Mercurian Apes

by Jason Stoval

What was it that she hoped to affect – in this dreamlike afterthought of a life? Nothing with meaning crossed her consciousness beyond the burn and flutter of painful imagery. Randy. Tony. Dad. Craig. The neighbor. Mom. Fucking asshole. Daniel. The babysitter’s son. Ernesto. Friend of Dad’s. By now the flicker was fraying and familiar, while still hot to the touch, bitter, relentless. Part of the sublimated rage was steeped into an infusion of anguish, regret, shame; but the remainder marched on, pressing for the prophecy.

Her hair, in graying ringlets, swept aside to draw on a GPC.

This devotion to destruction, the incessant desire to smother the fire and be free of the torment was offset by lifelong and immutable visions of herself; ugly, stupid, slutty, worthless, victimized, misunderstood, angry. So fucking angry. So fucking angry. Kill the bitch. Let the neighbor’s dog lick my pussy – I’m ten years old – what the fuck do I know? It feels good. I feel powerful, I feel sexy. Connected to something. Thrilling. Maybe I never felt someone or something yearning to touch me, to make me feel good. That’s it, Sarge, lick it. Lick it.

“Another one, Maddy?” Todd leaned back against the shelf, half considering her while glancing up to the corner. MacGyver had saved the day again, and now Gene Hackman’s signature gravelly baritone was extolling the virtues of a sleek but unremarkable vehicle. She nodded, no eye contact, puffed again.

Warming to the notion of Jack Daniels and Coke soon to pour through her; she – a giant filter of hate and pain – loosened the straps of her mind and felt a sharp rush of air in her nostrils.

“This was a wooded area used by the killer or killers to dispose of the victims’ bodies. Whereas the location is densely overgrown, with miles of trails and multiple access points near major highways, generating a sense regarding the killer’s approach has been difficult. Likewise, its proximity to urban areas reduces the likelihood of a sighting or witness account that points to a specific individual or vehicle. At this time, we are investigating many leads and are questioning a number of suspects.”

“And your mother didn’t find it strange that you, an eleven-year-old child, had a boyfriend?”

“She didn’t know.” A sigh.

I crossed my leg. “This wasn’t exactly your textbook schoolyard romance, Nikki. This was a relationship between an eleven-year-old child and a twenty-three-year-old man.”

“I know it’s fucked up,” she began to fume. “I knew then.”

“No one’s judging you- I’m just curious how any parent could not know that their primary-school aged daughter was ‘dating’ a 23-year-old man.”

“I snuck out.”

“And your mother never knew?”

A shrug. “Maybe. Probably – I don’t fucking know.”

“So you snuck out at night.” I put a crease in the napkin. “But where does an 11-year-old child meet a 23-year-old man? And how do they begin having a... relationship?”

Her eyes locked onto mine. “I don’t want to talk about this any more. It’s boring the shit out of me and pissing me off.”

I nodded, looked down, took a sip.

Maddy awoke, a strangled dream gasping in her mind’s eye; forgotten within seconds. It was a vamp on the theme that had played out a thousand times in her dreams: being attacked by cats- dozens of them, an endless stream. There was pain, and some fear, but the lion’s share of the emotion and action of the dream was captured in her response – pulling the cats from her, one at a time, and crushing their faces, or snapping their spines, or dislocating their skulls. She maimed and killed the cats that leapt on her, hung from her limbs with spiny teeth and smooth claws. There was blood everywhere – hers, the cats’ – and no end in sight to this strange assault. She rarely remembered having the dream any more, though in her childhood it had shaken her somewhat. It wasn’t what she’d call a nightmare, however.

What if the entire system of veins and arteries that holds our blood were to be instead filled with words? And when you cut yourself, you lost words – the ones that told the story of your life; little memories and formative events and opinions and dreams? And the more you bled, the less of yourself you were? Certainly if you got patched up, you could heal – produce new words, but whatever you lost was just gone - forever. And if you needed a transfusion, you would inherit parts of someone else’s history – could be anybody’s – and there was no going back and there was no sense that these things were not your life, as well. And if you were to make someone bleed – really bleed – and their blood ran out, you could read their whole life as you pieced it together from the pools and trails they left behind as they crawled in some vain attempt to survive; an instinctual response to put distance between themselves and danger. Then there would be no secrets.

He felt something being wrenched from him; like a kindergartener clutching a toy dumptruck as a nearsighted teacher wrestles it away – a brief struggle that merely underscored his powerlessness, an intense sense of loss, a humiliation that left a lasting impression on his confidence. But unlike the prized Tonka, he knew not what was taken away, who was responsible for its disappearance, nor why it was necessary to rob him of whatever it might be. All he understood was the naked, helpless feeling that overcame him when he sat for too long; when there were long pauses in conversation; entering a room or an elevator; when laughter subsided. If he made a mistake, he sensed the loss as if it were a severed limb – the ghosting of a missing appendage must feel the same. If he made no mistake - couldn’t conjure the reason he began to feel the things he felt - he was almost assured that something had gone amiss, that he was without merit and his ability to understand the events leading up to the present moment was somehow impaired or limited, and only by accepting the fact that he was deficient – somehow flawed – could help him to make sense of how he became enveloped in self-doubt, self-loathing.

“What’s your name?” the boy was lean, tall for his age, hadn’t yet grown into his teeth or elbows.

