Σάββατο, 1 Ιουνίου 2019

Razor-Edge Tango

Published in Schlock webzine's volume 4, issue 12 

“I got his money sugar, I swear I do!”
“Your money ain’t good enough no more, honey. Bent Nose Tony’s tired of you wasting his goddamn time. He told me: ‘Honey, Gio’s been yankin’ my chain way too long and I’m tired of his crap”. He told me: ‘You can tell him he can pay me back whenever he wants, as long as I’ve got some collateral’.”
“Wh-what kind of collateral?”
“He told me: ‘Get an ear or a finger offa him. Or maybe poke an eye out, I don’ care.’”
“Now wait a minute! I’m telling you, I’ve got the damn money! Thirty grand, interest and all! Here, count ‘em yourself! I was just gonna-”
“He told me: ‘He probably got the money, Gio’s resourceful. I respect that.’ He does, you know, he’s got you in very high regard. Says you’re the best bookie he ever had. But then he told me: ‘But I’m tired of his tricks and his grin and I’m tired of him talking me into deals all the damn time. I’m tired of Gio the bookie not paying me back in time and I’m tired of Gio the bookie takin’ me for a fool. So don’t take the interest. Just get my six grand and a piece of him as you go, then come straight to me, you hear?’”
“Now wait a minute, this is ridiculous! We can split the money! No, no, scratch that! You can take the interest! There’s twenty thousand here and you can have it as long as you don’t hurt me! That’s more than you’d take for a hit, isn’t it? That’s way more than anybody’s paid you, period! So please put the razor down and we can AAAGH!”
Flick. Flick. Flick.
“My dose! You gut ov my dose!”
“Ain’t done cutting yet, honey.”
Flick. Flick.
“Shhh. You be quiet now. I’ll be done in a minute.”

She could still feel the blood on her hands, no matter how roughly she washed them, or how hot the running tap water was. She’d rubbed her skin with green soap and a really stiff brush. Sure, the red was gone and the clotted mess had been scraped off from under her nails. But she could feel the coagulation under her skin, coating her nerves and muscles, and caked over her knuckles.
Sometimes she’d forget herself and scrub so hard she’d almost break the skin. Tonight wasn’t the case. Tonight she felt so much better. Tonight she felt clean and happy, like she’d felt the day she talked daddy into smashing her baby sister’s toys along with hers as punishment.
Tonight, she felt like dancing.

