The Man’s calloused fingers leave a thin red-ribbon mark where they meet The Girl’s sun tanned skin, as he traces them in a curved line from the center of her neck to the small of her back.
“You’re mine now.” He whispers into her ear.
She shivers and her skin is marked by goose-bumps as the fine hairs sprouting from her neck are greeted with the warmth of his breath, though not warm enough to stifle the iciness of his words. She bites the inside of her lip, and shuts her eyes; his claim to her does not take her by surprise.
The wallpaper of the hotel, once white, though presently succumbing to the stains of persistent yellow, fades from The Girl’s view. The moans of rolling car tires’ romance with asphalt fade into static, then into Sounds of Silence.
Enter; The Girl’s Mother: tight shirt stained with beige make-up powder, baby-blue; cut-off shorts that squeeze her scar etched thighs; hallowed out earth-toned eyes that long to un-see the seen… She’s cigarette scented and somniferous, singing lazily and off key, to her infant, The unwanted Girl, who can’t stop crying, who seems to excel only in interrupting her therapeutic methadone binges.
“People talking without speaking,
People hearing without listening…
And no one dared,
Disturb the sound of silence.”
Her mother sings in a voice that foreshadows the aid of a stoma. Mumbling, lacking context, therefore meaningless; her mother sings; her mother sets the path for The Girl’s life. Cradled in arms stabbed by the relentless needle, the girl sinks into the safety of slumber, though the song chases her.
The Girl is lifted out of the realm of memories, thrust back into the grasp of The Man, her eyes burning from the dim hotel lamp light and smoke rising from twin ashtrays. He’s tangled his hand in her sloppy pile of auburn hair, which has been matted down by hair spray, sweat, and apathy, and he is pulling, pulling harder, as her neck burns, bent back, but refusing to meet his eyes; his soulless, violet, and violent eyes.
“Do you fucking hear me?”
He demands with a lethally venomous tone, which is accompanied by an unwelcome drizzle of alcoholic spit. The Girl’s face is glistening from that… and from sweat, and tears, and it is caked with make-up, now peeling; her blemished complexion peeking through her oily guise.
She laughs silently at what a silly and vain attempt it had been, wasting her time getting pretty earlier in the evening, but she had. Her hair had not recently been washed, but it had been lifted and secured carefully to shape her round face; ironed curls twisted her typically pin-straight hair into neat spirals which tickled her collar bones.
Darcy, one of her neighbors, a sweet little blonde haired, blue eyed, boney thing, with a child all her own, though she was nearly a baby herself, worked at the Cut ‘N Curl. Darcy smelt like matches, not cigarettes. And her acrylic nails were always an obstacle when she ran her slender fingers through the knot tangled hair of her blue-collar, or no collar at all, clients. Darcy didn’t have time to wash The Girl’s hair, but she teased it out, and took the time to heat it into a better shape than what came natural to her.
And now The Girl regrets it all, the twisting and pulling, accidental burning… because now it is a matted and saturated mess. And she regrets that her brown eyes were lined, her thin too-pale-pink lips were glazed, that her cheeks were blushed, nails sloppily painted, and that on her small frame draped a thrift shop dress of chemically faded navy.
She does not answer The Man, she does not “fucking” hear him, she does not “fucking” care. She sits still as she can while breathing as he twists his hands tighter into her heap of hair. Digging into her like he always has, with his hands, words, and anything else…
Less than five hours ago, granted those hours seemed to stretch on for eternity, The Man called her.
“Baby doll,” she recalls his southern-whisky voice mumbling into the phone, “I’mma take you somewheres nice and fancy ta’night.”
She can hear him on the other end; can hear his spit meet the plastic of the empty water bottle, produced from chewing tobacco in his black and silver toothed mouth.
The Girl doesn’t smile on the other end of the receiver. She knows better, but only barely.
The summer breeze causes her dress to ripple like polluted blue waves, just above her ashy knees. She shifts her weight from one foot to the other, The Girl looks behind her, into the window of her immobile mobile home, which her ma’ had rented from Vicki, a woman who seems to have been on a drug induced bender for years.
Rumors floating ‘bout say Vicki, in her prime, was the hottest dancer at Voyage, a strip joint in Atlanta, when her skin wasn’t yellow and stretched by an invisible force, and her dead ends didn’t split to the root, and her teeth weren’t fighting one another to point in the direction of their choice… The Girl waits, anxiously. The Man will be there soon. She wonders what “fancy” means.
She wonders if “fancy” is what Vicki was, once upon a time. The Girl turns away from her trailer, and she traces a scrape on a nearby pick-up, then the yellow lined curb next to it, with her eyes. She wonders if Vicki’s legs were long and lean, if her belly was taught ‘nough not to droop, but existent ‘nough to hide her rib cage. How glamorous; a gold dyed bikini, glitter, on a stage for men to love her, for men to adore her, to have a purpose… She wonders if Vicki knew what would become of her once she moved here, to this place ruled by junkie queens and junkie kings. The Girl knew better than most that there was nothing more to life for them than abysmal lies, but she didn’t think Vicki would understand.
