She saw him so often she wanted to claw out her eyes.
Or I could just keep smoking, she thought, putting another to her lips; Surgeon General go screw yourself.
There he was, at the bus-stop scuffing his black shoes in the dirt. There at the service station waiting bored in the back of a Nissan, or with his face pressed longingly to the pet store window, or walking in the street, idling in a shop, running across a basketball court. Her son, strolling through the park.
Everywhere yet nowhere and it never ever stops.
But that wasn’t right either, because every Tuesday it stopped for an hour or two. Her son was not in the cheap motel room, or in the back of her lover’s car, or in the next seat of that filthy adult cinema, or in the musty damp of her lover’s bed. For a couple of hours every Tuesday, her son was nowhere at all.
She dialled Joel’s number and held the phone to her ear. Waiting for him to answer, she muttered to herself, “This is insane,” sitting in her car outside the school, watching students pile out of buses, scrutinizing every one in turn for a rangy tow-headed boy of eleven or twelve. Twelve. He’d be twelve by now. Twelve years old, with her hazel eyes and his father’s rangy frame. He was always there but never there. Hoisting his bag over one shoulder, launching onto the pavement with a light step and not a care in the world. He’d turn and see her,and his mouth would quirk into that smiled he’d raise his hand to wa—
“No. No-no-no. He’s not there.” she said.
A voice — “What? Who’s not where? I’m here, babe! Joel is in da house!” — a male voice in her ear, tinny and weak-sounding. Her secret phone, this one, the one her husband knew nothing about. Lungs hitching with smoke, she coughed and caught the eye of the crossing guard frowning at her from the middle of the road. Don’t you judge me you asshole! her eyes flashed warning; he nodded but raised his sign nonetheless, as if to her alone.
The crossing guard knew all about her. All of the parents did. There had been an extraordinary P&C meeting held specifically with regards to her case, lessons to be learned, what the school could do to beef up security. Given the circumstances, they had voted to tolerate her odd, bereaved, grieving presence outside the school each morning. The crossing guard didn’t like it, but he didn’t interfere either. Instead his look softened, speaking volumes.
She has every reason to act a little—
She’d caught Joel in mid-yawn. Closing her eyes, she could picture his classically proportioned profile, the line of his hairless jaw snapping shut as a cocky cluelessness reasserted itself across his face. With a shake of the head, she segued into more familiar territory. “I said this is insane, just batshit crazy. It needs to stop—we need to stop—I can’t cope with all the lies and bullshit anymore.” But he was ready for that, his reply practised and smooth. “Don’t lie to him, babe. Tell him the truth.” She shifted her mobile, her lover’s voice swelling as her ear found the tiny speaker. “You deserve to be happy, babe. You know I can make you happy.”
“And how would you do that, exactly? Hmm, lover-boy? I’m high-maintenance. His arrogance made her laugh high-pitched, almost hysterical. “Will we run off into the sunset, arm in arm? How would we survive? You going to make a living from that oversized cock of yours?”
His laughter was easy and loose. He’d been smoking weed again. She could tell he was ready for her, probably naked already, flat on his back on the bed in their usual squalid room at the Turner Family Motel, a rundown shithole on the edge of town which no Turner had owned in over sixty years, where rooms were rented by the hour. The current proprietors were a pair of surly Polish immigrants who barely spoke a word of English. Andrzej and his sister Ana Fuk. Would you believe it–the Fuk Hotel. She giggled despite everything, and Joel, thinking it was for him, joined in. She tried to dispel the image of him and failed. largely because she didn’t really want to. Lying there with that arrogant smile and a pole a cat couldn’t climb–well, it lit a hot flame right down there between her thighs.
One hour away from it all. Does that make me a bad person? A bad wife? Is it really such a bad thing to want to switch off for a while?
She twisted the wheel and peeled away from the kerb, cars behind her braking and honking angrily. She ignored them all, smoking fast, lane-changing aggressively to put herself in pole position at the lights. She pitched the butt out the window. Her husband checked the ashtrays and lectured her if he found anything. The asshole. On the green she accelerated and cut through the slow morning traffic to the next set of lights: red, interminably, then green—pedal to the floor.
Get out of my way you losers, I’m on the clock. On the clock. On the cock. On the clock for cock. On the cock-clock. Hey! It’s almost cock o’clock!
“Screw you!” She screamed at nobody in particular, then one of the larger shopping centres loomed on her left and she pulled in, navigating her way across a vast carpark littered with SUV’s and soccer-mum station-wagons, parking her Lexus as far away from the others as possible to eliminate any chance of careless dent or jealous key-scratches. She stopped because there was a Liquor Barn attached, and wanted to grab something for later, to cut the taste of Joel from her mouth.
Stepping out in killer heels, she smoothed her pencil skirt and checked her décolletage in the driver’s window. Satisfied, she stalked into the shop, making sure both the sales assistants noticed her, sending signals both verbal and non that she was an important customer in a hurry and just a little flustered, hence requiring their prompt assistance. But the fat guy with his shirt-tail hanging out just slumped off into the stock room and the pimply girl behind the register seemed to be chained to the spot.
Oh for Christ’s sake. She huffed down the aisle to the refrigerators for her customary bottle of Moet. She felt like screaming. Do these heels look comfortable? I can tell you right now, they are NOT comfortable…
“Can I help you, ma’am?”
