Sunday, March 11, 2012

Her by Christina Askin Richter

Erica. Her name invaded my senses and fueled my desires unlike anything I had ever known. I knew her better than I knew myself, better than she thought I did. I knew her touch, her taste, the sound of her breath as it passed her lips. I knew all the secrets she fought so hard to keep locked away. Locked behind the wall that she had spent much of her life building. I had been on the other side once, once when she let me in, when she let me see. And I had etched every inch of her into the core of me. I knew her fears and the sound of her tears as they fell in the dark. I knew the contours of her body, the dips and curves of her silky skin, so soft and smooth like a fine prized porcelain.

She told me of her dreams, of wedding bells and white picket fences. She would be the model wife and mother staying home to raise the children, one boy and one girl while her husband went out and made a living. It would have been the perfect life but perfect wasn't meant for her. Those dreams and fantasies one by one were beaten from her until all that was left was a hollow shell of uncertainty and distrust. "Mama always said that children were to be seen and not heard" she had told me, but she also told me that 'mama' didn't like to see her much either. She didn't like to be disturbed while she was getting high off her tainted religion and cut-rate heroin.

There were never any good days. Only bad ones. Days when her mother would go through withdrawal were filled with screaming and each word was laced with her fists. Then when money came she would disappear for days leaving Erica to fend for herself. Men would come banging on the door looking for money or sex. She made the mistake of opening the door once to a fat man wearing a gray sweat stained jump suit who was looking for money. He smelled like he hadn't bathed in days and his breath was foul and teeth rotting. Erica had said that her mother wasn't there and began to close the door. But he shoved his foot in between the door and the jam stopping it from closing. Erica backed away as he came in and slowly closed the door behind him. He looked at her like no man should ever look at a little girl. She was 6. When she told her mom, her mom said that she was lying to get attention, trying to give her friends a bad name and she was beaten for it. She never opened the door again.

Erica never wore dresses or short sleeved shirts or shorts. Nothing to show the cuts and bruises that plagued her tiny form.

When Erica had turned 13, her mother had said that it was time for her to start 'earning her keep'. What mother would make their child earn their keep by selling them off to her friends and other filthy low lifes? I can't imagine having to endure her hell for all those years. I don't blame her for running away on her 14th birthday. She had slowly been stealing money from her mom until she felt she had enough to survive on the run for a few days. She went from one hell right into another, finding an apartment with a landlord who said she could 'work off' her rent. She turned tricks to supplement her income and I asked her what the difference was between that life and the life she left? Her response was that it was on her own terms, nobody was forcing her.

I remember the exact moment that I met her. Every detail, completely. It was raining, the clouds were a heavy gray and the fog made everything gloomy. The streets were awash with umbrellas and heads covered with newspapers or briefcases. People bustling here and there, bumping and pushing, trying to get to where they were going staying as dry as possible. I was standing at the desk of the Brendale Post Office waiting on a registered letter when her taxi pulled up. The door opened and a big, bright pink umbrella sailed out and burst open. Then I saw a cherry red stiletto come out and place it's self on the ground. It belonged to a slender ankle with a tattoo of a butterfly resting just above. A moment later the other red stiletto and matching ankle came out and then there was an explosion of yellow as the rest of her got out of the taxi. I couldn't look away. The knee high, strapless yellow dress with a flared bottom flattered her sumptuous form. It had a red belt that matched her cherry red stilettos and her full cherry red lips. Her dark hair wrapped around her slender neck and fell down her right shoulder in a soft wave. Lacey white gloves covered long and slender fingers. She had a string of pearls around her delicate neck and left wrist while her right wrist had a band tattoo of roses and vines. As the taxi pulled away she held the umbrella over her head and then spent a few moments straightening her dress and adjusting when a car sped by and shot a perfectly arced wave of water into the air that hit her as if the car had targeted her personally. I could see her sharp intake of breath, mouth gaping and arms frozen. Her head slowly lowered to observe the state of herself and then her shoulders slumped, arms falling down to her sides, umbrella falling to the sidewalk. I felt so sorry for her and I was expecting her to start crying or raving madly but, to my surprise she tilted her head back and laughed, raising her arms palms up and turning around in a circle. I was captivated, unable to take my eyes off of her. I watched as she walked through the doors dripping from head to toe. Everything seemed to be standing still as if time itself had slowed to watch her. She began to walk towards the counter and I was so deeply entranced that I didn't even notice she was looking right at me until she spoke.
"I must look quite the sight, hmm?" she said as she looked down again brushing in vain at the skirt of her dress. I blinked rapidly and started stuttering trying to form words. "Oh it's alright sugar, no need to be kind. I can feel my makeup running down my face." I looked at her face as if assessing her statement and I saw her stunning blue eyes with once perfectly applied smoky makeup now smudged and smeared looking at me with a hint of amusement in them. Her red lipstick was smeared just slightly from her touching the back of her glove to her face in an attempt to sop up some of the wet. Her hair was matted and hung heavy and limp around her face and shoulders. She was beautiful...

