What Happened

by Lauren Friel

 

He calls you makhtesh, a word he tells you means the expanse of the universe. The beautiful cosmic plains of abundance, at once a force and place and also a vacuum. It is everything and also – incredibly, unbelievably – it is nothing. And isn’t that just lovely? The stuff dreams are made of.  

* * *

He says thank you. He kisses your neck and your thighs, and you know that each kiss is meant to mean thank you. Thank you. Thank you. You devour this thanks. You are startled by your hunger for it—this yielding. You think you might be starving. You lick your lips and let the gratitude run over your tongue, a flavor you can name easily, but have never tasted.

* * *

He pulls you out of bed by your ankles. You’re wearing your favorite sleeping shirt—secondhand red buffalo plaid, worn-in just so. The stiff of newness someone else’s burden. It reaches just over your hips, preserving your modesty. He pulls you into the hallway, over clean wood floors, slick and shining. You don’t put up a fight. Where would you go? How would you get there, half-naked and alone? He tells you to get up. Get up. You move slowly, to show you won’t try to run this time. You stand, and he pushes his broad, lovely chest into you. You sometimes put your hands here, when things are different, and feel the ribbons of his muscles moving under your fingers as he wraps his arms around you. You put your head here sometimes, too, late at night, when it’s quiet. Now, instead, you feel his chest shudder against your face as he shoves you into the wall and puts his hands around your throat. His lovely hands. When things are different, they run softly down the dips of your spine, the round of your hips, the length of your collarbone. Now, instead, they hold you by the hair while he screams. You don’t cry. You look at the floor and listen to him screaming. The sound is incredible. It tore your eardrum once. Such a surprising weapon.

* * *

Your bruises wake before you do. Get up. Get up. Get up. Get up. Get up. They gnaw at the edge of your dreams. You have become their grateful tenant. It is a lonely and crowded arrangement. They splay across your collarbone like a wild necklace. They sink down into your breasts, hanging low and round from your ribcage, where your skin is striped with red. Your hair forms nests in your fingers, untroubled as it falls from your scalp. You are told you are too thin—he’d like a little something to hold onto.

* * *

He calls you from the prison psych ward. He’s not supposed to call, but what’s he got to lose? You can hear someone screaming. He hasn’t been outside in three days. His roommate is in for raping his own brother. He showers in cold water, in an open stall, watched by a guard. He is fed peanut butter sandwiches. Only peanut butter sandwiches. He is confined, all day and all night. There was a ping-pong table yesterday, but it was broken this morning by a woman who keeps offering him blowjobs in exchange for his pudding cups. He says he gives her the pudding and doesn’t take the blowjob because she was raped as a little girl and there’s a look in her eyes. He hasn’t been let outside in 3 days. He says the doctors don’t think he belongs here. In their professional opinions. So you use a fake name and bring him a Hawaiian pizza and some junk food from the gas station because that’s what he asked for. Because the screaming goes on all day and all night. He eats two slices, and you know he’s still hungry because at home he usually eats five. He shares the rest of the food with the others.

* * *

He lifts you up off the floor by the breast of your green winter coat. It’s your favorite coat, even though you found out its collar is ringed with coyote fur. You remember watching the coyotes in the snowy woods when you were young. Then, again, with their pups, soft and small in May. It isn’t your fault. You thought it was faux. You made a mistake. It’s your favorite because it’s so warm.

* * *

He puts his hands on your neck and pushes you into the floor. He leans down into you, his elbow between your ribs. You think you hear them cracking, little by little, as he screams in your face. “Why are you doing this to me?” You can feel his words vibrating in your teeth. “Why are you doing this to me?” Your noses are touching. His breath is cooler than it ought to be. “I could kill you if I wanted to,” he says, which, of course, you know already.

* * *

You learn that makhtesh is a Hebrew word that means grinding bowl. It is also a nickname for a geological phenomenon – a crater formed by meteors, a gaping wound in the desert. A void in a barren place. A nothingness in an expanse of brutal, earthly nothingness.

* * *

He covers your mouth and your nose with his hand. With one hand. You manage to choke the words “I can’t breathe” out from between the cage of his fingers. He says he doesn’t care. You laugh this time. You read once that bears and horses and wild dogs are antagonized by fear, so you laugh while he strangles you. It works. He stops, suddenly.

