Thank you to Kim Iverson for inspiring this little piece with her search for smexy stock imagery. The video share of “Animals” by Maroon 5 put the final nail in the coffin of my resolution to write it.
Another spur of the moment story, presented in its first (unedited) draft…
“How ya doin’ today, Jake?”
I squint up. Back-lit by the sun, she looks like an angel, with her shiny hair, and her pretty dress. She always smiles at me. So innocent and pure…
“You look better. Have you been getting enough to eat?”
She tries to dig something out of her paper shopping bag, but it’s too full, so she sets it down and bends over it. Her honey brown hair falls to one side, exposing the back of her neck and the bright white roots. She dyes her hair and eyebrows, and mascara masks the lack of pigment in her eye lashes, but she can’t hide her albinism completely. Where her skin isn’t stark white, it’s flushed red from the sun.
She has a tattoo at the edge of her hairline on her nape. I don’t like it. Some generic Hello Kitty piece of shit some back street “tattoo artist” slapped on her like a cheap price tag. I once asked her where she got it. She said she was drunk that night and got it on a dare. I don’t like that, either.
“Here.” She holds out a cold sandwich from the grocery store. “I was hoping for tuna, but they were all out.”
It’s a decent size sandwich, and it’s still pretty early in the day, so odds are it’s relatively fresh, but I hardly notice. Can’t stop staring at her wrist. The inside is so pale I can see her veins throbbing with her pulse. It’s hypnotic. Rapid heartbeats, like the flutter of bird wings. Pale is a cold color, but it’s a pretty hot day, and I can feel the heat of her skin as I take the sandwich from her. Careful, don’t touch. Pretty girls don’t like to be sullied. She smiles and uses that hand I almost just touched to flip her hair over her shoulder, and just like that I’m awash in her sweet, mouth-watering scent. I want to close my eyes to savor it, but then I’d miss the sight.
She looks around for someplace to sit that isn’t covered with heaps of garbage. There’s nothing for several yards, except a narrow section of the cement wall right beside me. She perches there and crosses her legs at the knees. It almost hurts to look at her in the sunlight. For someone who burns so easily, she shows an awfully delicious amount of skin. Flawless. With a sigh, she turns her face up to the sun. “God, I love summer. Don’t you?”
She doesn’t notice.
“So listen,” she says after a minute. “This may seem strange, but I’ve been thinking a lot about your situation, and I want to help. Just hear me out before you make a decision, okay?” I watch her lips move, enjoy the hum of her voice, but her words don’t register at all. My empty stomach clenches so hard it makes me gasp. I hold my breath to hide it. Don’t want to scare her away.
Did she just invite me to her place?
“I really think if we get you cleaned up, you’d have a decent shot. I have this photographer friend who’s always looking for new talents, and models get paid a ton. With your eyes, you’d have those romance writers going gaga over you. I mean…wow. I honestly can’t believe someone hasn’t snatched you up yet.” I’d like to snatch you up. “So what do you think? I’ll trust you if you trust me.”
She’s smiling. Completely guileless. Utterly innocent. A twenty-six-year-old fairy perching on the wall, trying to save a bum. She comes by at least every other day to give me food, talk to me, and try to get me to tell her my “story.” I should have put a stop to it long ago; chased her away, or left town and found a new place to nest. Being known, recognized, even seen is dangerous. I am where I am for a reason.
But she doesn’t see that, and I can’t tell her. The hunger stops me, rejects any attempt I make to put distance between her and me. It knows her now, too, and will never ever let her go free.
I’m not sure how much longer I can resist its mad demands.
Another spasm almost makes me double over. The untouched sandwich falls from my hands, and I can’t help but clutch my waist. It’s never been this bad before. I need… I need…
“Jake? Are you okay?”
I feel her hand on my shoulder and for a split second, a dark thought prowls across my mind. I flinch away from it as hard as I flinch away from her.
“Okay, I’m making an executive decision here.” She grabs my arm and hauls me up with a surprising amount of strength. Or maybe I just don’t amount to much anymore, wasted away on the streets. I can feel my ribs through the thick jacket I’m wearing and, even in the heat of a summer day, I can’t stop shivering with cold. “You can’t go on like this. You need help. Let me help you.”
I look at her, focus on the light of goodness shining from her big, blue eyes. She makes me feel like the lowest of vermin in her presence and I hate her for it, yet at the same time I want to fall to my knees and beg her not to leave me.
But it’s that dark hunger inside of me that’s calling the shots now. It hasn’t been sated for far too long, and every day it grows stronger, more all-consuming. I used to be able to control it. Now I’m too weak to resist its crazed demands. Instead of rooting my feet, I walk where she leads.
Her apartment is a tiny hole in the wall on the top floor of a five floor walk up. She half-carries me up the last three flights of stairs. Inside, it’s just one room with a small stove in the corner and a door that leads to the bathroom. She takes me there, sits me down on the toilet while she runs water for a shower. The pipes groan and bang out a rattling SOS, then water bursts out of the shower head.
“There’s soap and a clean towel for you, and I have some donated clothes that should fit you when you’re done. Toothbrush and toothpaste are right here. I’ll be right outside if you need anything.”