“Dianna” Maddy said offhandedly. “Are you getting in?” Traffic continued to snake around her car, stopped in the turn lane at Bonaire and 77th. Scarcely a moment passed, and Luke opened the door, sat down. Maddy pulled onto 77th, lighting a cigarette.

“Want one?” She offered in a cavalier way, seeming to accept that he was a grown man. It made him feel good. He rarely smoked; usually when Uncle Ronny slyly offered him a Camel in conspiratorial tones. This was no such condescension; this woman was offering because she saw him as a person, an equal. He didn’t feel 14, he felt… like a college kid, like Tomas and Scottie. If they could see him now.

“You in school?”

“I guess so.” He puffed amateurishly.

“Got a girlfriend?” The woman let her aging, almond eyes settle on him a bit. He felt a strange tingle in his lower back, his liver, his groin.

“Just bitches” he smiled. “I don’t need no fuckin’ girlfriend tyin’ my ass down.”

Maddy smiled back. “No,” she raised an eyebrow. “You don’t need to be tied down.”

“The first victim was discovered on October 2nd, and was identified nine days later as Andrew Sandoval. Victim was a white male, aged 15, five feet nine inches tall, weighing approximately 140 pounds. Traces of paracetemol and alcohol indicate the possibility of extreme sedation, likely administered by the killer. Sandoval’s remains were uncovered from beneath a mattress sixty-five feet from the shoulder of State Highway 9, mile marker 34. It is believed he was killed three weeks earlier, in an unknown location. Victim’s left ear had been severed and was not recovered. Multiple lacerations across the buttocks and legs point to repeated beating or whipping with a thin instrument. Bruises and other wounds indicate Sandoval was restrained in some manner. Body appears to have been scrubbed vigorously with a coarse fiber and is stained by household bleach. Victim’s genitals were removed, likely while still alive. The mutilated organs were then inserted into the anus.”

I sat motionless on the stairs. I had only descended one flight from Nikki’s floor, just flopped down on the step, unable to proceed. I was drained to the core. This was nothing new. In fact, it was the tiredness of the whole thing that drained me – not so much the sordid details. There was a place inside me, perhaps in my heart or brain- a small, overlooked room where I kept the hope, where there was stored a pleasant surprise to grant myself when I encountered a woman who hadn’t been raped, or molested, or sexually tortured, or beaten, and had no issues with her father. This woman would have no substance abuse problems, no addiction history, no social malice. She could smile and this smile would be sincere, genuine, and appear natural on her countenance. I was certain that these women existed. I had heard tales of them, and sworn I had seen them more than a few times out in the world. Perhaps they were even commonplace. After peeking into this tiny room, I closed the door. I would never know one of these women. Ever.

Hours after sunset, Maddy sliced at an even pace through the west-side traffic. She had expected rain. There was a drying smear of blood above her left eye, and as she caught sight of it in the rearview, a smile drifted across her face and remained for a moment; the dream taking shape. This was the golden time, the only true connection. Early on, she had thought that the killing would be the ultimate exhilaration - but there were variables, volatile and exciting to be sure – incomparable – but variables required decisions, however instantaneous. These efforts consumed her, enveloped her very being. That was the power transaction. But the golden time was afterward; the movie playing in her head, the perfect exercise, the purest of the pure. The arousal of it all triggered vaginal fluid to begin pulsing, her temperature rose, teeth pressed together. She gripped the wheel, a tiny giggle escaped as the car crawled onto Highway 9. Left hand working its way into her pants, she squinted, recalling the picture.

Families ought to be made up of four members, no matter what. A strong, kindly Father, a generous, warm Mother, a rambunctious but lovable Boy and a sensitive, beautiful Girl. At any time, the family members should know where the others are and what they are doing. The family should exist in love and support and happiness. The parents would kiss each other and buy presents for the children. The children would play and laugh and learn good manners and work hard in school.

He waited for that dull pounding behind his left eye to begin. Nothing was so excruciating – nothing he could recall. And so he was locked in dread; the moment prolonged into hours or days if need be. The thunder in his head, entrained with his pulse, blinding him. He could remember when the headaches started – three days after she left him; her words echoing for two sleepless nights until they transformed into a booming symphony of agonizing throbs positioned just to the rear of his eyeball. Pain would run like warm molasses through the midsection of his skull and down the nape of his neck over the next hours until a pulsating ache lay claim to his entire brain. Waiting for the headaches was almost as bad as the headaches themselves; it was all waiting. In these seemingly endless moments, he was uncertain that he would ever emerge from the pain, or from what the pain represented.

The muted sound of a vacuum cleaner, making routine paths across the floor above, woke her slowly from the purest sleep she could expect. The day after. It was slipping into that sleep, deeply intoxicated from the rush of its recent memory, the power of sexual conquest, and the standard overdose of bourbon – this was as close as she would come to peace inside herself. Maddy turned over, instinctively reaching for her cigarettes as she scanned the room. Somewhere would be a clue, there was always a clue: something tiny, like butts from another brand of cigarettes in the ashtray – something humorous, like a note or a forgotten piece of clothing – something obvious, like the man himself, still slumbering beside her.

She considered getting out of bed and dressing, but no, this was her time. Not terribly unattractive, she thought, peering at the stranger only half-wrapped in the graying bedsheet. Probably 35, a little overweight, balding. Definitely a jock in high school, she surmised, and could see why she had chosen him last night, though she had no distinct memory of it. She kicked the sleeping man in the hip.

“Go get me some coffee” she snapped, tugging on her cigarette and searching for the remote on the floor beside the bed.