And that was five hours ago, when The Man pulls up in his blue pick-up, with his red door, when the girl climbs in, when her dress tears a little bit, and she holds in a moan of distress, when her black ballet flats almost cause her knees to buckle from beneath her. He is not smiling when she finally pulls herself in, onto the black seats, punctured by god-knows what so much that the inside of the cushions are spilling out. He begins to drive, the truck’s wheels turning over the neglected road; streets of black velvet and chalky yellow only exist to those who have cable.
In the car, her thighs stick to a fabric she cannot identify, she keeps her eyes ahead as he tells her about his day at work in the garage, where he is a mechanic, though he’s not much good at fixing things, so he pushes coke and dope when he can. The Man’s voice grows louder, but to The Girl he is beginning to sound like white nose crackling on the radio. She knows he will be angry at her later for being silent, but she does not mind. She is safe here, though she wonders, if the shitty truck was automatic, would the beatings continue for her up the winding roads?
“Where you at girl?”
The Man whispers, he gets closer to her face and licks her earlobe in a taunting manner, which disgusts The Girl. She resists the urge to roll her eyes; that would make things worse. The saggy motel mattress dipped lower with his abrupt motions.
In her mind, the song her mother sang continued:
“Fools”, said I, “You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you”
If only… If only her mother sang those words. How different things could be.
Apparently, this is his idea of ‘somewhere nice’; a cheap motel somewhere off the interstate. Perhaps cheap is an understatement. You’d have to pay the common man to spend a night in the smelly and decaying hell. The curtains are stained a hazy yellow, the carpets have stains of black scattered about it, though the rest is a shade of red that reminds The Girl of sex.
The Man’s silhouette in The Girl’s range of sight reminds her of the first night they met.
He is standing there, in the summer heat, and his dark skinned face, with furrowed black brows that contrast his bleach white hair turns to her. The Girl’s face grows flush as she watches him wipe his hands, brown and stained from oil and grease, on his grey uniform overalls. On his forearms several circular red tears in his flesh are visible, but The Girl is too busy imagining his sculpted body, which she can hardly see due to the bagginess of his clothing. His contour curved and chiseled, she notes after she stares at his arms for a bit, moving on down to his legs, which she notes seem to be in the same condition. She imagines how great it must feel to be beneath him.
The Man smiles a sideways smile, bright enough, almost, to distract The Girl from his blackening teeth. He takes a few steps towards Maggie O’Donnell; a friend of The Girl’s whose car is experiencing some difficulty in starting. Maggie is short and wide-hipped, with gapped front teeth, and tangled mousey-brown hair. Her eyes are brown, her skin lackluster, and her voice gravely. The Man begins to tell Maggie the source of her troubles, and how he fixed them, but she hushes him.
“How much I owe you, boy?”
Her thick drawl is most clear when she says words with “O”.
The Man smiles and slurs an answer, sounding drunk as a movie pirate, but he is not looking at Maggie. The Girl sucks on her tongue and watches Maggie hand The Man crumbled and sweat -dampened cash. She admires the tattoos on The Man’s forearm, she hadn’t noticed them before. He catches her, their eyes meet, and he smiles a knowing smile, still sideways, still blackened.
“You like ‘em, girl?”
She nods. Maggie turns away and walks to the car, The Girl doesn’t yet follow. She stands in front of him with the same reverence the faithful have kneeling at the altar.
He spits on the ground, it’s foamy and white. He shakes his arms from his shoulders, as if he is preparing for a fight. He runs his finger across the black lettering on his left arm. He explains that each of them is one of his son’s names. He hasn’t seen them in a few years, he confesses, though she can’t tell if he minds that or not. He mumbles, nearly inaudibly, that hopes they’re spelled right, and then pulls up the grey uniform sleeve.
The Girl stares wide-eyed at the colorful portrait of the Blessed Mother on his arm. She is wearing a blue veil, her hair is fair, and she can see it only where it peeks from close to the still woman’s ears. Her lips are rounded and salmon, her skin is fair, but healthy. She is smiling faintly, basking in the glow of the halo around the cradle of her mind. He asks if The Girl likes it; she nods.
She looks into his eyes, wondering how his eyes are that color, that violet. They are the eyes of a grown man, eyes that have seen more in single nights that she ever had. She is sucked into them, into his eyes, where like a black hole, no light escapes. But he knows her, he knows what to say to rock her world, to get her to open up, and so, he begins.
“You’s mighty pretty.”
These words he speaks to her seem to hang in the air on this first calm cool summer day. He’s called her pretty and The Girl smiles brighter than the sun and blushes redder and sweeter than a candied apple. He’s actually noticed her, he actually likes her. And so, she leaves her prayers at his altar.
Now, here they are in the shadowed and scarcely decorated room. The Girl thinks she sees a cockroach resting on the crooked and collapsing night stand. It doesn’t disgust her. She is grateful he’s stopped tugging her mane. Though this graciousness flutters away as he pins her down instead, and he wraps his rough hands around her fragile wrists, bending them like a doll’s, and pressing them into the mattress. He does not waste time. He lays his taught body on top of hers, asserting his illusion of dominance. He roughly claws at the navy dress, eventually lifting it up, above her waist. She knows what comes next.
