Authors: Barbara Bell
Someone works the tape off my eyes. It appears to have fused with my skin. After it comes free, I can’t see right away, but sense that it’s Ben next to me. He cleans the goo off my face with some nasty-smelling liquid and unties my hands. We’re in the limo again. On the seat across from me is my bag with my extra clothes.
“Get dressed,” he says.
My hands shake. The shit he shot into my vein whipped my ass. I dress, the feel of the clothes making me crazy. I can see that we’re winding through the maze of streets with houses way too big for the people who live in them.
“What day is it?” I ask.
“Monday. About nine in the morning.”
He hands me a Social Security card. At the top is my new name, Katherine Benson. That’s a cute touch.
“You’ll get another piece next week,” he says.
The car pulls up in front of my house.
“The limo will be waiting for you outside of Penn Station. Five o’clock Friday.” He kisses me again, both hands on my throat. I can take a hint.
I don’t know how I make it to the front door on two feet. Once inside, I collapse. I crawl to the kitchen and chug a quart of orange juice, taking three Valium. Then I drag myself up the stairs to my favorite closet, curling into a ball on the floor and dropping into dreamland.
Something wet is in my eye. I punch it, a bit of the berserks.
“Honey!” It’s Jeremy protecting his new terrier-type mutt named Mitzi.
I roll onto my back. Jeremy’s trying hard to look cheerful, but I can see it’s a strain.
“What happened to your face?” He reaches to touch me, but I grab his wrists.
The skin around my eyes is raw. “It’s a rash. I used to get it all the time when I was a kid. I find that if I lie down in a closet, it helps.”
“And your lip?”
“I tripped. You know how these book things drive me nuts. I get clumsy, and then I get this rash, and I have to sleep in a closet.”
“It’s okay, honey. I understand. I know what you’re going through, and I’ve taken care of everything.”
Jeremy kneels beside me. “I found you sleeping in this closet with your face looking that way. That made me a little worried. So I called Helen, you know, Jerry’s wife, the psychiatrist? She said not to worry, just a nervous breakdown. Women have them all the time. So I set up an appointment for you. Tomorrow at ten.”
I’m having jetlag or something. I just flew in from the dark continent of Ben to the little Balkan state of Jeremy.
“At ten. She’ll call me and let me know how it went so you don’t have to worry about it. Why don’t you come out of here?”
He grabs my shoulders to help me up. God, the welts burn. I convince him that I’m feeling sick on top of having a nervous breakdown, and I slip into bed. He goes off to heat up some soup.
While I’m alone, I start planning like there’s no tomorrow. The stakes have skyrocketed. I can’t believe I was so stupid as to call Ben.
Jeremy returns and worries over me, patting my head. I’m thinking I’ve got to get out of this place fast. And I’m sick to death of feeling like I’m one of Jeremy’s mutts.
Of course, later on he’s horny. Lucky for me, he likes to screw in the dark. I don’t think I could explain the marks around my back and chest. As he’s pumping me, I wish for once that I did have a gag, so I could scream my lungs out.
The next morning, after Jeremy has taken his happy face and departed, I log on to my computer. I’m worried that Jeremy might start rifling my things now that he thinks I’m going loony. So I bury the file I’m writing in the middle of an old disk.
I make two lists. The first list is called “In the Taurus.” Underneath that I write: new clothes, new sunglasses, wig, CDs, money, new IDs. The other list is called “In the Porsche.” Beneath that one I write: Clarisse Broder IDs and purse, switchblade, black hooded jacket, garage key for the Taurus.
Pleased with this, I type in the things that I have to get done this week, adding at the bottom to delete this file when I’ve completed my tasks. I don’t want any posthumous discoveries.
I shower and paint on a heavy coating of makeup to cover my suspiciously rectangular rash. The phone rings. It’s my agent so I pick up thinking that otherwise, I would have to call her back. I hate making phone calls more than I hate answering them.
wants to do an interview,” she says, her voice filled with triumph.
“God,” I say.
“Thursday. And they’re going to want to take pictures.”
I must have been some terrible shit in my previous life to deserve this. “I’ve got a rash,” I say. “On my face.”
