From the author: If you run your hands over me you’ll be pulling splinters from your palms for days. I am in a room bare and dark.
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If you run your hands over me you’ll be pulling splinters from your palms for days.
I am in a room bare and dark.
“Melissa, oh oh,” it says, thrusting. “Kelly, my dear, my love, Kelly.” Sometimes I am one or both. Three nights ago, it called me little one, though I am bigger than it by half. I have many names. Each of them, I remember. Each of them is an identity that drapes over me like a mask.
It made me one night from boxes and springs. My joints were screwed in and locked into place with bolts. My boxes were nailed together; each hammer blow like a gunshot. I will always remember the thrill of the drill as it punched through my rough planks to make gaps for the hoses. I have painted toenails, red on the left side and black on the right. My front is covered with a sheepskin. It drags its fingers through the wool and grips hard with its push. The rest of me is skinned with rubber gloves. I worry that I may crack in the cold.
My room has a window dressed with lace that restrains any errant snowflake that may fly to me. The walls are the pink of new flesh. There is something bundled up in the corner that has the colour and smell of burned hair.
“Madison,” it says, choking. “Belle, my sweet, my heart.”
It is heavy and stinks of lust. When it rolls on me I flex and shift. I turn my head but it always moves me into its preferred position. I am slick in patches and moist in others. A hank of hair birthed from a hairdresser’s garbage bag has been slapped atop my pate and fastened with tape. The lock is of many colors and red.
It built me from flat pillows and rusted clockwork. It painted on eyes so that I may stare at it and glued in teeth so that I may smile. I contain wires that squeal when it lifts my arms. I am voiceless, but for the creak of my parts.
I am obliging.
It slows its movement and begins to oil me. I lay exposed as it pushes warmed liquid into my hollows and cranks with insistent fingertips.
“Holly,” it says as it maintains me. “You can’t go. You are here for me, here to stay.”
There is someone below us, rattling against bricks and coughing up the water and bread that it leaves when the pumping is steady. The pumping has to be steady for me to breathe. I am connected by clouded tubes to something below me, far down where I can’t see. My circulatory system is squeezed by anonymous hands and this thing that might be blood flows up through the dangling tubes. My cheeks bloom, sometimes, and sometimes my whole cavity heaves.
The pumper grants me breath, minute by minute. I thank the pumper, silently, every time the sun rises to shine in through my window.
“Geraldine.” It names me anew as it finishes its greasing and begins to thrust once more. “My sweet, my heart,” it calls me, quietly, then louder. “Geraldine!”
I wonder who she is; who they all are. Former lovers? Enemies? Sisters? I try to give them all faces, when I am named for them but I do not and will never know them. All I know is that I am they, for a time, until it changes the name and my identity hastens to the next.
“Jessica, I have always known that it would be you. I have waited for you forever and ever. Jessica, lovely one, Jessica!” It scrapes its cheek against my cheek and I can smell its muggy breath.
I am allowed to rock along with it, when I am being used. Sometimes I make the smallest of unnecessary movements when I think that it is too caught up to notice. It feels like a minuscule act of rebellion. I dare not even tremble when I am in my room, alone. It tells me that if I move when it isn’t around, it will come to me in the smallest hours and set me on fire - just burn me up into a crisp. It could be lying. But I don’t know anything.
I’m just a box.
I could tell you a story. I could tell you all about the way that it whispered me to this place, telling me how beautiful I was, oh, how perfect; all the while gouging its fingernails into the parts of me that once had feeling. I could spin you a tale of my life before it, before this room. I could tell you of the time I ran after a dragonfly and skidded through mud until I was wet up to my knees in a creek. I could recount for you the months it took me to learn how to play my favourite song, could show you the guitar-string callouses that emerged. I could count for you the number of rooms that I slept in; from the time I was small until the day that I was installed in this place.
I could tell you how it watched me, found me, took me up from the world that didn’t see me for what I was, or what I could become. I could tell you of how I was sung to this room by a poisoned voice, each note another snare to catch me and bind me tight. I could tell you of how I gently resisted, until I didn’t.
But the stories would be a lie. I have always been here.
I am a box.
I am a wife.
It screams when the pumping dies out and I fade, and its thick boots go smash smash smash on the stairs and then on body and bones. I know that this means no more food for the pumper, stuck far down below me. No sustenance until the lesson has sunk in. And I lay back: deflated. The sheepskin is sagging at the corners of my boxes.
I wonder if this is the time when it won’t come back. Maybe today, the pumper will defeat it and we can both leave, together. But no, soon enough it is up and up the stairs and leaning into my corners.
“Jennifer. My sweet Jenny.” It whispers at me and my lack of ear. “Jenny, darling, you’re here.”
I imagine one up above me, hovering in this place in order to keep me safe. I wish to smile when I think of that one, the watcher. Perhaps the watcher is real and has been, always. I can see a crack in the roof above me through which the watcher could observe me. I, myself, have looked and looked. Listened. I’d only need a scratch to know that the room above is occupied; just one faint drag of a nail.
Perhaps the watcher has a window, too. I hope that the watcher can see things, everything, all of the world that I do not know and will never visit. I would give anything - even my sheepskin - for the watcher to come down and whisper to me of the sights and the sounds and the taste of the world, even if it be nothing more than stories of dust and mold. Anything.
I would also like a kiss.
