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Gloria My Gloria

Vishal Khanna 


I walk into the precinct at 8 am. Coffee brews in the lobby and I pour myself a cup. Martina is behind the front desk. She is wearing a black suit jacket and skirt. Long it drapes her ankles which I watch from behind her. Bared skin smooth and in my mind.

Morning Manny, she says without looking at me. Thereís a note for you on your desk.

Hi Martina, I say. What I donít say is, Martina I want you I want to touch the nape of your neck, which I think every morning. Burnt and etched in my days.

My desk is a mess. Papers are scattered between sheets of negatives and cream clear cards. I unlock the desk drawer and take out the city issue camera. It is dented and covered in metal black tape. The note on the desk rests above the pile of chaos carefully placed for my attention. It says, Manny, 18th and Grove, 7 am.

Martina, my simple obsession, I think. I walk out the door and hail a cab.


The bed and breakfast is a burned pile of black wood. A house of cards tempting to fall to pieces. Detective Swain stands on the other side of the yellow tape. He drinks from a styrofoam cup. His hair is greased back and his white shirt is crumpled, wrinkled beneath a gray jacket.

Itís about time, Manny. What you been doing, washing your hair.

I laugh. Swain is my boss.

What do we have here, Detective, I ask.

Electrical malfunction. Two people were inside. A man . . . well, more specifically a powerful man. Weíre talking House of Reps. And a woman, most likely a prostitute. No name, no ID. Donít take any pictures of our John. Get a few of the outside of the house and get one of the girl. And donít make a big deal of this, Manny. Just do your job and forget about it. You know the routine.

The detective takes a sip from his cup, then says, What a face on that girl, Manny. You could do a show just on her.


I take six shots of the burned house from different angles. The rising sun creeping over the crumbling building creates a shadowed graveyard. The smell of wet smoke gets to me. It makes me thirsty. The woman walks up behind me as I take the last shot of the rear. She taps me on the shoulder and I say, Hold on a second, I almost got it.

The camera clicks and I turn around and then I see her.

Half her face is scarred, a massive burn that more slides down her face than rests. It looks alive. I see it I notice it but can not help but stare at the other half. The perfect and smooth skin. The frighteningly beautiful, chiseled features. A burning eye that stops me, that makes me want to look away but oh I am magnetized.

I didnít get this today, she says.

What, I ask.

This, the burn, the thing youíve been looking at for the past five minutes.

Oh, that. I wasnít looking at it. I was looking at your eyes.

Sure. Listen, the detective over there said I should see you before I can leave. You need to take a picture here.

Yeah, I say. Why . . . uh, why donít you stand against the wall. I point to the crisped back wall of the house.

She walks to the wall and stands. Her body is straight and her left hip juts out just like a model. The curves of her body are as sensual as the perfect half-face. Hitchcock would have been in love. Newton would have made a fortune.

You done, she asks.

A pause.

Would you mind, I ask, would you mind if I took one more. Itís for my personal. I take pictures.

Apparently you do, she says.

No, I take them for myself. Iím working on a collection.

Oh, youíre an artist.

Yeah. A photographer, actually. Iíve had a couple of gallery showings.

Listen, Mr. Artist, she says. You ever make any money off your artwork at these galleries.

I nod my head.

Well, I wanna make some money too. Iím hungry. Buy me breakfast, Iíll let you take as many pictures as you want.

Okay, I say, Okay. Breakfast. What do you like.

Steak, she says. And a bloody mary. Thatís what I want.


Swain gives me the rest of the day off and we take a cab to a corner store near my apartment. I buy a bottle of vodka, two steaks, a six pack of eggs, and some bloody mary mix.

We need celery too, she says. She breaks off two stalks from a clump and puts them in her purse.

At the register the clerk asks me if I am going to pay for the celery and I give him an extra two dollars. She smiles. You shouldnít steal, she says. Itís bad for the soul.

I grab her by her hand and lead her out the door. You havenít told me your name, I say.

You havenít said yours either.

Manny, I say, my name is Manny.

She pushes her hand out of mine and walks ahead of me. Which way to your house, Manny the photographer, she says.

I point east and she leads the way.


The steaks have been eaten and the bloody marys drunk and she stands in front of me. I am astounded by her beauty. She seems so sure of herself. She is the perfect still.

She searches through my kitchen as if it were a museum. A spatula with a burnt black end and a rusted handle. A chipped cream plate with a green border. Borderline paper disposable. She touches my dishes and I have a faint desire to frame them, to save her caress for future generations. I see her perfect profile and say, Youíre beautiful.

