This place might remind you of a newly deceased doe, pregnant, on the side of the road, bleeding out, neck snapped. Steaming. Dead eyes. Baby still alive inside, waiting to be muscle-contracted out into the hellscape, oozing, oozing with terror and inherited trauma. Trauma of headlights and wandering uncovered, dark, lonely, tufted, spawned, thrust. Baby’s still alive, little giblets racing. Fawn? A fawn? Doe, a deer, a female deer. Hum it. Now you’re humming it. That’s what this party is like.
What would you do if you witnessed a murder?
That’s a good opening line.
A guy comes up to Duke at the bar and asks her that.
It’s two forty-seven. In the morning. This warehouse is empty but full. Horny and pulsating. Spindly-armed and tone-deaf. A cavernous space, all beams and cement and windows painted white, painted shut, things that used to be doors now gluey in all their crevasses, history removed by sludgy toxins.
Duke’s ordering water. It’s four dollars. The guy who said the opening line looks like a cherry tree. But sweaty. Tall. Knotty. Not naughty. Knotty. He’s wearing a mesh shirt. He’s very thirsty. He stares at Duke’s water, sweating. Who’s sweating? Him, or the water? They’re both sweating. He wants to lick the plastic, oh, he wants to bite it, clear through, imbibe the water through puncture wounds.
He’s not really thinking this.
Duke is imagining Cherry Tree pricking her bottle with his teeth and scaling his tongue along the paper and desperately licking the condensation until it bursts into his mouth. Duke’s thirsty, too. She’s looking for someone to suck dry. She can tell by his eclipse eyes that he’s on something dangerous.
She stares at him. He blinks one time too many.
“So, uh, what would you do if you overheard a murder?”
Duke walks away, out of the crowd, toward more crowd.
She notices a girl. The girl’s name is Grxce. It’s pronounced “Grace.” I’m sorry. That’s just how it is. Duke knows Grxce, but thinks her name is Lauren. She remembers her as Lauren. A fair-haired Lauren. A Lauren who was Good and Wholesome, who grew up in an adjacent suburb, whose family had more money, more worth, more kids, more sanctity, less inclination toward raves, less smudgy eye-shadow, fewer thoughts of stolen street signs, fewer C’s in Calculus, fewer flasks snuck into school dances. She didn’t look Good or Wholesome now. She looked stringy and lopsided. She looked like a black hole, but Duke was the black hole, prepared to entangle someone in her vortex, prepared to lick teeth, prepared to be all-consuming. Lauren is wearing a plastic crop-top and a clairvoyant expression. She looks like a painting.
Duke gets a text.
Oh. But. Not. Just. Any. Text!!!!
She has a burner phone because she’s lazy. And a drug dealer.
She gets a text. And because she has a burner phone because she’s lazy and a drug dealer, it’s like a stick of dynamite vibrating in between her pants and her hipbone. She gets a text and it shakes the whole goddamn building.
Oh, but not just any text.
A text from The One.
You know The One. The One whose cologne sometimes sneaks into your brain cavities, stabbing you in the insides, some French name, some lower-case cursive, a lick on your wrist from that Friday when you finally stole a spritz on your way out, that you’ll somehow never be able to wash off, so intrusive it only takes a stranger to walk past, and you’re in a grocery store aisle staring at the ground beef, the raw chicken, and suddenly it’s over, French-name, long hair, knife twist in the ribs. The One who left a holey tube sock in your bed one December and never came back for it. The One who once nose-bled on your white bathmat, and you didn’t even try to get the blood out, in fact, you rubbed it in deeper, and now you have this iron splotch on your bathmat and it reminds you of the time you saw your first dead body on a train track from your youth, it reminds you of the time your lover made you nectar margaritas and you sipped them on a pool deck in the dead of winter, and you think about getting a new bathmat, maybe this time not a white one, but you’ll keep finding reasons not to do that. You know The One. The One who reappears in dreams to undress, or say hello, but always ends up curb-stomping you outside your childhood home, splitting your jaw, cracking your teeth open.
You know The Ones that earth-shatter. The earth-shatter-ers.
The name buzzes four times on Duke’s phone.
DO NOT TEXT (4).
Duke has a burner phone, so it looks like this, unfortunately.
