Gender: Male Age: 29 Location: San Francisco.
|Introduction: Something unspeakable is living right next door.|
"Hell is empty, and all the devils are here."
-William Shakespeare, "The Tempest"
Raw meat lay on the cutting board and there was blood on Anne's hands; what was she doing? Had she just taken a bite? She couldn't remember, but her mouth tasted funny. Why would she do something like that? She realized her hands were shaking, so she put the knife down.
She dumped the cubed steak onto the stove and listened to the sizzle. Eric would be home any minute. In fact, there was the sound of his key in the lock now. She held onto the counter with both hands to keep her knees from giving away. Maybe tonight will be okay, she thought. Maybe he won't be so bad. Her optimism faded when she heard his flat, disappointed voice from the kitchen doorway: "You're making dinner."
She forced herself to smile. "Yes," she said. "I figured you'd had a long day at work."
Eric's face was blank. His voice was neither high nor low but a dangerous monotone: "You know I like to do it."
"Yes, but this time—" She stopped herself, realizing that she was taking the wrong track. She reversed course. "I'm sorry dear," she said. "Do you want to finish?"
"No point in it now," he said, throwing his coat over a chair and getting a Coke from the fridge. He wasn't making eye contact, which was another bad sign. No, tonight wasn't going to be one of the good nights, Anne thought. She'd made a bad call, she should have waited until he got home to start dinner to see what he would say. But if I'd done that, she thought, maybe he'd have come home disappointed that I hadn't started already. Maybe there were no right answers anymore. She realized that she was holding the knife again and made herself put it down. The sight of blood streaked on the blade disturbed her, so she splashed water on it.
Eric sat at the table, watching her, saying nothing. She asked about his day, and when that didn't work she told him about hers, but he wasn't listening. He just looked at her with his face blank as a mask. She wanted to sink to her knees and hide behind the counter to get away from that blank, non-look. Finally she sighed and thought, might as well get this over with. Moving very deliberately, Anne went to the cabinet and took down a serving dish. Then, halfway through turning around, she let it slip out of her hand. It shattered into a dozen pieces on the floor and she actually screamed at the crash.
Eric jumped up and crossed the kitchen in two long strides. He grabbed her arm and she cried out again as he pushed her up against the wall. He put all of his weight against her, pressing her so that it was almost impossible to breathe. His fingers bruised her forearm, deep red dappling the old, faded yellow marks from last week, and the weeks before. He never actually hit her, just grabbed her; sometimes she almost wished he would hit her and get it over with. He held her up against the wall and pushed his face right next to hers so that she had to breathe the hot air from his nostrils and open mouth. She turned her face away from his eyes. "Why did you do that?" he said. He did not sound angry. His tone was steady, placid, neutral, but he squeezed harder.
"I'm sorry," she said, her voice tiny. "It was an accident."
He was putting so much pressure on her arm that she thought he would break it. He stuck his face right next to hers and began taking heavy, deep breaths, almost like he was suffocating. He would do this for as long as fifteen minutes sometimes. These were the times, she knew, when she was in the most danger. There was no way to tell how long his fit would last. She rode it out, trying to keep her face to the wall, struggling to breathe against his heavy body pressing on her chest. Finally, after about five minutes, he let her go. She staggered, holding her sore arm. Without a word he went to the closet, got the broom and dustpan and swept up the fragments of the dish, then turned the stove down when he saw that the meat was starting to burn.
When he was finished he went to the table and began sorting the bills in the mail basket. When she made noise he looked at her and, as if nothing in the world had happened, gave her a kiss on the cheek. Finally she was able to breathe again. It was over; she'd gotten it out of the way for the night. She could always tell that it was coming but never exactly when he'd do it, so lately she'd taken to intentionally provoking him just so that she didn't have to walk on eggshells the whole evening. Now they could be normal, or as close to it as they ever got. She went to the sideboard and began chopping veggies, adding them to the pan; her hands were steady. "How was work?" she said.
"Just fine," said Eric. He sounded upbeat. "We had a—" But before he could finish Logan came in, trailing a blanket behind him. He ran and tried to jump up into Eric's lap but almost fell over, and Eric caught him and lifted him for a kiss.
"Hi Daddy," Logan said.
"Hey kiddo." Eric beamed.
"I heard a loud noise," Logan said.
"That was Mommy. She scared herself."
Logan looked at her, little blue eyes shining. "Did you, Mommy?"
Anne smiled. "Yes dear. Now you and Daddy wash up. Dinner is ready."
Eric carried Logan to the bathroom sink. Anne took down another serving dish. The broken pieces of the last one were buried in the trash, out of sight. The knife was still in the sink though, and the water around it was still faintly pink. The sight seemed to hypnotize her for a moment. The pain in her arm was still there, and it throbbed, and for a second she felt angry, really and truly angry. She remembered the taste of the raw meat; it seemed good to her now. She wanted more.
But then it passed. She busied herself setting the table. Eric came back with Logan, listening to him chatter, smiling as wide as the day Logan was born. Everything was ready. Dinner was on.
Anne saw Eric's face, covered in blood. "Please stop," he said through torn lips. "Please don't. Please, stop. Stop. Stop!"
She woke up gasping, shivering, covered in sweat. Her heart knocked against her ribs and her sides shuddered. It took a moment for her blind panic to fade, and then she flopped back against the mattress, exhaling so hard that it hurt. In the half-light coming through the shades she saw the blades of the ceiling fan turning around and around on her bedroom ceiling. What the hell just happened? A dream? She could barely remember. Somehow she'd dozed off lying here in bed, and then…
But the memory was already fading.