He begins to force his way into her. It used to hurt her, it used to humiliate her. But it doesn’t anymore; she’s decided that it’s not worth the effort. Still, The Girl wants to cry, but she doesn’t, and if she did she knows she’d immediately regret it. Still, The Girl wants to beg him to stop, but she doesn’t, and if she did she knows he’s only have reason to keep going. Still, The Girl wants to scream for help, but she doesn’t, and if she does she knows no one would hear her… But if they did, she knows they would not come. Perhaps, this is why she remains silent; to hang on to a fragment of hope and faith when even her clothing has been reduced to tatters.
Some will say she liked it, ‘cause she doesn’t scream. She knows she does not. Not once does a single moan of pleasure escape her parted lips. She did not have any other option.
Why does she cling to him? She wonders.
Perhaps it is The Void… It was always present in her life. Her mother never bothered burdening The Girl with fairy tales of some great loving father who’d died in some vehicular accident while trying to feed the hungry and the homeless. No, her mother never offered an explanation as to who he was, where he went… Nothing. Sometimes the girl wonders if she is the exact opposite of the Immaculate Conception.
The Void; a spectacular empty hole where someone should have been to guide The Girl, to tell her what would get her by in life. It is The Void that comforted her once her drunken mother stumbles off to bed, it is The Void, and The Void alone who helps her heal after she is broken and bruised, it is The Void who stands by her, though The Void never stops her, never tell her whether the right or left path will prove a superior choice.
Perhaps, it is The Void’s silence that leads The Girl to seek out more; to seek out a companion who would advise her, and speak to her. Some people have religion, in fact, most people in her town do. Maybe it is the angel dust, cocaine, or heroine the people around her habitually injected, smoked, and snorted that lead them to praise invisible entities. The Girl recognizes that she is not the brightest, she sees no sense in that, and though others can’t see, The Void is in no way imaginary to her.
But she is lonely. And she doesn’t like the smell in churches. Perhaps, this is why The Man became her savior. Screw Jesus Christ, she reasons. He never came off his Crucifix to help her. He never tried to take away her pain. Maybe The Man was violent, but at least he did something.
In the musky hotel room, The Girl sifts through memories until, as always, she knows The Man is done. He groans, moans, whines in pleasure. He relaxes his body, though it seems rigid; it always seems so rigid…
She avoids his eyes, subtly. He begins to collapse into the mattress, becoming an extension; just as soggy, just as unsanitary. The Girl is envious of him, in some ways. She wishes she too could be strong and forceful. She wishes that she could rape, steal, and shoot up ‘till the world seemed pretty. She wanted to cheat without fearing repercussions; she wanted to speak without fearing the pain of a hard fist meeting her somewhat soft skin.
His eyes were growing heavy, she can see this peripherally. He will soon be sedated with pleasure from the forced lust, satisfying only because it left someone else with less than himself.
“Damn baby girl.” he laughed a hearty maniacal laugh, his wiry eyebrows peak and the lines in his forehead seem deeper than usual.
She can see a fresh red mark from the needle’s kiss on his arm, and she wonders how he had enough energy to hurt her while being so low; low like the rocks that have never seen sunlight because bigger and better things obscure them, where they lay, on the ocean floor, occupying space, waiting to experience the rays of yellow they hear of, but never see… though there is hope for these black sea-floor rocks. For some day, they will crumble and erode, and their physical properties will introduce them, in time, to salty-surface waves, and they will ride upon the ocean foam to new land where they will make journeys across concrete on the bottom of a toddlers flip flop, and some day, will be blown away, closer to the sun than they could ever once imagine. He was lower than a black, sun deprived, sea-floor rock, she’s decided; it was a bad simile to begin with.
“You work it good.”
He sighs before turning onto his side, away from her, and burrowing his face into the stained pillowcase.
She sits still on the bed, watching him inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale… She wonders how fragile life must be as he breathes a bit slower. She can relax for now. His hands will cease delivering bruising blows for a short while. She believes her hope that he will drift off to sleep for eternity is childish, though she does not remove the idea from her mind entirely.
How fragile life must be…
In her mind she plays out suffocating him. She imagines taking the stained hotel pillow, once it was sopping from his drool, an indication he was fast asleep, and placing it over his nose and mouth. She hopes that he will not wake; she hopes she can press hard enough. Then she will cut his body into tiny bits, and feed it to Piper, The Man’s pit-bull back home. Piper deserves more than The Man’s menacing commands, The Girl imagined Piper will enjoy a feast in her dog bowl for one. But The Girl knows the truth; The Man treats Piper better than herself.
She pulls her legs in towards her chest. She can feel the dry skin on them scrape one another. She listens to The Man’s breathing, and her eyes begin to grow heavy. She bites her lip and holds her breath, trying to fight the urge slip into a black dream. She exhales and rolls onto her side, her back to the man. She wishes the for once in her sad, short life, a dream would come true, and he’d drift into a near catatonic slumber that instant. But she cannot wait, and she allows exhaustion to pull her body to the bed with an apparent magnetic force, claiming her as its reluctant victim. She drifts off, wishing she had it in her to take his life instead.
