A true-as-I-can-tell-it story
by: Roger A Wilbanks
The ceiling refused to budge regardless of how much she stared at it. She glanced again at the alarm clock on her nightstand. The blue light of the dial told her it was 3:21am. In less than three hours, she would have to rise and prepare her seven year-old for school. To rise implied to sleep, and sleep was someone who now refused her.
Not many told her “No.” She had grown accustomed to agreeable men fawning about her as they showered her with gifts and praise. Friends lauded her uniqueness with equal fervor. Sleep, however, asked her to just go away. He would have nothing to do with her. Not now, not last night and most likely, not tomorrow night either.
“I’m tired.” She thought as she resumed counting the fan’s rotations. “I should be able to just close my eyes and drift off, but I can’t.” It was when she closed her eyes that the ghosts were the loudest.
Father’s specter demanded perfection and compliance. He sneered down his nose at her perceived independence. His ranting drown everyone else out, almost. The hauntings of lovers past, all grouped behind the velvet rope, piled insult and damnation upon her from a safe distance. They decried her stubbornness and, for her deceptions, demanded satisfaction they knew would never come. She brushed these phantoms aside with childish ease for the velvet rope was as close to her as she would allow them. The patrons of her service as a moderately expensive escort pawed and groped at her like the blind men feeling the elephant for the first time.
“This be a ball!” one said.
“This be a wet hole!” another said.
“This be a supple mouth!” still another discovered aloud.
“Let’s defile it!” they all shouted.
She opened her eyes with a crack. Wide apart, their focus lost, they slowly began to regain their sense. The ghost’s voices trailed off as she resumed count of the ceiling fan’s revolutions. 3:24am.
“Time is a woman
Who guards her face well.
When ignored she flies by fast,
When watched, she’s slow as hell.”
That was written by the ghost that didn’t speak much. He stood apart from the others and observed, “I said just about all I have to say,” was what he told her. She looked at the bottle of pills at her bedside. They would do the job, but she was taking them too often. “Two would put me to sleep tonight,” she thought. The whole bottle would put her to sleep forever. That thought visited her often these days. It took all her remaining will to shunt it aside. “Thomas,” she thought. It always came back to her son, Thomas. She had already put enough upon him by branding him a whore’s son. She couldn’t add orphan to that list as well. She put the bottle back in the drawer. She rose and swept the curtain that lined her bed aside.
“I put those up,” she heard the voice that once said all it had to say claim.
“Shut up,” she said aloud. “You had it coming, you fool! So trusting…so honest. You NEVER had any secrets. I may have been a whore even then, but I hid it from you in plain sight. Any Real Man would have read the signs.” Nobody answered. He never did. The only sounds that filled her warm apartment were a snoring seven year-old and the tick-tock of the kitchen stove timer. It had been three years. Why was she still thinking about this? About Him? Common sense dictated she put Him out of her mind and move on. But every time she closed her eyes, He was there, in the background, watching her.
“You lied to me.” He said.
“So the FUCK What?! You were too good to me! Nobody is that good. Not for real al least. You were hiding something, planning something. I KNEW it! I just got you first.” Nobody answered. He never did.
She had to get to sleep. After taking her son to school, she had an appointment with the Iron Chef. That was the code name of one of her regular clients, and a big spender as well, routinely paying $500 for the hour when she only charged $350. “Well worth the tip.” He would say as he showered love’s stink off of him after. She needed that money today. Rent was due Friday and her once proud savings had slowly been eaten away by a sagging economy. She would find it difficult at best to be an alluring femme fatale on no sleep. Where would she find the energy to perform?
A memory from the past played itself on her mind’s cinema screen. It was of Him. The end was near but at least they were still being civil to each other. She had a client on the way. He was handsome and wealthy, the kind the current hard economic times had winnowed away. She was running late and eager to meet again with this one and thus lost all attempt at deception in her rush to head out.
“I’m a professional Dominatrix,” she had once told Him. “They pay me lots of money to spank them for an hour.”
“But do you have sex with them?” He asked.
“Of COURSE not!” she reflexed.
“That’s fine with me then.” He said.
She was wearing a sexy little black dress and carrying an expensive bottle of wine. He sat on her couch with her son playing a video game. When He looked at her there was doubt in His eye. “That’s quite cozy for a spanking.” He thought. He said nothing aloud but the look on his face saved him from having to. She remembered stopping as she walked out the door and looking at Him, seeing Him full for the first time and she felt that shame wash over her all over again. Those eyes could tell stories and the one they whispered now was a tragedy waiting to happen. She would grow accustomed to the sting of shame, but she would forever hold Him responsible for it.