Jin rolled over. "What's wrong?" His arms encircled her, hugging her against his bare chest. She rolled over too, tucking her chin against his shoulder.
"I don't know," she said. "I guess I had a nightmare." Though she'd just woken up from an hour-long nap Anne still felt exhausted, like she'd finished a marathon. She remembered running in her dream; had she been chased? Or was she chasing something? And she remembered being angry. No, not just angry; murderous. Even the blurry, fragmented memory of it frightened her now.
Another thought occurred to her and she sat straight up, panicked again. "Jesus, what time is it?"
"It's only one."
One o'clock. Logan was done at PlayCare at three, and then Eric would be home at five thirty. But it was only one o'clock now. They were fine for a little while more. She snuggled back up to Jin. He traced her naked shoulder with a finger, moving down her arm, careful to avoid the bruises when she winced. "Was it about him?" Jin said.
"Oh. I don't know," she said. "I can't remember anything."
"These are new," Jin said, indicating her bruised arm. She rolled over, turning away from him but still staying close, her back pressed against his chest, arm hidden beneath her body. Jin didn't let up. "Is it bad lately?"
"It's always bad."
"Is it worse?"
"I don't know," she said. Her voice was taking on a flat quality that reminded her of Eric. She didn't like it.
Jin sighed. "You could leave him."
"He'd follow me."
"We'd get help. Protection."
"Who would take care of Logan?"
"You take care of Logan."
"But I can't do it alone."
"Yes you can," Jin said. "Just because he tells you that you aren't smart enough—"
"No, honey, I mean, where is the money going to come from? I don't have a job. I've never had a job that he didn't make me quit after three weeks. I didn't even finish high school. And without his insurance how could I take care of Logan? Who's going to buy his insulin?"
Jin's eyes met hers. He seemed to be debating something. Then he said, "Come live with me."
She laughed. The laugh wasn't mean-spirited; if anything, she was charmed. She stroked his cheek, feeling the stubble on her hand because he hadn't shaved that morning, probably in too much of a hurry to come see her. "Three weeks and you're proposing?"
"I'm not saying we should get married," said Jin. "Just, I'll help. I'll…"
"Take care of me?"
"It's not like that. But if it's just about money and having a place to stay, I can do all that with you."
"Honey, you can't even afford to take care of yourself. They're not even paying you at this job of yours."
"This next article will sell," he said. "I'm working day and night on this. Just give me a little more time and we'll find a way."
She kissed him; his mouth was warm. "You're sweet," she said. "Come on, let's not talk." And she kissed him again, and again, and again. His lips were sweet. His kisses were always a little reluctant, as if he was scared of hurting her, and she almost had to chase after them. She didn't mind. She thought it was cute. She rolled over onto him, draping her naked body across his; she was light and he held her up with ease. His head was nestled back into the pillow (Eric's pillow, though he hadn't slept in this bed in ages) and, with nowhere to turn, his kisses couldn't hide from hers. He finally surrendered. She always won.
Jin's lips were sweet, and his eyes were beautiful, and his body was strong but tender, but the thing Anne really loved about him was his hands. He had long, thin fingers, very graceful, and when they touched her they seemed to just brush the surface of her skin. It was hard to imagine Jin's hands slaving away on a keyboard; they were much too delicate for that. When they brushed through her hair she gasped, and when they glided across the curve of her hips she sighed. His touch moved up and down her naked back. Sometimes she imagined that his hands were completely separate things, making love to her all on their own. She wondered if there was any part of her that transfixed him the same way. Well, other than the obvious, that is…
She grabbed the headboard and pulled, holding herself up so that she could press her breasts to his mouth. His kisses dotted her bare flesh, pausing over each nipple before brushing against it as well. She sighed, gripping the headboard a little tighter. She arched her back, pushing forward; she always wanted to be harder with Jin, but he did not seem to be the sort of person who was made for anything hard. She did her best. His lips parted and sucked a little, and a knot coiled inside her. She slid down him a little, letting the tip of his curved cock press against the inside of her thigh. It made her ache. Pulling his mouth back up to hers, she started to slide down onto him.
"Wait," he said. She paused, raising an eyebrow. Scooping her into his arms, he spun her around and laid her on her back. Her head swam a little and she smiled, pleased by his sudden assertiveness. But what was he up to? His hands ran the length of her thighs, parting them. She began to tingle, already anticipating what was coming next. He kissed her flat stomach, a strange gesture, but the feeling of his soft lips graving the sensitive skin around her navel made her giggle and squirm. His tongue flicked her, a playful gesture. He kissed the slope of her hips, trailing wetly down. She sighed, stretching out, relaxing, cradling her head in her hands and trying to let herself enjoy the moment.
His hands were on her again, moving up and down, the smooth, soft pads of his palms and fingertips caressing her. When he touched her clit a little firecracker of nervous pleasure went off. She picked up a pillow and smothered her face to stifle her moans. He touched her again, and again, and her body surged, hips twitching as she wiggled up and down, limbs dancing. She held her breath and counted, waiting for him to keep going: One, two, three, four, five…
He licked her and she screamed into the pillow, pushing it down harder. He licked her again, running his tongue up the length of her sex, stopping at the top to tease and then running back down again, letting his lapping nudge against her throbbing clit, then back up, and back down. She went limp, helpless, relaxing completely, just letting him go at it. His lips pressed against her and he began to suck while his amazing hands pressed against her thighs, spreading them even wider, opening her up, drawing her in, tasting everything, his touch gentle but the electric sting of it running all up and down her.
