Beyond The Truth
M B Blissett
My stomach hurt like something had grown and slid out my asshole, leaving me ripped and bleeding in its wake. There were days washed of action, fetal on the couch and smoking weed to keep the edge off all the feelings sharpened and turned inward. People admired my intelligence, but they said it in the faint pitying tone you’d give when seeing someone in the street with a facial deformity. How brave they were to go about their business when they had a conjoined twin hanging from their face. All my intelligence had fled before her, and there was humour in realising why hurricanes had women’s names.
She had not gotten in touch afterwards. My boundaries had held enough to my maxim that there was no friendship after this. We were lovers or nothing, which sounded trite but it saved my life.
It was the money she took, which got me. It wasn’t mine, and my creditors weren’t patient or understanding. Despite all the pain, there were limits to what a man could endure. For the first time in days, thinking about love and how it had broken me again.
Love on a neurochemical level is instinct and euphoria. It houses the former in the media insula and the latter, in the anterior cingulate cortex. Our nervous systems resonate at the sound of their name. We stew in a cocktail of testosterone, estrogen, vasopressin and oxytocin. It stresses us to be lovers, yet we die to maintain it.
It enhances the best and worst of us. Low serotonin levels contribute to episodes of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, focused on the love partner, former or otherwise. She had created the perfect person to hunt her down.
Someone who loved her.
Hammering through the concrete floor, head swimming from the weed which had sustained me in a soft cocoon of equanimity. Each swing cracked it into pieces and then there was my foot locker, locked and buried, with all my old tools cleaned and oiled, waiting for me to come back like a murderer returning to the scene of the crime.
The revolver, a fat silver machine with tooled grips and an action smooth as butter. My father had won medals shooting with it, and it had saved my life a few times. The other tools went into a duffel bag, and then into the trunk of my car.
The drive gave me time to think. Without a place to go, it was a matter of recalling what she had said about herself.
What she hadn’t said concerned me more.
She wasn’t clear on where she came from. The Midwest. The opposite coast from where we were. What fucked me was how pretty she was, which meant my faculties were reeling from the chemical holocaust of someone beautiful talking without money being involved.
It always is, you know. Money.
You pay for love if you get my meaning. All the poetry, the songs, they sounded like fucking lies now.
Her money came from a lucky dip of shifts working and auditioning for work. There was a haughtiness to her smile which set her out as someone different. The beauty was there, but it was like smog, where you didn’t see it anymore. Unless it looked into your eyes and took an interest in who you were and where you were going with your life.
She looked like a woman who knew who she was. There was an excitement to her, which didn’t come from a line or a bottle, and she laughed at my jokes without prompting.
Sex was a simple thing. My place was closer, and knowing nothing about her, she laid on my bed and sat there, a voyeur who knew the power of the visual on the masculine libido and looked at me with a coquettish want which robbed me of reason.
Fingers clasped together, bellies slapping and moving inside her like I couldn’t get deep enough. Her legs over my shoulders as I pounded into her, shivering strokes as I counted backwards, trying not to come too soon until she hissed, between clenched teeth, that she wanted me to.
She made me come so hard; it felt like it turned me inside out by it. Afterwards she stroked the hair on my chest, one warm thigh draped over mine as we talked. Those hours, where all my feelings were on the surface were an education for her. An ongoing, evolving curriculum in understanding and manipulating men.
It was easy to wise after the fact. My defence was that I hadn’t told her the important things, but she got an idea from the lack of details there was more going on than I divulged. Women don’t want full disclosure, but those that do, they know what to do with the information.
A friend let her down on a place, so sure she could stay at mine. We were seeing one another all the time anyway, so why not?
She was in my place for hours. The tools were under concrete. My accounts all pointed to a place in my life where good years underpinning a quiet life. When Yanni asked if I could hold a bag for him, it wasn’t an issue.
We had trust. She was working every bliss button on my body, and in my head. One of her friends had come over, and we’d ended up in a hot, wet triangle and she had cried with pleasure afterwards as her friend slipped away, blushing and awkward as we laid on the bed together, mutual survivors of an ecstatic explosion.
Linda. Dark, with a hard, dancer’s body. She lived on pills and pressed vegetable juices, but she still had all her teeth. Linda tasted of peaches, which brought the blood to my face as I parked the car.
She was a hostess at La Mer, a fusion bistro on Sunset. She didn’t recognise me at first, which made me grateful until the mention of my girl’s name made her grimace with a genuine disgust.
‘That cunt? Jesus, I never want to see her ass again. She owes me a lot of cash.’ she said.
A fifty made her amicable. A drink opened her up and she sat there, spewing bile as I struggled to avoid weeping with embarrassment and shame. The world put an arm around her shoulders while I got a raised eyebrow and a whispered maxim which spoke in my dad’s voice.
You should have known better.
Linda hadn’t known where she had come from. Somewhere midwestern. A town with a factory which closed down, sucked the blood out of it and prompted her to move on.
I leaned forwards.
‘Where are you from?’
