I’m listening to this groany, slappy noise coming from inside – which is a sound made by only one thing in the world – and I’m trying to decide whether to go in or not. Rhonda’s next to me on the broken steps leading up to the front door and I don’t think she’s heard yet. Who knows, maybe she’s never heard that sound before and can’t identify it, she is only fourteen, but I find it pretty much impossible to believe.
“I think we’ll have to come back,” I say.
She doesn’t sound that interested despite everything that’s already gone on tonight. I shrug. “Because my mom’s sucking off some guy in there.”
Rhonda blinks a couple of times, then puts her ear to the chipped green door. I roll one of our cigarettes while she listens. The dirt track off the highway is very quiet except the settling creaks from the rows of trailers.
She finally frowns back at me. “Are you trying to fool me?”
I blow my smoke out into the hot night air, not bothering to answer. “What if we just go straight into your room?” she says. “She mightn’t even notice.”
There’s a thump from inside followed by a bit of laughter. “Rhonda,” I say, “They’ll be done in half an hour. Less even. We can come back then.”
She sighs like she always does, but steps down into the dusty lot with me anyway, and we start walking back towards town, its lights glowing faintly in the black sky. Rhonda doesn’t talk the whole way, which I’m okay with.
Ten minutes later we’re leaning against the Laundromat talking about this and that, our backs trying to find cool spots on the window. Buck, the owner, tried to run us off when we arrived but then he realised we weren’t that important, I guess, and gave up. Went back to slumping in his chair with the paper on his fat belly. There’s a set of lights in front of us on main street that blink red and green every so often, but there hasn’t been a car along since we got here.
So when Hen pulls his dad’s truck into the dirt next to us, the sight of him doesn’t bother me as much as it normally would. Now, Rhonda – who’s been smoking and pretending to enjoy it the last few minutes – sees him step out of the truck, with his cowboy boots too big for him, and she makes sure to keep ignoring him. Course, I’m not with Rhonda you understand. She’s nice enough and I’ve felt her up once or twice but that’s as far as it goes. Rhonda’s the type of girl a lot of kids my age slit their wrists for round here, since she happens to have the body of an actual woman, so it’s pretty easy to see the good in her.
Hen swaggers up, hands stuck into his pockets, stops a few yards away. He’s looking straight at Rhonda but he says, “What’s happening, Tim?” like he’s not.
“What’s it look like?”
“Looks like nothing. Looks like you’re cleaning your dirty laundry on a Saturday night.”
“And obviously you got something better to do,” I say.
He smiles at me like there’s a treasure map in his back pocket. I roll my eyes; I’m not going to spend fifteen minutes getting whatever it is out of him. Rhonda drops her cigarette onto the pavement. Sparks fly up next to the little bag of clothes at her feet. She’s took off til her old man finds something better to do, which is why she wants in my mom’s house for the night. She plays it cool when Hen asks about the bag, but he keeps at her, like a dog with a bone, until she eventually tells him what’s inside.
“So you’re not going home tonight?”
She shrugs an affirmative. Hen’s eyes do something.
“Well, isn’t this your lucky day! Standing here next to the Laundromat and then ol’ Hen comes along! On his way to a party, as it happens, and if you’ve nowhere to be tonight, and it doesn’t look like you do, you’re more than welcome to come along.”
“Is that right?” she says
“It is. It is right. In a house near here, just a couple of miles out of town. He’d love you two – the guy whose party it is, I mean – absolutely he would.”
I’m feeling a bit sad, I guess about my mom sucking cock earlier, so I’ve been staring out at the highway where it cuts through the low mountains, ignoring Hen as he rambles on in the third person, and I let a bit of silence hang before looking at him. He’s watching me, and I raise my eyebrows. He knows I’m asking about the guy’s age. Not that I care too much, but I’d like to know. He holds his hand out from his side, the thumb tucked in, subtle-like so Rhonda doesn’t know what’s going on. Four fingers. About forty. Hen pauses a second, looks at me some more. He doesn’t want me ruining it on him. “There’ll be chroming, Tim. Glue maybe.”
