This is based on a true story.
I’ve been afflicted with a terminal sort of decay that started when I was just seventeen, when Bobby and I were in his backyard pool and he pulled out his penis, a short brown thing, wavy and unstemmed from the water, reminding me of a juice box straw, only it was thicker and longer and only slightly curved. I don’t know what he expected but I shoved chlorinated water into his face, angry that he would do something like that, angry that he thought I was that kind of girl. ‘You’re supposed to be my girlfriend,’ he said, drawing me close to him, so close that I knew he used the same soap that I did, a twenty-cent bar of Dial that I would taste just two months later, behind the locked door of my bedroom and against the pastel walls my mother painted me when I was younger. He was my first boyfriend. We were seventeen.
He was introduced to me to a new dynamic between men and women, an inequitable system of sexual politics that would follow me into college, where a pack of broad-chested, shirtless young men hooted at me from the front lawns of their dorm rooms, their nipples cold and rigid from the icy cans of Natty Light and the September school air, their garrulous voices leaving worried creases on my mother’s forehead, her guilt-stricken voice pitched with guilt for abandoning me in the college’s glistening, lustful maw.
I spent those first nights in my room, scared and alone. In time I would learn to hold my ground in the heated sessions of debate at law school and in the muted corners of my own dorm room, where my visitors would learn that I could be more insatiable and licentious than they imagined.
It wasn’t the sex that I wanted, it wasn’t the leg-shaking orgasms or the life-affirming avowals of love that I needed –it was the sensation of power that thrilled me, a feeling that I could only find in between the movement-ed choreography of my own rhythmic orchestrations, in the split-seconds of stillness before the bloom, when I could look down and see a compilation of helpless eyes and open mouthes, all suffering from a breathless vertigo –deathly still– as I waited for their stiff canine members, quivering with drool, to unspool and collapse inside of me.
I was callous and cruel, and in this way I deserved what happened to me, a ruthless reversal of fortune and power that came after I passed the Texas bar exam and met with Tedesco, who would teach me the same lessons that I once dispensed throughout college. It was inevitable. It was justice, the same justice that would hold up in any court of law.
I wish I could say this about every one of my ex’s, but if it were true I wouldn't have many. I want to open my windows and shout it across the autumn trees that are shedding and turning winterous. I want my words to find their way through the wine-soaked leaves and the ebbing green. I want them to find Tedesco and tell him that I miss him, that I still love him.
Much time has passed since we said goodbye, insincerely for we split amicably, intending to keep in contact, a soft sort of promise that lingered for years unkept. We hadn't anticipated the distance that would grow from the walls we built between ourselves, stones carefully laid so that neither of us would be the first to look back. We have become strangers again, going about our lives as if we were meant to be alone. The lie has become my life.
There is some face to be saved in love, I think, some quiet contest of strength and resilience, passionate when victorious and dignified otherwise, a contest I will never, ever forfeit. I know how I must sound –desperate and needy and pitiful, but love grips me harder than others. Sometimes I feel like it controls my life.
I was twenty-six when I met Tedesco. Our first date was at an apple orchard where he explained to me how a heart worked, his voice earnest and serious, speaking of the aorta and of atriums pumping blood in tandem, vessels leading to our fingertips like tributaries from some river. He said this as he peeled robin red apples with a dull pocketknife, holding up peels that looked like helixes descending towards the ground. I learned more about the heart that day than I have ever since.
We walked along a dirt path with apples softening on the ground, the sweet smell of sugar and rot wetting the crisp air, appropriate for what would eventually come between us. Somewhere amongst the crabgrass and knotted roots I felt as though it could last forever; us I mean, even if the mountains moved and the water dried. There are those who say that feelings cannot develop so quickly, that people cannot feel so deeply; these people have never felt electricity arc from proximity. They have never felt currents pulse from their heart. With Tedesco I was electric, bursting with energy and happiness and life. Those first few months the sun moved in crescents across the sky, shifting the seasons like reels on a View-Master.
