Monday, February 28, 2011
by Stephen D. Rogers
On the corner of Main and Church, I finally caught sight of
the man who raped and left me for dead.
The fact that he didn't recognize me as I strolled the night air towards him came
as no surprise. Years had gone by since that night, and the trauma of the event
had been sufficient to change me forever. Even I wasn't so sure I recognized myself.
Before being attacked, I never would have prescribed revenge as a healing process
and yet I had so self-medicated. I'd thought about him every single day,
and every single day I planned what I'd do when I finally found him.
And then I did find him, pausing two feet away on the corner of Church and Main.
I licked my lips. "Looking for a friend?"
"I don't think so."
My nose never healed right, and no amount of cover concealed the damage he'd done.
"Nobody says you have to keep your eyes open."
He chortled, taking me in with one slow rake. "I'm not sure I know what you mean."
"Sex for money." I rippled my body. "Name your flavor and I'll name a price."
He nodded. "Can't get much plainer than that.
"Or safer. I have a room if you're willing to pay."
A smile. "I'm sure that can be arranged."
I smiled back. "Then why don't you follow me? We can work out the details once
I turned and started walking before he could answer.
I'd seen the hunger battling arrogance in his eyes. He wasn't about to decline.
No, he would follow me wherever I led him, and where I led him was through the
dark alley between the empty warehouse and the office building closed for hours.
I led him into the trap that I entered as though unaware of the danger.
As was he.
The streetlights didn't quite penetrate and nobody who owned either building
had bothered with surveillance cameras. We were alone and likely to remain that way.
He placed a hand on my shoulder.
I spun as if I couldn't wait to be near him. "Or we could just save the price
of a room."
"Is that what you want?"
"I want whatever you want."
"Good." He backhanded me, his ring tearing my cheek as the blow sent me reeling
but not to the ground. "You think I don't know you but I do. You're a bad girl who
wants to be punished."
My momentary panic retreated as I recognized the words that inflamed him as words,
He slammed me against the brick wall, and I failed to get my arms up in time
to keep from hitting the rough surface.
"Your body aches with the desire to be hit by me. You're wet with anticipation of
being taught a lesson. I am your master and teacher."
I rolled against the wall in order to face him.
He backhanded me a second time. A second time he gouged and tore.
I reached for the knife I'd kept warm with my flesh all these years.
"You are my teacher and this is what I've been taught." I moved towards him with
hunger and arrogance as I swung my hand up and under, the knife piercing
skin and organ and stopping only when hitting bone.
He screamed, and I twisted. Withdrew and plunged into him again and again.
I'd been a medical tech when he attacked me. No more. I'd been involved
with someone who had the potential to become my spouse. No more. I'd been happy.
He dropped to his knees, wrenching the knife from my hand.
Falling forward, he grabbed my legs for support.
I felt his warm blood drench me. I leaned over so he could hear me over his
blubbering. "You taught me that --"
He slumped to the ground, dead or near enough.
I stepped away from him and waited for him to stop breathing.
Eventually, he did.
I raised my hand to the ragged tears on my cheek, unaware that they would never
heal properly. For all that it matters.
I've lived longer avenged than I did seeking revenge and that ratio will
only increase in time. I still think about what he did to me.
I still think about what I did to him.
Not a day goes by that I don't picture him dying at my feet.
I really don't mind the scars.
I have to say these are excellent if hair-raising stories. But whose fault is that? I didn't read one that wasn't terrific.
Veronia Marie Louise Shaw
R. L. Kelstrom
A LOU FORD STATE OF MIND - CHRISTOPHER GRANT
"I don't mind the scars." Those were the first words she said to me after I
had rolled off of her and lit a cigarette.
Her name was Petra. She was originally from Russia and her accent was still
there, though you could tell she had tried to get rid of it in the worst
I propped myself up, slid the back of my hand down her spine. Ridges of
roughness mingled with silky smoothness.
"How'd you get them?" I asked her in a low voice, as if they could hear my
"Men," Petra said.
"What kind of men would do that to an angel like you?" I admit that I was
coming on a bit thick. Petra was a whore, pure and simple, and definitely no
angel, as she'd just gotten done proving in spades.
"Men like you, maybe," she said, a smile twitching and then breaking wide
open. Her teeth were some of the whitest I'd ever seen. I really wish she had
just kept her mouth shut.
"Men like me, huh?" I asked and smoked my cigarette. "What's that s'posed
Petra didn't answered and instead got up and went into the bathroom. I
could hear her peeing in there and then the flush of the toilet. She came out a
minute later, had on a black robe.
"I shouldn't ask," she said, "but..."
She slid her thumb against her forefinger, the international language for
We'd worked an arrangement out. I "visited" Tuesday and Friday and
sometimes I gave her money and sometimes I gave her a break. See, I could easily
haul her in for prostitution if that's what my heart decided on doing. But
Petra's such a nice girl, such a nice lay, really, no two ways about it, that I
give her whatever my heart feels like giving her.
"What about the three hundred I gave you last week?" I asked, putting the
cigarette out in the ashtray on the bed stand. I hastily lit another one.
Chain-smoking. Nasty fucking habit.
"I spent it," she said. The way she said it, I knew she was lying.
"Spent it, huh?"
She nodded and smiled again. I wish she hadn't done that.
I can't recall what I did first. But I do know that, at some point, the
cigarette got put out and I know that I found a used condom and some extremely
white teeth in my jacket pocket the next morning.
I also remember reading a couple days later about a whore named Petra being
beaten into a coma by an unknown assailant and how there had been no
fingerprints left at the scene. The story also mentioned an ashtray full of
cigarette butts that the police were testing for DNA.
"Knew I forgot something."
Carole figured she’d been okay if it weren’t for the red cowboy boots.