The throbbing heat of the moment blurred out everything for Anne; she didn't think about Eric, she didn't think about Logan, she didn't think about her life or the prison of her house. She didn't even really think about Jin, except now and then when her eyes fluttered open and she saw his face (or the top of his face, at least), briefly reorienting her before she slipped back down into a half-comatose condition and shut everything back out again. For a while there was just feeling, and she felt it building up, and up, and up, until she felt like she couldn't contain it and the reverberations might split her apart…and then it all went out at once, like the tide, and she was holding Jin again, and kissing him again, and letting him whisper her name while he kissed the tears from her cheeks, again, and again, and again, her hand pressed into his so that he could hold it tight for her and say, even if she didn't believe it, that he wouldn’t let go.
At three they both left, Anne to go pick up Logan, Jin to go off and beg his landlord for one more week of goodwill, one more week to keep playing reporter and chasing the story and begging and pleading for a paycheck when it was done. That was how they met; he'd pitched an article on domestic abuse to a women's magazine but couldn't find any women willing to be interviewed about it. A blogger friend took pity on him and put out a mass email to followers asking for their stories. Anne called him on a whim and they'd met up in a bar down the street, both feeling like they were on the world's most horrifying first date.
He'd been kind and polite but obviously had no idea how to ask her the questions he needed answered. For her part, she hadn't said more than a dozen words to him before she broke down. Poor Jin had looked so helpless as he moved to her side of the table and did his best to comfort her. They talked for hours, so long that she was almost late getting home, almost late beating Eric in the door. Jin called her the next day to schedule a "follow up interview."
And to be fair, they really had talked about her marriage; she told him everything while he scribbled away on a pad the whole time, documenting her private hell. She'd gotten distracted watching his hands while he wrote. She took the risk of meeting with him at the house the second time, privately thrilled by the idea of having a man around while Eric was at work. She couldn't quite remember how they ended up in bed that first time. She'd long since stopped agreeing to sleep with Eric, even forced him to move to another bedroom, and for the most part she thought that part of her was finished. Talking with Jin, she realized it was the first time she'd been alone with a man other than Eric in over five years, and almost the first time she'd even talked, really talked, to a person who wasn't Eric in at least a year too. It felt like gravity was pushing them together.
After that first time he said they couldn’t see each other again, that she was the subject of his article and he had to avoid conflicts of interest. She said she understood. Then two days later he came back, and he'd been coming back ever since.
Anne walked the six blocks to the PlayCare center. She hadn't had time to shower, so she hoped the fresh air would dilute the smell of sex that hung around her. When she got home she'd have two hours to clean the house. She'd clean every room Jin was in. Sometimes she imagined Eric would sniff out his scent, like some kind of hunting animal, if she didn't wipe it out with ammonia and pine. She felt like it was the penance she had to do, as if scrubbing until her hands swelled up and stung from chemicals were some mortification to undo her misdeeds.
Logan came running out of the little gate to her. His smile was practically blinding in the afternoon sun. "Mommy!" he said.
"Did you play nice, sweetheart?"
She hugged him. It wasn't until she saw Ms. Price, the Care Mom, looking at her that she realized how long she'd been standing there hugging her son in the middle of the sidewalk. They started the walk back. Logan slipped his tiny hand into hers. For some reason, the feeling of it scared her. She held it as tightly as she could.
Anne was running again.
Her legs throbbed and her lungs strained but she kept running. Where was she? There were trees all around and her feet crushed dead leaves. She felt strange; hot all over, hot inside, and her blood boiled. Why was she running? Was she being chased? No, she realized, she was chasing someone else. Her prey was right in front of her, and she was overtaking him. It's a hunt, she realized, and the primal, visceral pleasure of pursuit warmed her bones. She ran faster; she was on him now, right at his heels, coming half a step closer at every turn, and now, reaching out, she had him. She seized her prey, feeling him struggle, grappling with him and pressing his back to the trunk of a tree, pinning him while he squirmed. "No!" he said, "Please, don't hurt me!" Oh my God, she thought, it's Eric.
And now that she had a hold of him she saw her own hands: they were twisted things, monstrous, like claws. She seemed to be taller than Eric, somehow, and her shadow on the ground looked hunched and frightening, not at all human. None of this bothered her though. She was fixated on her hands; they looked so strange, so ugly but so beautiful too. Her hand was on Eric's arm and she pulled it, testing her own strength. He started crying. She pulled harder. He begged her to stop, but his voice was just a faint buzz in her ear. It bent so easily, the arm of this flimsy little man. She wanted to see how far it could bend before it broke…and then see how much farther it would bend after that.
But his screams were getting annoying. She decided it was time for him to be quiet. She decided to shut him up one way or—
Anne woke up, panting, sweating, burning. For a second she couldn't breathe and smothering pain settled on her chest. She tried to get out of bed but her head was spinning. The glowing letters of the clock said two in the morning.
What was happening to her? The same dream again. The blurry image of Eric's blood-streaked face swam up in her mind. She tried to stand but the sound of a squeaky hinge alerted her that the bedroom door was open. Eric's tall silhouette was framed against the near-dark of the hallway. "Eric?" she said, confused. His room was down the hall, next to Logan's; what was he doing here? Fear caught hold of her and she shrank against the headboard.
