The first thing I always notice is how quiet it gets. Not just quiet with the fridge humming in the background or a lawn being mowed down the street. I mean the kind of quiet where you can hear your own ears ringing, the steady beat and odd trips of your heart, and that subtle whine from your vocal chords while you breathe. So quiet you think you can see better in the dark because you’ve convinced yourself you’ve gone blind. It gets so quiet.
I start walking around the house hoping to hear a creek in the floor or the click of a door. I think I hear my feet tapping against the ground but it could be just the feeling of contact and my brain telling me there should be a noise there. I can never be sure.
That’s when the lights cut out again with a clap of thunder and sudden downpour, the sheets of rain hitting my roof sounding like calm waves in the distance, but getting louder and louder as the storm became more violent. Storms have been heavy lately. Real hot during the day, then by about 5 o’clock, bam! There’s the first hit of thunder and the first strike of lightning. This storm seemed especially harsh, sudden, and loud.
I make it down the stairs by sliding my feet slowly off so I know when the step ends. I fell over myself one time by making it to the bottom of the stairs and thinking there was another step. I fell against the wall pretty hard. I swear I can still feel my body’s imprint along where I fell.
The main level of the house is made of three connected rooms: living room, kitchen, and dining room. Pretty standard house, circular interconnections between the rooms; I’ve lived in houses like these all my life and I can navigate them with the certainty a bloodhound on the scent of a shot duck.
I run my hand along the counter in the kitchen, knowing it’ll eventually lead to the fridge. I feel a counter and a large, smooth, cold surface in front of me. It’s probably sad to say that storms still scare me, so I figure a little wine will help me get some sleep.
I get the bottle out of the fridge and run my hand along the counter again trying to find the utensil drawer. This bottle’s still corked. Mama’s drinking fancy tonight.
I run my hand along and feel a wooden block stop my hand suddenly. My hand feels along it, investigating what’s in the way between me and a night of happy dreams. My hand runs up and slides inside the wooden structure and I realize that it’s the utensil drawer, open and barely still in its slot along my counter. I can’t for the life of me figure out why or how this drawer got open but it doesn’t hold my attention for long. There’s a fancy chardonnay to drink, after all.
With a whip of my wrist I slam the drawer shut and get drilling the corkscrew into my best friend for the night. I think the bottle came from Howard. Nice enough guy, best of intentions, but just didn’t have enough chutzpah for me. He was too nice. It got creepy after a while. A week with him was fun enough. I figured I ended things quick enough that he wouldn’t be affected by it but I still left the guy blubbering like a baby missing his binky. Men are so cute when they’re all broken up.
His blubbering wasn’t nearly as bad as Richard’s. You know, for a guy named Dick he was seriously lacking in that area. Like his mom had a sense of irony or something. His redeeming quality was that he was rich. Stupid rich. Venezuelan coke-dealer rich but with a regular paycheque. Had a nice month of fine dining and fake orgasms, but at the end of the day, when mama wants a fine chardonnay she won’t settle for a cheap cooler.
Without any company to impress, I gulp straight from the bottle. It doesn’t matter where I drink it from, it’s going to get me dizzy, happy, and sleepy all the same. I prop myself up on my counter and let my feet dangle while I take a couple of small sips, and then another decent gulp. It’s a shame that this wine needs to go like a frat boy with a set of car keys and a can of backwood special brew. A fine chardonnay should be enjoyed slowly: sipped delicately next to a fire listening to Sinatra.
Mark was like a fine chardonnay. I enjoyed him real slowly. Thick like a tree trunk, unfortunately I’m describing both heads here. Far from brilliant, I barely took him out in public. I quickly realized what he was good for. A smart dame like me found a good use of his animalistic tendencies, but the ride got old quick.
I still hold that troglodyte in a special place: you never forget your first.
The bottle’s half done and I hop off the counter, but the wine’s probably kicking in quicker than I expected because my feet crumble from under me and I land on knees. Thankfully, I kept my arms up and saved the bottle. My legs feel cold as I try to stand myself up and I realize that my legs are soaked and so is the floor. When the fuck did the floor get soaked? I smell and taste the water off my leg and it has no taste except for the bit of salt off of my body. It smells fresh though, like summer rain. Through my window I can see that my block isn’t flooding and there isn’t even that much water on my lawn. But I see something else out there.
A shovel lies on my lawn. An old one, I think my grandpa gave it to me when I first moved here. He died a couple of weeks later. The last thing my grandpa gave to me was a rusty old shovel. I made sure to find good use for it.
The problem is I keep that shovel in my back shed. First the utensil drawer, then the wet floor, now my shovel on the lawn. Something isn’t right here. I spent so much time staring at the stupid shovel on the lawn I almost missed my neighbours houses; whose lights were still on. Either everyone in this neighbourhood has a huge candle collection or something’s fucking with my house.