Those boots and the paramedics job. When she ran off with Tommy, Mama carried on like the world had come to an end, but none of it held a candle to the squawking when Carrie-Jo changed her name and started E.M.T. school.
“I don’t like it Carrie-Jo, these big city ideas in your head. Mark my words, somethin’ bad’s fixin'
t’ happen. I feel it in my bones.”
“Dammit all,” Carole cursed. She hated it when the old woman proved right.
The trouble started with a call from the Onyx Club, a dive out Highway 99. Middle age male, looks like a heart attack. Trotting through the office, her shift partner, Slim, grabs a jelly donut from the pink cardboard box, mumbles over his shoulder, “My turn to drive.” By then,
they’re outside and Carole’s reply is lost in the sharp wind.
“Should a’ just helped myself to a stale donut, called it good. But noooo,” Carole
grumbles, attracting wary looks. “I would a’ been fine,” she says to no one in particular, “should a’ been fine.”
Over and over, the scene pounds away, crowding her mind. Tires on gravel, ozonestink as drops of rain begin to fall, the neon beer sign flickering in the fly specked window. Her face takes on a dreamy look.
“I swear, that man was Brad Pitt handsome and twice as sexy.”
A woman wearing tattoos on both arms nudges her friend, a fine boned strawberry-blonde, and with the hope of hearing some good lies they migrate closer.
“Slim always fancied himself a super-hero, you know? This time I’m happy
to let him cut me off and rush the guy on the floor. Any idiot could see he’d just
passed out drunk. Meanwhile, the longest legs I’ve ever seen unwound themselves from one
of those ‘50’sbarstools and this slow smilin’ cowboy moseys over. Starts askin’ about
my job, what’s it like to be in on life and death situations, stuff like that. I check him
out, white shirt,starched and expensive, and the tightest blue jeans you ever seen.”
Carole stops and traces the angry scars on her cheek. “He’s wearin’ these killer red cowboy boots, engraved silver toe and heel. Must a’ cost a fortune. Asks what time my shift ends. Then that pretty man says to come back later, he’ll buy me a beer.”
Lost in thought, she glares into space before continuing. “Yeah, well, I go back all right. It’s rainin’ cats and dogs, I get soaked runnin’ from the car. It’s midnight when I walk back into the Onyx Club, ever’ one of those old coots starin’ at me like they knowsomethin’. Do I pay them any attention? Do I hell.”
The three women share a crushed cigarette and ponder life for a long moment.
“It hadn’t been for those damn red boots, I’d a’ been fine, ya know? That man’s all
over me, ‘Here baby let me warm you up’.” Carole looks at the other two.
“Swear, those lines came from some bad country music he found under the sofa. This
goes on two weeks straight, I’m meetin’ him after work, and he’s sweet-talkin’ me
all the while. I’m even thinkin’ about givin’ up that dead-end job. I’m beginin’ to trust
him, know what I mean?”
As if they know exactly what she means, the women shuffle their feet and
murmur before handing the cigarette around again.
“We aren’t even slow dancin’ when the door busts open and this woman piles through like a Mack truck gone out a’ control. It’s dead quiet, all eyes on us. The bottle- blonde hefts a big ol’ ugly lug wrench and she’s chargin straight at me. What’m I s’posed to do?”
Her friends nod in mute agreement, eyes stark with unspoken words. “So here’s this crazy gal raisin’ a lethal weapon at me. ‘I grab it away from her, and next thing, she’s clawin’ at my face.”
Carole stops for a minute, brings a hand to her cheek. “I really don’t mind the scars. On the other hand, if I hadn’t been holdin’ that greasy ol’ hunk a’ metal, when I swung away from her and saw the smirk on his face, I might not a’ thought to clobber the two-timin’ louse into
She gazes down at the paper slippers, rises and wanders over to stare through bars at the bright sunshine outside. “Fifteen to twenty.”
Cigarette ash lengthens and tumbles to the floor while the two women hold their breath, waiting for what comes next. A grin spreads over Carole’s face, and she laughs.
“Tell you what, I had it t’ do over, I wouldn’t change a damn thing.”
Michel, February 2011
Burnt the Fire
By Patricia Abbott
“Coming out with us tonight, Pearl?’ Sam asked hesitantly, poking his head inside her trailer.
He caught just a glimpse of her in the faint moonlight before the gauzy curtains blew inward, obscuring her. The candle on her dressing table shivered, but she cupped it in time. Her hand looked unusually white, but then he realized she was wearing gloves.
How long had it been since he’d seen her without special makeup, long-sleeved blouses, covered legs, and large veiled hats. He blamed himself for what happened last week. It’d been he who found Ray in Miami and brought them together. Ray wasn’t like the others; he had a hair-trigger temper and acted on it. But Pearl liked his volatility, insisting it complimented her more docile manner.
“I don’t have the heart for goin’ out tonight, Sammy. But tell the gang to have one on me.” She reached for her handbag, but he waved it away.
“Come out with us for a little while. Raise the glass.”
Her gloved hand rose and fell in a mock cheer.
“Let me see that mitt,” he said, his voice shaking. “Let me see all of you for once.”
“It’s just between Ray and me.”
“You shouldn’t be defending him.” Bile rose in his throat.
“We had a lotta good years. A few bad times can’t change that.” She looked around for signs of it, reminders of Ray, but someone—Sam, perhaps—had cleared all his things away.
“Showing me what he did might help. When did we ever keep the bad stuff from each other?”
“Maybe tomorrow—when I’m feeling better. I’ll get dolled up and we’ll walk the boards. Ride the Ferris wheel. After dark—when it’s magical.”
“Not foolin’ me. You ain't been out in the sunlight in years, Pearlie.”
She laughed, lighting her gas lamp. “Some people say too much sun ain’t so good for you. All those bathing beauties letting their faces burn.” She shook her head. “I’ve never liked the sun.”
“You’ll always be beautiful to me.”
