The motel room smelled of gym socks and of the damp creeping up from the cement under the matted orange shag carpet that looked a thousand years old except under the high-back chair where no one walked and it seemed almost new there… springy and still soft when she moved the chair to walk over it in her socking feet. Cindy opened a window to let air into the room but the left-over leaves still attached to the pin-oak tree next to the motel rattled like tiny skeleton bones dancing a samba in the moonlight and after a couple minutes she shut the window. Now, though, she still heard the noise leaking through the thin walls along with the sounds of fucking coming from the next room… she couldn't decide if the noise came from just two people or from twenty.
"I'm not going to lie to you, Cindy," the doctor told her on her last visit. "If you stop treatment now, this cancer will kill you."
"I feel dead already."
"Look… I know you've been through a lot," said the doctor. "And I know you're sick all the time and in pain. But we have this thing on the run… don't quit on me now, kiddo."
"I appreciate everything you've done for me, doc… but I want to live out the rest of my days without having to vomit every few minutes. Maybe I have enough time for my hair to grow back. I hurt all the time. I want to go somewhere… someplace warm… somewhere that I can sit in the sunshine."
"What about your friends and your family? Don't you owe them to at least try and beat this thing?"
"I was in the hospital for three weeks last month," Cindy said, with him glancing covertly at the clock on the wall above her head as if she wouldn't notice. His next appointment must be waiting. "Do you know how many of my so-called friends and family came to see me? Not one… so please, doc… don't try laying a guilt-trip on me. I've made up my mind. I've put everything in order. I'm leaving tomorrow. I just wanted to come by and thank you for all you've done."
She flipped on the television set to drown out the noise still coming from next door, the thump-thump-thumping that went on and on. Christ, she thought, if only Bradley could fuck like that she never would have left him. Lord knows her mother thought him the perfect catch… shit-fire handsome and rich… old money too… the kind that goes on forever down through the generations.
At first, she told herself the fact that he didn't try to initiate sex meant nothing. She sensed he might be impotent, perhaps embarrassed by his infirmity. As time went on she tried touching him but he shrugged her off… he said not now, Cindy. And mother gushed what a wonderful man Cindy had brought home for dinner and to meet the family and how could she tell her own mother that she wanted to feel his big hard dick inside of her… even if just one time.
"You know I love you," Bradley told her as he presented her with an engagement ring. "Can't that be enough? Sex is such a little thing…"
She led him on… Lord knows she did. Did she love him? Sometimes when the pain from the cancer eating her insides grew unbearable and the pills the doctor gave her didn't work she thought it might be a punishment for not telling Bradley the truth. Bad karma… some kind of retribution from on high or from down low, brought on by her malicious and uncaring attitude toward a man who really loved her with all his heart and soul. At least that's what mother said about him… to make her feel ashamed of herself.
Cindy couldn't help it that she liked sex… she liked the way men looked at her when she used to walked into a bar full of them with her tight-fitting jeans and no bra under her tee shirt bouncing with each step feeling all those eyes undressing her and loving it. She craved the feeling of discovering new skin… of a throbbing cock sliding for the first time in between her spread legs soaking wet with anticipation. Each moment though she saw Bradley reflected in their hungry eyes and finally she knew if she married him she would never again be free to explore those wonderful vistas of rugged flesh and intimate longings. She knew he had ways of making sure of that.
"You're a fool," her mother said and she knew it too… she didn’t need reminding.
The pain caught her unawares, stabbing through her middle like a malevolent demon inside of her gnawing its way out bite by little bite. She curled up in a fetal position on the bed waiting for it to pass, praying to a God she refused to acknowledge, moaning silently. The pain grew worse… just when she thought it might be too much to handle and she might scream out in agony, the pain vanished as quickly as it descended upon her.
Thump-thump-thump. She felt it through the wall… through the mattress on the bed. God, how she longed to be fucked like that again. But the doctors had cut off her breasts… her wonderful breasts… and she knew how Bradley must have felt… ashamed of herself… of who she had become, not by choice but by circumstance. All she had now were scars and memories and desires never satisfied.
"We couldn't tell if little Bradley was a boy or a girl," Mrs. King confided to Cindy over brandy alexanders on the patio after she and Bradley had become an item…. a couple… a couple d'amoureax as the French would have it. Leave it to a boy's mother to fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. "Well—Mr. King and I—we so wanted a boy, so Bradley had the surgery, of course. Later, when his breasts began developing, well… of course he had more surgery. I'm sure he's told you all this but it's best to get it all out in the open… especially since he's talking incessantly about marriage. He really loves you, you know."
"I hate it when men look at you like that," Bradley said the time they went to the beach on a boiling hot day in the middle of July and the sun was a blow torch in the sky and she wore her pink bikini and the edges of her nipples were peeking out just so and men kept peering above their sunglasses at her chest and she felt a magnificent sense of power over all of them… that only her choice mattered above all their choices… and she tried to explain that feeling of supremacy to Bradley but he moped all afternoon until she covered up with a towel and no one looked at her any longer and the sense of power faded into resignation.
Yes… Bradley loved her.
The pain started again… this time feeling more like a naked drill bit tunneling out of her liver heading for parts unknown… maybe to her kidneys or perhaps on its way into her small intestines. She reached for the pills shaking out three into the palm of her hand before adding two more on second thought. Her hands trembled so from the pain that she dropped the pills onto the floor before she could raise them to her mouth… they scattered white at first and then out of sight under the bed where dust bunnies and well-chewed gum and dried up snotty Kleenex tissues lived and she cursed the fact that she was ever born. She dumped the rest of the bottle on the bedspread and dry-swallowed five.
