It's four a.m. I'm riding the subway. I'm drunk. There are three people in my car. I'm watching them. Particularly, I watch the man in the leather overcoat. I watch that man because he carries a heavy gym bag. I watch that man because he has silver eyes. I watch that man because he is watching me.
"Midnight Meat Train," she says, lighting a candle. "Midnight what?" "Midnight Meat Train." She pours more wine into my glass. "It's a horror story." I drink. "Sounds more like a porno." "Very funny." She sets the bottle on the nightstand. "I want to read it to you." "You do?" She inches closer. "Yes, I do." "Why?" She smiles. She skates the tip of her index finger in figure eights down my neck and onto my chest. "So on the subway home tonight, you'll think about it." I drink and after a moment say, "Tonight? You aren't asking me to stay?" She pauses, slides away, and pulls the sheet over her head. The candlelight makes a dark outline of her body. "You've never stayed once. Not one time. Even if I beg, and I'm tired of begging." Her voice bounces all around me. For a moment I feel cold. I crawl above her, pulling at the sheet, trying not to spill my wine. I choose laughter. "Not even a little? I like it when you beg." Her face is pressed taut against the fabric and I watch her lips shape words beneath it. Her voice drifts up to me like black smoke, stinging my eyes, choking me. "No, I'm not asking you to stay ever again." I let the cover go. I try to stare through the sheet and into her mind. Eventually she drags the cover away from her face and looks up at me. "If you stay, it has to be your decision." I take a big swallow of wine. I take another. Her lips tighten. She is waiting. I turn my head toward the window. "I can smell pizza from that place across the street. You hungry?" There is silence. She reaches around my knee and takes the bottle from the nightstand. She tugs the glass from my fingers, tops it up, and pushes it back to me. I look down into her eyes. I should explain. I should apologize. But I say, "Why the hell would you want me to think about some horror story?" Her eyes close for a moment and then open slowly. She smiles.
The man in the overcoat uses every second slowly, murdering me with his eyes, his expert butcher-knife eyes. I feel naked except for the wine on my breath. I'm forty-five minutes from home. The train is slow and old and scrapes through the dark tunnels on its hands and knees. I should move to another car. I should get off at the next stop and escape to the surface of the city. I don't move. I can't. His eyes magnetize me. I feel naked. I need a slice of pizza. The train stumbles and stumbles and stumbles. I start to shake. Between two ceaseless motions I am epileptic. I need a slice of pizza.
She sets the book carefully on the side of the bed. "What do you think?" With my big toe, I push the book until it falls onto the floor. "It's the most repulsive story I've ever heard." "Don't you believe it could be true?" "Some guy cutting up people on the subway... to feed his deformed children that live under the city?" I gulp down the rest of the wine. "It's fucking ridiculous." "Does it bother you?" I take a long purple crystal from a basket on the nightstand. "What do you keep these rocks for?" "They're crystals. They channel power from the earth. You didn't answer my question." I hold the crystal up to the candle and follow a reflection along its geometry. "You don't believe that bullshit, do you?" She leans close to my face and says nothing for a moment. I turn my head and look at her. It's like staring into arc welding. Her face is a river of current and sparks. Her voice burns quietly into me. "It bothers you, doesn't it?" I try to study the rock, but I can't break focus from her radiation. She has me and she knows it. She pushes her hot gaze inside me. The momentary fusion slows time and for a second my body pulses and tingles. "What bothers me?" "There are things you don't understand, things you can't control." She gently reaches and takes my hand. She closes it around the crystal. She smiles.
There is perspiration around my collar. It feels like the train stops every ten feet. I'm comatose drunk. I feel at the edge of spinning and my vision begins to tumble. I want to close my eyes, but the subway butcher is watching me with eyes like boiling mercury, waiting, his hands on the glowing zipper of his bag. Two cheese slices with fresh oregano and parmesian. Why couldn't I stay with her? My eyes are changing to heavy puddles of lead. Why am I on this Midnight Meat Train? Why did she do this to me?