The man who spoke had a deep voice, and was neither short nor tall; very solid through the chest, as-in tradesman solid, he wasn’t that good-looking either, with a a burn scar covering part of his face. That said, he wasn’t unattractive in his way either, with thick forearms veined and tan beneath a fine dusting of blonde hair. She didn’t normally find fair-haired men attractive—more of a Newman fan than a Redford–but this guy was the real deal in his blue overalls and steel-capped boots, battered trucker cap and worn but well-mended worksheet.
“Why aren’t you the white knight!” she laughed, eyes sparkling. “Thank you so much! I always rely on the kindness of strangers!” She threw a sideways glance at her reflection in the refrigerator door. The glove-like fit of her skirt and the bulging promise of her cotton blouse had been selected for effect, of course, and did tend to send a particular message. To her great surprise, she found herself hoping this big hunk of man was receiving that message loud and clear. “The Moet, if you please. Top shelf.”
“Umm, d’you want the rosé or …?”
“I prefer a brut, actually.” She showed off all her perfect teeth. “Can’t you tell?” He paused, frowning a little, then shrugged and retrieved the bottle. She made a point of brazenly checking him out head to toe, her eyes widening appreciatively at the broad vee of his chest. He passed the champagne to her with a nod and walked slowly behind her all the way to the counter, swinging a bottle of Seagram’s. Oh he’s loving this, she smiled privately, and put some extra sass into her walk. Conscious of her extra kilos but glad for the curves, she made a show of fussing through her handbag for her credit card, dropping her lighter in the process. This of course meant she had to bend right over right infront of him to pick it up.
“You alright with all that, ma’am?” He’d joined her in the car park, stopping her with the barest touch to her upper arm. The spot tingled as if a current had flowed into her through his fingers. She almost groaned aloud, imagining how those rough workman’s hands would feel given free reign to her aching body. Distracted, she actually did stumble a little, teetering on her wicked heels.
“Oh!” she cried out.
“Whoa! You alright, miss? You’re not feeling a little faint there are you?”
“Actually,” she relented, pretending, and reached out to grasp his bicep as if to steady herself. “To tell you the truth, I do feel a little funny. I just need to sit down for a bit. My car’s just over there, the gold Lexus—would you mind …?”
Would he mind. Hah!
She was parked beyond the sweep of the security cameras covering the main entrance, and within seconds his big hands were under her skirt and down her top all at once. The buckle of his belt came apart in her practised hands, the elastic of his boxers tight against the back of her wrists as she took him in both hands. But the logistics of it frustrated them both and they soon pulled apart, dishevelled and panting. There just wasn’t enough room.
Cramped piece of Japanese shit!
And then—Christ! What am I doing? It’s broad daylight, we’re in a car park, and I’m not sixteen anymore.
“I gotta place we can go,” he offered, breathing hoarsely.
“I’m not sure.”
“It’s only a couple minutes’ drive.”
“Honey, I just, you know, I’m not sure…”
“It’ll be worth it.”
Oh, no doubt about that, no doubt at all—but something in her pealed like an alarm clock telling her it was time to wake up to herself. There’s a hot young man waiting for you in a hotel room. You don’t even know this guy’s name! And those scars. He could be anyone…. “Look, you’re really sweet and I like you a lot. Honestly, but I don’t think—“
His burned face became blankly anonymous, as if he’d pulled off his man face to show nothing but bone. “You shut up now” he said, and stopped her dead. “You’re going to drive now,” he said, “and not another word. You mess about and I’ll cut you bad.” He produced a long thin knife—a filleting knife—from somewhere on his person and held the blade against her bare thigh just below the hem of her skirt. It radiated an intense cold. He pressed it lightly into her leg then lifted it to show blood beading along a slender cut. She hadn’t felt a thing.
This is insane. I am going insane. This can’t be happening. The thought was her own, but not her own. No way could she be reacting like this–no way. She knew she should be thinghim—screaming and biting and cling, hitting the horn–people would hear, they’d come running. She might get the door open before he cut her again. She might. He might also stab her two or even three times, slit her neck, but she had the keys to the car, he couldn’t lock her in, and it was her car—this is my car—this is happening in my car …
“This isn’t real.”
He looked at her, blue eyed above his scars. “I’m sorry lady, but it surely is.” He seemed genuinely apologetic, even as he raised the knife to her throat. She felt the icy cold of it’s promise. “Now, no more lip. Do as I say, or I’ll take your head off right here and now. Make me happy and I may let you go.”
So, clinging to that slender hope, she drove, not even noticing the white-faced man behind the wheel of a battered pick-up who swung in behind, and followed them out of the city.
She drove downtown then out the other side, through endlessly sprawling suburbs south at first, then sharply east towards the state border. The blade in the burned man’s hand was never far away, and when they escaped the populated areas he raised it and slowly sawed the buttons off her blouse, turning in his seat to watch as the final button parted, rebounding off the dashboard as her chest fell forward. He grunted, making an assessment. “They’re fakes,” he said, eyes eyes glued to the outline of her plunge bra and the rise and fall of her chest. “Jezebel. You fucking deceitful fucking whore,” he grunted, shifting to face forward again.
But her eyes never turned toward him, not wanting to see his transformation from handsome tradesman to something worse than Freddy Kruger. Instead, she kept them on the road, her expression pleading; but and in every car that passed them she saw her son, black-eyed and reproachful, staring back at her.