The Girl slips into darkness, though not for long. Soon she finds herself in a place where the air is pink-rose scented, and the well maintained streets are surrounded by homes resting tidily along an invisible line. No two of the homes share an identical pattern, and are constructed from many different types of rocks and bricks. Some territories are marked by stone or picket fences; here the grass and flowers resting in their beds test their boundaries as they push beyond what they know only as arbitrary borders. They blow in the wind and, in a whisper only these grasses and flowers can hear, they connect with level white concrete resting outside the fence, or through the cracks, and reach into the lawns of other labor.
A young girl, with dirty blonde curls to her waist, and less than ½ a centimeter’s worth of dead ends, teeters on the nourished, Kelly-green grass in blue stilettos. Her legs are bare and glistening in the sun of the summer, and The Girl figures this is because of some sort of body lotion with tiny glitter bits in it, she’s seen it before in the store, and she doesn’t think anyone’s natural glow was so bright. Her breasts are full and defined by the tight sweetheart top of the girl’s short, pink, party dress. It made this girl, who may be seventeen, The Girl decides, looks like a princess; the way the pale pink tulle gave the dress widens the bottom half with ease.
This girl stands in the lawn, politely reminding her parents that her friends are waiting in the red sports-care, which has its hazard lights on and is parallel to the curb in front of their small, stony, castle. She tries to balance on the tips of her toes, but her ankles nearly cave, so she does not risk falling. She justifies the holes she’s dug in the living lawn as a source of air for the suffocating roots. Her father, a serious, handsome man, does not scold her. He smiles at her, and she understands; returning a smile, she moves towards the concrete path in front of their house.
They she stands on more stable ground, her had on the door of the expensive car, as her parent’s, whose voices held loving but stern tones, reminded their pretty daughter, as so many others did as well, not to dare stay out past midnight. Though they did not say this, no, not exactly, she would dance, as gracefully as she could, raised three inches above her usual height, up through their fenceless yard, the driveway and enter the house, no later than 11:59.
The Girl feels she does not fit in the neighborhood here, to her it still seems to be lacking something. As she stands in the street, next to the homes that resemble castles, though lacking turrets, she can feel The Void around her, perhaps now more than ever. She feels The Void hugging her, the entity is wrapped around her, refusing to let go. She stands still, as days and nights alternate at a frightening speed, she is reminded of watching a VHS fast-forward on her grandmother’s TV. She sees the lives of the people here carry on, like she is watching a silent movie, she sees birthday parties with icing she imagines would taste better than the semi-sweet lemon cakes Maggie always burns on the Fourth of July, she sees barbecues and wishes she could feel sauce oozing off ribs down her chin, she sees children laugh when boy and girl kiss, and adolescents cry when boy and girl fail to communicate. And all the while, The Void remains around her, like dense, humid air.
Eventually, she realizes what she must do, and she dreams herself away.
Fade to black, till it’s so dark its light; she sits on a couch, which smells like leather, in a comfortable room; pleasing to all senses. The air is just right, not too hot or too cold, too full of one smell, or another; the colors of the walls coordinate with the furniture on the mahogany floor and art work watching from the walls (to be judged though never judging), in a way which no element overpowers another (Marx would sigh; if only we could become as communist as this); the room is isolated from most sounds, ‘cept the soothing chime of a clock reminding The Girl that time exists.
Here, she’s never heard of junkie bums like her mother. Here people like her mother are distant; they live in tiny boxes which show moving pictures of people who express the emotional expression of sociopaths as they provide narratives of tragic events. They stand in nice clothing, in front of a trailer, and when the camera is not rolling they complain of the smell, and the rain clouds overhead.
A woman, she stands in front of a large pile of scorched and twisted metals, and beams. The Girl is watching her from the comfortable room, on the comfortable couch from an animal’s back. The Girl admires the black pencil skirt the woman is wearing, and the pale-purple blazer, with the white blouse, and her blonde hair. The Girl admires the woman’s ability to appear to be no specific age; she has no wrinkles, but a viewer’s eyes trick them into filling them in where they might be; her eyes have once-overed countless corpses, yet seem to have seen less than a small child…
The woman stands in front of this pile, and she lowers her voice, as to seem reverent, though in reality, seems only cold.
“Here, this morning,”she begins her report, “a woman fell asleep with a lit cigarette.” Here, The Girl has only smelt cigarettes in restaurants and parking lots, though she knows how they burn and she knows they are the devil. “Her trailer has burned to ashes, along with herself; she was allegedly high.” The Girl stares at the image-projecting box resting on the hand-carved, wooden, entertainment center.
The Girl is discovered, and her parents here shuffle in, and change the channel to something like FOX, which they find more suitable for their own viewing. They would pat The Girl’s head, her hair silky smooth, and full of life. “You needn’t be here.” They lovingly say, and usher her off to her bedroom, full of the nice things. She remains there, in her princess bed with a pink canopy and fuzzy carpet, until dinner.
Here, her stomach is always kept full. The dining room table smells like a forest and it is lined with fine China, white, with hand painted flowers the color of plums and raspberries. Sometimes dinner was turkey or steak soaked in tangy gravy; potatoes or baked macaroni, and not the kind from a box either! The taste of food that was real and fresh; the collaboration of flavors on the plate in front of her at each meal was a true work of art to her. She could taste the meats marinated and grilled or baked to the perfect temperature, and the stews prepared were never too salty. Sometimes her mother would bake cupcakes, buttery and sweet with strawberry icing, something The Girl had never tried.
