Don’t talk to me about cruel, okay? What’s Nazi-surgeon cruel is having to string up a fake smile for the Thanksgiving portrait we take every year. Pearly whites mashed with rage till the end times, pretending Trisha is part of this family.
Right now poolside attendants want to rush in, with their all-white everything; polo shirts, pressed shorts, knee-high socks. Behind Trisha’s back, I flap my hand at them, burning stay-away scowls until they back step.
Her hair twisted up into a towel, Trisha hunches in her lounger, seaweed peeling off her cheeks, while she grabs her stomach through the robe.
Submarines came to mind the first time some client mentioned the code name number thing the pills go by. Brad would probably get a laugh from that. Jelly-bean sized submarines with the name stencilled all the way down the side, creeping through enemy waters with nukes loaded for an ambush. Little bro might get a kick knowing all his Navy talk sunk in on me.
Trisha says, “Darcy, something’s wrong… I’m pretty sure.”
“Remember hon,” I say, “it’s not uncommon during the first couple weeks to feel nausea and throw up and stuff, right?”
“It’s just spotting, babe.”
I tap her on the shoulder like, get over it.
Damage-wise, the red spot between her legs is smaller than a fist, but growing. Black cherry soaking twenty bucks of terry cloth robe, but after Serenity Spa embroiders their logo, clients have to shell out ten times that. They’re going to take her robe out of my check for sure, minus a ten percent employee discount, at least.
Trisha’s red spot wafts in the heat like sticking your nose into a hot handful of pennies. So packed with hormones you can smell it all the way to the massage cabanas and the detoxification chambers overlooking the valley with the breathtaking views.
Breathtaking to you, maybe.
I’d call Serenity Spa the newest corral for privileged bitches on my resume, but our brochure’s rustic font calls it an escape to relaxation.
Pictures of mountain views and some skeleton thin lady in a yoga pose, smiling.
Pictures of polished rocks lined from some woman’s bare neck to the crack of her ass.
Personally, the only escaping I needed was from Brad, just for a few days. Pry little twit Trisha away from my brother long enough for Girl Time.
We needed Girl Time, I told him. Really connect before their wedding.
I know I hadn’t been as nice to her as I could have been over the past couple months so I wanted to make it up. Take her to the spa where I worked and pamper her over the three-day holiday weekend. Just the two of us.
Brad gobbled this up. Tearing over a little, hugging me and saying yes, yes, absolutely. Please go. This is all for him, but if he knew he’d stop me. Sometimes a big sis just has to take the wheel before the car barrels off a cliff. You can’t whine about things on the sidelines – you have to fix them, like Mrs. Harris did.
* * *
Earlier this summer, mid cuticle push, Mrs. Harris padded her phone over to me with her palms flat and fingers locked, trying not to smear the shellac and I said hell yes gimme a piece of that! Her hubby was everything she’d hyped him up to be during the treatment.
Shredded and Olympic-swimmer slim, grinning in his speedo. It was in the salon and some bride-to-be, who’d lost her volume control to the free mimosas, was jawing on about her perfect fiancée. Setting off that chain reaction where all us nail techs have to stop and fish phones out of robes for all the sticky fingered clients. Every married woman having us swipe for them till we find the best picture of their husband.
Then it’s, Christ kill me, bachelorette party talk. Replaying all their own Last Nights of Freedom. I want them to feel my eyes roll through them like a wrecking ball. Please tell me how paint dries. Talk about Naval manoeuvres like Brad does sometimes – it’d be so much more interesting.
They made you wear a stupid hat with a foam penis? You did HOW MANY flaming Dr. Pepper shots? Wowwwwwwww.
Every lady’s version a boring echo of the other. Until Mrs. Harris got into hers.
It included all the must haves: Bridesmaids and drinking like it was the night before a court ordered rehab. Triple-X truth or dare – Who’s the lowest form of life you’ve ever thrown a hand job? Elderly cab driver wins.
