14 – I Just Want My Life Back (Montage)

14 – I Just Want My Life Back

Vena crashed into the side of the house. Images flashed into her mind as she fell. Hank’s mother Brenda, dead, on the floor. Terrence staring up at her, his eyes crazed. Brenda’s eyes glazing as Vena stabbed her in the chest, minutes later the woman clawing at the air as it escaped her lungs. The last gasp gave at Terrence, who hovered over her, unaware.
Why did he pick up the knife? Why did he stab her again? Why did he call her a zombie? What was he doing at my house?
It didn’t really matter. Not now. Eventually the police would figure it out, piece it all together. When that happened, they’d search for her. Until then she had to find somewhere to go. She couldn’t call Hank – he was back in prison. Plus, she had just stabbed his mother. Not the most auspicious moment to call your boyfriend in for help.
Is he still my boyfriend? We were supposed to get married…
Vena ran. Somehow she had managed to grab her phone. When she couldn’t run any further Vena sank to the ground and stared at her phone until she lost herself in the little square bits of light.
“What makes you the happiest?”
“That’s a hard question to answer. See I’ve gone down such dark paths, that sounds so much cheesier when I say it out loud…heh. You know I’ve just lived some extreme things and it’s only after hitting one of those dark lows and coming back out that I realize what happiness is. That what I thought was happiness before was just a shadow or something.”
“That sounds awfully reductive. Infinite. Because unless you’re saying you’ve hit the final low then you’ll always be looking towards some new level happiness which invalidates the previous definition.”
“Well that’s stupid.”
“Maybe. See I used to think all the answers were locked in pop culture. That was all additive, you know? The first humans find fire and cook food and discover, ‘Shit! That tastes GREAT!’ Then time moves on and we start farming and realize farmed food plus fire is the SHIT! Fast forward through history and each new discovery enters the meme of human thought and is compounded over time until it’s all interconnected, like a massive brain of ideas folded in on itself. So when someone writes a hit love song, or a romantic comedy, a teenage Vampire novel, it’s unintentionally folded up with those connections, the accretions of past human knowledge and if you tease the work properly, all the answers are there.”
“That..actually doesn’t sound so stupid.”
“Well yeah, but I’ve never been able to as Clairee said in Steel Magnolias ‘parlay that into a reason to live.’ I needed something more. So what could be more inductive of continuing to live that the Neverending Story of happiness always waiting around the corner? And the only thing it requires is that you suffer in comparative misery before? Seems like a really…well, perfect actually, way to live.”
“There’s no perfect way to live. Even Atreyu and Bastian figured that out. Wishes are just that – wishes.”
“Except in the end they saved everything, didn’t they?”
“I guess so. Doesn’t prove anything.”
“Yes but ever does?”
“Science proves things.”
“Not really. It just gives a really good impression of it.”
“It’s best Angie Dickinson, eh?”
“Something like that. Nice to see you’re a fan.”
“Well, all the answers ARE in Tori Amos.”
“I’ve felt that way most of my adult life. Even other fans haven’t always agreed.”
“I tend to think the meaning of life is in the song Leather.”
“No way.”
“I mean, no way, because I feel the same way.”
“Oh God, could it be the weather?”
“Oh God, why am I here?”
“That’s crazy.”
“So, is this happiness, then? Is a new happiness or an old one?”
“I don’t know. But it’s nice either way.”
“Maybe it will end up becoming something truly dark and terrible…..”
“If it’s not forever…hand my leather!”
“And you’ll hit a low so miserable that you’re next happiness will be the ultimate.”
“That sounds depressing.”
“I guess so. It would mean the end, right?”
“Well would could possibly happen after that?”
“There’s only one way to find out.”
“Is that an invitation?”
“Do you want it to be?”
“Maybe. Yes. Depends.”
“On what?”
“Well. What exactly the invitation entails…”
“Look I’m standing naked before you…don’t you want more than my sex…”
“Now isn’t THAT presumptuous…”
“What isn’t?”
“Such a loaded question.”
“I can think of a few, but none worth asking.”
“Aren’t all questions worth asking?”
“Solipsism at its worst.”
“That is NOT solipsism. Clearly you don’t understand the meaning of yourself.”
“Wouldn’t you like to think so?”
“I know so. Because I know myself so well.”
“I’m beginning to think this could end up being the exact opposite of a dark path.”
“Or perhaps the exact definition of one.”
“There’s the presumption again.”
“It never left. It never does.”
“Oh God…”
“So, what makes YOU the happiest?”
