Why can’t T-Rex clap his hands?
Because he’s dead.
“Tell me about the fire, Jason,” she said in that clinical monotone that Jace always took to mean she secretly thought he was volatile.
“I don’t want to talk about the fire, Cecelia, can we change the fucking subject?”
“Okay,” she said, holding her hands up in mock surrender. She paused for a moment and narrowed her eyes at him in, studying him. “Tell me about your childhood then.”
“What about it,” he asked dryly.
“How was it?”
“Fine,” he replied in short. He honestly didn’t know how else to answer that question. Cecelia said nothing, waiting on Jace to elaborate. The silence made him slightly awkward. He rolled his eyes and sighed. “Okay! I get it. Can you at least be more specific? I’m not exactly a social butterfly, you know. I don’t know how this ‘talking about your feelings’ shit is supposed to work…”
“Tell me about your parents.”
Jace though for a moment about how to phrase things so as not make himself sound more messed up than he was. “Mom was a nurse,” he said. “She worked at Barnes, and St. Mary’s. Dad was in construction. Homes, mostly, nothing major like road work or building skyscrapers. We had what we needed. Maybe not everything we wanted, but always what we needed.”
“What did you want?”
“A Sega. And a Super Nintendo. We only ever got a Super Nintendo.”
Cecelia smiled and nodded, then made a note. He hated when she did that.
“Any siblings,” she asked.
“An older brother and a younger sister. Eric is a mechanical engineer in Chicago. He went to U of I in Champaign. Erin is in nursing school in Kansas City.”
“And what about you?”
Jace snorted. “That’s the problem, isn’t it? I don’t know. I have no ambitions. I didn’t go to college. I just kept working at Dino’s pizzeria until it went out of business, then I made my way through boring, tedious temp jobs because I didn’t know how to look for a real one. Not that I had much of a resume to show. I just drifted for a while, from crap job to crap job until…” He stopped mid-sentence.
“Until the fire,” she finished.
“Yeah, until that.”
“Well you must have done something,” she said, changing the subject. “Your whole life can’t be packing warehouses and assembly lines.”
“No,” he replied. “They were just a means to an end. I just needed a paycheck. I spent most nights out, getting to know where the good spots were at, depending on what you wanted to do. You want good pizza? Burgers? BBQ? I got you covered. You want to drink yourself into a drooling stupor and forget your own name without getting hassled? I know a place that won’t even ask for a credit card to open a tab. Don’t skip out on your bill, though, they’ll… just don’t skip out on your bill. Or maybe you want to dance and get laid… I can point you in the right direction of a club, but you’re on your own for the rest. I know this city like the back of my hand. I know how to get around and where to go to find what I’m looking for, and I know where to go when I want to get lost.”
“You feel like being lost often, Jace?” she asked.
He silently balked that she went straight there. “Yeah, who doesn’t sometimes? It’s not hard.”
“There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s healthy to take some alone time.”
“Right,” he replied. “So I was fine. Bored, but fine. I even got me my own place, not that it was a particularly nice place. Dumpy little apartment with paper thin walls, and do you know what kind of neighbors you get for $400 a month in Delmar? Shitty ones. I’m glad that building burned down…”
Cecelia gave Jace a flat stare.
“I seem to have painted myself into a corner here,” he sighed. “Now I have to talk about it. Did you do that on purpose?”
“I’m only here to listen,” she replied, smirking as she wrote something down.
“Fine,” he said, stalling to think. “The place went up in flames fast. Ended up being a seven alarm fire, from what I hear. By the time they got there it was too late to save it. Three people died, lots more hurt. They say it was some dumb bitch who left candles next to her curtains. It’s irrelevant who’s responsible for it at this point, I guess.”
Cecelia nodded. “Do you remember what happened to you?”
Jace scratched his chin. “No, I don’t,” he lied. “They pulled me out at some point. Said I was unresponsive, mostly from smoke inhalation. I had a few burns but nothing major. They put me on a gurney and sent me straight to the ER, en route to which I was resuscitated in the ambulance. I’m told my heart had stopped.”
“What do you remember,” she asked. He noted that she was not taking notes.
Jace studied her for a moment. “You’d just laugh. Or judge me crazy. Or both.”
“I swear I won’t,” she assured him. He believed her.
“And you won’t write about me in some book about your crazies?”
“I’m actually sworn to confidentiality,” she said frankly.
“I don’t know what happened,” he started. “I was asleep when the fire started. I recall a long tunnel, a bright light… the typical near death experience baloney. Then I was calm. Everything was going to be fine.” He thought about leaving it at that. “Then… then I got ripped back into this place.”
“This,” he said gesturing to the space around him. “This place where we exist. The one that sucks so much, where everything is not fine.”
She gave him a confused look, still not taking any notes. “You are lucky to have survived that fire, Jace,” she said. “The amount of smoke you inhaled should have killed you is what they told me.”
Jace nodded. “That’s what they told me too. They said I was lucky to be alive. Lucky that I survived it. But that’s the thing, though… I don’t think I survived it. I think I died in that building…
She gave him a skeptical look.
“Okay, so I didn’t ‘die’, as in pass away and cross over, soul gone forever into whatever comes next. But I don’t think I exactly lived through it either. Not gone long enough that I was never coming back, but gone too long to come back strictly alive, if that makes any sense…” he trailed off. “Of course it doesn’t, I know it sounds ridiculous,” he said, resigning to being labeled a lunatic.
“You know,” she said, evidently choosing not to challenge him, “It’s normal too for people who’ve experienced things like what you’ve experienced to feel guilty that they survived when other people didn’t.”
“Survivor’s guilt, yeah, I know what it is,” he replied. “That’s not even the point! That’s not why I’m here at all! Do I feel bad that some people died? Yeah, I do, but that’s just regular empathy Cecelia.”
She nodded in agreement. “So what is the point, Jace? Why did you come see me?”
“What I don’t get is how everyone’s got this shit figured out, he replied. She gave him another confused look. “Life, I mean,” he explained. “What the hell am I supposed to do with it? I never made anything out of mine before the fire. I never had any kind of direction. I feel like this is a second chance or something. So what do I do?”
Cecelia closed her notebook. “Nobody can answer that but you, Jace,” she replied. “What do you want out of this second chance?”
“I don’t know,” he said. She didn’t reply, obviously waiting for him to finish. “Yet,” he added. “But I’m going to figure it out.”
She nodded, evidently satisfied with his answer. “Good.”