She turns to face me, both halves in view. Am I still beautiful?

Yes, I say. Still beautiful.

How much money you got, she says.


How much money you got. Just tell me. Donít give me a hard time.

Whatís your name, I ask.

Manny, how much money you got.

I pull out my wallet. There are five twenties inside. Forty dollars, I say.

She takes her shirt off quick, quicker than I am prepared for, and stands topless next to the dirty dishes and crumpled napkins and half eaten celeries. I stare at the light and smooth tan line above her nipples. She pulls her skirt off and steps out of her panties and she stands before me naked. I hold my breath. The burn on her face disappears between the perfect curves of her body and within her skin I disappear. Within the shaved smoothness between her legs, the slight roundness of her sex that I now adore.

You look like a movie star, I say.

Garbo, she says. Someone once said I looked like Garbo.

Yes, I say, Garbo, anyone you want to look like.


She is on my bed, one leg covered by a red silk sheet. One hand rests between her legs and the other covers half her face.


I ask her to switch her hands. I want to see the burn. She complies, arches her back and her groin rises beneath her hand.


She turns over and crouches on her knees. I can see the plump roundness of her ass and below I see the miniature curves of her sex.

I adore you. Click.

She says, This turn you on.

Yes, I admit. It does.

I put the camera down and walk toward her. I could love you. So beautiful. All of you. The way you look in my lens.

I lie on the bed next to her and slide my hands gently up her belly and between her breasts. I touch the cheek, her maps of scars, and feel its roughness.

She grabs my wrist. What are you doing, she says.

Touching you.

Donít. No one touches me there.

I lean in close enough to smell the vodka on her skin. Is that because they donít want to or because you donít let them.

She turns to lie on her back. Shhh, she says. She spreads her legs. She is inviting me. Touch me there, she says.

I take off my shirt and slide down her body. I kiss her and she is wet; she tastes metallic. I am enveloped between her legs. I do not want to leave. My eyes look up her body and it looks like a mountain and I see her eyes close and her neck curve. She pushes me into her. Her back arches and I feel all of her inside my mouth. She kisses my lips and tastes herself on me as she undoes my belt. I enter easily and we start to move together. Her eyes are closed and I can not look away from the glorious dichotomy of her face. I kiss her purple lips and take her breath inside me. She opens her eyes and sees me staring at her.

What, she whispers.

Your face, I say, how did it happen.

How did what happen. There is a stutter in her voice. She is far from here and I do not think she hears my words.

The burn, I say, the burn.

Her arms reach between our bodies and she pushes me off her. She jumps out of bed, screaming, Fuck you. She grabs her clothes, her movements are so quick, and she runs out of the bedroom, repeating, Fuck you, Fuck you, as I lie stiff on the bed feeling more lonely than I have ever felt before.


I don't even know your name but I always loved the name Gloria. And Gloria, I see you everywhere I go. The scar on the cheek of the waitress this morning and there you were again. The prostitutes on Colfax Avenue smoking Gitanos and I felt myself inside you. I think Martina is jealous even though I have never told her or anyone else about you. She watches me now, and when I walk past her desk, she waits for my eyes, my camera lens, and my attention to return to her, but Gloria I am wasted and spent and all my energy is saved for you.

I developed the pictures and made copies from the negatives. There are ten life size images of you hung on the walls of my bedroom. I see the curves of your body and the ridges of your scars and I feel lost and weighed down within this lack of fulfillment. I miss you and promise I will never ask about it again. I love you I want you back.


Itís the end of the world and Martina is wearing a knee length alpine green skirt. I feel irrational and may start crying at any moment. We are alone in the office. It is a small precinct, more a home for weary outpatients than dispatch and file, and loneliness is normal.

Martina brings a cup of coffee to my desk and touches me on the shoulder. This may be the first time she has ever touched me.

You touched me, I say.

Yes, she says. You look half-dead.

Do you want to, she starts to say and then stops. There is silence and I am watching her watch me.

What, I say.

Manny, she says, Do you want to take a picture of me.

I am surprised. Martina is reaching out which must mean I look like shit.

Yes, I say, Of course, and I quickly grab the dented camera. Why donít. Why donít you sit on the desk. Look at your fingernails.

She sits and crosses her legs.

Will you lift your skirt a bit. I want to see her skin.

Donít push it Manny, Martina says. Just take the picture.

And I do. Click.