“That old trick? Turning my own blade against me?”
“Don’t avoid the question! It’s not all the easy is it?”
“Of course it is. I’m only avoiding it because it’s pointless.”
“Pointless? Then why did you ask it?”
“The same reason you think that all the answers to life are folded into Mariah Carey songs or Nicholas Sparks novels.”
“I have never, nor will I ever, read a Nicholas Sparks novel.”
“But you’ve seen The Notebook…”
“I have NOT. I REFUSE.”
“Oh? Such a great moral stance for someone who ‘takes such dark paths.’”
“Mockery doesn’t become you. Maybe if you tried it naked…”
“Naked mockery?”
“The only kind worth doing.”
“What if I told you there was no way this date was going to end with us naked?”
“I’d call you a liar.”
“Does all your pop culture knowledge tell you that?”
“No. Just common fucking sense. I can see the way you keep smiling at me.”
“Maybe I just find you funny.”
“Of course you, I’m pretty fucking funny.”
“I suppose.”
“You still haven’t answered my question. Or really. Your question. What makes you happiest?”
“Awfully single minded, aren’t you?”
“What if I absolutely refuse to answer my own …I mean your question?”
“Then I absolutely will refuse to sleep with you.”
“Who said anything about sleep?”
“Now who’s being presumptuous?”
“Which of us isn’t?”
“This is getting us nowhere.”
“Then answer the question. I answered it.”
“No you didn’t. You artfully skirted it with pointless philosophy disconnected from anything approaching reality.”
“Well it’s a hallmark of mine. I watch TV and read books and listen to music exactly so I CAN disconnect from everything approaching reality while also engaging in pointless philosophy. Haven’t you been listening. So answer the question!”
“What makes me happiest?”
“Don’t try and avoid the question again.”
“Well if I knew the answer do you think I’d be here on a date with you?”
“Again…avoiding the…wait. So you DON’T have an answer to the question?”
“No. I don’t. I have no idea what would make me happiest. If I did I think I’d be so depressed I’d die.”
“Well. When you put it THAT way….”
“Oh, so now who’s avoiding…”
“You’re not making any sense.”
“It’s more difficult than it seems. Especially for me.”
The slap shocked Vena awake. She huddled away from the woman with the protective vest. A pair of orderlies hovered behind the protected woman, glaring down at Vena, bright fluorescent lights over their heads.
“Wha… where am I?” Vena asked. Her mouth tasted… metallic. She wiped at her lips with her hand, saw the streak of red across her thumb and wanted to scream. Brenda’s last gurgling breath came rumbling back to her. Memories of the last few months in isolation clawed at the edges, but Vena had her mind back and she didn’t want to lose it again.
“No.” Vena said. “I won’t go back.”
“Vena?” the protected woman said. “Ms. Lennox?”
Vena glared up at her, pushed herself deeper into the padded corner. The room about her was pulled straight from the set of a movie, the walls and floor covered in soft-looking tufts. Only they weren’t soft at all, but were hard and slick, their roundness deceptive. Like so many things.
“Where am I?” Vena said, looking away, her eyes hurting from the light as though she had just opened them from a long, dark sleep.
“East Louisiana State Hospital.” the protected woman said.
“The fucking crazy hospital?” Vena said, her voice rising an octave. During one of Hank’s many trips to prison he had been held at East Louisiana for almost three solid months, “under observation” had been all they ever told her, or Brenda. It had not been a pleasant time. Thinking it of it reminded Vena of Brenda and she blanched, seeing the dead woman’s gasping mouth in the air before her. With a force of will she pushed the image away. Her breath was hard and fast.
“We don’t call it that.” the protected woman said, her eyes flashing for the briefest moment, with something akin to buried rage.
“Well whatever the fuck you call it.. why am I here?” Vena said, struggling to push herself upright, to begin the process of climbing away from the dark hole she had been in.
“I’ve got a 25 bucks and a cracker…do you think it’s enough?”
“A cracker? 25 dollars?” the protected woman said. “Vena!” she snapped her fingers under Vena’s nose. Far enough away that Vena could not have bitten at them, though the thought did not occur to her.
What the fuck is going on? Why does she think I’d bite her? Oh fuck. Why am I singing Tori Amos songs… I hate Tori Amos.
“Are you here with me, Vena?”
“Um, yes.” Vena said, suddenly aware how dry and cracked her lips were. How long has it been since I’ve had water?
“You’re here because you had a pyschotic break. You killed a woman, Vena. You and your lover, Terrence MacNally.”
