Killers Among Us

They say the average person walks past a murderer 36 times in their life. That means that without knowing it you have crossed paths with someone who has maliciously taken the life of another. It hurts to think about, but when you are naïve to this fact you can live on in ignorance.

I was only twenty years old the first time I held the hand of a murderer. I clasped it between my own two hands and looked into his eyes as he put down his old, sick dog. I told him how sorry I was and helped him out the door. I’d never seen someone so big be struck down by such overwhelming grief. His wife usually came in, but this dog was his; this was his time to grieve.

And he chose to do it alone.

I didn’t see him again for a several months, and the incident was lost in my memories of everyday clients and their pets. However, when he showed back up one evening just before closing I immediately remembered how he sobbed quietly into his handkerchief as his dog passed away.

He walked up to the front desk and stood there for a moment, his head down.

“I just wanted to say thank you.” He finally managed, raising his bright blue eyes up to meet mine. I smiled and nodded, but was unsure of what he was thanking me for. When we had put down his dog there had been snow on the ground, now it was a 110 degrees in the shade. So much time had passed that the plants had forgotten who they were. I turned my head to the side, tilting it as I studied him, and then offered him a standard reply. I had dealt with many people and their grief, but this was definitely a first.

“It was no problem. It’s always such a hard thing to do, no one should have to go through it alone.”

He nodded and stared down at his hands for a long time, not making a move to go away or to say anything. After a bit I picked up some paperwork and started to sort through it in hopes that he might be persuaded to do something. Finally he looked at me once again and I saw the sea of anguish in his eyes and realized he was grappling with far more than his dog’s death six months ago.

“That is a very true statement. Thank you, again.”

He held out his hand and I shook it and this time there was a spark of electricity that seemed to flow from his palm to mine. A shiver so stark and cold ran up my arm and down my spine. In that instant I imagined running out into the heat to purge myself of it.

His smile was slow to spread across his face, but it never did reach his eyes and when he walked out of the door and into the brilliant sunlight I knew that it would be the last time I ever saw him.

I don’t think I was all that surprised when I saw his picture on the news that night saying that he had walked into the police department and turned himself in less than thirty minutes after coming into the clinic. When I heard that he had chopped his wife into little bitty pieces and stored her in the freezer I remembered the horrible chill that ran down my arm when he touched me. Thought of the blood that must have been hidden under his fingernails and in the crevices of his fingerprints that had once been flowing through his wife, a woman I had seen on a monthly basis for the last three years.

When I looked down and saw that I had sliced open the palm of my own hand while cutting vegetables I should have been surprised. I should have been horrified, but I could do nothing but wonder how much blood flowed through her body when he was cutting it apart, and how much of the residue of who she had been was now imprinted on my hand? My soul?

Would it ever be the same.

Just Me

Sometimes I walk by without noticing,
but not often.
Eyes that aren’t mine
meeting eyes that are.
I know there is nothing behind them,
it’s only a simple trick anyway,
but they still stare at me,
into me.
If I stare back too long
they might swallow me whole.
Each golden green orb surrounded by
long blinking eyelashes
and skin tinged blue by lack of sleep:
there was no make-up left to cover the circles up.
Every now and then a tear falls slowly
down the curve of my cheekbone and into
the corners of my chapped, red lips
where the tip of my tongue automatically
pulls the salty candy diamond into the
warm cavern that is my mouth.

But the reflection doesn’t care,
and the eyes that aren’t mine
yet are
never change.

Imaginary Playmates

He waits for them at night to come shuffling out of the closet, lining up against the side of the bed and whispering to him their secrets. This is their nightly ritual, and it has become so that he cannot sleep without feeling the cold air whistling against his neck as his head fills with images of what they have told him.

When he tells his mom about them she waves her hand and dismisses his imaginary playmates as nothing more than typical childhood delusions. One morning while she was flipping pancakes he tried to let her know that it was not him who dumped out the toy box after dark, or rearranged the books and shoes on the shelf. But the hand that reached out and clamped down over his mouth reminded him that this secret was one he had to keep.

Most of the time what they tell him is not bad, twice he found small treasures in the backyard. There are some he would rather not hear, but he has to bear witness to what they want to tell him, he has to lend a willing ear. Or else, they may ask that he look at them, and that above all else is something he does not want to do. Deep down in the bottom reaches of his stomach he knows that it will not end well, knows that seeing the imaginary whispering train would leave him in fear.

So, each night he waits patiently with closed eyes and tight chest as the closet door creaks open and he hears the first footsteps scratch their way across the floorboards to his bed. And then, then he listens.

Heroes

It was easier when all the heroes
wore brightly colored badges. We knew
who they were at first glance and
there were no questions about whether
or not they could save the day.

There were no varying shades of grey,
nothing in between the solid lines of
Good and Bad. The world was crystal
clear and we held each other’s hands
as we ventured out into the world,
unafraid of the dark, secure in the
knowledge that there were those
out there who only needed a moment
to throw off the shackles of this life
and rise to the occasion.

Gladiator Women

They walk out ahead of the battle, shields at their side, swords drawn. The fog creeps in from the nearby lake in spiky limbs, caressing their feet, curling over their bodies, encasing them. They stand erect, tall heads facing their enemy.

