Do you remember when you were four years old,
When you didn't care about how your body looked.
When you didn't know how it should look.
You didn't care about what you ate or what you weighed.
You didn't even know what perfection was.
You were just purely you.
Who even told you what flaws were?
Who told you what was beautiful,
And what was not?
Who had the audacity to ruin your perfect self image.
And start a world of impossible standards.
Who created the demon inside of you?
The demon that has now taken over your life.
The one that made you care more about the number on the scale,
Or the blemish on your face,
Then your self worth.
The demon screaming inside of you,
Hammering in the message that you will never be loved,
Not unless you meet an impossible list of "perfection".
A list filled with thigh gaps, tiny waists, big eyes and perfect skin.
A list that will tear you apart.
The demon hollows out your insides,
Taking away any joy you had left in your body,
Until there is nothing.
Creating an abyss that will never be filled.
It makes it so all you can think about is everything you are not.
You'd rather starve than eat.
You would rather cut your arms,
Than look at yourself in a mirror.
The demon will not stop until you hate yourself.
Until you loathe your very existence,
And cry yourself to sleep.
It will keep on growing and growing,
until you fade away to nothingness.
You have to take away its power.
Look away from that magazine,
And step away from that scale.
Stop thinking about what your not,
And embrace who you are.
Stop caring about a space between your thighs,
Or a timepiece like figure.
And start caring about you.
Your body is your only home.
Stop treating it like its broken,
Stop trying to clean and fix your already perfect house.
The only one who can kill the demon
Chapter One: When Dusk Turns Dark (Excerpt from Game of Death)
With no shoes on, she was small. She had quite a willowy, delicate frame that only added to her elegance despite the fact she was perceived as weak and frail. Her skin was as pale and as smooth as porcelain, making the girl almost look like a china doll, with her short, blonde hair framing her face delicately, not a strand out of place. Her eyes seemed to resemble polished sapphires, glistening in the moonlight, and her lips were ruby red. Her dress draped around her body, fitting perfectly just like a glove to a hand.The skirt was fashioned out of smooth, milky white, frothy organza that reached her knees. A satin sash pulled in her waist, making it looking smaller than it already was. The bodice of her simple yet glamorous dress was encrusted with tiny little gems and beads that caught the soft moonlight and glowed. The girl walked with the grace of a nimble gazelle and was as bewitching as a peacock showing off her beautiful feathers.
The girl, known as Pearl, had never felt more terrified and insecure. All her life, she had spoken every word strongly and surely, each command strong. Now, for the first time in her life she found herself faced with uncertainty.
The moment she’d volunteered for the elemental games, everyone had been so certain that she would return victorious, and had completely disregarded the rest of the competition. And despite all their words of encouragement, she knew that she was incapable of winning. Which was the main reason for her sneaking out in the middle of the night for a calm walk in the woods.
She let out a sigh and leaned against a tree, the scent of petrichor infiltrating her nostrils. Terrified, she thought of the upcoming morning. There would be tears and goodbyes as she departed for the games, no doubt about it, but she couldn’t help but feel that she might never see any of her family or friends ever again.
Suddenly, an arrow nicked her ear as it flew past, thudding into a nearby tree. Pearl was immediately alert. No one from her tribe went hunting this late at night, and there could only be one possible explanation. It was an invasion.
But then, Pearl thought in a moment of confusion, Why aren't there any horses? Where is the army? The soldiers adorned in shining silver armor should have been visible under the light of the moon.
She trembled as she attempted to come up with an explanation. But before she could form a single thought, a tall figure leapt over the brush in front of her, landing with a light thud, so soft she barely heard it. She automatically reached for her knife, but realized that she was unarmed, wearing only a thin nightgown. There was only one option, she realized as the figure nocked an arrow. She turned and fled into the darkness.
She heard the whizzing sound, and she rolled on the forest floor as five arrows sailed overhead. Her thoughts raced as she ran. No archer she knew could shoot that many arrows in one shot, and there was no possible explanation nor reason some other tribe would send a single man to kill her. That's when it dawned upon her that it was none other than an assassination attempt. This one thought compelled her to move faster.
The assassin wasted no time in following after her. They took to the trees, leaping from branch to branch covering ground ten times quicker than their target. In the faint moonlight that shone through the trees, it was clear to see the girl as she fled towards her village, her nightgown a white beacon in the dark night.
Breathing hard, Pearl came to a halt. She spun around, trying to catch a glimpse of her attacker, but there was no one to be seen around. Relieved, she turned towards her village gates, which was just beyond the edge of the wilderness, no more than a few feet away.
And that's when the arrow pierced her leg. She let out a guttural cry as she collapsed on the forest floor, a pool of blood already forming around her. A hooded figure stepped out of the shadows, and Pearl scrambled up, struggling to see her attacker through the tears that formed in her eyes.
“What do you want?” She cried, as the figure advanced. “Help! Help!”