Then onto the mandatory stripper-guy-propeller whipping his sweaty package around Mrs. Harris’ living room. Eking out half a front split when the eighties power-ballad on his boom box hit the monster highs.
“His six pack was a couple cans short,” Mrs. Harris said from her spa chair.
In front of her girls, howling like animals, Mrs. Harris got air humped over a dining room chair. She got spread eagled and air humped on the table where she and her fiancée ate. The guy was oiled so thick she couldn’t lock her legs around him for a proper air spin move and when her drunk body slammed to the floor her pants were already pissed wet from laughing.
Right here – the night’s over when all the other ladies tell their stories.
None of their strippers tapped on their bedroom windows at three in the morning, like Mrs. Harris’ did. Muffled whispering against the glass: I need my breakaway leather pants.
None of the other ladies hauled their wasted selves to the door and let the dude in to look under the couch. Only her, all alone after all the drunk bridesmaids got shipped off in Ubers.
“Sober me would never have let that guy’s tongue in my mouth,” Mrs. Harris said.
But it wasn’t sober her and she didn’t stop with his tongue or her mouth. Over the dining room chair, again. Spread eagled on the table, again. Not air humping this time, nothing in between them like clothes. Or a condom. The smell like banging a coconut smeared with Purell.
It’s likely there were never any breakaway pants. That circling back on wasted brides is a pretty sure bet.
Well played, stripper.
When the mister shows back up from his bachelor trip he’s getting blown before his golf bag hits the floor. Mrs. Harris grinding herself into him on the entryway tile. Trying to screw out that guilt monster that was chewing on her in the shower. The really long shower blasted all the way hot. Heaping globs of apricot scrub and loofa-ing at the coconut smell that wouldn’t die.
By dinner the next night what comes out of Mrs. Harris on the toilet is hot lava. Her toilet paper pats to the cooch looked more like someone just blew their nose. It flashes her back to those campus clinic visits, needing bubble packs of whoopsy-daisy pills when she went raw with the wrong party boy.
Real fast, before the wedding, Mrs. Harris gets her OB to cut a script for Doxycycline.
Little turquoise submarines to nuke the puffy red skin of her muffin.
It’s House Hunters night when her fiancé really starts picking and scraping. First around the corner of his left eye, then the other. His fingernails raking while idiot TV couples turned houses down because of paint colours. Mr. Harris’s baby blues poached pink with angry red lightning bolts searing the whites.
Her OB told her over the phone that infections like hers could really pass from any opening on the body that’s moist and hospitable.
“I’m not a scientist, y’know? I figured he could eat me out all he wanted. I mean I took a shower.”
Mrs. Harris started making burnt omelettes in the mornings. Insisted on cooking for her man for the first time. Pasta a la something at dinner. A train wreck of broken spaghetti in ketchup and Mr. Harris chowed down with a smile. Always a gag right after. She’d serve him still-pink ground turkey floating in ranch dressing. Everything she made seasoned the same way. Salt and pepper and the powder from one of her Doxycycline capsules. Plated disasters on the same dinner table she’d disinfected for stripper cum.
A visit to his doc would blow a dozen non-refundable deposits on wedding services. The venue. Caterers. DJs. Dove wranglers.
Mrs. Harris said, “I told him he got pranked on his bachelor trip. One of his buddies smeared his pillowcase with their asshole or farted on his towel and gave him Pink Eye. I played it like I was going to strangle those jackass friends of his.”
The eyelashes on Mr. Harris were grilled cheese sandwiches when they tried to open. Colonies of pink bubbles grew in the corners, cracking open with bigger bubbles pushing up from under. How islands are made in the ocean from liquid magma cracking over the surface and setting up. Scabbing over. She was burning through the prescription meant for her, suffering an itchy cooch for the greater good. Peeing acid and keeping a smile on.