Here they drink water with dinner because her parents cared about her stomach and her teeth. She never even smells alcohol on their breath, ‘cept once a month, when they go out to the movies in glamorous attire, and even then, it’s only hints of the best champagne money can buy.
And here, the pleasant family will continue living their perfect lives, as if they live within a snowglobe and are unburdened by the afflictions of poverty and abuse; two things, in reality, The Girl knows better than the damned English language.
Here, they will continue living their perfect lives… without The Girl.
The Girl stirs in her slumber. The mattress feels like a damp sponge beneath her, one that is beginning to become useless because it is tearing apart and portions of it are too sticky and hard to effectively clean. The pillow beneath her is wet, and as she lifts her head a thin string of drool forms a bridge between her thin lips and the thin pillow.
She sees a shadow cast across the bed, and follows it to its source: The Man. He is standing in front of the window, peeking outside though trying very hard, and very poorly, to remain unseen. He turns to The Girl once he hears her let out a small squeak while yawning.
He looks down at her with darkness in his eyes, enough to churn The Girl’s stomach. He begins to step toward her as she closes her eyes.
“Rise and fucking shine!” The Man’s words hit the girl with force but fall to the ground and shatter like glass. He notes her lack of reaction. He digs deeper.
“Worthless bitch.” He spits a black glob at the bed, missing her by less than an inch.
She defiantly rolls over onto her stomach, burying her stained face in the stained pillow.
He walks over to the bed and wraps his large hand around her bone-thin shoulder, which digs into his palm. He pulls her up, twisting her body. She tries to shake him off, but he is too strong. She suddenly does not regret failing to attempt to suffocate him the previous night. He grabs at her, finally securing hold of her by squeezing her cheeks together, bringing her face close to his own. She refuses, still, to look into his eyes. She wishes she believed in a god, she wishes she believed in a woman born without vice, though she finds it terribly unfair that she was not chosen to be this women, if she did exist.
He brings is mouth to her ear, and whispers:
“You didn’t think I would find out, did you?”
His face is too close to her neck to see, but she can feel him smile, she can feel his lips curve upward and his cheeks indent. She has the urge to vomit, but she has not eaten enough to do so.
So she sits as still as she can, wide eyed and silent, wishing she had faith in something, anything…
The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
“You hear that?!”
The Man struggles with the dusty and smoky amber curtain until it finally allows him to look wildly out the window, which is cracking and yellowing in the corners. He is panting, and The Girl is watching like a curious studio audience member of a poorly produced soap opera. Though she knows here the credits will not roll, and there are no second takes.
“Damn it girl, what you gone and done?”
He asks, but there is no answer. She doesn’t know what he is talking about; she shakes her head slowly, expressing her confusion, and tilts it upwards. Her brown eyes sparkle for a moment as the sun light escapes through the bare section of the window, framed by the curtains. His back is to her, she tries to imagine how his face looks; which kind of anger is he displaying? She can’t determine his expression, as his voice now contains a kind of rage even foreign to her.
“I said, do you hear that, girl?”
He holds the curtain with his scarred hands as he turns toward her as he spits these words, words of little intrinsic value which now form a sentence, whose meaning is tantamount to the turmoil of their entire relationship. She feels each one hit her, the next burning harder than the one before it, till she feels naked, exposed, and hopeless.
She does not hear anything of concern. There is laughter, yes. She can hear that, carries by the wind and bouncing off the exterior cream-beige colored jagged textured walls. It is the laughter of children, she figures they’re the children of the front desk man, or the maids, and they have no idea of the hell they were born into, and will think their whole lives rosary beads are a ticket out.
The Girl sits trembling, but silent. She listens closely, trying to conjure an answer to appease the man, trying to hear something that may threaten him, may cause this junkie to nearly foam, though laughter is still the only sound she can hear, and the only explanation to his anxiety is the drugs themselves. Her greatest fear, actualized.
“Girl, what you gone and done!?”
His voice now seems to host the voice of the devil himself; it is guttural and the usual whisky drawl characterizing his speech has been replaced with one resembling black tar heroin. She more desperately searches for an explanation in her mind, but the line she casts catches only lies. She knows lies will make things worse in time. She inhales deeply, and looks up, glancing briefly at his violet eyes which seem to be clouding to a shade of red. She questions the reliability of her sight, however, as her make-up had run all night, and her vision became blurred as a result.
The Girl wonders what it was like; to be as strung out as The Man, as her mother? The Void did not allow her to succumb to the drugs as they have, and she wonders why…
And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
He moves away from the window, and the curtain swoops to the left, its usual resting place. The red dye absorbs the light; it might as well be a black hole to the girl. He walks slowly, wearing an expression of deep thought. She wonders what is on his mind, but she knows it won’t be long until she finds out. He steps to the other side of the bed, her back to his front, and places his hands on her waist. She sits still, like she is posing for an artist painting a portrait. Her chin raised a bit, her shoulders relaxed, though she is tense.
