Revolving Door: Volume 2
City of Eyes and Fog - The Fog
68 Belhaven Court is a small thoroughfare in Daly City, tucked away in some low, dry knolls. On the morning of the visit, Adelaide picks a sunflower yellow dress to wear, her favorite one in her current collection of three. In this weather, Felix has developed a fondness for collared t-shirts, and he exits the hotel room in a deep blue shirt trimmed in black, the top button undone. Adelaide wheels their navy blue luggage bag out after him, and pushes the elevator button with her knuckle.
They alight from the intercity bus with their luggage bag and cross a three-lane road at a junction, the low wind rustling in the silence, punctuated by the steady beeping pulse of the traffic light.
The things that they walk by are starting to illuminate patches of Adelaide’s memory. Morgan’s, the chain diner at the entrance to the city. Sushi One on the corner, paint peeling, red signboards several shades lighter. The decrepit BP gas station where they used to fuel up before driving down to San Jose, sporting a fresh coat of green paint. The family mart beside it, where she and her mother used to buy six-packs of cola for day trips, has been supplanted by yet another Mick’s Mart, occupying the same glass building—the same shelves in a different configuration.
But the houses are unchanged, if faded: the roof shingles are red and the lawns are brown, the one with fairy lights in its fir trees still has its fir trees and fairy lights. Heartache hits her.
“Were you close to your family?” asks Felix quietly.
Adelaide nods. Can she still remember their faces? “We went on boating trips. We flew kites, swam by the beach. Sometimes visited the library.”
“Pleasant pursuits,” says Felix. She glances at him to see what he feels, but his face is a mask, or she is not astute enough to read it. They cross in front of a driveway. “Have you thought that they might have moved since?”
“I don’t think so. The house was my grandparents’, they’ve had it for sixty…seventy years now. They bought it right after the crash.” She paused. “Sorry, you don’t know about the crash.”
“Well, I'm well aware of what a crash is," Felix replies. “I sold all my bonds in the West Indies preceding one.”
“The Caribbean? I…see,” she says noncommittally, turning away.
There is no conversation for a good ten minutes, as the light turns green and they cross another road, passing a chain of shops and the cars parked before them. It is the sort of silence that resists being broken.
As Belhaven Court gets closer, Adelaide’s heart begins to boom. Here the memories gather like swarming flies, and the nostalgia is heady, filling her with a cocktail of hope and dread. The sky is the same heavy orange, lying in layers across the peninsula. An eleven-year-old airplane streaks through the clouds. Some trees are taller, and some are dead. The silhouettes of the faraway hills peek over the same rows of houses. She tastes lemonade and ice.
Can these eleven years be scrubbed from the slate?
Adelaide stumbles on a drain grille, and the corpse of a day eleven years past hits her, of the last time she did the same. She finds her footing, dizzy, and all of a sudden she is standing in front of Number 68.
The gate is open, as if anticipating a car, and there are the sounds of life inside: an advertising jingle, spoken over by a jaunty, cartoonish voice not unlike that of Lillie the cat.
“Is this the one?” asks Felix over her shoulder. The voice pulls her out of her graveyard of memories.
She nods, eyes lingering on the white doorbell. “I’m scared.”
“Us both,” he admits.
Her parents never were gardeners; it was always too hard to maintain a lawn in the dry California heat. She remembers how her father once bought a shrub from a nursery and planted it by the driveway; its dead stump is still visible right where it used to be, beside the pillar.
Drawing in a huge breath, Adelaide reaches up and pushes the doorbell. A chimed melody answers. “Who’s there?” calls a voice that, despite the eleven years of absence, immediately snatches an instinctive reply out of her.
“It’s me, mom!”
Silence answers. The low mutter of the television unit cuts out, five seconds later. All they hear are the cicadas in the trees.
Up at the top of the driveway, the door clicks and swings open. A pale face peeks out, light brown hair clipped in a bun to the back of her head. Adelaide hears Felix’s feet shift in the gravel.
“Adelaide?” she calls, in as much of a whisper as she can manage, eyes large as the moon. She shuffles out in a faded t-shirt, baggy shorts and flip-flops, every bit the same woman she was a decade ago, with more lines in the corners of her eyes and across her forehead.
By the time Mrs. Moore has come up before them, her eyes are red with tears. “How and why?” she mutters between sniffles as she leads the visitors into the house. “Why, after so long?”
Adelaide only starts to speak once in the safety of the living room. A new set of couches sit in a square around a screen mounted on the wall. It takes her a minute to recognise the door to the kitchen, the base peeling.
“Felix broke me out of the lab,” she explains, and her mother turns to her companion with a hand awkwardly extended.
“Pleased to meet you,” he says, shaking the offered hand smartly.
