Chapter Ten – Victimology
Sleep was no longer safe from nightmares. Poor neglected Bruce, locked out in the storm, rattled the knobs and howled at the windows, permanently off his meds and raving. How dare they forget him? Of course he was angry, of course he was cruel. He would get even with them all. How well she understood him now.
At four in the morning, her shattered selves reassembled. Husband and his best friend slept tangled in tandem, Jarod snoring faintly through his nose, Roy’s parchment-thin lids shivering in flight. She staggered free above them, kicked away entangling bedclothes, pulled on t-shirt and jeans.
Her head throbbed fiercely. She took three aspirin. In the mirror she beheld a self no different; paler, perhaps, the grape-juice colored veins surging more swollen in her forehead as though impregnated with pollutants. Comforting to think of herself in the third person: “She walked down the stairs to release the animal from his pen.” Digger cared nothing for spent emotion or spoiled flesh; he raced past her eager to begin his day.
Rather than reclaim the ruined kitchen she bought coffee on the road. Broken could be reassembled soon enough. If the purpose of memory is to treasure the good times there must be the things we choose to forget, episodes that vanish in the past like gifts rejected and returned.
She parked her car at the old reservoir and climbed a logging road to the summit. Ordinarily this was a beautiful view, but she watched sightless as the sun broke over three counties. So The Thing had happened to her. She had joined the women, the legions and legions of women, to whom The Thing had happened. Even she, behind moats, behind castle walls, guarded by a dragon and a wolf, it had happened to her. Yet it would always remain legend, because no one would believe it. She had been the victim of a neat trick; doubled and so doubly witnessed, out-manned and outmaneuvered.
What was she to do? There must be steps to take, and yet she felt utterly alone on an airless atoll without a map or rulebook, without even the soul’s guide that had never abandoned her before.
She was a prisoner in her body — a body that shook with rage as if with a fever; then cooled and jelled to glacial freeze. She tried warning Digger as he danced near the edge; you are not immortal. Listen and believe; you will fall, you will not fly, you will break and bleed.
Still, as long as there was life there were plans to make. For one thing, it would never happen again. She knew Jarod had been lusting to trample her virginal whiteness into dirty snow the first time he laid eyes on her. He was just another graffiti artist who prides himself on leaving his smarmy mark on everything; “Jarod was here.” Men who bragged about “having” women, had exactly nothing. He had only slimed her, like a primitive tribesman who “possesses” by eating it for dinner. There was no speech that could communicate to such a person? If anything, she was angrier with Roy.
Some people – her first husband for example, would say, “It’s only sex. What’s the big deal? When it’s over it’s just as if it never happened.”
She suspected that might be Roy’s tack. A dare regretted, like complaining about bad service at a restaurant where the food, too, turns out to be appalling. Better to forget the whole thing.
She could almost hear him demanding, why make such a fuss about a little ill-timed physical release? Sure, looking back on it, it might be a mistake. But wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. Give me a little bad judgment to savor in the nursing home.
It’s a victimless crime on a body wired for surrender, Persey thought. A cut, a bruise, a fever and then the foreigners invade; for that moment in time you are not yourself. But you rally and expel intruders, re-take your soul. Cut me and I laugh, she told Digger, tickle me and I bleed. That didn’t sound right. Could it be the other way around?
The sound of her own voice reassured her and she focused all her pain on Roy. His casual cancellation of her personhood made her blood boil. Did he think she was his pet? But also she accused herself; she should have seen it coming. Look at the weird, inexplicable way his possessiveness melted around Jarod; overtaken, apparently, by his hunger for acceptance and approval. Were they lovers or had she hallucinated? Easy to blame the party mentality, where all present binged and gorged on whatever was available.
Roy wanted to be Jarod; it was as simple as that, to escape from himself into someone he saw as a less conflicted being. He had never appreciated or understood his own beauty. As for Jarod, he just wanted whatever the golden boy had.
She used to feel so safe with Roy. That was why she married him. He called her Sleeping Beauty, the bastard. There must be some way to pay him back, to cut him with his own knife. Didn’t he know the end of the story? Sleeping Beauty wakes up.
She wished it wasn’t too early to call Ned. He would really think her nuts if she dialed him now. But she longed for his limpid intelligence. He not only knew how to hunt, he knew how to classify the prey; and he was righteous. He believed. He believed that it all made sense.
