“The sea is emotion incarnate. It loves, hates, and weeps. It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles. No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can't.” — Christopher Paolini
Warm comfort pours from a hard-water-stained faucet, filling a vat of solitude. A perfectly balanced temperature to start, an equilibrium possessing potential to ruin the safe comfort of a basin embrace. Of course, before my fingers had graced the cool temperature valve, they had shakily locked the door. A comfort, small because it was unable to keep every memory of the door being unlocked by the key that rested atop the white doorframe out of my mind. Recently, however, I’ve learned how to let that comfort grow. These last few years I’ve been smart enough to keep the key with me while I bathe. If I don’t, the door handle will rattle, creak open, and she will come in and loom over me. Mother would stand there and ask me why the hell I had locked it, what I was hiding from her. I’m your mother, I own you. Seventeen years and you’d think she would understand that my body moves free of my instruction. Whenever I would move my hand to unlock the door, afraid of punishment, I would find it pulling itself away, a rigor mortis sculpted half-fist.
Every time I do this, I get stuck in the past. It’s the sound of the water. I’ve heard it can make people need to use the bathroom. For me, it’s a deluge of every moment of fear that cusped comfort, disguised in the forefront of my thoughts as rumination. I sigh and light the candles—seven tealights—as I ask myself what it means to be aware of every facet of yourself as well as to understand that the diamonds shaping them are unchanging and unbreaking by any minerals in your blood.
The faucet falls silent as the valve squeals to an off position, and I realize I’ve been holding my breath. I count my breaths, one per candle, and step into the water. It rests halfway up the tub wall, and the size of my body causes enough displacement for it to hit the lip. Every month I replace the plastic bag I’ve torn and stuffed into the overflow drain. The water at this level forces stillness. Any movement and it will spill onto the lit candles below, and I’ll lose the light. The stillness is comfort. It helps me focus on the tangled mass of electric webs woven throughout every synapse in my brain. I’m teaching myself to meditate. Don’t move. Don’t breathe deeply. I feel in control. The fear of losing the light keeps me still, keeps this damn syndrome from electrifying my muscles, contracting, and twitching, and shaking, and shifting, and—if I think about it, it becomes harder to control. Damn it, my elbow itches, ready to jump and pull my arm towards me. My fingers turn white around the porcelain ledge I flex every muscle everywhere else—diversion, just like the therapist told me would help. Diversion, I think, as every other muscle in my body misfires. I roll onto my side with a powerful and uncontrollable jolt. Tears of frustration swell behind my eyes as the lights go out after a brief sizzle. That sizzle is a cue. Like that small little ding that goes off, and everyone in the room has a ghastly urge to check their own phone because, well, it could have been mine, after all…
But it’s not mine.
I feel ripples begin in the water, ripples that don’t belong to me. I feel two fingernails slide from my underwater ankle up to my knees. I’m stuck on my side. Is it paralysis, or the ice that threads itself through the water, the spires stabbing into my spine and traveling out through my flesh? A tongue is rough and warm as it traces the cords of my neck, and a breathless voice cups my ear:
“You failed, you little, little—” I feel hands, at least six pairs, pull me onto my back and position me back to my meditative position in the bathtub, and the water goes still as every sensation leaves my body and the water’s lukewarmth takes back over—“miserable boy.”
I gasp for air. I’m crying, not breathing, and my body begins to thrash and water rains onto the white tile. I stand and throw my towel over the wet spots on the floor. I reach for another, and I throw it on top of the wet one. I curl up, and sob into the darkness. When I disturb the water, the safety is gone. I can’t drain it until I’ve turned the light on. I must focus on that thought before my breath hitches too fast and I’m thrown into a coughing fit. As I curl myself tighter, the surface of the towel itches my body, an itch that sears into a burn. I can’t stand to lie here anymore, so I kick away the towel and reach for the light switch. My footsteps offer a soft, guiding patter amongst the drops that have found themselves spattered across the floor. I turn on the light, and I breathe, once for each candle washed out. Six breaths. I walk over to blow out the last flame, and then drain the tub. The water groans its descent into some portal away from here.