“Be back in a bit.” She smiled.
She made her way through the dark into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of water. As she took a long drink, her eyes lit upon the bookcase He built for her. She wasn’t dating him then and she didn’t even have to fuck him for the effort. He was just being nice. A brief smile tested her face before she felt the sting creep back inside her.
“You’re welcome.” He said from the darkness of her mind.
She dropped the now empty glass in the sink and watched it bounce just before shattering into fifty pieces. The oddity of the moment allowed her to regain focus and she cleaned the broken glass from the sink. She opened her front door and felt the cool breeze bow in. He liked it cold, she remembered. She slammed the door and returned to bed.
She grabbed a book from the nightstand. It was a small book of eastern philosophy. He gave it to her. “It’s my favorite book.” She threw the book across the room. She went to the bathroom and stood before the mirror. She removed her shirt and exposed her tattoo. It was the Koi fish he drew for her. He was even there with her as she had it cut into her skin.
“I don’t care what you do, but if you ever sleep with another man as long as I am around, I’m done with you.” He said. This was before either of them had said, “I love you.” And well before either of them meant it. She threw the towel at her reflection and returned to bed. “I’m Happy!” she thought. “I have everything I ever wanted. I have my own place, my independence, my own business…” She heard him laugh aloud across the abyss of her mind.
”You charge lonely men $350 an hour to pretend to be their girlfriend. Some business.”
“Fuck you.” She whispered. She forced herself to think of happier times. She remembered a concert where she met another cute guy. He turned out to be just like Him though. Just not as bright. She remembered the nightclub. She was dressed as sexy as possible. She looked nothing like the skinny girl in the picture wearing the long black dress and looking at the ground. “GET OUT!” she screamed at that thought. “But why?” she asked herself. “I’m only you. That is, the you before you got the fake breasts and dyed your hair. The you before the colored contact lenses and unquenchable desire to be ruled. I’m the you that lives deep inside this creation that looks back at you in the mirror. The one that likes to read and play video games. I’m not the whore.”
“GET OUT!!!” she screamed. It was loud enough to wake her sleeping son in the next room. She went to calm the sleepy boy and returned to bed. 3:57am. The ceiling fan turned exactly 75 times per minute. That was 4 seconds for every five turns. She began to count aloud. “1, 2, 3…” She raised a finger for each minute. “1, 2, 3…” When she reached five minutes, she quit. 4:03am.
Two hours of sleep left if she was lucky. She remembered a trick He had shown her. He never had trouble getting to sleep. She remembered marveling at how He did it and even envied Him for it. He didn’t always go to sleep first though. Sometimes He would hold her until she was asleep before He finally succumbed. She would talk nonsense to Him and ask Him to tell stories. He always obliged. She felt safe in His arms and slept well. Well enough to tell Him one night she wanted to quit her business and do something real for a change. Ironically it was He that talked her out of that. “You do what you enjoy.” To Him it was that simple. What was it about Him that allowed him to sleep so easily? His innocence? She killed that. His naivety? She smashed that with a hammer. His love? She threw that worthless rag into a gutter.
“My soul was clean.” He said.
“And mine wasn’t? She asked.
“I wouldn’t know. You never showed me the real one.”
She agreed. No one would ever see her that naked again. Like a little girl who strips down her Barbie doll and asks why Barbie doesn’t have one like hers, she was a doll on the outside. She was a carefully crafted construct, worn as armor against ever opening herself to another in a way that would leave her vulnerable like before.
“I said I was sorry…” a timid voice lamented.
“Get Back!” she glared. Her sword shone bright with inner fire as this ghost shrank back deep within the dark recesses. “Never again!” she swore at the specter. She could never allow that skinny girl in the black dress to live again. That girl died upon his first trespass. The costume was all she had left, a giant robot she called Wynter Stark. It was built carefully to keep her from harm and insure her future. Where that skinny girl once played in a garden, now only briar and weeds grew. That land was barren, as the forest after the fire, and salted to prevent future growth.
“I didn’t do that to you.” He said.
“Go away…” she whispered. A tear filled her eye. Igniting her fury and beating back the Other had left her drained. She couldn’t fight Him anymore even if she wanted to.
“Go to sleep.” He said, and at 4:21am, she did just that.