“The doctor said it would clear in three weeks. Couldn’t we do it then?” I guess I don’t hate lying so much after all.
“I’ll have to call you back on that.”
“Fine. You’re a dear.”
I fire up the Porsche and make a side trip while on my way to my great psychiatrist appointment. I go to see Bob. You know, of Bob’s Guns.
While in there, I pick up a Smith and Wesson Ladysmith, the one with the wood grip (so appealing to women). I buy a body holster so that I can keep it next to me. Then because I’m in a shopping mood, I think what the hell, and spring for a twelve-gauge shotgun to boot. It’s like Christmas in July. Picking out bullets reminds me of going through a Toys “R” Us.
I lean over the counter so Bob can see more than my cleavage.
“An Uzi,” I say to him, certain that more firepower would be an aid in my present circumstances. “Full automatic,” I add, having done my research.
Bob’s eyes are fixed on my breasts. I let one of the straps of my dress slip a bit to the side.
“Sorry, babe,” he says, his eyes wide but sad, and his hands clutched beneath the counter. “No can do. Major illegal weapon. You want to land me in jail?”
I slide around to the end of the counter and slip my dress strap farther down so he can see the real thing. I stare at his crotch. “But you know somebody, right? I’ll pay. Cash.”
He rubs his hand over my breast. I unzip his pants and reach in.
He starts breathing heavy. “There’s a place in South Philly. I have their card.”
I hear the door open and shut behind me. He looks over, his eyes half open. I stay where I am and keep it up as the other shopper browses in another part of the store. Bob is quick about it. I zip him up and pull my strap back in place.
He slips me a card.
“Don’t tell anybody where you got this.”
“Not a word.”
I pack my new purchases into the Porsche and rip into the city to make my shrink appointment.
“Jeremy said you were hiding in the closet,” she says.
“I wasn’t hiding. I was sleeping.”
“Why in the closet?”
“Seemed the best thing to do.”
She scribbles something down on her pad.
“When did you first begin this behavior?”
I fidget, trying to think back.
“As a child?” she ventures.
God, you’d think they’d come up with something new every once in a while.
“I didn’t have a childhood.”
“Everybody has a childhood.”
“I’m pretty sure I didn’t.”
She keeps probing here and there for some tidbit, some clue to my dementia. I’m beginning to think of her as a persistent poodle, which suddenly makes me wonder about Jeremy, who plays poker with his Harvard pals on Sunday afternoon. I get this sudden flash that maybe he’s screwing Helen instead.
Go for it, Helen.
“So how did you meet Jeremy?”
“I had an appendectomy. We met in the hospital. I have a scar right here.” I make a motion with my hand.
“Couldn’t be,” she says.
“That’s what it was.”
“It’s on the wrong side. An appendectomy scar would be on your right side.” She smiles at me, having won a point.
I ponder this information. “Maybe my appendix was on the wrong side. It wouldn’t be the first time I was backwards in some way.”
“I don’t think so.”
I reveal the scar to her, careful not to show any of the other nice marks.
“That’s a jagged cut. Not surgical, unless your surgeon was drunk. Looks like a wound.”
I’m really stumped. The rest of the interview is a waste.
She gives up and hands me a free packet of Prozac. “What did you do to your face?”
“I have a rash.”
Helen makes an appointment for me in a week. On the way out, I ditch the Prozac.
While stewing about my famous scar and its being on the wrong side, I begin to whack things off my list. The first order of business is the bank. I use my Elizabeth Boone IDs to withdraw the whole pile of money from my account. Ben has a way of getting to things. And after last weekend, I have a suspicion that Ben isn’t going to let me go anywhere if he can help it.
I have them put the lump sum in a bank check. Then I jump into my Porsche again and tool down to South Philly, averaging about ninety. I swing into the first bank I see and cash the check, having them put it in small bills. At the next bank, I keep five thousand out and dump the rest in a safety deposit box. I check the card Bob gave me and ask directions.
It’s in one of the seediest neighborhoods I’ve been to for a long time. I walk in. Shopping in gun stores is like eating at McDonald’s. You begin to feel at home. I take my time, asking lots of questions like some dumb chick. Then I reach in my purse and flash a big wad of bills.
