My baby sits there on the bed pulling on her thin, white cigarette. In a post-coital daze she sighs, her chest wet with sweat from our love and the wet-hot southern night. She loves the sound of the light summer rain as it beats against the parking lot pavement outside, mists rise up from the black wherever the small beads of moisture strike down. She sits in silence, thin Shirley Temple ringlets of smoke rising upwards into the sultry night air.
She gazes wearily at the blood red roses and fingers the hair falling around her shoulders in strangled ebony curls. Orange artificial light pours on her through the window, illuminating the cherry wood rosary resting neatly between her supple breasts. I light a cigarette as I watch her thumb the ashes haphazardly into the ashtray, full, sitting so precariously close to the edge of the bedside table. Little pinhole burns scatter across our sheets like constellations. The ashtray was a wedding gift, just like the sheets. Mementos to our love, just like the ring that once sat on her finger.
I look out the window to the area below our second floor apartment. My white stomach and chest must look ridiculous from down below, sickly in the butterscotch streetlamp light. The breeze feels good on my bare chest and that’s when I notice her. Like a fixture of the night, she stares at me from below. Her white knee-length dress fluttering unnaturally against the rain as she continues to stare. I turn and then look back and she’s gone.
I wake up to the sound of my baby shuffling cards. She’s an experienced tarot reader but has had me pick out just three cards every day since we were wed. The hermit, reversed; five of wands, upright; the tower, upright; I just mutter and toss them back to the table, she says nothing at all. The coffee’s on but I feel too hot to drink it. My bluetick nuzzles my hand looking for a scratch behind the ear. I sigh and the click of a lighter signals more smoke, more death. She doesn’t say anything; those pale lips just suck listlessly. I fear to leave home, I fear to go to my job. I fear those lips of hers will be momentarily another’s. Those lungs of hers will inhale another. Those legs of hers, thin and strong, will wrap themselves joyously against another’s back, around another’s hips.Those things she saved for me she will give away to another. She never says anything to me anymore, those long thin spidery fingers lifting that cigarette to and from her lips.
The ride over to my mediocre mailroom job is nothing special, the cypress grove dances beneath the light hot breeze. There’s a young lady with sallow face in a white dress, gripping beneath the shadow of the cypress, ankles surrounded on all sides by the nettle, rubbing a gentle caustic plea for attention. The world around the highway is alight with the fiery noise of a million horny cicadas screaming beneath the summer sun for some coochie before they die forever.
Eight hours crawl by and I’m all alone by the time I get home. My baby and the talisman tucked between her breasts are gone. There’s a half eaten plate of eggs and a deck of tarot on the kitchen table. My dog whines and touches my hand. It’s that uneasy late summer time sunset with the fireflies blinking on and off like faulty wiring. The street lamps with that hard candy glow cast a shadow at the edge of a little patch of trees. Tall magnolia in bloom, their scent as thick as sweet tea, the smell like something you’d use at a funeral to cover the stench of embalming fluid. The dog squats and starts to shit, huffing at passersby. There she is again, a young lady in white, staring at me. She’s fair, a little girl in her early teens with pallid features and hollow unblinking eyes. I pick up my dog’s shit. I look back up and she’s gone once more. The door to my apartment is slightly open; the ceiling fan is bucking from the effort of trying to keep the place cool.
My baby is at the table with her uneaten eggs, with her deck of tarot and a pack of clove cigarettes, which taste about how the magnolias smell. Sickly sweet. She is a dream of a dream. To me she is a stranger in that wet air, bathing in the black summer heat, sweat dancing a tango in a beam of bedroom light. It’s like I’m staring at someone else’s life, someone else’s wife, through a thin pane of glass. The pane is just thick enough that I can’t feel the heat that makes her sweat dance, I can’t feel the love that once quaked her goose bumped flesh. The bluetick howls and I turn outwards and see through the window a flutter of thin white fabric on my second story porch. I push and the door squeals and opens, revealing nothing on the porch but a bag of trash, an empty medical bottle and a half smoked pack of cigarettes. It’s slow desolation, I can feel sallow, insectile eyes on my back and in my head I hear the the gentle clicking of a round chambering.
My brain feels rattled, shaken, unhinged. Stressed. My tower is falling. The rubble and the people that I held captive in there spilling out like soda pop, cast against the cold hard ground. The rains are back, beating now harder than ever before against the roof like the sound of a firing squad, like the sound of sixteen hooves foreshadowing the apocalypse. A promise of oblivion. And then she touches my arm. Light as a grave flower she touches my arm. Her paper-thin arms wrap around my shoulders, her nails play a xylophone tune on my ribs. There’s a young lady below my window, untouched by rain, her grave sick face staring up, those waxy cheeks uplifted towards the sounds of our sex, to the sounds of my sex. Even with myself enveloped in her sweet insides I feel so alone. She makes no sounds. She barely moves, her arms wrapped coolly round my neck. Her passion is indifference. The face of the pale girl waits solemnly outside my window as I thrust and thrust, my warm essence exploding into my baby like a slug from a .45. She neither feels nor loves as she used to, she’s cold.
My baby loves the cypress groves.
My baby loves the Holy Ghost; my baby loves moonshine and fine tobacco.
She loves blood red roses and white December snow.
