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Authors: Barbara Bell

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Stacking in Rivertown (7 page)

BOOK: Stacking in Rivertown
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You’re not paying attention. I see his eyes when you walk by.

That’s just Ben being Ben, I convinced myself.

We got to break out of here. Got to, Violet said.

I remember her voice. It had the ache of a sigh.

Just like I could learn the punches, she learned Ben’s mind, his moods. She’d egg him into putting her in the box, just to see if she could. Just as he handed her pieces of food, she’d let go a look, a touch. She used me, parading my love of her in front of him daily, pushing him, sinking in barbs.

Those two were poison.

And watching Ben as I always did, as we all did for self-protection, I wondered how much he just played along with her, letting her dig herself in deeper.

Ben darkened. He growled. The plays got rough. I’d have to sit out some nights because my bruises were too bad. Clients didn’t like the merchandise damaged before they got to it.

Another chit now. The night Ben went crazy like he had some form of the berserks.

We’d just finished a long play. I was still bound. Violet was starting to undo my straps, and Jason was cleaning the floor.

Matt was bent over a table, strapped down. Ben let loose his arms, but not his feet and neck. He held Matt’s wrists tight.

“Everybody listen to what Matt has to say.” He smiled that bad smile and started pushing up on Matt’s arms.

We froze.

Nothing, nothing, Matt said.

Tell them, Matty.

I’m sorry, Ben. Stop.

Ben kept pushing up. What for? Matt’s arms were too high.

I cheated you, Ben. I did a trick in the park. I won’t do it again.

He took a trick in the park. Ben laughed. He pushed up hard. I heard a pop and a crack. Matt’s arm was hanging loose, popped out of the socket. And his screaming was bad enough to make you shrink.

Ben jammed a gag in Matt’s mouth. He lifted the other arm. He was smiling big.

That was when Violet jumped Ben. He threw her off like he was swatting a fly, and Violet smashed into the wall. Ben grabbed her by the throat and lifted her off her feet. She hung up in the air, struggling, her mouth and eyes wide. Ben pressed his thumbs deeper. I yelled at him. He dropped her. Violet collapsed on the floor, heaving, making a noise like her tongue was stuck in her throat.

Don’t touch him, yelled Ben, pointing at Matt. He left.

Jason slunk over and let me loose. We helped Violet up, grabbing onto each other, and backed slow out of that room.

My agent leaves a message. “
wants the interview Thursday. Pictures when your face clears.”

I curse.

When Jeremy gets home, he wants to talk about Helen and our appointment. Did it help? Was I sad? Were the drugs helping yet?

He’s like a German shepherd panting at your thigh.

I finally tell him I want to go write. He’s so proud of me, pulling myself out of my nervous breakdown.

While at my computer, I add to the “In the Taurus” list. I type in: Ladysmith. I peck out: shotgun and bullets.

The next morning, I start on my new program. At the spa I swim laps in the pool. After an hour, I lift weights. Then I do laps again and practice holding my breath.

I could always hold my breath the longest and by a long shot. Mandy was a lightweight in the breath-holding department.

We had a spot upriver where we tied a rope out over the water. It was a good ten-foot drop down.

The river curled in there, fattened out, and fell quiet. When you dropped off the rope, the water was hot on top, but before you knew it, you were down in something cold. I hated that cold underlayer, that shapeless ache below. I tried not to drop in too deep, but sometimes it reached up to get me.

We had a long week of rain from some hurricane that petered out before it hit the coast. The river was running full, lapping up near the two-room, and the next days beat on us hateful with the sun, so that all we could do was faint down in the shade of the willows in the afternoon. That’s when we decided to swing the rope.

It’s good I went first because of my breath thing. Down below, the river was tough. It wouldn’t let go, dragging me on. The undercurrent. Once I broke surface, I had to ride it all the way to Fowler. I trudged out of the eddy, water-soaked and scared clean through.

Maybe it was just water in my ears. But when I was down there thrashing mindless and struggling to get back up, I’m sure I heard that river laugh. It reminded me of Daddy.

He laughed when he started hitting. And sometimes people laughed at Mama behind her back. She was about as wide as she was tall and always carrying her bags of garbage.

At night, I’d get Mama to sit down in our one stuffed chair, and I’d rub her neck, singing her the songs they taught us in school. She loved that.

I loved Mama, even though she was fat. After she burned up, I pretended that she was light, just a breath of air, that I could carry her around, that I could lift her up and set her in the tops of the willows where the leaves shone silver.

When Mama and Vin were gone and I was alone, I’d jump down in that river and hold my breath, sinking into that shapeless ache, staying as long as I could. I promised myself that I’d get used to it, that nothing would touch me ever again.

In my head, I start trying to compose my letter to Jeremy.

Dear Jeremy.



Oh, God, how can you lie like a rug in a suicide letter?

It’ll come to me.

After my workout Wednesday morning, I drive to the hospital where Jeremy and I had our synchronicity thing. I show my Clarisse Broder ID and ask to see the records of my stay five years ago.

It takes awhile.

The receptionist returns with a wad of papers newly printed out. I find what I’m looking for about five pages back. I read the diagnosis.

“Knife wound. Lower-left side.”

This chit could eat you alive. I’ve grown attached to my appendectomy.

After that, I drive to the garage where I’ve parked the Taurus. I open the back and pack in the loaded shotgun and a box of shells. I keep checking to make sure that my scar is on the left side. Maybe I’ve been wrong about it all these years.

Thursday comes with me all messed in the head about the interview with
. I don’t know why I bother.

“You write a lot about your childhood.”

childhood,” I say.

