Michael Black no longer had a reason to live. Shivering, hunched over on the end of a bare and stiff bed in the middle of a cramped, dingy motel room
as he was, a white towel wrapped around his waist, he looked nearly as pathetic as he felt. Between the pale blue all-seeing eye of the television
behind him and the hulking shadow it cast against the wall before him was where he sat, divided.
Scattered around the room, the signs of a struggle; sheets flung from the bed lay heaped in piles alongside splintered furniture, next to the bed a
phone had been ripped from the wall and dropped, and amidst the chaos, at the very center of it all, sat Michael, “God’s special little angel.”
His sallow face turned up towards the vaguely human shadow-shape that towered above him. Consumed by the solid dark, in the name of a name he had
always decried, he prayed not for salvation, but damnation. His bare back, lit by pulses of light radiation and late-night programming that issued
from the television, was emblazoned with the image of an enormous eight pointed star, a tattoo lined in black, shaded in gold, and wreathed in flames
that stretched from nape to notch. Michael took a deep breath to compose himself, and scratched at his temple with the cold, square muzzle of his
father’s old .45 service automatic. The muscles in his back and shoulders twitched, flames danced.
The fantasy had finally dissolved, everything spoiled before the end, just like he always feared it would. All that lingered were the imagined echoes
of his lover’s screams and the mated odors of sex and gun oil that mingled in the air. Michael had for a long time feared that his life would end
rotten, just like his poor old dad; there were too many debts to settle, too many crimes to answer for, too many crippled in his wake, and after it
all, the noble, pathetic attempt at apology: a star shaped hole in the head.
Michael hesitated a glance at the bathroom door, which was ajar. Cast from vanity bulbs installed above the sink, a cone of jaundiced light spilled
forth and formed a carpet that invited attention. Thankfully the door obscured the contents of the bathtub, otherwise Michael might have flown into a
rage or broken down into a violent fit of weeping, both of which he had done often during the long hours that preceded his last minutes.
The whole man soured, disintegrated. Guilt, long a parasite on his love, supplanted its host entirely. Contentment gave way to anger, beauty in all
its forms became ugly, and the frozen phantom corkscrew that had worked its way into his heart twisted another quarter turn, drove the frost a little
deeper. He felt the persistent stab, a rush of nausea, dizziness, then once again more painful than the last time, a horrible realization: it was all
A young woman of indeterminate age dreamed that she stood on a beach. At that moment Elizabeth was in fact three women, herself of course, and also a
young girl and an older woman. Though strangers, the faces that they carried were not entirely unfamiliar, and their thoughts could almost have been
Elizabeth’s. The face of the young girl, she had almost forgotten it as once belonging to her. The girl’s thoughts were simple, ideals and wishes,
rights and wrongs. The older woman’s thoughts teemed like a ripe ocean, dreams of the future, thoughts, fears, desires, all clustered together like
fish in a school, silver thoughts that appeared and disappeared in one shimmering instant, fleeting and anonymous.
Two of her pieces became one, an unspoken, instantaneous welding of the seams running down the past and present of that moment. The one who ‘had
been’ remained inside the one who ‘still was,’ forever remembered. The one who ‘would have been’ faded like mist under the ascendant sun,
never to reappear.
What remained was one woman, made whole by the absence of a future. The sand on which she stood shimmered in the sun as though it was made of
countless grains of gold; picked up the glare of the magnificent, throbbing fire in the sky and slit her eyes with it. After blinding her it slipped
inside, trailing heat and light down and into her throat, up into her brain which tried desperately to disbelieve what it felt, but could not.
The knot of hardwood she felt growing in her left shoulder, which pulled her arm up and over her head by wrenching the meat and bone, grew sharper,
more solid by the second as it elongated and drove deeper into her chest from behind. The lance of pain tore at the muscle of her shoulders, impaled
her living heart and hardened inside her flesh so that two hearts beat side-by-side; the heart of wood and hers of flesh. She could feel the tired
organ as it suffocated between her splintered ribs, beating hard against the bruises that wept blood into her body.
The pains of a heart that struggled to function, along with the barbed-tooth fire that sawed into her from her breast and the dull abdominal ache of a
caustic sickness she felt churning in her guts conspired to destroy her. Even to try and cover herself with the crooked wind-shaken sticks that she
imagined her arms had become, invited the most vehement complaints from her abused anatomy. She rocked back and forth in unvoiced submission to the
combined agonies that had transformed her, after untold hours, into a crippled, quaking vessel, emptied of words and thoughts and even tears, one that
wobbled in the wind. Her dream lasted as long as any do, a million years or a good five minutes; she slept a little less than that.
The steady stream of water from a drizzling shower head and the pain in her shoulder managed to drag her across a wide threshold into consciousness.
The water dripped into her eyes and she opened her mouth a little to swallow some if it, gasping as the cold trickled past her lips, striped with
melon colored wounds where they had been split in many places. Her leg kicked out involuntarily and met the tub, jolted her fully awake to strain in
openmouthed, silent agony against a renewed and vicious ache that disabled her left arm and assaulted the wounded shoulder which was pressed against
the wall by her weight. The spear of wood disappeared, but was replaced by a more terrible, insubstantial impalement. The pains of her body were
perhaps more evident, but she knew that was the least of it. She might have recovered if it weren’t for the humiliation, the betrayal. Her body
tried nonetheless to do what her mind could not, it motivated her.