Eric said nothing but came and sat on her side of the bed. The entire mattress sank with his weight. Anne inched away. Oh God, she thought, not tonight, please not tonight. She tried to play if off: "Eric, what is it? Is Logan all right?"
He didn't answer. He put his hand under the sheet and on her bare leg. She gasped. "Eric, stop it!" He ignored her. His hand traveled up, and up, and up. "Stop it!" she said, as loud as she dared with the door open and Logan's room just a few feet away. "Eric, no. I said no. Eric!"
He clapped his other hand over her mouth. His thick fingers smothered her. The bedsprings protested as he climbed fully onto the mattress, pulling the sheets down and letting the cold air sting her exposed body. He was a shape in the dark, faceless and huge. Again he put all his weight on her, seemingly trying to crush her. She tried to scream but he blotted out her voice. Her eyes went wide in the dark. I should go limp, she thought, he wants me to struggle, he likes it that way. But she couldn't stand the idea of seeming helpless, so she fought anyway.
Eric's hand pushed between her legs again. With his other hand he was undoing his belt, and then his pants, and then he was positioning himself. She thought about biting him, even about trying to take one of his fingers off, but this, she knew, would only invite more reprisal. He was there now, he was right up against her, he was pushing in, he was—
Anne went away for a while.
Anne felt Logan's eyes on her. She stooped to button his coat, keeping her own eyes on her fingers as she did each snap one at a time: snap, snap, snap, all the way to the top. She felt the questions, and even the accusations, in those eyes, and she couldn't bring herself to meet them. He said nothing out loud, of course; he was young enough to know he didn't have to. Just don't think about it, Anne told herself. Think about anything except last night.
Wordless, she took him by the hand, walking him to the Care Center, giving him a kiss and telling him to be good and waving him off, all without looking him in the eyes. She did not stay to chat with Ms. Price that morning but went straight home. Only once alone did she feel she could breathe again. The house was already spotless from bottom to top but she cleaned it again anyway just to have something to do. She was finished by noon. The only room she skipped was the bedroom, not trusting herself to go back in.
Instead she went to the kitchen where, in a daze, she pulled a package of raw hamburger from the fridge and ate it one handful at a time, barely aware of what she was doing. She licked the blood from the packaging and tossed it away, ignoring the protestations of her stomach. She washed her hands in the sink, watching the blood mingle with the warm water and swirl around the drain. It was satisfying to see her hands clean, to know that a stain could be removed so quickly and that once it was gone no one would ever know it had been there.
She sighed. What in the hell was she going to do? Today was Friday, meaning that Eric would be home all day for the next two days, and PlayCare would be closed. Trapped in the house with Eric for 48 hours was bad enough, but knowing that she would have nowhere to hide from Logan's accusations made her skin crawl.
Accusations, she thought? He's not persecuting you, she reminded herself, he's four. But still she felt burdened by the pain and the anxiety that she saw, or imagined she saw, in his eyes that morning. He must be afraid, he must be questioning; how could he not after what happened? And would he blame her for not having the answers he needed? Would he grow up always wondering, with a fissure in his memory that would get wider and wider as he became an adult? She was shaking and crying, so she went to the (now spotless) bathroom to clean herself up. She looked in the mirror, saw blood on her lips and teeth, and licked it away without thinking. And then she saw her eyes.
They were red and puffy from crying, of course, but that's not what startled her: Somehow, her irises were yellow, a bitter gold color that almost seemed luminous. She gaped, but no sound came out of her mouth. She leaned in, assuming she must be seeing some trick of the light, but no, it was really there in front of her, two yellow, inhuman eyes staring out of her own face. They were eyes without pity, and behind them was an unspeakable anger, nameless and formless, a half-conscious urge for violence birthed in the look her own reflection gave her in the bathroom mirror. Anne's blood boiled; she was filled with rage.
In that moment she wanted to wrap her hands around someone's throat and squeeze; to bash someone's skull with her fists until they both bled; to crush someone under her boot until they died. She wanted bloody revenge on the entire world. She thought about tyrants and the warlords in palaces of far-off countries and she wanted to taste their flesh. She thought about soldiers and mercenaries riding through burning villages and she wanted to feel their bones break. She wanted her fury to scorch the Earth clean. Her yellow eyes and bloodstained teeth told her this story as she looked into the mirror, and only after a time did she realize that the sound she was hearing in the background, that strange, frightening sound, was coming from herself: She was growling, like an animal, and she wanted to throw back her head and howl, to let the anger out in a cry so hot with rage that it might burn the house down around her.
But then she started and the vision was gone; her eyes were their perfectly ordinary color and the rage evaporated. Her fury was replaced by horror; what was happening to her? She must be losing her mind. She felt sick and confused. She suddenly wanted to call Jin but she was afraid; what would she tell him? How would he react? No, she decided, no one could ever know what was happening, least of all Jin. But God she wanted to hear his voice…
But whatever is going on, it's not Jin, she thought. It's not even about Eric. Somehow it's just me, it has be. Something is happening to me. I'm dangerous. I'm a monster. I'm—
She shut off her thoughts. She counted down the hours until it was time to pick up Logan. Then she walked the blocks to the Care Center and went into the little gate, waiting for Logan to notice her. He was in the middle of some kind of tag or hide-and-seek game; it took her a while to figure out that he was "it" because he seemed to think that the person who was "it" ought to be hiding as well. She was so intent on watching him that she didn't notice Ms. Price until she tapped Anne on the shoulder. Ms. Price smiled that smile of hers, the one that made it seem like you were the first other human being she'd seen in ages and boy weren't the two of you lucky to run into each other. "Hello Anne," she said.
