The screen door banged in the hot desert wind.
Slap, slap. As despondent as the rest of the world, the world of this hot tin house, the quiet moaning wind that sifted dust into the cracks of her face, into the bed sheets, under the window in dust fingers to the gold-flecked white Formica kitchen counter. The sighs and slices of the old ten-piece- well, nine-piece now
– knife set marked the counter. The missing knife still lay under the bed where she’d laid it, so quietly, remembering with a pause in her mind where it lay- how coldly and patiently it waited. She could see it now, closing her eyes, its cheap serration glinting among the dust and atop the shag green carpet, a deeper green where it hid below the bed from the scorching rays of the Mojave sun. The sun bore through the windows and the blinds to strain the color from everything, until it all matched the bone and dirt colors of the desiccated landscape.
Anton was out now. He’d torn off in the bleached old yellow Corsica , clouds of the fated dust following him, ghosts of thought waving at him as they hovered in his trail, watching to see if he would skid into the creosote, spread his brain matter among the spines of the cholla cactus.
Rose blankly stared at the rounded dirty-white walls of the trailer, picking like an addict at a frayed spot in the short jean cut-offs that bit into thick pale thighs. She tried to stay out of the sun. Mom said even Navajo get the
skin cancer. Old Dezba had a large dark mole like a face that grew out of the side of her chin, with white hairs feeling the air like tentacles. Rose supposed that was skin cancer. Skin cancer might not be a terrible way to go. She could imagine it crawling from her face to her throat, inside and stealthy so you couldn’t see it from the outside, from the round smoothness of her skin and face. It would start as a tiny brown spot, but it would go deep and by the time that little line of rot reached her heart it would be time to die. No one would know what was happening to her, no one would know until it was too late. She knew she would probably feel the pain, feel the deep angry ache as it burrowed to her heart, the cancer. She would hold her face still as stone, still as the masks
had hung on the adobe walls of her house on the res, when she was still alive.
Rose was good at that. She was good at holding her thoughts deep behind her face, so that the twitch of errant nerves and cold blackness of her eyes were the only things that moved. Most people couldn’t read anything when her stone face was on. Except for Anton. Sometimes he could tell, from across the room even, and if she was thinking about him a small cruel smile would tighten the bottom of his face, never reaching his odd brown eyes. She would feel a chill then, inside her, as if he was touching her heart with ice. It was stronger than that- his eyes could hold you, choke you, deep and oppressive as black thunderclouds that could build in minutes over the purple mountains. It was the feeling of dying, when you looked at him. Those last fluttering beats of the heart, the sigh of air as it left lungs for the last time. She shuddered deep within
her still self at the thought of him, behind the soft fuzz of the weed she’d been smoking since she awoke. He never left her alone anymore, never. Here she was wasting precious time being stoned, when she could be…what? She deserved it. She deserved him.
Tick, tick, tick
. That fucking clock. The supreme quiet had descended, the quiet of the afternoon when the sun was baking the land. The whitewashed sky fell in heat waves to the sun stroked earth. Rose let the weed spread her out over the house, let other tiny sounds enter her head and calm her. The sigh of the trailer as it settled, heated, and expanded. The slap of the screen door in the stiff gusts of air. The clock.
That fucking piece of shit clock!!
The noise bothered her, snapped her out of the reverie. Paranoia tinged her high. He’d be back soon, he had to be. He wasn’t working today. The fear of him was growing day by day. She was mad at herself, so mad that she’d thought he was ever her friend. That she could have been so naïve, such a stupid little girl. She hadn’t known any better. There had been no one to tell her. She tried to believe that.
Rose, Rose. You gotta get out of here.
She couldn’t move herself, couldn’t think anymore. She was hiding under this new face, hiding bound and gagged in a dark place where nothing made sense.
Shima sani had told me. She knew.
The words knocked against the fragile onion layers of her consciousness. She pictured her grandmother dying, her small shaky hands clasping and opening, clasping and opening as she gripped the last few seconds she had to live. Rose hadn’t been there, off partying, who knows where. Getting fucked up again so she didn’t have to think about anything. The old woman’s last words had been for her, for Rose. She said them in Navajo, quiet and raspy, in her daughter’s ear. Because it was in Navajo, Rose knew she meant it.
“Tell her, tell my Rose. Tell her no
! Not ever.” It was a strange last thing to say, a strange use of the only air left that your lungs will ever hold. “Tell her to promise me.”
When Rose had gotten home the night her grandma had left the world, she’d stumbled as she entered and knocked the keys crashing from their hooks to the floor. The light came on in the living room, and she watched bleary-eyed as her mother came out of the dark from where she had been sitting, hands folded around her sanity. Small, cold hands, like her heart. “Your grandmother is dead. She died tonight.”
Rose felt a twinge under the vodka. It was a black twinge, like the lowering of clouds before a storm. Like the darkness of a mineshaft. She headed back to her room, wavering and feeling the wall. Her mother went back to sit on the couch. Over coffee the next morning, her mother told her what
had said. She hadn’t made any breakfast, and Rose was happy because the bile rose vodka-flavored to rub seductively against the back of her throat.
“No Mexicans?” Rose said softly. “That was it?”
“And to promise her, Rose. She said it because of Brenda, and because she said some spirit told her.” Her mother watched her out of the corners of almond-shaped eyes, solemn but still condescending, always condescending.
Brenda was dead too. She had died a few years earlier, at the uncertain age of 20. Her boyfriend had strangled her and hung her from a closet rod. Right now the boyfriend still lived in Arizona somewhere, safe and happy with his new wife and the baby he had started right before he let Brenda’s children see how blue Mommy could turn. The social workers found out how she died when the 2-and- 4-year-olds acted it out with Barbie dolls. That didn’t turn out to be enough evidence, and they never found her body anyway. That boyfriend had been Mexican, and now Rose’s family thought the whole race was just bad juju. Rose hadn’t thought much about it, besides that it sucked and was sad.
