Order and truth were born from heat as it blazed up.
From that was born Time ...
Rig Veda X
Smirking a little to myself at the memory of the lust of the night before, I gathered the blanket around me and headed for the bathroom. James was already gone in the dark morning; nice of him to drag a blanket out to the couch to cover me.
"Fightin' cats mean kittens," James' college roommate had said to me about how James and I argued. And while we weren't making any kittens until we had some more money in the savings account (we figured ahead to a good down payment for a house -- didn't want to be raising babies in a rental), having torrid sex was our way of solving many a shouting and crying match. (He shouted, I cried.) Crying wasn't really my first choice of mode of communication, but our fights seemed better than the bitter accusations and days of silent treatment my parents had employed. I'd always hated that. You knew you'd done something wrong by the tight-lipped, eye-avoiding stiff stance, but figuring out what the something was -- shit, what a pain.
Speaking of pain ... when I turned the handle of the bathroom door, the movement made my hand ache. I pulled the little brass chain on the light over the sink, and dropped the blanket on the edge of the tub. With a stretch of arms, I turned back to the sink and looked into the mirror to see what a woman who had orgasm'd into a near-coma looked like. My fat-cat smile faded as I saw a purple mark on the right side of my jaw, where James' thumb had been when he made me let him kiss me. Must have hit a little vein just right, I thought, and put my hand up to touch the mark. And then I saw the grayish-red bruise on the white skin of my wrist. And on the other as well, from James holding my arms above my head as he'd thrust himself powerfully, making me cry out wildly in an agony of impending climax.
I leaned to the side a little to look at the black and blue mark on my cheek again, and saw another bruise, this one at the base of my neck, right at the collarbone. I frowned because I couldn't recall how that one had happened.
When I sat down to urinate, another thumb-mark was evident on the left inner thigh.
After I flushed the commode, I walked back to our bedroom and the tall mirror on the back of the door. There was enough light coming in the window now to see by, and a further examination evidenced mauve fingerprints on either buttock, and one on the point of my hip.
Far from looking like a lover, my body looked more like a victim of a mugging.
Cold was making me goosepimply. A hot soak in the bath would make the bruises fade and warm me up. My blue angora turtleneck sweater set would be in order on this October morning, very welcome if the rain continued today as the weatherman had forecast. I turned on the hot water in the claw-legged tub, a thin stream to maximize the ability of the outdated oil furnace that heated the house and the water to make the flow steaming hot. Took a powerful lot of hot water to heat up that old iron tub.
Over the sink again, I began brushing my teeth, but the toothbrush touched a sensitive spot on the inside of my lip, which began to bleed, turning the white froth of the tooth-paste orangey pink. I rinsed my mouth, and raised my head to look in the mirror. All the smugness was gone from my face, and the growing light of day was revealing who had been fucked on the couch the night before. A bruised person. A woman who had been held down and entered while still arguing, tears flowing down her face. One who had gone from losing yet another debate in insult and humiliation to squealing in sexual abandon as her husband tore her clothing off and raped her in the living room.
Who had slept, satiated afterwards and was even now feeling arousal in thinking of the struggle.
Look at you. Do you think it would have been even better if he'd blacked one of your eyes, too?
Suddenly my stomach cramped and I doubled over the sink, heaving as though I could puke up my intestines, over and over again, but having had nothing to eat since lunch the day before (the argument had started because supper hadn't been cooking when James got home from parent-teacher conferences -- I'd been engrossed in a painting and didn't notice the time) there was no issue from the wracking gags, which forced air from my lungs in grating, gawing sounds.
With saliva still pouring into my mouth, I slid to the floor clutching a towel to my lips, my legs shaking in reaction. At least my feet aren't marked, I thought, with two words drifting along after: this time.
The bath water was ready for cooler water to be added, the tub nice and warm. I crawled in and let the water cover me, carefully not looking at my skin. My shaking subsided at the cradling heat.
The morning sky was bluish gray, lumped with clouds, the light dim.
The photographs my brain had taken in the bedroom door mirror appeared again, and I counted the bruises. Eight on my ass. One on hip, one on thigh, that's ten. The collar bone, eleven. The face, twelve, and the purpled bracelets on my wrists made fourteen. More bruises than Christ had apostles, I thought inanely. A baker's dozen and one for good measure.
For my own good.
Banged all night for my own good.
Have a passion for your painting? Here, I'll show you what passion is about. I'll teach you what you're supposed to have passion for, can you take all of that?
Funny thing was, I didn't have a passion for my painting. It was just a hobby I took up to fill the time I didn't spend reading or cleaning house or cooking our dinner. Last night I just happened to get into it, making purple and blue shadows on a creamy white wall.
Leading to blue and purple shadows on the creamy wall of my hide, I mused. Shadows that will fade to purple brown, and then later look like flecks of rust caught under the skin. Then that canvas will be blank again, just waiting for the next time.
