She snatched it from the ground a little awkwardly before starting out across the lot again. The street in front of them, Cool Drive, was nearly always deserted, so they were able to take their time crossing it into her apartment complex. Worried that he would be unable to breathe, Elsa refrained from questioning him until they could see her silver Cavalier sitting contentedly in its covered parking space. She asked as she helped him up a set of concrete steps to her porch, “How in the world did you manage a cut that deep? Did you get in a fight with a bobcat and lose, or what?”
“Something like that. My friends and I don’t always agree. It gets…violent sometimes and I let my guard down. It’s nothing I haven’t dealt with before.”
“Oh really? So how many ‘disagreements’ have you and these so-called friends had exactly?” She wondered momentarily if it wasn’t a knife wound, if he wasn’t in some kind of gang. Surely they would be grateful for her helping him, grateful enough not to merit any violent repercussions. Unlocking the door, she led him into the kitchen and told him to take off his shirt, looking away as she said it to hide the rise of color to her cheeks. A brief inspection of the gouge told her it wasn’t deep enough for stitches, but it was quite long and certainly needed some attention and a few butterfly bandages to hold it closed to heal. He watched as she a small wooden stool in front of the stove to reach the cabinet above it. Out came several kinds of Band-Aids©, some antiseptic ointment, rubbing alcohol, and an Ace™ bandage that had obviously seen better days. “Wait here, I can’t get blood on this, it’s my best work shirt.” She headed into what must have been her bedroom, easily identified in the open but small apartment.
He took the time she was away to inspect the gouge himself, removing the acidic substance that lingered around it so she wouldn’t be burned and he wouldn’t have to explain why. When she returned she had changed into a t-shirt and dark blue jeans, socks in place of high heels. Hands on hips, she gestured to the sink; He winced as he bent over it so that when she poured the alcohol, nothing got on her clean floor. That was something he had noticed about her house the moment he walked in: it was perfectly clean. There wasn’t a speck of dust on her knick-knacks, the carpet had that soft, just-vacuumed feeling, and all of her doors were tightly closed. Maybe her bedroom was filthy and she just kept the rest of the house nice, but he doubted that somehow. She even managed to keep the kitchen sink empty and spotless.
“Do you actually live here? It looks like nothing’s been used.” He lifted his arms up painfully so that she could put ointment and the bandage on his cut, watching the top of her head as she bent down slightly to reach.
“I work a lot… And I keep a clean house.” She shrugged, moving to the left a little, “Hang on, you’re in my light. All right, there; I’m done.” It couldn’t have been better if a registered nurse had done it. She certainly knew her way around medical supplies and he wondered aloud, “Where’d a girl like you learn to take care of cuts like this?” He leaned on the counter, carefully, trying not to move too much, while she retrieved an ice pack and towel for him to place on his side. Since it was so stained, she brought a bleach pen from the cupboard and proceeded to clean his t-shirt, “My dad should be dead by now. I’ve seen him roll trucks, flip four-wheelers… I’ve cleaned and dressed every single one of his fingers for one reason or another. I’m fine with other people bleeding all over the place, but if I cut myself, I pass out flat. Sometimes, I don’t even have to cut myself!” She ended on a half-laugh. The look on his face made her explain, “I keeled over for no good reason about two years ago at my parents house. I was boiling noodles for macaroni and cheese and reading a book and next thing I know, I’m on the floor and my mom is slapping me in the face and screaming for my dad to call 911. I apparently passed out and flung myself clear across the kitchen, scrapped my shoulder on the counter across the way, and shook the trailer when I hit the floor. I still don’t know why, other than I might have overheated and made myself sick…. I still don’t know your name, you know.”
She jumped subjects so quickly, he didn’t catch it at first, until he saw that she was looking at him expectantly. “What? Oh. Most people call me Vanderolf.” When he saw her eyebrows rise, he added, “My family is German.”
“They call you Vanderolf as a nickname?” she sounded skeptical, and really, if that was shorter than his first name, his parents’ sense of humor was tweaked.
“No,” he said, walking over to the calendar she had on the wall. It was baby animals, and this month, May, two baby elephants were being washed by zookeepers that looked remarkably happy to be splashed and squirted on film. He flipped through a month or two, looking at several pictures and lingering on a pair of wolf pups with their mother, “I’m spent some time in the Army, so most people use my last name. My first name is A—Azrael.” The lie didn’t roll off his tongue as smoothly as it should have, but she didn’t seem to notice the catch.
“I see. My family is Italian. I’m Elsa Antoinetta DiGrasso, but Elsa’s not too hard, you know? I’m named after that lion.”
“Lion? There’s a lion named Elsa? Oh, thank you. For helping me, I mean.” He turned to look at her, wondering if she chattered this much all the time or if he made her anxious. Part of him hoped it was the latter.
She started to ring his shirt out, surprising him by how much nicer it looked after a little bleach. The blood was almost completely gone; another wash would finish the job. Elsa went to the bathroom, draping his shirt over the shower rod before washing her hands with antibacterial soap. “No biggie, you’re welcome. But yeah, in the movie “Born Free”? It’s an old movie, from the 60’s I think, about a woman who raises a half dead lion cub named Elsa, lets her go and then goes back out to find her again and Elsa remembers her and has her own pride and everything. It’s a nice movie…don’t know that I would have named my daughter after it, but some things can’t be explained. Then again, my mother was a hippie. That probably can explain a lot after all.” She knew she was babbling nervously and not paying attention to what he was doing, her back to him as she washed. She didn’t hear him walk to the door and slip outside, never heard the sounds of his running footsteps as he left, didn’t even see the motion from the corner of her eye, and when she turned back while drying her hands, he was completely gone.
For a moment, she just stood there. There was no point in looking for him in another part of the house; she knew he was long gone. It was probably for the best; she didn’t know him, he could have been a serial killer with some serious acting skills. But then why would he leave so quickly, when it would have been easy to let her fall asleep, wait til she let down her guard, and do away with her in whatever sick manner he preferred? She felt like kicking herself for even leading him to her home. He was probably going to return and he was going to do all manner of dastardly things to her, that’s how serial killer psycho rapist axe murderers worked, right?… Still, though, he seemed nice and the vibes coming from him, while a little dark, were all good, so it hurt her to see him leave. It was probably for the best, and if nothing else, that’s what she would keep telling herself, even if she was sighing as she locked the door and feeling terribly lonely as she went to bed.