It was freezing, her hands were numb, but she sucked her cigarette to the filter before climbing through the window. There was Kirby, out cold, a pile of vomit under his cheek, a bag of peas resting next to his face. She knelt beside him, frowning at the smell, and nudged his shoulder.
Kirby's eyes flapped open.
"I...my eye...I needed to ice..."
"Kirby--what the fuck. What the fuck is wrong with you?"
Kirby sat up, wiping his face.
"Yes, I know. I was there, Kirby.”
"I just couldn't handle..."
"You were out of control.”
"...seeing you, like...seeing you with--"
"He proposed, Kirby. Nik proposed. After you lef--"
"And you came home?" Kirby stood, propping himself against the open window.
"That's all you can say? ‘You came home?’ I came home for you, Kirby."
"What did you say to him, Pace?"
"Kirby, this is a difficult situation for me. You have to understand..."
"What did you say, Pace?"
"..my situation. Our situation. You know this affects us b--"
"What did you say, Pace?" Kirby pounded his fist against the windowpane.
"No. I said no."
"That's why you came home without that ugly fucking painting.”
"Kirby. I said no for us. Because of you. I can't marry him Kirby, that’s just--"
"Us? You should have taken the money, honey, cause without it there is no us."
"What the fuck are you talking about? There can be us without Nik. Nik is nothing to me, to us."
"I'm fucking broke, Pace. You know th--"
"Of course you're broke, Kirby. You always were. I'm the one making the money. Without me you'll just...just...fucking ROT here, in this sick fucking excuse for an apartment." Pace knocked one of Kirby’s shirts from the ceiling pipes.
"You're right. I will rot. I'll rot here all by myself. Without you. Without anyone, or anything..." Kirby marched back to his mattress. Pace followed, yelling at his back.
"Oh give me a fucking break, Kirby. I'm telling you I love you and--"
"That's not fucking good enough, Pace. Now, now we're fucking screwed unless...unless I go back to work which--"
"YES, Kirby. YES. Go back to work. Why don't you fucking work for a change?"
"You know how I feel about work, Pace. I thought you understood me."
"Understand me, Kirb. Understand me. I've been the one working for the both of--"
"Going out to dinner a few times a week is not--"
"Work? Really, Kirby. You think going out to dinner with that man is not work? You think laughing at his jokes is not work? You think sucking his dick is not--"
"SO FUCKING STOP THEN. If you hate it so much just FUCKING STOP."
"I DID KIRBY. I said 'NO' to his fucking proposal."
"Which is why we are fucking SCREWED now, Pace. Like totally FUCKED, PACE.”
"I can’t do this, Kirby. I'm fucking OUT OF..."
"I hope you DO leave. Cause THAT'S THE FUCKING WAY..."
"...HERE FOR GOOD."
"...I WANT IT."
Kirby’s fist traveled fast, a direct flight to Pace’s eye.
She had nowhere else to go at 2am. Nik answered on the first ring.
“I knew you’d change your mind, baby.”
Thick wet heaves from Pace on the line. Nik adjusted his tone accordingly.
“Baby, baby. Shhhh. It’s ok. Getting married is a big decision. You were scared. I forgive you. It’s all forgotten. We have each other no—”
“Mugged,” Pace lied, “I’ve been mugged.”
“Jesus Christ. Are you OK? Did you call the police?”
“Gone. He’s gone now.”
“Where are you now?”
“Get in a cab. I’ll pay. Get here now.”
Pace flailed for taxis.
“Pace? Stay with me. I want you to stay on the phone until you’re in the cab. Ok?”
“Ok. I’m in. I’m on my way.”
Suds dribbled from her hair and slid down her bare shoulders. She cried, all toweled up on Nik’s leather sofa. He cradled her skull in terry cloth. Together they stared out Nik’s wall-sized windows. Pace imagined pushing through the glass and bringing Nik along for the tumble, their two bodies joining a shower of shards, approaching the promise of the river’s black, cold body.
She was still warm from the shower as she straddled him and bit his neck. Her knees sunk into the couch. She let her towel fall and brought her mouth to her man’s. His presence became unimportant; she drifted in the kiss, escaping the particulars of the evening, hiding in his mouth cavity. It was there in that hollow she felt more dead than alive, as if she could slip down his throat and settle in his stomach. It was his insides she was interested in, and the escape they offered. When Nik smoothed her spine, she was snapped from her internal fantasy and forced to reckon with the external expression of his passion, the slick grip of his wet palms. He wanted her present, alive, moaning under pressure. He caressed her bruised eye. Even that he wanted. She winced. Nik smiled.
“You OK, baby?” he whispered.
Pace didn’t answer. She wanted to get back to it, into him, away, away, away. She kissed him again, hoping he’d shut up. No luck; Nik broke it up again.
“Does my baby want to do the rope tonight?” Nik asked.
Pace didn’t want to do the rope. Pace wanted to drift without disturbance.
“If it’s too much, we don’t have to, baby. But it could be fun...just the thing to take your mind off...you know, the...tonight’s incident. Seems like that’s what you...well you want it right? I mean you’re the one who...”