Rhonda’s waiting for me to answer. I turn away, my t-shirt clinging to me in the heat. I can just about see my reflection in the window of the Laundromat, the lines of lime green washing machines behind it, Buck in his seat behind the counter. Some people are sitting waiting. The lights are so strong in there that it makes everyone look sick.
I think and I shrug and Rhonda grins. We start for Hen’s truck.
The place is only five minutes from town, just off the highway. The whole building seems to be leaning to the side. Our feet crunch the packed dirt as we walk up, and I see that it’s a bungalow, wooden and hacked-together, with a screen door at the front. No lights are on that I can see. Hen just steps up onto the porch and walks straight in, doesn’t knock or anything.
It’s very dark in the corridor in front of us, our shadows framed by a little rectangle of pale light on the floorboards. The rectangle gets narrower as the front door slowly shuts and then everything’s gone except the black. Rhonda shivers a bit, and I suddenly realize how cold it is, even though it’s basically like the surface of Venus outside. I shiver too.
Hen clears his throat and shouts, “Dean?” into the darkness.
We don’t get a reply.
He leads us down the corridor, our hands feeling along the rough wall so we don’t stumble, and through a door on our left. He flicks on a light and steps over to a big white heater, newspapers spread under its wheels, plugs it into the wall. “Dean’s an electrician,” he says, like it’s meant to explain something. He gives it another go, shouts the guy’s name again.
Silence. Then deeply, sleepily from the next room, we hear a “What?”
“Dean, I got some guests for you.”
The creak of bed springs. Feet shuffle on boards. Hen grins at us. “Take a seat, take a seat.” The living room’s pretty shabby now that I’m sitting taking it in. A couple of badly stuffed couches, a rocking chair with one of the arm-rests off, a little coffee table. Horrible green carpet with strips of duct tape holding it where it’s threadbare. An old record player.
And there’s a weird thing.
There are little yellow bowls of candy everywhere. I mean fucking everywhere, on what arms are left on the chairs, on the coffee table, more on the windowsill. There’s even some near-empty bowls on the carpet, a few dregs left at the bottom.
Now, I’d probably ponder this some more, but the bedroom door suddenly opens and Dean steps out. Dean’s one of those people you see now and then with the face of a fat person and the body of a thin one. He has his best smile crawling over his face, but when he sees us – me and Rhonda, I mean – the smile disappears. For a second I think he’s pissed at us gate-crashing, but then I see he’s staring straight at Rhonda and only at Rhonda.
And, I tell you: it’s like he’s never seen a girl before. He looks shocked. Shock shocked.
I look over at Hen – and Hen’s watching the guy. Strange look from Hen. Defiant I think you’d call it, and a little click happens in my head and I realize that the two of them are porking. Course they are. He’s sticking it to ol’ Dean by bringing a chick back, obvious when you think about it, but Hen never struck me as queer or bi or anything so I’m a little bit surprised.
“This is Rhonda,” Hen says.
The guy takes a second to pull his eyes off her, looks at Hen. “Why…” He stops and swallows like something’s stuck in his throat. “Why is she here?”
Hen smiles, just a fraction. “I invited her.”
“But why is she here? Why?” Voice raised a bit there. Little crack. I don’t quite have it all down yet but it’s getting interesting. Rhonda takes a couple of steps over to me so she’s quite close.
I feel sorry for her, looking at her standing there, her little bag on her shoulder, so I reach out and tap her hand with my finger. She looks at me, smiles a bit, but unfortunately, the tap must give her some courage because the next thing I know she’s saying, “Look, I don’t want to make any trouble…” but gets no further because Dean’s voice slams out into the room, saying, “I did not ask you a thing. Okay, girl? I did not ask you a thing.”
Hen takes a step forward. He’s still a ways back. “Come on, Dean. They’re here to party. That’s what you wanted me to do, right? Find someone for us to party with?” The guy squints at him. Hen holds his hands out, palms up. “That’s all she’s here for. And it’s not like she’s alone, is it?”
Dean glances at me. The glance goes up and down. He looks back at Hen. “You should have told me,” he says.
“How could I? You’ve been asleep in there all day.” Dean looks at him some more. There’s a little change in the shoulders, they aren’t as stiff as they were thirty seconds ago, and I know it’s over. Hen’s calmed him down. But the four of us stay standing.