She reached out to pat his cheek, but the distance was too great. An imaginary line separated them—a line that kept her in the shadows.
They listened as their friends began to assemble outside her door. “Are you two comin?’” someone yelled.
“Go ahead with ‘em, Sam. I got things I need to do.”
“You’re putting salve on those wounds, right? You don’t want more scars.”
“I don’t really mind the scars. They’re my war wounds.”
Sam stepped outside and closed the door behind him, and it was only then that she raised the light on her lamp and stripped down to her naked fifty-year old body, still as slim as on her eighteenth birthday. But there the resemblance ended in a frightening show of ruined flesh.
Ray, and the ones that came before him, had made a mess of her all right. The older scars resembled tattoos. Raised tattoos where flesh had been sewn back together inexpertly: sometimes by her own hand, sometimes by a nearby surgeon. Once, when there was no one else, by poor Sam. But never like this. She was raw meat.
Ray had gone crazy in Iowa City last week. It wasn’t really his fault—this time. She’d slipped on the mud brought on by a week’s worth of rain and fallen on top of him in the ring. In a rage, he almost ripped off her leg, lacerated her in a dozen places, nearly tore her left eyelid off.
He’d been shot on the spot. A man in a straw hat stood up in the bleachers, let out a roar to rival Ray’s, and fired the gun. She’d hear the screech of that bullet from some faraway place where the pain had taken her. Their ten years together came to an end in an instant as Ray slumped to the muddy earth. The crowd cheered, then booed, and then a low keening began. It was her as she looked at her cat. The last tiger she’d ever have. The last cat that would share her trailer, the ring, her life.
The one possession of Ray’s she's salvaged was his pearl-studded collar, which she put around her waist. Reaching out, she flung the gas lamp over and threw the candle into the now still curtains. In seconds, fire rushed across the small room.
She didn’t mind it when the fire began to nip at her. Ray had prepared her well.
“I really don’t mind the scars,” he said.
“Really?” she said.
She was lying on a twin bed, naked, hands overhead. Full breasts heavy at her sides. Raised scars riddled her body; straight, curved, zigzag. Her skin a matrix of contorted anguish.
He sat on the edge of the bed, caressed her cheek.
The room was dim, a single candle flickering on a nearby shelf, scented of vanilla. The room doubled as an art studio, an easel in the corner, a large canvas leaning on the wall, some half sculpted clay forms on the floor.
“But,” she said. “But most men would run. Most men would run and hide when they saw it. Them.”
“Yes, well.” He fingered the arc of her eyebrow. “I love you like no other. I love what’s inside. Deep. Where scars go unseen.”
“Most men,” she said. “They seek perfection. Adore perfection. Flawless bodies. No scarring. Not even a blemish.”
“Not me,” he said. “I’m different. I’m not like others.”
“I know it,” she said. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too.”
“And then some.”
“What about you?” he said. “Do you mind the scars?”
She was naked in the bed. He knelt at her side, as if to pray. He brushed a fingertip along the carved groove of a scar that ran from umbilicus to pubic bone. His touch a wispy breeze.
“No, I don’t mind.”
“I embrace them,” she said.
“Knowing how I got them.”
“Tell me how you got them.”
“You know,” she said.
“Don’t make me say it.”
"Do you mind the scars now?” he said.
“No,” she said.
“Even the new one?” He fingered a ragged scar that snaked from armpit, rounding the supple curve of breast, fading at areola.
“I treasure that one the very most.”
“Why?” he said.
“How I got it.”
“It really is wonderfully beautiful.”
“You are wonderful,” she said. “I love you.”
“I’m so very glad.”
“Tell me,” he said.
“Tell you what?” she said.
“That you love me,” he said. “That you don’t mind the scars.”
“I really don’t mind the scars,” she said.
“And I love you.”
“Really?” he said.
“I’m not sure I believe you.”
“What do you think?” he said.
“Of what?” she said.
“The new one.”
She was on her back. Naked. He knelt at her side. The moist tip of his tongue slid along a scar that traversed her abdomen.
“I love it,” she said. “Like all the others.”
“You love it?” He stopped, lifted his head. “Me too. It looks like a smile.”
“Yes. It does.”
His finger danced the line of mottled skin. “But do you love me?”
“Yes,” she said. “I do love you.”
He pressed his nose to flank and inhaled deeply, turned his head, met her eyes. “Liar.”
“Where do you want this one?” he said.
“Please don’t,” she said.
She was naked on her back. He stood at her side. The metallic glimmer.
“Where do you want it?”
“I don’t know,” she said. “Wherever you prefer.”
“You don’t care?”
“I want to die.”
“Don’t ever say that.”
“I do, though.”
“Don’t say that.” He sat. Leaned, kissed her cheek. “Don’t you care about me?”
“Don’t you love me?”
“Please don’t,” she said. The sound of a chain jingling at wrist. “That hurts.”
“Just tell me you love me.”
“I love you.”
“Is that where you want it?”
After a moment, “Yes.”
“How many will this make?” he said.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Where do you want this one?”
“Please let me go.”
“Where do you want it?”
“I want to go home,” she said. “Free my hands. Please, dear God.”
She was naked on her back.
“I can’t,” he said. Caressed her face.
“When I’m sure you love me.”
“I do love you.”
A glint of metal.
“I don’t believe you,” he said.
“Please,” she said. “Please please please.”
“Tell you what?”
“That you love me.”
“I love you,” she said.
“Please. Oh, Jesus, please.”
“I’m not like the others,” he said. “How many men possess such artistic prowess? Like Rodin. My little Camille Claudel.”
“You are special,” she said. “So so special. I know it.”
“I love you immensely,” he said. “How many men would adore the scars?”
“None. I love you. I do. I do. I do. Oh God, I do.”
“Tell me again.”
