The Night Before

1.

My brother Henry gets out of prison tomorrow. He called to say that he’s supposed to be released somewhere around nine in the morning, but he couldn’t know the time for sure. Sometimes they let you out an hour or two early, sometimes an hour or two late. That’s what he said, at least. He got angry toward the end of the call, ranting about how they had no respect for anyone’s time, and he said he expected them to treat the cons that way, but what about the people picking them up? As if just knowing a con meant you didn’t deserve respect either?

I told him I didn’t know.

That was four days ago, when we last spoke. Tonight I’m just waiting. Can’t sleep. Tried for hours, but the bed–the dark bedroom–was a trap for bad thoughts, and they built and built until my breathing went short and cold, and the anxiety took over completely, like there was a second person within me, some sadist doppelganger screaming over my inner monologue, telling me again and again how everything’s going to go wrong, how everything is already wrong. It was one of the worst attacks I’ve had in years, but I guess I sort of expected it. The attacks have been getting worse as Henry’s release approaches.

It’s hard to explain a panic attack if you’ve never had one. I read once that thirty-five percent of people who go to the hospital for heart attacks end up diagnosed as actually having had a panic attack. So it’s safe to say it’s unpleasant. A doctor told me once to think of it simply as an incorrect biological response. The human animal, when faced with a perilous situation, is hard-wired to immediately revert to the simplest decision: fight or flight. The blood pumps, the lungs tingle with readiness, and the entire machine runs in the red, preparing for the inevitable battle or sprint. A panic attack is simply this biological response activated by incorrect stimuli. I always liked the way he made it sound, but, try as I have, I’ve never found any comfort in his description. For me, a panic attack feels like I’m dying; like my lungs have filled with cold, poison air and my heart could stop at any moment. The fear then jacks up the physical response, which returns the favor, and on and on. I truly feel that I am going to die. How best to explain this? If someone told me in the grips of one of my very worst attacks that the feeling would go away if I castrated myself, I would use my hands to do so if there was nothing sharp about. Of course, those kinds of bargains don’t really come along, so you have to find other methods of managing. Controlled breathing helps, but not nearly as much as Valium, Xanax, or booze.

I’m doing my breathing tonight, stomping out any thoughts that arise, trying to keep my mind as blank as possible. In and out, counting the breaths from one to ten and alternating that with sips of bourbon, getting off on that bite at the back of the throat, that spreading warmth, that strong sweet taste like medicinal candy. I’m breathing and smoking and watching the news and working on a good drunk. That last attack chased me out of bed a couple hours ago, and since then I’ve just been staring at this old TV, listening to the sound of my neighbor’s piano drift up to me, my dog Blaster sleeping contented and wrapped up against my thigh. This is the third newscast I’ve seen tonight, and it’s almost identical to the others. The storm, the storm, here comes the storm. This blizzard coming down from the mountains already buried Colorado and Nebraska and Iowa and tomorrow I guess it’s our turn. It’s weird to see Chicagoans so worked up over snow. Big snow, I guess. It’s fucking up my whole plan.

Mixing less and less soda into every drink I pour, the bourbon seems to be sliding down my throat easier as the hours pass. I’m having trouble arranging and pinning down thoughts. One slides into view for a second, only to be ripped away and replaced with another. I see Henry’s face as he blows out the candles on a birthday cake, and I see him getting arrested at fifteen, pulled away in cuffs by two female cops. I see Leroy Todd’s face smashed against the windshield, destroyed and bloody and vacant. I see that cop knocking on the door and asking me where my mom is and Roger squinting into the sun; and Dad, drunk and asleep; Dad reeling back to slap; Dad heading off hunting with Horace; Dad staring into the kitchen with disgust and paranoia in his eyes as Mom and I whisper and giggle. I see the inside of a toilet bowl as I wretch and spit during one of my nastier attacks; see Henry smiling as he walks out of the juvenile detention center; and Mom, years before Henry was locked up, playing softball with us in the field behind the grocery store. I see her slap at the ball and run, running furiously, arms pumping as she rounds first and I collect the ball. We’re both running so fast toward second, tearing toward the base with only that one goal in mind: to get there first.

I stand up, awkward and drunk, and stumble into my bedroom. I go in the closet and get the box, immediately taking out the fifteen-year-old article and spreading it on my bed. There in my room, the night before Henry gets out of prison, I fall to my knees and read it for the thousandth time.

 

2.

Knox County Daily Chronicle
September 27, 1995

Area Woman Declared Missing

GOSPEL HOLLOW—Suspicious Circumstances Lead to Full Investigation

On September 21st, Alice Hull, 31, of Lunsford Road in Gospel Hollow, put her two children to bed and walked downstairs. She has not been seen or heard from since.

Mrs. Hull’s disappearance came to light only a few hours later when Leroy Todd, 33, of Joliet, was killed in a single-car accident just outside of Gospel Hollow on Highway W. Officers responded to the call and found Mr. Todd dead behind the wheel of a blue, Chevy minivan that had veered off of the road and collided with a tree.

“The car reeked of booze,” said Gospel Hollow Police Lt. Anson Tiller, “so we just figured it was a simple DUI fatality. But when we ran the plates we saw that the car was registered to Tom Hull. I know Tom, and it hadn’t been reported stolen, so me and Arnie [Det. Arnold Brunson] went over to the Hull residence to see what was up. We knocked on the door for a while, and finally Tom Jr. [the Hull’s 11-year-old son] answered. He was still groggy and said we’d woken him up.”

What the officers would learn from young Tom Jr. was that his father, Thomas Hull, was in Wisconsin hunting with a friend, and that he had no idea where his mother was, stating repeatedly that she had put him to bed. The Hull’s other son, Henry, 8, remained upstairs as he was running a high fever.

The department has confirmed that a note from Alice Hull was found on the kitchen table, but will not elaborate beyond saying that it “does not appear to be a suicide note.”

According to unnamed sources within the department, the letter stated that Alice Hull was leaving of her own accord, and that is why she has not been reported missing until now.

However, as there has been no sighting of Mrs. Hull within five days, and due to the fact that her car was in the possession of Mr. Todd, a man with two prior violent felony convictions, the Gospel Hollow Police Department has decided to declare Alice Hull officially missing.

“We still have a lot of avenues to check,” said Det. Brunson.

Thomas Hull, when contacted, stated that he did not wish to speak with reporters.

 

Adapted from Gospel Hollow by Jesse Jordan. Copyright © 2012 by Jesse Jordan. With the permission of the publisher, Casperian Books, LLC.

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JESSE JORDAN is a writer and editor currently living in the suburbs of Chicago. He is an MFA graduate of Columbia College and a member of Chicago’s “Reading Under the Influence.” His short stories have appeared in numerous publications and Gospel Hollow is his first novel.

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