([Redacted] has an iPhone, so it’s also unfortunate for [Redacted] because her convo with Duke is vomit-inducing, status-rejecting, holy isolation green)
heard u were in la.
i need T.
pay u bigtime
Duke doesn’t make house calls.
Well, she does.
She used to.
But not normally like this. Normally, in Bel Aire, normally in the Hollywoodland Hills, normally to those uppity bitchy witches with loose septums, model boys with bulimia, Beverley Hills houses with murdery histories, with things-we-don’t-ask, with boyfriends and girlfriends and sleazy happy rich dicks with sleazy happy trigger fingers.
Duke’s fucked up, also. That’s why she can’t think straight.
Her phone buzzes.
DO NOT TEXT (2).
do u still have a burner? hey.
FaceTime me dukey!!!!
Duke wants to puke.
Her heart also wants to tie a noose around itself. Her organs twitch. Her fingers jitter. Love says, isn’t this exciting! Isn’t this dope! Aren’t you addicted! Yes. Say it with me. YES. YES YES. You could quit anytime, though. So, for now, just this once, let love cum all over you. Sorry, come I meant come. Let the tar cum into your lungs. Tar is fun. Fun fun tar tar. It sucks you in and it traps you in the funhouse. The laugh palace. The madness.
Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. bUzZ. BuZz.
you do still have a burner
sorry i didn’t mean that
ur not a loser
just a drug dealer
am I allowed to say that
ur in la tho right?
Oh, god, Duke thinks. This is the end of the world, actually.
Well, if she were other people maybe it wouldn’t be.
If she were people who listened to other people maybe it wouldn’t be.
But she’s not those people. She doesn’t listen and her thoughts are never end-stopped, and she’s blurry-eyed and just dying to slice a jugular open right out on the dance floor. Neck-snapped, oh, to be neck-snapped, twitching. Doe, a deer, a female deer.
She calls her ride-or-die, a girl named Trixie. Trixie is awake and says, hey, there’s a high-speed chase on channel seven. Duke says, do you remember Lauren? Lauren LeRoy. Lauren Loftus. Lauren Whats-Her-Face. I don’t remember. It doesn’t matter. I saw her earlier, wearing a clear crop-top and blowing a yellow lollipop.
Trixie says, no. She doesn’t remember a girl named Lauren LeRoy or Loftus or LeCroix or Whatever. She doesn’t remember a girl with self-cut bangs and boney wrists standing zombified in a corner with other translucent-skinned artsaints.
“Well, Lauren’s from Wisconsin and now she’s here, chewing Trident or Orbit or, hopefully, a piece of someone’s tendon.”
“Oh, I remember her.” Trixie remembers her now. Slutty and grotesque. She used to chase cherubic boys around the soccerfield at dawn.
Duke leaves one crowd of messy, sloppy, slackening people. People glistening. People shouldn’t glisten, Duke thinks. It makes them seem like they’re slathered in butter. Like they should be rolled in a dinner roll. They shouldn’t be hyped up on amphetamines. They should be licked until their skin is raw. Salty. She goes to another crowd of messy, sloppy, slackening people. It looks like the same crowd. Feels like the same crowd. You could keep doing that, Duke thinks. You could spend your whole life walking into new rooms that feel like old rooms.
Duke zeroes in on Lauren, all bones and legs, rattling around, looking like a human bodybag, dancing in a circle. Duke cocks her head to the side, sizes up Lauren’s muscles, counts her ribs, notes the rosy spots, the places where her skin thins, the beat of her pulse, superfast. She says, “but, I don’t think she’s slutty or grotesque.”
Trixie says, I said bloody. B-L-O-O-D-Y Bloody. Remember she used to get nosebleeds – Duke is thrown off, by the way, at the mere mention of nosebleeds, as if nosebleeds were not universal, as if only [Redacted] got them, sitting up in bed smoking something, bleeding and being apathetic, letting it come so close to falling on the white bedspread, and Duke would think, how how how could you not care, how could you sit like that and beg to be touched but then shift away, how could you wait until the last second, wait until the blood has pooled above your upper lip, wait until I lean in to lick it off, and then you reach your wrist up and wipe it, and you get up and you say, what? Why are you looking at me like that? – Coke habit? Diet coke? Coca Cola? Sniff sniff. Don’t tell me it’s dehydration. And, by the way, you do think she’s grotesque. You started that.
