
I need a press outlet that will guarantee pain, suffering and career annihilation. I dial again.
At last I return home. I have never been so happy to be in my house and to see my wife and children. Everything is intact. I was expecting Ariane to be standing at the door with divorce papers in her hands, the kids packed and ready to move. Actually, changing the locks would be more Ariane’s style. But she is oblivious. She takes my hands and gushes over me like we are teenagers again.
I pull Ariane into a tight embrace, and over my shoulder I see my wedding band. The eternal reminder of what I am connected to, what should matter most to me. Was I really so willing to throw it all away? My actions the night before seem like a dream now…something someone else did, not me. The same with that final phone call…did I really call that tabloid?
I climb the stairs to the nursery, a trip I was so loathe to make in the past because the sounds of bickering children and the smell of soiled diapers would send me into a funk. But I am taking the steps two at a time and the closer I get, the closer the voices of Mariposa and Vereen become. My heart leaps when I see them and I joyfully crowd them into my arms.
“Watch this, Daddy!” Mariposa begins a game of peek-a-boo with her brother and he giggles and then covers his eyes and says something back to her, not really words but very close to words. “Say ‘Daddy’ Vereen! Say ‘Daddy,’ I know you can say it,” she implores.
“Sigismund.” Vereen chimes in and grins up at me.
I am a little taken aback. Vereen speaks my name clear as a bell, no baby lisp or fumbling of the syllables. I am not sure if I should be proud or offended.
“I’m Daddy,” I say, ruffling the little guy’s hair.
Ariane has been standing in the doorway watching us. “You’ve been gone so long, it is a wonder he even knows who you are,” she points out.
“Ariane, I have a surprise for you,” I announce, in an attempt to assuage any ill feelings that may be lingering over my absence. “I’ll stay with the kids so you can go to the Sharma Day Spa…I bought the Soothing Salvation package for you, I know you’ve earned it.”
Without even a thank-you, she prepares to leave, headed to her home away from home. “Leftovers are in the fridge!” she shouts over her shoulder.
After several hours, I receive a call from Ariane. “I’m out doing some shopping, could you put the kids to bed?” She sounds distracted and in the background, I can hear a someone calling her name. Probably a saleswoman pressing my wife to spend more of my money. Oh, well. At this moment I am so thrilled to have a wife, I don’t care if she spends every cent.
I wash up and change into my pajamas, enter the living room and encourage my daughter to do the same.
“I’m reading my Chess Challenge manual, can I please stay up?” she begs. Seeing as Vereen is still finishing his dinner, I give Mariposa a little while longer. As I leave for the kitchen, she calls out to me.
Anger engulfs me for a moment but I hold steady. “Who is Brandy Lookingglass?” I ask, trying to sound confused.
Mariposa giggles. “Oh, Daddy, now you are being silly. The lady who lives with us…the lady you made famous.”
I sigh. No getting out of this one.
“She isn’t famous anymore, honey. She-she did a very bad thing and when everyone found out, they didn’t want her to buy her records.”
I hurry into the kitchen. My heart is racing, pounding, filling my ears with the whoosh of madly circulating blood. Saying those words aloud to Mariposa drives home the reality that my simple phone call could have made. A world of unhappiness for Brandy, a world where she is a pariah, a woman who would scorn her own child. She never should have crossed me.
At last I hustle the kids off to bed and then drift off myself. I am shocked to wake up and find my wife in our bed. “Hello, stranger,” she coos and we are both overwhelmed by my pent-up passion. I fall back asleep but only for a few moments. The sounds of Vereen float down from the nursery and startle me back awake; I run up the nursery steps to him.
I reach into the crib and lift him out. As I lean over to set him on the ground, I feel short of breath and my heart seems to be beating at an unnaturally high rate of speed. I clutch my chest and collapse.
Slowly my eyes open. I am gasping for breath and my heart feels as if someone has reached inside me and squeezed it with a superhuman force. I can hear my son chattering to himself. Weakness engulfs my entire body. After a few minutes, I can breathe again and the pressure in my chest loosens. Feeling wobbly, I rise to my feet. “Ariane,” I call but my voice is a choked whisper.
At last I am standing upright and steady. I feel for my phone and I wonder if I had better call my doctor. But I seem okay now, maybe it was just running up the stairs too fast and leaning over twice, first to lift Vereen out of the crib, then to place him on the floor. I just blacked out. Nothing to get excited about. Besides, I need to be in my office today before I have a mutiny on my hands.The office seems to be running smoothly despite my being away for so long. I am pleased with my little sisters, they are coming into their own. They had better not try to break off into their own agency, I think and then chastise myself. Since this…ugliness with…that woman, I seem only able to see the worst in others. Yet I remain coolly detached from my own evil desire as I call the SimQuirer again.
I have a brief conversation with the same reporter, referring to myself only as Deep Sim. I replay the pregnancy, the abandonment, the confession. “You do see what kind of woman she is?” I whisper into the phone. “It was the love of the crowd she wanted…not the love of that poor little infant.” The reporter assures me a private detective has been dispatched and the sordid details will be published soon.
I hang up. My breathing becomes rapid, shallow. Again, in my ears, I hear the sound of pounding blood as my heart beats a crazed tatoo. Rising inside me is a need to laugh maniacally at what I have done, to shout to the heavens that no one can defy a Notorious. But I would only be a cliche, a caricature then. All I want is to get my stride back, to stop feeling like I was played. I leave the office and enter the elevator.
But when the doors slide open at the bottom floor, I slump forward and down. I’m on the ground and the sliding doors just keep opening and closing, not quite hitting my knees. I hear this repetitive jerking sound of the doors, I feel a dullness in all of my limbs, my ears are ringing, my throat is dry, my mouth tastes metallic…and I cannot move.
Whose life have I destroyed? I wonder and then the world fades slowly to black.