She crunched her stomach muscles, that hurt, tried to use her shaking legs to push her body up into a sitting position, that hurt more, but she had
some strength left. As she began to open her eyes and sit up, her free arm brushed against the bleeding bud of her nipple. The jolt of pain that
coursed through her chest down into her belly caused her to pass out again and slip back down into the tub.
An enormous mist-choked landscape surrounded her in such depth, and from all sides, that she felt framed by it, the center of a painting on display.
Her left arm, locked above her head by an invisible shackle, showed the cream-flesh curve of her breast to the evergreen tree line that stood passive,
set far back from the golden sand of her beach. Her hair, black as a raven’s feather, soaked and shining, trailed down past her shoulders and crept
around her neck, following the contour of her collarbone. The flesh of her body had grown pale, almost blue, and it was cold as the water, the sky.
The remote coastline was empty, yet she could not help but feel that someone, or something, studied her. She felt eyes on the naked back, the hips,
the trembling legs, that now belonged to someone else and could barely support her. The pain had not lessened, it seared her from the inside and
throbbed faster than her blood through the tired canals of her misused body.
She was painfully aware of the eyes that nibbled on her, that grew bolder with every bite. She willed the water in the wind to cover her and drown her
if it only could, but still the eyes and their teeth were upon her. They tore her flesh, the pain was horrible, and she screamed, but they would not
stop. They opened their jaws wider to eat more, and if only she could have opened her eyes she would have seen they were not there, but she couldn't
and so their teeth flashed faster and the pain intensified. After the hours or days or seconds in her hell, broken, assured of death, the torture just
stopped. Her body had simply overloaded, and could feel no more. Then she stopped breathing.
Her world folded in around her and shrank down to cradle her. The mist became the rain, and the rain became a dark ocean in the sky that fell down to
meet her. Foolishly, she tried to take a breath and found there was no air, then thrashed, sputtered, and awoke to feel her skull impact the tile.
Dull red blood welled up from her matted hair and stained the part of the wall which was pressed into her face. She watched through the static of her
new concussion as dark blood coursed from the strangely painless wound, dripped down, flowed over her crumpled, shaking body, and swirled like a
flower that bloomed before it was devoured by the drain; she saw it and the corners of her ragged lips turned up into a striped, bleeding smile - but
the minor pain of it could not break through the numbness of her shock, her heart finally seized and the bathroom again dissolved into the mist and
disappeared with her blood into the drain. Her eyes remained open, and saw.
She clutched a rose in death, held it so tight against her stomach that it's petals wilted and crumbled, tumbled over her fist and down to the
ground; soaked in the waters from the monsoon rain that flooded the beach for a time. Her golden shore was transformed into mud and the breeze spun
off into a sky dominated by the glare of the naked sun. The air grew hot, baked the mud into clay, and finally dust. She fell to pieces alongside the
earth, and finally disappeared out of time. After her image dissolved, into history and oblivion, she was truly gone.
Michael couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. It would kill him all over again to have to walk into the bathroom, but he knew he had to do it. He
had to see her one more time. His body heaved with what little strength remained and brought him to his feet so he could shamble across the carpet and
push the door open farther to look at her. His shadow rose and loped behind him, slow and predatory. The door swung in and Michael’s gaze fell on
one of her slim, pale arms draped over the side of the tub, where it hung motionless in the air. Her nail polish was chipped, the same deep, dull
purple as the bruises that adorned the skin of her wrist. Michael sank to his knees, laid his pistol down on the sink, and crawled the last few inches
to the rim of the tub. She lay in there, one arm stretched out over the rim, the other attached to a handrail above her head with Michael’s
handcuffs. Her neck was ringed in bruises and lassoed by her hair, which fell, slick, all around her. The face he had treasured, adored, now drunk in
death; her eyes were half open, her mouth slack, torn, and moist from the spray of the shower. Michael’s eyes filled with tears, which he tried to
hold back. She was still so lovely, even after it all. The most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
Michael reached his hand out and brushed a curl of hair from her cheek. He wanted her to stir, turn over in her sleep, mumble at him to stop, the way
she used to when he would wake her up in the car. She lay still. He choked on his tears, started to sniffle as he cradled her head in his hand and
wrapped his arms around her gingerly, afraid to touch her bruises, reluctant to disturb her in any way. Her body was limp, wet and cold from the
shower, when he took it into his arms. He held on to her as would a drowning man, afraid to let go. Her head lolled forward and rested in the crook of
his shoulder. His body was wracked by an avalanche of sobs and overwhelmed with the weight of helplessness. He shivered uncontrollably.
“I’m so sorry Elizabeth. I’m so, so sorry.” His words, whispered into the damp hollow of her neck, repeated, again and again, eventually
trailed off into whispers. “I love you. I love you so much.” He managed, and could say no more. He pulled away from her and she slumped back down
into the tub. He covered his mouth with one hand, floundered back from the tub, fumbled for the pistol atop the sink, and fled the bathroom. His
shadow darted out after him, quick on his heels.
Michael collapsed into the bed and wept for some time, with his hands clasped to his skull, the checkered grip of the pistol a sort of pillow beneath
his head. Then, after a while, when he had calmed down a bit he swung his legs over the side of the bed, sat up straight, took a deep breath and put
the barrel of his father’s gun in his mouth. Then he squeezed the trigger, and heard the hammer fall.