He caught her eye as she scanned through the dancing throng:
“Who’s the square?”
“Who, him? I don’t know. Some nobody from out-of-town, I guess.” Gracey’s beehive coiffe bobbed in the rhythm of the music.
“He don’t look like a nobody.”
“No. He look like somebody stupid. Who comes here and flaunts his money like that in this neighbourhood?”
“Maybe he needs someone to give him directions. A helping hand, you know?”
“Oops. Looks like you’ll have to wait your turn, doll. He’s already chatting up Barb.”
“Barb? That little Polish cherry? She turning tricks now?”
“No, she’s one of them hard-boiled Catholics. Says she’s saving herself but then again, who’s-where you going?”
The man ignored her for a while, his piercing blue eyes following Barb’s little buck-toothed smile. She felt her blood boil, a flush rising up to her cheeks. She’d had a lot of reactions from men, but she’d never, ever been ignored!
She poked his shoulder and he kept on looking at Barb, his bright white grin gleaming as the night club’s lights struck it. He looked unreal then, an apparition as bizarre as the Cheshire Cat, its smile bigger than he was, his teeth unnaturally big. For a moment, she felt like he was going to start fading out of existence, wagging his thin, long head at Barb, his eyes not having once acknowledged her.
But then he turned toward her and smiled and for a moment she thought she saw something that was thin and gaunt and mad-eyed, its face some unnatural skull with great blue fires burning in its eye-sockets, its smile a great big wound that bled molten silver. She blinked and the face was normal again, a round unattractive visage with a million-dollar smile.
“Dance with me, mister?”
“I’m very sorry, miss, but I was talking to the lady and-”
“Did your mama never tell you to turn down girls who ask you for a dance? Or do you want me to get begging?”
“Give me a minute Barbara, be with you soon.”
She led him to the dance floor and he stumbled behind her, his leather pointed shoes squeaking on the waxed wooden boards, his free hand flailing. By the time they were on the floor, the pianist started tinkering with the keys. Short, sharp notes jumped around from the piano’s guts, jittery little things that rushed to meet their twins that popped out from the bass’ strings. Like one, the band picked up the tune and the girl on stage started singing, swaying her waist and winking knowingly at every man in the room, who blushed in unison.
Every man, but him. He did not bother with the girl. His hand instead snatched at hers, turning the grip to his favor. Suddenly she could tell: this man could dance. He pulled her to him, leading her on and she felt as if her body was no longer her own. Before she knew it, the song was over and reality slammed her brain back into its place behind her eyes. She found it hard to breathe; her lungs felt like they’d been set on fire, her skin was glistening with sweat. She leaned up to him, pouting her lips into what she thought was an invitation to a kiss, when she noticed the contempt in his eyes.
It was a living, writhing thing, like some strange, exotic snake. It shot from deep inside the blue in his eyes and slipped under its fangs under her skin. She felt it sink in deep, tearing into her soul and releasing its poison inside her. Her terror carried the venom into her heart and then a great big wave of shame filled her, a terrible feeling like her sins were bubbling over, rising up to drown her brain.
She heard the first man she’d ever hurt bawl his eyes out like a little baby, clutching at his hamstrung legs:
“Why ain’t you fighting back, daddy? Lost your nerve?”
She reminisced on that girl she’d hated for no particular reason, the way her tears mixed with the blood seeping from her wounded face:
“Gonna gut you, you little bitch. Gonn’ gut you an’ nobody’s gonna care.”
She thought about Tony, his face all flushed, his eyes bulging when he was done roaring at her:
“You never told me what parta him you wanted Tony, so I had to improvise…”
The grace from him was gone. His hands suddenly became spindly, weak little sticks which let her go and she stumbled back. She grabbed his tuxedo, creasing it. He just brushed her hands aside, the way a person might swat at a tiny bug and let her go.
She suddenly realized she felt nauseous. She rushed inside the bathroom without saying a word and retched inside one of the sinks until she was spitting only bile. The face on the mirror was her face, forty years from now, an old hag with a face like a malevolent prune and eyes like buttons.
Her knees suddenly letting go, she found herself kneeling in front of that sink, her eyes tearing up and bawled like a baby.