She dresses me by the front door. We are quiet. There is a comfort to this ritual, a childlike comfort I desperately need. My fingers are alcohol-blunt and I can't manage my shoelaces. She patiently ties them while I stare down at her. A pink light, spilling through the curtains, exposes the naked length of her back. I follow the light with my eyes. A single thought erodes through the gossamer layers of wine. She gives and I take. She gives and gives and I take. She rises and adjusts my jacket. With each careful tug on the fabric, I feel her need. I should stay. I know I should stay, but my hand touches the door knob. I feel a snap of static electricity, a realization, and the fading sting of both. Her scheme didn't work. I didn't pass out. I've drunk like a champion and I'm standing, ready to walk out the door. This is when she begs. This is when she begs and I kiss her softly on the forehead. This is when I say I'll call, and walk out into the night. "Wait..." she says. She's going to beg. She'll beg and I'll know everything is not changing. I am relieved. We will complete the ritual. "...You forgot your tie." She hurries to the bedroom. Her voice is like chloroform. I am sensationless, anesthetized. I am hollow. She puts the tie in my jacket pocket. She straightens the clasp of my belt. She smiles. She softly kisses my forehead. "I'll call you," she says. Suddenly, I'm outside in the night.
I'm King of Pizzaland. I'm oily and fat. She's my Anorexic Queen, feeding me each bite, never taking one for herself until I remember to nod at her. But I don't nod, I eat. That's my job as Pizza King: to eat, to gorge myself, to become a round planet while everyone around me starves. Somewhere far in the distance, on the opaque fringe of this dream, I feel a scratching -- a faint sound of a heel scraping the ground. It begins to move closer, echoing louder with each step. Then I feel him. He's coming for me. A thin windshield explodes into my face, a subconscious detonation. Abruptly I wake. Every cell in my body oscillates and collides. It's not a dream, I feel him coming. A dim, pale light trembles above me. I feel him. He emerges from blackness in the back of the car. The trembling light strobes his movement. All I see is the bag, swinging like a pendulum at his side, and his silver eyes. In my mind, I see the husk of my body hanging upside down from a meat hook. I look at the other passengers for help, but they ignore me. Then everything stops. I am too numb, too fucking drunk to move. He is standing over me. I can't take my eyes off the bag. "You were sleeping. That isn't very smart." His voice is a cold, thick fog that envelopes me. "You were staring at me. You know who I am, don't you?" I can't answer. He crouches down. We are face to face. His sliver eyes are dissecting me. He whispers, "You know what I do, don't you?" I nod slightly. "I'm flattered. Not too many people recognize me. I'm usually finished before anyone notices I was there." I feel dizzy. I mumble, "Why me?" "It's my gift, you understand, to show how people look on the inside. I'd say right now you're pretty much inside-out. It won't take long." I understand. I understand I'm getting exactly what I deserve. He unzips the bag. I squeeze my eyes shut. I hear him take something from the bag. I wait. "Open your eyes -- just for a second. Open your eyes." My eyes fall open. I am blinded by a flash, and then another. After a few seconds he presses something into my hand. "This time it's free, because you knew me, but next time it'll cost you. I'm getting famous, you know." My eyes adjust and he stuffs the object back in his bag. "I always keep one. I figure you owe it to me. Hell, you never know, someday you just might buy it back." He stands just as the train stops. The doors slide open and he steps onto the platform. The doors close. He is gone. I look down at my hand. It's a Polaroid. As the image solidifies I see my face, but I don't recognize myself. I see a man drowning in fear. A man with desperate, lost eyes. A man who is still a child.