Trophies by Liam Sweeny
They were in his office, long after hours. If anyone at the clinic knew he was having an affair with his patient, he'd be out of a profession. His rise to become a therapist sat atop a heap of bills, and private practice was a whole new summit of loans away. He never meant to fall for Kimmy. She was a sixteen year-old prostitute with borderline personality. She'd had such a troubled life, his reassuring voice, the sense of security he exuded, made her feel love. His libido, maybe his egotism, made him feel lust. But she'd attached too quickly, and he couldn't risk hurting her. She was a cutter, releasing her emotional anguish with a buck knife. She was a worse case; facial scarring. She had five pronounced scars across her face. If her body hadn't compensated, he wouldn't have fallen for her. But the maintenance guys were talking, and he'd just told her, as gently as possible, that they had to return to a "therapeutic" relationship. She had to be told what that meant.
"Therapeutic..." Kimmy said listlessly.
"Yes, therapeutic... the way we were before we became... intimate."
"But we were intimate the whole time I've been coming here." She said.
"I mean, not sexual."
Kimmy stood up. She looked out the window. "But... I thought you loved me!"
Dr. Jameson shifted in his seat. The consequences he threw to the wind when he first touched her knee, sliding his hand up her thigh as his words, so gentle, lulled her into the calm he needed to make her feel it was right; he was right. All the consequences – the loss of his license, his marriage, the prospect of helping rapists deal with their inner children in a maximum security prison were lost in the vigor of her youth. He wasn’t thinking of Kimmy’s health; he’d done it to enough unstable patients, and it would come down to his word against theirs. He had an allegation once, but he sweet-talked the stupid cops with words like “transference” and “obsessive-compulsive disorder,” “borderline personality” – He was not bothered again. He knew how to be subtle… So far.
"I do love you," Dr. Jameson said. "but it went too far. We need to rewind..."
"You mean pretend it never happened!?" Kimmy was starting to shout. She began to scratch her face.
Kimmy pulled out a knife. It was a small, three inch buck knife. She slid the side along her lips.
"Put that down, Kimmy. Please." Dr. Jameson said as he got up. "This is not the answer..."
"So what is, Jack? I just accept one more man manipulating me for sex? Just walk out the door without showing you what it does to me?"
"I really don't mind the scars." She said. "You must have been too busy trying to get in my pants, you never asked me why I did it."
"You're a cutter, Kimmy. I did my dissertation on cutters."
She headed for the door. Jack wanted to stop her, but he thought it might be in his own interest if she left. His freedom itself might be on the line.
She walked over to the door.
"You won't have to worry about me anymore." Kimmy said.
She grabbed the door... and locked it. Then she turned the knife on Jack.
"You thought I was a cutter. But, even though you've seen every square inch of me naked, you've only seen five scars. Did that strike you as odd?"
"Kimmy, what are you-," His words were halted by the searing pain in his gut as Kimmy stuck the knife in just above his belt-buckle. Blood gushed out, staining her hand, his pant, the floor, and he felt faint, powerless against this little girl.
She sliced him up to the sternum, unzipping his pants with her other hand and pulled the knife out. His pathetic attempts at a struggle amounted to keeping his entrails inside his body. She was careful not to pierce his lungs. She'd let him bleed out. She waited until the maintenance people left for a reason.
"I'm not a cutter, Jack."
She wiped the blood off her knife and started to slice her left cheek. She held up the cloth to catch her own blood.
"The scars; no, I don't mind them," she said as Jack bubbled blood from his lips, slumped in the corner of his office.
"They're not repressed pain." She said. "They're trophies. Every time I give an abuser what's coming to him, I give myself a trophy I'll never forget."
“I really don’t mind the scars. Really.
“Just get the bandages off my face, Doc. But, take it easy. I don’t want the incisions to open up again, and start bleeding all over the place, like they did th
e last time. I wouldn’t want to see your delicate hands and nice white lab coat turning red, would you? Ha…ha…ha…I didn’t think so.
“All right, relax, relax…just stop shaking…you’re making me nervous. Besides, this isn’t The Twilight Zone and Rod Serling isn’t going to walk through that doorway to scare us with one of his science fiction stories. To tell you the truth, I’m kind of nervous myself. Harry, don’t just stand there in the corner like a wet poodle shivering in the rain, give me a cigar. I need a smoke, something before the bandages come off.
“Hey, where are you going, Doc.? To call your pretty little wife and to tell her you’re going to be working late tonight? Fine…fine, but make it fast!
“Thanks, Harry. You can return to your corner now. I’ll call you if and when I need you.
“Joey! What are you looking at? Even through these bandages, I can feel your beady eyes staring at me from across the room. The Doc hadn’t even taken them off yet. You won’t recognize me, anymore. No one will recognize me, anymore…not even my own mother. Ha…ha…ha. She always said I had an ugly mug…well, now that’s all been changed. Everything’s different now, thanks to the Doc.
“All right, all right, Doc, you’re back. Yes, I’ll get rid of the cigar. Here, Harry, take the cigar and save it. I’ll finish it later while I strolling around town under the watchful eyes of the police, with them looking right into my mug, and not one of them recognizing me.
“My girl won’t even recognize me. I haven’t seen her in six months. Six long months! I can’t wait to walk up to her apartment on the upper west side, ring her bell, and watch the reaction on her face when she opens the door and I say, ‘Hello, doll. Why don’t we step out and paint the town red?’ Isn’t that what they say in the movies? We’ll drink champagne and dance all night at the Waldorf Astoria. I feel like celebrating.
“All right…all right, Doc, maybe in a week or two. But, I feel like a new man, a new man with a new face, a new identify, a new start on life. In a way, I’ve become the invisible man. People will stare at my face and look right through me. It’ll be as if Louie Dee doesn’t even exist.