Now she knew. She knew
had seen Anton, and seen what he would do to her granddaughter.
He had hunched over her last night, his little dick half-flaccid as he tried to put it in while she lay there, an unfeeling lump. Inside her rage grew; a hatred for him and his pathetic attempts at sex. He could only screw little girls, girls he found online like he’d done her. She was 19, she was lonely, and she wanted to get out of the house. Anton talked to her for months before he’d suggested they meet, and always she laughed him off.
“Whatever, perv,” she said, full of confidence that he couldn’t touch her. Finally out of boredom one day, and because he said he’d take her to see Ice Age and buy a bottle, she’d met him at Circle K. He never looked at her the entire time, eyes shifting away when she faced him, strange shuffling movements and nervous tics. He was ugly, she thought. His head was strange-shaped, and his eyes were too light for his skin. After that he’d started buying booze when she wanted, bringing over coke when she wanted to be high, and always never touching her. One night when he dropped her off after another movie, she ran back out to the car in only panties and her t-shirt to grab her purse that she’d drunkenly left on the holey pleather seat. That’s how much she trusted that he’d never touch her.
Rose felt the rage begin to break loose inside of her, where it danced in faster and faster circles like molecules in boiling water. She moved suddenly, shoving Anton backward, his penis flopping ludicrously. He looked up, shock flashing in his pale weak eyes. Anger quickly replaced shock, replaced by something else, that suffocating thing.
“Get off of me you piece of shit! You aren’t even a man! You can’t even get it up!” Rose shrieked at him, turning away from his eyes, wiping her hands across her stomach where his sweat polluted her skin. Her naked body stared at her in the cracked half mirror hanging from the back of the bedroom door. It was all pale, corpulent, except for the redness where he had kneeled and sweat on her. All of her was dead, except where he leeched on her. She turned to look at him again, to scream something. He hunched at the end of the bed, his stringy body shaking, mumbling to himself, growling. He had his penknife in his hand, drawing it slowly across his arm where the myriad scars already there looked like the lines on the moon, the aftermath of a cataclysmic meeting of masses with no control over trajectory. The dark blood followed his knife, a trail of thought. Rose had turned and hurried to the bathroom to lock herself in there. She spent hours painting her nails, listening to Anton’s death metal rage tonelessly as she layered red polish over itself until her toes glittered like rubies. She hummed to herself, comforted by the thrum in the back of her throat, trying to dispel the darkness that blackened every corner of her thoughts like burning paper, the way the black would creep in from each side in little tongues and the crumbling ash follow.
Rose had started drawing the same blood lines with that serrated knife over the inside of her arms and thighs, where nobody could see. She had never seen anyone do it until Anton. Now she knew his crazed spirit, the crazy in him was rubbing off on her.
Fa la la, fa la la, she sang under her breath. Fa la la la la, la la la la. Anton said her humming drove him crazy, that she needed to keep her mouth shut. You’re already crazy, ma’ii,
She heard the car, far down the dusty road, spinning past tall watching saguaros and the dry, sad palo verdes. Her heartbeat quickened in the dullness of her body. It was the only sign that she was afraid. She lay back against the cool tub, feeling the trickle of sweat down her spine as it ran away from her. She looked numbly down at her arm, then at the knife in her other hand. She didn’t remember pulling it from the carpet under the bed. She didn’t remember drawing its biting teeth across her arm, or maybe she remembered but it blurred together with the other times- his and hers. Spots of bright red blood dotted the white of the tub, of her thighs. It matched her nails, and she smiled a little to see it. The Corsica stopped in front of the door and jerked a few times before silence descended again. She heard the door slam, and his quiet shuffling steps come up the two rickety wooden steps to the door, the steps she always tripped on when she was drunk. She closed her hand tightly around the knife, and shrunk against the tub.
You crazy bastard. Don’t come in here, don’t talk to me.
She heard him come down the hall, heard him muttering to the spirits in his head, to the demons that possessed every waking moment. He just got worse and worse,
after she moved in, telling her that loving her made him that way. With him, emptiness was the only thing she knew. A great, cavernous emptiness like a carved pumpkin, its seeds and guts spread in the dirt and its new face one with only one expression. Then it starts to rot. The inside of her mind was full of holes, rotten parts that had fallen in on themselves, that smelled like vomit. He had taken away her friends, deleted her phone, ostracized her family. Rose crept from the bathroom, avoiding the creaks in the floor. His back was to her, as he typed away, looking for other little girls to take advantage of. He told her he was doing black magic on them, the same black magic he’d done for some of the Oklahoma tribes. The same magic that had caused his girlfriend before her to kill herself while on the phone with him. He told her these things, and she believed him.
Her mind snapped, the elastic of a rubber band eaten by the sun- a crack! Red flashed as she leapt with the little knife gleaming in her hand, raising it high and slim and deadly. In her strained mind’s eye she saw herself, poised like a warrior, strength and purpose in her arm- and his face. The stark fear as the steel entered his body, the jerk- and then nothing.
Everything was white, and she couldn’t get away. The sweat beaded on her forehead, down between her breasts, and panicked struggle only made her bonds tighter, the heat greater, stifling. Her eyes opened, and the padded walls around her shocked her with their anger, their forbidding presence.
screamed, flailing her arms, bucking against the bonds, panting.
No, I’m not crazy!! Somebody help me!
Even through her fear she realized she needed to calm down. Hyperventilating, she stopped thrashing, craning her neck up to look out the tiny square window. His small cruel smile was there, framed in the reinforced glass, his watered coffee eyes gleaming in at her. His black magic worked. He was right.