illustrator Carolina Melis
She sat curled in her bathtub. Her knees pulled tight against her chest. The water in the bath was cooling slowly, lapping at her flesh. She hadn’t moved for an hour except to breathe. But even that was a shallow, shadow movement. It was harder for her to breathe now that she could feel his poison running through her veins. Corrupting her organs. Making her shake and tremble. Causing moats to form around her blank eyes.
Even in her imagination the damage he’d done could not be reversed. She screamed at him. She threw the perfect insults that made him break inside and crumble before her. But even in her mind she still cried.
She had always wanted a boy. A gorgeous, curly haired boy with dark eyes, so deep you could swim in them. A sweet little cherub, with an eerie knowing smile that would thrill her. She would have watched him explore in the garden, with a little bubble of joy pressing against her chest. Pressing and pressing until she would have exclaimed: “I have never been happier.”
Black tiles replaced her small child. She was back in the bathroom. The water (cold now) shackled her ankles. Glued her feet to the bottom of the bath. All she could see was black tiles. Black tiles and no boys playing in gardens, making her smile. No boys ever. She would have no boys. Just black tiles indifferent to sobs.
He was one of those quiet, pondering types. With eyes that could show a multitude of emotions with one measured glance. He filled out Ralph Lauren Polo shirts so that the collars brushed the nape of his neck perfectly. She was constantly battling this pulsating, exploding feeling of desire and adoration when she was around him. His long voice, which he interjected smiles into, made her bite the tender inner flesh of her cheek to stop from crying out. The way he smiled softly at her in the mornings, while playing with her hair, were her favorite times. They didn’t need words. It was more than words. Or at least that’s what she told herself.
He was struggling for words right now. His lips smacked together loudly as he failed once again to string together a sentence. She could see a small sheen of sweat appearing above his furrowed brow. The dim light of her bedroom reflected off it. Her heartbeat was running above normal. Things were not progressing the usual way things did when he visited her.
Normally they would watch a movie (after a short, light-hearted debate over which film would suit the mood of the night). They would sit together on the lounge, she curled into his embrace. Depending on whether anyone was there, they would make out a little. Gentle sips at parted lips. He would let his hand skirt over the tops of her jeans and play a little with the exposed rises of her breasts. Then they would go to her room and let their bottled lust crash out into the open. They would sleep, or rather, he would sleep. She would watch his languidly twisted figure, his head turned half into the pillow. He would make soft sucking noises at regular intervals. In the morning he would smile softly at her, through heavy lidded eyes.
Tonight he announced his presence with a short, heavy knock at her door. As she made her way to the door, that she had left unlocked, she wondered why he hadn’t simply entered as he usually did. He would sneak quietly in, creeping up behind her and pinching her waist. She would squeal, jumping enough so that her scent would fly off her shoulders and up his nostrils. Frangipani body wash and spearmint. She answered the door with a quizzical look. He looked past her into the house, lit by candles, bit his lower lip and said, “We need to talk.”
He stumbled over the thoughts in his head for a long, pregnant moment. Flaming her fear with his gasps and short twisted attempts at explanation. She felt she might explode with her need to know what he had done. What had he done? Finally he shook his head saying, “I have done a bad thing.” His face contorted grotesquely with the weight of his secret. She let her lashes rest upon her cheeks, fluttering like tired butterflies. “What have you done?”
He looked at her steadily. She shivered and laced her delicate hands together on her lap. His cheeks were flushed, a lone sweat bead trekked its way from his temple to his jaw. She followed it as the silence grew. His voice cracked with shame as he began his story.
It had begun just after they met. After their first night together. He believed, as with all the women he slept with, that it would be the last time. For some reason, for some inexplicable reason, his fingers started to itch to touch her hair and press against her flesh. This raging desire for her body consumed him, even as he shuffled reports in his office, when he brushed his hair and unlocked his car. He became like an animal, eyes blazing for anything that would satisfy this need in him. Like the doe eyed receptionist, his neighbor with the birthmark on her cheek, even those who stood on corners in their fishnet stockings and leering, painted smiles.
One in particular, with ratty fishnets, led him up a set of filthy stairs, into an equally filthy room. She sat him on the bed. It squeaked in protest. Her fingernails were chipped, chewed and layered with grime. He let his mouth twist with revulsion, but could not bring himself to leave. The girl, for she was a girl, began to peel off her stockings. They were littered with holes and he watched silently as they kept catching on her toes as she tried to yank them off. Systematically, she continued to undress, her lips pressed so tight they were one line. He felt sick. He felt so sick. Her hair was dirty and knotted: she hadn’t had time to brush it in between customers. He reached out and laid his hand on the girl’s bare shoulder. She threw her head up like a startled kangaroo, fear trickling slowly into her grey eyes.
“You can’t hit me, you go get Karen for that,” she said quickly. Jerking her shoulder a little under his touch.
“I don’t want to hit you,” he replied, pitying whoever Karen was. “I don’t want to sleep with you either.” The girl let out a soft, but outraged sigh.
“What do you mean?” she said.
“No, no. I just want to talk, to just sit and talk,” he gushed. The girl drew back from him and narrowed her eyes suspiciously.
“And still pay?” she asked.
He nodded, taking the required money from his wallet. The girl snatched it from his hand and took it quickly over to a small tin pressed into the corner. She crooned a little as she placed the clean bills onto a stack of dirty ones. Crouched in the corner, she turned her painted grey eyes over to his awkwardly seated body. A small smile crept across her face.