I have this week off from school, so I can’t escape the house without reason. Thankfully, we needed groceries. Thankfully, mother felt too ill to drive, as she seems to feel when any effort would be required of her—not that grocery shopping is an even minimally strenuous task. As I drive home, it begins to rain. The pitterous pattern pouring on my car repeats in my ears and then I’m home again, in the driveway, no memory of anything that led me here, only the repetition of the rain. I sit in the car, unmoving, hoping, waiting, waiting…but the rain doesn’t stop. It’s alluring, the idea of dancing in the rain, but water moving through whatever tainted atmosphere emanates from my skin hides danger. To walk through the rain would be to walk through one thousand caresses of foreign fingers. Each droplet the sharpened nail of some diabolical fingertip, stinging and scouring whatever morsel of my body gravity allows it to prey upon. I weigh my options. I close my eyes and I’m Osiris, holding a scale, shimmering gold, my face reflected in the curve of each plate, staring back at myself regardless of which option I look at. To the left, as it must be, is my heart, dry and un-beating, and its counterpart? A shimmering feather, a piece of the plumage of what a sinless life could have looked like. The shining pinion reflects to me an image of myself, still in the driver’s seat of the car, a clear look on my face as the rain lulls me into whatever daydreams fill my head. My body is still. My scale-sitting heart twitches with yearning. Even projected out of my chest, I still feel its pangs of want. It begins to run blood, and in the pumping stream I see a reflection of myself, arms up, swelling and reddening as heavy and angry palms bounce off them. The empty space around the image comes alive, accusing me of hating my family, of being stupid, of my inability to perform even the simplest of tasks. The unattainability of the image shimmering in feather steels it, and it falls heavy next to my heart. I know myself well enough to recognize the metaphor here: a damnation to the afterlife. That calling is not foreign. I sigh and open the car door. Temporary peace isn’t worth the wrath incurred from melted ice cream and thawed pizza rolls.
I step out, bags in hand, and rush to the door. “Run,” the rain whispers. “Run, before I keep you, slicing you open bit by bit and drinking your blood into my next falling.” The drops that hit my face and neck are a familiar tongue. The small scars dotting my arms open to welcome the cold pinpricks and I do my best to scratch away the water that gets stuck inside of them as raindrop tendrils claw and slither down my legs. Never wear shorts. I make it to the door, and a slow drip fills the empty air as I set the bags down, calling to my mother that they’re here. I’m too stupid to put them away correctly, she’s mused. She’s the only person in this whole damn family smart enough to put away groceries. She lives in a house of idiots. Of lazy, stupid assholes. It’s like a recording I’ve listened to far too many times. I anticipate the words. I don’t mind. I need to dry off, and this way, she won’t see the blood.
I was twelve years old the first time this tic possessed my arms. I was standing outside, watching a parade with my arms crossed, my nails furiously working at shearing off as much skin as they could. I couldn’t feel it. I never can unless I’m watching. My mother’s husband noticed before anyone else, and as he saw streaks of red stain my white shorts, he glimpsed my pale face before my footing grew weak and I staggered. I almost fell when he caught me, and he held my hands until my fingers stopped writhing. I was taken back to the hotel, I was cleaned and watched and comforted. The tic didn’t happen again for months, and then: divorce.
I had opened the scars in the rain again. I saw blood beneath my fingernails, but it had only pooled in and not poured from the crevasses. A gentle patting of a towel after warm soap and water mitigates the sting. I look at myself in the mirror, soaked blonde hair plastered against my neck, and I can see grinning torment in its oily-wet sheen. I put the towel against my head and scrub so hard my sight vignettes and only once my ears are red from heat do I stop. I turn on the faucet and sit on the floor. I curse myself. How could I have even considered sitting in that car? Why would I even entertain such a stupid thought? I know the rules. I know not to provoke her. Maybe I shouldn’t have even returned home. I could take that chance, I could –
“Gabriel?”—an inquisitive greeting from the base of the stairs. “Come down, please.”