Duke’s like, oh, yeah. Hey, where are you?
Trixie’s sick of holding her phone and wants to hang up. “I told you. A Toyota Camry’s fucking some cruisers in the ass. Channel seven.”
Then she adds, “By the way. Lauren’s right-side-of-the-tracks, Dukie. She took her pills and crossed her eyes and dotted her ttttttttttt’s. She sucks dick and eats pizza like all those other frauds.”
Okay, Duke says. She’s hyperventilating now. She says, “Look. [Redacted] just texted me.”
Trixie says, J E S U S C H R I S T DUKE. Fuck me with a meatball sub, Duke!
Then, she says, send me a screenshot.
But Duke can’t. She has a flip phone.
Fine, Trixie says. Then verbalize me a screenshot.
Duke tells Trixie what [Redacted] texted.
“Don’t text back,” Trixie says. “Then you’ll fall down the spiral staircase again.”
But Duke needs T, and she needs to find a way to get T, and she needs much more than that, a hug, for instance, the lingering touch of manicured nails against her wrist, a ninety-nine cent Slurpee, a kiss from just-the-right-person, at just-the-right-time, in just-the-right-driveway, but mostly T, mostly that, and she’s going to have to get it the hard way.
Before you do that, Trixie says, turn around.
Trixie’s standing there.
Duke goes up to her and points at Lauren.
“I left my high speed chase for this?”
Duke responds to [Redacted]. She texts back, “hi.” Then, she throws her phone across the room. Down the spiral staircase, Trixie says. Off you go.
“You’re bad at this,” Trixie says as she snaps black surgical gloves over her ring-laden hands, “What drug dealer runs out of T? You know, everyone could avoid everything if they didn’t fuck that one person they shouldn’t have fucked. Look, you’re head-first in a garbage disposal with shards of glass at the bottom. The world would be butterflies. You know. Less of a trash-fire. Oh, look at your fingernails. They’re gross and long. Duke. Use protection.”
Well, yeah, trash-fires, Duke says, preferring not to wear surgical gloves. The rubber takes away from the feeling.
But, Trixie points out, increases the chance of disease. So, what. Take me, disease me, I’m dying at an unimaginable rate anyway, okay, we all are. Jesus, don’t be so morbid.
It’s three-thirty-ish in the morning when Duke and Trixie drag Lauren’s body back to Trixie’s friend’s apartment. Trixie’s friend is named 425. That’s an area-code. Trixie doesn’t remember his name and he never says it outloud but that’s his phone number. 425 something something something. Duke prefers to call him Just Outside of Seattle. Jos. People who are from just outside of cities say they’re from the city. They’re not.
Lauren’s alive but not conscious.
Jos lets them in. He’s pale and skinny and, of all the people Duke knows, he tried the hardest to take his Gov-regulated pills during puberty. He’d spent a lot of time vomiting little blue tablets in boys’ bathrooms and forcing rare hamburger patties down his throat, and he tried to crave female lips and hips and pelvic bones. He still has the pills. He still sometimes takes them, when he’s too drunk to see straight. They make him nauseous, make him shutter, make him hot, then cold, then hot again. And, he used to rule the suburban Illinois underground scene. He was kingpin. Used to farm farm boys for parts. Used to manufacture the best T, sell the freshest heroin-laced blood, the best weed, extracted straight from stoner piss, and even milked a few sick LSD strains from teenaged spinal fluid.
He’s dating a junkie named Needle. Needle will assure you his name is because of Space, not hypodermic. He doesn’t go by Space because that’s dumb.
Jos and Needle drink homemade cocktails. He apologizes, he can’t offer any to the ladies. You know, three drunk guys died tonight in a high-speed chase. Lot of spilled blood. Wish we’d been there. Oh! Trixie says, hey. I watched that. Damn. She tuned out just before the concrete-smashing, skull-breaking part. But, that unconscious girl, uh, let’s crack her open. Duke has a special talent.