She threw a desperate look to the edge of the woods. Why was no one coming? Could no guard hear her cries?
The figure laughed, advancing, and Pearl choked back a sob.
“Who are you?” She whispered, staring up into the cold merciless eyes of her killer. She would never get her answer. She gasped as something pierced her lower abdomen. Looking down she saw a knife buried deep inside her stomach. Tears pooled in her eyes, and then she felt something deep inside her give up and turn off. She became limp and motionless, dead in a pool of her own blood.
The hooded figure smirked, before withdrawing a small pendant. She placed it atop the pool of blood and the necklace went from blue to a bright shade of scarlet. She placed it around her neck and a bright flash light illuminated the woods. In the place where the assassin stood a girl that looked exactly like Pearl, blonde hair, green eyes, everything accounted for except for clothing.
She smiled down at the dead body at her feet.
“Isn’t it obvious?” She asked. “I’m Pearl Evelyn Wavecrest of the Water tribe.”
- Reading between the Lines –
…It’s the Passion,
It’s the Crime,
It’s the Rhythm,
It’s the Rhyme…
Words can speak images in volumes it’s said,
Not actualizing ’till actually read.
Grasp onto my hands and raise us up swift,
Should I let us down, provide us a lift.
Save our poise from poison and shield me when,
I expose my soul every now and then.
Reflect my aura if I incur chagrin,
Maintain my value if they maintain a grin.
Amaze and amuse the masses before me,
Scheme up a rhyme and then have them adore me.
Multiply with me my expressions to be,
Letting energy flow from my Cells to Chi.
Help me interpret these dreamlike creations,
Parley my visions on verbal foundations.
Empower me when all eyes are upon us,
Trickle off my tongue like wine upon stardust.
Feed me when my esteem becomes meek,
Offer me hope should our Earth grow weak.
Make me believe in potential as prophet,
Prove those who believe shall always have profit.
Become the Fluid in the roots of this tree,
Quenching the yearning of my leaves if thirsty.
Should this be the end, and it’s just you and me…
Let me thank you, my poem, by writing ’merci'!
For the more I grow, the more grounded I’ll be,
Hence humble and timeless, whilst at your mercy.
So I beg as your servant, hear my last plea,
Bestow me the words that allows them, to see.
Copyright © 1986-2017
All Rights Reserved
Chapter One - Half of Me is Missing
“I don’t belong here. I’m not like the others. We don’t look the same or act the same. I don’t understand their sense of humor. They are crude and I am refined. I am intelligent and their capabilities are mediocre. I don’t fit into this family. How did I get here? It isn’t fair! I don’t like these people. I don’t like where I live. I deserve much better. Please, doctor, explain my situation. I don’t deserve to suffer in a place where I should not be. I can’t understand it! Help me, help me! I can’t go on any longer. I would rather be dead than in these circumstances! Part of me is missing. I have known this all my life!”
Jasmine was pacing the floor in my inner office in Portland, Oregon, twisting her hands, agitatedly. I noticed that she seemed to have little control of her body or her thoughts. Her fevered rosy cheeks and full lush mouth intoxicated me against my will. Jasmine pushed her black, silky curls back from her beautiful, distraught face as she begged me for some explanation. Tears were coursing from her luminescent green eyes, leaving a transparent trail down her cheeks, as she sobbed in my office.
I am Dr. Engels and I desperately want to help my patient. However, I have no inkling as to why she feels this way or how to help her. This is the first time I have ever seen Jasmine cry which makes me wonder whether we have reached a breakthrough. The past few months, she has been sullen and uncommunicative although she finally admitted that she has no feeling or empathy for her family. I have no recourse but to adjust her medications and to seek answers from other psychiatrists. Before I discuss her hypothetical case with other doctors, I decide to ask Jasmine’s parents to come into the office to see if they can shed some light on her perplexing and bewildered thoughts. Jasmine is now twenty. I can see no hope for her until we can get to the bottom of these aberrations.
I hate to admit to myself that she is so physically lovely that I can’t help feeling a stirring in my loins every time I scrutinize her looming presence in my office. I try not to stare at dots of moisture between her full breasts. I fight these feelings since I realize I must remain impartial. As I gaze at her flushed, appealing countenance, I try valiantly to persuade myself that there must be hidden beauty inside her as well. If only I can delve deeper into her problems to obtain more of an understanding of her psychological issues, then I may be able to delude myself that she can be helped. After all, I am just human myself; yearning intensely for her to be well and functioning so she can live a productive life. I desperately want this disturbed young woman to be one of my success stories.
Jasmine sometimes behaves in a provocative and seductive manner which is, at times, hard to resist. I must struggle against my attraction to her and strive to help her in any way possible. No matter how valiantly I duel against these feelings, I feel the pull of desire and the need to bask in her light. I tell myself that I am a learned psychiatrist who must put these lustful responses aside, although it would be tempting to succumb to the charms of my tantalizing patient.
