Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 125 in December, 2010.
When she was very young, she ate God, and drank him too. She remembered it very vividly and it tasted like it should – it tasted of sanctity. Of course she was a child then, and it all made sense. The viscous crimson overflowing, tart and sweet and strong, was transformed, and drinking it was not a vampiric act, not a sin or an assault against the deities, but rather a manifestation of love. And taking in the bread-flesh was not cannibalism, but a question asked of the all mighty, a request to have him within you, and, for a second, to know the scent and flavor of what it meant to be forever.
When she was young, very young, she ate God, and she drank him too, and she prayed for him. But not anymore. It was pointless to ask the dead for gifts. Yes. Now she knew what she didn't back then. That it was a lie. She was given a corpse to digest. She was all alone.
The room was very small. It felt condensed, crowded, as if she, the mostly scrawny woman with the dry bruises on her hands and the now almost bovine expression, was far too much occupancy for this bleak and sorry place.
She sat in the darkness, the floor cold against her naked body, her legs and rear end touching the grimy floor unprotected, and she thought about the past. Her head rested on her bare knees and her eyes were closed. She was not afraid, not in the least, or so she told herself, and if she were, she would never show it. The thing was, that in this room, this dark dank windowless space, she had no one to show it to, and this absence, the lack of necessity for pretence, seemed almost vulgar. It was after all the most abrasive of their punishments, the most disdainful and pernicious of all their whips and thorns. A person deserved to have his facades, or at least to need them. To take that from her, that was true cruelty.
A noise came from outside the room. It has been so long since she heard any sound that she began to feel like she was dead already. Maybe that was the point, to practice. She pondered about that for a moment, but after years of experience she had learned to ward off any lingering thought. Such trails, if followed, led to unhappy places, because any thought, let loose long enough, eventually led to the hub, to that dark place where all thoughts ended. It was the root of things, the point of fracture, everybody had it, but theirs was not like hers. People hovered across their dark place all the time, and they managed to learn blindness, but she was different. She was placed in her root, imprisoned within its confines and made to stare at it all day long. That was what they set out for her. If she let her thoughts wander, she would inevitably find her way back to that root, which for her, was simply where she was.
The noise sounded again, a shuffling of a chair. For a moment, she thought the door would open, that light would flow in and set this place aflame with horrible venom, that then and there a blaze of truth and death would claim her. It was strange to think this way, she knew, and it was not coherent, but she couldn’t help it. A month in that crowded space, without showers or clothes or warmth, just the cold of the filthy stone beneath her, it took its toll. She had learned to stop mid thought in order to protect herself, but that power and her torments, they broke her. She could hold it pretty firm most of the time, just coast in that dark room and pretend she was not naked and alone, that she was not waiting to be killed like a head of cattle. But eventually her fate sipped back into her, burning her with its mark, branding her with a solemn consistency that made her shiver. This pain, this fire across her bare skin, made her remember, made her see everything that happened and everything that was coming. She had wandered through life, one more member in the flock, unwilling and uninterested, and now she was going to her death.
Perhaps she remembered it wrong, perhaps she was not led, but rather stirred others, perhaps it was all because of her, but if this were true, she could not see it. In the darkness only her helplessness shimmered. Though alone, she would start to see things, hear them, not in real life, but in her head, and they all seemed so real.
Exhausted she fell on the floor, not even feeling the cold anymore, not even noticing in her recumbence that her body was exposed and bruised. She was considered beautiful once, and in a way this gave her the precious time she still had left. She was not all that special looking, even then, only cute and nothing more, and though she had been told she had a very attractive posterior, she was otherwise unremarkable in that sense. That is to say, that her flesh was not sculpted to the model of some half-baked ideal of beauty. Still, there was vitality to her, and a fire in her eyes that made her enormously attractive. But now that fire was extinguished and she was ravaged by emaciation and lack of exercise. Her skin turned an unwholesome shade of grey and somewhere along the line, residing in a living grave caused her to lose her grace. Still there lay a kernel of promise, of something long gone but still somehow there, but she knew that it would fade as well before they were done with her, before the clock strikes.
