Mothers and fathers lean in doorways to keep anyone from forgetting them. What happens when a personality can’t find its way back? Let’s say I promise to look for myself in the concerned or deprecating glances of others. Dread filters through the clipped words lost in dwindling lung space. A whirlpool of defiant air is ravenous and terrorizes the mind which wears the fabric of the intestines which now zigzags fear through the furniture.
Inside one house a father helps his son with his vocabulary list. He then heads out to an apartment three streets away. The girl phoned him last week to fix the bathroom window latch. She lives alone. He’s a locksmith. He never gets to that, but is able to climb through the tiny enclosure, put on his ski mask and rape the girl. When he arrives home his wife is up. They watch Cold Case Files. She enjoys the creepy stuff. She cocoons herself under a blanket with him and can’t believe the shit people go through.
Kid walks home. Kids walk home. Over and over, shortcut, yes shortcut. Small town, neighborhood, nowhere. “She was still alive at the time,” he says. “I thought it was a mannikin. Two legs sticking up out of a fire.”
“The kid’s body and hair were washed,” she said. “Her notebook and schoolbooks were placed neatly next to each hand, as though she would pick them up at any moment.”
The detective takes down notes from the officers in charge. She studies the bodies as they line up in her mind at night. Twenty years have diminished yet she will never forget the shadow that split his face in two. A guttural “Shut the fuck up and you won’t get killed,” spit at her through a specified bass of voice. She starts shaking at the supermarket from the cussing of a random man behind her or two men suddenly arguing on the street.
Body language is stacked against him. He unlocks his arms, puts his palms up on his knees and spreads his legs. His lungs let out a deep breath. Cameras are belching above him. He’s not a damn idiot. Learn to plank the sidewalks as if someone is always watching. That’s what he knows. The two detectives are playing handball. Let’s assume he is the ball in between. A smile, a shrug, or an “I don’t recall,” are his responses to their slaps. Until they say her name. It’s been over a decade. He’d stuffed her in a barrel and left her in a storage space. “Let’s take a drive,” they say. His hands clench.
She doesn’t go to concerts anymore. There’s a general avoidance of any place that might jam people in. Sometimes she goes nowhere for weeks. Forgotten in a city is as simple as a month of not returning phone calls or texts. Tolerance has a short fuse. It’s a massive history of repeat tracking itself over and over in the annihilation of sanity. She’s been to ER and Rehab. Nobody believes her. She opened the door. She let them in. She doesn’t have any visible scars and they made her wash herself before they left. The only trial that ever transpired is in her head. The unbelieving faces of her mom and sister haunt her. The detectives nod a bit too often as they write down notes.
And yet, in the dark on certain nights, she hears those grunts again as they tear her apart. The acid-raw ache in her throat and between her thighs slice into a sharpened knife inside her. She can still feel the violent weight of their chests on her body.
And then, sometimes, when the precious light of morning is slanting through her apartment, layering the furniture and rugs in an exquisite sheen, she isn’t even sure what exactly happened.
Meg Tuite is author of four story collections and five chapbooks. She won the Twin Antlers Poetry award for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging. She teaches at Santa Fe Community College, is Senior Editor at Connotation Press, Associate Editor at Narrative Magazineand Fiction Editor atBending Genres. http://megtuite.com