Anne had to lick her lips to talk. "Hello."
"Good to see you. You've been scarce lately. We missed you at the last parents' meeting."
"Yes, I'm sorry, I was busy with—" She just stopped herself from actually saying "with my lover."
"What about Eric? He hasn't been around much either."
"Eric? He's fine. Everything's fine. We're all fine."
Ms. Price edged a little closer. "I don't mean to pry, but are things…all right, with you two?"
Anne was about to speak her prerecorded response that everything was "fine" but then she saw Ms. Price's eyes: they had a flat, brittle quality, and little fret lines, so out of place on her cheerful face, crept in here and there. Then she looked at Ms. Price's hands and saw that her knuckles were white with tension. Oh my God, Anne thought, she knows, she knows what happened! Did Logan say something? Did he ask an awkward question?
Well of course he did. He had to ask someone, after all, had to have some adult try to make sense out of what he saw, and if his mother and father couldn't do it for him then who else would he go to? All of a sudden Anne was right back in the bedroom with Eric's hand over her mouth, trying to scream, trying to struggle. She was right back in the bedroom last night, turning her head and seeing Logan standing in the doorway, watching. How long had he been there? How much had he seen? Eric soon realized he was there too and stopped, even went to Logan and asked why he was up, like nothing in the world was wrong. And Logan just kept staring. Anne wanted to scratch her own eyes out thinking about it, about the questions in her son's eyes that she didn't have answers for.
And now Ms. Price knew. She knew everything, she must. But she was not, Anne noticed, saying so. Instead she was asking a question, putting it on Anne to bridge the gap between what was being said and not said. And was this the first time? Surely Logan had asked questions, or said uncomfortable things about his parents, before? Surely Ms. Price couldn't fail to notice the bruises on Anne's arms (she had long ago stopped bothering to wear long sleeves to cover them up)? Surely she must have noticed how Eric never let her talk at the meetings? She must have known all along? And she's said nothing, done nothing, the whole time. Why don't you say it, Anne wanted to scream in the other woman's face? Why don't you just say in plain English what you're thinking? You know it, so say it! You know that I know it, so say it! You're thinking it right now, I know you are, I can see that you are, so just say it! Say it, say it, say it, say it, say it!
But all Anne said was, "Yes. Everything's fine."
She collected Logan. He seemed better than this morning. Or maybe there had never really been anything wrong with him and it had all been her. But how could seeing a thing like that not screw him up? I have to keep it together, she told herself as they came to the front door. Whatever's happening to me, I have to stay strong for Logan. I'm all he has. Somehow, the thought comforted her. She would be okay. She would pull through. She had no choice. Logan needed her. Nothing else mattered.
Anne was screaming again. She screamed. And screamed. And screamed.
And it wasn't until Eric began shaking her that she woke up. She was standing in the middle of the kitchen, surrounded by pots and pans strewn on the floor. The cabinet was open and they all must have fallen out while she was, what, daydreaming? Blacked out? What had just happened? She’d had a vision of sorts, of herself standing at the bathroom mirror, covered in blood, looking at her reflection. It was not a human face that stared back at her but the image of a monstrous wolf, its jaws wet with gore. She looked at her hands, those maiming paws, sniffing the blood-stench from them. And then Logan had appeared in the doorway, watching again, and he held up his own hands for her to see, tiny little claws all his own. "Mommy," he'd said, "what's happening to me?" And then she’d started screaming.
Eric, she realized, was still shaking her; not in his normal way, but rather in a bid to bring her to her senses. He had a look of something like concern on his face. Anne clapped her mouth shut, then pulled away from him and, without thinking, said, "Get your fucking hands off me!"
Eric froze. Anne braced herself but nothing happened. He let her leave the kitchen unharmed, watching her but not accosting her. There was a lethal promise in his silence. Anne hurried to find Logan. She told him he was going to go play at the neighbors' house. He didn’t ask questions. Eric did not object. Nor did Eric ask where she was going herself once Logan was out of the way. She thought he might be following her at first as she walked down the street, but no, the coast was clear, the sidewalk behind her empty. Was he really just letting her go? It seemed strange until she realized that he would be certain she’d come back; where else did she have to go? And he'd be waiting for her…but try not to think about that just now.
It took her over an hour to get to Jin's place. She walked the whole way. She'd been there only once before, and never gone inside. Her foot tapped restlessly while she waited for him to answer the bell. He blinked in confusion as he peered around the security chain. "Hey," was all he could think to say. He released the chain and opened the door more. "What's going—"
She practically threw herself on him. Her open-mouthed kiss swallowed his grunt of surprise. She kicked the door shut behind her without turning around, kissing Jin while walking into him, forcing him to back up until he almost tripped over a table and then he was down on the floor, with her on top, burying her beneath him. She was crying, but she ignored that, stripping her clothes off and throwing them away. Jin's expression staked a middle ground between concern and terror, but he seemed speechless. That was fine with Anne; she didn't want him to talk right now.