They lay Lauren down on the couch. Duke uses a safety-pin to puncture a hole in Lauren’s neck. Just a little. A tiny stream of blood spits out of the hole. Duke licks it, and then sucks out more. She feels Lauren’s slow pulse against her tongue. 0.25 BAC, she says. Give or take. Then, it hits her. Bitter, sour. Something else.
She checks Lauren’s arms. Track marks. Fresh. On both arms. Trixie dies laughing. Oh, Duke, you said you quit. Oh, Duke. Relapse in five, four, three, two.
The earth shakes. Five tremors in rapid succession.
DO NOT TEXT (5).
i’ll do ANYTHING
Duke backs off, stumbles a little. Her whole head hot, trapped, swampy. Trixie makes larger incisions in Lauren’s track marks and takes a greedy mouthful. Watch it, Duke says. You’ll kill her. Trixie flashes a smile, teeth stained red. Baby, she says, it’s like really nice. Top shelf. A hug for your poor poor heart. More, take more.
I just want the T, Duke says.
Trixie pouts. What a waste of a whole, beating-heart human. We thought she was Wholesome. Turns out, she’s a druggie. But isn’t that how it always goes, huh, Duke?
I wanted Wholesome, Duke says.
OH WHY DUKE?? Because [Redacted] prefers un-tainted T? Cavity-free? Calcium rich? Good-girl T. Baby T. Milky Milky. Duke. Promise me you.
T O O
L A T E.
DO NOT TEXT (4).
I didn’t mean it like that
i meant I’ll TAKE anything
??? duke answer me srsly
Jos says he might have female T. Somewhere. But it’s old. He disappears to look for it. Needle eyes Lauren.
“You can’t even get good T that fresh. Needs to be dehydrated.”
“We know,” Duke fires back.
This is good, Trixie says. Give [Redacted] old T. Sell it for, uh, a lot. We can keep this girl to ourselves.
I think fresh T is still good, Duke says, and tenderly pushes Lauren’s lower lip down, running her finger along Lauren’s bottom teeth, silky, well-brushed, might not even bleed if you tried to floss them.
Needle shakes his head. Nah, that’s like a green banana.
Yeah, Duke, Trixie adds. Green banana. Hard and plant-like. Slimy. Gag. Not even good in a smoothie.
When’s the last time you had a banana.
Who cares, Duke. It was before.
Duke feels ill. Ill and shaky and jittery. Must be from the blood. Must be from the texts. Must be from the impending doom and ecstasy of seeing [Redacted] again after months of bone-souring nothingness. Sometimes she imagines how slippery, shiny, magical the taste of [Redacted]’s intraocular fluid would be – you could just stick a needle at the surface of the eye, don’t touch the baby blues, don’t blind her, just taste it, cross my heart and hope to die.
Jos has pliers. Trixie prefers to use a hammer. Duke doesn’t let her.
Duke moves Lauren so her head is hanging off the bed. She has a bump forming on the side of her skull, from where Trixie slammed her against the bathroom sink. Jesus. Duke had stood back, hands shaking, but not from the violence, no, from the hangnail-tearing feeling of being sucked back into [Redacted]’s all-consuming orbit. Trixie had let Lauren fall to the ground with a thump. Lauren blinked once before slipping away. Duke felt a rush, something almost orgasmic, from watching Lauren lose consciousness. There’s something tingly about it. You could get high off that alone. And Duke has been starving lately. She cramps herself between the foot of the couch and the coffee table, opens Lauren’s mouth and gets a good grip on her jaw.
Wait, Jos says. He disappears.
Duke doesn’t wait.
She grips a back molar, the richer kind, pulpier, better for swallowing, better for injecting. She slams her fist against the steady plier and the tooth tears from its socket. Careful, Needle says. You won’t get the root that way.
Fuck off, Trixie says. She knows what she’s doing. Trixie beats the head of her hammer against her palm. Duke, she says, I want to take a swing.
Duke keeps ripping teeth out, dropping them into a clean ashtray. “No,” she says. “You’ll smash them.”
Oh, precious. Precious T. Trixie drops the hammer, and she sidles up next to Lauren, swallowing more heroin-infused blood, listening to Lauren’s pulse and tapping the rhythm gently against her exposed ribcage. You know, Duke says, you can get sick from that.