He had brown eyes that were as full as the good earth, sad and expressive in a way that made me feel older. He lit a quiet fire in me, so focused was I on impressing him that I spent many a night composing letters he never saw, written with a practiced hand that projected the sort of exactitude I'd thought he'd appreciate. These letters I'd fold into little squares, creasing the edges with my fingernails and slipping them into my mouth, pressing my tongue up against the paper until the ink bled and I could imagine myself saying the words aloud. Strange, I know, but I was young then, at an age when every feeling was torrential and grand. To him I spilled things I hadn't yet known about myself, with meanings that I learned as I spoke them, quietly into his ear as he drove, one hand on the steering wheel, calm while I was rudderless.
We played tennis in the fall, the leaves crunching underneath sneakers still smudged from summer, games that left him hunched over while I ran victory laps around the court. I never told him that I used to play. He thought I was prodigiously talented.
That was before we moved to Houston, and it was before he broke my heart, before I lost him forever. Love doesn’t happen like it does in the movies. Love is sometimes just metal piping and a wet rag, and when it turns sour you just have to fight it. You can love someone too much. You can love someone to death. I know I have.
There’s lipstick on the crinkle stripe cotton of my favorite shirt, the cherry blossoms running in zig-zags from the inside of my collar down to the third button that lies flush between my breasts, free and unbound from the lace bra that dangles from my clavicle like a slack fishing line, the straps unspooling with my autumnal hair, a deep chestnut brown that always catches in seat cushions and sliding doors, the errant strands finding their way into the homes of strange men whose hands are always just out of sight, attached to rough and scarred fingers that must belong to someone else, someone who’d actually be allowed to explore the soft depths of my intimacy.
I’d like to think that they love me –the men in my life– but they only say it when their breaths catch in their throats and their faces go slack, when my mind is soggy and in that blank space, the pleasure still radiating like a developing polaroid, the memories of the climaxes fuzzy at the edges, underexposed and rolled over with alcohol, the sensation shooting towards my brainstem as my toes curl like the fried eggs that I make the morning after, my face expression-less as the seminal fluid around the yolks sizzle in the pan and fill the room with the smell of hot oil and likewise sex.
I prop myself up on my aching elbows, examining the contours of my body. My inventory check is quick and orderly: a reassuring tug on the band of my panties, a spot check for bruises, a quick sniff of my armpits.
There’s a new bruise on my arm, a dark purple lesion that I inspect with grim satisfaction. Otherwise I’m okay.
I kiss the back of my hand and examine the lipstick residue on my slim wrist, unadorned save for a black hairband that I now so desperately need. My numb fingers still pulse with last night’s liquor, and it takes me a few tries to tie my hair into a bun. I start to button my shirt before I realize that something’s off about the red lipstick mark on my hand: the crimson bloom’s about two shades off from the pinkish dots on my shirt. In confusion, I look around to see a slender leg splayed across the bed, smooth and so pale that I could see the Alaskan pipeline of blue-gray veins criss-crossing the marble skin of a shapely thigh, which was connected to a belly that had the sort of shallow, accordion-like folds of softness that ebbed and flowed with breath from the lips of a woman. Fuck me I whisper, and start buttoning up my shirt. Outside the window is the Sunday sky —it must be Sunday now, and I’m in bed with yet another stranger. If it’s Sunday then it’s the sixth of January, and it means I’ve not seen Tedesco for almost a year. The sky is steel gray like the side of a battleship, and it pains me to know that he will never see another Sunday.
The woman next to me mutters something in her sleep and turns her body towards me. She’s quite pretty, full figured and soft all around. It’s not the type of body that’s popular today, judging by the calendars depicting Farah Fawcett and Morgan Fairchild on the walls of the law firm I work at, but it doesn’t stop me from admiring the woman for a few seconds, my legs shifting slowly as I try to extricate myself from the tangle of sheets that connects us together like a primordial umbilical cord, silken and snakelike and subversively complicated, the knots wound tight around my legs and ankles, presumably my restraints from the night before.
It takes me sometime to shake myself free and by the end of it I’m sweating, the musky droplets clinging to my forehead like paint-drops off a brush. The floorboards creak as I lower myself to the ground, and I realize with a start this time, that I’m well and truly alone.
