Blessed be thy name whose tired, toxic air bleeds through your lazy lips. It’s an open staring contest: The white walls watching—watching—to beat your bloated pupils. They skirt the cracks driven through the plaster like the voices cracking, crackling, crack: Static-static noise that beats beneath your skull.
I’ve seen fine bones in my time, it whispers those wounded words within you, like a thinned, shaven bible verse that folds worn between your fingertips. That chalked ink from papal printing presses; those cheap, for-sale words he salvaged with the change that otherwise would feed his litter. He littered littered psalms down back alleys where Mommy fought and died because he was in the water. In the air. In her chains.
Her name is unfamiliar, but you see the back of a head whose name is Susan. Susan. Susan. Gutter-face. Frayed sulking, sullied coarse and hardened hair moped like rays of long-dead suns. She’s got blood pooled from out between her legs like a bed of spilt red ink. It swallows her thighs like a pothole puddle, and a small child’s trying to get close, but some big, uniformed men with pistols in their belts tell the child she’d best get home.
That’s my mommy, the child says breathlessly, battling sturdy legs of men who gave little thought to that dead, old whore. Susan. Susan.
Blessed be thy name, whose sleepy eyes replay her mother’s open thighs, so red and raw with blood and violence. They busied themselves with derisive philosophies, blind to the woman who held the child near when Daddy’s footsteps came so close she could feel them beneath her. Susan. Susan. Gutter-face. Susan, whose hardened hair twists and turns in ugly knots when she brushed her daughter’s hair so full and pretty and told her fine-haired blondes aren’t near as lucky. Fine hair breaks and full hair billows like a storm cloud, she said, full and strong and beautiful.
Susan. Susan. Gutter-face. Gutter-face, a bloated body in an alley with a bloody, muddy dress, as thin and washed out as bible verses by the rain or men or jealous housewives or however one decides to see a thin dress or use a bible verse.
Gutter-face. What a joke.
“Tramp.” Said the big statue of a man to another gaunter, quieter one. You remember his face was pale like he’d seen too many Mommys like this, face down and bleeding from underneath their dirty dresses.
The child blinks, and Daddy finds her the second she tries to trap her tears. Another big statue of a man, tall and haunting like a dark, dark shadow locked upon a bedroom wall. In rage, he whisks his wife’s child by the wrist and pulls her from the alleyway. He tells his wife’s child blood could clean a woman’s sins, and that’s what Mommy did. Mommy cleaned her sins, he said. Then Daddy walks the child like a street dog, while she tries to writhe from out his reach, but those men in uniforms with cuffs and guns can only wage a war against a corpse. The child screams and screams for help.
Stare at the goddamn wall. Keep staring. Win the game. You follow the veins in the walls like the veins in your skin. At 20 now, you know to hit the right one the right way, and you’re guaranteed some freedom. Still, you can’t seem to follow the rivers in the plaster like you could with your razorblade. They took it away, along with the wiring in your bra and the belt around your jeans.
Don’t blink, god damn it. Keep your eyes crawling up and down the carvings in those violent walls who know things you will never know. You feel secrets here, you tell them. You can force your bullshit through my nose and tie me up when I’m ripping through this skin, but I’ll find your secrets. The walls will tell me if I win, you tell them.
But you blink. You blink every day. But you get closer. You can feel yourself getting closer. Your eyes burn and burn like fire would burn behind your lids, but the longer it burns, the more you understand. You know it. You just know it.
Susan. Susan. Gutter-face.
You remember being held by someone a long, long time ago, and she’d soothe you as you sobbed and brushed your thick, full, wavy hair, and you remember she said, “We’ll leave in the afternoon, Lana. I got an appointment tomorrow morning, but I’ll take you with me.”
“I got school tomorrow.”
“Yeah, but you got bruises, and those kind don’t heal good. We go tomorrow afternoon.”
It all comes back sometimes. Nighttime monsters touch you in the sheets and you shriek and writhe and scream and scream for help like you screamed for those men with cuffs and guns to help you; but other men come in, dressed in a darker shade of periwinkle but not close enough to blue to be addressed as blue.
It’s a dream. It’s a dream. It’s a dream.
“Mommy, why are you crying? Mommy, what’s wrong?”
“We go home right now, OK? Pack up and we’ll go somewhere new and good. O.K.?”
“O.K.,” the letters echo something strange and dark and twisted, but O.K. is the best place their dreams can take them.
Lana read somewhere that banshees were ghosts in Irish folktales that warn someone a relative is dying. Lana decided sirens wailed like the banshees wailed and that the Irish knew more about New York City than New York knew about the Irish. If sirens and the banshees were the same, there were a lot of banshees in New York.
Mommy said she’d be right back and not to move until she returned, but Mommy had been gone for a long, long time. Lana started getting scared. She heard sirens a lot but never this close. Banshees supposedly weep outside one’s bedroom window while one sleeps, but Lana didn’t sleep much anymore. She opened the closet door a little and saw the blues and reds through the glass.