“What did you say, Joey? You said that I’m the same old Louie…the same old Louie that took you out from the gutter and gave you a reputation to be proud of, a name that’s feared by the authorities? Your pictures are now decorating the walls of post office lobbies from sea to shiny sea. You guys are famous! You can’t walk the streets without someone recognizing you and snitching to the police.
“But, I’m free, now…free to roam this great, big land, to go where I please – New York, Miami, San Francisco, Chicago – to enter any restaurant, bar, or lounge, without having to look over my shoulder.
“Ah…what do you guys know? I’m disgusted. All any of you know is how to rob little old ladies, candy stores, bodegas, and gas stations. You guys were nothing but petty thieves until I came along. That was your lucky day, and you know it.
“All right, Doc. I’ve done enough talking. Now come over here and remove these bandages. That’s it, come over here, pick up those scissors, and snip away…that’s it, snip, snip, snip, nice and easy. Grab a whole of yourself, Doc, and stop shaking. You’re making me nervous. All right, calm down and steady your hand a little, before you gouge out one of my eyes or snip off one of my ears. Give him a drink to steady his nervous, Harry. All right, now, continue, and don’t mess it up.
“We’ve been pals for a long time, Doc, ever since we met on the lower east side at that reform school. Ha…ha…ha…. You’ve done pretty well for yourself. You have a pretty wife, a nice office in an upscale neighborhood. You’re probably wondering how I found you after all these years. Well, I’m resourceful and that’s all you need to know.
“All right, you know what to do. Take it easy and start at the bottom and work you way up, slowly and gently. That’s it…easy…easy…easy, dunderhead! I’m not some petrified mummy that’s been buried for thousands of years in some pyramid in the desert of North Africa.
“All right, I’m sorry I yelled at you, Doc. Just continue and take it easy around the proboscis…ah…now I can breath, thank God for fresh air. Can you believe it? I’m getting high on oxygen.
“All right, now for the eyes – carefully, slowly. Turn off that freaking floodlight. What do you want to do blind me? Oh, the light! The light! It’s bright! Too, damn bright! It’s all right…it’s all right, now…I can see…I can see clearly…I can see your mug, Doc, and you’re still ugly. Ha…ha…ha. I was just joking.
“Now remove the rest of the bandages from around my head…that’s it. Ah….
“Joey! What are you looking at? Haven’t you ever seen a new face before? Doc, give me a mirror…a mirror…a mirror…quick!
“Not bad…not bad, at all, Doc. You can relax, now. You did all right, if I do say so myself.
“Who do I look like, Harry? Do I look like a movie star? How about Robert Redford? All the girls were crazy over Robert Redford. Remember him in Barefoot in the Park? How about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? He was the Sundance Kid, right? Or how about Dustin Hoffman, when he played Benjamin in The Graduate? Do you think Mrs. Robinson will invite me to her bedroom and try to seduce me? Ah, forget it.
“All right, Doc. You did well. Thank you. I feel great…I feel like a new man, a man who has finally been released from prison and can now walk the streets of the world with my head up high. And, I owe it all to you, my old pal, and to your skill as a cosmetic surgeon.
“Harry, Joey and I’ll be leaving you now. That’s right, we’re leaving. I can’t stay any longer. Someone might have seen us slipping into your office and might have called the police.
“There’s just one problem, one loose end that has to be tied off. That’s right, you’re the loose end, Doc. Besides Harry and Joey – whom I trust, unequivocally, you’re the only one who knows my true identity.
“What am I reaching for inside my pocket? It’s nothing of importance. Don’t worry about it. Don’t even look at what I’m doing. Don’t even look at the steel blue barrel or white pearl handle. Just look at the corner of the walls where they come together at the ceiling and don’t worry. It’ll all be over in a few seconds…if you’re lucky.“Oh, and by the way, as I said before, I really don’t mind the scars.”
Jo Neace Krause
The old servant held the light in Richard’s face and would not take it away until he made sure Richard would get up. “I think you should take this call, sir,” he said in a serious voice. “It’s your mother. I think something has happened.” The light quivered against the wall then as the servant retreated.
That’s how it began, the scandal prominent people around our proud little town will not mention to outsiders unless it is seen they are about be accepted by the town. Then the whispering begins. Some people lived here for years and never hear one word breathed about it. Others know everything within a month or two, especially how awful Richard treats his own mother to this day. Hurts her with details about the event whenever he can. There is just no end to it really, for although the family is prominent, Southern as cotton, it isn’t exactly noble. Not at all.
That was fifteen years ago that the call came in the night from his mother. It was about Richard’s wife. And his brother. Two people who hated each other to such a depth they seldom spoke even at Christmas. Now they had been found smashed together, killed in a car crash. Everyone was in unspeakable shock. These two people loathed one another so much the family had to be careful not to include them in the same gatherings. So no one could explain what they were doing together in a car speeding eighty-five miles an hour down a Boston thruway, six hundred miles away from home. Henrik, Richard’s brother, was supposed to be in Chicago at the time, and Richard’s wife, Windy , was supposed to be in California. Eyes opening then, eyes looking to one another. Eyes filled with terrible wondering thoughts.
Richard had taken the phone then to hear his mother’s voice, distraught and sobbing, but angrily screaming for Richard to come and explain, as if he knew something. As if he were to blame. It was wrong of her of course. He’d been wounded and rattled by his mother’s accusation which hurt him the more as he drove towards her----in the dark, out of the quiet suburb where he lived with his wife, the woman they said was dead, but whose night gown hit his eye when he turned on the light, hanging there in her bathroom, along her silky bathrobe, her pink house shoes with the little heels and silly feathers that blew around when she walked. He remembered glancing at these objects in disbelief, thinking the phone call might have been a nightmare.
But then he was on the lawn of his parents’ house, the big stone mansion that overlooked the great Mississippi where the family had made its fortune in the river boat shipping business even before the Civil War and the surrender.