“Mother, Mother, Mother, Mother,” the water hiding in my ears whispers to me as I tread downstairs.
There’s an exasperated repetition of my name, as if she’d been waiting for ten minutes by now. It’s repeated, louder, frustration no longer an undertone. By this point, I’ve reached the midpoint landing of the stairs, and turning the corner, I’m greeted by a despicably twisted face.
“When I call, you answer me. You do not simply come. You acknowledge me. Am I clear?”
I offer a nod.
“Yes Ma’am,” she instructs, the words dissipating into the air like poisoned smog.
“Yes, Ma’am. I understand.” Better to obey.
Walking towards me, he begins to smile. I notice the grocery bags still by the door, and she catches my cheeks in her hand.
“You do not look away from me, young man. You’re in trouble.” She gives my face a bonus squeeze. “Do you know why?”
“I knew you’d be too stupid. I’m the only one in this damn house with a brain, I swear. All that school every day and you’re still the most clueless child I’ve ever raised. Who doesn’t have the common sense to tell someone they left the groceries by the door? I didn’t hear you call me when you got here with the groceries. You thought you could just drop them and run away upstairs without saying anything or even offering to help? I swear, I’m the only one who does anything in this damn house, I swear. What kind of—”
“I did call you. I’ve only been here about five minutes now.”
Mother’s eyes grow big. She lets go of my face and raises her hand, “How dare you interrupt me?” Her cheeks redden as a smack graces mine with the same color. “And then you lie on top of that? What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I didn’t lie.”
“You’re calling me a liar, then? Saying that, what, I’m too stupid to know when someone walks into my own home? You dumbass,” smack, “I’ve had just about enough of your disrespect,” smack. “Now go take your lazy ass upstairs and leave me alone. Don’t come back down here to bother me, especially after this little display.” She gestures to the groceries, “Don’t ever ask me for a damn thing again, you hear me? Trying to sabotage this family by ruining our groceries. I can’t even bear to look at your face right now.”
She steps back. I stand there, wondering whether to apologize or just turn and leave. I open my mouth to apologize, and my cheeks sting from the movement. She stomps towards me furiously.
“I said get out of my sight!” She begins to whale on my chest as I cross my arms to defend myself. “Get the fuck away from me you stupid little shit!” Her blows come with more heat and anger. “Why are you still standing here? I said,” smack, “get!” smack, “out!” smack, “of!” smack, “my!” smack, “face!” The last word comes with an infuriated screech as one final smack comes down on my arms as I drop them to my sides.
I let my arms hang limp as sobs erupt from her eyes and she draws back.
“I can’t believe you would hit me! You do not raise a hand against your mother, young man!” she cries, holding her hand, wrist bent like its deflection off my skin had hurt it.
Maybe if the skin weren’t so hard from the beating, I wouldn’t have had to suffer this show.
“Go, just go upstairs. You don’t need to tell me you don’t love me. Just go, I understand.”
I run up the stairs as she sobs about suffering abuse from her son’s hand over the phone with my grandparents.
I have no doubt that they’re consoling her, aghast at my belligerent and offensive behavior. I’m always so excited to see them at the holidays. I love the way they look at me, like I’m some anger-obsessed abuser who beats his own mother. I sit on my bed, too familiar with how this went down to feel torn up by it, I tell myself. It’s easier to say that I’m used to it, that it doesn’t bother me. It’s odd how there’s always something easier. A strange weight rests on my back as I’m sitting up in bed, and I turn around to stare at the wall pushing it towards me. It doesn’t go away; it doesn’t leave my back. I breathe a little heavier; I breathe a little more intentionally. The weight surrounds me and murky laughter bounces around my skull. I pull the covers up around me and lie down, pulling them up over my head so I’m alone in the dark, keeping the weight from me, protected by a light blue fluff-stuffed barrier. I wiggle my fingers to the edge just enough to create a small hole to let cool air in before my own hot breath melts my skin. Light flits in through the hole and then a slick black-and-purple finger pokes through and hooks the blanket, lifting it from my face and gently folding it over my shoulders.