There’s no Tedesco to go home to, no home at all, at least not until I win the court battle for his estate. I left him as a bloodied sack of flesh almost a year ago, back in that old decade. I remember standing over his body with a metal pipe in my hands, a rag tied around the end of my truncheon, just in case the neighbors would hear the metallic blows rain against Tedesco’s soft head, the back of it scraped clean of hair and fleshy in places, his ears cauliflower-ed and ripped like orange rinds, his teeth smashed out and spilled over like Scrabble tiles on the ground.
I couldn’t bear to see him cavorting with other women; I loved him too much for him to break my heart. Tedesco wouldn’t have cheated if he knew how much it would hurt me. He would have stood by me and we would have been happy together, truly happy in a way that we both deserved.
The only thing I regret is how brutal I had to be –and I had to be– if I ever wanted to get away with it. When I brought the pipe down I’d already memorized the shape of Tedesco’s skull –the way his cranium was put together, a smooth assemblage that was soft at parts like a grapefruit. I’d never peeled a grapefruit before, but when I crushed his skull I swear I smelled a sweet rot emanate from the cracks in his head.
I swung at him about a half dozen times.
He went down on the first blow but wasn’t unconscious until the third. I had to swing the pipe around like a pickaxe, raising it slowly over my head before smashing it down like I was breaking concrete. I remember crouching by his body after I was done, my arms sore and tired, my breath soggy with exertion, the cold sweat dripping from my forehead like thawing ice on a twisted ankle. I inspected his body and fantasized about massaging my fingers into his starburst scalp, looking for his brain so that I could understand why he would ever cheat on me. I wanted to sit down next to him and cut his ears so that I could hear what she said to him. I wanted his lips so that I’d know if hers were as soft as he believed. I wanted his eyes so I could see what he saw in her.
Most of all I wanted his heart, but that was never mine to take. Tedesco never loved me the way I loved him.
I thought about poisoning him, I thought about shooting him while he was asleep. I even thought about burning his house down, but that would have been too neat, too conveniently feminine of me to do. It was obvious from the beginning that the police would suspect me. After all, the girlfriend –the partner of the victim– is always the first suspect. A woman can stab her boyfriend in a fit of rage. A woman can shoot him if she didn’t want to get her hands dirty. A woman could poison him if she was afraid to confront him, but a woman wouldn’t have the strength to leave craters in the back of his skull. A woman wouldn’t choose a metal pipe as a murder weapon. A woman wouldn’t smash her boyfriend’s head in two and sustain her assault for five more blows. The men in my life —the awful, cheating men in my life would never suspect me of killing Tedesco in this way.
And never forget that I’m a lawyer in a firm where most of my co-workers are men, and that I know exactly how to snake my way around the courtroom. I can be very dangerous when I want to be.
Since Tedesco’s death I’ve been adrift in a boozy cycle of stale sex and whirlwind romances, the two not exactly mutually exclusive. My heart has found love again with Gary Taylor, a tall, smooth-skinned, and earnest-faced reporter who works for the Houston Press. He was there at the the courtroom when I appealed for Tedesco’s estate. The estate was a small one, just his house and his meager savings, amounting to about two-hundred thousand dollars. There was always speculation that I had something to do with Tedesco’s death, so I was surprised when Gary elected to meet me in person. He was handsome and charming and not at all afraid of me, and I had to admit I was very attracted to him. He knew what he was doing, his eager fingers brushing against my arm, his cheshire cat grin piquing my interest, his soothsayer words dripping out like a honeyed refrain, all sweet to me because at heart, he was an old fashioned kind of man, a man who opened car doors and paid for drinks, a man who thought women were cut from a weaker cloth. He thought I had been harassed and bullied by the media, and would never believe that a woman could commit such a grisly crime.
We had sex that same night.
I’d never been fucked like that before; and really, fucked is the right word. Gary was someone who was just as breathlessly enthused about fucking as I was, and he was a true performer when it came down to it. He was more of a Clydesdale than a Chippendale, and moved with an eager, coarse roughness that Tedesco never afforded me the pleasure of receiving. Gary left me sore and bruised, with red angry welts on my back and ass.
Tedesco had always been more of a progressive, both in public and in private. I’d always come home to find him cooking or cleaning, which pleased me. We made a tacit agreement to split the bill whenever we had dinner —if we went somewhere he’d pay for the tickets and I’d pay for the food, or vice versa. In the bedroom he was an unselfish lover, and we’d always take turns going down on each other.