But I’m afraid that my baby don’t love me no more.
Those blood red roses on the nightstand crack under their own weight, the moisture long gone from them. Sick smooth ringlets of silver grey float upwards as I drag from my baby’s clove cigarettes. I hear laughter against the beating tattoo of the rainfall; I feel my heartbeat in my throat. The little white dress that she used to wear, she’d get the edges wet in the creek when she’d wade out there never far enough to submerge. I remember a smile and a laugh on a face framed with sweet smooth ebony curls. I sleep dreaming a dream of her. I see the girl in the white dress, haunting me, humming deeply that requiem for our love, filling my aching heart with dread.
I can hear the timbre of that requiem humming back at me through the walls, the studs are amplifiers, embedded like nails into the framing it makes the air wet with sound. I can hear the memory of her young laughter and see that little pallid face staring at me with the tranquilized glow of death, her movements sound like the screaming of the cicadas. That sweet smell of clove cigarettes and magnolias fills my nostrils. The little girl in the white dress is screaming, her pretty little mouth opening wider and wider, yet she emits no sound. It seems like the door frame around her bends with the force of her will to scream, to make a sound other than that of red-eyed insects fucking and dying. I don’t understand why the neighbors don’t bang on my door because of the noise. I don’t understand why the building doesn’t topple around us. Burying me and baby and the girl in the white dress beneath tower rubble.
I wake up to my ears ringing and the dog howling. He’s standing at the door howling, it’s 11:00 and I haven’t taken him out. It’s 11:00 and I’m three hours late for work. I don’t think I’ll even show up today. If I’m lucky I’ll be fired. I feel isolated, I feel so alone. Baby doesn’t talk to me anymore; she just shuffles her deck of cards and smokes and sips bitter black coffee. I’m so hungry I feel like throwing up, but I have no appetite beyond that bitter black brew. I can feel that frigid stare burning holes in my neck. The girl in the white dress haunts me, she’s even in my dreams. Like a parasite I can feel her sucking away my sanity, my health. I reach over the table and pull a card off the top of the deck. 5 of Wands, upright. Struggle, challenge, strife.
Out of the corner of my eye I can see the bottom of her dress, saturated cotton dripping slowly with water. Her bare feet are covered in grime and I can smell magnolias. I turn to look at my baby but she’s gone, all that’s left is a half smoked cigarette, smoke clouding above it angry from its abandonment. The girl in the white dress steps around the garbage slowly rising on the porch and I hear the latch of the door. I rush to shut the ghoul out but it’s too late. A small foot covered in muck reaches into my home. Her fingers, long and thin wrap around the door, I’m sure that once they were dainty and beautiful, but they are no more. I trip over myself and I fall to the ground and the girl in the white dress steps inside.
She’s pale; her pallid face sinks in at her high cheekbones and around her eyes. About her she has the anemic stink of the grave, her eyes are empty, blackness reaching back and connecting with the gore that is the back of her head. She opens her mouth into a scream but all that escapes is the manic singing of the cicadas. She steps forward a heavy sodden step as if she’d forgotten momentarily how to walk. Her shoulders twitch involuntarily and she touches me. Her long thin fingers touch my chest, gently at first, like a lover. Fingering slowly like the first time you cum. Then harder. Pressing deeply into my chest, our marrow conversing. Harder still, my flesh opens and undulates, festering and welcoming her touch. She reaches into my chest and squeezes my heart in the palm of her sallow hands and pulls on it, the sinews and arteries straining elastically against her touch.
My body screaming painful orgasmic denial, I try to move backwards but my arms won’t budge to let me crawl away. I sit there, her body and mine intermingling, pain rushing from my chest, and then I hear it: slowly at first, a tearing sound. A requiem of insects and flesh. The fleshy tearing of a vital piece of myself being ripped out of my body. Then it is over and she’s gone. She’s gone with my heart and I know it. My chest around where she violated me is fresh and pink and swollen. It pulses, in and out, deeper than it should have, as if my skin were trying to figure out why there was an emptiness where once my heart had been. Somehow I breathe, I move but I know it is all over. She was my punishment. The little ghost girl, once beautiful but no more. My tower is rubble.
I get up and limp to the bedroom where my baby lies. The swollen flesh on my chest bubbling and transforming, blistering and swelling. I lie down next to my baby, her face is pallid and the flesh on her once beautiful fingers is rotting away. The magnolias don’t really cover up the smell all that well anymore. What did she expect? What could anyone expect? I caught that woman cheating, so I put the barrel of my gun in her mouth. I had to. Now she just lies there, in the position I sat her in, and I can’t pretend anymore. I can’t pretend that she still smokes her cigarettes like she used to, that she fingers that rosary on her chest the way that she used to. I can’t pretend those tarot cards are anything but a lifeless deck. She’s come back for me. I killed her and she’s come back. This is the second time she’s ripped the heart out of my chest.
I pull the .45 out of the nightstand, the smooth nickel plating on the barrel shiny with spittle as I put the steel coolly resting on my teeth. I click back the hammer, the vibrations tickling my nerves. I click back the hammer and I can hear the scuttling of wings and I can see in the doorway cicadas crawling out of two empty eye sockets. I feel cold and alone, their insect requiem is deafening and she just watches as I pull the trigger. Bang.
Written by Noothgrush