Oh, fuck. Ter!
Oh well.
“I didn’t kill anyone! I swear!” Vena rumbled. “I don’t know what is happening.”
The protected woman pursed her lips. One of the orderlies leaned in to whisper over her ear. Vena could read lips. She saw the words, then heard snippets of them in her mind, as though they were whispers in her own ears.
“..Dr. Ramsey…need to go…before she gets violent again…”
The protected woman nodded, a distracted look on her face. She looked down at Vena, pity etched in relief across the rage on her features. To someone not used to finding the rage behind people’s eyes, not used to getting hit and learning how not to get hit, it might not have been so apparent. But Vena was not one of those people. She could read this doctor, could see the secret enjoyment the woman took from watching bound people struggle against bonds she knew they could not break. It gave the wretched bitch a fascinating sense that all was right with the world at the same time that it, for some reason Vena could not divine, royally pissed the doctor off.
“I just want my life back.” Vena said, mostly to herself, but loud enough she could be heard.
The doctor made eye contact with her and twitched a bare, mean little grin.
“You never left it, Vena. Good luck.”


13 – What Must Be Carried (Montage)

Chapter 13 – What Must Be Carried

I hate it when she looks at me like that. Like I’m the reason she’s..
“Neither of us wants that.” Terrence said, only realizing the words were utterly false as they exited his mouth.
“I’m gonna go.” Terrence said. Desiree looked torn, as though she wanted, in some fashion, to beg him to remain. As though she were straining to find the way to make her mouth say the word.
“Fuck this.” Terrence said. He walked out. It wouldn’t be over so quickly, he knew. His things were all there. They had a lease. Shared a car. It would require seeing each other many times before it was over. He might even have to touch her again. The word hit never flitted across his mind in application to his touching Des. Perhaps something in past could be linked to it, perhaps Des assumed it was his micropenis that inspired his rage, perhaps it was all fucking bullshit.
I touch her because she’s fat. I hate fat people.
Then why have you fucking her for the last seven years?
She wasn’t always fat.
Yes she was.
I don’t know!
Terrence pressed the back of his hand to his forehead. The inner dialogue was hard to stop, when he could manage it. Most times he could not, and he just let go on its merry way. A lifetime of the dialogues had made him very good at seeming normal. Yet he knew he wasn’t normal. He also knew this meant he wasn’t crazy. Crazy people don’t know they’re crazy. It was the kind of uninformed thing his father would say.
All black people like to fight.
I can tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi.
Catholics are pedophiles.
A chair is a chair everywhere.
Guns don’t kill people, AIDS does.


Terrence’s father had never uttered any of those things. Hands pressed to his head, Terrence tried to will the dialogues to stop. To make the ache of not being alone with his own thoughts dissipate. Nothing seemed to work. His feet managed to carry him half a block down the street away from the apartment building. Few people were out walking, especially this close to downtown, on a weeknight. There was a quiescence altogether discordant with the height of the buildings around, the brightness of the street lamps, or the din of the surrounding city, the voices inside him.
“You aight?” the stranger said. Terrence whirled in the direction of the sound. It was a bedraggled man, his matted hair shining with a gleam of filth even in the low light.
“Yeah, whatever.” Terrence said to the man and rushed away. He found his way to his car, unlocked it and got in, began to drive. At first there wasn’t much intention to his direction, save to get on the Interstate, headed anywhere south. A email notification pushed to his phone and it lit up. Terrence only caught a glimpse of the text at first. It startled him so much he pulled over to the side of the Interstate, to fully read the email.
“I just want my life back…” it began. The rest was just spam. Some kind of boot camp fitness program for a gym he had never visited, but might have seen before. He wasn’t sure. Oddly, the feeling of being in the car, not moving, gave his mind a sense of peace. He could feel everything moving around him, the swirls and whorls of the world substantive without evidence. More, the voices were silent enough Terrence could consider himself without them, for a moment.
“Did I really just leave her?” Terrence asked the empty car.
A car zoomed by, fast enough its Doppler effected sound was far more apparent than any visual aspect, along with the slight shake of Terrence’s car caused by the passing vortex the speeding automobile trailed.
“I can’t just…”
“I want my life…”
“What’s wrong with me…”
“What have you done?”
“Where am I going to go now?”
None of the questions had answers, even if he would have been able to provide them. Another push notification lit up his phone. He pressed the home button and then Messages to view it.
How long has it been? A year? Two? Three?
What the fuck does she want?
Another push notification came through, another text from V.
