They Wonder Why I Can't Forget
Hours passed in a fog of shock. Like a hypothermic body shutting down the limbs to protect the core, my brain had numbed my senses to preserve what was left of my sanity. I remember my head being forced back and water pouring down my throat, my belly swelling like a cold balloon. I remember shouts from the other room: “Moneybags.” “Two million.” “Trigger happy.” “Chopped to messes.”
Most of all I remember thinking about the knobs of flesh he had held up under the light, bloody bits of skin and tissue that had once been part of my body, and were now gathering maggots in a trashcan somewhere. My dad had taken me waterfowl hunting the month before. When I had cried over the shredded, twitching mess of a shot duck he had held me by the shoulders and told me, “It's just meat, honey. Everything is made of meat.” In that moment I could feel the meat in my body, the pulsating lumps of wet sinew, filmy tendons knitting together bone, hidden by the soft membrane of my skin. Just meat.
An anguished roar shocked me back into reality. The door smashed open and the man threw the toolbox against the wall over my head. It broke open and heavy steel rained onto the floor of the chamber, pinging like war movie bullets. Through the pinhole I caught a glimpse of his face, purple and bulging, his neck vein taut and looking ready to burst.
“I've given you enough time,” he shouted into the phone. “What the fuck are you waiting for? Give me my fucking money now. I've earned it. You think you can fucking stonewall me? You think the cops are going to track me down? You think I won't really do it?”
He reached behind his back and pulled a handgun from his waistband. He jammed the barrel against my forehead, the cold metal trembling and warming against my skin. “I should do it right now,” he said. “I should pull the trigger, scoop up her brains in a Cuban cigar box and mail you some every Christmas, you fucking parasite.” I could feel the bullet waiting in the chamber, ready to explode and spill my meat out the back of my skull. I could feel it waiting patiently for the signal to wipe my mind clean and set me free.
He set the gun onto the table. “You have one hour,” he said to the phone. He stomped out of the room and up the stairs. I heard an engine roar, then a squeal of tires fading into the distance.
I relaxed into the silence. Only an hour, I thought. Only an hour and it will all be over. I scanned the room through the pinhole, soaking up the cloudy gray of cracked concrete and tried to enjoy the last room I'd ever see. The toolbox’s contents were scattered like dull metal toys, and I looked at each piece. Hammer, screwdrivers, tape measure, nails—
I blinked. Barely a foot away from me they sat on the concrete, glinting yellow and silver. Most were timeworn house keys, but one was tiny and chrome, a shining stub small enough to fit a pair of handcuffs. My whole body instinctively tried to leap for them, only to awaken raw pain in my wrists and ankles. I writhed and pulled, searching for some kind of weak point in my binds, my chrome savior calling to me and drowning out my screaming nerves. Wrists went nowhere, ankles went nowhere. I tipped forward, stopped by the chain again and again and again
I froze. It was tiny, almost imperceptible, but I was leaning forward a fraction of a centimeter further. Behind me, a faint crackle of concrete dust crumbled onto the floor.
I tipped forward again, throwing as much of my tiny body into the momentum as I could. Whatever was securing the chain to the wall was coming loose in a powder of weakened concrete, fractions of freedom coming with every movement. I flung myself with crazed abandon, sweating, muscles tight, teeth clenched and squeezing out red foam. So close, so close, maybe one last push--
The chain ripped free and I tumbled face first to the ground. My teeth cracked on the claw end of a hammer, and a wet vibration rang in my head as my nose broke open on the cold floor. I tipped the chair onto its side, feeling splinters of bone shift through the torn flesh of my nose. I looked at the sticky red stain where my face had landed and started to laugh.
I stopped when I heard it. A car engine purring up the driveway, stopping, going dead. A car door opening and shutting. The chirp of a remote lock.
I tipped the chair again, onto my back. I felt around for the keys, half-crushed fingers blindly scraping the floor, hoping I had landed in the right place. My heart jumped as I found them, and my hands scrambled through the mess of metal to find the one I needed.
I heard the sound of the front door opening and closing. Heavy footsteps on the floor above.
There, the chrome one. My trembling fingers scraped at the keyhole, trying to hold still enough to stick it in. Come on, come on, I thought.
Floorboards creaking down the stairs.
Key in, turning, hands coming loose. Mind screaming Please, God, please. I tipped over to the side and pushed myself upright.
Footsteps approaching the door.