She steps into the center, her hand tightly wound around the hilt of her sword and turns her head to the left, and then the right, ensuring that the line formation is solid. Nodding to herself she tucks her chin in and holds her breath. The first hit to the shield sounds hollow and empty, but with each one the tension grows, vibrating out into the hushed dawn. Lower on the valley birds scatter and fly up into the sky, the fog clinging to their wings and trailing back down to the earth in small tendrils.

Letting the air out through the gap in her teeth she narrows her gaze and stares across the field. Her muscles tight and ready, coiled in balls against her bones. She sniffs the air as the drumming continues, waiting for any sign of their enemy. In the moment before she spots the metal of their armor she swore that she felt the universe pressing in against her, holding all the pieces of her skin together, keeping her from exploding at the seams.

And then it was gone and she was launching across the hill: the grass slipping against her calves, the sun rolling over her flesh, the air passing through her lungs, the blood pounding across every inch of her being.

“For our daughters!” the cry was so intense and so stark that she could feel it vibrate against her bones and carry her the rest of the way into battle. The blood at the end of the blade her sacrifice.

Flytrap

It yawns into the sunlight,
each overlapping jagged tooth
separating from the others until
it looks like the mouth of a miniature
monster. It’s almost cute, and for
a moment it looks harmless,
it is, after all, just a plant.

It is easier to see the overall
picture from across the room,
to know the exact moment when
the angle of his mouth stretches
just far enough that it is only a
matter of seconds before it
snaps back down,
trapping its prey in a
mouth that turns and grins
into the darkness,
waiting,

 

 

Elementary School

She held her hands tightly together, one on top of the other as they grasped at the warm plastic handle of the Fraggle Rock lunchbox and chewed on her lip. Everything was different here; different names, different styles, different looks from the eyes of her classmates as she walked by them one by one. Each step she could feel their eyes crawling over her, judging her.

A movement caught her attention, and she turned her head just in time to see one of the boys flick his tongue against his lips. She thought of lizards, and snakes, and all things slimy in the world and shuddered against the thought of his touch but she kept her gaze true.

Instinctively she knew that wavering would have been the nail in the coffin, knew that they would pounce on her and tear through the tender flesh of her abdomen like a hyena. The room was still, each child’s breath held in collective anticipation of her next move. She could hear their combined pulse thrumming around her like a current and knew that even the eyes pretending not to follow her were keenly aware of her presence in the room.

When she reached the far table she carefully skirted around the edge, walking so that her back was against the wall when she sat down. Then she opened her lunchbox, sat up, and gazed upon the kingdom that she would eventually make her own.

Driving

My tires bumped over the rough path,
each rut and swell imprinting themselves on my
car’s shocks in a way that only
Oklahoma dirt roads are capable of.
The tires stopped.
It was a clear night and
I could see the lights of Elk City
seven miles away.

You had shown me this with pride
as you leaned against the hood of
a black car I no longer have.
The luggage in my backseat
called out to me, commanding me
to leave this town, this place.
The red dirt glowed in my taillights,
bright clouds created by tires.
The dirt rose up for the first time in days,
quick to lay back down. Each particle
drifting apart and together,
making a new pattern.

Change

The coins clinked in the paper coffee cup as people spared what change they could, a penny here, a nickel there. Every couple of hours she would empty the change she had collected into a secondary location, leaving only a few lonely coins at the bottom.

American Gypsies.

It was a name that she had heard spoken in hushed tones around the fires at the train yard since she was a very young child. It was a brand that followed her wherever she went.

Hobo, gypsy, vagabond

These were words that were thrown at her on a daily basis with a viciousness to them that ran deep in her veins, but most days she would just grit her teeth together and pretend she couldn’t hear them. Her mother used to tell her to let the words roll off her skin like raindrops.

She would think about how much rain actually soaked into your being before it started to roll off.

Shifting her weight from one side to the other, she rocked gently back and forth on the ground, the cement briefly scratching her numbed skin, sending tendrils of pain across her thigh. For a moment she thought about her life, thought about all of the things that could have gone differently, and wondered if the people who taunted her were right.

A bright flare of light reflected off of the building across the street as the door swung open, blinding her. She put her hand over her eyes to shield them and watched as the great afternoon departure began: line after line of people filing out of the doors of all of the businesses in the area.

Very few of them looked at her, and she would still get the occasional clink in the cup. Most of the time she was a ghost, a part of humanity they would rather forget. To her they looked like ants on the sidewalk, a flow of people from one point to the next, strung together by obligations and jobs.

She leaned her head against the brick and closed her eyes and thought of the sound that the train would make when it moved through towns in the dark of night, how the wind would roll across them through the openings in the car. She thought about humanity and how they were all just passing through this space and about the idea of abstract items acting as concrete barriers.

An eternity might have passed behind her eyelids, considerations of all things great and small, but time and space were not barriers that mortals would be able to overcome in her lifetime.

Blankets

She smothers herself in blankets.
Wraps herself tightly in layer after
layer of woven cloth until nothing
sticks out except the tip of her head.

She sleeps deeply in her cocoon, protected
from anything that might wake her
from the dreams where she soars through
the sky-a superhero defending the world
from the bad guys.

One day I will have to explain to her that
the bad guys are all around. One day I will have to
hold her when someone breaks her heart
and she has long forgotten how to be an
all powerful being that can create her own destiny.

One day comfort will be much harder to find
and the idea of wrapping yourself in a swath of
material to keep the darkness out will seem
as illogical as being a superhero.

For now I will tell her none of these things. I will
let her feel safe in her pile of blankets and stuffed
animals.