She had qualified at one of his sports. It was time to conquer the other. But if she spoke to him, what would she say? Could she keep the “victim” from her voice? He must never know. No one must ever know. She could hear them all telling her she had “an appetite for destruction.” No. She would not allow it. That night he had first seen her she had been at the peak of her beauty, the pinnacle of her power. She would not fall off for him or any man.
As she walked down the hill she remembered what she had wanted to tell him; look at the motel room. But now that seemed such a stupid idea; the sleaziest motel has housekeeping; what would be left for him to find? Bruce needed a place where no one went, a secret fortress against the world.
But pain refines ideas to brilliance and a fresh idea struck her. She stopped so still Digger barked frantically as if she had abandoned him. Even lowly Digger was a cut above Roy and his best friend; her body alone would never be enough for him.
She was thinking of the storage locker. Roy had a storage locker out at Lake Warner for all his extra toys. She should know, she paid the bills. Come to think of it, Jarod’s name was on it too. But they never mentioned going there. What a perfect place for Bruce to hide out. Perfect from the point of view of Babe and Roy certainly, seeing as it was a good twenty-five miles away. Far enough that Persey herself had never even been there. The only excuse given for such a distant location was the presence of the lake.
She was consumed with thirst to venture there. This must be the solution, but if she told Ned couldn’t be certain Jarod wouldn’t hear of it. Killers took trophies and so did hunters; now she needed one too, an article of faith subverting disbelief.
Roy and Jarod thought themselves immunized from her judgment. There was the familiarity of trust, and there was the familiarity of contempt. They planned her initiation on their schedule. The only thing to do was fly above the maze.
Had Roy forgotten that everything she needed to enter the locker was in her own well-kept files? She herself had clipped the spare key and the extra code card to the manila jacket. She strode purposefully down the logging road, and bundled Digger efficiently into the car.
Jarod’s truck was gone from her driveway. Good riddance, since he could feel no guilt. It would make Roy easier to deal with.
Roy was in the shower. She stripped the bed of its disgusting, rumpled, smelly sheets and rolled them into wads. These must be thrown away – maybe the mattress too. No amount of bleach could ever get them clean.
When Roy emerged he glanced at her uncertainly, his contact-less eyes especially vulnerable and defenseless because he could not read her face. He knew he had broken their pact. She could tell he was playing for time when he toweled his head, thus keeping his own eyes hidden. Was this the final acknowledgment that she too had power?
She could tell by the way he turned his back on her to dress that he was embarrassed to have her, clothed, regard him, naked. She threw herself across the empty bed, chin on elbow, the better to judge more critically. The scissoring of tiny white scars Bruce left behind ornamented both arms and legs; the tattoos he’d chosen stood out black and blue against his sunless skin like dirty bruises that could not come clean. He really was too thin. He should work out more. What did Jarod call it? Dieseling. “Gettin’ deezed.”
Roy pulled out a pair of boxers and jerked them on while she studied him. She could tell that, unlike Jarod, he didn’t care for silence. Once his package was covered he could dress more slowly, watching her through the intermediary of the mirror. Was he bracing for what she might regurgitate from the dinner they had shared last night? There was what she had seen, for example, out of that corner of her inner eye, the men who need each other. Was that the forbidden agenda between them?
He dressed all in black like a man in mourning, crisp, new clothes emphasizing both respect for the dead and relief that they were gone. Last item was fresh contacts from a box in the drawer, new eyes with which to see. Beauty first, vision last. She should say something; she was allowing him to gather strength. Yet her eyes were drawn hypnotically to little gold razorblade he always wore trembling in the hollow of his throat. Like quivering water before the hurricane it warned her.
Was she afraid of him now? Was that what it had come to? If anger is too dangerous, how about scorn? What did they owe each other? She staked her space out carefully.
“I don’t want what happened last night to ever happen again,” she told him. When he turned away from the mirror to face her, he was calm, clean and beautiful, mask intact.
“Don’t you ever want to get pregnant? Jarod’s wives got pregnant when he looked at them.”
So that’s what this was about! Rage exploded inside her more powerful than any orgasm. She launched herself at him.
“As if! I would abort every one of his hairy little brats!”