The sex with Tedesco was quiet and sometimes embarrassing. There was a lot of handholding, a lot of kissing, and it was a little boring. He was never accustomed to my sexual appetite nor my temper tantrums, and at times I could tell he was scared of me.
It broke my heart to see him shrink away with fear whenever I yelled at him or threw things across the room. He didn’t understand how I got so angry at things that “didn’t matter” —as if he could quantify what mattered and what didn’t. By the end of our relationship he became very afraid of me, and wouldn’t come home unless he knew I was in a good mood. I guess it’s why he spent more and more time in the garage tuning his silver Corvette, and I guess it’s why he sought comfort from other women. I know at times I can be demanding and unreasonable, but it shouldn’t give him a license to sleep with other women. The fact of the matter is though, I shouldn’t have trusted him with my heart.
The first few flecks of rain begin to drum against the windowpane and the sky is the grayest stretch of gloom I’ve ever seen. I let the loneliness wash over me for a brief moment, allowing myself to grieve for Tedesco. I turn to look at the sleeping woman for one last time before creeping down the stairs and leaving her apartment.
A week ago I left Gary in the lobby of the hotel we stayed at, feeling upset and sorry for myself. While he was asleep I rifled through his pockets and found a wedding ring that he kept hidden from me. There in that hotel room I wanted to bash his head in —a part of me still does. The men in my life all want to take something from me. They paw at my breasts and devour me with the rabid intent of a hungry jackal. With Gary it was all squeezing and staccato’d thrusting. With Tedesco it was the slow but insistent nudging of my head towards his crotch, the sly and unassuming way he slid his cock between my lips. In return these men told me nothing but lies. Gary and Tedesco have become one and the same, a physical manifestation of the blight that consumes my thoughts and evenings, a compendium of every man who has ever wronged me. I needed to be patient if I ever wanted to get my revenge. Sure enough, the opportunity came a few days later when Gary invited me to spend New Year’s Eve with him. I brought my pistol with me, a .38 revolver. It was uncomplicated and easy to fire. I didn’t have to rack a slide or flick off a safety. If push came to shove all I had to do was aim and pull the trigger.
Gary confessed that he was married after he kissed me on New Year’s Day, just minutes after the ball dropped. Convenient that he only told me after he kissed me. How typical.
I poked holes in his condom with the lapel pin on my blazer. We fucked uncouthly, which calmed me down a bit. The rest of the night was uneventful. He poured me some scotch and obstinately refused to engage me in any discourse about his wife. He later fell asleep with his arms around me.
My plan was to shoot him right between the eyes, and it would all look like self defense to an investigator. I’d tell the detective at Special Crimes that Gary tried to rape me. After all, his semen was still hot inside of me and I had the bruises to prove it. As I was reaching for the pistol it suddenly struck me that one murdered lover had already drawn enough suspicion —two would send me away for a very long time. It wasn’t the right time for me to make a move. I made sure to place my pistol on the hotel nightstand, with the barrel pointed towards Gary’s head. I hoped this would get him to take me seriously, that he would begin to suspect that I murdered Tedesco. Maybe then he would learn to love me, and only me.
The next morning he shook me awake, his face blanched and sweaty. He pointed at my pistol like a child and stammered, ‘why the hell is that there?’ I whispered back, trying my best to put on a sympathetic countenance ‘I heard a noise. I was scared.’
While we ate breakfast I asked whether he thought about leaving his wife. His face froze, the food still half chewed in his mouth. Of course he sputtered something about his children and droned on with some bullshit platitudes about how it wasn’t the right time for him to leave his wife. I watched him squirm a little before I left. I was in a drunken stupor for the next couple of days, and I came out the other side with a couple more bruises and even more ammunition to use against him. This time I would be quick and ruthless. The welt on my shoulder pulsed in agreement.
