Part One: Blood In The Water
*Trigger warning alert: the topics and reality of abuse and violence against women are dealt with in this text.*
The monotonous sound of a leaky faucet.
Of rain in a downspout.
Of blood falling from the opening of a fresh wound.
“Counting down the blood in my hourglass. Drip by,”
“How else would I keep time?”
“Living to die.”
“How else would you measure a year in my life?”
Brie shivers on the floor of an industrial meat locker in her torn satin negligee. Her skin has started to take on its cold lavender hue.
“The night is bitter, dark, and lifeless. No illumination from the moon or the stars.”
She rocks back and forth, cradling his limp body to her breast.
“Enlightenment is not a beacon. It is cold. It is lonely. And it is hard.”
Her face hangs torn up and into, a cascade of broken skin, blood, and tears, a reflection of the body she now holds lifelessly in her lap. Yet the pain she feels is more intrusive than flesh could ever be. Her heart is breaking because of her ignorance.
“This is bottom.”
Because of her arrogance. What made her ever think she was so untouchable? What had made her so cocksure?
“My beautiful Brie.”
How long had it been since he uttered those last words? Since he breathed his final breath and his hand touched what used to be her face now gone forever?
Eyes flash like a spotlight through the city’s dusky night, bearing witness to the waste and the want. She skulks, surveying the castoffs and conveyors from her shadowy perch. A gargoyle hidden within the architecture, looming and in wait.
“Why is it they always choose the night?” she asks herself, leaning against the cool brick. “What is it about the darkness that makes people feel so invincible?”
The answer, of course, is obvious. Like liquor, the night’s obscurity enables and emboldens our private truths. In fact, she cannot help the involuntary twitch of its reminder in her right eye. It is a trauma still too recent in her muscle’s memory to be controlled. Not when her skin can still feel the icy steel being slowly and repeatedly dragged across her skin from chin to eyebrow. A playful tease. Light at first, until his impulse got the better of him and its sharp blade became jagged and ruthless in its vicious endeavor.
But she shakes the image from her mind.
“Soon the light, like a cold slap of water, sucks us back into the pretense of our reality and all we suppress, conceal, and run from is neatly tucked away. Dawn chases twilight, good after evil, truth after lies, after our humanity… or whatever’s left of it, at least… Why am I here again?”
Comes the pleading cry of a young woman from the street below. She rolls her eyes at the predictability of the scene.
Apathetically, her eye’s roll now moves to the corner of their perspective sockets to calmly take in what plays out below. A story as old as time. Where a rather stout, husky, shit of a man turns the corner, dragging behind him a reluctant woman, well out of his league.
She shakes her head.
“Without fail. Take a walk with awareness and you are bound to see a thousand hateful things. But start predicting evil, and you’ve become it. It is a fine moral line we humans walk between awake and asleep. Between complacency and righteous survival’s ego.”
The poor thing stands firm in her resistance. She thinks that if she is determined enough and stands her ground, he will see sense and be embarrassed enough to let her go. At least enough to get a running head start well, he checks in with his “bad behavior”. But that’s not how this story goes. That is not how this world works.
She could be any young woman out at night, looking for a way to blow off some steam and have a good time. The life of the party if the shots are good enough, free enough, flowing enough. Forget about the world for an hour or two. About the state of things. Ignore the fact that women have to do extensive research to know all the best ways to get away, moves to get away, and people to signal if something goes wrong. There is so much we have to consider before we even get dressed in the morning. It’s stupid. It’s unfair. But when you take a stand against society’s unwritten guide to knowing your place, you take a huge risk. Never stopping to think that you will be the next headline the world will forget about is the fastest way to get you there.
“Good, evil, and passive denial. Martyr, psychopath, over caring, and indifferent.”
Does anybody really want to stop to consider the other things that go bump in nocturnal ambiguity and genital immunity? We think it could never happen to us. No one really wants to believe they will be the victim of their own story, or this week’s call to arms and rallying hashtag.
Not until it’s too late.
“In the real world, last-minute rescues are few and far between.”
He almost laughs at her defiance. That is until he turns with the back of his hand across her face.
“Heroes don’t make headlines. Atrocities do.”
The girl is stunned as she hits the sidewalk. Her arm jerked nearly out of its socket because he refuses to let go of her wrist.
“The nice guys are the fluffers in this porno called life. They finish last. The feel-good stories get ‘blink, and you miss it’ coverage because it’s not real journalism. We breed our own problems and encourage a world full of psychopaths and narcissists.”
It is not the sting of the blow, she feels, but the sinking realization of what comes next. What she is helpless to stop. He lifts her back onto her feet, then continues to move away from the crowds.
Amazing how a city can go from the hustle and bustle of good times to the sinister seclusion of dead-ends and distant sirens. Not that a room full of people could help her now. Screaming rarely ever works to curry anything outside of your attacker’s wrath. You can see it in the way her posture has shifted from one of defense to one of complacent resignation. Still, she tries to appeal to his humanity. She wants to make it out of this alive.
“I really don’t want to do this.”