He squeezes her body tight, his large hands round her small waist, digging into her, digging as he always has… He picks her up and carries her, and she hurts, though she does not moan or whine in pain. She holds her breath, and counts back from ten, silently. He’s mumbling, but she can’t make out what he is saying; his message cryptic as transmission from a Numbers Station.
He carries her to the bathroom, which is small, and the walls may or may not hide asbestos, and the tiles are missing in each corner, and the shower curtain smells like piss, and the wallpaper is peeling. He lets her down with force, her back slamming into the tank toilet, and her bony rear hitting the seat with a hollow and dull thump.
The Man tangles his hand in The Girl’s hair as he had the night before, and pulls it so she is forced to look up, though she still avoids contact with his eyes. He is becoming hysterical, and she’s seen him angry, and upset, and all riled up, but not like this; no, never like this.
“You called ‘em here, didn’t you?”
His voice is lower now, and the black tar has subsided into whiskey once more; one vice for another. He seems to be informing her rather than asking. She’s shaking some, and the plastic lid on the toilet is cold against her upper thighs. She shivers and chews at the inside of her mouth; this habit has left a scar she can trace with her tongue on the inside of her cheek. Called who? She wonders.
“Come on, baby girl.”
He smiles the most empty and godforsaken smile she has ever seen. His brows arch, his skin indents around them; his lips are gnawed like chewed gum, and there is dried blood crusting around his nose; he has eyes that want and never give. But emptiness of his smile exceeds words.
And in that moment, he became the ugliest person she had ever seen. Uglier than the deformed and crippled, the mutilated, the carnival freaks; she wonders why she’d allowed herself to lust after him that day, to want to lie beneath him.
“You know I treat you better than anyone else, girl.”
His voice is a bit louder now, but not nearly as terrifying as when he’d first woke her. She isn’t sure how much time had passed since then, but it feels like hours. She thinks about what he said. That he treats her better than anyone. She wonders if even he believes that. All the bruises marking her…
Susanna would always see them; she is a fellow waitress at The Hathaway diner, where The Girl worked sometimes, if The Man lets her. She doesn’t understand. If she works, they can get a place together, and she can get out of her mother’s trailer, which seems to sink deeper and deeper into the ground each day. Susanna asks,
“Honey, who did that to you?”
But she never does anything about it. She doesn’t pry when The Girl is silent.
He treats her better than anyone, and that means she owes him, she owes him her life, every breath, every bite of food, every step, every orgasm, occurs because he allows it to. She wishes that she doesn’t have to relinquish her own identity just to be treated like a human.
“How long you been planning to get me locked up, huh?”
He pets her head, pulling her knotty hair as his fingers brush the surface, and his cuticles drag on her dead ends. He runs his fingers down from The Girl’s dry scalp to her face, running the back of his hand against the peach fuzz on her cheek. She gags quietly, but he hears. He spits on the floor, a glob of green and red now sticking to the floor, expanding and sinking into the cracked tiles like melting ice.
He turns his hand and grabs her cheeks, his dry hand scratching her chin. He stares down at her, waiting for an answer, one that does not exist. The girl had planned nothing. She’d naively convinced herself that maybe, just maybe, something in The Man had changed, before she climbed into the pick-up last night, and saw the redness of his eyes. She thought maybe she’d caught a break, maybe they’d go out to dinner like the people in movies, and books.
She says not a word. She knows better than to argue. No matter the outcome, no matter the situation, she complicated things. He reminds her all the time.
She squirms a bit after he removes his hold on her face, leaving behind red marks above her dimples where his fingers pressed. She is more awake now, and the redness of his eyes has become clearer. She knows he is more doped up than she’s ever seen him, though she hasn’t inkling why.
“Girl, come on now, you ain’t this dumb, you knew I’d find out.”
She can’t think. She can’t read him. He is now in a chapter of the book she has not reached yet. His eyes are bloodier, his voice holds more hatred for himself, for her, for all around him, and his breath carries on its back a desire to redeem himself from the imaginary demons clouding his mind and body.
He can hear the sirens, growing louder, growling like a salivating jaguar inhaling the burning aroma of his most prized catch. He is the spider, she is tangled in the web he has woven solely to bind her. The sounds grow closer, and he can see the reflection of the flashing lights of justice in the mirror to the left of The Girl, just above her head.
The Girl sees him staring into the mirror and curses his vanity, whispering even with the boundaries of her mind, in case he can hear her. The girl is on a different plane of existence, much more anchored to reality, where there are no sirens, though the children’s laughter has seemed to multiply, as their game of tag has progressed. He moves away from her and instructs her to remain still. She obeys.
His feet pound the thin layer of carpet protecting the concrete beneath it. She closes her eyes and folds her hands in her lap, trying to obtain some peace. She hears him open the night stand drawer, as he wrestles it back onto its track, and slams it shut with a clap that may well have been thunder to The Girl, but she does not jump. She a pulse of electricity, a sound like snapping gum, followed a male news anchor’s monotone, arrogant, sanctimoniousness sermon about worrying about the impoverished Americans before the Africans.
She hears the lamp on the night stand click on. She sees the physical manifestation of the collision of light and darkness and The Man’s body, and she follows his shadow as he approaches the bathroom doorway.