A knock sounded at the door.
Had she screamed out? She didn't think so but she couldn't be sure. She started to holler to whoever stood knocking at the door to go away but instead she managed to pry herself from the bed and to wade with shuffling feet through the shag where the chair once sat to peer out the peep-hole. She saw no one there.
"I guess they left already," she said to herself… to the empty room… to the horror that constituted her life. "Wrong room most likely… they're probably looking for the gang bang next door."
At nine years of age she lied and told the whole class in Kalamazoo, Michigan, that her father being an airline pilot could get them all free tickets to go to Disney World. Even the teacher seemed impressed. But then Missy Hinds her next door neighbor the same age as her spoke up saying that Cindy's father died the year before they moved to Kalamazoo and that Cindy's mother told her so and some of the kids started crying with one of them asking if that meant none of them were going to Disney World and the teacher told Cindy she might ought to go to the Principal's office and wait for her there while she called her mother.
When she turned sixteen the prettiest boy in the whole school asked her out but mother said no she was too young so she told the boy yes and complained to her mother how she didn't feel good and went to her room early and sneaked out of her window to meet him down the block where he waited in his car… a shiny black Delta 88 that everyone knew belonged to his father but he lied and said how it belonged to him. Later the boy told all his friends how she spread her legs for him and how he thought she might take up the whole back seat and all his friends laughed at her and made circles with their thumbs and forefingers and poked another finger back and forth through it while they leered at her.
The pills were not working.
She wondered if she should take more or give the ones she'd taken already more time to work. How long had it been? Had she fallen asleep? The thumping had stopped in the room next door so she turned down the sound on the television to listen if she could hear anyone still awake over there or if they'd fallen into a sex-induced sleep. She wondered what they would do if she knocked on the door and offered herself to them?
Bradley had a penis the size of the applicator end of a Q-Tip and scars crossing his chest that looked like boxes where they had cut off his breasts and sewed his nipples back on but they were crooked with one higher than the other or perhaps larger she couldn't be certain since he only let her look for a couple seconds that one time before clutching his robe around him and fleeing from the room as if he might be on fire. She opened her shirt up and stood before the mirror seeing the same shame that she saw in Bradley's face, ignominy and fear of the loathing others might feel at the sight of her.
"I can't marry you," she told him on a rainy autumn afternoon just when the weather turned and everyone knew there'd be no more nice days and summer clothes were packed away while the furnace clicked on at night sending musty smells throughout the house and the flies all died falling on window sills to be swept up when spring rolled around once again. He didn't say anything. He just sat there with the corners of his mouth tugging downward and the lump in his throat visibly absent and his delicate hands fluttering around the collar of his shirt as if it itched but he was determined not to scratch.
Two days later while showering she felt the mass under her armpit for the first time wondering if it had always been there or if it might be something precious and new, a new organ, perhaps… a second heart forming to replace the broken one beating in her chest. She knew it to be exactly two days as she marked each square on the calendar beside her bed with big AB's… after Bradley. Her fingers explored the lump each morning feeling it grow ever so little with each passing day. The doctor scolded her telling her she should have come to him right away and not to have waited six months and she said yes she knew that and she felt like she'd been caught in a lie again like the time she was nine and no one got to go to Disney World after she promised they would all get to go.
The knocking started again.
"Who is it?" she called out, thinking someone had the wrong room again and feeling just a bit irritated at being dragged away from the memories flooding up from the dank dark place where she normally kept them stored.
"It's me, Cindy." A man's voice rang out, familiar somehow and yet remote, a voice out of time, a thing that didn't belong here with the living but rather in the grave. "It's your father, sweetheart… please let me come in."
"You're not my father," she cried out, remembering how she'd spoken those same words the day he left never to return and how he'd tried to explain the lies an eight year old had come to believe in and how after that day she never believed in anything again. Even if you're not our real daughter we still love you, Cindy, he said. We love you all the more because we chose to bring you into our lives. We adopted you when your real mother and father could no longer care for you. She remembered how he cried and got up and left her sitting on the sofa while he picked up a heavy-looking suitcase and walked out the door without looking back. She never saw him again.
She padded to the door still in her stocking feet and when she looked through the peep-hole she saw only night. Are you still there, daddy? She thought the words but she didn't say them out loud for fear that he just might be.
Just before she took her eye from the peep hole the room spun violently out of control and when she tried to make it back to the bed to lay down she instead crashed into the bureau that sat next to the bed hitting it hard enough that she felt a gash open up on her forehead and her eyes fill with red that filtered the light coming from the television set into macabre pink shadows that danced on the walls seeping down and threatened to engulf the awful shag carpet to which her face seemed to now be attached.
She heard the bones rattling outside the window, rapping upon it, wanting to force their way inside. Thump, thump, thump. The sound started again but now she realized her heart made the sound… not the neighbors having sex. It sounded dry and whispery and as she lay listening it stopped. She pondered mildly if she should concern herself with getting it to start beating again. She remembered the quiet as that of the womb just before she sprang into the world squalling and kicking and wondering why. The door opened.
"Come in, daddy… I've been waiting for you."