Tell me about it, baby. Trixie keeps drinking.
Jos returns with safety goggles. Duke’s hand slips and the force knocks Lauren’s jaw sideways, a satisfying crunch, a snap of the tendons. Oh. Duke and Trixie both salivate. Fuck, Trixie says. Can’t we just kill her. I’m starving.
Duke drops the pliers, sets her hands firmly on either side of the hanging, floppy jaw. She snaps it back into place. There. She keeps going. Needle winces, massages his own jaw out of sympathy or something similar.
Okay, Jos says.
Okay, Needle says and slips down the hall, into the depths of the apartment, presumably toward a bedroom. Jos follows.
Bleach is under the sink. Don’t scuff my floors, Trix. Goodnight, morning, whatever.
Duke finishes extracting the teeth, sweating, nauseous, suddenly head-pulsing high. Aren’t you forgetting something? Trixie drops Lauren’s arm and re-positions her. She straddles the girl. Uh, scalpel.
Scalpel. Trixie motions behind Duke. Duke hands her a Swiss Army knife. Trixie slices into Lauren’s gums.
Duke’s phone seizes on the coffee table, quaking the whole apartment, shaking Duke’s insides, all of them.
DO NOT TEXT
Duke gets up and stumble-sprints to what she thinks is a bathroom but really is a nursery. She vomits watery blood, but not her blood, Lauren’s blood, into the child’s room and Trixie laughs and Duke clutches the doorframe and tries not to make eye-contact with the toddler staring back at her.
“What the fuck. Your dealers have a baby?”
“What’s wrong with that, Duke?”
“Nothing, it’s just–”
She pukes again and Trixie rolls her eyes, appearing behind Duke, somehow always appearing behind Duke. She pokes Duke’s ribs. Duke, look. Duke. Duke heaves and Trixie shoves three sparkling, slick-with-spit, speckled with gum-bits wisdom teeth in Duke’s face. Take one, Dukie Duke. Take one.
Duke swallows a wisdom tooth and so does Trixie and she presses the third one into Duke’s palm and whispers, for [Redacted], even though I don’t support it, and Duke wipes her mouth with her shirt, and the baby just maintains a cold-faced stare, unfazed by the two strange women in its doorway.
“Cute,” Trixie says, motioning to the baby. “Duke, look at the baby. Hi, sweetie. Hi cutie.” Trixie waves at the thing.
Duke can’t look and she also can’t move. “You’re not supposed to look them in the eye.”
“That’s big dogs. Not babies.”
“I’m afraid of both.”
“Apologize to the baby, Duke.”
She closes the door and stumbles into the living room. Lauren’s heavily bleeding from the mouth, bloody spit pooling on the white leather couch. Duke’s phone continues to vibrate on the coffee table. DO NOT TEXT. DO NOT TEXT. DO NOT TEXT. If you don’t answer it, I will.
Duke answers it and hangs up. It stops buzzing. A second of silence. Then, she texts, “I’m coming.”
DO NOT TEXT (1).
Lauren starts choking on her own blood. Gurgles. Toothless mouth agape. Duke pulls Lauren onto her side, and a river of blood and saliva snakes down Lauren’s cheek, her perfectly-aligned jaw, her neck, some of it falling down her chest, her cleavage.
Duke washes and dries the teeth, then organizes them by kind – incisor, canine, premolar, molar. She separates them into their own baggies. They’ll have to be taken like pills. They’re not dry enough to crush and snort. You know, children’s teeth are the purest, most potent, least affected by caffeine and night-grinding and lockjaw.
Trixie scoots Lauren’s feet over and slides onto the couch, rocking the baby on her lap, looking for car chases on local news, petting the baby’s golden hair. Duke avoids eye-contact.
“I’m not gonna kill a baby, Duke. Besides. This baby hardly has teeth. It’s a joke, Duke. It’s a joke.”
“Ok, ok, I’m leaving.”
Duke somehow survives a winding drive through the Hollywoodland Hills and ends up stationed a few turns up the canyon from [Redacted]’s house. She’s been there for twenty-three minutes. She’s had fifteen and a half imaginary conversations with [Redacted] and most of them go like this:
DUKE: I think. There are worlds of people who wouldn’t notice you or care that you exist.