I’ve been waiting for a cab in front of the woman’s apartment for a good twenty minutes now. I know I must look like a prostitute, which makes sense, because I certainly feel like one. Eventually a cab pulls up. The drivers runs his eyes up and down my lipstick-stained shirt, giving me a sleazy smile that I don’t return. When I finally get home I draw a hot bath for myself and lie down to examine my body. When I am satisfied with the litany of bruises that I accrued over the course of the week, I dry myself off and rummage around the bedroom for my .38 revolver. I uncoil the rope that I keep underneath my bed, and wind it around my neck. With one end of the rope in each hand I tug in opposite directions, hoping that it will leave a convincing set of ligature marks. Even though my hair is still damp I get into my Datsun, pausing only to take another look at the copy of The Houston Press in my passenger seat. Earlier this week I called their offices looking for a staff writer named Gary Taylor. From there I got his home address, which was in a neighborhood that Tedesco and I used to frequent in better times.
Gary’s house is bigger than I thought, a two-story ranch styled house with faux-shuttered windows and a sturdy brick facade. Thin white colonnades extruded from the gray slate roof tiles. I note with disgust at the toys strewn about the yard. Here he is living a perfect life with his wife and kids —and he wants to keep me out of it. I make sure to knock loudly on his door.
A shadow passes over the peephole and I stand up straighter, examining my coat pockets to see if my pistol is sufficiently hidden. Gary opens the door cautiously. He has become very cautious of me. Gary whispers furiously, ‘Why are you here?’
‘Shouldn’t I have a right to visit?’ I jaw back at him. I slide my hand in the door before he can close it.
‘You really shouldn’t be here Christine,’ he shakes his head, ‘you really shouldn’t be here.’
‘Why? Is your wife here?’ I laugh, trying to sound calm.
He shakes his head again and swallows nervously. ‘No…she’s not.’
‘Then I’m coming in,’ I answer as I pry the door open and march inside. Gary relents, following after me like a defeated child. The living room is spacious –I expected there to be rugged log tables and wrought iron chairs, but the place was filled with fabric and wicker. I notice with satisfaction that his pull-out couch is open –things have not been good with his wife. I imagine him pushing me onto the couch, the same way he did back in the hotel.
‘Do you want to talk?’ he offers.
I spin around to face him, ‘I want to know if you ever really loved me.’
Beads of sweat drip down his forehead. It’s a simple question really, but I try to be patient with him. Finally he speaks, ’Of course.’
‘Liar,’ I blurt out. There is a tremor in my voice that I've never noticed before.
We stare at each other briefly before he points at my neck, noticing the rope imprint on my skin. ‘W-what’s that?’ he stammers.
I raised my chin to give him a better look. ‘You did this to me.’ I think of New Year’s Eve, and his hands wrapped around my neck as he fucked me from behind.
He looked at me incredulously. ‘You’re fucking crazy.’
‘Gary, you cheated and lied to me. You’re a married man who fucked with the wrong girl.’ I pull out my pistol and cock the hammer back, lifting it cooly at his face. ‘I am going to kill you now. You deserve this, do you understand?’
A momentary flash of guilt spreads over his face. I hesitate for a moment. Finally there is that quiet moment I’ve been waiting for, that pause in my lilted symphony, the silent void widening like the fissures in Tedesco’s skull, casting Gary further and further away from my heart. We are back in the hotel again.The barrel of my revolver brushes against his soft brown hair and I can see his half-lidded eyes widen with surprise. Suddenly he is underneath me and I am straddling him, our naked bodies writhing to a song that only I can hear, our fleshy joints punching out the black keys on an endless piano, the discordant notes getting brighter and louder and higher until his lips quiver and his body shakes. I am breathless and powerful and in a place where he can never hurt me. I make him wait, I make him beg, his eyes beg me for mercy, his lips form silent apologies and I forgive him for everything. I think to myself that this is justice, that this is equity, that this is law and I am order. Gary and I are finally even. I want to live in this moment for an entire lifetime, but he breaks my gaze and turns to run. Traitor. Thief. Liar. The bullet punctures his back and he crumples over like a slack-lined marionette doll. Suddenly I am not angry anymore. I kneel down next to him and stroke his hair. I weep for him and Tedesco and the other men in my life. The living room is a mess. The living room is a lie. It is a single, unfurnished cell for one. The visitors –the men and the dogs– the jackbooted visitors who come in with their dogs, they will always be hungry. They will always be thirsty. They will always be coming for me with their toothy fangs and fleshy talons. For as long as I live I will never keep them fed.
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Dec 6th, 2013