Doubling-down on the food dustings, she finally used up her own bubble pack of antibiotics. When her OB wouldn’t cut another prescription, Mrs. Harris overnighted some from a place online where prescriptions were optional. A site she told me about that sells pills for any problem: keep your guy hard, get your studying brain focused, evict unwanted guests from your uterus, treat the gonorrhoea your stripper gave you.
Every day, though, more magma cracked open from the pink eye bubbles and made more scab masses on Mr. Harris’ face. The whites around his pupils buried under tangled shoots of blood red. He scraped at them with chopstick points and the blunt ends of their flatware.
Milky globs erupting and flowing along the gutter of his lids. Mrs. Harris made soggy French toast with piles of antibiotic on top she played off as powdered sugar. Whenever the fiancée mentioned seeing a doctor Mrs. Harris told him not to sweat it.
She said: Allergies.
She said: Hay fever.
She told him his contact lenses must be expired.
Everyone in the salon listening, Mrs. Harris said she forfeited her deposits on the photographer. The video guy. She didn’t need a record of her husband in a tux with a face carpet-bombed with an STD or her clawing at her crotch in a wedding dress. Mr. Harris won’t hang out with his bachelor party friends anymore because none of them fessed up to the prank. He told her she’s more important to him than some lying half-friends.
* * *
Trisha doesn’t feel like sinking into the therapeutic mud baths, but I insist it will help.
I’m drilling the guilt angle.
You wouldn’t want to disappoint your future-sister-in-law would you?
Not those words exactly but all the faces that say it. It’s enough to make her lose the robe and slide into the mud, arms wrapped beneath her pierced belly button. She says I’m sorry in that baby voice. It’s almost punctuation to her: I’m sorry. She’ll use it to start a sentence. End it. Pause.
I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry. As easy as breathing for her. Apologizing just for being. My brother deserves a girl with a law degree or someone in med school. This apologizing little taint thinks she’s good enough to cart Brad’s offspring to day care? I don’t think so.
I keep eyes on her from under my cucumber slices. Tears cut down her face from under the cold washcloth and she’s gritting her teeth. Bubbles rise and pop on the surface of her mud bath. This happens if you move a little too much. But in her bubbles, when they float to the top, they gather and hold. For just. A few. Seconds. Until they pop in little pools of red that seep out. Little puddles starting to slide into one another like the molten raspberry centre of last night’s flourless chocolate torte. Popping and adding to the glaze of red that Trisha can’t see.
Shut up, this isn’t even in the ballpark of cruel.
Cruel is permanently derailing the train to Fuckville, according to Mrs. Bockhold.
* * *
I was sliding her fingernails into a warm paraffin masque and she couldn’t wait to bitch about how after their daughter came, her hubby’s dick closed down for business.
She did the lingerie thing. The porn thing. Play acting schoolgirl scenarios: student swimmer talking with coach in the locker room, student gymnast talking to coach is his office. She was Best Actress in a Lead Role to get his cock to stay at attention long enough to get her off. The thing would deflate and he’d barely care enough to apologize.
I told her, “It’s true,” rubbing her thumbs with essential healing serum, just trying to agree. “Guys always think it’s the wifely duty to always be good to go.”
She snapped her head up at me.
“What about husbandly duties?”
Her daughter was already in Kindergarten, bringing home macaroni glued to paper projects and Mrs. Bockhold was lucky if she got banged out bi-annually.
At brunch with her girlfriends, they were only good for referrals to marriage therapists – they all seemed to have one. “Just to get him to fuck me I’d have to sit through stories about his parents? Ugghhh, no way. I wasn’t going to beg him.”
It was her one angel-from-heaven girlfriend who slipped the cylinder into Mrs. Bockhold’s purse while the other hens pecked at their husbands over fruit plates and chardonnay. A deodorant stick cylinder with pharmacy labels and the name of her friend’s hubby under patient. Leaning into Mrs. Bockhold’s ear, this friend whispered; Merry Christmas.