Dean turns and looks at me and Rhonda, the floorboards creaking under his weight. “I guess you two are lovers.”
I’ve never heard it put like that. I shake my head.
He looks me up and down again.
Then he bends over, picks up one of the yellow bowls. He seems to think for a second and then he holds it out to me, shakes it so the candy rustles inside. “You want one?” he says.
I wave my hand, no, but Rhonda steps forward shyly and takes one, something round in a golden wrapper. “That’s a good one,” he says. She nods. She doesn’t unwrap it or eat it, just holds it in her fist.
Hen clears his throat, says, “So, Dean, what have we got?”
Dean sits down. “We’ve got the usual.”
I find out about two minutes later that the usual equals paint, varnish, stripper, some type of moonshine, which I’ll be doing my best to avoid, some joints of what he says is mj, but which I will also be doing my best to avoid, and a few beers. Now obviously I put my eye on the beer first, but Dean’s already cracked one open for himself and made no attempt to offer another around. I’m not about to try and charm one out of him for obvious reasons, so it looks like the paint and varnish. Hen’s already got four or five battered cans set up on the little table, is flipping the lids off with an old stirring stick. Rhonda’s over fiddling with the radio, looking for some good music. It’s past midnight and the stations are full of talk so it’s hard.
Hen, who hasn’t spoken to her in all of fifteen seconds, keeps on to her while he’s messing with the cans, going, Hey, that sounds good, Rhonda, or Just pick something we can dance to, me and you, I feel like dancing, blah blah blah, like that. He’s getting a little high just being near the stuff, pouring into the bottles and so on.
Dean just sits in his chair with his beer and stares straight ahead.
Hen finally gets down on the floor, crosses his legs. He has a can of varnish in front of him and he puts his face right into it, blocking any gap for the fumes to get out, and I hear him inhale loudly a couple of times, his shoulder-blades tensing under his T-shirt. He looks up at me after a few seconds and grins, then turns to Rhonda. “Ladies first.”
Dean snort-laughs from his chair. “You feeling chivalrous tonight? That’s just beautiful. Fucking beautiful. A night for chivalry.” He looks at me, and it’s the first time I’ve seen him find something actually funny, because his eyes are dancing a bit and he shakes his head at me like he can’t believe where he is and what’s happening.
Rhonda takes her shot, and when she’s slumped on the floor, smile spreading slowly across her face, I take one of the fresh cans, dark grey paint swirled inside, and push some magazines aside on the coffee table. I sit up on it, the can in my lap.
I breathe in twice fast, bang bang, and then once slow, so I feel the fumes travel back and down and line and hit my throat. Then I sit there and wait.
Dean’s right in front of me where I’m perched on the table, and the guy looks normal enough, I guess, but how normal can he be, right? He is, after all, a grown man who hangs around with kids. So obviously he’s not fooling anyone, but the truth is that these guys are everywhere. They probably want to pork you but none of them have the balls to make a move and if you keep your head up you’ll see the signs and get away, so really I’m not scared or worried even.
Rhonda and Hen are somehow on their feet, and Rhonda’s dancing like she’s in Vegas and there’s a talent scout in the crowd. But Hen, he’s just kinda bobbing up and down, completely stiff, smile fixed on his face, not a real one, since Rhonda’s spending as much time looking at me and Dean as him.
While I’m observing this, Dean points at my crotch and says, “Do you know what that means?”
I look down. It takes me a second. “The belt buckle,” he says. “The belt buckle.”
The belt was a birthday present from my older sister before she left and it’s got a symbol etched into it, basically the letter M with a little devil tail looping at the end. She’s kinda a hippy and the symbol is my Zodiac sign, Scorpio, a thing she explained to me one night when she was wasted, not that I believe in the stars or anything like that.
“That’s right,” he says when I tell him, “That’s exactly what it is.” He’s grinning like a fucking loon. “D’you know what sign I am?”
I shake my head.
“Guess. Guess what I am.”
“Ha! I can see why you’d think that. Have another guess.”
“Scorpio’s all I know.” Not technically true but Jesus Christ. Hen’s making some waddling dance move at Rhonda, kinda going up and down her body without touching it.