* * *

You imagine all the women in the universe in their kitchens. The scent of cardamom, coriander, and clove rises from their stone bowls in the morning light, their hands gripping the club-like pestles, arms and elbows tracing the same circle over and over and over again. You then imagine them kidnapped and tossed into a desert crater, their breasts and hands and mouths ground up to dust, blowing over the dunes in the blazing sun. You imagine you are stepping on them now, and you are terrified.

* * *

There was a stranger once, with a brown beard. He was wearing tan shorts and a backpack. He said four words.

Hey. Man. That’s. Enough.

One, two, three, four. Success.

Help. Don’t. Please. Stop.

One, two, three, four. Failure.

You wonder what gives language power.

* * *

The woman at the shelter is enveloped in purple chiffon. She is electric against the flesh-colored walls as she explains how to have your mail sent to a government building so no one will find you. You will be assigned a number, and that’ll be that. A lifetime of namelessness. The box of tissues in front of you is yellow. But you know they sometimes find you. You’ve seen it on the news. Murdered in the driveway. Murdered on a boat. Burned alive with the children. What makes you think you are different? Who do you think you are? How many boxes of tissues does this place go through in one year.

* * *

Last Easter, you roasted lamb shank and ate orange cake. This year, you wake up on the floor of the laundromat after you see his beard on a stranger. The man who always wears black jeans and fixes the dryers when the quarters get stuck has your head in his hands. His breath smells like cigarettes and cherry cough syrup. “You sank just like a stone,” he says. You learn that survival does not belong to you.

* * *

He’s still out there. He could be anywhere. It’s two in the morning, and you’ve been sobbing in the police station alongside the parents picking up their drunk kids and the girlfriends posting bail and the hookers and the matronly woman reporting her car stolen. Do they know why you’re here? You put your head between your knees so they won’t see your bleeding face. No one looks at you.  

* * *

He says, “Please forgive me,” so you do. You lie prone together in the quiet morning, escaping under the blankets as children escape their parents. Here your skin is soft and vibrant, and there is nothing. The loveliest nothing, a vellum nothing of lighthouses and watercolor and children on the beach. Pink and giggling. Harmless. Well, forgiveness is divine, and there is little else that might land you in that pantheon of glory.

* * *

Why didn’t you just leave?

* * *

Come back, he says.  

If.

If you.

If you don’t.

If you don’t.

If you don’t I.

If you don’t, I will

* * *

Just imagine it. Someone drowns while you hug the life preserver to your chest – it’s your lover, whose body has been inside your body. He chokes and gags in the black water, clutching at the waves, his eyes wide and full of the things man fears most. You are warm and dry, with a deranged orange ring in your arms – watching, waiting patiently, for the results. Imagine.

* * *

What’s the best way to go about choosing one life over another?

* * *

What did you eat while he was in prison? There is a list somewhere. You wrote it all down. But now, you’ve been tasked with cleaning, because there’s no one left. You tie a good napkin around your nose and mouth and inhale against the green smoke of rotten apples and vanilla bean. Mon chou, my black-flecked cabbage. My darling shriveled pepper, my sweet brown apple. My stinking fish, my puckered kumquat. There are dishes piled in the sink. You throw them all out. You throw everything out.

* * *

Once a month, you bleed. But also more than once. It depends on the number of paychecks and blowjobs. Each time recalls your burden. Here you are together, bleeding out of sync and in unison, and so always bleeding. Here is your seat next to Rachel and Diana. Say thank you.

* * *

You tend to your bruises like unwanted children. You imagine yourself — his makhtesh — eaten up by a desert crater, your breasts and hands and mouth ground to sand, your infinite particles stuck to the skin of other women. You imagine yourself in your kitchen in the morning, when the light is pink and soft. What does the air smell like, when you inhale? Have you considered the tyranny of gratitude?

 

 


 

Lauren Friel is a full-time freelance writer and poet living in Boston. She studied creative writing under Peter Richards and Jane Unrue at Harvard University, but dropped out to pursue a career as a sommelier. Now, she’s making up for lost time. In addition to her regular journalistic pursuits, she’s currently developing a work of metafiction that explores the psychology of intimate partner violence, “ownership” of the body, and the sociopolitical implications of victim identity.

 

 

Featured image courtesy of VisualHunt.com