I can’t move.
“Relax, buddy, relaaaax. You fell asleep, it’s okay. I can see you here though, I can talk to you, and you can’t stop me. I just wanna chat, buddy. Let’s talk, pal.”
I can’t look away from him, from… that thing. It—he? Was once a man, probably? Blackened flesh graced with swollen purple splotches of bruised sheen shimmers beneath writhing veins wrapping themselves around slimy flesh. He smiles. Sharp, yellow teeth.
“Let me take a seat.” He does. “Gabey, Gabey. Look, my friend. I don’t actually want to be here, you know that, right? Do you think it’s fun living my life attached to you? You’re not worth much, you know? At least not from what I can tell. Listen to your mother, boy, she’s the finest and most sound woman I’ve ever seen! How about this—you kill her, and I’ll move on, I’ll take her away and love her like she deserves.”
I can’t open my mouth to speak. I can’t move, I can’t look away. This is new. I have no plan for this. My body aches. My brain is burning, sending any electric misfires it can to my body to try and get it to move without my consent. Nothing. This is scary.
“You died in the water, kid, two years ago. Or at least, you should have. Your mother is right—you can’t do anything right. I’m stuck here with you because I had your soul in my hands, almost ready for a scrumptious little snack—the innocent souls are the most powerful, potent, delectable little things you could ever have grace your lips. Those pills you took, I had to wait for them to digest before getting the rest of your soul out. But that damn brain of yours… you know, I’ve been inside there. Two years! That synaptic lightning racing through your dead mind needed somewhere to go, and it zapped your organs just enough to cause a contraction that pushed those pills up just enough for you to vomit all over your disgusting little self. You were bathing in your own vomit, you wretched shit. But you came back. I was inside of you, eating you, digesting you, and look what you did to me!” He shoves me onto my back and straddles me, bringing himself closer to my face. I can smell sea salt masking the faint scent of decay as putrid ocean air stings my nostrils. “Look!”
Thin lines run across his face, coming from his mouth. They aren’t purple like his swollen bruises, or black and twisted like his flesh and veins. They are a dark blue, marring his face with an unpredictable pattern of sky-spread plasma.
“You made me ugly! Hideous!” His long nails claw at his face as layers of slime fall onto mine. “Now how can I get your sweet old mother to fuck me, Gabriel?” His veins twist and spur to life, spraying blood from perforated tissue across my body. “I’m leaking! This is what you did to me! You ripped me open, Gabriel! My poor little heart!”
He sits up and leaves me, turning and walking towards the stairs. “I want you to kill her. I want her soul. I want you to drown her, stab her in the bath, I don’t care, Gabriel. You owe me. If you want to keep your soul, you’ll give me hers. I can’t leave you because I’m stuck inside of your skin. That vomit-laden bathwater tainted your flesh, and I was part of that. Give me what I want, or I will—” He digs his nails into his forehead and walks just out of my view. Chunks of rotten face fall on the floor as I hear nail-born rips tearing skin. “—carve you.”
I sit up. I look around frantically. Nothing. No face meat on the floor, no blood on my clothes, no slime on my face. Out the window, the rain has stopped, and the moon is watching me. I lie down on my back, where I can still feel the sweat. I close my eyes, sigh, then get up and walk over to the bathroom. I grab the key, step in, and lock the door. I grab seven tealights from the package beneath the sink and light them after turning the bathtub faucet on. I haven’t turned the light off yet, and as I reach for the switch, my bruised arm catches my eye in the mirror. I turn to look. I run my fingertips along the relief handprint on my cheeks. The spots just below the finger-length welts are turning blue already. I wince as my fingers meet them. I take off my shirt, throwing it to the floor. It’s one my mother got me for Christmas last year—navy, cotton, boasting a graffiti-style “Salt-Life” logo on its front and a boat with a bikini-clad model driving it on the back, drinking a beer. Salt-Life. I live in Indiana. I watch as the bottom seam catches the flicker of a tealight flame, and it begins to glow and burn. I disabled the smoke alarm up here over two years ago, on account of candles in the bathroom and incense burning. I watch it burn until ashes dance through the air and land in the slowly-filling tub water. I turn the water off and come back to my spot in front of the mirror, the ghostly sound of running water still filling the air.