I catch Dean glaring at them but he snaps back to me immediately and says, “I’m a Capricorn,” he says. He looks at me triumphantly. I nod. He has me fixed with his little eyes. “You understand? We go together. Capricorn and Scorpio. We’re both intense, we’re both full of truth, we’re both independent.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“That’s why we’re here. To learn what we need to learn. Hey.” He sticks his palm out to me. “Hey”
He nods down at it and after a second I low five him, but the moment palm hits palm he grabs my hand. His grip is strong and I’m instantly uncomfortable but I don’t let on. “Scorpio and Capricorn. That’s the first way we connect.”
I nod. He still has my hand. I can feel his fingertips on the top of my hand, alternating pressure, feeling my own. It gives me the creeps. And there’s a bit too much pressure being alternated, deliberately too much pressure. But I keep looking at him, steady as I can, his little fucking eyes, his dumb grin on his face. Then he lets me go. I get off the table, move around to one of the couches so I’m a bit further from him.
As soon as I settle back I know the paint’s hitting me because it feels like the couch is swallowing the back of my head. I blink a few times, trying to clear my mind, but I can only do it slowly. I’m getting high but it’s a lazy high. I might puke if I’m not careful.
“Does the paint meet with you approval, my little scorpion?” he says.
I drag my eyes over to him. “Paint is paint is paint,” I say, and then I giggle.
This giggle surprises me. Rhonda hears it and stops dancing a second. Then she slowly brings her arm up and points her finger at me and laughs. I laugh too. It is kinda funny, everything slowing down and looping like this. Course, I don’t want to go too heavy, so I get up from where I’m sinking in the chair but unfortunately I don’t actually get up. I look over at Dean. He looks over at me. I laugh, telling him about the situation but he doesn’t understand, apparently, because he just stares at me and hardly seems to be even blinking at all but maybe that’s just in my head because blinking is a common thing that we all do, even the reprobates. Dean’s a reprobate. You look like you need a hand, he says. And I laugh because I don’t, I have two already, and his hands are old anyway. Flies get drunk on cider, he says.
Whatever. I try to get up again and this time I make it to my feet but the room swoops at me like a bird. That passes. I take a step. There’s a huge bowl of candy at my feet so I take a side-step on the sludgy carpet, so as not to hit into it, because it’s going to keep growing. I realize that I can’t find the phone. You think it’d be right here but for some reason it’s not. How am I supposed to answer? Tell me? I rub my head and look up at the ceiling. Light blinds me. It’s wearing off. I’m getting depressed, what with the phone and all, so I decide to take another hit otherwise I’ll be sitting on the couch all night, with no phone, feeling sadder and sadder and sadder. When I try and put my face into the opening of the can I hit my nose. I think for a second and then look up and my face must be funny because Hen and Rhonda burst a tailpipe when they see me. I tell them to take a jump but they don’t hear me and I don’t either and I put my face down into the can again. Smack goes my nose. It hurts. I look again. The can’s in a bottle, or maybe the can is a bottle, but it doesn’t matter because now there is a can and I’m standing next to it, breathing it in. Rhonda whistles from the floor because my ass is pointing at her and then she laughs and her laugh is surprisingly mannish and it’s coming from Dean and his fat little face. There’s a smile across my face, slowly wrapping around it, all the way to the back. My eyes are smiling and my ears are smiling and even my sore nose is smiling. But standing’s not doing it for me any more so I start to crab onto the floor, really slowly and carefully with everyone watching me and the carpet bubbling up, duct-tape and all, and as I’m getting down, Dean’s getting up.
I’m having a dream that I’m sniffing a can of white paint and there are these thin black strings in it, and the more I sniff, the more there are, until I realize that the strings are my hairs and they’re falling out of my head. It’s pretty horrible. Then I know I’m awake and it was all just a dream but I keep my eyes closed like I sometimes do.
There’s a sort of noise in the room, like pieces of cloth rubbing together.
I keep my eyes shut. It’s nice and sleepy in the dark behind my eyes and nothing outside can get me. I yawn but as I do I feel something that shouldn’t be there, something tight on the corners of my mouth. My tongue tastes something.