I realize that she may have a neurological disorder that results from damage to her right posterior parietal cortex which manifests itself as unawareness of her body parts which may explain why she is insisting that part of her is missing. These patients maintain that specific parts of their body are missing from their awareness. But Jasmine seemed to feel that her body had been divided into two separate parts, believing that she would not be whole until she understood and rectified this phenomenon. She could possibly also suffer from nihilistic delusions persuading her that part of her body was missing. She certainly seemed to have a distortion of her body image. I knew that it was important that I understand the reason for her problems before I could begin to help her.
“Jasmine, I would like to ask your permission to contact your parents and set up an appointment with them to obtain some background information about you so I can determine the best course of treatment for you.” I advised her.
“Suit yourself,” Jasmine answered hopelessly as she strode out of my office, “although I don’t think they have any understanding of me, at all.”
As I continued treating this fascinating patient, I began to keep a journal in the event that I might want to write a book exploring her feelings of anguish and mental pain in the future. But I had no idea what I would encounter along the way. And I could never have had any conception of the hazardous and tortuous result of my journey. If I had realized what I would encounter in the pursuit of truth and understanding, I wonder if I would have continued with her treatment. I will never know. I was so completely captivated and enamored by her complex problems, that I could not deny the challenge. I completely ignored the cold chill of fear and trepidation coursing down my spine. I have to concede that I was very apprehensive but, at the same time, found myself invigorated. However, I had no idea of the depth of darkness hidden in her soul which would eventually become evident and destroy us both.
Stranger Things ...
The stranger knocked upon the door,
A creaking, wooden throb,
And someone on the other side
Unlatched and turned the knob.
Uncertainty, a soft, "Hello,"
And, "May I use your phone?"
The person on the other side
Appeared to be alone.
An observation taken in,
No pictures on the wall.
He pointed somewhere down the way-
"Go on and make a call."
The thunder boomed; the stranger stalled
As wires were cut instead.
The gentleman began to sense
A subtle hint of dread.
A conversation thus ensued-
"So what has brought you out?
The rain has flooded everything,
And wiped away the drought.
Say, did you walk, or did you drive?
Why don't I take your coat?"
The stranger slowly moved his arms,
A sentimental gloat.
The water from the pouring skies
Enveloped cloth and shoe.
"Say, would you like a place to sleep?
I'll leave it up to you."
The person on the other side
Discarded his mistrust.
The stranger said his tire was flat,
And shed the muddy crust.
"The phone won't work," he also said.
"It could just be the storm.
Perhaps I will stay here tonight,
To keep me safe and warm."
The patron of the house agreed.
He hadn't seen the wire.
The chilly dampness prompted him
To quickly build a fire.
"You have a name? They call me Ed.
My wife was Verna Dean.
She passed away five years ago
And left me here as seen.
I guess it's really not so bad.
We never had a child.
I loved that Verna awful much,"
He said and sadly smiled.
"No property to divvy up.
The bank will get it all.
Say, do you want to try again
To go and make that call?"
The stranger grinned and left the flame
As to the phone he strode.
Within his pocket, knives and twine
In hiding seemed to goad.
A plan was formed- he'd kill the man;
Eviscerate him whole.
The twine would keep him firmly held;
The knife would steal his soul.
A lusty surge erupted hence;
A wicked bit of sin.
The stranger hadn't noticed yet
That someone else came in.
About the time a shadow fell,
He spun to meet a pan.
The room around him faded out
As eyes looked on a man.
A day or two it seemed had passed,
And when he woke all tied,
The stranger gazed upon old Ed
Who simply said, "You lied."
Reversing thoughts, the moment fled
And Ed said in a lean,
"No worries, stranger. None at all.
Hey, look, here's Verna Dean!"
He looked upon a wraith in rage;
It seemed his little lie
Combusted in a burning fit-
He didn't want to die.
So many victims in his life,
Some fifty bodies strewn.
And now he was the victim; now
The pain to him was known.
The stranger fought against the twine,
And noticed by his bed
The knife once in his pocket left
A trail of something red.
A bowl filled full of organs sat
As Verna poured some salt.
She exited with all of them.
"You know, this is your fault.
We demons wait for just the day
The guilty take the bait
And play with matches one last time-
I simply cannot wait
To taste the death within your flesh;
The venom in your gut.
So now you know the way they felt-
Hey, you've got quite a cut!"
The person on the other side
Removed his human skin-
Before his wife came back for more,
He offered with a grin:
"Say, stranger, is there anything
You'd like to say at all?"
I looked at all the blood and said,
"I'd like to make that call ... "
If you asked me, if you really pushed me for an answer, I’d have to admit that I’m unsure as to the exact moment. That first step. The starting point of this quest. All I know is that my search has stretched across long and empty years. However, if I were to say it started a full, fat lifetime ago, that would also ring true.