Cars were parked in a haphazard way, as if the drivers had jumped out before the motor was shut off. His uncle’s black Mercedes. The Judge’s car. The Pastor’s. His sister Mandy’s sports car. The house was packed apparently. Through the window he could see his mother’s shape, her white hair and bent shoulders hulking about the room on her walker. She was sixty and a stoke victim. She looked up when Richard opened the door and shouted an obscenity at him.
Someone offered him a drink. Everyone was drinking something. “She’s not in her right mind, Rich. Be good to her about it. They’re flying the bodies home in an hour,” they told him. They told him other things too, quickly, but his mind went back to his mother, what could she mean, blaming him for this? What had happened anyway?
“Oh, you didn’t know, did you? You dumb.....! Everything always did go over your head, didn’t it? You! You have caused your brother’s death!” And she actually raised her walker and tried to shove it against his legs before collapsing and weeping, “Oh, Henrik! Henrik , don’t leave me, son! Son, son, don’t leave me in this awful world with nothing but a stupid fool like your brother here. Get out of my sight, Richard! Get out of my sight!”
And Richard had left then. He was visited immediately by his sister, Amanda, and other relatives who tried to comfort him. Then they tried to get his secrets. They suspected at first that he was lying when he said he had no notion of Wendy and Henrik. They realized his innocence. So maybe his mother was correct after all and he was just a simpleton, a stunted personality. For how could he not know? How could the others not know either? No doubt, bit by bit, a picture of the two would be put together in their minds. Henrik was a few years older than Richard. Had never married. He was a secretive man, pale and round faced with his black homburg and expensive overcoats, with that look of edgy forbearance about him he’d inherited from his mother.
Henrik had opposed Richard’s marriage, everyone now remembered. The woman was “Not Ricky’s Type…”, and somehow the woman learned of this and was never friendly to Henrik.
“You don’t want to put on weight like Henrik,” she once said to her husband so the others could hear, a remark Henrik had found hilarious. And there were several other inconsequential remarks she had made about how strange his brother was. “Did he always have his nose in a book, even when you were kids? Why does he try to speak Russian when I am around, just to show off I think?"
There was another time Windy had been disturbed by Henrik. Actually so troubled that tears rose in her eyes. “You know what your brother said to me? He said you look like someone who will die young. Die young! What a thing to say to someone! He must be crazy. I don’t want to be around him too much, Richard. He’s not like you. Not nice and sweet. I’ve never liked people who are like that, always thinking about death and watching others, but never really living. I feel sorry for him in a way, but I’d rather not be around him too much. I hope you will forgive me?”
Yes. He remembered her saying that. “He said you look like someone who will die young. I hope you will forgive me.” And then, the more enigmatic statement, "I really don't mind the scars." But that was all. He racked his mind for other clues. The entire family racked its mind, but they could find nothing to connect the two other than their violent death.
Perhaps they had not even been lovers? Maybe it was something else? Who could say?
One day Richard was drinking. It was the day the old servant died, the servant who had held the light in his face. It caused the death of Henrik and his wife to come rushing back to him, and with it a cruel longing that flooded him with the desire to say something to his mother, to cut her down when she attended the old man’s funeral. He heard she had bought new clothes for the occasion, a hat with a rose on it. She was seventy-five now, a vain and still handsome old woman. Richard had avoided her since his wife’s death, and she hardly minded it seemed. Henrik was her one pride.
He did not know what he might say to her. He thought he would go over the papers concerning the fatal accident once more, which he often did in his dark moods. With the papers spread, he noticed suddenly for the first time the name of the highway patrolman who’d written up the report. Samuel Miller. In his drunken sorrow, Richard wondered about Patrolman Miller, this man who had opened the door on his wife, found her in the arms of his brother.
He thought of something he should have done years ago. He’d contact the man. Yes, it would bring Richard closer to the event than he ever expected just to hear the cop’s voice. He located him in Quincy. He was retired now. Richard apologized for the disturbance, but it had to do with his brother. An accident. Could the patrolman possibly go back fifteen years and try to remember that wet snowy morning?
It didn’t take the officer long. He remembered the accident vividly he said. Richard’s heart pounded. “I just wanted to know what they looked like.” Richard said. “Were they holding each other, maybe like they were asleep. I’ve always wondered. Did they look happy?”
What the hell are you talking about? They were smashed together like a jelly sandwich. It was disgusting. The most disgusting accident I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot. Something more should have been in the report, but you know. I guess sometimes we try too hard to do the right thing.. ....nevertheless there’s something else that should have been in the report. The woman was wearing handcuffs. You know—handcuffs?
“Yes, I know handcuffs. What in God’s name are you saying? That she was handcuffed to the man? I never heard anything about handcuffs on my wife.”
“That’s because I took the cuffs off. She was handcuffed to a chain around the man’s fleshly middle. I remember how the chain almost jerked him in half. You know what handcuffs mean? Bondage. Disgusting sex practices. Scandal for the family. I knew from the car and the driver’s license that the man was a big lawyer…so I decided to save the family. I thought they were man and wife. Same name, you know. I told the man’s mother all about it. Yes, I told her several times for she made me repeat my descriptions, but I’ve always wondered if I did the right thing.”
Richard hung up. He was crying, but later on as he was dressing to leave for the old man’s funeral, he felt better, even cheerful. “Jelly sandwich,” he whispered to himself, fixing his tie, his lip curling, thinking of his mother. Handcuffed . Forced to ride with Henrik, that’s what. He had forced her! No doubt about it, kidnapped her! His thoughts ran on about his mother, the evil liar! The old lying bitch, protecting Henrik to the end. Henrik the pervert! His lips cured in deepermalice. Then his hands fell to his side, and he stared at his reflection in the mirror. “His fleshly middle!”