I start getting other sensations. The thing on my face is soft and lengthwise across my cheek and in a horrible moment I realize it’s crawled into my mouth as well, this thing, right inside my mouth, and I force my eyes open, heart beating out of my chest, and I look down my nose. My stomach lurches.
It’s a gag.
Panic surges into my arms, and I try to pull it out of my mouth, but I can’t because my arms are tied behind my back and my legs are tied around the ankles with a thick dirty rope, my belt undone, not my pants, just the belt for some reason, and all these pieces of information arrive within split-seconds of each other and it’s like the world is expecting me to just accept such crazy things.
Movement catches my eye.
A man is hunkered down in front of me, his back to my face.
I’d give anything for him not to turn around, but there’s a little stiffening, like he’s heard the thoughts flying round my brain, and his head rotates, slowly, til he’s looking straight at me. It’s Dean. He’s smiling. He’s blocking what he’s doing but next to him I see pale legs with a little scuff of dirt on the calf and I know it’s Rhonda.
Dean stands and doesn’t look at me, just walks out of the room, and there’s Rhonda now and some tiny part of me is relieved that she’s alive and still in her clothes. Her eyes are open. They’re staring straight at me and they’re terrified with all the thoughts. I can’t look at her because I know my eyes are the same and I hate it, so I turn away and concentrate on what’s in that direction: the old heater with one of the candy bowls on top.
For a second I think it’s the bowl or the heater. Then I realize it’s coming from my left and I roll my head over and see Hen on the floor, his back against the wall. Tied up but no gag. He says my name again. I can’t reply with the thing in my mouth. And he smiles at me stupidly, a stoned smile, the fucking fucking fucking idiot, and then the smile fades back into him because the three of us have heard footsteps. Dean’s coming back.
His feet plant in front of me.
Hen says, “Dean, what are you doing?”
But Dean’s not listening; he goes straight over to Rhonda and yanks her up off the floor. She’s passed out at some point since I started pretending she wasn’t there. “Dean? Dean? What the Hell’s happening? Dean?”
“You shouldn’t have brought her,” he says.
“You know. You know what you did.”
The blood is draining from Hen’s face. “You think I brought her here to get back at you? That’s crazy. I brought her here for you.”
“I know why you brought her here,” Dean says. He’s already lifted Rhonda up onto his shoulder, like she was a sack.
“For us, Dean. I brought her here for us.”
Dean stops. He’s staring straight at me. I try to look back to show I’m not scared, but I can’t, so I look away again.
“We can do them together. He’s for you. She’s for me. What do you think it is otherwise?”
I know Dean’s still watching me, I can feel his gaze pouring over my body like syrup. I close my eyes. I’m trying not to shake. I can’t do anything, and every time I realize that I shake more. Through the black, I hear Dean say, “He’s for me?” and Hen replying, more confidently now, “Well, we can team up sometimes.”
I tell myself I didn’t hear that, that I’m not hearing Dean untie Hen, not hearing footsteps shuffle over and stop next to me, and I can sometimes believe these things when my eyes are shut tight and bad things are happening around me, but this time I can’t.
Dean kicks me in the face. I taste my own blood and instantly throw my head hard against his leg, surprising myself that I’m trying to hurt him, but his strong hands grab me under my arms and just lift me into the air. Someone starts yelling behind my gag as I’m dragged out of the room, out into the pitch-black corridor and down it, to its end, the cold making my hairs stand up. Dean dumps me on the ground and I roll over and look.
I’m at a door. Keys rattle. I don’t want to go through, I don’t want to go through, I don’t want to go through, and I’m certain I’m saying this out loud, but Dean still turns the key three times and pushes open the door. Cold pours out, like the room’s been holding its breath, horrible old smells coming with it, vomit and shit from the stomach of this thing. It’s not a room, I know that absolutely, it’s alive, its cold tongue creeping over me, slowly burying down into my body. A chill crawls up my back and I realize my jeans have worked themselves further down, are off my ass.
I moan and roll my head away, rubbing myself against the coarse floor, trying to get my jeans back up, and I see Hen pulling Rhonda’s deadweight down the corridor towards me, gasping weakly as he goes.
One hand grabs my shoulder, the other my belt and I’m pulled across the floorboards, my skin burning as it grazes the floor. I try to dig my heels into the ground, try to fight against being dragged into The Room, but it’s no good.