It was my epic pursuit. My folly. The wide, wise and unwise world over, inbred town to smoky dirt streaked city, far flung country to verdant counties; both landlocked and sandy coastal, balmy and frosty hunts that spanned countless and seemingly infinite footfalls. A billion searching steps to save it. To save him.
And here it is, a mere handful of stumbling strides from my beaten track; quietly lying upon a filthy forest floor, causing my heart to spike and fall as I gaze down upon it. The whale sized shadows of scudding clouds flash moonlight and the image of branches' claws intermittently on it, a giant strobe light freeze framing it over and over as if it were a scene from a bygone age. Silver and ink. Light and dark. Then. Now.
And such a sorry and desolate sight. Just a tiny husk of papery skin over bloodless brittle bones, desiccated and forlorn as if a wind of change could scatter its remains throughout the lands. It is enveloped in a smudge of cloud, one that clings to its contours. It was something that had grown with importance; had taken on a gigantic image in my mind’s eye, only to seem pathetic now found. An errant shadow, a mistimed blink, and it could have remained undiscovered. Lost forever to rot and disappear from the memory of man and time, eaten by an animal from the shade.
Gently, with trembling fingers, I pluck aside the faded streamers that crisscross its sad shape and swipe away the red smudged corks, patina bottle tops and cigarette butts that frame it. I ease my hands softly beneath it and grit my pulsing breath before lifting it into my arms in a cloud of sour scent. Detritus flakes fall from the underside of the cadaver, shrivelled skin, sealable baggies smeared with white fingerprints, faded and perfumed letter scraps and faded sparkles. Barely registering as weight, the shell is cradled to my chest as I move my ear to its torso, daring to hope my quest was not fruitless.
A faint ticking in the ribcage informs me a life force still holds fort. Shocked, yet hopeful, my thoughts race away from me. It isn’t too late. I might still save this sad creature. Tentatively, I carry my delicate cargo to safety, out of the gloomy, night clad trees, to sunnier worlds and eras. The warmth of sunlight and sounds of nature stirs in this creature the briefest of movements. And then, I watch agape as eyes tremble away a surrendering layer of skin that open, slowly, to reveal blank, blind eyes peering through the smirch that still contains it. It shudders as if filled with fear, yet remains in my hold.
Unseeing, the eyes fall away from me as a black tear wells up in the corners of each dry orb, only to moisten upon a few slow blinks. They swivel round and now have a pupil that I watch focus upon me.
‘Who are you?’ I implore. My reply, simply more blinks, sharpening the gaze that holds me.
Cracked and dusty lips open as if for the first time in all eternity and its dry mouth gulps greedy air, like a free diver emerging from hunting pearls. Nourishing air is taken in, plumping its emaciated chest and expanding its form. It breaths out dirt into my wincing face, the odour of its lungs tacky with tar and dust. Seemingly cleansed, the breathing continues and settles to a deeply rhythmic tempo.
I repeat: ‘Who are you?’
A fleeting smile, and its tentative voice appears in my head without the need to move its lips.
I am just finding out. Feed me. Please.
I take my refugee home, for that is what I have decided he is, and place him on a blanket from my childhood. I set to building him a shelter made of books set upon each other. Heavy tomes interlink with frivolous novellas that in turn lock into novels. I use song and poetry to bond the papery bricks and complete the roof with the words of wise men and women; alongside articles and reports from free thinking publications. He grows inside, jitters give way to the occasional sigh of contentment as he feeds.
The walls of this house I adorn with images of my family and friends, past and present. With a pen passed down through generations, I write upon spaces between the pictures the stories of those shown in these portraits. With each adage and every yarn, the cloudy shroud dims a little more and the dark casing of this husk grows warmer in hue, fatter in form.
‘Who are you?’
Soon, we will know.
And so growth can be seen with each addition. I enrich his life with animals and fauna, sunrises and sea salt, salt tears and releasing smiles, with knowledge and culture. Loved ones stop by, placing caring hands on the den, pushing positive energy through to the timorous tenant inside. As each day passes, nerves give way to quiet confidence as he absorbs all that I thrust upon his person.
Politics, and facts fill him, healthy food and minerals nourish him. I carpet his home with maps of adventures and morsels of delicacies from around the globe. Trinkets and coins are hidden in cupboards, locked up with the snarling fiends that want to reach him, to sink their teeth into his rounding flesh. That which sucks of his life is set apart, so that he may focus on that which is before him. And what now lays before him is the world without the shallow glitter, the clutter and the shit outside of the fusty gutter.
The time is upon us. Quest's end.
So today, I watch proudly as he rises calmly on his two sturdy pink limbs and emerges from his house of empowerment. He is grown. Gone is the dark shroud that held him, and sloughed off is the flake of rot that covered him. Weightless shoulders squared and sturdy, head high. A toothy grin mirrors mine and eyes sparkle with life and humour. He is older, but exudes wisdom borne of the earth.