My lawn is wet and the rain’s still coming down hard as I run outside to grab the shovel off of my lawn. I pick it up and think of Mark: my first time.
Mark was dumb, sure, but he was a brute. He didn’t know how to say much and if he thought I wasn’t listening he made sure he had my attention. I hold the shovel with my right hand and start to feel around the inside of my mouth and play with the gap that used to have a molar in it. That was the first backhand he gave me. You always hear women say they think it’s only going to happen once. It never goes like that. I can’t believe I was that naive.
I tried to keep strong, take the punches when I had to. My grandpa always taught me to keep a strong face. Don’t let the enemy see you’re hurt, that’s when they know they won. At first, Mark gave up quickly when I wouldn’t flinch or cry or scream when he nailed me. Then it became like an open challenge to him. How far did he have to go to get a reaction out of me? Too far.
He was in a rage, started smashing everything in my house. He threw a picture of me and my grandpa. It was a picture of a time we went fishing and I got a hook stuck in my finger. I cried out but he grabbed my hand and somehow him holding it made the pain go away. That was the first time he told me to never show my pain, never show a weak face or your enemy will take advantage of it. They’ve already won if you show a weak face.
I grabbed another broken picture frame and threw it at his head. The glass shattered and he bled all over his face. That sent him into a screaming rage like a bear who’s fighting for survival. Only he was fighting for dominance. I wasn’t about to give that to him.
He chased me into the backyard and almost caught up to me. I grabbed the shovel and swung it as hard as I could. The spade at the end made it feel like I swung hard enough to crack the earth in two. I didn’t connect, though, not totally.
With a sharp shink I could see the blood splatter streak across the shed, Mark had his hands around his throat like he was trying to strangle himself. He fell to his knees and started coughing, blood flew out of his mouth like a popped zit. In his choking and coughing he got out a, “you bitch.”
Pretty much summed up his vocabulary. I took a step closer and speared the spade into the back of his head, put my foot onto the spade, and dug out what little was in his head. Obviously, not much.
I guess you could say I got hooked after that. It’s weird, you start craving it after a while. It just feels good. They beg and plea and you don’t show an ounce of anything and keep them guessing which way you’re going to swing that shovel. Even the slightest bit of remorse and you could lose them.
I almost lost Howard actually. When I had him on his knees he looked up at me through those dopey glasses of his, crying to where his eyes were as red as the tip of my shovel. He said the sweetest thing. He told me he was looking forward to the bottle of wine and a good talk tonight. That’s when I hesitated.
He got up and tried to run, luckily he wasn’t the most athletic. I threw the shovel and it lodged in his back like an archer’s arrow. He wasn’t dead, but he started crying more and louder, saying he couldn’t feel his legs. I stepped on the back of his knees to pull the shovel out. He didn’t make a peep. He wasn’t kidding.
I hear some heavy breathing from behind me. Something moves across the shadows in front of my house and I just run for the backyard; whoever’s fucking with me isn’t going to last long once he’s back there. I always get them back there.
I climb a fence and land behind my shed. I creep around and find loose dirt and dead grass all over my lawn. Somebody’s been digging around. Or…
And I hear the breathing again. It crept around the other direction and its footprints slush slush in the wet mud. The rain’s still coming down hard and I feel the wet drip along my face, but I keep it straight and together. Tonight’s not the night my enemy finds me weak.
The slushing becomes a wet stomp and he starts stepping harder and harder. He moves slow like I’m his prey and he has me cornered, just playing and toying with my until he pounces. I’m ready for his pounce.
He steps closer and I see there’s something in his right hand. Another step and I can see it’s a clump of hair, like a dead animal he found on the side of the road. Another step and I see his brutish face, mean and ugly, half decomposed and missing the top half of his scalp.
That’s when I realized no one dug into my lawn, someone dug out of it.
A sinister smile creeps across his face, showing what’s left of his blackened teeth and pussing brown gums. I swing my shovel again at him but this time he catches the spade and rips it from my hands, breaking the handle over his knee and tossing it aside. A show of arrogance but his arrogance seems justified as I know I’m not making it out alive.
A scream catches both of our attentions as another man dives towards the hulking mammoth seeking my death. The broken spade in his hand like a serial killer with a kitchen knife, he stabs the lurking threat over and over, shink shink shink. They both topple to the ground and I can’t see what’s going on until the smaller man stands with Mark’s head in his hands. He tosses the head towards me, spinal cord hanging off like a sperm and its tail.
I look closer and it occurs to me I buried Howard still with his glasses on. He’s still wearing them.