“Fuck this.” Terrence said to the fear, to the doubt, to the voices inside. He hoped they were listening. His finger stopped short of pressing the message on screen. He could see V’s name lit up, knew the messages were from her, but he had no idea what they actually said. It hardly mattered, he had already made his decision.
Terrence put the car into gear, his course set, direction confirmed in his mind. He drove with his fingers wrapped tightly around the steering wheel, his torso leaned just slightly towards the windshield, as though the tilt of his frame could add the necessary inertia to the thousands of pounds of metal and rubber to get him to his destination faster.
Lights streaked by overhead, cars fell behind as he sped along. His normal attention for idling law enforcement was forgotten. All that mattered was getting where he wanted to go while his mind was clear, solid. Strong. He exited the Interstate off Essen lane and drove south. Passed stop light after stop light, the tracery of cars forming patterns in the rear view mirror which might have fascinated him where he paying attention to them. But Terrence wasn’t. He knew something about himself now. He needed a mission. A goal. A destination. Then he could keep the voices at bay. And when the voices were silenced, the was no chance the memories would come trailing after them like eager hounds.
At V’s house he screeched into the driveway, his intent stare noticing there was no car there aside from the same cookie cutter Honda Civic V had always favored, only this was black, not green, as Terrence remembered. Somewhere, he noted the difference, recorded the possibility that her life had gone on without him, despite the assertion it wouldn’t. Despite her suicide attempts, despite his disregard. Light shone from the living room windows, the blinds left open. Terrence took a chance V hadn’t grown all that different in the years since they had been lovers. He got out of the car, walked purposefully to the door and opened it.
It was unlocked, it opened easily.
Dogs immediately began to bark. The place was a mess and it stank. There was a staleness to the air Terrence only loosely recognized as dirty dog, old feces, and something sweet and foul smelling he couldn’t place. Rather than call out for V, his eyes tracked the corners of the room, noting details just long enough to discard them, when he realized they were not her.
A sofa. Messed up. Shredded cushions.
A TV. Smashed. Glass on the floor.
Dog shit in the corner.
An AV receiver. Powered off.
A floor lamp, left on.
Three large dogs, one barking at me.
When Terrence saw the foot wrapped around the edge of the hallway he froze, unsure his mind hadn’t somehow begun to play a whole new round of tricks on him. Slowly, leaning first forward, as he had while driving, Terrence moved towards the lone, wrinkled white foot. It took two steps before realized it couldn’t be V’s.
The light in the hallway was blinking fitfully, as though a particularly late-to-the-game indie director had just sculpted the scene to make a point, which to him, seemed amazingly vivid, and not at all cliché. Darkened, but with flashes of light in unreadable and yet recognizable patterns splashed the walls, then fled off to the floor or ceiling before returning, slightly different for the exchange. Terrence paused over the foot, let his eyes trail up past the leg, the hips, the fat belly, to the withered, half eaten face.
He read books. He watched The Walking Dead. Terrence had some idea of what it meant to call something half-eaten, even in terms of human flesh, but he had never expected to actually see it. To see the strips of burnt brown color interspersed with the bluish pink, as though some particularly grisly abstract artist had decided to step up his game from deconstruction on the canvas to something more tactile. He should have felt horrified by the gore, the coagulated streams of blood along one of the mostly intact cheeks, traveling down the neck, florid with wrinkles and missing fat underneath papery skin. Whoever the body had been, she had been old. It was definitely a woman, though only one full breast remained, still mostly covered by a spotted, dirty bra. A pile of dog shit was just past the dead woman’s head, more solid than it should be.
It’s been here for a hot minute.
At first Terrence was not at all certain the voice hadn’t been his own. Sometimes words came out of his mouth from the Others. They sounded different to his ears, as though spoken with some strange, new voice. It had taken a long time, but Terrence had finally recorded himself for hours straight until the voice change had happened. When he had played the sound back it hadn’t sounded different at all, but rather was clearly his own voice, as discordant as any voice heard by the speaker unused to the sound. But this was different. This was not a phantasm of his mind, a reinterpretation of his crazy into sound waves.
“Ter? Is that you?” V said. The tremble in her voice was pronounced, and it shook Terrence in some soft, deep place to hear. To know he still had a soft spot for V was not all that surprising, but to hear what sounded like his own soft spot echoed at him from her shocked him enough that he closed his eyes. After walking out on Desiree, driving away from his current life, the idea of suddenly finding himself in V’s house again, staring down at a dead body of a strange, half-eaten woman was not the strangest thing coursing around in Terrence’s mind.