DUKE: Anyway here are your drugs.
But this next one Duke thinks is the most poetic option:
DUKE: I’m running. And I’m running. And running. And you turn off the treadmill. And I slam into the little flashing numbers. And I don’t think it’s fair.
[REDACTED]: The numbers wouldn’t be flashing if it was turned off. Also when’s the last time you went running.
In this version [Redacted] takes a drag from her cigarette, which is hand-rolled, and it’s made from the cremated ashes of a girl who jumped off a cliff near Mullholland.
The next one Duke thinks is the most favorable option, the most romantic:
[REDACTED]: It’s not my fault that my mere existence hurdles you into an endless time-space continuum of pain and suffering, feelings of being lost in an unknown forest, feelings of organs ballroom dancing inside of you. You know. I’ve felt that way, too. But not about you.
DUKE: It would be so like you to say something like that.
In this version [Redacted] shrugs after Duke says that, and looks ugly.
DUKE: It would be so like you to do something like that.
The next one Duke doesn’t even imagine because it would be too bone-breaking, stomach-churning, hydrochloric-acid-in-the-eyes burning to even think about, but it’s necessary to include:
[REDACTED]: You yanked teeth out for me.
[REDACTED]: I love you.
Duke walks out of the car feeling like a newly born deer on jello legs. She rounds the bend feeling like a juggling stilt-walker with vertigo, and she goes up to [Redacted]’s front door feeling like a sixteen-year-old girl who just pierced her own bellybutton and now can’t really see or hear, some kind of darkness enclosing like marshmallow fluff, some kind of existential heatstroke. She forgot to check what she looked like in the rearview. Her mascara might be smudged, her eyes might be spidery, she might have dried blood on her chin, and she doesn’t know if that would turn [Redacted] on or disgust her.
The lights are on.
Duke texts [Redacted] and says, “I’m here,” and she waits four and a half minutes, but there’s no response. She presses on the door handle, feeling its grooves, like a language forgotten, a door handle that is foreign now, that could be any door handle on any door, in any home furnishing store, and not one that has a certain nick on the base, not one unseasonably warm, not one that makes Duke feel like hot lava is dripping down her back, her thighs, not one that brings with it a mad tingling behind the eyes. She turns the knob and goes inside.
Oh, god, this foyer. Duke takes a light step, her heart pounding, expecting [Redacted]’s blind dog to come lumbering, barking, narrowing its cataract eyes at Duke, the loved-one, Duke, the intruder. Duke, where have you been? You used to come here. But, the dog doesn’t lumber.
She starts up the spiral staircase, touches the icy metal, each step feeling further from the last, and yet, after one complete rotation, she can’t remember how she got there. When she looks back, it’s like a blackout. When she looks back, all she sees are more steps up, snaking around blind turns, curved like an isolated hipbone, a ribcage bulging, two fingers pressed together, motioning, come here, come here.
Duke reaches the top of the stairs. And then, there’s a laugh. A laugh that melts Duke’s skin off, cinches her veins, pulverizes her esophagus, jams an icepick through her neck, rips her nails right off her fingers. Heart seizes. Brain freezes. Everything goes dark and airy and she passes out violently, falling backward, head slamming against the metal stairs, body spiraling like a corpse down a water slide, crumpling to the ground with a depressing lack of grace.
A girl with well-conditioned hair appears at the base of the stairs. She stares at Duke. Duke’s nose bleeds. The girl is tall and skinny and would describe herself as “very L.A.” if anyone ever asked her. She calls out to [Redacted]. She says, “it’s for you.” Then she drifts off, weightless.
[Redacted] comes. She’s not what you’d expect.
Although unconscious, Duke can sense her presence, and her insides are vibrating, and she’s trying to get herself to wake up, wake up, wake up, smell the haunting perfume, let it ruin her enough to snap her out of this.