Holding an elbow in her crotch, she arched her hand until it pointed straight up and said Ga-doosh.
Tell him you read about the power of massage for sex drive. Make up some Oprah thing. Rub the cream onto Mr. Bockhold. Give it a couple weeks. No talk about parents. No goddamn begging.
This cylinder, the friend got it from the same place online that solved Mrs. Harris’ problem. I was closing pop-ups blasting sale prices for the stuff when I shopped the site. Increase performance! TestostroDerm!
Surprise surprise, Mr. Bockhold didn’t put up a fight on the massages. The way he’d go belly down whenever she asked, he could have given a shit less if it was goat semen she was rubbing on him. A twist of the wheel on the cylinder gave a sour cream dollop she spread on the back of his arms, every day.
Mrs. Bockhold kept on with her job and her wifely duties, ears perking up more and more whenever a divorce lawyer commercial came on at night. On top of her forty-hour week she ploughed on making sure the fridge had food. Sundays pulling sheets off mattresses and hauling hamper loads. It was the laundry room where it hit first, Mrs. Bockhold bent into the washer when a hand slithered around into her sweat pants. Mr. Bockhold had her undies to the side, throttling her, before her sweatpants hit the floor.
Creaming her fingers with rosemary tension release lotion, I listened to her gush about how he hammered her raw. The Bockholds didn’t need porn anymore or the outfits. He’d slide up behind her during the morning shower and she’d pogo-stick his lap until her boss was leaving voicemails asking if she was coming in. Mr. Bockhold showed up in the parking lot behind her work at lunch with the third row seating in their SUV already flattened down. Her holding onto their daughter’s car seat while he drilled her like a wildlife reserve. She’d hobble back into work late, mopping up the insides of her legs with diaper wipes.
Mrs. Bockhold’s husband pulled her hand into his pants under the table on date nights. He pulled her into the janitor’s closet at their daughter’s school. Knelt down on squishing mops to hold her knee up while he anteater-tongued around under her skirt. They told their daughter her play was so great.
Mrs. Bockhold sent a spa treatment gift to the girlfriend who slipped her the cylinder. She kept on with the sour cream dollop massages of testosterone cream.
Smiling through all of her weekend wifelies now, dancing with the laundry basket and ignoring the divorce lawyer commercials. She walked around bowlegged, like firecrackers had been set off in her lap.
Mrs. Bockhold told me, “It’s amazing how a little sex kick starts your engine. Makes you feel young.”
She was even looking younger, squishing a few chin pimples between Q-tips. A few had spread and crawled up her jaw to her ears. Her tweezers getting daily workouts pulling hairs under her nose as strong as trash bag twist ties. The battery powered clippers for unsightly female hair growth she used to laugh at on TV? She’d burned through two of those keeping up with the invading beard.
Mr. Bockhold’s face had pizza’d out, too. The pair of them, every night rubbing their faces with peroxide wipes. Applying hypoallergenic cream treatments and still their faces shimmered oily as glazed donuts. Her husband’s back became a minefield of whiteheads that busted open and oozed when she drug her nails across them. When she was getting pounded over her lunch hour.
But Mrs. Bockhold’s angel-from-heaven-friend wasn’t a paediatrician. She didn’t know that the cream should have been treated like plutonium when it came to their daughter. That the household laundry shouldn’t be handled without scrubbing off any residue from the skin.
Secondary Exposure is the term.
The real paediatrician knew all this, informing Mrs. Bockhold when she was finally panicked enough to bring in her daughter. After the weeks of potty training, sliding off the girl’s pull-up diapers and ignoring the spider leg pubic hairs she was already sprouting. The little pearl of a clitoris that shouldn’t even be there yet, hanging thick as Mrs. Bockhold’s thumb.
It was the sheets, the doctor told her. All the bedding mingling in the wash and cross-contaminating. Laundry was why Mrs. Bockhold had to go back to living like a nun. Why she threw the cream away and busted her friend’s nose at the next girl’s brunch.