Pink lines crisscross the top of my forearm. I look at the scars, tracing them with my fingers and imagining what the pain of peeling them open like that could have done to someone who’d been able to feel it. My neck jerks to the left, my eyes fixed on a scar, anchoring my equilibrium so the motion doesn’t dizzy me. I follow them up to my shoulder, where a white mark mars the middle of a birthmark. I remember being told that birthmarks were evidence of how your mother’s love for you in the womb was concentrated so powerfully that it became something like your first tattoo, a permanent center of love. The scar in the middle had been left when she was hitting me with a “switch” last year, or a dry stick that cracked and lodged itself into my arm as she slammed it against me. “If you weren’t trying to defend yourself with your arm, it wouldn’t have broken,” she said. The doctors assumed I had fallen from a tree and was lying about what happened. After all, they were prepared for my mischievous stories. They’d received plenty of warning about my lies and hatred for my family.
My right hand climbs to the back of my head as I hold a mirror in my left. I want to see it. I push hair up with the pinky-side of my hand, revealing another scar, about an inch long, and white. As I touch it, my left hand unclenches, dropping the mirror on the counter. It’s not very loud, so I’m sure Mother won’t wake up. I pick it up again, and immediately my fist lets go. I don’t care to try a third time. My neck jumps to the right, and with nothing to focus on and no warning, my brain comes loose and squishes against my skull. Ouch. I sit down and feel the scar on the back of my head again. My legs flex.
It wasn’t always like this. I didn’t always cower, and after I started to, I didn’t always just accept every taunt and slap and hit. I would fight back. Not physically, but I would yell, too. I was the first one who said, “I hate you.” I was twelve, though. That’s different. Sometimes I think about the few memories I have as a child where she would hold me, sing to me, read to me. When I was sick, she never missed a beat—doctor’s office, fast.
I remember her teaching me to defend myself. To protect people I care about, because she needed me to be her big man. That a mother’s love is infallible. I remember her holding my head in her lap, stroking my hair, telling me that she gave up her world for me.
That was before my dad left her. They weren’t married when I was born. My mom was married to my older brother’s father, her first husband. She had an affair, claiming that he was abusing and hitting and locking her in rooms and dumping ice water on her whenever she disobeyed him. My brother stayed with him when Mother moved in with my dad to “escape” her “ex” husband, and when my dad found out that they were still married, he had us move in with my grandparents. I remember her telling me and my grandparents that we needed to leave my dad, because he would yell and hit her, and he would do things I wasn’t allowed to know about to her and my brother.
Then she got married again. Her second husband and I would play with toys together. I remember smiling and thinking that I didn’t need my dad, who would hurt my mom. She left that husband after less than two years. Again, he would hit her, and she had had enough, and she caught him standing in front of the window naked on Halloween night. Then she met her last husband, the man who helped me during the parade. Same story. A divorce as soon as he got close to me. He would throw things at her, she would sob in my grandparents’ living room, and had a secret child with a woman whom he had once tried to kill.
I remember feeling distraught, so angry at them, and only wanting to protect my mom. When we moved to Indiana, that protection became fear. When I see this scar, I remember that fear.
I set the mirror down and keep my fingers in my hair, touching the scar, flinching at the softer flesh around it and letting my body contract and shake and shiver. I was four years old when I got it. Mother had left the house to go run errands while her first husband was out and asked the neighbor boys to babysit. We had just finished playing a game of freeze tag when I was told about a new game as I was tied to the trunk of a tree because once you’re on base, they need to make sure you’re safe there.