At the surface I find a phone booth. My hands feel like paws as I search my body for change. I bat my jacket pocket, feeling the shape of my tie when I hear the clink and hiss of metal. I claw my tie out and coins tumble in a streak onto the ground. The tie unravels like a snake in my hand, and wrapped in the center of its coils is the long purple crystal. I stand with my forehead against the glass for ten minutes before I dial her number. I can feel a train pass beneath the street. It feels like an earthquake and I am the epicenter. I have a hard time holding the receiver to my ear. It rings six times and she answers. Her voice is quiet and soggy from sleep. "Hello?" I don't speak, but grip the crystal until it bites into my hand. "Hello?" For some reason I am sobbing. "Who is this?" "I think I love you," I say. She is silent, but her silence is warm
Epicenter was first published in InterText: volume 3, Number 3 and in Shades Magazine.
Cold speech. It orders you to freeze, makes your mind thicken and ice. Somewhere in your frozen brain, you hear. You do not listen, listening is voluntary. You hear. "I'm not going to marry you," She says. Blood is squeezing between your fingers. "You broke my nose." She stands over you, her hand is still a knotted fist, "I never loved you." You struggle onto your knees. She steps away. "You're bleeding." "Well, aren't you a Goddamn genius," You say. Your eyes are sharp and wet, cutting against hers. "Do you think you might get me ice and some paper towels?" She walks toward the kitchen. You watch a ribbon of blood roll across the back of your hand and drip to the floor.
She flexes her fingers and turns. "It's not going to happen. I can't live with you anymore." You don't answer, but your eyes swell, and you can feel, tender circles forming beneath them. "Would you mind getting me some ice." She grinds her heels and stamps into the kitchen. After a few seconds you call, "It's a little late to do this!" She walks back, smiling. "The ice maker is broken." You take the paper towels. You look at the clock and then her, "We're late." She picks up her suitcase, "I'm not going to marry you." She kisses you on the forehead, and leaves.
You are lying on the couch. Its wide buttons stab into your back. A diamond ring is sealed in your fist. It feels as if you are buried under a glacier. The front door opens, sounding like the unsealing of a casket. A shadow forms on the wall and marches toward you. It is she. "Some men will be by tomorrow to move my freezers." You cannot answer.
"I'm having a show in a week. Go, if you can find an invitation." You hear the hollow sound your key makes as it bounces on the hardwood floor. Her shadow diminishes and in your mind a new image replaces it. It's you at her show, frozen and misty, like one of her Goddamn statues. You should have never fallen in love with a woman that carves ice.
You are standing next to a light post in a Sam Goody parking lot. Everything is covered with an untouched chalky ice layer. There are no tire marks, no footprints. You are looking for something. You are urgent. The parking lot is deserted, which is strange because anyway you turn parked cars stretch for miles. You are dressed in a black suit, with a black shirt, and a black tie. The clothes make your skin look yellow. You start walking, not frantic at first. You see something under the back end of a car. You approach and bend to your knees. It is a baby, naked and frozen on top of a small block of ice. Blue veins rise like spider webs all over its body. You wonder why someone would abandon a baby here. You walk again, the cold numbing your body. After a few seconds you see another shape beneath the back end of a car. It is a baby coiled in fetal position. It is frozen and red. Each part of its body shaped like twisting intestine. You start running and soon see a shape beneath a car. It is a baby. Black, burnt and frozen. You bend over to look at it. Its eyes are white and they follow you. The face is smiling. You scramble up and into a wild run. Underneath all the cars you see babies on blocks of ice. The cars never end.
When the men arrive, you are still unable to free your body from the couch. The sounds of them moving the large freezers is welcome. Now, possibly, you will start to unthaw.
It is the fifth day when you crawl from the couch and scrape your way into the kitchen. The dial on the stove is greasy with her finger prints, you pry the stove's mouth open with your fingernails and implant your head into its' belly. After a few seconds particles begin swirling in your mind, but still you do not thaw. You burn the back of your neck removing your head and injure your toes kicking the door shut. "Goddamn, fucking electric ovens!" You smash your fist into a burner, insanely wishing for a man sized microwave. Then you drop the ring into the garbage disposal and listen to the blades clicking, trying to tear the diamond from its socket.