Is any of this real?
What have you done?
“What have you done?” V said, urgency tripping over the tremble in her voice. Her hands hovered near Terrence’s face, her fists balled up, anger apparent in her eyes, when Terrence opened his own and looked into hers. She was wide-eyed with something which might have been anger, terror, suspicion, or some heady mix of all of them. Terrence had gotten very good at recognizing the blend of emotions a woman’s eyes could transmit. When he beat Desiree, before and during sex, he had tracked those mixes in her eyes, relishing the way they took him outside him, allowed him to be swallowed up by something other than the vast depths of his own crazy.
I can’t be crazy. Crazy people don’t know they’re cray…
“Ter!!” V said, more urgently. Her small body slammed into his pushed him back towards the stale smelling, dog-crowded, glass-strewn living room. “What the FUCK Ter? What have you DONE?”
“I left Desiree.” Terrence said, his curved smile a bit feline.
V look at him in pure, shapeless horror. She backed away from him, backed away until she bumped into the dead, half-eaten woman’s foot. The contact caused her to tumble backwards, partially over the dead body, partially onto the floor. V shouted and scrambled away, on her hands and knees.
“I saw your text, V.” Terrence said, only becoming uncertain of the track of events when V got her feet back under her and began to run away. He watched her disappear through the back door into the backyard. Away from her precious car. This alone jarred Terrence in the most uncomfortable way. His car was blocking hers, maybe that’s why…
Wait. Why is she running away from me?


12 – Leave a Mess (Montage)

Chapter 12

When the phone went dead Desiree Nichols stared at the receiver in her hand, as though by sheer force of will she could transubstantiate the hard black plastic into something else, something she could plead with, something higher. Unyielding to even her most fervent demands, the plastic merely hung loosely against the palm of her hand, held just so by the contact of its surface against her skin. Around her the bustle of the call center thrummed, but it was distant, not directly connected to her moment.
I don’t need this shit.
$12 an hour was more than most people made to sit and make phone calls for eight hours – especially when those phone calls did not involve selling anything. Yet Desiree felt she might have been happier doing anything else, even selling carpet cleaning or Google ad listings over the phone. Anything but calling person after person to alert them to their loved one’s unknown presence in the emergency room. She had been other things in life: a pizza delivery woman, a bus attendant for the East Baton Rouge Parish School System, a cook at Sonic, and a cleaner at veterinary office. None of those jobs had paid anywhere close to $12 an hour, and none of them involved eight hours in the same chair. Desiree had always been moving before, even when she wasn’t going anywhere.
I should call Mrs. Moran again. Leave a message. She’d want to know her husband is…
Desiree’s thought chain was interrupted by the sound of multiple chairs moving, of an accompanying silence that touched her ears like a Pavlovian caress. Soft soled shoes began to squeak against the tiled floor and the bustle of the hospital came back to her, in a motionless rush of wind and sound.
“Want to come with us to Port Royal?” Nene asked.
Desiree stared at the woman, open-mouthed, for far longer than was social acceptable. Nene’s brown eyes tracked Desiree’s green ones, slowly widened as annoyance gave way to concern.
“Are you OK, Des?” Nene asked.
They were not friends, not really. Drinks after work were common for most of the call center shift workers whom Desiree worked around, but she did not often join them. This, to Desiree, meant they were not friends, yet Nene insisted on calling her Des as though they shared something more than phone lines a few meters apart. Something more than the transmitted grief they offered strangers from a distance. Nene was not a horrible person, not inherently, but Desiree looked at her then and all she saw was a monster. A foulness cloaked in scrubs, with the the thinnest skin of impatience underneath, delicate to the touch and brittle. Desiree backed away, unable, or unwilling to stop herself.
Nene snorted, a near clucking sound. “C’mon Jessica. This white bitch think she too good to hang wit us. Fuck her.”
Jessica, her skin a far paler version of Desiree’s darker, sallow-colored covering, stopped just short of sighing. Desiree had also once been a junkie, but she had escaped with her life, her freedom. Her sanity. Most of her family and friends knew, of course. They had sent her to rehab until it gelled, had bailed her out of every situation she had fallen into, thankfully jail had never been one of those situations. But Jessica, despite having the creamy, unblemished skin of a Disney character, was still a junkie. The woman stole pills from the hospital itself, and thought it some big secret. Jessica thought herself immune from the possibility of her own destruction, or at least Desiree assumed it was so. She didn’t make a habit of talking with Jessica, but most of the other phone techs talked about Jessica. They couldn’t help themselves, the woman’s beauty alone would have made her a target, even if she weren’t sleeping with that surgeon twice her age. The one who foolishly let Jessica steal his password or whatever they used to access the online prescription system. Someone would eventually discover the trail Jessica left, would track her, and punish her. For this reason, among others, Desiree avoided anything to do with the woman.