The old woman next door cringed as she dialed the phone number. She feared that her vacant-eyes neighbor might kick the door down any minute now.
“I’m so terribly worried about that girl next door.” Gladice said into the phone, lowering her voice despite herself.
“What’s wrong with her this time?” Hattie’s voice came from the speakers, a soft hush. Gladice could see her now, hunched over the phone, glancing over her shoulder at her husband, slouched on his armchair, his eyes fixed on the TV screen.
“Poor girl’s been locked in her apartment for a week now. Haven’t heard her walk out of there, not even once.”
“You think she’s dead?”
“No. I stuck my ear to the wall the other night and I heard her sobbing in her bedroom. Her bedroom and mine are right next to each other, you know.”
“Oh, I know…” said Hattie and Gladice swore she could feel her hot, burning cheek on hers though the speaker.
“I heard her moaning. But it wasn’t a good moan. She sounded like she was running a fever, speaking all kinds of gibberish. I tried knocking on her door, so I could check up on her, you know? I saw her up close and she was a mess, the poor dear.”
“Makes sense, if she’s got the flu.”
“She didn’t look like she was running no flu. Looked more like my Johnny, God rest his soul, the day he came back from Korea. Looked like she’d been through hell and come back to tell the tale.”
“What did she say?”
“Not a word. She just…stood there. I was so scared, Hattie. She looked at me like…like I was a roach on the counter, you know? Like I wasn’t talking, really. Like I was just standing there, wiggling my head at her all silent like and she couldn’t decide if I was worth squishing or not.”
“Think she’s a junkie? Maybe she’s shooting h. Heard Cassie talking to Father Maxwell and she said her son was like that too since he picked up the needle.”
“No, she couldn’t be. I saw no spots on her hands like the ones the junkies got. And her teeth were just fine, I checked them when she smiled at me. She just looked…off. Oh I’m so worried about her Hattie but I don’t wanna pry. Think I should try going over, maybe giving her some soup? I made too much anyway and I’m never gonna eat all that…”
“I think you should stay put, Gladice. I think you should turn your TV all the way up tonight and sit down on the couch and then go to sleep ‘cause the girl sounds like real bad news. She might not look the junkie, but you never can tell, not with these people. So you stay where you are and you hit the sack early, you hear?”
“Yes. Yes, I probably should.” Gladice said and realized her voice was little more than a whisper now, her breath hoarse. She realized she had her eyes fixed on the cracked wallpaper, as if she was trying to make out the outline of the next-door girl, pressed across the tissue-thick wall, listening to her every word. For just a moment, she swore she could make out the shape of an ear, pushing against the checkered wallpaper, the sharp lines of her face…
“How’s Whiskers?” Hattie’s voice came from the speaker, making her jump. She bit her lip, holding back her yelp.
“He’s a pain in the neck, that’s what he is. Won’t have any other food than the one in the real expensive cans and he won’t stay quiet the whole night, not until he makes me get off my bed and let him out on the balcony. And then he just gets back in again and purrs at me, the little bastard, as if nothing’s wrong.”
“Well, at least he’s stayed, unlike the rest of them.”
She heard the cat creep on her balcony in the middle of the night. She heard it walk inside her house, purring happily. She got up and saw its great, gleaming eyes staring at her, surprised at the very notion that someone else might be inside the very space it was trespassing.
The cat wagged its tail, irritated and hissed at her as she got up from the bed. She knew exactly whose cat this was. It belonged to that old bag, the one who always pried and listened in to her every word. The one that always kept talking to that Hattie woman about her, thinking that if she whispered hard enough, she’d get away with it.
She walked closer to the cat and she saw it tense up and bare its teeth. It hissed at her. She reached out her hand and grabbed it by the tail, pulling it up. Still holding it, she grabbed its head and twisted. The cat let out a short, high-pitched scream and then went limp. She stayed perfectly still for a while, until she was certain she could make out the old bag’s snoring from the other side of her bedroom wall.
Laughing, she walked to the balcony and was about to toss the cat straight into the trash can, like she’d done with all the rest. Then she thought better, thought back at her owner’s condescending smile, her shrill voice feigning interest, her better-than-thou attitude. No. This time, she wanted the old bag to know she had had enough.
With a flick of the wrist, she tossed the little furry corpse into her balcony. She dreamed of dead things and weeping women, their faces streaked with tears.
She woke up smiling to the sweet sound of the old lady’s screams. Then the phone rang, ruining her perfect little moment. With the smile still on her lips, she picked up the receiver.
“Haven’t seen you since that job with Gio, toots. Where have ya been?”
The smile faded the instant she recognized Tony’s voice.
“Been feeling a bit under the weather. What’s it to you?”
“Hey, don’t get mad at me, toots. I was only worried about your general well-being, you know?”
“I’m fine.”
“That’s good. Cause I’m gonna need you in a couple days.”
“What for?”
“Gio’s been talking to the cops. Word on the street’s he’s gonna start naming names.”
“I don’t think they’re gonna make that much out, not with his lips gone.”
“Man can still write. I’m gonna need you to finish that job for me.”
“Send somebody else.”
“Haha, no pumpkin. You were the one messed him up in the first place. I need you to go fix it.”
“Think he won’t have told the cops about me? Think they won’t be expecting me?”