“It’s called ‘Piñata’ and it’s one of my favorites!” said the older of the two boys.
I didn’t say anything as the babysitter grabbed a branch and started to hit me with it, laughing. His brother joined in, too. The hits weren’t hard. They didn’t hurt badly. But one hit was to my head, a King Arthur slaying-the-dragon strike. The stick pushed through flesh and scraped against bone. I had to get stitches. Since then, stray commands from my brain cause jolts and jerks and tics and kicks. I never went another day without some muscle being constantly flexed and sore. Apparently, though, that same unruly brain sent out a shockwave, two years ago, as I lay sleeping in bath water after I thought I had found the solution to my crying and loneliness, that woke me up again, that kept me alive.
I look in the mirror and at the shower wall. I remember the Mother that would always laugh at me and tell me to wash my hair again, I looked greasy and girls didn’t like that. I almost see her smile in the mirror. Now, something has asked me to kill her.
I don’t want to take a bath anymore. I go over to drain the water and as soon as my hand breaks the surface, a slick hand wraps my wrist and pulls me down, forcing my arm to bend as another hand holds my elbow to the bottom of the tub. My face is less than an inch from the steaming water. I feel fingers in my hair, then a sharp pull as they close into a fist and shove my face beneath the water. I try to pry myself up with my free hand but can’t push hard enough to overpower the chthonic grip. “Mother, Mother, Mother, Mother, Mother, MOTHER, MOTHER, MOTHER,” the water fills my ears. I am released. I take a deep breath and blow out all the candles. My hair is dripping as there is a loud banging on the door. “Kill her,” each drop of water that falls past my ears chants, “kill her.”
The door handle begins to shake, the screws holding it to the wooden door threaten to break loose.
“You stole my key? You insignificant shit! Get out right now or I’m calling the police and telling them about you beating me earlier!”
I begin to panic. “Kill her,” the water whispers. “Feed me,” moan the drops trapped in my ear. I begin to cry, and my tears scratch at my cheeks, leaving little red streaks as they fall. Every teardrop is marked by another beat on the door or a shattering rattle of the door handle. I sit in the tub as the water drains, ignoring the fingers and hands and arms pulling at my pants and caressing my chest and back. The door-pounding stops suddenly.
“I’ve got you now, you ungrateful, hateful motherfucker. I hate you. I hate you, Gabriel. I hate you for making me do this! I’m your mother and I love you!”
The doorframe splinters and the door swings open, the handle going through the drywall. I stare, paralyzed, as my mother carries in a cooler and takes the lid off. I hear the cold rustle of ice in water as she lugs it towards me.
“You’re always in the water, taking baths, running up my bills and taking the hot water! I hate you! All you do is take, take, take, take.” Her breath grows labored as she tries to step forward and empty the contents on me, but the steam from my bath water made the cooler sweat, and it slips out of her hand as she slips and falls forward. The cooler comes crashing into me, dumping ice water into my lap. I thought the crack I heard was the lid of the cooler hitting the ledge of the bathtub, but as I notice I am free of hands and writhing limbs, I also notice Mother lying on the ground. From a small trickle of blood and the cooler sweat, the steam in the air swirls into that same figure from my dream, grinning at me.
“Not bad, boy, finally, you’ve done something right.”