Not just because I know she has Oxys.
She must.
“Let her alone, Nay.” Jessica said, a glint of some sadness coming from her blue eyes at Desiree. In another life, another time, they might have been friends. Desiree could certainly use a good friend who could understand the burden she carried around with her, like a twin consumed in the womb; a dead, sucking piece of her, lodged somewhere inside.
Nene snorted again, tossed her head so that the thick twist pinned to the back of her skull swayed the slight amount physics allowed. It was a bright red, unlike the rest of the woman’s deep brown hair. An unnatural, but quite beautiful red. Wherever Nene went to have it done, the stylist knew how to color hair. It was flawless, even though it didn’t fit the woman’s pocked face, her gapped teeth, or her often painful smile. The one she adopted moments before she snorted in displeasure. Desiree had seen the smile many times in the five years she had worked at The General’s Call Center.
“You right, Jess. C’mon, gurl, let’s go get it.” Nene grabbed her large, worn canvas bag. Desiree knew what was inside of it: diapers, toddler stuff, some books, clothes for Nene’s two boys, shoes, and other things the woman always seemed to have on hand. Nene’s purse was almost as large as the woven bag, but of expensive looking leather material. Desiree had heard the woman brag about how she got the thing on eBay for $200.
A Louis for $200, yes, indeed, Miss Baby!
Desiree hadn’t bothered to point out that it was obviously a fake. No one sold a $2000 purse in perfect condition for $200. Not on eBay, not in a pawn shop, not in a fucking fantasy, dream world’s Tanger Outlet mall. But even if Desiree had been inclined to tell Nene this, she knew the woman would not hear it, would not want to hear it, so she would not. Desiree spent enough time of her day talking to people she did not wish to talk with, explaining what they did not wish to hear, enduring their shock, anger, grief, despair, and sadness. She had no desire to coax any such emotion from Nene.
After Jessica and Nene disappeared, Desiree’s eyes went back to her screen. It had gone black, the screen saver activated. She could move the mouse, get the call screen back, and call Mrs. Moran again. Tell the woman her husband had been in an accident, and she needed to come to the hospital soon. But it was hard to summon the drive. Hard to explain to herself what the point of it all was.
It won’t change anything. He’s going to die. And if Bree Moran comes up here she’ll just have to watch. What’s the point of that? The woman probably deserves better than to experience her husband’s death first hand. No one wants that.
Desiree stood and gathered her things, determinedly putting the previous call from her mind. She left the hospital and drove towards home. Her car’s MP3 CD player began to play, finished the old Smashing Pumpkins song which had been playing when Desiree drove in earlier. The shuffle was activated, so even though the CD only held a hundred or so songs, Desiree never knew which one would be next. But she knew the hundred extremely well. She hated the radio, the only thing worth listening to on it was NPR and by the time she got off work she didn’t want to hear the world’s news, so she always drove home with the MP3 CD, always, at least, since the AUX jack had broken two years before, when Jeremiah had jammed a cord into the hole with too much force. It hadn’t worked right after that, cutting in and out, until it quit finally a few days later. Desiree had always intended to have it fixed, but she never could find the money or time enough to drive the will to see it done. Instead she recorded an MP3 CD from her laptop.
She always intended to record others, but somehow she never got around to that either.
The drive hummed along, and a Tori Amos song came on. Hey Jupiter. The really sad one with the “ohs” in a really high pitched voice. Desiree liked Tori, but didn’t love her like Chris did. Her second best gay friend was a recovering drug addict, and like Desiree he scorned meetings. But unlike her he had not gone through the seemingly endless yawning months of rehabs, the variations on the theme of meetings so imperceptibly altered that each became a frame in a reel, only adding up to movement when something external turned the gears to add motion. Chris loved Tori Amos and his appreciation had been enough to perk Desiree’s interest, but not enough to instill anything like what drove him. Yet this one song seemed to capture her every time she heard it.
“If my heart’s soaking wet, boy your boots can leave a mess…”
This had been the line which first sneaked its way into her mind, twisting around like some kind of infectious disease, refusing to allow itself to be unattached. Ironic, maybe. Maybe not.