Without a word she walked to his closet. Nik shut up; he was getting what he wanted. She couldn’t blame him for his expectation; it was a precedent she had helped to set. From the first noose onward, she had facilitated his knotty kink. Now she was trapped, responsible for his escape: he needed her to choke him, he trusted her grip, trusted that she would bring him just close enough, not over, not beyond, not black. She was in his employ in her position above him, with that rope in her hands. When she tightened, it was because she owed him, he had paid for this constriction, it was his idea of a good time, and his ideas were her duty. And so even when the familiar fibers were in her hands and she closed in on his Adam’s apple and his dick rose and his neck pulsed and his lips sputtered and his nostrils shrunk, even when he was afraid, afraid that she would finish him, even when he smacked his mattress in surrender, she was his, all his, he owned her. His idea, his death.
She rifled through his tie rack until her hand settled on the rope. She was sick of being his, anyone’s. She was sick of the stupid throb inside of her that led to belonging. She hated how she felt less without another. There was nothing unique in her need, her desire to descend, forget. She wrung the rope in her hands until her palms were raw.
“Baby?” Nik called.
Pace let a quick, silent sob fly in the closet.
“I’m getting ready,” she spurted.
“I miss you. Get over here and case me, baby.”
Pace took a breath and turned from the closet. Nik was naked on the couch, his taut cock inching up his stomach.
“You gotta get your pillow first, turkey.” Pace lilted through her teeth.
“But turkey’s tired. Can you get turkey’s pillow for him?”
“Why doesn’t turkey come with me to the bedroom?”
Nik looked at her with expectant eyes; always the same in this moment. She lassoed his neck, and led him loosely to the bedroom. She tossed him on the mattress. He lay on his back.
“Does baby wanna get on top? Does baby wanna choke her turkey? Is turkey gonna get what’s coming to him? Is turkey gonna get the case?”
Commands as questions: Nik’s familiar tactic. Pace got on top, and let Nik inside her. She rode him slowly, reaching for a pillow. She stripped off its case and hooded her man. His large features protruded through the countless threads of the designer pillowcase. The fabric covering his mouth moved in and out with his breath.
“Turkey wants it tight. Can you make it tight for turkey?”
She pulled on the noose, gave Nik what he wanted. His sheathed face allowed her to project what she wished. Who said her anger needed a definite object? She much preferred this anonymous mask to Nik’s specific face, it allowed her to let loose, imagine who she liked. It was Kirby, it was Nik, it was no one.
In, out, in, out, breath pushed at the mouth of the blue silhouette. Pace pulled tighter, twisting the rope to the left, leaving a trail of bloody chafe. Her man pulsed inside her. He was close; she could feel it. So unfair, that only he should find escape, that he could drift selfishly, hide in his bag, alone with his pleasure while she did all the work. The pulling, the riding, the moaning: all for nothing, all for him, or him, or him. Who didn’t really matter; it was all similarly tiring, angering, empty. She would not allow him tonight. Pace made a final twist and thrust his crown against the headboard. Nik went limp. Pace let go, rolled off, and sank into his mattress.
With her turkey out cold next to her, Pace was free to scream as loud as she liked, but she chose to muffle her noise with the naked pillow beside her. She was afraid of what her anger sounded like, and what that sound might inspire.
In the morning, Nik felt like a new man.
“I feel like a new man.”
Pace had not slept all night, but she pretended now.
“I’m sore, but baby I’m alive. I don’t know what got into you last night, honey, but whatever it was, you put it into me.”
Pace gave a slight hum of acknowledgment.
“I meant to ask you, baby. Do you think you could watch Gorgeous this weekend? I have to go to that exhibition in Miami.”
Pace rolled over, and looked up at Nik’s smooth face. A scab lined his Adam’s apple.
“Sure,” she said.
“You might as well stay here...I mean you’re here all the time anyway...and you’re gonna be spending a lot more soon...”
He rubbed Pace’s hair with a nervous smile. She had not said yes. But this was typical of agreements made with Nik; his talons tacitly took.
“I mean, it’s gotta be better than your place”—he said with a laugh—“Not that I would know...”
Pace had never let Nik see “her” place. He would never understand. Or, rather, he would understand too much.
Kirby’s old grad school buddy looked ghosted. Running into Kirby after so long, with such bad news. The worst had been delivered. Now, the ex-friend frowned as he surrendered the final detail:
“Heroin,” he said.
And there it was again, that same stupid feeling, now deeper than ever, a tension that racked his chest and sunk his gut. There it was again: jealousy. Apparently he was the last to know; the news had already made its way through the neighborhood. She had been their darling deity, a fixed point on the scene, a sick little gem with a glam little habit. Yes, Melanie Baltimore had always been ahead of the game. Kirby could never catch up. And now she’d fucking won for good, she’d gotten her goodbye at 28.
“I didn’t realize she messed with—”
“Yeah, well you kind of dropped out, Kirby. Where the hell have you been? I haven’t seen you since—”
“I’m around. Just not, you know...”