She crouched over him, pulling his belt off and fumbling with his pants. He did the liberties of taking off his own shirt (probably for fear of losing buttons) while she was busy elsewhere, and once he was naked she sat on top of him, putting all her weight on him, as if she were afraid he might escape. She was no longer crying, but the tracks of tears burned on her cheeks and her sore, angry eyes throbbed. The back of her throat hurt. Jin tried to touch her cheek but she flinched at the sight of his outstretched hand. She pushed his wrist against the floor, then the other. She bit her lip, unsure what to do, but finally she said, "Put your hands around the table leg." She indicated the coffee table. Jin blinked.
"Don't ask questions," she said. She was careful to avoid eye contact. "In fact, don't say anything. Just…just do it."
Jin wrapped his wrists around the table leg and Anne retrieved his belt, looping it and cinching it tight so that his hands were securely tied. She asked him to tug and he did; the table was heavy and the belt was strong; she was satisfied that he couldn't move, couldn't touch her, couldn't grab her. Then she considered his naked body; he looked strange this way, trussed up and helpless. She looked at his face but then looked away; nothing she wanted there. She scanned the front of his body, taking in his naked chest, but no, that only reminded her of the days and nights he'd held her against him. No good either.
Finally her eyes slipped down below the waistline. Ah, that's what she needed. She cupped her hands under his testicles and squeezed. He did not react. She squeezed a little harder, rolling them in her fingers. Still no reaction from him. She felt the weight of them in her hands, and the pulse just at the base; they were surprisingly cool to the touch. She guessed she must have noticed before, but she'd never really spent a lot of time contemplating them, Jin's or Eric's. It seemed strange now to think that those were the only men she'd ever been with. She wondered how different the others were, how their bodies felt? Then she decided it didn't matter.
She kissed the side of his cock, and now Jin jumped. She kissed it again, then licked it, then coiled her tongue around it. She heard him suck his breath in between his teeth. This was the one thing she would never do for him. She'd done it for Eric when she was much younger, but that had all stopped a long time ago. Not that Jin ever complained, of course, and in fact he only ever brought it up once. Now she ran her tongue from the base up to the head, swirling it around. His cock was flaccid and shrunken and it shivered in her hand, but with enough time, and enough coaxing, enough massaging of her wet lips and enough of the stimulation of her hot breath on his organ, it finally stirred, then grew, and eventually reached a state where it would be able to do her some good.
Anne considered it as if it was a cornered animal, and then, without stopping to think much about it, she slid the whole thing into her mouth. The obstruction choked her and she had to push it back out, but before it was gone completely she tried again, opening wider, taking it slow. Even then she could only go halfway down, but she figured that was good enough. She pursed her lips and sucked; the taste, and the sensation, was not at all what she'd imagined they would be. Her mouth went dry after only a few seconds and she had to work on it again before it would be wet enough to allow for an easy in and out, but once it was she concentrated on that, closing her eyes (they still hurt) and sliding halfway down it and then halfway out, letting her tongue glide along the bottom and pausing to make sure that her lips shielded him from her teeth—though she noticed that his reactions were a bit more animated when she allowed a little bit of pressure from them still.
Jin's breathing was labored and his face pinched in concentration. He'd gone pale and there was sweat on his brow. She watched the rise and fall of his chest, picturing his ribcage expanding and contracting with the force of each breath. She imagined the machinery of his body and how it would run faster when she stimulated it. She felt his hips squirm when she sucked down and tested it, once, twice, three times to see if she could get the same reaction always. She heard him choke back moans. It was gratifying. When she opened her eyes she saw the expanse of his naked chest again and she was suddenly seized with the urge to leave a mark there: a bruise, a bite, a scratch, something that would last, something that would testify about her actions later. But as her hands reached for him she relented, and instead concentrated on what she was doing below.
She could tell he was almost there. He seemed to be objecting, no, warning her, but she didn't hold up, didn't turn away, didn't let him go. She wondered if it was safe? They'd always used protection before for fear of getting pregnant, but she'd never considered any other risks. Did Jin sleep around? Did he have another lover, or a girlfriend that she didn't know about? She'd never asked. She was hardly in a position to judge him if he did, after all. But she was startled to discover how little she really knew about this man's life. And he knew everything about hers. It made it seem like there was so little about her to know. But of course, she thought, he doesn't quite know everything. He doesn't know why I'm here today. That thought comforted her. She went back to it. Jin was spasming out of control now and even gave one last earnest effort to buck her away, but it was no use: he shook moaned, convulsed, squirted, dribbled, then fell still. She opened her mouth, accepting. It felt strange all the way down. But the pain in her head was gone.
Wiping her mouth with the back of her hand (a vulgar gesture that gratified her), she turned away for a second. She looked back at Jin; he was panting, exhausted. She touched his cheek and he cried out; she flinched, momentarily hurt, but she realized she'd only startled him. She did it again and he was accepting. She realized he'd hurt his wrists straining against the belt during his orgasm and felt a twinge of guilt. She untied him, then brought his hands to her mouth, kissing the backs of his fingers one by one, then his palms, and she let him touch her cheek. He sat up, putting his arms around her, and she leaned into him. She was crying again, but it didn't hurt now. He said nothing. What was there to say?
Afterward they still lay on the floor, naked, huddled in each other's arms. Anne had finally stopped crying, though the tears had left such vivid tracks on her cheeks that they seemed like they might be permanent. She had her back to Jin but leaned into him as hard as she could. "It's not Eric who's getting worse," she said, "it's me. I don't understand what's happening and I'm scared.”