Martina walks back to the front desk. She does not accentuate her curves as she walks. She sits in her chair, gives me one quick look, then turns to the entrance silently.

I close my eyes and imagine the still, her smooth brown legs, her smile, her eyes like a shapeshifter. A subtle shift of color and I am healed. I will go home and tear down the pictures that hang on my wall.

I walk toward the entrance and stop at the front desk.

Martina, I say, you donít have any scars anywhere, do you.

Goodbye Manny, she says.


The answering machine beeps as I walk into the house. I press the red lit button and hear Swainís voice. It sounds like a flat note on a piano. Lifeless, the voice is a marionette.

Manny, this is Swain, Detective Swain. Listen son, I just got a call and, uh, the word is that you need to destroy the picture of the Jane from the fire yesterday. Tear it up, throw it away, forget it ever happened. Got it Manny. Good. Anyway, hope things are good. I gotta go.

I open my desk drawer. The picture from the house. The carboned wood and the smell is everywhere. I close my eyes and let my fingers trace the paper and swear I can feel her. With my eyes still closed, I tear the photo in half and tear it in half again. I open my eyes and in my hands the squares of papers look like shreds of tears.

I do not go into the bedroom. I will not touch the other pictures.


The gas from the stove fills the kitchen and a thrown spark could set the air on fire. The burner catches and a ring of blue flames spread across the bottom of the stained metal pot. The papers start to burn. Slivers of grey ashes dance in the air. The black smoke is a curtain. I cover my mouth with the cuff of my shirt but the smoke is thick and burns my eyes and I have to leave. I have to get far away from this act of Judas.

Outside the air is crisp. Dried and crumpled leaves look like prunes. They look dehydrated, dead. Wind blows through me and I shiver. The streets seem empty and I suppose that they go nowhere. There is nowhere to go and so I walk.


The path to nowhere inevitably leads to a bar. I sit alone nursing a scotch and soda. The wood paneling on the walls makes this place look like a seventies den of the divorced middle class. There are men, lonely like me I suppose, and they mirror my movements. It is a communal feeling, here at the last cliff of America.

I buy the man next to me a drink.

What do you do, I ask.

His response is stoic.

Iím a photographer, I say. I take pictures of beautiful women. Then they run away from me. I wake up alone and all I have are images of them, still paintings of their lives.

The man says nothing. I take a sip and he takes a sip and we sit more still than the bartender who reads yesterdayís newspaper.

And then sheís there, just a few dozen feet away and I know she is here to taunt me. The world is not fair, she reminds me. She has appeared from the shadows in the back of the bar. I see the black lace veil moving faster than the speed of light toward me but she does not stop until she passes me. She does not look at me. Her veil faces straight in front of her. I smell the air that surrounds her as she whispers something to the bartender.

Metal roses. She smells like metal roses.

I recognize the man with her, the congressman from the fire. Was that yesterday.

Her body is carved from the purest marble. She gives the bartender a fifty-dollar bill and I say her name. Gloria, I whisper, Gloria.

She turns to me. Donít, she says from beneath her veil and she is gone.

She moves too fast for me. She is a blade. She wants to hurt me. I order another drink and quickly down it and I know she is the most evil woman in the world.

The man next to me slides a scotch my way. He smiles. I look at him. My glance is a message and I drink the scotch quick and walk out the door before he or any other of these dead men can say a thing to me.


It is five in the morning. I am curled in a ball on my bedroom floor. The house smells like gasoline and I donít know why. There are scraps of paper everywhere. I pick one up and see that it is a picture of half a vagina, torn diagonally. Broken glass and small trails of blood and I look at the soles of my feet.

I am naked, crouched in a corner of the room. I swear I can smell burnt roses in the air.

An untorn picture lying on the bed. Half developed, it is a blur. I see the sharpness of green and the shadow of legs, long and slim, crossed over each other. A shoe dangles off a foot. The face is unrecognizable, it looks like a sphere or a satellite.

I close my eyes and see a black shadow across a face and a body carved of stone.


There is a knocking at the door and I think of ravens.

I kill messengers, I scream. Five tons of steel marbles roll in my head.

The knocking does not stop. I walk to the door and start knocking back.

Go away, go away.

Itís me, she says.


Yes, I think, Gloria. There is a pause and then she says, Let me in.

Why, I say.

Please Manny, donít be a child. Let me in, please.

I walk back into the bedroom and sit cross legged on my bed. She laid here once. I photographed her. We had sex. She ran from me.