Kirby let his sentence hang. His former friend crushed his cigarette on the sidewalk. It was a long stomp; neither had much to say.
“Yeah well, I should get going. I got some stuff I, uh...a girl I’m, uh meeting. So...”
“Well it was good seeing you, Kirb. Really. I’ll see you around, OK?”
“Yeah. See you.”
Kirby walked a few blocks to nowhere, sat on the ground and let wet heaves wash over him. Snot, tears and sweat poured from his face as he grappled with Melanie’s terminal success. He raked his knuckles against the concrete. They bled. Kirby brought his fist to his mouth and sucked.
Bubbles floated to the top of the marble pool. At the bottom, Gorgeous snapped at goldfish. Omnivorous Gorgeous only got goldfish on special days. Not that it really made a difference to her; snapping turtles have no sense of occasion. But Nik thought it nice to feed her something other than plants this weekend. Gorgeous wanted to celebrate the engagement. Her celebration was Pace’s responsibility. Nik was long gone to Miami.
Nik’s buzzer rang. Kirby. Pace was expecting him, an apology. Then it would be over.
Kirby stood outside, ready to be gutted. He imagined Pace opening the door with a grin and a knife. He wanted her to open him up and out, into that brave space that Melanie Baltimore occupied. But Kirby was chicken shit. His fantasy was one born out of cowardice. Even in his thoughts, he couldn’t imagine taking his own life; he needed another to do it for him, and there he failed again where Melanie had succeeded. Yes, he was one sick piece of poultry.
He waited. He rang again. The door opened. And there, hanging behind Pace’s expectant face, was one of Melanie’s cold red cars on a big fat canvas. Kirby crumbled to his knees.
Pace had never seen Kirby cry. It was this rare expression of hurt that led her to believe he was truly sorry. Pace began crying as well; she was not sure that she could forgive him, but she could certainly pick him up off the floor.
She knelt on the threshold and scooped her sad buddy up. He heaved on her shoulder, drooled down her back. Linked together, Pace limped them through the door. Kirby slid down her body, pulling Pace into his messy crumble. He hit the floor first, Pace followed. On Nik’s linoleum, Pace found Kirby’s gaze. He was not with her, he was somewhere else. She drew back, sat up and slapped the salt off her cheeks. Kirby let a low moan rumble.
“Kirby, what the fuck. We need to talk. Talking Kirby. Not moaning. Let’s speak. We’re, we’re not animals.”
“Melanie.” Kirby let her name loose, and with it a whole new mess of sobs.
“Melanie’s...dead.” Kirby slapped the air with a sick chuckle.
Pace didn’t care about Melanie; it was Kirby’s injuries she loved, but only when she caused them. She wanted Kirby back, wanted him present, needed him now. Kirby’s fraught giggles disturbed her.
“Kirby...Kirby. Look at me.”
Kirby kept laughing into linoleum.
“LOOK AT ME.” Pace slapped Kirby hard. Kirby stopped. Kirby steadied. He looked at Pace. Pace took him in her arms, cradled him on the floor. He felt Pace’s weight on top of him, as she descended with him into rest. Together, they were gone.
When they woke, it was dark. Where they were in the weekend was uncertain. They lay on the linoleum, faces pressed together, dried drool commingling.
“Let’s leave,” Kirby whispered.
Pace eyed him wearily, warily, brushing crust from her cheek.
“What? I’m here for the weekend Kirb, I told you.”
“No, I mean let’s leave.”
“Just you and me. Out of this fucking city. It’s killing us, baby. Us. We’re better than this.” Kirby sat up and clutched her hand.
“It makes sense Pace. You hate it here, you hate this”—Kirby slapped the floor.
“Berlin. Things are happening, there babe. People are making things. Things that count. That’s where the real art is.”
“Yes. Berlin. Just us. Free of this.”
“Leave with me baby. C’mon.”
Pace smiled. Escape. She nodded. Suddenly Kirby was on his feet.
“BERLIN, BABY!” Kirby laughed hysterically and pulled his girl to her feet.
Gorgeous loped into the foyer.
“Gorgeous. How did you get out of your pool?” Pace frowned at the pet. She walked over and reached without thinking. Gorgeous snapped the air, just missing Pace’s pinkie.
“Jesus Christ. You almost fucking got me, you little bitch.”
Pace reached again, readjusting her position. This time, she got Gorgeous with ease. She grappled the turtle’s armored exterior, careful to grab it from the center. With her strategic hold, Pace was safe from harm. The animal’s small skull writhed: left, right, left, right, its fruitless snaps making nothing but noise as Pace brought the turtle back to its pool. She plopped another goldfish into the water out of pity for the captive creature. Pace watched as the orange flapper met his fate, a doomed amber glint at the bottom of the pool. One snap and the gold was gone.
Jonathan Parks-Ramage lives in Brooklyn, NY. He works in the Writing and Development Department of Roadside Entertainment, a New York-based production company. His fiction has also appeared in nthWord.
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