"We have to get you out of there. We'll figure out the money somehow. You can't stay like this."
She was quiet for a few moments. "Jin, I lied to you."
She rolled over to look him in the eye. "The money and the job and even Logan aren’t why I stay. I mean, those things make it harder to leave, yeah, but they're just what I tell myself the problem is. The real problem is that I knew a long time ago I should have left, but I didn't. Because I was so in love with marriage that I thought I had that I couldn't bear admitting that it had gone bad. It's a kind of denial, where you just trick yourself into thinking there isn't a problem. And eventually you're so damned ashamed of yourself and so afraid that people will think you're weak and stupid for putting up with it that you keep putting up with it to make sure no one ever finds out."
"You've been working on that article for weeks, you've talked to other women, I know they all told you the same thing," she said. "It's a trap. Once you're in you can't even see the way out."
She stood up. Jin's little apartment was drafty and the cool air felt good on her naked skin. Jin stood up and took her hand in his. "Anne, I can't let you go back there."
She smiled a little and shook her head. "I know you really mean that. But what are you going to do?"
Jin looked helpless for a moment. Then he said, "I'll hurt him. I don't want to, but I'll do it if I have to."
"Honey, that's almost sweet. But he's huge, he'd kill you in a fight."
Jin's face became surprisingly dark for a moment. "I didn't say I was going to fight him. I said I was going to hurt him."
"No you won't." She took her hand away. "You want to. Anyone would want to. Anyone would say that's what they'd do, if you asked them. But nobody ever actually does it."
"You'd just go to jail. Your life, your career, everything, would be ruined. Remember I told you I called the police last year, after the first time he raped me? They spent four hours berating me before they'd take me to the hospital to do a rape kit, and after all that they didn't even arrest him, didn't even question him. When the court order was up he came right home. I called them again and asked them to come arrest him but they said it was no good, that there wasn't enough to prosecute on, that they couldn't help me unless he did something else.
"But they'd arrest you. If you tried to fight him, and even if he somehow didn't kill you, and if you somehow really hurt him, that's something they'd arrest you for. That's something they'd see as bad enough. He'd still be out, and you'd be taken away. It's a fucked up world, but that's how it is. And that's why you're not going to do anything. Thank you for caring. But it doesn't matter."
"Don't go. Just stay a little more."
"Just a little."
"I'll have to go eventually."
"I'm scared for you."
"You should be scared of me."
He took her hands again. "Don't say that. Don't ever say—"
His eyes went wide; he jerked his hands away from hers. She looked down, then back up at the horror in his face. Her breath caught. "What?" she said. "What is it?"
"Your hands," Jin said. "They were…for a second they looked…" And he couldn't finish. Anne looked at him, then at her hands again. They appeared normal, but when she flexed her fingers they felt strong, far stronger than usual. She glimpsed herself in the hall mirror; a wolf stared back at her. She watched the glass, fascinated. She licked her teeth and so did the wolf. Its yellow eyes burned. Jin, she realized, did not see it, but she was convinced it was real. She felt it inside of her. It rolled over in her stomach, hungry.
"I have to go," she said.
"What are you going to do?"
"That's the thing, Jin: I really don't know."
She kissed him again and went. Jin was left naked and confused on the floor of his tiny apartment. He stood, found his pants, put them on and went to his desk. He leafed through page after page of notes, all from the past six weeks, all from conversations with women, all of them scared, hurt, confused, angry. He read their words over and over, trying to make sense out of the world, but it was no good. Every word was like a little cut, and by the end he felt like he was bleeding all over:
"He was bigger than me, he was stronger, so he said that anytime he wanted to do anything to me I just have to put up with it."
"I felt so ashamed. I'm supposed to be a strong woman; how could I let this happen?"
"The cops only cared about getting me to be quiet. They didn't seem like they wanted to help. They didn't take me seriously. I wanted real help. I wanted to be safe."
"I'm walking on eggshells all the time. There are certain things I have to do to keep him happy but I don't always know what those things are. I'm terrified every minute of the day."
"She told me no one would ever love me but her. She said if I ever left I'd be alone forever. She called me fat and stupid and after a while I started to believe it."
"He forced me to have an abortion. He said if I didn't he'd hit me until the baby died on its own."
"Everyone saw what he did but no one wanted to help. No one even wanted to acknowledge it. Everyone just shut down and turned away."
"It's not just hitting. My husband never really hit me. But he'd scream at me if I ever disagreed with him. It's so much worse than just hitting, no one even realizes."
"She dragged me away in front of everyone. She broke two of my ribs in the parking lot. I was screaming and screaming but no one would help, no one."
"I don't even know how I got like this. I just want to live again. I don't know how to get out.”
“I’m scared for my kids. How can they grow up normal with this happening around them? I’m so scared they’ll grow up to be like him.”
"I'm not safe when I go home. I just want to be safe. Oh God, I want to be safe."
Eric was sitting with the lights off when she came in. Was Logan still at the neighbors'? She did not hear him and he never cooperatively went to bed this early, but the house was perfectly silent. The click of the door shutting sounded as loud as a gunshot. She stood in the entryway, not sure what to do. Eric said nothing. Every second in silence was like a tiny needle. Finally he came toward her. "Where were you?" he said.
Anne trembled but then forced herself to stop; it almost hurt, but she did it anyway. "Out," she said.
"I told you. Out."
He pushed her into the door. "Answer me."
