I demand that she take me to this place she told me about, the scene of the crime as it were. I know I shouldn’t even ask, but I can’t help myself. I need to see it, even if the truth of it will be worse than my imaginings and it drives me deeper into despair.
She seems resigned to my irrational choice, so she shows me without an argument. I drive in the pitch blackness of an oppressive summer night, moonless and moist. She stares out the window, saying nothing. There is no sound but the roar of an angry engine and the pounding of blood in my temples. I try not to let my emotions get the best of me. It’s very difficult.
The hotel we pull up to feels like some dark cave. The lights are dim, the bar adjacent to the hotel long since closed. The cars in the parking lot feel like apocalyptic husks, discarded years ago. I pull up, my headlights a violation of this blackest of spaces, and shut off the engine. My car, like the rest, joins the ranks of the dead machines, cast aside for what lies inside the looming building.
She leads me to a nondescript door on the face of the building. The key is already in her hand, sliding into the lock as she answers my unspoken question. “We … keep the room. There’s a standing rendezvous here …”
I try to keep myself under control. Try to sound reasonable when I speak. “How … how often is this … this …?” I can’t even find the words I want.
“Every week. Sometimes twice, if we feel up to it,” she admits freely, as though it doesn’t bother her. As though it’s the most natural thing in the world. My chest feels like its burning. She turns the knob and reaches in, expertly finding the light switch in the dark room.
I walk in once the light is on, ready to confront the space like it’s some sort of monster. Inside there are no dragons to slay, no boogey men but what I’ve brought with me. The room is small, bare and old and worn, with discolored wallpaper sloughing off the walls in patches and threadbare sheets on the one, large bed in the room.
There is no mistaking the purpose of a room like this.
She enters behind me and closes the door. I stand, looking at the room, trying not to gawk as my mind tries to picture her and some other being, inhabiting this room, regularly dropping from the living world to exist for a time in this tucked away place. It’s warm in here, but far drier than outside, and it feels like a whole other world with the orange glow of the light keeping the darkness at bay.
“I … I can’t picture this,” I admit to her. “You … here … it doesn’t make any sense.”
She shuts the light off in response, walking past me. There is nothing to see now, no light at all. I wait as my eyes begin to adjust to this new darkness. Slowly, very slowly, the world comes into focus. To her credit, it was the right response. In this light, all faint grey-blue tones like a heavy bruise on the world, this room seems mysterious and alien, uncaring walls and slashes of light from out in the parking lot coming in through the blinds. The bed falls across this pattern, slats of brighter color making prison bars on the mattress.
She’s laying on the bed, now. I hadn’t seen her move, but there she is, lying there staring up at the ceiling, hands tucked under her head like she hasn’t a care in the world. “This is what it’s like for me. It’s dark. It’s away. It’s comfortable. I don’t come here to look at the furniture.”
“Obviously,” I answer, my mouth dry. I thought the humidity outside was unbearable, but in here where it’s as dry and still as a tomb, it’s somehow worse. I feel as though all the water is being sucked from me, the room thirsty for what life I had to give it.
“Come lay down with me,” she says.
I stare at her, stare at the bed where she had … I couldn’t even finish the thought without my rational self dissolving in the emotional turmoil that I was keeping a tight lid on. “No, I can’t do that.” I move over to the other side of the bed, where there was a small space before the closet. I lie down on the floor, here where it was dark and somehow cooler for being on the ground. “I’ll lay down here.”
She moves over to the edge of the bed, her head a silhouette as she peered down at me. After a moment, she rolls off the edge carefully, landing at my side where she throws an arm over my chest protectively. I don’t have it in me to shrug her off.
“So what now? You know. I couldn’t stand you not knowing.”
I don’t know what to say at first. I look down at her and run one idle hand through her hair. “I don’t know what now. There’s not much I can do but deal with it. What other choice do I have?”