He was an evil man. He always was, The Man. But the person she sees in the doorway now is not him. He is a stranger to her, he is strung out and somewhere else, though the damage he has done is real, and it remains even as he gallivants to more welcoming realms when he inhales and shoots up.
The sirens have grown louder, and he cannot ignore them. He moves into the bathroom slowly, with the eloquence of a snake’s slithering motion through rocks, leaving his skin behind. He looks down at her, still, she refuses to allow their eyes to meet.
“Well, they ain’t gonna lock me up, girl.”
“You ain’t gonna win, whore. The ain’t taking you way from me, no sir.”
The Man lifts his hands and extends his arm, revealing the black and twisted steel he has been holding. She knows what it is. She knows what he wants. She tastes salt on her tongue.
“I loved you girl.”
He presses the cold barrel of a gun against her temple. She sits still, reminding herself to breathe, against her own good judgment. She can feel the pressure of his finger resting on the trigger, she waits for time to unravel itself, to show her what will happen; the unavoidable and unforgiving progression of time…
They say, you whole life, the entire thing, short and sweet or long and lonely, flashes before your eyes before you die. The Girl never believed that; she couldn’t remember what she’d eaten for dinner, if anything, the night before, and she doubted she’d recall the breakfast she ate her first day of kindergarten.
Now she knows; they were right.
Her first day of kindergarten, she ate undercooked pancakes, and they tasted like chemicals and smelled like beer.
The hotel room around her disappears, as she begins to fall down the rabbit hole.
She falls down, passing all 22 years of her life; years of pain and loneliness. She sees the torn and frayed couch, with green upholstery, on which she slept, for some time, as a child. As she free-falls through adolescence she succumbs to the poor sense of self-worth she possessed as a teenager. She becomes who she once was, though she lacks the hope she held then. Dreams that she would become more than some country girl trailer trash seemed much less attainable than dreams this time around.
Faces and memories blur as they pass her. She feels like she is underwater, the muffled sounds of life around her are unintelligible, but roaring. Passing a particular memory she is fond of, she stops.
She is running across yellow un-manicured lawns with bare feet, absorbing the sun’s love, and got no expectation for what the future holds. All she knows is mama told her to get out and waste a bit a energy, so she does. She’s little thing, and she hasn’t learned how to make many friends down at school, ‘cause they think she’s kinda funny. Dusk falls, and it must be summer ‘cause the mosquitos are biting at her ankles, and she is slapping them away. Her hair is sticking to the skin exposed by her tank top, and she is walking home, dragging a pretty stick she found, her feet avoiding sharp rocks and critters she sees peeking through blades of grass.
She gets to the trailer, less lopsided than The Girl is familiar with now, but already gravity and time and neglect have begun to draw it nearer to the earth from which it came. She pulls on the door, but it’s locked. She knocks once, but before her tiny fist strikes the thin door’s surface, she stops herself. She moves beneath the window of her mother’s room, and climbs onto cracked statue of what may have been a saint, or sinner. She balances herself, and quietly places her hands on the powdery textured and cold window sill, lifting herself up so her chin is even with the protruding plank of wood.
The room her mother sleeps in is empty. She can see a needle on the floor. She lets her self quietly slink back to the ground.
She runs the, once more, under the moonlight, to the trestle that used to shake from the passage of trains bringing exciting things to the town, but now remains still, suspended in space, suspended in time. And sometimes kids and vandals get out there, but now it was only the girl. They were probably in the woods, drinking, and singing, and ending up just like ma and pa. She spends the night out there, till she watches the sunrise from the cold train tracks, alone, but not. For when she shivers in the night, The Void slips in, and warms her, asking for nothing in return.
The Girl releases the memory and it blurs with the rest. Here, time is immeasurable, and abides no laws. She wonders how long it will last.
She sees herself, in her prime, swimming in the dirty local creek on a sticky June day with some childhood friends, once come, now gone.
And now, it’s a few years later, and she’s 17, and it’s the night of her senior prom. She’s standing there on the yellow-orange sand and rock patch smiling pretty in the pink hand me down dress her late aunt Delilah* wore, cause The Girl’s ma’ was too pregnant when her own came around.
Darcy isn’t working at any salon yet; like The Girl’s mother, she was too pregnant to attend, but she did The Girl’s hair, which falls mid-way down her back even after it’s curled.
She’s standing there, waiting for Maggie and her Pa to get there, so they can sit in the cab of his truck, wishing for the glamour of a limo. While she waits, her mother tells her to pose so she can snap a photo with the camera she’s borrowed from Vick. Her shoes are silver, and too big, and it was hard to stand still, but she managed. The flash blinded her for a moment, and when she regained sight she could see her mother smiling in the mouth, but looking profoundly distressed in the eyes, oh, but she always has.
Her mother said that she looked like an angel that evening. But The Girl knew the truth; her strung out mother thought she was an angel.
Out of her body, out of her mind; she passes dim-lit roadways carved into mountains which stretch higher than the bare eye can see. She sees the faces of celebrities who have mastered hiding their loneliness with wealth, and The Girl is not masochistic enough to fantasize about emulating them for a moment. She feels anger when she sees the teachers she’d had, in front of their blackboards, the only place they had power, and, despite that, never bothered asking why her eyes were so damn bloodshot, or where those bruises had originated.