When she reached home the feeling Desiree had long come to associate with work would not leave. It dissipated outward from her like a fog, extending just far enough about her to change the atmosphere surrounding her. She set her things on the table and knocked over a beer can. Liquid sloshed across the table splashing on the papers and books Desiree kept there for her school work.
She didn’t say the name aloud, but it roiled through her mind in an angry bubble, full of disappointment and sadness, of impotence. The apartment was mostly quiet, the sounds of early evening outside were a calming influence, normally, when Desiree arrived home, but today they struck her as somehow cruel.
Where is he?
Stepping gently, her brain telling her that quiet was the best idea, somehow inspiring her to be attempt surprise, all the while mostly certain she was simply entertaining herself. The fucker isn’t even here.
With one arm Desiree pushed, as softly as she could, the door to her bedroom open. The lights were off. It smelled strange. Her nose sniffed and bristled at the scent, somehow aware of it, but also unable to actually place it. What is that?
The room was empty, as she had expected. He’s not here. Desiree stopped walking softly. She let her feet hit the carpet with the slightly more ominous thud as she walked to the master bathroom of the one bedroom apartment. My apartment. Where the fuck is he?
When talking to Terrence, or about him, about them, Desiree was careful to always sound as though she were a team player. As though Terrence having no job, drinking during the day, disappearing for hours, half-days, at random intervals where not something worthy of her concern. Telling herself before she told others something less deceptive and more affirmative that Terrence was out fucking someone else was commonplace. Oh, he’s trying Mom. Really. Jobs are hard to find.
In her own mind she would add, full of snark, especially for a dude with micropenis.
It wasn’t supposed to matter, that Terrence had the dick of a toddler. It wasn’t supposed to be the reason he drank himself insensate. Wasn’t supposed to be the reason he spent what will he seemed to have on having a body so perfect it shattered Desiree’s resolve every time she saw it. It wasn’t supposed to, but it did. Desiree was as close to being obese as society would allow without branding her in need of a caretaker. Since letting Terrence into her life, starting school online while also working full time, since leaving Chuck, Desiree had gained almost her entire former body weight, nearly a hundred and forty pounds. It hung off her like wasted potential, something she often said to herself.
It’s like sacks of wasted potential.
The bathroom was a mess. A small, triangular piece of toilet paper was on the floor by the toilet. The shower curtain was opened, leaving the tiled space to glare at her. A smattering of products lined the large vanity top around the sink. The mirror was covered in fine spots, which distorted her reflection in the least flattering way possible. It was all too much. Desiree pictured herself sweeping it all to the floor and screaming as she pulled at her hair. Imagined herself gathering his things into the plastic laundry bin, which happened to also be full of his musty clothes. But when she bent over to pick up the triangle of quilted paper she could barely breathe enough to right herself. Desiree huffed as she dropped the piece into the open toilet.
She heard the front door open and close. Gritting herself to finally have the conversation, Desiree turned around and walked toward the living room, toward the front door. She found Terrence in the kitchen, shirtless, covered in sweat, his broad back the most perfect natural V trailing down to that slight patch of hair just above his rounded ass. Desiree loved that spot, that patch. The hair was oddly soft and Terrence loved when she ate his ass, so she was allowed to touch it whenever they had sex. Seeing that patch made her horny for a moment, but it passed. Sex with Terrence was awful in reality, the most one-sided sex Desiree had ever had. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had an orgasm.
Terrence seemed unaware of her presence as he leaned into the open refrigerator to pull out the carton of milk, which he drank right from the container. Desiree snarled, but he neither heard her nor would have cared if he had. His unoccupied hand scratched at the downy spot above his ass. As he lowered the carton he farted, then belched, replaced the carton, open, into the fridge and turned around, finally noticing her.
“You’re home.” he said.
Desiree rolled through appropriate things to say. Nothing stuck. Each was like the flashing text on a wheel in a tribal casino. She knew she had tell him to leave, but his nipples were hard from the cold of the fridge and her attention could not escape them. She wanted to tell him so many things, but her mind was determined to disallow it. Instead she looked off to the side, at the wall instead of his perfectly hardened, slick chest, and said. “Yeah. It’s almost six.”
The things she left unsaid finally came.
And the apartment is a fucking mess.
You haven’t cleaned anything.
You’ve been drinking.
You left to workout, but couldn’t be bothered to throw your beer cans away, to pick up your stray toilet paper, to put the toilet seat down, to close the shower curtain.
Suddenly, this detail struck Desiree.
