The first time was the first time
Beneath a down comforter with a boy blurring his knuckles inside of me
I saw a man in a suit, occupying the corner of the room
drunk breath hot on my neck,
tasting a mouth of prescription strength cologne
commingling with the smell of wet paint
The homeowner’s half navajo white walls
two kids staining the air of new beginnings
I winced and the gentleman appeared
At once I knew this vision was mine alone.
That the drunken boy on top of me could not detect him.
He stood still
Just standing, watching me behind what looked like some novelty, pharmacy grade Halloween mask
His suit clinging tight to his body, wrinkles resting still as dunes
Oblivious, the boy on top of me smiled and half kissed, half licked me until I closed my eyes
But somehow I knew He remained
The summer anthem of 1993 plodding through wet walls
I lay there and did not let fear touch me.
My mind had never been my ally
This vision, while unfamiliar, would simply be added to the list of things my thoughts
had presented me over the years that
didn’t add up.
And perhaps, I thought fleetingly,
Perhaps the boy thrusting into me now had dissolved
some pills in my plastic cup so red
diverting me with charm that had long since vanished from his face
This was a comfort.
I was not afraid
Until the next morning when
it all flooded in and remained like a permanent tidal pool
When the paint had completely dried
I had seen someone
I saw a dapper man in the corner
His face was singed into my memory
Melted and deformed
I could smell him where he stood
It smelled of dread resting on old snow
The next time
When I pulled her into my room
I expected him to reappear
Hands hooked with our ribs passing and pressing
Building a bonfire of nervous energy and
extinguishing its wild reds with garments soaked to transparency
I was oddly disappointed when my experiment failed
In more ways than one
If there was reason, logic to his presence then my mind and I could reconcile.
But he never appeared
Never let me understand him
Years passed and I relegated him to the part of my mind that housed my disorientation
Then, after the girl took the husband and my reflection mattered less,
First a hint
I saw his reflection as I was looking into mine
When pulling my dress up over my head, I would panic-
I knew he was there
In the shower when I washed my face and my eyes were clenched shut I knew he was
right outside the door.
I could imagine his blurred form behind the glass and I would have to open my eyes and make sure.
Soap burning in my tear ducts.
Crying tears of conditioner and hair strengthening vitamins
I was going crazy
I watched smiles disappear from peoples faces
The divorce had gotten its claws in me
Friends who weren’t, used sympathetic voices and reached out for my hand across
tables where I sat until everyone would leave.
I was orphaned by some better life
Standing at the counter of ‘Two Gal’s Treasures & Knick Knacks,’
The other ‘Gal’ had run away.
Abandoned our quant little dream.
Forgot our plan of selling memories to tourists.
Buying wine and witnessing the world from worn beach house windows in a sea of dead crustacean corpses.
Painted with sayings and pre-shrunk cotton t-shirts
pre-sunk ships and salt water taffy gathering dust particles.
The only gal left
yet I was never really alone
In my purse the ten inch kitchen knife rested like it had always belonged there
with the hair elastics and a chronically unused tube of mascara.
Every bare avenue and empty corner was an opportunity for him to manifest
The expectancy gripped me and manufactured pain in my abdomen
Building some terrible, dark architecture in that pre-storm valley of my head
with leaves turned upside down to reveal their pale, veiny bellies
My knife was close to me always.
Muttering through the halls of CVS
filling the prescriptions and fumbling for paperwork in my bag
The cashier caught a glimpse of my protection and gasped as I had that night
I could see him in the surveillance mirrors, lurking about
“Can’t you see him?
I’ll protect us both if I have to.”
But it was useless
She couldn’t see him, she only saw me
An empty woman muttering and swaying
All while carrying a kitchen knife in her purse
She would repeat this story for months
He left with me, following from a distance
through a parking lot baking under thin clouds.
A little girl being dragged by her mother’s hand squinted at me with a face of awe
Horror stricken, I realized she was looking past me
Looking at the man in the suit
She followed him with her eyes.
Curious and almost amused, pointing him out to her mother
Chills rendering my flesh raw, like a sunburn that slowly paralyzes its victim
Driving home at night on empty, off-season, beach community roads
I’d stop for the shadowy figure at a red light and wait for it to cross
Laying in an empty bed
I’d see the man walk from one side of the room to another, casually
like he was filling his dry rubber mouth with tap water
But one morning I woke to new weather
to affable shadows on the wall
rather than those broken shapes that had come to haunt me
I knew he was gone
I was finally
There was a stain, a burnt smell that remained
but it was fleeting and for weeks I reveled in how it would dim,
fade into the calendar months
succeeding forward into late spring
Eventually life returned
The sound of new families blew across the beach
Young husbands once again stole looks at their wives from across cafe tables
while their children sat unaware of everything that came before them
unbridled and so free
The mountain laurel exploding from branches that once reached out like the wooden limbs of skeletons
now offered me a folded bloom
I lingered in it all, returning the stereo’s knob to the right
behind the cash register to up-stroked guitar strings, instead of AM banter
These families, smiling and shining,
would pass my window and I would bask in their happiness
I was alone on the peninsula
A near island on a near island
But for the first time in ages
I was not scared, not terrified
Marching onward with grocery bags
A candlelit dinner
Lazily swirling linguini around my trident
Dead shrimp meat for the huntress
Falling asleep next to no one
It was utopia
The night air was sweet and laced with promise
All of my dank memories were remodeled with blissful nostalgia.
The walls of that suburban dwelling where I allowed the drunken boy to kiss me
The walls were being rolled over with wet paint.
Coat after coat.
Layer over layer of new beginnings
It can always be painted over
Yellow wall paper or oil based primer
the possibilities are infinite
I recalled my husband taking care of me when I was sick
Holding and defending me from the demons
and their fake halloween masks
their fake, rubber faces
the winter was dead somewhere
The night air was warm
I pulled the key out of my car door and held it open
smiling at the sea and its perfect weight
filling me with some romance for a life lived in solitary bliss
But someone’s behind me
I turn and I am looking into the slits of the melting rubber
the black eyes.
Boring right back into mine. Closer than He has ever gotten
He raises his arm high above my head and floats it there for a moment
Then shoves his hand in my mouth, so hard that I kneel
Crushed knee’s surrendering to asphalt
I feel his fingers pushing down my throat and struggling to grasp my
His suit staying completely still
His fist closes on my tongue and half digested shrimp scampi explodes into the night
My hand searches my purse.
Past the hairspray and concealer,
The teeth bleaching strips
I find the handle of the knife
tears flooding my eyes, iron in my stomach
I hold the knife tighter than I have ever held anything
Letting the purse fall away and spill to the ground,
I do not jab him, I do not slice at him
I twist the knife upwards into the ivory cotton of his suit
driving the metal through taught flesh
feeling my thumb nail inside
I feel his grip die under my fangs.
I release and the handle breaks from the knife
He staggers back, and takes three ailing paces before
finally collapsing on the pavement
Wet, but no blood
I leave the mask on his face
The waves suck tidal pools out from the coast and
tumble the sand before crashing down on the edge of
an entire continent
The tide paints the beach with a new shade of green every time
I leave the blade in his body
I let the walls I’ve repainted so many times dry
Admire them from mere inches