They Wonder Why I Can't Forget
I ripped off the blindfold, light flaring in my cloudy vision. I twisted and turned my battered body, scooting the chair toward the table, eyes fixed on the gun. I leaned forward, palms on the table, gun just beyond my fingertips.
The squeaking moan of a door opening.
I snatched the gun and pointed it at him. He froze. He was holding a bundle of blue plastic tarp under one arm, and it crinkled as it shifted with the movement of his breath. We stared at each other, silent save for the crackle of plastic and the jittery tremble of shaking gunmetal.
He smiled. “I knew there was more to you than just rich-girl frailty. You're not just some weak trust fund baby, after all. You're a fighter, a survivor. You're like me.”
He laid the tarp onto the ground and held his hands out in front of him. “Your daddy's going to pay the money. I'm sure of it. No one wants you to get hurt. This was all just theatrics for the sake of the transaction, boiler room bargaining with high stakes. It wasn't anything personal.”
He began to shuffle his feet toward me, glancing from my face to the gun. “Just hand that over to me so you don't hurt yourself, and you'll be back home before bedtime.”
I stared at him, hands trembling and vision going fuzzy from held breath. In my mind's eye I saw a messy clump of twitching feathers leaking fluid into marshy grass.
“Meat,” I said.
“What's that, sweetpea?”
“All you are is meat.” I squeezed the trigger.
An explosive bang shocked my heart, recoil sending the gun flying back to gash my forehead. I sat in the ringing daze, shaking my head to clear the double vision. I looked down. The man was lying in the doorway, wet noises gurgling from deep in his chest.
I scooted over to him, tipped the chair onto my hands and knees, and leaned over his body. He lay on his side, gritty chunks of pink and bone oozing from where the bullet had erupted through his spine, his fingers clenched in rigid talons. His face was a mask of confusion and agony as his brain sent messages to limbs that would not obey.
I ran my hand through his hair and picked up a pair of pliers that lay on the cold concrete. I stuck them into his gaping, fish-like mouth and closed them around the gleaming enamel of his front tooth. “Guess what, sweetpea?” I said. “I'm happy we came into each other's lives, too.”
The tooth splintered and cracked as I twisted it loose. His feeble moans soothed my racing heart.
“I was going to pay,” Dad assured me. “Really, I was. But I needed to keep it quiet. We're closing the big deal in China this week. Remember our trip to Shanghai, with Mr. Lee? It could have jeopardized the whole operation if the news got wind of this, so I just needed a little time to get the money sent quietly, in a way that wouldn't attract attention. You understand, don't you? Of course you do. You're my brave little fighter. How about a big bowl of ice cream?”
I went to doctors. Lots of them. Surgery to patch up my face, physical therapists to smooth out the injuries, psychiatrists to fix the rest. Years of hypnotherapy to support the cover up. I was at camp all summer, they told me to say, and fell while riding a horse. A rough time, but gosh was it fun. I repeated it over and over, meditated on false memories until they became almost real, a vivid film reel I could call on whenever the lie was needed. So, so close to being real.
But every now and then my dad will glance at me over the glow of his laptop, and he knows I remember. I remember because I kept something, something I carried out of that house in a clenched fist, something I keep in a little plastic bag under the soft pad of my mattress. I'll peel the bag open at night and roll the white enamel between my fingers, calmed by the creamy texture that glows pale in the moonlight. I'll put it in my mouth and suck on it, remembering the taste of warm copper and the chewy bits of flesh that clung to the root, the memory of meat soothing me and lulling me to sleep.