Tears burned the back of her eyes, but they wouldn't fall. She waited until she was sure she could talk without letting them go and then she said, "I was with another man."
She paused. Eric said nothing.
"I have been for weeks. He knows everything about you. I told him all about—"
His hand moved faster than she could see. The breath went out of her, not from the force of the blow but simply from shock; he had never actually hit her before. It was almost a relief. She felt the swelling on her cheek immediately. He let go of her now, looking at his own hand like it belonged to someone else. Anne licked her lips and tasted blood.
"Is that all?" she said. Anne's hands were clenched into fists and she released them one finger at a time; in the dark they looked like claws. "That's the last time you're ever going to put your hands on me," she said.
Eric leaned in. "What are you going to do about it?"
"Eric, you don't understand me: I said that's the last time."
He stuck his face right next to hers. "And I said, what are you doing to do about it?"
She smiled. "You want to know?"
"Yeah. I want to know. I want to know what you're going to do."
She sighed inside. She flexed her claws. Her teeth had become very, very long. She looked at her shadow on the wall; it was the shadow of the wolf. "All right," she said.
And she showed him.
The detectives kept to the edge of the room, letting the techs do their work. One of the two took out a hard candy and unwrapped it, putting the wrapper back in her pocket before popping the candy in her mouth. Though almost ten years younger than her partner she was the veteran of the two. The older cop was new to homicide and not used to it yet. This scene would be educational.
"So," said the younger detective, “do we want to start placing bets on the weapon?"
Flashbulbs illuminated pooled and splattered blood. The older cop exhaled hard. "Chainsaw," he said. His partner shook her head.
"Nah. Good guess, but a saw leaves a ragged cut and this looks cleaner. And you can tell from the posture that whatever was used gutted him fast; a saw takes time going through a guy but this happened in one shot. Gotta be something else."
"Beats me," said the woman cop, "I'm not the killer. Tell you something else too: The body's not all here. Some of him is missing."
"How the hell can you tell?"
"I've seen a lot of dead guys. For a man this size there should be more. Even all spread around, you can tell there's just not enough volume. And did you notice the toes?"
"There's only eight."
"You counted his toes?"
"What about that one by the chair?"
"Counted that one already."
The older cop grunted. "So you think the killer took something with him?"
"Or ate it."
They passed a few minutes in silence, then the woman cop talked to one of the techs, signing something on a clipboard. "What did the neighbors say?" she said.
"They didn't see anything. Said they heard screaming though. Screaming and other sounds."
"What other sounds?"
"That's what they said. Like a dog, they said. They seemed pretty rattled. The kid was over there. County has him now."
They both stepped outside. The flashing glare of blue and red police lights turned the street unreal. The older cop checked his watch, even though it hadn't run in years. "So who do you like for this?" he said.
"I don't like anything about this."
"You know the wife had bruises on her arms. Lots of them, old and new. Fresh black eye too. I asked her what happened and you know what she said to me? 'Fell down some stairs.'"
"Always those tricky stairs."
"She's at the hospital now. Shock. They found her with blood all over her, but I'm guessing it's his. What do you think, she gave him some of his own medicine?"
The woman shook her head. "This guy was 220 pounds if he was an ounce and his wife weighs as much as an envelope. I've seen AIDS patients with more muscle mass and you're trying to tell me she opened her husband up like a grapefruit?"
"So maybe she hired someone to do it."
"A hired killer wouldn’t fuck with the body parts, that’s exactly the kind of evidence you don’t want to keep around. No, this wasn’t a professional, and it wasn’t the wife, and it doesn’t look like a break-in.”
"Well fuck, somebody killed him!"
"Yeah," said the woman cop, "someone sure did. Some animal by the looks of it."
She signed off on a few more things and they both went to the car. It was good to be away from the smell of blood. They stopped beside the car, hands on the doors.
"So what now?" said the old cop.
"Now? Now we wait for the wife to snap out of it. Then she'll tell us she doesn't remember anything, like they never do. Then she’ll get her hid and go home, and then we'll wait for the inconclusive blood report, and then we'll fill out all the forms, put this one away, and forget all about it."
"You heard me," said the young cop, helping herself to another candy. "This is a non-starter."
"How do you know?"
"Because this is a weird one. You get weird ones now and then. They never pan out. You chase them too far, you start getting a little weird yourself. Best thing to do with a weird one is just let it go." She saw the look her partner was giving her and shrugged. "Trust me, there'll be nothing here anyway. Wait a couple days we'll have a nice normal dead body to stare at and a nice normal asshole to pin it on. We don't need the weird ones, we've got plenty of perfectly normal bullshit to keep us busy."
They got into the car. The old man slammed the door a little harder than was necessary. "Don't let it bother you," said the younger woman.
"Who do you think did this? Don't give me any bullshit, I won't chase it if you don't want me to, but I can tell you've got some idea so just give it to me straight: Who do you think did this?"
The woman considered her partner for a moment. "Honestly?"
The old cop held her gaze for a moment. Then he flipped her off. "Fine, fuck you, don’t tell me then." The young cop said nothing. The older one looked back at the house. "Jesus, they've got a white picket fence, a real one," he said. "Didn't even notice that when we came in. Hell of a thing."
The woman looked. "There's blood on the gate," she said.
"Yeah." The older cop mused in silence for a moment. "Hell of a thing. Hell of a bad night."
The young cop started the car. "I've seen worse," was all she said.
Dedication: For "Anne."
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