You are peeved not to find your gun where you left it. Instead, in the holster, you find a note. Roger, Don't let the bitch hold your heart for ransom. She told me she was going to do this to you, so I took the privilege of borrowing your that old Army 45. I also called in another week's vacation for you. Show up a week from Monday. I'll try to visit, but we've got an early trial date on the Bogden case, so things are pretty tight. It's your case, you should be here, but fuck what's life without a little personal misery, huh? Oh, and by the way Rod, don't be an asshole, die in line of duty, let an escaped con kill you, or something. At least that's "respectable". I told you she was Absolute Zero. In all due humor, your pal, and partner, Respectable, respect, respite, and after a period of hours, you know he is right.
When you are unable to remove your face from a pool of vomit, you realize that drinking is not a satisfactory solution. This reminds you of the first time you met the Ice Queen.
She stumbled into the men's bathroom at the Nova Club, heaved into the urinal you were using, and passed out at your feet. After cleaning off your shoes, you had lifted her into your arms and carried her three blocks to your apartment. You remember undressing her and noticing, how her candent skin shivered as you touched it. You remember lowering her into your bed, wondering how a woman so beautiful could get so fucked up. Then you had traipsed with a blanket to the couch, finding Towers already camped there, so you slept next to her with your clothes on. You had hoped she would understand that you hadn't used her while she was unconscious and that you were, "respectable." Though you did have the desire to cut off, and keep, her shimmering blonde hair. In the morning you made breakfast for Towers and the girl. English muffins, bacon, and a sloppy attempt at French toast. Towers ate in front of The Teletubbies, while you sat on the edge of your bed waiting for her to wake. You watched her eyelids trace the last sketch of a dream and wondered who it was about, and why you care. You wondered why you even bothered with breakfast, you wondered why you brought her home in the first place, and after a few minutes you realized that you needed to sleep with this woman, to touch her, to be touched.
Later when she woke, you served her coffee and breakfast in bed. To your amazement she had a minimal hang-over. More to your amazement she actually ate and appreciated your cooking. She didn't seem surprised to be in a strange man's apartment, in fact she seemed to fit there better than you. You remember the heat in her eyes as you told her about Plamegate, "the inside story". You told her about the case you and Towers were working on. When you opened the closet and showed her your nine blue suits, she laughed and asked you about dry cleaning bills. You told her that you had to leave. You gave her a key to lock up with, under the pretense that she would meet you for dinner at Gino`s and return it. As you and Towers left you realized that you didn't know her name. You realized that all you had talked about was yourself. You realized that she didn't seem to mind.
On Saturday afternoon, after the whales have stopped singing in your head, you call Towers. He tells you Davison, who was your replacement, botched the out of court settlement. Marlowe recounts the incident with detail. This cheers you substantially. He asks about your week. You demand that he return your gun. Towers laughs the in the "I told you so, dumbshit," mode. You ask him if he was invited to the ice show. "She invited me." You can hear Towers drum his fingers on a countertop. You swallow. "Can I have your invitation?" "What's inside your lightbulb?" You close your eyes. "What do you mean?" "What do you think I mean?" Towers demands, drumming louder. You squirm, "Nothing." He drums faster. "Nothing what?" "No, I'm not going to maim, mangle, or mutilate, the fucking frigid whore!" You throw the receiver against the wall. Approximately forty-five seconds later you pick it up. "Are you sure about that?" "I'm sorry." Your mind compresses and you begin to cry. Towers sighs, "Jesus. You need a drink." "I already tried that." He breathes deep, "I think we're in some serious shit here. Do you love her?" "Yes." Towers is drumming again. "Judas...uh, have you accepted the reality that she doesn't care about you?" "Yes." He laughs and slaps his hand against the countertop. "Then what the fuck is the problem here, counselor? God, you sensitive geeks drive me up the wall." "Did I tell you she punched me?" You ask, pressing the tips of your fingers to your nose. "She what?" You laugh, "She broke my nose." "Great bride you picked for yourself." He sounds puzzled, "Why in the hell did she punch you?" You continue to laugh, "I don't know. I turned to pick up her suitcase and whamo, blood all over my tuxedo." You hear muffled curses. "You`re my buddy, this isn't easy for me to deal with. What do you want me to say?" "I want you to give me your invitation." There is silence. "Are you going to hurt her?" "No." You answer honestly. "You aren't going to do something incredibly stupid?" "No." There is more silence. "Okay, I'll give it to you."