“Got a point there. How ‘bout you take it to somebody who gives a damn cause I sure as hell don’t.”
“Tony, listen. I can’t-”
“No, you listen. You go and you get that sonofabitch, y’hear? You go in his hospital room and cut off his jugular or do whatever other messed-up crap you like to pull ‘cause you were the one that put him there in the first place and got him mad enough to want to play at being snitch!”
“Don’t you raise your voice at me…”
“Gonna do whatever the hell I like, toots and you know why? ‘Cause I ain’t the one who flays a man’s face clean off when he’s told to get an ear! Understood?”
“And another thing: Gracey told me she saw you get sick the week before. Told me she saw you with a guy at the club.”
“So what?”
“Can’t have me a pregger hitman now can I?”
“I’m not pregnant, Tony. And I won’t have you calling me pregger like I’m some Southern sow.”
“Don’t give a shit what you wanna be called, my point is I can’t have a girl with a baby in the oven working for me. It’s bad for my operation and it’s bad for you, too.”
“Aw, how noble of you Tony.”
“You best cut the crap with me, toots. If you ain’t pregnant, you ain’t pregnant and that’s a good thing to hear. Meet Jerry when the deed’s sone so you can get your money.”
“Pleasure doing business with you as always, Tony.”
“Yeah, sure. You take care, y’hear?”
She slipped into the hospital and lured one of the nurses in the bathroom when no-one was around and choked her with her bare hands till something in her neck went crunch (an insignificant little noise that seemed to drown out every other sound in the room every time she’d heard it). Dressed in the nurse’s cloths, she walked up to the second floor. Flashing a smile at the guards watching over Gio’s door and telling them he needed his meds she went inside, shutting the door behind her.
The thing without a face opened its mouth, a red little ring lined with teeth to call out for help the minute he saw her, but she had more than enough time to clamp his mouth shut and slice his throat open with a razor. She held his mouth shut, trying to avoid the blood spurting from the wound. She held her breath as she smelt the voiding of his bowels under the sheets. Her fingers clenched tighter until he finally went limp.
She heard the screams all the way up from the second floor the minute she walked out of the hospital. She had just turned the corner, changed into her regular clothes, when she bumped into him.
“Hello again” he said and his breath smelled like steak Tartar.
“Hi” she mouthed and she knew what the little pink spots on his otherwise immaculate teeth meant.
“You’ve been busy, haven’t you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” she said, her head swimming. There was a rumbling in her gut.
“Come now, you look like you just stuck your hand in the cookie jar.”
“I…” her voice was hoarse, her skin felt saggy, old.
He leaned in closer, breathing in her scent. Her sight blurred.
“Love your perfume, by the way. Smells right raw.”
“Why did you brush me off? At the club, why did you turn me away?” she was running a fever now, she was sure of it. A jungle fever, that made your insides boil and made strange shapes crawl into your vision.
“Because I wasn’t into you.”
“You didn’t look the part, not when you danced with me.” Black dots danced at the edges of her vision.
“I tend to shed my…standards when I dance.”
“And what kind of standards are they? What would for ask for in a gal?” she said, even as she felt tiny spiders cris-crossing her arms.
“Pretty smiles, for starters. And eyes that don’t belong on a mountain lion.”
She laughed, despite herself. The swarm increased in number.
“I wanna dance with you again.”
“You will.”
“And after that, I want you to stay and I want us to talk.” Heart was pumping. He was the only thing she could make out, his face ringed with black.
“No, we won’t. When we’re done, there won’t be any more talking.”
She bit her lip and was about to talk back, when she saw the patrol car skid to a halt in fornt of the hospital, the siren’s cacophony snapping her from her reverie.
“You might want to make yourself scarce.” he said. She ran into the crowd and looked for him, but he was gone. There was only the afterimage of a smile, fading into the mass of faces.
She ran a long, hot shower that day and scrubbed at her hand until it was red and raw all over. She bit her lips as she tried to clench it, feeling the pain throbbing slowly up her arm, reaching her shoulder.
She looked herself at the mirror and saw her face again for the first time in a week. It was the sharp, young face of twenty-something years she always had. Absent mindedly, she rubbed at her skin, checking for hidden wrinkles, for any sign of the creases she’d seen back at the club’s bathroom mirror but found none. She checked her hair, looking at each strand, but found no white staining the auburn.
Then she checked her eyes. The damage was still there. Little button holes with small brown spots ringing the irises, which were dilated as if she had been staring at some unimaginably horrible sight.
He’d hurt her, alright. He’d put poison in her brain and she could still feel it sloshing there behind her eyes, tiny traces of it still lingering on the surface of her brain. She could still see him: his unattractive face, his blue eyes and his terrible smile looking back. Somehow, she knew she had to find him.
She was scared shitless. Knew that for a fact. And she knew that if she met with him again, if she danced with him again (hell, even if she spoke to him), then he’d poison her one more time and that’d be that. She’d grow older and her soul would shrivel up inside her till it was a black, dried up thing like a week-old dead beetle.
But then why couldn’t she stop thinking about him? Why did every pore in her body seem to mouth his name, every waking thought shaped like him? Why did she want him so bad?
Cause he hurt you, you dumb broad. And you like it when you get hurt.