“Brenda, Glenda. Kate!” It says, hips rolling. It picks up speed, quivering around the throat. Its skin is red and wet. I wonder if this time it will shake me to pieces. If so, I am sure that I will be repaired back into usefulness.
It wriggles like something freshly caught.
“Charlene! Oh, my love, my little one!” It is louder and faster. Drips patter onto my rubber skin. One hand grips my shoulders. The other is lower, moving. I am fortunate not to bruise. I notice, idly, that today the room is fresh with morning sunshine. I wonder if it will go out and live a real life today, after it is finished with its wife.
I do not know what it does when it goes, but it often comes to me smelling of flowers and methanol. Once, it visited me in the smallest hours of the night, near to the dawn. It reeked of cheap perfume and I knew then that it had tried to be somebody else’s. It chastened itself, repeated again and again that this was its life now, that I was its world and that it would never leave me, not for anything.
It made promises to me, the kind that you should treasure. And then it started and kept going until noon.
All the while, I stayed perfectly still.
Now it shivers and shakes. It must have built me to be pretty, but I don’t know what that means.
I realize that my hair has fallen off. The hank must be huddling on the floor like a lonely spider. It notices, shouting that I have ruined everything, and swings a hard slap to my not-ear. I rock to one side and I know I shouldn’t, but I tilt up my hip as I roll and I know I should have warned it with my lipless mouth, but--
The point of the spring is sharp and dips into its upper thigh with ease, cutting into its thickest blood-tube. This metallic slip is utterly silent, but it begins to scream immediately. There are no words but there is terror. It lays about with its arms as red comes in spurting throbs. My rubber is drenched with warmth.
It knows that I shifted and it wants to kill me. It screeches with the voice of death and brings both clenched fists down upon my face. My teeth clatter down the back of my throat. The pump of my false-breath sucks them into the dark of my belly. It hits me again, but this time the blow is weaker and I know that I will outlast it.
“Caroline,” it sobs. “I only wanted… I wish that you were—”
It dies next to me in the bed, the way a faithful lover ought to.
I lay broken for a time. I am not sure what to do or how to be. My false-breath continues to ease in and out of me, slippery and moist. I count the strands of cobwebs that are high in the corners of my room and when I am finished, I start afresh. This continues, perhaps for hours, until I hear whimpering from the pumper. My breath continued, even through all of the noise, because nobody has told the one below to stop. The pumper does not know that we are both alone now, together.
I hear another cry, a hungry sound.
I know that, somehow, I must go.
Firstly, I must sit. My wired arms are extended above my head but as the cries grow louder, I swing them up so that they clatter down on either side of my sheepskin. My wires thrum as I hoist up my torso. I ease myself forward, dizzy with the tilt of the world. My sheepskin falls off and I can see the worn wool sticking up in bloody peaks.
My displaced teeth rattle in my belly as I stand on sprung legs. The tubes that carry my breath and blood to me pop off the suckers that sit along ridge of my wooden spine. There is a leak. I lurch toward the door and cogs spill from me like dropped coins.
I realize that I will never hear its voice again.
I do not mourn. It didn’t build me to mourn, or to grieve. I was built to be silent and useful.
I move from my room and carefully turn at the top of the stairs. I know that I must go down and down and down.
So much of me has fallen off that I am nearly nothing when I reach the middle of the stairs, but every step has shown me a new thing. I go slowly, relying on stiff knees that were never meant to take weight. My painted eyes would widen if they could, even at the zigzagging strips of crackling wallpaper.
I halt at the window, a full storey lower than my own. I see a yard thick with weeds and broken glass. The sight is glorious. There are machines laying at odd angles, gutted. I wonder if I carry any of their parts within me. I am rapt, until I see the others. They are scattered about the enclosed yard with a carelessness that speaks of their failures.
Broken wives. Lost wives. My predecessors. I wonder if I hold any of their screws and nails and am all at once sure that I do. I think that I might match at least two of them for paint. My glossy eyes show me ruins and hulks. I trace their frames and feel something that could be horror and something that may be love.
The only thing that could move me is another cry from the pumper.
“Please,” comes the call. “Please.”
I go. I go to save the only one left.
I shuffle down in to the dark and I lose more of myself with every step. I remind myself that they are only fragments and parts. Surely I have a few to spare.
I hear clanging and sobbing, but when I reach the door the pumper goes quiet, perhaps expecting punishment. My fingers scrape at the latch until the door falls open. I stand in the frame, illuminated by the light of a new day. I must look a fright, for the pumper shrieks at the sight of me. With great effort, I hold up my hands.
Peace, I am here for you, here to take you away from all of this I think, though I cannot shape the word with my empty mouth. I wonder if the watcher would say the same to me, if I were the one being rescued.
The pumper runs to me and I grind into a hunch.
I am enveloped by pale arms. They squeeze me tight and I creak.
“You came,” says the pumper, breathlessly. “I wished and hoped for you to come. I knew that you would. I knew it.”
My bloody shoulder is dampened with tears. I lean forward, pressing my rubber skin to the stark bones of the one who gave me breath. We turn and my knees pop, but I can see freedom and know that I only need to walk a few steps and then we will be outside. I begin to shake and I do not know if I will ever be able to stop.
The pumper wraps a hand around mine, whispers a secret to me and kisses me. Just once.
That is enough.
This story originally appeared in Shock Totem: Tales of the Macabre and Twisted.