Her mother continues to stare quietly as Adelaide steps through the doorway, as Felix hoists the luggage bag onto the doorstep and wheels it inside. They do not hug, nor even shake hands, and there continues to be a secretive caution to her every movement.
“Millie, turn on the television,” she calls across the living room.
“Gladly!” The screen lights up with the blithe face of a pink puppy, which prances offscreen while the luminescent white background fades into a scene from the news.
“Pineapple punch? Ginger ale?”
“The punch, if you please,” Felix answers promptly. “I have grown quite fond of pineapple since arriving.”
While the woman goes to the kitchen to take drinks out of the refrigerator, they settle into the couches. “This has so far gone better than I expected,” whispers Felix, right hand tucked into his left and resting on his lap. “But I am starting to think it won’t yield the results we were hoping…”
“The forest fires continue to spread across South California, enveloping San Diego in smoke,” the TV says. “PSI levels this afternoon are in the low two hundreds all across Socal. If you are heading out, wearing a face mask is strongly advised, especially for young children, the elderly, and those at-risk…”
“Do you think things could go back?” she whispers. “If we stayed here, in my room, with mom and…”
“Sorry for the wait,” her mother cuts in, placing two glasses of punch on the coffee table. Then she drops into the neighbouring single couch, and her face softens again. “Addie, baby, what have you been up to? What was it like in there?”
“Lonely” is the only word that makes it out of her. When she tries to call up images from her life before the escape, terror clogs her throat.
“I’m so sorry,” says Mrs. Moore, smiling with sad eyes.
“I’ve been…I’ve been getting up to date,” she goes on. “Felix has been here from England for two months, but he knows San Francisco better than I.”
Her eyes turn to Felix. “England? Which part?”
He nods. “The borough of Kensington and Chelsea.”
“Aha, the part most people think of when they haven't visited.”
“Have you? Visited, I mean?”
“A few times, on work-related business—”
A hydrogen car zips by on the road outside, gravel rattling below its wheels. Mrs. Moore leaps from the seat and straightens. She does not settle back in until it has driven out of earshot. When her gaze meets Adelaide’s again, it is disturbed.
“I hate to hurry things,” she says, “but I need you both to leave before Mi—before your father comes home, Adelaide.”
“Why? I want to see him too.”
“He…won’t be happy.”
“Oh…will he be afraid of me?”
She nods. “He’ll call them.”
The chasm of dread widens, swallowing the hope she harboured. “So…I can’t come back,” she says blankly.
“When will he be home? Adelaide.” Felix has already downed his glass of punch; he stands, shaking Adelaide’s shoulder, but she is still staring at the rim of her glass. “Forgive me, we must go. If we leave too late, it will be hard to see in the fog.”
If she has begun to sense that things are about to turn, Felix is many steps ahead. He has stood up, a preemptive hand on their luggage. He intently eyes the doorway into the kitchen, through which she peers as well, spying a half-open window over the sink that looks out onto the garden.
“Adelaide, through the window,” he whispers, then turns to her mother. “Madam, we are most grateful for your hospitality. We must be—”
That is when the car tires roll onto the driveway, gravel clattering beneath them, and when her mother whispers, “Michael,” and Adelaide’s mind begins to race.
A door clicks. Steps crunch in the dirt, one after another. A key turns in the lock. Mrs. Moore takes one stricken glance at her daughter, and then her face contorts into a strained smile as the door clicks open. “Honey!”
“Jen.” The face of the man who steps through, aged a decade but no less surly, with his hair combed back from his brow, connects right away with a hundred memories. His mouth opens . “Adelaide?”
“No, you must have something wrong,” Jennifer Moore’s voice veers off pitch. “This isn’t, this isn’t Adelaide?”
“What? You think I wouldn’t recognize my daughter?” He snatches his phone out of his pocket in a flash, trembling visibly with one hand upon the doorknob as he dials three digits. Adelaide already knows which ones.
She feels like she might suffocate. Suddenly the leather of the couch seems to hold her fast. If she leaves the seat now, she might prompt her father to strike. But if she doesn’t move, and doesn’t move now, then she will never move again until the police are here. “Felix,” she gasps, but Felix has vanished.
She leaps from the couch and over its back, not even giving herself a moment to process the startling pain that shoots up her knee as it collides with the floor, springing straight for the kitchen, exactly as she has been rehearsing in her head. Behind her she hears Michael Moore’s thundering steps as he yells, “Stop right there!” She feels as if her lungs were being squeezed by a vice. She lifts one knee onto the edge of the sink, then the other, hoists herself up by the metal faucet, shoes on ceramic, and bends it as she does.
Her father comes barreling into the kitchen right as she springs out across the unwashed dishes and through the window.
Adelaide lands with one leg in a scratchy bush, and her vision is cloudy with tears. But there is no room for tears here and now. She sweeps them off with the back of her right forearm. The air is colder than before. She remembers this yard, it goes around the right side of the house and back to the road, but the gate is the last place she wants to go; her father is surely rounding the perimeter of the house right now.