Her open palm struck Gracey the minute she saw her back at the club:
Gracey doubled over as her punch connected to her gut. The dumb broad’s eyes were tearing up already. She yanked at her hair, hard as she could, forcing her to meet her stare.
“And that’s for telling shit about me to Tony, you tart!”
“I swear I didn’t mean to bad mouth you! I was just concerned, is all!”
“You best let me do the worrying about my welfare from here on out, we clear?”
“Yeah, yeah sure we are.”
“You seen that man?”
“The man you danced with? Sure.”
“Is he with that little skank, Barb?”
“No. She’s…she’s not been around since last week. But he’s been coming here almost every night. Think he’s looking for you.”
“Oh shut up with your sweet talk, Gracey. Go and make yourself proper now. You don’t want the johns to see your pretty hair all messed up like that do you?”
The song they’d danced to was playing the minute she stepped out of the bathroom. He was there, once again, leaning against the bar, that horrible grin on his face. His eyes locked onto hers the minute she noticed him, his head turning (no, not turning, swiveling) toward her, his eyes following her even as she walked around the dancers and walked up to him. She could feel her knees get weaker with each step. She could feel something in her mind trying to turn her away, some little reptile that hissed and ran in circles in the base of her skull, but she didn’t listen.
She was halfway from him when she felt her belly rumble violently, feeling sick. Her eyes never left his. She was just a couple paces away when she felt some strange sensation, a horrible burning erupt in her belly.
By the time she reached him, the fire had been licking its way down her stomach, tearing through the linings in her insides. She could feel her blood boiling, bubbling under her skin.
“Dance with me, mister?”
Without a word, he took her hand and led her to the floor and the dance started again and the fire in her burned brighter and she felt faint, but she held on. Straining, she said:
“Who are you?”
He twirled her and she could swear she saw sparks fly from where their heels struck the floor. Through clenched teeth, she said:
“What the hell have you done to me?”
He pushed her away, holding her by his fingertips and she felt her stomach give way, as the flames dropped lower. The pain was gone now. There was just this other sensation, this desire, which seeped down her thighs and crept between her legs. Swooning, she asked:
“Why do I want you so bad?”
He pulled her hard and she slammed onto him and she realized she was nearing climax; she felt faint, her knees trembling. He said:
“Because you deserve me.”
The sound of his words made her body shake like a leaf. Her eyes rolled in their sockets, her vision blurred. For a moment, she saw him once again the way she’d seen him the first time: that horrible visage, a thing all teeth and fire. Without actually moving its mouth, it said:
“But there’s nothing I can do with that shriveled little thing you call a soul now, can I? Hell, I can’t even get chump change for that!”
She was on fire now. Her body was convulsing and she felt her heart pumping  faster. She saw her dress enveloped in blue flame, matching the one in his eyes. The song played on. Her hand reached out to touch him and he let her go. The flames engulfed her body, eating at her flesh and searing her bones.
By the time she touched the floor, she was just a pile of glowing embers. He looked down at her and breathed in the acrid scent. The last part of her drifted upward, driven by the flames. He clicked his fingers on it and shoved them in his mouth. As his teeth clamped over it, cracking it with ease, a forked tongue uncoiled, savoring the juices. They tasted like death and mindless suffering. They tasted like pointless hate and perverted joy.
“You’d have made good company, though. Shame, really.”

Post a Comment

Δεν υπάρχουν σχόλια:

Δημοσίευση σχολίου