Tired, she tried to sleep, to find escape in the unconscious, but dreams were not anymore merciful than her captors. When she slept there were other sights, more vivid, shards of a time that had gone. She would see the innocence, the ignorant and uncouth youth she once was, untamed and free, and for a moment she would forget all her plight. But this was no blessing. After she escaped, after she found retreat in hiding and in a mindless nostalgic clarity, she saw in her dreams that day, the day when all of her innocence was wiped clean. It was not all her fault, maybe none of it was her fault, and she knew that if she were well off, things would have turned out very differently.
Now she lay there, fumbling on the edge of the precipice of sleep, and out of sheer exhaustion, in she dove. At first came a murky curtain, it was the onset of sleep, the point in which one ceased to be. But then the images came and she saw the events of that day, and though she saw and felt it a hundred times before, she still witnessed it in apprehension.
It was a black day, and the heavens were filled to the brim with black thick clouds. They were nice and moist and they gave rain, dark showers of water without light to cleanse the earth. She always liked the rain and the darkness, there was serenity in them and she liked serenity. She walked by the diner she frequented, it was nice and clean under the falling rain and she smiled. This would be a good day, a clean healthy day for her, an opportunity to start anew. Her boyfriend exited the diner, a tall barely man with a strong jaw and big awkward eyes. He was good at it, at the "eyes thing", and when a person first saw him, they gave the notion of smarts and warmth. But that was just acting. Marly Bradford was not a good man. She of all people knew that. But that was done, today she would detach of him, and like the earth, would be reborn into something new, something vibrant and good, something better.
He came to her and he grabbed her. One hand holding her waist with brute force, as though making sure she would not run, and one hand on her backside, squeezing, declaring to her and to all others: this is mine. She gently tried to leave his embrace, but he only squeezed harder. She smiled as though this was pleasant and he finally let go.
“I… I want to talk to you, Marly.” She said with a trembling voice.
“So fine then. Talk.”
She did not look at him, but at the diner, and then at the showers falling onto a gloomy world around her. She too needed to be cleansed.
“Out with it, and don’t you mumble again, no girl of mine is gonna mumble…”
It took a moment but she found the courage she was looking for.
“What was that?”
“I can’t, you see, I have to start fresh, to start over, you and I, we’re not good for each other, you know that.”
“I said, repeat what you said, you fucking whore!”
“No, say it again.”
“Listen, you don’t need me, you-“
“I know full well I don’t need your sorry ass, I don’t need you to tell me that, you fucking bitch, now I told you to say it again.”
“Is that right?”
“Yes.” and then the sun went out from behind the clouds, reaching its silver hand across the world, painting the gloom with bright colors. The grey beacon divided the stormy square into two shards of darkness, but this was now a different darkness, not the one from before.
“So you’re leaving me then.”
It was all so quick. He pounced on her, grabbing her by the throat and back, and before she realized what was happening he was shaking her like a rag doll.
“Say it again!” they were alone in the rain and he shook her again and again. “Say it again! Say you’re leaving!”
And she was in the room once more. She even heard herself crying for help, the word still on her lips. “please…” but of course that did no good, she was not there anymore, but here, in her little cell, away from the rain and the silver rays of the sun. For the first time in days she got to her feet. It was hard for her to stand after all that time and she was weak from hunger and despair. But for a moment she was outside, out in the real world and the real darkness, not that manufactured one given to her, and that reminded her of herself. For days she lay on that floor in a delirium, caught between timelessness and forgetfulness, and many times she drifted away, losing her identity and situation completely. But now she was back. Maybe that was a bad thing. She came close to the door, made of black steel, and put her hands on it. It was cold and had a metallic complexion. For her, even a new sensation was a kind of freedom and she reveled in it.