Inside. Lights on. I can see it.
A single light-bulb swings from a wire. Big wooden crate in the middle of the floor, sawdust spread around it. Against one of the walls, a rough wooden board with handcuffs attached to its top corners. Someone has cut circular holes in the wood. I see the height they’ve been cut at and I immediately stop thinking about them.
Dean reaches into his belt, his hand fumbling there for a second, and then he pulls out a gun, a little pistol. His breath billows out in front of him. I know there’s a way out of this Room, there has to be, there always is, but normally I can talk and stand and run. I can’t do anything, all I can do is watch Hen place Rhonda on the floor and start taking off her clothes. She’s still out and I’m glad: the sound of Hen’s breathing would make her puke.
Dean starts pacing around, shaking out his legs like he has pins and needles, swiveling the wrist with the gun in it over and over again.
Hen stops when Rhonda’s undressed. He’s holding her cut-offs in one hand, looking at them like he’s never seen anything like them before. His shoulders are slumped where he kneels. Dean takes one solid step forward and says, “Do I have to direct everything?”
Hen turns and looks at him and there’s water in his eyes. “Just take down your pants and screw her like you wanted to,” Dean says.
Hen swallows, his eyes on the man. Then he unbuckles his belt, pulls down his blue jeans. He has plain white shorts on, skinny legs. A second later he pulls the shorts down too. Dean laughs at what he sees. “Are you nervous, Mr Henley?”
“I can’t do it with you looking at me.”
“But this is what you wanted, right? When you picked her up tonight and thought it’d be funny to bring her round to ol’ Dean’s. Stick it to the old man a bit, right? So go ahead, there she is; my gift to you.”
Hen’s voice cracks. “I can’t. Not with you looking at me.”
“Are you going to cry, Mr Henley? Come on. I’ll even help you out, get her started for you. We are partners after all, right?” He reaches into his pocket with his free hand, the gun hanging limply in the other. It takes me a second to accept what he takes out of his pocket. He’s taken out test-tubes.
He opens his hand for me and I see that all of them have the ends broken off, are jagged glass. They’re very thin. He looks straight at me, and when he speaks, his voice quivers. “I was saving all of these to put in you, but you can share, can’t you?”
I let it happen then, let the whole horrible world suck the air out of my chest and I hear Hen say, “What about him? If you’re such a big man, why haven’t I seen you do anything to him?” and I feel the silence of the room on me, feel it pressing me right into the floor, and after a few more seconds I hear a voice say softly, with disgust, “I’ll do them both then. As usual.”
The floorboards rise under me as he comes. I don’t deserve to die. The thought comes out of nowhere, and I don’t even recognize the voice in my head, though it must be mine, I’ve just never heard it say anything like that before. And then it repeats itself, You don’t deserve to die, you deserve to be alive, and as I hear this I’m watching Hen whimpering like a child, I’m watching the approaching feet of a monster who hides in a house that leans over to one side, and I know it’s true, I really do. But I can’t fucking move. And with this knowledge something begins to boil in me and I’m suddenly furious that I can’t fucking move.
Dean rolls me over and I don’t close my eyes. I can feel the fire off him. I know what he wants and it will be terrible and it will be long and it will be all I ever feel again. The rest of my life will be pain. I will never feel anything good again, but I won’t close my eyes.
He smiles at me. “You didn’t know it til now, no, you didn’t. But your whole life has been leading up to this, to me and you. All the footprints, leading up to tonight. And now it’s all gonna end just like it was always supposed to.” He stops then, rubs his jaw, the test-tubes in his other hand clinking against each other. He’s acting cool, but it’s just that, an act; I can see the excitement blazing behind his eyes and it makes me want to tear his face off. “I’m gonna put some things inside you. And you won’t like it. But it was you that did it to yourself; no-one gets it that didn’t invite it. Don’t worry though, it’ll be over before morning and then you can rest, like you always wanted. Then your little girlfriend too.”
He pulls me to my feet, spins me around and pushes me towards the rack.