Windy had said, “Don’t get heavy like Henrik," And Henrik had given a big laugh at this. Why had he laughed? Why had his laugh made his wife’s face go pale? His lips moved in a slow cold suspicious whisper. “His fleshy middle.” He knew he should not think like this. Should not torture himself. He walked about the house.
The maid was in the old servant’s room, packing things away when she called out, “Too many funny things around this place!” There before him, the woman had pulled out a drawer full of handcuffs. “His old father was a jailer!” Richard exclaimed. “Those are heritage things. But toss them. Get rid of them.” His heart was racing again. The old servant had been Henrik’s man before Windy bought him away to come work for Richard. Why? Why had she done that? Best to let sleeping dogs lie.
But then again he had never seen lying dogs sleep, although his mother no doubt believed they did. His mother now in her new dark straw hat with a rose bouncing and nodding from the side, up in everyone’s face with her great tragedy. Richard would say a few words at the funeral himself.
He would say something like, “And as we all know, we are handcuffed together in death as well as in life.” He’d say that as his eyes moved over to his mother. “Let’s see you cover that up with your hind paws.” He would say to her. And so he did say it. And she answered, her face strange beneath her jaunty hat, answered in a slow deliberate drawl, several sentences which did not reach our ears.
A History of What Happened
“I really don’t mind the scars.”
Kellee’s words caught Mitchell DeFreise off guard. Déjà vu.
“I do. I mind them,” Mitch said.
“Gives it character, don’t you think?”
“The scars are like a map. A history of what happened to it in life.” Kellee ran a painted fingernail over the textured, darkened spot. “Barbed wire. Maybe a kid with a pellet gun.”
“Probably some villager in India with a wire brush and a Magic Marker gets paid to add “character” to the leather.”
“Cows are sacred in India. Holy. Pretty sure they don’t do leather.”
Mitch felt his face flush. Kellee was always making him feel stupid. It was like she had a gift for it. Like it was her mission in life.
“Is a leather couch really worth six thousand? Even if it has character?”
“Is price really the issue?” Kellee shot back, one perfectly sculpted eyebrow arched just so. Her patented Arc de Triomphe.
“That’s not what I’m saying.”
“Then what are you saying? Exactly?”
Goddamnit, she did it to him again. He wanted to rip that taunting eyebrow right off her smug face. Instead, Mitch pursed his lips and shook his head.
And then he remembered. The first time they slept together, Kellee had used those same words. I really don’t mind the scars. That was when things were still good between them. Before her eyebrow de triomphe had started making regular appearances. Back when she still viewed him as a kind of rebel. Dangerous.
The ringing of his cell phone cut the memory short. The same number. Déjà vu all over again. He’d only had the Palm Pre a couple of days (Kellee had insisted he replace his old StarTAC,) and this same number kept calling. Unsure how to silence it, Mitch waited for the call to go to voicemail before he crossed to the other side of the showroom where Kellee was now talking to a salesman wearing a navy blue blazer.
“Kenneth here says he’ll hold the sofa for us while we look at the bedroom and dining room sets.”
Mitch shook the salesman’s hand. It was soft. And he had the palest complexion Mitch had ever seen. Like his face had been dusted with flour. God only knew how many years good old Kenneth had been hawking high-end furniture under these fluorescent lights. Kenneth was a family man though. Mitch knew that. And a family man does whatever it takes to put food on the table, to keep his eyebrow-arching wife and attention deficit kids safe and happy.
Mitch sometimes wondered if Kellee wanted to turn him into a family man, pop out some defective offspring of her own.
He followed Kellee through the store, and salesman Kenneth shambled along right behind them, nothing more than a Dawn of the Dead extra, making note of each item Kellee picked out, his waxy forehead taking on a sheen as the potential commission kept ratcheting up. And God bless you, brother, Mitch thought. You deserve it.
Mitch nodded at every choice Kellee made. No matter the extravagance, no matter the questionable taste. Not a word of contention did he utter.
Once the items were tallied, Kenneth beamed at the young couple, his skin like glistening dough, rising and ready to burst with yeasty gas. He wheezed out the grand total, a sum so ridiculously high that Mitch thought he’d misheard and asked Poppin' Fresh to repeat it. That’s a new Escalade, Mitch thought. Way to go, Kellee.
“What card will you be using, Sir?”
Mitch held up a finger and pulled the Palm Pre out of his pocket. He fumbled with the buttons for several seconds. He needed to find the photos he’d taken that morning at Kenneth’s house. He could feel Kellee watching him. Making him feel stupid all over again. Surely to God she wouldn’t humiliate him in front of the salesman. He looked around to see if other people were watching, but nobody was close by. Just Kellee. And Kenneth. Like a tag team. Each of them waiting. And then sonofabitch the phone rang again. That same number.
It couldn’t be the man he’d stolen the phone from. No, that man was dead. Probably it was the police.
Finally, Mitch’s searching fingers pressed the right combination of controls. He held the display screen out to the salesman. Kenneth’s face went hard.
“Want them to live? Do what I say.”
Kellee was standing behind Mitch, peering over his shoulder, and he felt her hands encircle his bicep. He heard her painted nails click together as they met over the bulge of unthinking muscle. He flexed.
“U-Haul out front. Call the stockmen.”
“Is this some kind of joke?“
The reality of the situation wasn’t sinking through old Kenneth’s noggin. That was a problem. Luckily, Mitch had an app for that. Shock and awe. He took out a tiny pocketknife. No bigger than a fingernail clipper. He grabbed Kenneth’s hand and slid the blade through the gummy flesh of the palm. Blood oozed.
“It’s no joke, Kenneth.”
Now there was color in the salesman’s face. Bright red indignant circles high on his cheeks, the way a child might apply rouge. Mitch made two more deep cuts. Blood was dripping to the floor now, and for a second, Mitch thought Kenneth was going to faint. Too much shock, not enough awe. End of shopping spree.