“Please!” the word sounded two or three times because of an echo, but no answer came.
“I have been here forever! Please, I’m sorry, let me get out of here! Please!”
“No.” a hoarse female voice replied.
“This is too much, I’m sorry, please…” the last word she said under her breath in a silent mumble, as though asking for providence to send her the aid she asked for.
“You have another two weeks in here. After, we’ll see.”
“I’ll die in here, I can’t stay here any longer, it’s killing me.”
“Quiet down now, this will not make things easier. You have been here for two weeks, and you have two weeks to go, that’s what happens when you make a mess of things.”
“Please, I need air, I need… to get out of this place.”
“It looks a bit somber, honey, yes, but believe me, after attacking that inmate, well, she’s dangerous that one, and it’s better for you to be in solitary.”
“I shouldn’t be here at all!”
“Yes, well that’s what they all say. You better lie down again, it’s not good for you, being on your feet too much.”
“Please, help me…”
“There’s nothing I can do, girl. This place, you brought on yourself. Just lie down and rest, that’s the best you can hope for. For some rest.”
“There is no rest. At least give me some clothes…”
“I’ll lose my job, I can’t.”
She cried for a while and talked to the woman, but she was not there anymore. She was alone.
After an hour of crying and pounding on the door and screaming for no one's benefit but her own, she fell exhausted on the floor and lay down. It only took a moment for her to fall back to sleep, and almost immediately she returned to the same dream, the same memories.
“Say it again!” he was holding her, and screaming, “Say it again! Say you’re leaving!”
“Yeah…” he began to drag her across the square. He took her behind the diner, where there was rain and darkness and trash, and he threw her on the ground. She was wet and the filthy cement was cold beneath her.
“So you’re leaving, I reckon…”
He jumped on top of her and grabbed her backside. “This belongs to me, so if you’re leaving, you aren’t taking that with you.” she began to cry, but he didn’t mind.
He began to touch her, to feel her. It was rhythmic and violent. And then it was done. He got up and she cried, but he didn’t even notice.
“Let me go, please, you did what you had to do, now please let me go.”
“Fine, keep your scrawny ass, it’s used now anyway and I don’t want it. But I still need you to do one thing for me.”
She cried and he spoke. He told her he needed money and she was going to get him what he needed. There was a seven eleven close by, and she would rob it. Then she would give him the money, and after, she would get the hell away from him, so he would never have to see her worthless ass. He grabbed onto her with one hand and with a vehement jerk got her to her feet. He walked her to the seven eleven and shoved a gun in her hand. He was so certain she was broken, that he didn’t fear handing her a loaded weapon. He was not wrong. As she came into the warm market, the light from behind the clouds shrouded her view as it fell near the entrance.
She came in and pointed the weapon on the clerk. He was young and ugly and had a very disdainful look on his face, even before he saw the gun.
“You little bitch, you get that thing away before I have to hurt you.” he was bald, or rather he shaved his hair, and it was clear that he was ruled by a mixture of adolescent angst and hate.
“The money. Just give me the money, I need to go, I need to start fresh…”
“I’m not giving you shit. What you gonma do? You little whore are going to shoot me? Get the fuck out of here right now or you’re dead!”
“What did you call me?”
“You’re a little whore! You have the nerve to come here and point a gun at me? You’re dead!”
He moved towards her, but was still at arm’s length.
“That’s right, you’re a stinkin’ little whore!” she didn’t even feel the recoil as she fired. It was like a dream, a bad dream, and the bullets didn’t feel real as they left the gun. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. She heard somewhere far away. He fell down. She didn’t even bother with the money, it wasn’t real, none of it could have been real, she was at home, dreaming, ready do get up and start anew, like the rest of it…
She went into the rain and again the silver light fell on her in the rain and the darkness. He was about to say something, but he didn’t get the chance. Still dreaming, still looking at herself from the outside in, her hand went up and again came a distant rumble. Bang, bang, bang, bang. She found that she was still squeezing the trigger, over and over again, but they were no more bullets. Marly fell on the wet cement with another distant thud, away from the soft light.