‘What is your name?’
You still don’t know?
‘Yes. Yes, I think I do’ I beam, hairs on end as I see this repaired being for what he is.
Measured and understanding, open minded and grounded. Hidden are the negatives and dark driving forces; to be replaced with that which counts and a level-headed outlook on life. An acceptance of faults of himself and of others. There is still fragility, but it is embraced and held aloft as a mace to ward off black beasts and gloomy worlds.
Eyes, open, he freely sheds joyful tears as he stands before me. Face to face.
And without another word, he climbs inside of me, and we become the same. History and present face the future. The mended fused to the man that was broken, now the mender.
Marcia perched on the top step, taking small sips of December wind and puffing white mist back against the door, trying to calm herself down. I’m nuts, she decided, before raising her knuckles, teeth clenched in a salesman’s smile.
Her hand hadn’t yet landed when the deadbolt banged open, rattling the frame. She fell forward a step, twisting her ankle as her purse arced forward under her nose, pulling her off-balance.
“Oh! Mrs. Grammaldi... I’m…” tumbled from her mouth. She swore under her breath and fought to stand upright.
“I know you.” The woman’s face, sweaty and irritated, mooned large in the doorframe. Her rusty voice clashed with the wispy black curls and loud paisley housedress she wore.
As at trial, Anna Grammaldi reminded Marcia of her grandmother, but with an edge. Still, Marcia had the inappropriate desire to snuggle into Anna’s large bosom and spill her worries. Warm, slightly musty air trickled through the doorway mixed with the sweet smell of onions cooking down in olive oil. Marcia smiled despite herself, but stifled it quickly, leaving a half sneer in its wake. It felt odd on her face, like a sneeze swallowed.
“Okay,” she said slowly, smoothing her creased pants and holding her hands up palms out. “May I come in? This is important.”
“No.” The door closed fast and hard. Anticipating the move, Marcia reacted quickly, jamming her leg back into the gap, pressing with both hands and angling her chin toward the edge of the door to be heard.
“Ma’am, please! I’m here at your son’s request. His last in fact. Hear me out?” she shouted.
Anna held the door firm, applying pressure from her hips and yelled, “I’m suppose’ to believe Tony asked you for somethin’?”
“I’m the only one that can visit him!” Marcia shot back, wincing but doubling down, shoving with all she had.
All at once, Anna let go. Marcia once again tumbled into the entryway, this time taking three teetering steps on her throbbing ankle before skidding to a stop. Long strands of dark hair were caught in her chapstick. She pulled them free, righted one low heel and struggled upright. She found herself sandwiched between the freezing wind at her back and the warm fragrant air flanking the woman in front of her.
Anna was still. Her weight balanced forward, like a fighter’s, her mouth fixed in a tight white line. Her eyes, so dark they appeared to be missing their pupils, shone beneath sleepy looking lids.
Seeing Anna’s stance, Marcia stiffened. She suddenly felt that the woman was thinking hard about throwing her back down the walkup. Anna was barely over five feet and pushing seventy, but she had powerful arms. Marcia waited.
Anna’s curiosity won out it seemed. She shoved the door shut and grunted, waving Marcia into her formal room. Wine drapes fanned a bare wooden window seat. Dust motes floated in the rays coming through the segmented glass. A forest green loveseat sealed beneath a clear plastic cover was shoved up against the far wall and a dark shag rug, likely the source of the stale smell, covered most of the pine floor. Stacks of unopened bills and yellowing newspapers framed the doorway.
As Marcia trailed behind, she noticed Anna’s whitened cracked heels hanging from the back of her too small slides. She had some sympathy for the woman. Her family and friends had shunned her during trial as she steadfastly defended Tony, in the front row throughout, gripping her purse tightly on her lap, pecking out scowling glances at the jury.
Having offered Marcia a coffee (politely declined) and turned the burner down, Anna dropped solidly into a highback chair with a low groan. Her housedress rode up past her knees and Marcia noticed with embarrassment the nude roll at the top of her support hose. Her large thighs were plagued with thick blue varicose veins. That must be painful, Marcia thought. Anna slapped her knees to bring Marcia’s attention back around. “Well now. What does Tony want?”
“His last meal, Mrs. Grammaldi,” Marcia said, clearing her throat. “He’d like your eggplant parmesan.”
“Huh,” she said, nodding. Not surprised in the least, Marcia thought. “So? You came to Queens to tell me that?”
“Well,” Marcia started “You’re aware of his restrictions. No visitors except defense counsel, who Tony fired following the outcome of his last appeal, and myself. And no gifts of any kind. In other words, you can’t make the meal, but I can.”
“Puh!” So incredulous was Anna’s face, Marcia giggled and instantly regretted it. She blushed and looked down at her feet.