It’s coming. It’s coming and I can’t believe it, these are the two clowns that are going to put me down, after everything, after everyone, and I try to gather myself, collect all of me in a little ball and protect it, not just protect it but show it, always show it, right to the end, but as I get close to the board leaning against the dirty wall, I see one of the crotch-high holes, see that the inside has been lined with broken glass, and it’s hard to keep it together as my insides scream and scream.
And then I hear a click in the stomach of the Room, and I’m suddenly dropped to the floor. I crumple, whack my head against the board.
I’m looking at the back of Dean’s legs, Hen beyond. Hen’s holding Dean’s gun.
“What are you going to do to Rhonda afterwards?” Hen says.
Dean just laughs and points at the gun. “Must be a change holding something hard in your hands, Mr Henley,” he says.
“You shouldn’t speak to me like that.”
Dean laughs once more, and the heels of his shoes move a step away from me, towards the child with the gun. It rattles in his hand. “Stay back,” he says, and then, like he’s just remembered the reason he’s taken the gun, he says, “I won’t let you hurt her. You’ve never done anything to a girl before. It’s different. She’s mine.”
I want both of them to die, but I don’t know how to do it. I can see Hen, see right into his chest where his terrified heart is shaking round his bones. And I know he can’t pull the trigger, he’s thought about it too much, so I ram my head against the torture board, using it as leverage, my neck straining, my bare, cut-up ass sliding across the cold floor til I’m lying flat. And I raise my knees up, seeing my ankles roped together and I kick as hard as I can at the back of Dean’s legs.
The voice in my head is talking again, saying it again, telling me I deserve to be alive. And I don’t even need to see it. I know it all before it’s happened. I know Dean will shout as he falls forward, and Hen will scream of course, this man, this thing, rushing towards him out of control and flailing and there’ll be a bang. Blood will explode like a red flower on the rack above me and I’ll have survived.
I’m outside, standing on the broken steps leading up to the front door. I’m still shaking a bit, so it’s hard to roll the cigarette. Eventually I get it. It’s very quiet and warm, and there’s kind of a hum in the night air and I take a drag and feel the smoke go into my lungs. As I’m feeling this, I tilt my head back and look up at the sky, completely black except for the pricks of stars that you can only see when you don’t look directly at them. And the stars make me think about other places for some reason, what everyone else is doing right now, even though it’s hard to imagine.
Hen’s back in the house somewhere. He tried stroking Rhonda’s hair when he untied her, wrapped a blanket around her naked body, playing the hero or something. She leapt away, crammed herself into the corner of the room and he stood there watching her stupidly, her eyes bulging madly, the soles of her feet scuffing the dirty floor as she tried to stand. No one looked at Dean’s body except me. He fell straight down. He looked like a worshiper on his knees, face in the ground, his arms spread out before him. I could see the hole in his back. A few times Rhonda made a sound like a cat hissing and Hen eventually walked away. I don’t think she’s right after what happened, but who knows, that might save her from her old man.
I hear a car, and I look down from the black sky and see the police pull over next to the sidewalk. They don’t even have their lights on. Two cops are inside and I’d probably recognize them but it’s too dark to see their faces and one turns his head to the other and says something I can’t hear.
They’ll probably want to know what I was doing here tonight. And as I try and think about how to answer, I realize that I can’t. Not to cops anyway. So instead, I think about one of those people that the stars made me imagine, and what I might tell one of them if they asked me why I came to this place on this night. And maybe one day I’ll get to say it, and tell them about the voice in my head and what Dean said to me and all the other things before that, the ones I can still remember anyway, but for the cops I’ll just say that someone was having sex in my house so I needed somewhere to be.
One of them is struggling out of the car when I hear the door swing open behind me. Hen steps onto the porch and gives a little sigh. He doesn’t speak for a few seconds. But then, affecting some type of matter-of-fact, world-weary thing, he says, “I could have got two hundred bucks for you two.”
I look at him. Usually I’d think of something clever to say, like I’m worth a lot more than that (which is true), or whatever, but this time I just step off the porch and walk away. I look down and I can just about catch the outline of my shoe-prints in the packed dirt from earlier, Hen’s and Rhonda’s too, and I try to imagine where exactly the first print is, how far away. And I glance back to where Hen is standing on the porch, and in the moonlight I can see my new foot-steps cutting across the earlier tracks, leading away from him and the house.