So many banshees.
Lana runs down the stairs with her stuffed backpack and drags Mommy’s suitcase with her step by step. It’s heavy compared to Lana’s backpack. Lana packed a teddy bear, some gum, and a diary she loved. Daddy broke the lock and tore some pages from it a few months ago, but broken things are just as good as new things, Lana thought. Sometimes, they’re even better.
Lana then sees the men. Feet higher than her and around a woman who Lana didn’t recognize so well at first. She can’t see her face, and the woman’s bleeding lots and lots. It’d been raining, but the blood’s still there, and the cloth clings to her skin so bad and was so clear you could see through the floral dress. Floral. Flowers. Mommy likes flowers.
There’s a big car there, too, with a big red plus sign and some people who are dressed in clothes Lana will find familiar someday.
She recovers from the shock and knows Mommy’s dead. Mommy’s dead and bleeding. Lana starts screaming after moments of silence. It takes a long time to recognize a woman that beautiful looking so gritty and vulnerable.
Daddy rips Lana from Mommy’s open grave, and he throws the suitcase from her tiny hands onto the ground. The force breaks it open and tosses its insides, and as she’s dragged away she sees photos of herself and Mommy and an old blanket Lana thinks she recognizes. There are papers, too. They look official, because they’re pretty and stamped and signed. She wonders where Mommy was going to take them.
You wake from it, because you blink again. God damn it, you do not blink. It ends the game. You have to forfeit when you blink.
Try again tomorrow.
If any book hurts anyone more than the bible, Lana doesn’t know about it. It’s a big book with big beatings and big words with big slaps across the face. Lana is 18 and has lost four adult teeth.
Bleeding cleanses your sins. Lana remembers that from somewhere, but she doesn’t know where. It’s like the whole banshee story, only she sure she’s read that. Reading and hearing are really different.
Lana’s in the tub and shaking really badly. They’re living with Dad’s friends now, invisible and silent. She doesn’t know what city they’re living in even. They’re not in New York, though. She knows that much.
Blood cleans you. Blood cleans you.
She’s got a razor right next to her and wonders, How much can a razor clean?
Bleed, bleed, bleed, Lana. Bleed, bleed, make it all bleed. Let it all bleed.
You stop churning your bed sheet and seem to be sleeping more softly now. It’s a spectacle, they say. You’re usually having nightmares, they think to themselves, so they crowd around the small window to satisfy morbid curiosity—or maybe their human need for hope.
Lana stirs and is hurting really badly. She’s on a softer bed than she remembers and wakes up to a man sitting beside her. She tries to jolt and thrash but she’s hurting so badly.
“I found you hurt somewhere. You’ve been bleeding a lot, but I stopped it,” He’s dark like Daddy but warmer and shorter, “My name is Damien.”
Lana can’t talk.
“It’s okay to be scared.” Damien smiles at Lana, but Lana doesn’t smile back. She’s tired and scared but can’t really move.
Before Lana can try to say anything, Damien combs back Lana’s hair with his fingers, and it feels familiar. Womanly.
“Don’t worry. You’ll be O.K.”
O.K. O.K. O.K. When the hell is anything O.K.? You start squirming again and the dream of peace is gone. Scream, scream, scream. No, it’s not O.K. It will never be O.K. It never makes sense. How is that O.K.?
Months of this. Months and months and months of this.
“What is your name?”
“My name is Lana.”
“Do you remember anything else?”
“My mother is dead.”
“How did she die?”
Silence. Then, “I loved her.”
“We know, Lana.”
You’ve got tears in your eyes, but things are making more sense now. They seem to hurt more when they make sense, but you start learning to know how to deal with them.
“How did you come here?”
“No, Lana. No,” Doctor frowned. “Damien doesn’t exist.”
Bleed, bleed, bleed, Lana. Bleed, bleed, make it all bleed. Let it all bleed.
Lana starts feeling dizzy. She cut too much, she thinks. Is Daddy home? He always leaves for a while after Bible study. He says they both need to talk to God individually and think about what has happened, but she’s really dizzy, and she doesn’t think this is good.
The bathwater is red.
Lana spills over the tub like water too and lifts herself up as much as she can. There’s a talking machine around here somewhere. She’s not doing well. She can’t think very well.
“Operator. Who would you like to—“
“I’m bleeding. Dark rooms. Dark.”
“I’ll transfer you to a hospital.”
Some taps. A pause. Some ringing. Blurring vision, fading in, fading out.
“Chicago Medical. What is your emergency?”
“Bleeding. Bleeding too…bleeding too much…”
“Can you give us your address, please?”
“145 E. Abra…no, no I don’t know. I don’t know what city I’m in.”
“Chicago. You’re in Chicago. What is your name?”
“Give me a street, Lana? Do you know which street you’re on? Any landmarks, Lana?”
“A deli. We live right next to a deli. Damien…a man named Damien owns the deli…I’m in an apartm… apart.. apartment. 231 on the door…”
“We’ll be there soon, Lana.”