I donít want to see you, I scream at the front door.

There is a tapping at the bedroom window. You donít need to scream, she says.

I see her face through the half-opened curtains and I crumble. One look at her and she is forever etched in me like sandpaper, like emulsified memory. I crack open the window and she crawls into the bedroom. The first thing she does is hug me tight, like a mother. Then she kisses me and I lose all sense of gravity beneath the wet comfort of her lips.


Gloria does not hide her face. She doesnít feel vulnerable around me. She kisses my chest and walks to the kitchen naked and I can tell she is thinking of this house as her new home.

There is already a trace of her body on the left side of the bed. I lean over and smell her on the sheets. I curl in a ball and let it surround me and Gloriaís smell is my atmosphere. The sheets are warm. I slide my hands across them and imagine I am touching her. It is strange how quickly she can wash away any pain I feel.

We did not make love. We lay face to face, pushing as much of our skin together as possible. I closed my eyes and swallowed her breaths and her warmth spread through me like cold glucose through veins. The sun crept through the curtains and blanketed us as we slept beneath each otherís shadows.


Gloria is standing by the bedroom door and the only thing that covers her is a tray.

I made dinner, she says. You must be starving.

I smile and say, Come here. Put the tray down.

She drops the tray and rice scatters across the floor.

I want to make love to you, I say.

Donít make love to me. Fuck me.



I am not with him, Gloria says.

The congressman.

His name is Ruthless Hope. I was hired by a private investigator. The wife wants a divorce. She wants proof of his infidelity.

Gloria is not a prostitute. She is an actress and her role is the destroyer of the Hope marriage. She tells me this and everything makes sense. I do not feel bad about how she treated me in the bar. She had to. Hope couldnít know we were together.

Gloria tells me that we are together.

This contentment feels new to me. It is safe, a warm hovel we hide within.

I love you, I say.

I know.

Do you love me.

She doesnít answer

I want you, I say. I need you.

My hands are on her cheeks. She does not push them away. She lets me touch her.

Gloria, I say and the word hangs in the air until she speaks.

I canít, she says.

Gloria, I say, I will be broken forever.

I already am, she says. I already am.


His name was Murat. He killed a man, she says. It was a revenge killing. Gloria was raped and Murat had no choice but to search for his own justice. He never even tried to escape. He just walked home and sat at the kitchen table and laid his head in his arms. His shirt was drenched in a thick paste of blood and there were cuts all over his hands. Ten minutes later the police showed up. He stood up and put his arms behind his back and they escorted him away.


Do you visit him still, I ask.

No. He refuses to see me. He says it would be too painful. He wants me to move on, find some other love, have a child. I canít though.

Maybe heís right, I say. Heíll be in there forever. You canít have a life with him.

Manny, she says. Donít.

Okay, I say. Iím sorry. We wonít talk about him. Okay. We wonít talk about him.

Fine. Thatís fine.

Sheís pacing the room and if this were a cartoon fumes of smoke would be pouring out of her ears.

Iím sorry, I say.

I walk up to her and lean my forehead against her bare shoulder. She turns around. Slides a hand through my hair.

I know, she whispers. Weíll stop talking about him. Heís not here. Itís just you and me.

She doesnít have to love me. Weíll be fine without that.


We go to the grocery store to pick up more steaks and celery. On the way back to the apartment we pass the County Courthouse and I say jokingly, How about we get married. We can go home and get your veil and be back in less then an hour.

She looks at me and says, Are you asking me to marry you.

I am about to say, No, it was just a joke, but stop myself. I think Iím actually asking her. I check her face to see if there are any telltale features that will give away her answer, but she is as sober as a guilty verdict and I have no choice but to risk it.

Yes, I say. Will you marry me.

Gloria says yes and I am confused and ecstatic at the same time. I really donít know how to react next. Do I check the time or look at the sun for a mystical marking.

But not today, she says. I have to finish the job with Hope. Once thatís done, the slate will be clean. We can be free together.

Youíll have to give your real name to the County Clerk, I say.

Yes, Gloria says, I will.


I offer my help but Gloria quickly declines. She says she doesnít want to get me involved, that Hope is a powerful man and could ruin me.

This is too important, I say. I donít mind shooting a few pictures of a congressman in bed with you. Iím a photographer. Itís what I do. And if thatís all it takes for you to be mine, then Iím more than willing to help.

After a long argument, Gloria reluctantly accepts my offer.

When shall we do it, she asks.