It’s almost sweet, her optimism. She still believes he has an angel keeping the devil in his pants company. That he could fill the role of anything other than king of the shit pigs, who walk this world entitled to label anything and everything as their right.
The man responds to her petition by turning her around as if they were dancing, to illustrate his point.
“Then you should never have grinded up on me like that, baby girl.”
Underlining it by slamming her against his body.
“Stop playing hard to get, you little slut. I know your type.”
Frantic disgust and its instinctive need to pull away from his sweaty aggressions get’s the better of her, but he just laughs. It is when she starts to cry that he is offended. Not a fan of the reflection it invokes, he shoves her away from him as though she were the repulsive one. How dare she molest the image he has of himself to make herself the victim for having to pay for the consequence of her coquettish behavior and good looks!
Thrown up against the side of the building, she is subsequently winded by the contact. He grabs her by the chin and the streetlight illuminates his features.
Despite their numbers and ranks, they begin to look alike. The desperate need that subconsciously drives their every action in its desire to prove something etches the same grime on the lines of their skin. The pomp they wear as a moniker of their gender, they think, entitles them worthy.
This one is trying to get people to believe he is the tough guy. So he appears rough around the edges, with patchy facial hair that only makes his round face look dirtier than it already is. The muscular arms that hang from his ripped tank and faux leather vest prove he is a man who likes to lift weights. While the hard round gut that protrudes from its Metallica casing says he doesn’t really do it because he cares, but because, again, he is trying to prove he is the man. He has all the pretense of masculinity, with nothing to show for it.
“This will be too easy.” She smiles to herself.
Pinned against the wall as his face bobs about her own, the girl is forced to endure the intense aroma of cigarettes and alcohol that leak from his pores and mouth.
“You loved on me when I was paying for your drinks, baby,”
“Yes, but I believe the bartender is the only one who will receive your tip tonight, bud.”
“Who the hell…”
More annoyed than defensive, the man looks over his shoulder to see where and who this declaration has come from. Still, she takes it, because the look on his face when he is only met with the empty shelter of his precious night, as though it has betrayed him, is priceless.
“But was that the best line?” She thinks out loud. “How about, I’m afraid that the only one directing you to ‘insert tip’ is the bartender’s jar?”
She shakes head, “How does Spider-Man do it?” But soon realizes the man has completely disregarded her threat and is on the move again, girl in tow. Then it catches her eye. A flagpole only a couple of buildings down from where she is and where they are headed.
“Well, he does whatever a spider can, now doesn’t he? Wahaha.”
With a mischievous grin, she ducks back into the dusky shroud of her window’s ledge and from the alcove ascends, using the texture of the brick to siddle her way around to where the neighboring structure’s fire escape hangs.
It is a steep fall, and quite the leap to make it across. Though she is trying not to look down, or think too much about the statistics, she can’t help it.
“Crap.” Quickly, she pinches her eyes against the view.
“Let’s talk.” The girl’s voice pleads from below, still attempting her appeal. But he is feeling more and more confident the longer he gets away with it.
“Please!” the girl half shrieks, half sobs.
It is in this she resolves to keep going, stretching her reach across the alley’s width to the metal railing of the fire escape, only to find it is too far to reach. She will have to jump.
“Don’t worry, baby girl, we’re almost there.”
She opens her eyes and lets her body fall, pushing off the brick to make up the difference between the two buildings. Never stopping to take into consideration the fact that it had rained, she manages the distance only to land her hand on the slick wet of the railing, which causes her to slip and her body to fall. Thankfully, because she had pushed off the brick instead of clinging to it for dear life, she lent her progression enough forward momentum to get her heels on the inside of the lower level’s railing. This sends her descent forward, sliding down its thin metal base with every vertebrate. It plays her spine like a xylophone before she smacks her head on its surface to save her neck before landing hard on her ass.
“Two points!” She grunts as she throws her limp hands up in goalpost sign, before picking herself up to climb the ladders up to the roof.
Quick to run its length, the flagpole now sits directly across from her current position.
“A real super eight,” The man says. “There we can have all the long, hard talks ya want!”
They are below her. The girl is losing faith in her salvation, she can tell, as silent tears pour out of her.
She cracks her neck against shoulders, backing up, while attempting to reinforce instinct over doubt. Of course, she knows she is going to do this no matter the probable outcome, but hell, what she wouldn’t give to be as cocksure as the asshole below.
“In fact,” the man says, pulling the girl into the alley below, unable to wait any longer. “I think I’ve got something I want you to hear, right…” Continuing on with his idiotic attempt at innuendo, he pushes the girl against the wall and fiddles with his pants.
“Now” she says and charges forward without another thought, and leaps into the narrow alleyway.
What momentum she has built she uses to kick off the opposite building’s wall to hurdle the distance between her and the pole. Arms extend, fingers stretch, she catches the flagpole, but her velocity refuses to be ebbed and the lower half of her body rebels against the jerking bluntness, her arms sudden anchoring takes on her joints. The pole itself is slick, and as her legs fly forward, her body is thrown up. She cannot keep her grip and so flies forward, straight into the man’s side as though he were the pins to the bowling ball of sloppy landing.