“Uzi?” I say. “With all the extras.”
The gun guy’s an Asian man in his late sixties, I’d say. He has a heavy accent. “You cop?”
“Would a cop have a face looking like this?”
“It’s my boyfriend.” I begin to sniffle. “He threatened to kill me.” I show him a couple welts.
He shakes his head, waves his hands, and starts talking to me in his native dialect. I think he’s giving me a lecture.
“One week,” he says. “You come back.”
I bite my lip, wondering if it’s a setup. But what would be worse, Ben or the cops?
“Okay,” I say, turning to leave. Then I have a brilliant idea. As a matter of fact, given the present circumstances, I think it rates as one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.
“Fake IDs.” I drop a fifty on the counter. “I need to blow town.” He sits staring at me, his face unreadable.
Just as I’m thinking I should make a quick exit before he calls the cops, he writes out an address on a scrap of paper. I check the address and see that the place is just a block away. I thank him as I back out the door.
But I have to make another stop first. So I cruise the neighborhood until I find a beauty shop with bars over the windows and door. Inside, one whole wall has row upon row of fake heads with wigs. It looks like a night at the symphony.
Mandy and me found a wig and a toupee in a Dumpster behind the Beauty Box in town. It appeared as though some couple had to arrive in tandem to get their retreads. We tied the toupee to a string and hung it from a tree branch like it was a spider, and we used the wig at night when Vin, me, and Mandy did séances sitting by the river in the dark.
At night the river swells and grows in power, getting you to feel like you should just give up, lie down, and let it drag you off . It can throw up a thick fog or thin-layered mists. I’d lie awake in the two-room, hearing its low thunder, its wearing down the banks.
When I was little, sometimes I’d scare myself listening like that and take up crying. Mama would bend over me whispering, willow, willow wand, willow weep, willow song. She hummed like the night hummed. Mama stroked my head and cheek. Sleep, sleep. Wander the river and the river’s long creep.
And the cool, she’d say, drawing it out long and low. And the cool, cool stream. The lily leaves floating.
I choose a blond wig. The hair falls shoulder length with a little bounce. The layered bangs tend to the side.
“That’s some lip you got there, girlfriend,” the store clerk says to me.
“He didn’t like my hair.”
I stick on my new hair and drive back to the address the gun guy gave me. It’s a little copy and print shop run by some people of unknown Asian origin who look a lot like the man in the gun store. In the back room they have a camera. Half the money down and the other half when the IDs are ready.
“Two weeks, honey,” she says to me.
“Two weeks? You’re killing me.”
“You want birth certificate? Two weeks.”
As I’m breaking the speed limit right and left on my way back to Connecticut, I feel myself overhyped and bristling with weapons. I slide in a CD by Arvo Pärt.
Miserere mei, I sing. Dies irae dies illie.
I learned music at Ben’s. When we were working out with the weights and the machines, we’d turn up the volume and blast out everything from Metallica to Mozart. If any of us got out to do some shopping, the record store was always the first place on the agenda.
Kat was the one that turned me on to Arvo and Janice Joplin. A good mix, I think. About that time, Kat also handed me a copy of
To the Lighthouse
by Virginia Woolf. I learned revery. I learned sublime. From Virginia I learned of the brightness and the dark wedge. And after I read about the fin in the water, I was prepared for what followed.
Kat got so sick one day that Ben took her away. She never came back. Toni got AIDS. Then Violet came. Ben wouldn’t let Violet be, and his moods got bad. He kept the whips close at hand. His plays got more dangerous. The longer it went on, the more I clung to Violet, who, when all is said and done, was the stronger of us two.
I was willful and Ben whipped me regular for it, but Violet was smarter than me about these things. And she was determined to get out.
Oh, I loved her, I remember now (another chit) waking after a night of cuffs and whips to the smell of her hair and the warmth of her skin along my side. We became lovers. I waited for the moment when her eyes moved to me slow, like the way the river flowed, lazy in the heat, but forceful beneath. She hated Ben for whipping me. She hated the way he used me for his darkest shows.
He’s in love with you, she’d say.
No, Violet. He rides me too hard.
She’d narrow her eyes.