Her eyes sweep her old yard. A grey apartment looms up on the other side of the back fence, and there is a woody vine creeping over it. If she can make it onto the grounds of the apartment, then she could buy herself time.
She sprints for the vine. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees the tall shape of her father emerge from around the side of the house. She has not climbed in years, but in the screaming of her every thought, her arms and legs move as if she’s practiced this a thousand times. Her skirt snags on twigs. Her throat burns. “Get down from there!” His demand only spurs her to do the opposite. She throws herself over the fence at the gunshot boom of his voice, and lands on the other side with a crack on several rocks, scuffing an arm against a chunk of limestone.
Adelaide is back on her feet before the pain has even hit. Without turning to see if her father is following, she runs till her legs are burning, skirt tangling around them. She dodges around the side of the apartment, across the empty road and through the parking lot on the other side. Behind her she hears an engine’s roar echo across the neighbourhood; whether it is her father’s or someone else’s, she doesn’t know and doesn’t check.
For fifteen minutes she runs. Past a church, then right onto Southgate Avenue when another row of houses presents itself, flagging at times until terror spurs her again. The highway swoops across the road up ahead. She doesn’t wait for the traffic light to turn. She narrowly misses a car as she sprints into the highway’s shadow. On and on. Out of the highway’s shadow.
Adelaide is running on the fumes of her fear when, at last, a thicket of green thrusts up from around the bend of the boulevard. Without a thought she throws herself into the foliage, and landing elbow-deep in the grass by the roots of a tree, she curls up and sobs, reining her voice in so they come almost voicelessly.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Mom,” she whispers, over and over till she runs out of breath. Then, in her mind, the pressing question bobs to the surface and stays: where is Felix?
Adelaide pulls her phone from her pocket. The battery is in the green. The clock glows a serene four forty-five against a background of water droplets on leaves. There are no messages waiting for her, but it has only been fifteen minutes since they parted ways. If Felix is in hiding right now, as she is, and she sends him a message, it might give him away. Any effort she makes to find him now—she realizes, her stomach turning—could put him in danger.
Instead she focuses on the nearby branch. Watching her companion put his light-changing talents to such versatile use has brought a new question to the forefront of her mind.
Brushing the bark of the shrub behind her, she knows it to be a hollyleaf cherry tree. She read about it no less than five times during her incarceration. It is not their fruit that are prized, but the flour that can be made from their pits after the hydrocyanic acid has been boiled out of them. Either way, the fruit is still edible to birds, and no doubt to humans as well.
This particular tree is not in its fruiting season, but numerous flowers hang over her head like a veil, and now that the sensation of burning coals in her throat has cooled, she begins to notice their gentle scent.
Reaching up, she touches a finger to one stalk of florets hanging before her face, and in her mind, finds the image of cherries, the sensation of them, of the pattern that they leave in her mind, the shape of their epigenomes.
When she opens them, all the flowers' petals have fallen off, unbroken, into her palm.
Her breath quickens. Anxiety bubbles up in her chest. Her mind shrieks for her to fling the branch away, to wash her hands, to scour her skin. But she squashes the terror down, as if she were putting a lid on a putrid jar, and sharpens her focus upon the branch. She squeezes her eyes shut, and squeezes the stalk tight as if pressing her will into it, the way she used to, the way she hasn’t done in years.
The plant’s filament has begun to swell and redden, and her heart has begun to race so loudly that she cannot hear the cars on the quiet road beyond. Even as she looks, the stalks harden to brown, the fruits ripen to scarlet, as if in a time lapse film, till they are deep crimson.
Adelaide’s breath hangs suspended between her lips as she gently lets go of the newly-ripened cherries. Released from her grasp, the branch rises. She watches them bob, almost blithely, in the wind.
She doesn’t notice her tears till they spill over her cheeks, and when the world is all a blur, she reaches up, wraps her hand around the first cherry and plucks it off, cramming it into her mouth. She chews till her teeth crunch on the pit, extracts it from the fruit’s flesh with her tongue, spits it into the grass.
I changed it, she thinks, sobbing as she plucks another from the branch. An electrical car zips silently past. Leaves rustle all about her in a vast, whispering chorus. I changed it and now it’s wrong.
Above her, she silently watches the fog roll in, through the canopies, between trees. It swallows the entire peninsula, and every soul in it. She remembers how her heart used to race when she watched that fog blanket the town, like a creature always looming outside her understanding. Now, she understands too much, and the fog no longer frightens her.
Her dream of refuge with her family has been crushed to dust. Her father wants nothing to do with her. Felix could be anywhere, but he is not here. Here there is nothing but fog.
For the first time since she fled the lab, Adelaide is alone.