If it took longer than soon, Lana didn’t know, but she passed out before Daddy came home or the medics arrived.
“What is your name?”
“Where is your mother, Lana?”
“That’s right, Lana. That’s right. Where is your father?”
“Lana?” hesitation, “Well, we’ll leave that alone. How did you get here, Lana?”
“The talking machine.”
“It’s a phone, Lana. A phone. But this is good, good progress. We’ll put you in a more open facility.”
Doctor smiled and showed some forms. You are able to use pencils and pens again. It’s a freedom you’ve missed so much. You like drawing words.
You sign the unread piece of paper and smile. Your insides still crawl. Doctor tells you they’re setting you up with living quarters. Open they said, but as they escort you to your new room, you can’t help feeling something familiar. You walk in, close the door behind you, and notice something heavy and old on the desk by your bed.
It’s a bible.
You haven’t touched one in ages. Not in ages. Not in years upon years upon years. You want nothing to do with it. Something starts to fester in you and you tear off the cover. That ugly, ugly cover with that ugly, ugly cross.
To Lana, from your loving Daddy.
No, no, no, no. How? How did this happen? It’s all wrong. It’s all so wrong. But don’t scream, Lana. Don’t you dare scream. If you scream, they’ll lock you up again. They’ll force you into the jacket again. The Jacket. The Jacket, the white, tight jacket, that strangles your waspy body. No, no, no. Don’t scream. Don’t—
Damien. It’s Damien. You know it’s Damien. You can hear his voice. Oh, such a beautiful voice—so effortlessly warm, a smile in itself, but it hurts. It hurts to feel the warmth inside your heart and feeling back into your stale, glass veins.
“You’re not real. The Doctor said you’re not real.”
You’re not real.
Lana remembers lying with him in bed—innocently, innocently. He told her about his dream to work with hurt women. He said his daddy hurt his mommy a lot, and he wanted to learn a way to help people like his mommy. Lana would then just hold his hand and listen. She never talked about much of anything, because she never knew much of anything. She talked sometimes about banshees and razors, and then Damien held her and dried her tears. Damien never touched her like men touch women. Damien knew better than to try. He loved her. Loves. Loved. Loves.
Lana, the poor, fragile thing. Damien hadn’t found her dying in that memory.
“I am real, Lana. Don’t you remember me?”
“No,” You liar. You liar, you remember him. You remember him so well. You remember every cut he bandaged and every tear he brushed away so gently, as though your tears were dew on gossamer grass. “I don’t remember you at all.”
You whip around, jerk your body so hard and quick, it hurts; but you don’t see him. You don’t see him anywhere. You know you’re right. No, no, the doctor. You know the doctor’s right. The doctor’s right.
“Lana, let me in.”
You gather up that disgusting book and shove it in a drawer. You never told Damien. He knew, but you never told Damien.
“No. No, no, no. No. I’m hallucinating. It’s all hallucinations. You’re not real. You aren’t real.”
“Open the door.”
With a shaking hand, you struggle with the knob and turn it, pressed against the door with a heaving chest and labored breath you’re trying to keep shallow.
It’s not Damien. It’s not a nurse. It’s not another patient. It’s a shadow. It’s a dark shadow. It’s the ghost of Damien. It’s the ghost of the man you made to make yourself someone worth loving. It’s the man you made to put the pieces of the puzzle together. It’s the man you made to keep your sanity but lost all your sanity to make him.
No. No. NO. Stop screaming, Lana. Stop screaming. You get up off the floor right now, and stop tugging at your hair. Stop pulling at your hair, Lana. They don’t like you doing that. They don’t like you pulling at your hair, Lana.
But you’re not real, and you never were.
It was a dull rain on a tired Wednesday afternoon that guided Lana to the man. He was sitting at an uncovered bus stop in the drizzle, as if waiting for something or waiting for someone or waiting for her or waiting, (the buses didn’t run on Sundays). Just waiting. Lana shifted passed him, uncomfortable and quick with a carton of eggs to bring home from the neighborhood deli.
“Hey. Hey, you.”
She kept on walking, until he stood and started walking towards her; then she froze. What should she do? What could she do? Lana, so frail. And he was tall. He was slim but tall, (but not as tall as Daddy). He had a warm voice, a very warm voice, not like Daddy’s stern and bellowing voice.
“You look like you’re crying.”
Lana, you weak, filthy, frail girl. You’re in the Jacket now. See? You’re in the Jacket. You’ll be put back in that shocking machine or in that padded room, and no doubt you’ll be forced to go to sleep. You stupid, stupid girl. You stupid, stupid, stupid girl. You can’t tell one reality from the next. You can’t tell your reality from theirs, and above all, you can’t stop blinking. It’s a war against those walls, Lana.
Don’t blink and maybe, maybe you’ll remember.
tagged as: of suicidal storytellers. prose. horror. fiction.
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