The shower curtain was open.
He never showers during the day, he always waits until after his workout. He never showers….
The words escaped her mouth before she could process them fully, as she preferred. Before she could imagine the effect they might have, before she could dream about the consequences, before she could weight the possibilities.
“Who did you fuck?”
The edges of Terrence’s mouth curled into what could only be described as the potential of being snide. His background was in Theater, a major reason he was unemployed, despite having an M.F.A. from NYU. He was a consummate actor and she could not escape the knowledge that he always had control of his expressions, and used them as he wished. It was not a slip. He wanted her to see the possibly snide smirk hiding behind his mouth, but also wanted her to doubt herself, to believe she was only making herself see it. It would have amazed her if she had been in the state to examine all of this at that moment. But Terrence’s skill was honed and he would not allow that, he never did.
“You if you take off that shirt.” Terrence said, moving his body in fashion of a dancer, languid and loose, so the muscles flashed at her in a tempting display. Does he practice moving like that or does it just happen?
Desiree’s urges spiked. The beauty of Terrence’s shape, of the hard slip of his frame, overtook her. He undulated towards her, flapping his cock at her from underneath his shorts, clearly not bound by the tight underwear he preferred. It was the dick flap that did it. Desiree closed her eyes, clawed at her determination, her desperation, to not be snatched into the scam Terrence was weaving. His ungentle fingers touched her sides. Her body thrummed.
Desiree jerked away. Her eyes flashed open. Terrence appeared before her different now: sweaty, clammy, hard, and smelly. Little flaws floated to her vision. The strange shape of his areolas, the scar running along his chin, the shaved armpits, belly button that stuck out like a misplaced finger, the tan lines. All these little points shored up the rising sense of distaste, overcame the innate attraction her body was trying to foist upon her. Her hands met his sticky skin and pushed him away. Their eyes locked. She saw fury there.
“What?” he asked, shock plain for a moment, on his face.
“The shower curtain was open.” Desiree said, slow and measured. “I left it closed this morning.”
Recognition stormed across his features in a quick flash before he asserted control, but Desiree, looking for exactly this caught the quick change. It cemented her feelings.
“I want you to leave.”
Silence gulfed between them, pushing them apart with tidal forces. Terrence didn’t say anything. For a long moment he didn’t do anything either. When he smirked, fully and unbound, the expression was cold and hard.
“You and your tiny little dick.” Desiree added, her voice a chirp as the insulted bubbled, close to unwilling, from her lips. His face did not change. She never saw the slap coming. When her eyes could focus again she was picking out delicate tracery in the Mexican tile of her kitchen floor. The underside of her cabinets had collected small bits of detritus: particles of dry food, stray strands of hair, a nib of a paper towel, the ragged piece of a spider web. Desiree, not good with the bending, had never cleaned the spot before. She studied the grain of the wood used to build the cabinets, the pattern of lines underneath the stain flowing like charred amber still life paintings. As she stared, she focused on a spot where a small knot in the wood had darkened, its shape eerily reminiscent of a woman’s head, with flowing hair around the profile of her formless face. The image called to her and she focused on it for a long while before the pain finally smashed into her.
A dribble of hot liquid ran down her chin. He split my lip. I need to call…
Her thought was interrupted by the appearance of a pair of knees, followed in slow motion by the rest of Terrence as Desiree looked upward, her eyes skimming the triangular shape of him. His eyes were coldly fascinating as they considered her. “You’re so clumsy.” he said, his expression all forced kindness. He reached a hand towards her, palm down, and she flinched away from it.
“Don’t be that way, it’s not my fault you fell down.” he said.
There was nothing she could do to prevent him touching her. His fingers against her skin made her soul want to crawl out of her flesh and run, to hide. But there was nothing she could do. He lifted her carefully off the floor, handed her a wad of wet napkin and guided her hand press it against her split lower lip. “What am I going to do with you?” he said, softly, careful, and full of affection.
Desiree was spun about. As though her inner monologue, the very series of words that combined to be her had been lifted off a page, jumbled about, cut from a magazine cover and artfully pasted on a ransom letter. They still said the same thing they always did, but it was not her.
This isn’t me.
Terrence moved close and wrapped his arms around her. His face was close to her ear. “You should be more careful, Des. When you fall down like that you’re liable to leave a mess, and we both know how much you hate leaving a mess behind.”
He pulled away, put both hands on her shoulders, looked into her eyes, his brimming with forced emotion, apparent to them both.
“Neither of us wants that,” he lied.