She lowered her eyes and picked up her drink before she spoke.
‘Dallas. I came out here with my sister, auditioned like crazy, but she didn’t have the spine for it.’ she said.
‘Spine for what?’
Linda smiled and it saddened me.
‘It’s tough out here, you know?’
I nodded. She carried fewer bodies on her conscience than I did, but it weighed on her the same.
‘So how did she fuck you over?’ she said.
I coughed into my fist and cleared my throat.
‘She took something which wasn’t mine. I need it back.’
Linda gave a pitying smile and put her hand out.
‘We’ll never see her again, dude. Accept it.’ she said.
Her voice was a resigned whisper, arid like the desert and too old to come from such a pretty face.
I shook my head.
‘I can, Linda, but these people, they can’t. Either I find her or they do.’
She gave her the address of the bar she had worked at. It wasn’t one I recognised, but I gave her another fifty for her time. It was a token attempt to gain something back from being recognised as a fellow victim without the hum of connection to elevate it to a good experience. She touched the back of my hand.
‘We had fun, didn’t we?’ she said.
My eyes were wet as I looked at her.
‘We did, but we paid for it.’ I said.
She pushed her number on me. Her loneliness radiated off her in waves, and I shrunk away from it. There was enough in me to save my skin, but I couldn’t save her. My head swam with exhaustion as I drove to The Lady J.
She went by Rachel. She had been popular, a bright, vivacious girl who made weak men feel potent and strong men weak, which meant she banked tips all the time. No one figured out why she was borrowing money all the time, or how there was someone who had let her down.
Rich had the wounded look of a fellow survivor. He was three hundred pounds, thick with muscle and covered with serpentine, faded tattoos on every surface. He gave nothing up. There was something recognisable in his eyes when he spoke about her.
Love, writhing and seething underneath his ridged forehead and pooled in his soft, brown eyes. I paid him for his time, but kept back how the Greeks were looking for her.
After closing up, he got in his truck and drove home. He parked up, and the door opened. She stood there, in pink cotton shorts and a t-shirt, hair like spun gold as she clung to him, whispering sweet nothings in his ear.
I pinched the bridge of my nose and closed my eyes. A phone call would end everything but the crazy you saw was never the crazy you had to worry about.
Two shots rang out from the house. I was out of the car, with the gun in my hand, running to the house. My motives escaped me, lurching between a desire to see her dead and a need to make sure she was ok.
There was the fog of sex in the house. It rested like grit against my tongue, and I put the gun up. A low, keening sound came from the room at the end of the hall.
‘You motherfucker.’ she said.
Rachel hadn’t spoken in days but her voice slashed into me as I aimed the gun ahead of me and pushed the door open with my foot.
He sat against the wall, wisps of smoke coming from two indentations on his scalp as he stared ahead, making noises like he from a horrific nightmare. He had on white undershorts, and his belly hung over, thick and round like an abscess. Blood coated his chest, glistening in the lamplight.
Rachel was curled onto her side, clutching the shredded remains of her right hand. The gun had been something small and cheap, a.38 pistol, judging by the trigger punched into the plaster to her right. It had taken most of her hand, and she was shrieking, covered in her own blood before she noticed I was there.
‘Oh shit, baby please, I need a hospital.’ she said.
I shook my head and looked around the bedroom.
There had been so many things I imagined saying to her. All the blood and screaming exhausted me, so I asked her where the money was. She shook her head and begged me to take her to a hospital.
The click of the hammer compelled her attention.
It was in a wardrobe. I opened it, keeping the gun trained on her as I dragged out the suitcase and picked it up. Every breath in her presence hurt. A friend would have helped her, at least cleaned her up and stuck around.
‘Where are you from?’
She sobbed and shook her head.
‘Fuck you, Tony.’ she said.
She would have been grateful. I could have smoothed things over, gave her a chance to make it up but as she sat there, wounded and crazed, a moment passed which lifted weight from my heart.
‘Did they get sick of you there, too?’
She turned away. We both looked at one another then at Rich.
‘What did he do?’
Rachel sat up, grimacing as she wrapped a sheet around the twisted ruin of her hand. Blood soaked into the material but she regained strength from dressing it.
‘He gave the worst head I’ve had in my life. Too fucking eager.’ she said.
I put the gun back into the holster.
‘You should get out of town.’ I said.
All the love within me for her went into those words. They were fragile carriage for the truth she’d shown me. We both lost pieces of one another, but not so much I couldn’t walk away.
‘You made it easy for me.’ she said.
Her voice was a metallic trap closing on the remains of my heart. I managed a smile and nodded at her before I left.
I called Yannis from the car, watched the carnival of emergency services rush past me. He was happy for me, and the cash was good for a visit to a dispensary on the way home.
It hadn’t mattered where she came from. Wherever it was, they had cast her out without a mark of warning on her. The missing hand would provoke pity, which she would use to get ahead. My relief was acute, but it hurt to have been played so well by someone so empty.
The smoke helped as I stared outside, waiting for the dawn to come and make everything new again.