Then The Man; she’s watching the first moments in which they met, wishing with all she has in her to kick over a gas can and throws one of Maggie’s lit Marlboros into the pool spilling from it. She wishes she stepped back to watch the flames engulf the garage and The Man with it
Instead she sees herself flirting shamelessly with The Man; begging with everything but her lips for his attention. She hopes he can eliminate The Void. She hopes he is what she needs to become truly whole.
Darkness envelops her sight. A small arch of light forms a doorway to seemingly nowhere. She stands, waiting, listening to the footsteps grow closer, until he is next to her. She smiles; not knowing what will become of her. He takes her hand in his, and they step through, into the light, into the silence, and the archway disappears. She sees, feels, and tastes only darkness.
Her whole life, her whole sad, sweet and pitiful life, mapped out in her mind in just a few sad, sweet and pitiful seconds.
The Man’s hand shakes a bit; The Girl has never felt anything so cold. Not the sting of ice cream on her tongue and teeth, not the icy veil of death, or the frigid interior of reality; nothing was as cold as the barrel of the gun and tears rolling from her cheeks-to-chest.
She tilts her head back and his hand stiffens, driving the gun’s slender beak into her temple. Her muddy brown eyes meet his and she does not blink. She can feel how heavily his finger rests on the trigger, waiting for it to fall.
She opens her mouth, she waits for the words to come, waits to feel them to force their way to the tip of her tongue and emerge, leaving their irreversible ripple in time and space, and save her life. She waits for them to spill out, she can feel something in her throat, and she smiles. She smiles at him, and he looks down, eyes hot enough to brand her from a distance. She wants to hate him, she wants to so desperately. But he is what she asked for, and so she takes half the blame. She smiles, because she knows whatever saved her, failed him, and that’s the way things of oft times. No rhyme, no reason, no god.
She can feel the words resting on her tongue, ready to spill out.
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
In the wells of silence
His finger falls and the trigger does the only thing it was designed to, regardless of the intention of who holds it.
In her last millisecond of life, enter: The Void. The lurking shadow that has accompanied throughout life and when all’s said and all’s done, is all that remains. The Void. The only consistent and reliable, loving thing The Girl’s known. More reliable than her own two feet, which refused to allow her to run away even when her mind and heart seemed to gather the courage; they disobediently remained, firmly planted in the ground.
Her blood sprays with alarming force onto the dirty bathroom walls painting them an ashy red. Her eyes remain open, and her lips are parted slightly. The Void accompanies her spirit to a better place, though no one can see. And no one can hear the whispered affirmations of hope. Any one outside looking in a sees only a girl whose auburn hair is matted with more than sweat and apathy.
And The Man looks at what he has done.
“Looks like a god damn horror movie…”
He mumbles under his breath. The blast of the gone may have sobered him, but not enough. He wipes his forehead to prevent the beads of sweat from dripping into his eyes and burning them, or entering his mouth and leaving their warm salty flavor. His mouth already tastes like metal.
He wonders why she did not protest; why did she not even beg for him to stop? Perhaps this is the closest to guilty he’s ever felt. But his twisted reality sets in as he stares down at The Girl’s bloody corpse slumped on the seat of toilet, head cocked to the side and mouth leaking red saliva.
The sirens or red and blue become real to him. His world begins to swirl. All he can see is like the inside of a shattered kaleidoscope hosting only hues of black, and red, and yellow; harsh and sickening colors. He’s grown dizzy.
“Now they’ll really get me.”
He moans to himself in a low tone. He can see the children whose laughter he’d mistaken for threat gathering outside the window, peering in. They can’t see The Man. But he can feel their eyes. He knows things can only get worse. So he shelves his vanity, places it elsewhere, and moves the gun to his temple. He presses it hard. He inhales one final time.
The oxygen filling his lungs was not earned. It is not his to claim. It is not his to use for his life’s sustenance. But he does not care, no, he never has. He gags, and his mouth waters, tasting more metallic than ever. He pulls the trigger, and the last flash of light before his eyes produces an image; one which absorbs all the colors not necessary to project The Girl’s face, and reflects the creamy white rays, and the auburn, and the mousy brown of her eyes, allowing him to see his victim.
He collapses in a heap on the floor, at the feet of the girl, which extend from her lifeless and broken body.
Nothing comes for him. No bright light. No angels. No shadows. No thing.
The police chief his team to a motel where two bodies had been discovered by one of the maids. It isn’t yet noon, but he’s decided it will be a long day. He burns his pale lips with black coffee as he attempts to sip it before it cools. Some of the liquid stains his greying white moustache, which is sunk into his wrinkled face.
His team of officers enters the bathroom, stifling gags when they see The Girl’s brain matter plastered on the walls around them. They see the effects, but do not know what led to this, and never will.
On top of The Man’s Virgin Mary tattoo, The Girl’s blood forms a red drop on his bicep. It seems to be falling from her eye. None of the officers wonder why no god had saved her. And no one really cares at all.
most italicized portions are lyrics from Simon and Garfunkel’s sounds of silence