Then the light grew and changed and engulfed everything and her as well. The gun and the dead man by her feet, and the dark street sweaty with the dew of humidity, were all extinguished by the light. Then the light withered, leaving behind it something else, a world not of memory but of make-believe. This was the subversive way of dreamscapes, that they were not always one dimensional. In them you could see things that have come to pass, things that might come to pass, and things that never will. She loathed dreams, because for her the affluence of them only meant that there were more ways in which to make her confront her demons. Some would say that was a blessing, but they would be wrong. After all, a person could only take so much demons, before he became one himself.
The new world of the dream had a familiar scent to it. It was a small room, brown and old, but inviting even in its poorness and it smelled of roses and sweat. It reminded her of a room from her own childhood. She was sitting on a small bed, far too small for her to sleep in, and she was looking outside at the night and the rain. It was nice and warm in the room but the window was open and a nice breeze caressed her face. From time to time a bit of rain would come in, leaving a small puddle in the edge of the room. She felt a shiver in her lower back and then she realized that something was moving behind her, on the bed.
“Mommy, I can’t sleep.” It was a boy, very tiny, and he was covered with blankets. She was surprised to see him there.
“Yes, of course, I forgot about you.”
“What do you mean, mommy?”
“I thought that this was my room, you see. It was my room, I remember…”
“It is our room…” she looked about her and recognized a bigger bed in the other side of the room.
“You took my room, this was my room, not yours…” she was ruminative and a bit angry. At first she didn’t understand what it was, but then she realized it was the boy that made her angry.
“I’m sorry.” the boy clearly didn’t know what she was talking about, but he did detect her anger.
“Well, good for you, a lot of good that does me.”
“I… I can go…” the boy said, distressed.
“Yes, well, that won’t do any good now. So you just might as well stay.”
She looked away from the boy and at the pouring rain.
“Please don’t be angry, mommy…”
“Just be quiet.” She whispered, trying to remain calm.
“Just tell me what I did wrong, I would do anything-“
“Enough! There’s nothing you can do, unless you can wipe yourself from ever being. If you can become nothing, a vapor, a forgotten fart of mine rather than what you are, than go ahead, please be transformed in this way, that would make me proud. Do that or shut the fuck up.” she, the dreaming her rather than the dream her, felt the child’s distress and she cried to the woman, asked her to be humane, to be a mother, but she could not change anything.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” the boy whimpered and got off the bed, crawling under it. She remained sitting and looked at the rain, and beneath her, under the bed, she could hear the boy breathing and crying.
“It’s not your fault you’re such crap, that you are such a shit of a boy. It’s God. He hated me so he gave me you. I guess I should pity you, but I can’t. You’re too much of an embarrassment. I didn’t want to tell you the truth, but I’m very ashamed to have you as my son. I don’t owe you shit except this, except the truth. If you want me to lie, to tell you I love you, you better kill yourself right now because that would never happen.” she said it all quietly, in a matter of fact way. The boy stopped sobbing. She didn’t know what he was doing and she didn’t care. He was a tumor and how could you ever feel anything more than hatred for such a thing? To be the mother of a tumor, what a fate was written for her… after a few minutes of silence the boy got out from under the bed and crawled to the other side of the room. He stood by the window.
“Yes?” she said.
He said nothing and only reached out to her. She got up from the bed and turned away, so that her back was to him.
“If you have any backbone, if you’re any good, you will have the courage to do what you meant to do. Be a man.” After a few a seconds she turned and he was not there. Then she heard a distant thud. She smiled because she knew he was at least brave enough, and now the tumor had been removed.
Then, in a haze, she woke up. That thud still in her mind, the picture of that window still clear before her, she vomited almost immediately. She looked under her bed but there was no boy and no window.