He laughs as he contorts and pries Mother’s mouth open with his hands. His body crams itself entirely into her as he vanishes, giggling. The water in my ears stops chanting, stops laughing. The water in the bathtub is choppy, rippling, but silent. I don’t notice my tears because they don’t burn my cheeks. My legs begin to kick in the water, my neck pulling my head from side to side as I cry. I can’t control anything about my body. I sit back down and let the lightning run its course until I can count my breaths again. I get out of the water and walk towards the open bathroom door, sitting down on my mattress. My hair is still wet, yet I don’t feel scratches or hear voices. It is calm. My world is calm. My mind is calm. I am so lost in that tranquil ocean that the sputtering coughs from the bathroom don’t register until I also hear the soft, wet footfalls on carpet. Mother stands in the busted doorway. I can see the monster who crawled inside of her lingering behind her, a sharp grin on his face. She opens her mouth, but an underwater film plays over her voice:
“Gabriel? What happened to me? My head…it’s so sore. What did you do to me, you little shit?” Suddenly her hand cups her ear. “What? You want me to…what?” Her voice is quieter, maybe meant to be a whisper, but I can hear her. A familiarity washes over me as she directs her stare at me. She starts to shake the water from her hair and lifts her shirt to dry her face and ears, her mouth drawn tight in pain. My own chest tightens as I shrink into my bed, realizing what is happening. She walks towards me, dark scowl decorating a pale face.
“Everything I do for you…you can’t even be bothered to talk to your own mother?” Closer. “You can’t even speak to me, to thank me, you don’t love me!” Closer. “Ungrateful! Why won’t you even apologize for shoving me down in there?” Her hands slam on the footboard of my bed as I jump off and run towards the stairs. She begins to chase me, screaming at me to stop running. I make it to the bottom, to the living room, and I look up as I hear her tumbling down to the first landing. She gets up, scrambling, eyes fixed on me as she tries to find the first step down and misses, tumbling over the side rail. She doesn’t make it to the floor. She dangles, her leg caught in the banister bars and bent at an angle that makes the bone-break evident. She pushes herself up to face me with shaking arms.
“Please,” her voice is a soft whimper as tears well in her eyes. “Please help me, Gabriel. I miss you so much. I am so, so sorry. I’ll be better, please,” she lightly begs, her voice becoming a wheeze. “Your father never loved me. He left me here and I’ve been so, so angry with him. I have always loved you, please, Gabriel, please help me.”
I’m frozen a moment, then I take a step towards her, but in our living room, there’s a mirror above the TV that reflects the entry way, so that we could see who was knocking at the door or walking in the house if ever we left the door open for visitors. I catch my own eye, and I hear her struggling whimpers.
“Please, Gabriel, I’ll be so much better. I promise I’ll fix us.”
I see my outstretched hand and all the little white and pink lines seem to glow in my reflection. I don’t want to be alone. I don’t want to believe that she hates me, that I’m not worth the love. I want to give her another chance. I want to love her again. What if she was haunted, like me? How could I be so selfish to think I was the only one suffering, I never even tried to ask her about it or how she was feeling or doing. I was always so afraid.
Her eyes shine pathetically as I look over.
“I love you, honey. I love you, no matter what happens now. I love you.”
I see the white scar in my birthmark, and I step closer to unwedge her leg and get her onto the ground. But I don’t. I put my hand on her leg and she grips my pants and looks up at me, locking our gazes.
“Please, Gabriel, I am so sorry, I love you. Thank you, thank you, I love you so much.”
I see a string of blue spreading across her lips. I know I’m imagining it, but I swear that she looks just like that monster. Her skin looks wet because of my tears dripping down onto it. All the torment, all of the pain and cowering and fear and curling up and screaming, all the yelling and belittling. I can leave, I can just be free. I remember sitting in my car earlier today with the groceries as I find myself walking out towards it, through a soft rain.
Maybe I shouldn’t have ever returned home. I could take that chance, I could… the radio begins to play as I see my reflection in the rear-camera screen. I know the rules. I know not to provoke her. I could take this chance. I know the rules. I look through my windshield as I put the car in reverse. Grocery bags lay by the threshold to the house. I focus on their melancholy grey folds before driving towards serenity.
Trigger Warning: violence, suicidal reference
Kevin Cox is a junior studying English and Creative Writing. He wants everyone to know that he still can't say the alphabet backwards without reciting it to himself forwards like twenty times. Usually. He's also bald, and has a beard, which he has been told is incredibly unique. So, if you ever find yourself wondering: who was that bald guy saying his ABC's under his breath? You may rest assured that it was Kevin.