His hand rose to strike her, but behind the anger in his face, she saw Bruce, the blood-filled eyes of the crazy man who had been put away. The hand was halted; Bruce’s brother stored his rage for later, grabbing her shoulders painfully and shuttering his eyes. He fights like a girl, Persey thought spitefully.
Would they bargain over what she had seen? Or was he remembering he was the lucky twin who didn’t have to fight, who bore his father’s name and spent his father’s money, the one with the beautiful wife who loved him? Violence can be protection; but bringing it home is bad for the baby.
Whatever his thoughts, he released her, and seated himself on the dressing table chair, the better to pull on his boots.
“I won’t allow that kind of talk in my house.”
His possessive, righteous tone was harder to deflect than rage.
“What have you got to complain about? You seemed to like it. Didn’t we
show you a good time?”
He had many forbidden weapons he could use, like his private knowledge of
his wife’s anatomy. Didn’t she have to come to get them to stay away from her? Tickle me and I bleed… Falling backward to the naked bed she felt like crying. Why couldn’t he see all that he’d destroyed?
“Jarod is just a user,” she choked helplessly, thinking; now I’m the one who fights like a girl. “Why can’t you see that? He doesn’t care about you. He doesn’t care about anybody.”
“He loves you.” Her husband corrected pointedly. Smugly. “The man’s had five kids. He’s only trying to give you what you need.”
“That is such bullshit!” Sitting down on this disgusting bed had been a mistake. It was a sign of submission. Needing something to do, she rose to fetch fresh sheets from the bathroom closet. Cleaning and repair might not fix the damage but it certainly concealed it.
She had worked on this house than her own face. She wasn’t going to allow him to ruin everything. She chose dark sheets, to match his mood; funereal. As she had guessed, the physical work of making the bed relieved her. Egyptian linen – the same they used to wrap the dead — cracked beneath her hands like whips. Like gunfire. He should learn to fear her. She had weapons too. He made no move to assist. Erasing the night’s romp was women’s work.
Over her shoulder she could hear Roy clicking on his jewelry, perfecting his suit of armor. Rings on fingers, Randall in knife belt, Rolex on wrist; confidence complete. She longed for the time when men left their knives outside the bedchamber door. Their eyes met in the mirror and he smiled, just like old times. He always loved to watch her perform housewifely tasks.
“Wish it could have been my kid,” he said.
She flushed so hotly; the purple veins in her head twisted and throbbed. He was lucky her shotgun wasn’t here. Should she level with him now about her closed and tidy womb or was that a card to play for later? She had been raised to politely play along; but for those who wait for others’ to take their turns the game always goes too far. He had settled on his story; soon, the truth would be unreachable; lost to history. If she did not wish to become a lie, it was up to her to refuse the poisoned cup.
She chose offense.
“Where’s Bruce, Roy? Tell the truth, for once. Isn’t Bruce out of control?” Score! His face emptied of the color raging into hers. They were like Siamese
twins sharing a blood system; he came up empty. Standing with his shoulders curved forward like a wrestler, he slapped his wallet against his pants and missed. He stood for a moment idly slapping, as if he might beat her with his money. She tried not to smile at the irony, something Bish had taught her to appreciate. Not a popular philosophy around here.
Microexpressions of shame, guilt and fear chased across his face. His familiar face. He could deny everything but a wife could not be fooled. She had held him in her arms so many times; massaging him through emotions he dared not show his aggrandizing mirror of a friend.
“Where is he, Roy?” she coaxed. “Tell me where to find him so he can’t hurt anybody else.”
It took two hands to get that wallet into his pocket. No cash for Persey today, in spite of her outstanding performance and her mastery of this new game.
“Bruce is dead, Persey,” he told her. “He won’t be coming back.” Now he picked up his car keys and bounced them in his hand. Behind the wheel of his truck he would be invincible.
She crossed her arms against her chest. Wouldn’t play along. Not this time. “That’s not true and you know it,” she insisted. “Tell me where he is.”
A dazzling smile broke over his bony face, lighting his blue eyes from within.
“Cold, cold ground, darlin’. I should know. I saw him die. I saw the light fade in that motherfucker’s eyes while I sliced him like a pie. I killed him. With these hands.” He held up his scarred digits admiringly. “You’re safe, Persey. I always keep him away from you. Rely on me.”
He was whistling as he ran down the stairs.