You are showering, preparing for her show. You remember the first time you went to one. It was held in a refrigerated meat packaging plant. She said she enjoyed the blood that scarred the walls and floor. She told you that she liked the way it reflected off of the statues. To your surprise the room was filled with people. Most of the women were in faux fur and the men in tailored overcoats, but what surprised you most was the carvings. They weren`t restaurant buffet pieces. They were men, women, animals, all engaged in bizarre forms of intercourse. Legs, arms, faces sprawling at impossible angles. You learned that it was the new avant-garde thing to buy a piece and display it at a party, drop acid, letting the carving slowly melt, and analyzing the sculpture as it transformed. You remember getting drunk on expensive champagne and decorating her arm like a shy child. She seemed to enjoy this and introduced you to everyone as, "My Inspiration." You found this frightening.
Looking out the window, you see Towers sitting in a rental car, pretending to read a newspaper. You put on the oversized London Fog overcoat, you bought today, and head for the basement. You carefully worm out of a broken window on the opposite side of the building and hail a cab. As you get in the cab, you notice blood trickling down the side of your hand and a cut on your pinky. The cab driver slides open the Plexiglass window and hands you a Band-Aid. "Don`t fucking bleed in my cab," He says. You smile. "Thank you." He looks at you for a moment, "What`s under the coat?" "A big salami." You reply. His eyebrows arch, "Really?" You nod, "It`s a gift." He grins. "Disgusting, I love it."
You present your invitation and walk inside. The place is packed and ripe. After a minute you spot her in the far corner. She is signing autographs and posing for pictures. "Perfect," you think. You begin to maneuver toward her and the statues. The process is casual, but slow. The bulge in your coat is barley noticeable. The closer you get to the statues the harder it is to move. You notice a woman looking at you. She whispers something to the man next to her. He looks at you and then nods to the woman. She smiles and covers her mouth. Your stomach starts to twist. The man whispers to another man with glasses next to him. The man turns and looks at you. His mouth opens and he nudges a woman next to him. People all around are beginning to stare at you. They seem embarrassed. You grind your teeth and quicken your pace. Your presence seems to be causing a disturbance. You look down at your coat. Everything is fine. You are ten feet from the statues now. You notice they are much larger than any she has done before. They are life size. People are clearing a path for you. You are a few feet away from them. You turn around, everyone is quiet, watching you. Your hands quake. You turn back and rush to the statues. There are five or six of them. They are you. Your body feels limp. In the first one, you see ice hands grab toward and enormous hole in your pelvis where your genitals should be. The ice face, your ice face, is screaming. Your lungs begin to constrict. The second one shows your smiling face attached to a torso with sagging breasts and an old womans legs. You can't breathe. The third statue makes you freeze. It is you standing in a huge pile of defecation, snakes crawling out of your eye sockets, arms extended like a crucifix, each hand clenching the broken neck of a lifeless baby. After a few seconds your body heats and you explode. You rip the tank from beneath your coat, crank the valve open, and light the torch with a cigarette lighter. You attack, melting your faces into a watery blur. You saw off the hands, and liquefy the breasts. It is chaos. By the time Towers tackles you, you have destroyed four statues. As he drags you toward the exit she jumps on you, screaming and clawing at your face. Towers puts his palm on her chest and shoves her away. She falls to floor. You are surprised when she does not shatter.
Towers doesn't speak as he drives to a Comfort Inn and purchases a room. You feel weak and distant. He pushes you into the room and removes the handcuffs. He shakes his head, "You promised me." You're not sorry even though you should be. He stares at you. You feel dead. He walks out the door and you hear him drive away. You sit on the bed and stare into the mirror. You don't recognize yourself. You look cold. You look frozen.
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