“You want to have some real fun?” In her hand she held a packet filled with powder. She shook it playfully and giggled. He had smoked pot when he was in school, like everybody did. Feeling devious in the skate park. But this was new to him. He declined politely, and watched as she pulled out a little kit from underneath her sagging bed. He watched as she pursed her lips and pressed the needle into her arm. He hadn’t noticed before: the train track of red marks down her arms. He watched as her eyes turned silver and rolled a little around in their sockets. He watched as she gasped and sighed and laughed at wonders he couldn’t see. He watched as she seemed to escape all the horrible things in her life, the needle dropped to the floor. He also wanted to escape. To escape this desire for a woman he would never see again. So he then asked her to take him with her.
She gave him a huge grin, a comical grin that showed all her teeth. “You won’t regret this man. This will change your world, seriously.” His stomach bubbled with apprehension as she scooped the needle up from the floor and prepared it for his arm. The girl screamed with laughter as she plunged it into his vein, her eyes still rolling to her own trip. He felt his arm inflame, his vision blurring. The girl kept laughing, slowly winding down to a monotone chuckle. She sat watching him as he writhed on the floor of her tiny, filthy room.
He was in heaven.
Then he met her again. At a mutual friend’s gathering. She sat beside him with a contented sigh. She lifted her hair from her heated shoulders (golden brown, she had been tanning daily) and let the damp strands slip languidly through her fingers. Her scent wafting over to him. Frangipani and spearmint. She smiled at him, tilting her crossed legs so that they pressed against his side.
“We should catch up sometime soon,” she said. Her eyes liquid.
He felt his body quiver, as it awoke with the memory of her sweet, soft skin. He nodded enthusiastically and asked her if she wanted another drink. She locked him in her gaze, raising her nearly empty wine glass to her lips.
“That would be divine,” she said, letting her tongue roll slowly around the word divine. He fetched another drink, body shaking. He couldn’t tell if the shakes were from this glowing creature seated in front of him, with her hand resting gently on his forearm, or whether he was shaking from the newest red mark on his arm. He was still being carried by the glorious substance he and the girl with filthy stockings had shared (and he had paid for) that afternoon.
Every Saturday he’d gone to visit the jaded girl and her trusty needle. This past Saturday he skipped heartily up the streaked stairs to find the girl and find his heaven, and instead found a body. He had never seen a dead body before. Dead animals yes, but not a dead human, not a dead girl he had gone to other worlds with. Not a dead girl with fishnet stockings. The girl was twisted in her solitary bed sheet. It was tangled around her pale thighs and clenched in bundles by her fists. The girl had a look of half pain on her face, as if she had died in agony, but the time passed since her death had melted a little of the pain from her skin. The girl was grey, the colour sat on the surface of her skin, like the paint she had used to attract sleazy men driving past slowly in their cars. The red marks on her arms were vivid. They were almost raised welts. They were the only thing that seemed remotely alive, in the shallow, empty shell of the girl. The girl’s bed was surrounded by a group of three. They turned to stare at him as he shuffled uneasily from foot to foot.
“Who the fuck are you,” spat one of them, an androgynous being, shrouded in layers of patched clothing and a head of tangled dreads. The dread guy’s voice made him shiver, like fingernails scratching down a board, but instead of a board it was his throat.
“I, I came to…” he stuttered, under the intense gaze of the others.
“Angel’s not really in a fit state to screw you, in case you didn’t get that ey,” said another of the group. This one looked a little better off, with leather shoes. Probably the pimp, he surmised. Angel. That was the girl’s name. He had never known. The trio continued talking about Angel as if he wasn’t there. A barely dressed woman was arguing with the other two.
“It wasn’t no overdose, I’m telling ya, she got some disease.” The pimp rolled his eyes.
“Oh yeh? Oh Yeh Misty? From what? Eating crap? Huh?” Misty flicked her colored hair over her shoulders.
“Sharing needles. That’s why she’s dead. It real common now ey, and Angel shared with everyone, you know what she was like.”
The pimp nodded his head thoughtfully, while the dread person pulled Angel’s head forward by a handful of her hair. He stood in the doorway, a whole new shake coming over him.
“Sharing needles?” he said quietly, hearing the words echo in his mind as he remembered all the times Angel had passed the needle to him, fresh with blood from her arm.
Misty, the Pimp and the dreads person all looked at him in surprise. “What the fuck are you still doing here?” the pimp demanded.
But he was already bounding down the dirty stairs and onto the busy street, his hands rubbing the red prick marks on his arms. Rubbing furiously, as if he could erase them if he tried hard enough.
The doctor had made tsking noises as he sat behind his golden nameplate. The doctor raised his eyes slowly enough to be considered ominous. “This is worse and more dangerous than AIDS, are you sleeping with anyone else? They will be infected as well.”
She sobbed at the word AIDS. She crumpled like a paper doll onto the bed. He tried to comfort her, with his spider fingers trying to pull her into an embrace. She bit at him. She had, through the flood of tears blinding her, abused him with every word available in her vocabulary. Until she couldn’t speak. So she just screamed. At him. Into her hands. To the ceiling. He retreated to the corner of her room, flinching as she threw whatever object she could find at him. He pressed his body into the corner, praying it would swallow him.
“So you’re saying I can never have children?” she whispered fiercely. He raised his head, from his hiding place in the corner. He raised his hands slowly out to her, as if to comfort her again. They hovered, trembling in the air for a moment. She burned him with her eyes. He lowered his hands, dejectedly.
“I am sorry,” he said. “I am so sorry.”
She was cold in the bath now. Cold but for his poison running underneath her dripping skin. The bathroom was black. All she could see were black tiles. And no children. No children grabbing at her legs while she tried to make dinner. Just tiles. Black tiles. And his poison.