Tonight. The sooner the better.


She is meeting him at ten oíclock at the River Mill Motel off of the highway. The motel is nearly always vacant during the week and is far enough away from anything or anyone that might find a man with a camera a bit suspicious. I am pacing around the bedroom, the nervous energy eating away at me. Gloria calmly applies makeup to half her face in the bathroom.

I walk behind her and kiss the nape of her neck.

I love you, I say.

Youíre sweet. Gloria hands me a tube of lotion and asks me to rub it into the burn.

Are you sure, I ask. Is it all right.

She sits on the toilet seat and crosses her legs. She takes my hand in hers and lightly kisses it. Yes, she says. Itís all right.

I rub the lotion in slow concentric circles and she moans quietly in the porcelain silence of the bathroom. Her eyes are closed and her fists are clenched and all I want to do is free her from her pain.


It is almost eleven oíclock and I am crouched behind the trunk of a pine tree. I twirl the extra room key around my forefinger. Gloria said to wait until eleven. Hope likes to take his time and she wants the shots to be incriminating. I close my eyes and imagine that asshole entering her and I have no guilty feelings about destroying this manís marriage.


There is a tiny creak as I push the door open and one hand holds the camera to my eye, forefinger ready to shoot. I swing the door open and fire repeatedly with the camera. I take at least a dozen pictures before I realize what is going on.

She is naked except for the black leather mask half unzipped on her head. Sheís on all fours and her feet are tied together with exposed copper wire. Her ankles are covered in cuts and they douse the sheets red. There are at least twenty welts across her ass and back. Sweat drenched across her body.

Hopeís hands are digging into her haunch and he hasnít stopped thrusting into her. He is whispering the words, bitch cunt whore, over and over again like a pornographic mantra. He turns to me and pulls out of her. Stands up and before I can defend myself, he slams his fist into the camera. It connects with my head and I feel myself slipping out of my body. And then there is a thick and impenetrable blackness and a void that lures me to sleep.


When I come to, she is above me. Her face is a glorious site.

Youíre so beautiful, I say.

Donít talk, she says. You need to rest.

Her face becomes a blur and the two sides meld into one and her third eye stares deep within me.


It is morning when I wake up again. Gloria, I say.

Sheís staring down at me. No, she says. Mary, my nameís Mary.

The congressmanís body is a pile of flesh by her feet. Pieces of a broken lamp orbit around his head.

Mary, I say. Heís dead. Mary.


Oh my god. What happened.

He lost it. After he knocked you down, he grabbed a gun from his travel bag.

Gloriaís eyes are closed now. Her fingers pushed into her temples. She leans back then whispers, I had no choice. I had to stop him.

Itís all right, I say.


I am pacing around the room, taking notice of every minute detail. The cord to the lamp is still in the wall. The camera is broken into a million pieces and the film is exposed. Hopeís clothes are everywhere. The smell of stale blood filling up the tiny motel room.

Weíll call the investigator. Weíll explain what happened. Heíll be able to talk to the police about this. We can get self-defense.

No. We canít.

What do you mean. Iíve seen situations worse than this and the woman got off. We can do this. Weíll call him from here. It will look better, if they check the phone records.

Thereís no investigator, Manny. Thereís no one to call.

I donít understand. You were working for someone, right. Tell me you were working for someone.

There was no one.

What do you mean no one. Why.

I thought I could bribe him. I could maybe get a shortened sentence for Murat. Hope could have pulled it off.

Oh shit, I say. Oh shit.

What are we going to do, Manny.


They found Hopeís body three days later. The fragments of the camera were gone and Hope was fully dressed. His wallet and wedding ring were missing. I was called in to take the pictures. I made sure to take close up shots, leaving out as much as possible.

Hopeís car was found weeks later, completely stripped and rotting in a junkyard south of downtown. Swain told me he didnít expect to ever find the perpetrators.


Sheís gone. I told her to disappear, to pretend she never met me. To forget about all of this. She cried, grabbed hold of me and wouldnít let go. She said she could learn to love me. She asked if there was any other way.

She had been seen with him too many times. Swain knew I left with her. There were too many lines to the truth.

She walked to the highway and hitchhiked away. Iím not sure if she went south or north. Iíll probably never know.

A graduate of the MFA program at Naropa University, Vishal Khanna currently writes grants for dermatologists in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His fiction and nonfiction have been published in Punk Planet, Thought Magazine, Pixelpress and Bombay Gin. He is currently working on a collection of novellas and short stories.

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