“Your wife? Your children?” The words brought Kenneth back into focus like a crushed ammonia ampule.
“I’ll call the stockmen. Now. I’ll call now.”
Mitch pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and tossed it to Kenneth. He watched the salesman wrap his wounded hand, and he realized that those cuts would probably leave scars. Like a map. A history of what happened.
by Randy Rohn
I really don't mind the scars.
Most of them have healed. They’re just little red marks now. Or, maybe, a dimple or two. A jagged line. Or, a splotch of whiteness surrounded by tan skin.
When I see the scars, it makes me feel good. Clean. Like life itself is a little cleaner.
I like things to be clean. I wear a lot of white.
I wash my white clothes in hot water and four cups, or more, of chlorine bleach.
Two or three times an hour I use Purell.
I wash my hands before I go to the bathroom and after. I sing the “A, B, C” song, the one to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, all the way through as I lather my hands. Then, I rinse to the count of 10 using 1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi, and so on. If I’m not at home, I never touch anything in the bathroom after I’ve washed my hands. I know which bathrooms to use. The ones with the motion detectors. If I’m ever in situation without a motion-detector paper towel dispenser, I shake my hands dry and use my elbows to open the bathroom door.
Sometimes, if I don’t use cocoa butter at night, the skin cracks open. I use triple-antibiotic ointment and Band-Aids. Keeps the scarring to a minimum.
On special days, at the end of the day, I pour Hydrogen Peroxide over my hands.
And then I scrub and scrub with a brush and antibacterial soap. I used to use hexachlorophene until I ran out. Long ago, I had hoarded cases and cases of the stuff when I heard they were going to ban it. But, eventually, unfortunately, I ran out. Now I use antibacterial soap which probably isn’t as good as hexachlorophene, but hopefully all the Purell makes up for it.
The special days are when “they” become too much. Too unclean. “They,” being the old people. The smelly ones.
They make me sick. Give me the chills.
But, I put on fresh latex gloves every time I enter their rooms. And I wear disposable scrubs, which I burn after my shift.
Sometimes I wear a disposable surgical mask.
So most days, I have no problems. I can stomach the old-people smell and the decaying breath. The weeping sores on the papery skin. And the slobber. Sometimes, even the vomit.
But sometimes, they piss on themselves or crap in the bed. They make the world especially ugly. Dirty. Unclean.
I seem to have been getting a lot of those lately. The really, really unclean ones.
They just have to go. So, I send them on their way.
Their special day. And mine.
I have many methods. Accidental overdoses. The pillow. Gentle pressure on certain arteries.
And no one guesses.
Because the really unclean ones are usually the almost dead ones.
Since I’ve had so many special days lately, the constant scrubbing is tearing my hands up.
The Band-Aids are more frequent. The scarring is more pronounced.
People at work are beginning to notice. Tease me. Say things like, “What’d you do, stick your hand in a thorn bush?” Or, “Catch a cat by the tail?”
And then the other day, the head nurse said she wanted to go over some of my reports with me. I put her off until the end of the week.
By then I’ll be gone. On to another town. I’ll do it before any accusations are made. Before anyone feels the need to investigate. Before anything is put on my record.
I’ve done it before. Six times. There are plenty of hospitals that need nurses. Clean nurses.
And I need to have some more special days.
I feel it’s my mission. My duty.
And now our Oscar winners for best original story about scars.
I am sure I left someone off because the list got so long. I will keep this up for two days to give everyone a chance to read through them. Thanks so much for playing at my house. I sincerely regret that my formatting might not be up to snuff.
I will post them by nine and try to add any links that come in later.
Every five minutes a new story will post above this.
FAIR WARNING: SOME OF THESE ARE NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART
Veronia Marie Louise Shaw
R. L. Kelstrom
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Hat tip to Dark Valentine's Ms. Tomlinson for drawing this to my attention.
Several things to notice in this list: how many of these are characters from childrens' books, how many I had never heard of; how many seem pretentious if not absurd to me, how rarely English writers choose American characters, how many came from Great Expectations, how few choices come from recent literature. I guess when you are going to have your choice printed in the newspaper, you are wary of selecting Mrs. Piggle Wiggle or Constance McKenzie.
Who is your favorite fictional character? Really. It is tempting to choose someone who appeared in multiple books because we know them well, but what about with one appearance?
I am thinking of Elizabeth Strout's, Olive Kitteredge. If you haven't read the book, Olive Kitteredge, as viewed by others in a series of stories, is complex and evolving.
I was going to choose Yossarian from Catch 22 but someone beat me to it.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Here's the past list of winners.
Mark Ruffalo, THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT
John Hawkes, WINTER"S BONE
Jeremy Renner, THE TOWN
Geoffrey Rush, THE KING'S SPEECH
Christian Bale, THE FIGHTER
Another good category. This is an odd category because a supporting role can be quite small or almost as big as the leading role as with Geoffrey Rush. Every performance here was grand. Ruffalo made a character who could have been unlikable or shallow or quirky, real and understandable. I came away from the movie feeling he had been screwed (pardon the semi-pun) by the mothers.
I might have voted for Christian Bale until I saw the real life character he played. His performance was too close to an impersonation for me. Although he stole every scene as did Melissa Leo.
So I am going with Geoffrey Rush because I can't imagine anyone else playing this character as well as he did. Hawkes didn't make that much of an impression on me and Renner played it as you might expect. Still I wouldn't mind seeing any of these guys on the platform.
I am hard pressed to pick my favorite Oscar winner of the past, but I might go with Gene Hackman in UNFORGIVEN.
How about you?
Hey, guys, it would really help if you could shoot over the URLs for your flash stories before Monday morning. Or at least confirm (or deny) one will be appearing and I will put up your general URL. I am getting spooked about sorting this out.