“Even let’s say I give you the recipe, you can’t do it like me. My Tony would know. And? I’m not givin’ you shit. Capiche?” She leaned forward, one massive elbow balanced on one rounded knee. They were now nose to nose. Marcia tried to maintain the distance. She focused on the woman’s chin hair and the line around her lips of worn off mauve lipstick, but in the end Marcia flinched, pulling her head back.
After holding her gaze for a moment longer, Anna turned towards the back of her chair, pretended to spit and then spun back to Marcia, flashing the fork of her first two fingers over her left eye.
Marcia sighed inwardly, smiled tightly and pushed. “Curse me if you like. Tony will be executed in thirty-one hours. He’s promised me the location of the Morrey twins in exchange for this meal. And I intend to make that happen.”
Anna’s eyes widened. She looked up, palms together as if in prayer and made the sign of the cross. “My Tony…” she started. “I still can’t believe he…They were babies...babies.” To her credit, the woman looked disgusted.
Marcia was used to the reaction. Anna’s son was, is, an absolute monster. Over the years, people hungry for the sordid details asked her. So, she told them what was on the record and more because in addition to overwhelming proof, public outrage kept him in prison the last seven years. Their reaction was always the same. How could he? Every one of them with large eyes, childlike in their fear.
Marcia let the silence spin out, coating the two of them for a minute. Then, softly, she said, “Anna, their parents… They know their girls are gone. But they want to say goodbye. To bury their bodies. You can understand that, can’t you?”
Anna looked past Marcia’s head, out the bay window to the street below. It was just starting to snow and the house was cozy, too warm, stifling in fact. Marcia shifted in her seat, searching for a cool spot on the cushion. She noticed there were no frames in the room. She would have expected at least one of Tony. Anna still hadn’t responded. Her hands were pressed together tightly in her lap, her eyebrows knit. She looked younger in her shame, and unwilling. Mostly unwilling. Marcia pressed harder, ready to cross the line to get what she came for.
“Mrs. Morrey has only a thumb, Mrs. Grammadli! One greying thumb with sparkly pink polish, chipped at the sides. She doesn’t know whether it’s Sara’s or Samantha’s. Can you imagine that, as a mother? Only having one tiny piece of your children to bury? Let’s get her what’s left of them, okay? Let’s do the right thing! Please!”
Anna produced a tissue from one of her sleeves and dabbed dry, but reddened eyes. “He was never a good boy. You know? Never was. But I loved him... Still do.”
Anna said nothing for a long time, then asked roughly, “You have kids?”
“No, ma’am, I don’t. But the Morrey…” Marica was losing her patience.
Anna cut her off with a wave, too close to Marcia’s face. “Yeah, I know. I know.”
Marcia waited a moment longer, then leaned in again. “Mrs. Grammaldi, I’ve got some supplies in the car. Can we try to do this now, today? Please? I’d love to give the Morrey family some solace before Christmas. And Tony will appreciate it I’m sure. This last gift from his mother.”
Anna cut her eyes quickly to Marcia as if to say “layin it on pretty thick missy...”
Finally, Anna nodded, tucking the tissue into her cleavage. She slapped her knees again and sucked in through her nose, snorting a bit.
“Alright, let’s give it a shot,” Anna said. Rising, she gasped midway and stopped, one hand gripping the arm of the chair. Marcia thought to help, her hand even pulled away from her side automatically, but she didn’t move. Marcia, she’s an old lady! she chided herself, but still she remained frozen. Finally upright, Anna shuffled into the kitchen and Marcia excused herself to the car.
She let go of the door handle and stood there a moment in the swirling snow, bag in hand. She let the cold air whip around her waist and run up her armpits. Goosebumps burst out on her arms and she shivered violently, deliciously. She wanted to drop the bag, get back in the car and just take off. Spin out in the snow and hit I-95 at eighty miles an hour. But she promised Ellen Morrey that if she ever had the opportunity to get the girls back, she would. So, she sighed, hitched up the bag and started back up the stairs.
Tsking at the contents of the bag, Anna said, “Thank God I was already making marinara. I can’t make anything from diced tomatoes and garlic powder. Who taught you how to make sauce?”
“I wasn’t sure what you would need,” Marcia answered lamely.
“Huh,” Anna responded, still pawing the bag. “At least the eggplants are firm. You aren’t a complete idiot,” she said, patting Marcia’s arm. Her hand, larger than a man’s, was hot and sweaty through Marcia’s thin sleeve.
Marcia stood, one arm gripping the opposite elbow on the stained linoleum, taking in the cracked laminate counter and greasy stovetop. The fresh air she’d taken in was gone. She once again felt crammed into the too small space, but she flipped open the cuffs of her silk blouse and started rolling.
They stood side by side, Marcia in charge of the egg wash, Anna doing the breadcrumbs. In heels, she was eight inches taller than Anna, but still fought that feeling of being a little kid cooking with her grandmother. Anna even corrected her by slapping her hand when she spilled egg on the counter. Marcia gritted her teeth and said nothing.