The door closes, and I sit there, breathing hard, shaking. I can smell her everywhere in this tidy little corner of her life. As steam fills the bathroom, I feel like I’m dying, fading into a tunnel of clouds.
I haven’t had a real shower in seven months. That alone has my fingers curling into my jacket to take it off.
The water scalds me when I step under the stream, muting the hunger just a little. I pick up the soap, and the little brush, and mercilessly scrub every inch of my body. Months of dirt and grime slough off like old skin. I go almost numb to the pain, and feel strength returning to my wasted limbs. Strength is bad. Strength makes the gnawing emptiness inside me grow fangs. I scrub more, harder, until the water runs clear, and then pink where I broke skin. I scrub the mop that is my hair, and then my beard, and once that’s done, I reach for the toothpaste and the toothbrush still in their packaging.
By the time I’m finished, I feel ten pounds lighter.
Then I look down at my hands and feet and retch at the black dirt crusted underneath my nails. With shaking hands I root through the little cabinet on wheels standing so pretty by the old fashioned claw foot tub until I find a pair of clippers. I cut the nails down to the quick, sometimes deeper. More blood wells. My attention snares on it. Tiny crimson drops welling, running down my freshly washed flesh…
I shake myself and run cold water in the sink to wash it off again.
A knock on the door. “Jake? Are you okay in there?” When I don’t answer, she opens it and sticks her head inside. “Oh! Oh…” She looks me up and down. In my need to get clean, I forgot to use the towel. Her pupils dilate, her lips redden against her flush. I panic when I see the hunger take a hold of her. I reach for the towel, but it drops from my clumsy hands as that emptiness inside me sinks its fangs into my belly.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to… It was just so quiet in here I was afraid you might have passed out or…something…”
She’s not blinking. I turn away, hoping to break her stare, and catch my own reflection in the mirror. I’m a scarecrow. My spine is hunched with weakness, skeletal arms hanging limp at my sides, yet somehow, despite months of self-imposed starvation, I retained enough muscle mass to look almost healthy skinny. The bane of my curse. That, and my eyes, which she keeps calling “dreamy,” and “swoon-worthy.” All I see are the amber eyes of a feral beast.
I tie the towel around my waist to cover myself. She mumbles more apologies, thinking I’m embarrassed, but that’s not it at all. I’m walking a razor’s edge; I don’t even know how I’m still able to think a rational thought at all. Clothes, any kind of covering against my skin helps ground me in whatever scraps of humanity I have left.
I shouldn’t have come here.
Did I have a choice?
“Well, I’ll say this for you. You sure do clean up nice. Here.” She hands me a stack of clothes, and lingers when I take them from her. “You know, I could probably help you with the hair.” She reaches up to touch it and I sway on my feet. Toward her.
I step back and my calves meet the edge of the tub. I stumble, reach out blindly to catch myself before I fall, and inadvertently grab hold of her arm.
“Whoa! Okay, let’s sit you down before you fall and kill yourself.”
With the warmth of her skin still burning my palm, and the feel of her lithe flesh seared into my memory, I once again sit on the toilet and let her do whatever she wants. She drapes another towel over my shoulders like a cape and takes out a pair of scissors. Her scent has changed. She got control of her facial expressions, but I can still tell she’s aroused. By me. She can’t help herself. It’s part of my curse: the deeper the hunger, the stronger the lure. I squeeze my eyes shut and hold as still as possible while she drags a wooden comb through my hair to cut it. I feel the heat radiate from her in waves that hit me like opium smoke. My nostrils flare to take in more of her scent. I swallow compulsively when saliva floods my mouth. I grab my knees, dig my fingers into the sparse muscle there to keep still, keep human. Keep from touching her.
The cut is finished. The towel is gone, and I’m still sitting on the toilet with nothing but a piece of cloth around my waist and thighs. Except now she’s standing inches in front of me, and her hands are cupping my jaw to turn my face this way and that as she admires her handiwork. She’s waiting for me to look at her, and against my better judgment, I do. She smiles. “There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?”
I shake my head as much as her hold will allow. The hunger responds to her touch, howling madly inside me, making my muscles spasm and clench until I can’t move, yet it wants me to move. It demands action, a step-by-step play I can’t resist. I try, anyway. When my body leans forward again, I somehow stop myself, but the cost is immense. For a moment, the hunger pain is so bad, can’t breathe, and my sight blurs with frustrated tears.
“It’s okay, Jake,” she says, so sweet and innocent. With her hands still imprisoning my face, she touches her forehead to mine. “I know what you want. I want the same thing.” She doesn’t know what she’s saying; has no notion of what she’s brought back to her home.
And I have no strength left to warn her.
“I’m sorry,” I say, watching my hands grab hold of her waist.
“Don’t be,” she whispers against my lips.
My first taste of her sends me reeling. I drink her in, feast on her mouth, savor the first hint, an appetizer to tease me and bring the hunger roaring to the surface. Its strength floods into my body, courses through my veins, brings me surging to my feet with her in my arms. In seconds, I have her on the floor, and she moans my name.
I’m sorry, I think as I gorge myself.
I’m sorry, I want to say as I cover her mouth to muffle her cries.
I’m so sorry, my cursed soul weeps as her flesh gives way beneath my teeth and hot, salty blood fills my mouth.
You should have left me in the garbage.