The amused expression in her eyes turned to a slight curiosity and I watched as the flecks of ice in her eyes danced and sparkled. When I was finally able to find words, I gave a slight shrug to my shoulders and said "I've seen worse." An immediate feeling of dread and embarrassment followed as I realized the sheer buffoonery of what just came out of my mouth. The sound of her laughter broke the silence that hung in the air around us. "If you could only see the look on your face right now!" She laughed again, resting her hand on mine. I was mesmerized.

The memory made me shiver with emotion and the stirrings of desire. After that day, it was like we discovered that we were meant to be inseparable, spending every moment together. She had told me what she had done for a living but assured me that she had tricked her last trick. I was relieved, I didn't want to share her. She was mine, my Erica and I was unequivocally and irrevocably in love. She told me about her childhood, about all of the hurt and said that I had been the first to hear any of it. That made me feel special, like she was giving all of herself to me.

She smiled at me in a way that made me feel like I was the air that she needed to survive. I remember asking her how she could seem so happy with enough heartache in her past to end someone and she began to tell me of a flower in her back yard that grew from a rock beneath an old and decrepit tree that was close to the street. The passing cars would throw dirt and rocks at it and the tree hung so far over it that the flower only got a moment of sunshine each day as the sun passed over head. But yet it bloomed in spite of all these things. She told me that if that flower could find beauty in the face of such adversity then so could she. Yes, memories haunted her constantly, so much so that she would wake screaming in the night and I would hold her until her sobs subsided. Even certain sounds would set her off and she would drop and curl into a ball clutching her hands to her ears crying and pleading "no, no, no, no." I would lay down behind her and wrap my arms around her and we would stay like that until the moment past. She was always asking me why I stayed, and each time I would cup her face, kiss her softly and say "these are nothing but moments and every moment with you is a beat of my heart, how can I live without a beating heart?" She would smile and fling herself at me, kissing me with all the passion that two hearts could possibly hold and we would spend the rest of the day and far into the night making slow, sweet love.

Time passed with endless moments, both good and bad. She had become my obsession, my insatiable hook.

Then all at once, as if some hidden switch had been flipped, it seemed to change. We would go out and she would start chatting up both men and women, bringing them over and fawning over them. She would laugh her angelic and addictive laugh, press her charm and they would become enamored with her and I would silently seethe with jealousy. After a while I began to think she did it 'just' to make me jealous but, I never once let her know how much it hurt me. Then one day she just looked at me matter of factly and she gave me the "it's not you, it's me" bullshit, then she was gone. As quickly as she had come into my life, she went out of it, leaving me behind shattered and numb with grief. Why? Why had she done this to me? To us? We were one of those loves that came from lifetimes before and lasted for lifetimes after. Or, at least that was what was screaming in my heart, the very words that she herself had said. I drove myself mad with questions, starting to doubt if she ever loved me at all or if I was just something to fill a gap until the next best thing that came along. I would see her on the streets with a random lover each time and fight to keep my composure, trying to act indifferent while on the inside a storm was brewing it's fury. Then I would sit at home, staring at the walls living my own hell. What she was doing and who she was doing it with? I raged at the thought of someone else's hands on her, someone else's lips on her body and I would scream myself into oblivion.

I screamed and raged until I had nothing left. I had lost every ounce of myself and when I looked in the mirror, I spat at the stranger staring back at me. My family and friends spent much of their time working to bring back some semblance of my former self back and they managed to grasp small pieces here and there. Until finally what I saw in the mirror seemed like something familiar.

But in the stillness I thought of her, she was still there, in my mind, in my soul. Like a constant whisper, pulling at the threads that hung loosely, threatening to unravel. What was she doing? What was she thinking? Was she thinking of me? Did I ever cross her mind?

I closed my eyes...sweet madness, you haunt me still.

1 comment:

  1. Brava, Christina... Brava!

    This left me breathless... such rich prose written around the tangled vines of a tortured soul... leaves me breathless; it truly does.

    "I knew her fears and the sound of her tears as they fell in the dark."

    "She didn't like to be disturbed while she was getting high off her tainted religion and cut-rate heroin."

    Just two lines in an incredibly powerfully moving story. I have so many questions... but I'm not sure I want to know the answers.

    Dark, raw and powerful... the physicality and and voice is some of the best I have come across.

    Christina... I want to keep this story in mind for possible submission to an anthology, if you are interested. I am not sure just yet if we will be doing another, but it seems natural and logical, given the success of the first. Once it is decided to do a second Lost Children anthology, I will get back to you with details.


    I would very much like to reprint your story on my Project 365 blog on Wordpress, with full credit and copyright remaining with you of course. This would give your writing even more exposure. I am hoping to have other writers' 'guest' on my blog as well.

    Again... a fantastic story... excellent wordcraft here. Brava!