They passed the eggplant in silence. Marcia was grateful that the woman wasn’t chatty. She didn’t want to have to manufacture sympathy if Anna confided in her just how lonely she was or how much she missed her darling boy. As they fell into a rhythm, Marcia got lost in her thoughts. She imagined stealing a handful of breadcrumbs and shoving them into her pockets. Just in case, she thought. But I’m already in the witch’s house. It’s too late.
When it came time to fry, Marcia excused herself to the bathroom. She could imagine all sorts of scenarios where the woman “slipped” and Marica got doused with scalding oil. She was being ridiculous, childish, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that the woman had it in for her. She had, after all, put her only son on death row…
In the bathroom, she found two toothbrushes. Marcia recalled Anna’s husband had died during sentencing. Heart attack, she thought. Was she keeping his toothbrush as a reminder? That’s sick. Did she have a male suitor? Ugh. That was worse.
She splashed cold water on her face before stepping out. It smelled amazing in the kitchen, she had to admit. Anna was layering the eggplant with mozzarella and hot marinara. Her stomach grumbled at first, then turned queasy. Maybe it was the lack of fresh air. She reeked of oil as if she’d done the frying herself. She felt greasy, suffocated.
“Can I put some plastic on top?” Marica suggested.
“Are you nuts? It’s too hot. Just sit tight and let it cool. Come, come.” Anna said, striding out of the kitchen.
Back to the formal room? Lord. Marcia thought. Trailing behind, Marcia looked at her watch. “Unfortunately, I…”
“You’ll wait! I’ve got somethin’ to show you.” Anna responded, too loudly for the small space.
Oh lord, here come the pictures, Marcia thought. Tony on a sled smiling. Tony as a baby.
“Ma’am, I must…” Marcia started.
Anna moved fast, rising from the chair (no bum hip now) and slapped Marica hard across the face. She stood on tiptoes to get this done, but the reach did nothing to diminish her strength. Marcia was still standing, but just barely. The slap rocked her and she was buzzed, tipsy. The woman could’ve been a slugger for the Yankees, she thought. God! Her mouth formed a perfect O and hot blood filled her cheeks.
As Marcia reached up to rub her cheek, Anna bit the tips of her fingers and whistled. A teenager, long chestnut hair swinging behind her, fair skin shining in the reflection from the bay window, appeared as if on queue behind Marcia. Cranking her neck around slowly, Marcia first absorbed her own throbbing cheek, the spot where breadcrumbs were stuck with egg to her arm hair and finally, at the end of her arc, that the beautiful girl in front of her was missing the thumb from her right hand.
Marcia’s ears buzzed and her vision started to tunnel. She could not, would not, pass out here. She bit her tongue hard and copper flooded her mouth.
She turned back to the chair, scanning for her purse, and found it tucked in next to Anna’s left thigh. Then Marcia noticed her own gun leveled at her chest.
“My God! You had her? Them? The whole time?” She asked.
Anna shook her head slowly, the gun not wavering. “I couldn’t save Samantha. He’d already done his work on her. But Sara…” She looked at the girl lovingly. “I pulled him off her. Stemmed the blood. I kept her safe.”
The girl still hadn’t spoken. Marcia risked a glance. “Are you okay?” Such a stupid thing to ask after seven years of captivity. The girl smiled, then opened her mouth wide to Marcia.
A black hole, larger than it should be, stared back at Marcia.
Oh God, oh God, Marcia thought.
“That’s my doin’,” Anna said, chuckling low. “Couldn’t risk someone hearing her.”
I’m going to die here, Marcia thought. Tony knew. He sent me here because he knew! His last girl. I’m his last girl. Not Sara. Not Samantha. Me. Oh God.
Anna tossed Marcia’s keys to Sara, who caught them deftly with her injured hand. “Bring her car around back, love. I’ll need your help. And then wash up for dinner. I made eggplant parm.”
A Story Almost Told
This is the story of a trying to make a dream of having my screenplay produced come true and how it turned into a nightmare that would haunt me for decades.
A blink of an eye that seemed to last a lifetime and touched so many lives. It was an odyssey that traversed three continents. The array of friends, politicians, stars, police, wannabes and crooks came together without being aware of their participation in it. As bizarre as it may seem later, all those named herein did knowingly or unknowingly play a role. Some were totally innocent others intentionally not.
I started innocently on a path to make a dream come true. Destiny played a series of sick tricks diverting my original path in unimaginable ways. I still don't understand how or why any of this happened.
So much was lost on the way to this day. More than a quarter of a century has passed, yet I am unsure whether this is ending a chapter in my life or creating a new highway from a winding path.
Are these words and pages cathartic or reopening deep and old wounds? Being honest, I don't know the answer to this question. Only finishing the task at hand can lead there. We'll all learn together.