* * *
As per the package instructions, this drug should have been taken under a doctor’s supervision.
Day one is three pills. Day three is two pills.
All of them should have been given out by a doctor who would definitely have done a preliminary exam. Drawn some blood. Run it through a lab that might have put a red-light on my whole operation. Tell Trisha she shouldn’t touch the stuff because it’ll make her bleed to death. Things doctors would know that I couldn’t.
It’s not my fault. Brad wasn’t going to do anything; he thought he had to marry her because of this. Sometimes big sis has to grab the wheel.
This girl Brad ploughed for one night when he was on leave and, bummer for him, Trisha ends up fertile as greenhouse manure. Dumb little Trisha showing up at his doorstep with a stick in a Ziploc bag right there in his hallway. The little idiot opening the bag hot with her piss, showing him the tiny smiley face icon on the test.
* * *
This is so Trisha. Drama drama drama.
We had to stop, right then, mid chakra alignment to get in my car and head to the nearest hospital. She won’t let me get a word in anymore, saying I can drive her or an ambulance can.
Look who grew a spine.
I’m not going fast enough for her. Faster, please. Step on it, I’m sorry.
Her demanding but apologizing at the same time. In her new robe with new blood, she didn’t even give us time to change. My cardboard flip flops pushing the accelerator, I tell her she’s overreacting.
There’s no going to the hospital at this point because they’ll definitely run her blood.
Definitely tell her that the issue might be that it’s saturated with mifepristone.
Trisha will tilt her head, squint her eyes. The doc will say; RU-486.
Trisha’s eyes will drift up and to the left like she’s really thinking, but she’ll have no idea what the doctor means until he says; “The abortion pill.”
We’re past Plan B.
If Brad wasn’t moving into full nuclear ambush, then I would.
Busting open the FedEx from the internet, it turned out they weren’t submarines. More like flying saucers. I could work with that: Alien invaders coming to destroy all life. RU-486 carved on the face of what could have been breath mints before I mushed them up finer than lavender bath powder.
Checking in for our girl’s weekend, I put a watermelon infused water in Trisha’s hand first thing. Brad was insisting that Trisha be in the Thanksgiving portrait, so I held up a toast to that, pushing up the end of her glass till she’d chugged all the bye-bye-baby dust I’d mixed into hers.
* * *
So now I guess its Plan D.
I’m already fast forwarding – blaming my cardboard flip-flops in my story for the paramedics.
They were very slippery.
We should have taken time to change, but I didn’t want to take any chances. The flip- flops slid off the brake.
Sometimes big sis has to pull the wheel before the car goes off the cliff. Or steer that wheel into a concrete bridge column doing fifty.
You’re welcome, Brad.
* * *
We skip the family portrait this Thanksgiving because I’m not going to be immortalized in a neck brace and Trisha doesn’t want to have to lean against Brad with her funky steel crutches. We wait until next November, after the physical therapies and surgeries. Pins and rods and hardware that puts us back together.
Brad named his daughter Darcy.
Our shared name won’t form in her little mouth, though, and doctors say it might not. Not ever.
The crash was an accident and nobody really thinks different. When she tells it, Trisha zips through the part about the crumpling dashboard and glass and airbags to get to the miracle part. How Darcy Jr. fought to make it into this world. How fierce her little body battled to grow the whole time Trisha was on bed rest.
Darcy Jr. is a fighter.
She’s a gift.
When I visit, little Darcy and me hobble to the swings together and giggle.
I run the back of my finger along her cheek and her smile carves off another layer of my heart.
Neil Krolicki is a Bram Stoker Award nominated writer who dispatches odd fictional nuggets from Denver, Colorado. His stories have appeared in Chuck Palahniuk’s anthology Burnt Tongues, as well as ThugLit, Shotgun Honey, Story Shack and Nailed Magazine. His noir comic ‘120 Doses’ is available now on Comixology.