For James' next work of erotic art. Performance art. Work of art in progress. Progressively going from a little hickey on the neck to a little blue spot on the inside of the upper arm, ("Honey, I don't think you realize how strong your grip is.") to tender thighs, ("If you can walk tomorrow, I'm not doing it right.") and this wasn't the first portrait on the couch, by any means. Just the most colorful.
And I'd awakened smiling. I didn't want to think about that any more; if I did, I'd have to confront the image of what I had become.
I dressed myself after massaging the bruises with lotion to disperse the pooling of fluid, and being very still and careful, had a little breakfast of cottage cheese, toast, and tea. I read the newspaper, letting myself hide in the report of a series of robberies in New Jersey that left the police baffled.
Time to view the artist's studio, I thought, and then, why am I going on about this art thing? Our clothing had been scattered around the couch. I picked up underwear -- damn, this stuff sure didn't hold up very well, I rattled mentally. I picked up the four buttons that had popped off my blouse when he ripped it open. Jeans thrown over by the television. I'd pushed at him to make him stop pulling my pants down, that's when he'd thrown his weight across me and grabbed a wrist. And then the other.
We kept a blanket on the couch as a throw cover, and along with the clothes, I pulled it off, looking at the semen stains. More art work.
The phone rang and James' voice when I answered was jovial. "Morning break while the kids have recess," he said. "How are you feeling today?"
This is your husband, not a stranger, I reprimanded myself that day, wondering why his voice sounded out his meanings with such clarity all of a sudden. He was really saying, "Do you feel like you took it all night?"
"I'm fine," I told him. "Kind of a dreary day, though."
"All I do is think of you stretched out on the couch this morning and I forget about the clouds." he said, meaning, "My dick wants some more."
"Don't start singing 'You Are My Sunshine,' James. They'll lock you up for scaring the rest of the faculty."
"I remember you being a little locked up last night," he breathed. "I set you free, didn't I?" I heard him saying, "I'm going to rape you again, just wait."
Against my better judgment and will, my body was actually responding to this male rutting noise, remembering the glittering menace in his green eyes as he stepped close enough to breathe on my face, backing me against a wall, his danger and hunger to dominate making my adrenaline surge. Like the first time, when he'd frightened me with his insistence, then gave me such pleasure that I couldn't wait to have him again. Dominate, what an ugly word, I thought. I've become a woman who wants to be dominated? Not so very long ago I had been the confident valedictorian of her high school class, standing behind the podium, proudly making my speech to a full auditorium, believing that I had some-thing to say that the listeners needed to hear. And it wasn't, "Sex with bruises is the way to go." I don't want to be the kind of person who says something like that now, either.
"Listen, I have to go, the bell just sounded," he said shortly. Meaning, "I called to make sure I didn't hurt you seriously, but since you're okay, I have other things to do."
I agreed, and then came the pivotal moment that I would always be able to come back to and know when there was no more old Me there, she just disappeared, poof, non-existent.
James asked, "What's for supper tonight?" and what he conveyed all too clearly with his tone of voice and slight emphasis on tonight was, "Did you learn your little lesson or do I have to find other ways of teaching you what you're supposed to be doing for me?"
"How about a pot roast," I suggested, my ears ringing and heart pounding. He was threatening me, and I had no choice but obedience to his will, unless I wanted another fight, perhaps some more purple dapples on my skin. My stomach roiled again in fear and disgust. My eyes felt like they were sinking into my head; I couldn't feel my hands or feet. I'm disappearing, I thought, and hung up the phone.
I went back to our bedroom and took off all my clothes again, gazing in the mirror at the stranger there in mottled skin. Who was the woman who cried last night because her husband accused her of being derelict in her duties? Who was the woman who agreed to stay home and take care of the house while the husband brought home the paycheck from the school district, even though we'd both graduated at the same time with teaching degrees?
My teeth clenched, I silently asked the reflection, Are you the woman who somehow gave a man permission to teach you his lessons?
No, that woman was gone, but I would masquerade as her for a while, until my plans were ready, and they were formulating like tickertape flying off the machine, no punctuation no inflection just getting ready to make a big big step and never ever feel like somebody s plaything somebody s victim somebody s fear-filled little servant again ...
I dressed again, and went into my hobby room, where I kept my library books, my sewing machine, and my paints. Blue and purple shadows on a creamy white wall. Taking scissors from the worktable, I slashed the canvas down the middle, stabbed the remaining taut pieces until they were shredded. Then I took the ruined smeary rubbish out to the garbage can by the garage. Rain was starting again, stinging my face, making faux tears.
No more real tears for this face, I told the creature in the mirror, having gone to peer at her again. No more display of performance art on this gallery. This is where the next project begins, right here, right now.
As I dialed my friend Kimsky in Ohio, I muttered to myself, "I'll make myself my own damn masterpiece."
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