They skid out of the alley and into the street’s slimy gutter, breaking apart upon contact. She scurries up and onto his chest before his mind can make any sense of what just happened. Grabs him by the collar and slams his back into the ground, winding him into submission.
“Yeah, that’s right,”
He squirms under her, but she has pinned his wrists and pinches his ribs between her thighs, obstructing his airways, keeping him winded and light-headed, so with every motion he is only getting weaker.
“I even…” She attempts to blow the hair out of her face, but it is no use, it won’t be tamed. “Got the name of the brick wall that hit ya, it’s ass, as in kiss mine. You alright?” She attempts to ask the girl, over her shoulder.
“Uh…” the man groans, but she smacks his forehead with their shared grip.
“Not you, you.”
The girl, who hangs back in the alley’s shadow, is paralyzed by this whirlwind of activity.
“I… I,” she says, cautiously stepping out.
“I know.” She says, alleviating the girl’s need to answer, then begins to dig around in the man’s pockets, but only after taking the precaution of holding his wrist with the extended boot of her leg.
The girl blinks as the slow realization of what was about to happen sinks in.
“Oh, my god…” Backing up against the wall. “Oh, my god…” Sinking against it as her hands run themselves through her hair. “My mom was right,”
In her scavenging, she finds a half packet of cigarettes she tosses into a gutter puddle. A Superman key chain she can’t help but scoff at before throwing it into the actual gutter.
“She was right.” The girl continues in blank horror. “I shouldn’t be doing this, be dressing like this…”
“True.” She says. “A shorter inseam would do more for your leg line while also lifting your butt.”
This response surprises the girl, shocking her out of her frenzy before it got out of control.
“Look,” she turns, taking a hard seat on the man’s stomach, crossing her legs as she fixes her hair behind her ears.
In an instant, the girl forgets herself and stares slack-jawed and horrified by the gruesome sight that now reveals itself on the woman’s face. A roadmap of hate and pure evil. The entire right side of her face is layered with the thick engraved healing of torn and sliced-up flesh.
The girl shakes her head. She cannot believe, cannot accept that her salvation should come from one so violent and disturbing.
But, hardened to this reaction, she shrugs off its reflection.
“I know, I know…my hair is a mess.”
The girl’s mouth moves, but nothing escapes its breathless judgment. Then the man makes a noise, moving his head. He’s regaining composure. This is now an even more horrific threat than before. The proof is in the woman who sits before her. What men are capable of when thwarted by their claim. She wants to scream, but before she can, the woman lunges forward, grabbing her up by the arms with a slight — though not violent — shake.
“It is going to be okay. Okay?”
The girl shakes her head, eyes still focused on the scars, on the man, and the possibilities. She shakes her again, demanding her attention.
“You did nothing wrong. I need you to get that. Okay?”
This time the girl can’t bring herself to nod.
“Repeat after me.” She jerks her again. “I. Did. Nothing. Wrong.”
The girl’s eyes can’t help but meet the intense conviction of the woman’s penetrating stare.
“I did nothing wrong.” She says in a barely audible whisper. But she needed to hear it from herself. It brings her back. Lip quivering as the woman pulls her into a hug as comforting as it is empowering.
“Don’t walk in the shadow of this filth. Don’t take it on. You’re better than this.”
She pulls her back and once more looks her in the eye with a reassuring confidence capable of making you believe in anything.
“Keep living your life. He isn’t worth your fear.”
As she bobs her mindless head, determination sinks into her features.
“We’re better than that.”
Touched by the sentiment, she smiles, then hands the girl the wad of cash she has taken from the man’s wallet.
“Now take this and go and live your life. There is a new boogeyman in town, and this one’s on your side.” She gives a swift, teased kick to the girl’s backend as she runs from the alley.
Alone now with her “prey” now, she turns her attention to an empty street.
Suddenly hi-beams come on behind her. Languidly, she looks over her shoulder.
“The Super 8, I presume?”
All at once, he guns it, pinning her down the narrow alleyway. There is nowhere to run.
“Toro, toro, toro!” She says as she turns to face it, taking a stance as though she were ready to catch it like the Hulk.
Though the man is angry and hell-bent, he can’t help but shudder with the thought she might be more than she appears, and his instincts react by hitting the brakes. It does little to stop the emanate impact, but it buys her the opportunity to jump the hood.
She hits it hard, bouncing and denting its finish as the momentum sends her up and over its top despite her clawing and gripping at the metal. In the commotion, she pulls off a wiper, and in one last desperate attempt to hang on, stabs it through the windshield, causing the man to swerve in reaction as he exits the alley on hinges and a prayer. Flinging her off and into the overflowing dumpster bags, which collapse onto her body as her weight sinks through their contents.
Leaking, soggy, and sticky piles of refuse and human waste.
“Seems fitting.” She says as she stares at the broken and bent jagged half of the wiper still in her hand. Her trophy.
“Yeah, go, live your life, she says…”
And this, she is reminded, is the one she has chosen.
“We’re better than this.”
With a long sigh, she lets head fall back upon her the garbage pillow of the path she has chosen.