Let me assure you, everything you are about to read really did happen. It happened to me and around me. As unlikely as it will seem, it is so. I wish I could be creative enough to lay out such a complex novel. This is non-fiction. I wish to hell it wasn't.
I had to decide whether to clean up the language and make this prettier than it was or is. I can't do that.
This tale was lived by the seats of my pants Buckle up, it's not for the faint of heart. Hell, there are times Stephen King would have screamed like a little girl.
Thanks for becoming part of my story.
She Knew Better
The intentional grid like configuration of the streets of Manhattan is referred to as the Commission of 1811. The commissioners revered their design because it combined 'beauty, order, and convenience'. However aesthetically pleasing, the formation has a way of assaulting every New Yorker and wanna-be New Yorker alike. This assault takes place when the never ending streets serve as wind tunnels that violently whip winds through the streets and deliver what feels like literal slaps to the face.
This story happens to be about a particularly slapping wind in September. One that felt less like a slap from a drunk girl at a barcade in Williamsburg, and much more like the lasting sting only your mother's hand could produce.
Like the one I received when I was sixteen, and I told mine that she was weak. Weak for staying with my father when she knew he was sleeping with other women. It wasn't the slap that hurt. It was really just watching the single tear roll down her cheek and hit the linoleum. It crashed to the floor with what I presume to be the same force of a brick hitting concrete after being dropped from the top of the Empire State building. At the time it only hurt because I made her cry, now that slap hurts for a different reason.
It's five years later and I'm standing outside of a bar on Mercer street, with a boy I'm sure I love. He's smoking a cigarette. Malboro Red, actually.
I'm staring down at my boots. They're suede and have a pointed toe. Wearing them makes me feel like I'm cool enough to be standing outside of a bar on Mercer street, with a boy who's smoking a cigarette.
I was so focused on dodging the wind and convincing myself I belonged there, that I didn't hear him the first time he said, "hey look, we aren't exclusive or anything are we? I've been seeing other people."
I looked up, and he blew cigarette smoke into my face. I inhaled it. It felt like my father's mistakes and my mother's devastation crowding back into that pit in my stomach.
On exhale, without a second thought, I shot him a cool girl smile and said, "yea, for sure, me too.".
When I was sixteen it was so easy to see how my mother was wrong and the reasons she was weak. Even still, that night, I knew what I did was necessary. For the men of my commission I needed to make sure that I act orderly and remain convenient, so that I can be beautiful.
But by saying those words I had reduced myself to less than. I melted into those boots. I laid myself flat, preparing myself for the slaps of my future. The slaps from the city I love and all of my sort-of boyfriends to come.
If Only It Were Love
They sat there silently for a few moments. He stared at the space between them. She was only inches away but he knew that he couldn’t reach her. He wanted to say something, needed to say something, but he didn’t know what to say. Anything he said would be too little, too late. The space between them felt infinite. Suddenly she grabbed his hand in her smaller one and laid them in the center of the stone bench, a bridge connecting the two. He quickly looked first at their entwined hands, and then up into her face. She had once been beautiful. Golden brown eyes and skin, dark, untamed hair, and a lively expression that left an impression that was not quickly forgotten. She was a shadow of that woman. He could not bring himself to look at her, her skin now pale and sickly, her hair matted, her eyes full of pain. “I want you,” she said in a soft, hushed voice. His eyes widened in shock, but he still couldn’t look into hers. He was afraid of what he would see there. Or maybe of what she would find in his. “I want you to be the reason I wake up in the morning, because tomorrow isn’t enough anymore.” And this, more than anything else she’d said, terrified him. He knew that when she had talked about it before she wouldn’t actually go through with it. She was too ambitious, had too many dreams. She was living in the hope that a brighter tomorrow was around the corner. And now that too was gone. He looked up. She was staring at him as though he was her anchor to this world. Her eyes met his and he saw an all-consuming sadness. So much goddamn sadness. Her eyes bore into his, searching for answers to unasked questions. Answers that he couldn’t give. He glanced down again at her hand wrapped around his. When had it become so fragile? A flick and it would crumple. She had once been the strongest person he knew. He made as to hold her wrist in his hand, and then saw the scars. She jerked her hand away and hid it in her pocket, staring him down. Daring him to mention it. Perhaps she had just been strong for too long. He turned back to her eyes. Her heart wrenching eyes. He looked past her at Ethan, who was animatedly telling a story to a few friends, and their eyes met. No, he didn’t love her. But he would still hold her while she cried, comfort her when it seemed the whole world had turned its back on her. He knew that there were some wounds that would never heal, scars that you could never possibly see, but he also knew that she was broken and he wanted to help fix her, help her because he knew that she couldn’t help herself. She saw his answer in his eyes and something resembling a smile flickered across her face. He loved her enough to believe that if saving her meant sacrificing his own happiness he would do it in a heartbeat.