“Off the record, how did you get that rash?”

And here I was thinking it was going away real nice. I become self-conscious. “It’s something I ate.”

“Tell me about

I shift around. “Like what?”

“Where were you born?”

I think fast. “Ohio” is all I can come up with on the spur of the moment.

“Where in Ohio?”

I don’t know a thing about Ohio, so I say, “I forget.” My lying capabilities waned after the age of five.

“You forget?”

“Yeah,” I say, on a roll. “Too traumatic. My therapist says I’m not supposed to talk about it. Just thinking about it gives me a rash.”

“It’s always that way with artists, isn’t it?”

“What, the rash?”

“The sensitivity, the dark underbelly of life.”

Honey, what I could tell you about the dark underbelly. Some of those dark underbellies are well-known public figures.

Ben and I were at the reception the night of my fake appendectomy because of the Senator. At Ben’s, he asked for me special, always having me in manacles and bent over. Ben would make an appearance at public functions every now and then to give certain clients a scare, to hold a little sway. I guess that’s why Ben never had any problems with the cops.

But the cop at the hospital, when I was still restrained and half out of my mind with a hunger for smack, that cop kept asking me about Ben.

“I’m Ekker’s girl,” I said over and over.

“Some people say you aren’t,” he said. “On the street, some people say you’re Ben’s girl.”

“What difference does it make?” I said. “I had an appendectomy.”

He frowned.

Detective Bates. That was his name.

“Did you know this girl?” He showed me a picture that made me want to throw up. I didn’t look at her face. I didn’t want to see it.

“No! I don’t know her. Shit!” I fought the straps. “I had an appendectomy. I fell down the stairs.”

He left me his card. “I’d be careful, if I were you,” he said. “You’re in water over your head.”

As though I could do anything at all about the water I was in.

Detective Bates showed up a couple more times, wanting to show me the pictures, but I refused to look. He stopped coming.

Which is really weird because on Friday after I return home from doing my hours of laps and holding my breath, there he is standing on my doorstep. I park the Porsche and meet him at the front door.

He’s not much taller than me and must be twice my weight, but he carries it funny for a man. He looks padded all over, like someone has taped pillows front, back, and sides, from shoulders to waist. He’s got the round face of a choirboy with the angelic part having disintegrated in bits. I guess because of carrying around too many pictures like the ones he tried to show me at the hospital.

“Mrs. Boone,” he says, holding out his hand. His clothes look like he balls them up in the bottom of his closet for a month or so until they’re just right.

“Broder,” I say. “It’s Broder.” He almost got me there. I don’t take his hand. “You know, you could benefit from a night course on ironing.”

He gets a smile somewhat like Ben’s. “Funniest thing,” he says. “I found an old mug shot. Looks a lot like you, with the name Elizabeth Boone.” He shows it to me.

Oh yeah. I forgot to say I spent a couple of days in jail for shoplifting. Ben locked me in the box for that.

“So what do you want?” I say.

“Can I come in?”

I smile. Coffee, tea, or me? He follows me into our nicely appointed living room, taking a moment to stare up into the three-story entry, arched over by the winding stair and pouring with sunlight. I offer him a chair and wince as he sits in it. I hope he at least cleans his mangled clothes.

“Why don’t you look at these pictures now,” he says.

I don’t say anything.

“You wouldn’t want anybody to find out about your past, would you now, Mrs. Broder? Can I call you Beth?”

I stare straight through him.

He shows me the first photo. It’s a woman in a Dumpster. A blanket has been pulled away from her body and she’s lying on her back. There’s a smile across her stomach and out of that, some of her guts are pouring out. Her neck has a line along it. The head is near cut off. Her face is covered with a red-stained towel.

I try not to flinch. I’ve had a good amount of practice at not flinching. But the picture gets to me.

He hands me the next. It’s a close-up of her face.

A dead face doesn’t look quite like a living face. You can see a resemblance, but the face is missing some element that binds it into one, making it alive.

“You know her,” he says.


“Are you sure?”

He’s in my face now. I throw the picture at him. “I told you no. Now get out of here.”

He gathers his photographs and slides them in his case. “Tape can be nasty stuff,” he says. “Makes the skin raw.”

I turn away so that I don’t try to strangle him.

“Be careful, Miss Boone. Very deep water.”

I want to make a crack about how long I can hold my breath, but I feel too sick.

After he leaves, I close the front door and lean against it, sliding down. I cry like a baby. I keep seeing those small breasts. Those lips so pure, so chaste. The dead face, beaten badly. The face that used to belong to Violet.

I’m wishing I had the Prozac now.

Upstairs, I fill our tub that’s big enough for six and settle in for a long soak. I sink down, counting one to five, checking how many minutes until I come up for air. I curl on the bottom, pretending I’m dead and that everyone has forgotten me. Oh, for a memory wiped clean.

Miserere mei.

After my bath, I write a note to Jeremy:

Left town. Needed some space. Be back in a couple of days. Your adoring wife,


Jesus, the things I do.

I rifle my blouses and skirts in a closet that’s as big as a living room. I choose a blouse made of cobalt silk and tuck it into a luscious blue print midlength skirt with a slit up the side. After I’m dressed, I sit in front of my mirror, blotting out what remains of my rash with makeup.

Now my head is starting to spin with the push, the need to get the hell away from here, and my memory of the pictures of Violet.

I ride the commuter to Penn Station, arriving a little before five. The limo is waiting. Just the sight of that car freaks me into high gear as I float, my body going along on automatic pilot.

BOOK: Stacking in Rivertown
7.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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