Duke’s mouth bleeds. [Redacted] crouches down. She slips her hands into Duke’s pockets. Duke’s unconscious self is giddy. She’s touching me. At least she’s touching me. Oh, but, it’s not like it was. She feels suddenly very isolated, very lonely, very molecular, as if experiencing the opposite of life-flashing-before-ones-eyes. She didn’t think she’d feel this way. [Redacted] keeps running her hands through Duke’s clothes, like a tourist on a roadmap, and of course its foreign, of course it’s hard to take, and not revitalizing, not hydrating, the opposite of what she’d thought, the opposite of how it should be, just the opposite, the opposite. [Redacted] doesn’t find anything, except old movie ticket stubs, a dollar bill, lint, a receipt, a ring, a cheap and busted ring, one that Duke used to wear on her thumb, that she once accidentally left on [Redacted]’s nightstand, and it lived there for a whole day, and Duke felt empty and [Redacted] felt powerful, and [Redacted] remembers it now but can’t access any sort of emotion to accompany it. But, you know, whatever.
Duke accidentally left the T in the car.
[Redacted] opens Duke’s mouth. One of her front teeth is gone. The other, cracked down the middle. Nothing but a jagged nub left. [Redacted] feels for more loose teeth. Duke’s right canine wiggles between [Redacted]’s fingers. She plucks it out. It comes, easily, like a ripe blackberry, careful, no thorns, just round and bursting. [Redacted] stands up, finds the missing front tooth on the third stair, shining like a full moon. She picks it up, rolls it around in her hand, rubs it clean on her shirt, and swallows it. Oh. It tastes like something familiar. I just don’t know what.
[Redacted] looks down at Duke.
[Redacted] thinks nothing more of it, and disappears back into the dark folds of the house, waiting for the high to hit, maybe fucking that girl with the soft hair, maybe eating her, digging into her skin, or doing whatever else she does that’s so magical, so world-stopping, so, godlike, so.
But, certainly – and you can be certain – what she’s not doing is
Thinking about you.
Lauren, the girl with the most unfortunate evening – depending on your definition of tragedy – she’s not dead. She woke up on a white leather couch, throat slick with blood, next to a sleeping girl with jet black hair, holding a soulless baby, knowing not to look it in the eyes, and now she’s stumbling the streets of LA, just wondering how someone could misplace all their teeth. You lose your keys, sure, you drop your ID, the coke falls in the toilet, okay, but, these bones were once stuck in my head. She’s not dead. She’s wondering what happened. She’s numb and toothless, wondering how things got to be this way, wondering if she’d moved to New York, would she have woken up with no teeth? If she’d stayed in Wisconsin, would she be less of a casualty? If she just hadn’t slept with that one boy she shouldn’t have slept with, if she’d just gone home that weekend? And she’s wondering if you’re aware of how painful it could be.
She decides that you have no idea how painful it could be.
Duke snaps back into consciousness while speeding through the valley. These turns, they feel warm, like they’d been pressed between someone’s thighs, a human-radiator. Some people are like that, they radiate things. Some people are cold always. Duke is cold always. She’d found herself a human-radiator. Then it broke.
Duke is running her tongue over the spongey holes where her teeth used to be. She can’t believe [Redacted] swallowed them. There. Now there’s something of mine dissolving inside of you. That means I either got what I wanted, or was forgotten. Duke can’t think about this too much. No one can. So she focuses on the warm curves, the tires gliding lightly, the feeling of soft touch, the feeling of I-am-never-coming-back-here, not in real life, not in my mind, and the sharpness of these turns will smooth, until this road no longer haunts, until eventually things don’t need to be crossed out. Instead they would be butterflies.
Duke’s car nearly slams into something. A deer. A belly-swollen, pregnant deer. She swerves to avoid it. She swerves off a cliff. Losing control. Spiraling, spiraling, spiraling down. Rock destroying metal. Metal crushing bone. Shards protruding through skin. Blood pouring from the nose. Isn’t that how it always goes.
Smooth, then, the opposite of smooth.
Now’s the time, Duke. Now’s the time for life-flashing.
I’m sorry it had to end this way, but aren’t you kind of glad? And, of course, the deer thinks nothing of it, and walks off, leaving you, leaving you to wonder.
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Haley Z. Boston is a writer from Portland, Oregon who begrudgingly resides in Los Angeles. In 2016, her short story Number 36 was published in Helicon Literary Magazine. This is her second publication. She is a big fan of fake gore, but is afraid of real needles. She can be found on twitter at @swampmonstr.