“You could have gotten mad,” she answers. “You could have yelled. Could have hit me. Threatened me. Left for good.”
I think it over as I watch her face turn up to mine, awaiting my answer. I shrug as best I can with her against me, shaking my head. “I don’t think I could do any of those things. I feel numb. It hurts, but it’s all … tied down.”
“Like a tourniquet,” I answer. “I’m keeping it all from bleeding out of me.”
“You don’t have to do that,” she says. “I can take it.”
“No, I could hurt you, if I did that. And I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself. Easier to stay in control.”
“I’m not afraid,” she says. She reaches up onto the bed, her hand fumbling around for something. When it returns, she has her purse in her hand. “I’ve got a little something that would have kept me safe.” In the faint light down here, I watch as she opens up the bag and pulls out her little something. It gleams faintly metallic, large and heavy, snub-nosed and dangerous.
“What the hell are you doing with that?”
“It’s more effective than pepper spray,” she says. “A girl’s gotta protect herself.”
“Is it loaded?”
“Of course it’s loaded,” she answers. “What good would it be otherwise? I might as well go out and buy a toy and paint it the right color and hope for the best, at that point.” She hesitats, and then looks up at me. “You wanna hold it?”
I pause, thinking for a second. Then I hold out my hand. “Sure.” She slides it into my palm and my fingers close around it. It’s heavier than I imagined, a huge chunk of metal cold and unfeeling. I lift my hand, feeling its heft, looking at the outline of it. “I’m surprised you can even lift this thing.”
“It took some practice,” she admits. “But I’m a pretty good shot.”
“Just how many things don’t I know about you, even after all this time?”
She doesn’t answer, just shrugs her shoulders and rests her head back on my chest. “I can’t give away everything at a moment’s notice,” she says. “I’m not like that. Maybe you’re okay with being transparent, but I can’t do it. You can’t straighten a maze, you just have to run it and try to get to the other side.”
I shakemy head. “I’m tired of playing games.”
“Well, then you’ll just have to make a choice. You either keep up this game, though I’d hardly call it that myself, or you get up and walk out this door and don’t come back. How does that suit your carefully controlled intellect, hm? Here you are, in the den of my dishonesty, and yet you still don’t know how you’re going to react. How pathetic can you be?”
I hug her close to me, her body small and soft against mine. The report that comes out of the monster she had handed me is muffled by her torso. She lets out a small gasp, her body stiffening beside me and then going loose. I feel a new heat, urgently warm and wet, spreading across my body.
She clings to me, not raising her head. “You really were upset, weren’t you?”
I hold her, rubbing her back, avoiding the gaping hole that I had blown through her. It wouldn’t be long, if the puddle I was lying in was any indication. I lean down, kissing her cheek and whispering in her ear. “More than you’ll ever know.”
“I’m … glad,” she says. “I didn’t think you cared as much as I did. I’m sorry that this is what it took for me to believe it.”
“It’s okay,” I answer. “Just relax. Everything is going to work out. You’ll see.”
“It already has,” she says. She raises her head, looking at me. “This is how it was supposed to be. You and me, together in the end. Everything else was just … baggage.”
I nod and she rests her head against me again. “Your heartbeat is steady,” she says. “I don’t think mine is, anymore. Will you miss me, when I’m gone?”
“Of course,” I answer without a thought. “I love you.”
“Mm, I know you do,” she says, her voice faint. “Thank you.” And then we are silent, our breathing the only sound in the room, the warm puddle I am lying in cooling. Eventually it turns thick and sticky, and soon there is only my breathing in the room. I am alone. Instantly, I miss her. Not that it matters for long.
Holding onto what was left of her, I lift the revolver. I had kept it free of any of the mess she had made. I lift it, staring into the cylinder. There are plenty of bullets left. I only need one. I rest it against my temple, where the muzzle feels cool and refreshing. I don’t have to keep a tight reign on my self-control anymore. I could just let go.
I let go.