Confused she sat back down, and she wished for death. If she would die and be reduced to nothing, a vapor, a thought in a person’s head later dismissed, she would be lucky, because the stink of that dream, that awful demon of a woman, would leave her.
When she was finally ready to die, when she let go of life completely, the door opened and light came. It was not soft but scorching.
“Relax, we have help coming!” until the guard from before held onto her she didn’t realize she was screaming. She was not aware of herself, but now she saw it, she was in pain, horrible pain. She clutched her abdomen and then reached down and felt a viscous substance. It was blood, and some of it had already clotted. How long had she been bleeding? Screaming? Long enough for that door to be opened. The guard put a robe on her and she was pushed onto a gurney. It moved and moved and now the blood was warm and gushing and she could feel herself drifting away, thinking that now the child she saw would be free of her, of the demon in her…
“You will be okay, it will be fine…”
She looked up and now there was a doctor beside her. He was examining her, but she could feel no pain. She didn't feel anything really.
“How far is she?” the doctor asked.
“Eight months.” The guard said.
“And the execution?”
“When she recovers.”
“She is giving birth now.”
“So in maybe a month.”
“I would think they would take away the needle in this kind of case.”
The guard snorted. “They made an example of it. Nothing delays justice, they said.”
“What did she do?”
“She killed two people. One of them raped her a few minutes before. It’s his baby.”
“She had a crap lawyer and an ambitious prosecutor. That is all it takes.”
The conversation didn’t interest her. She had heard it all before. Instead she found herself in some far away imagined place, and there she saw the dreams and the past, with all its promise, and the soft light and the fresh smell of freedom and the rain, but also the inevitable thud, the falling of the knife and the blades of time and fortune, that with sharp precision outlined the shape and contour of her misery, of her future. And further away, she found what had not yet come, the wild and nameless realms that were beyond the eye’s reach and the hand’s reach, the realms you couldn’t even know where there until you stumbled onto them. She looked into the darkness of that place, and she didn’t see the past, nor the future, but ahead of them, into death and into the bare wildness that came after life and after man and after all the particulars of being, and she could tell that it was close, that soon she would know how it was all like, the true and exact kind of dark, one yet more real than the one she had found by that diner. Then a ray of light came from the darkness, growing like a bud in the womb of a dead mother, and it ruptured through with great force, penetrating the cold with a warmth and brilliance that she never knew possible, and she wanted to scream, to cry, to leave her island and take in the light and find in it all the things she lacked, all the opportunities she missed for the benefit of the cold and the darkness, and she wanted it to last forever, that liberation. She opened her eyes and she looked at the world, and now, only days before the wild night caught up with her to show her the truth of the bud of buds of darkness, she found a light to keep her warm. Tears, she realized, crying, but not her own. And she knew that it was done. They handed her the baby and she cried too, tears of joy.
“What…” she uttered.
“A boy. It is a boy.” They said and she took him in her hands, her liberator, her light.
“He’s beautiful.” They said, and she knew it to be true. She brought beauty into the world, youth, a flower of meaning. She brought light into the darkness.
They would take her and hold her down by force, like that night in the diner, in that facsimile of darkness. And they would do their worst. She smiled. How pitiful. How pitiful it had all been. They were helpless, powerless to harm her. She had bought peace in this world and no amount of violence would ever change that. She looked at the bruises on her hands and than at her son, and she knew that she had been absolved, that she was given back the freedom she never had.
“You are loved in this world.” She told the boy, and looking at his miniscule body, his tiny hands, his big eyes, she knew she too was loved in this way.
When she was very young she ate God, and she drank him too. It tasted of sanctity and divinity. The priest looked at her through steady blue eyes, and smiled. Maybe it was kindness she saw in his eyes, but maybe it was something else, much more wriggly and sinister. He touched her softly and she didn't think much of it, for God was with her.
When she died, she was still a young woman, and she was a mother. She didn't smile when life left her, but she didn't cry either. Again and again she saw the priest's eyes, and she wondered.