Claudia kept falling. The coarse chunk of a rope was too damn loose. Why didn’t they have some manual on how to hang yourself? She was standing on the bathtub with the noose dangling from her neck in her nightgown trying to figure out why she never learned how to make a slipknot. This was just embarrassing and an unnecessary waste of time. She pulled the rope off and flung it at the bathroom door. Enough of this bullshit.
Maybe this was some omen. She was incapable of killing herself. She’d already tried pills, taken all the aspirin she had left in a bottle and vomited for days afterwards feeling even more depressed than she’d been before. She bought a pack of razors, but that was as close as she got to that angle. She turned green when she saw someone bleeding, so the razors had remained in their packaging. And she didn’t own a gun. And to hell with the hanging. That had been pathetic.
No, today was going to be different. Today Claudia was going to wreak havoc out in the world. She didn’t know how or who it was going to be, but she was sick of attempting suicides. Let someone else feel the pain for once. She was tired of being tired of herself. She’d been living in her nightgown for weeks watching zombie movies, living on popcorn and Mac and Cheese. Her dad had sent her his monthly check. Well, today she was going to spend it making someone’s life, besides her own, miserable.
Of course, making someone’s life hell wasn’t as easy as all those Meg Ryan movies would have you think. There was no real manual for that either. Yes, you could make someone fall madly in love with you and ruin their life if you had the good fortune to meet an angel who’s fallen to earth, landed at your feet and then turned mortal just in time for you to die tragically in a bike crash. Or maybe that guy from college who kind of loved you and kind of hated you, but who could never quite let go of you even as he went off to get married, sleep around and look on in horror as you faked an orgasm in a diner. You might even somehow meet a lovely widower online, who from a distance looked strangely like the owner of a large bookstore chain, who comes to suffer terribly as he is forced to destroy your small, indie bookstore, even as you are simultaneously stealing his heart.
Whoa, Claudia thought, you’re really spinning with this one. You’ve gone from suicidal to manic in mere moments all because of that rag queen, Meg Ryan. Well, that and the fact that you haven’t been out of the house in a while. Still, why couldn’t you make someone fall in love with you? You could and the types of potential misery were only limited by one’s own imagination. No doubt it would take work, but taking the necessary steps, plotting out how it all would go down, was certainly doable, and maybe even controllable, which to be honest, sounded very appealing after having so little control over so much for so long.
How to begin though? Taking a shower was probably the place to start, Claudia thought. Soon the hot water was pinging her skin like small wasps, easing the tension in her shoulders and relieving the pressure in her skull that had been so unrelenting in recent days, or was it weeks? Claudia wasn’t so sure, but she had a plan now, at least the idea of a plan, and she felt better because of it. She had a purpose. She started combing her hair for the first time in at least a month.
There would be love, and misery. The question now was, with who would this love happen and how should she ensure that the misery happened in the shadow of that love crap?
She needed a nice guy with no chances. She would, not only break his heart, but stomp on it, chew it and turn it inside out.
She got out of the shower and planned to skank it up. Something sexy and wanton. Fuck Meg Ryan. Claudia had her own way that didn’t involve pouting like an adolescent and wearing overalls.
She needed to find some redneck place. She decided she would provoke some kind of epidemic. Screw as many guys as she could and then tell them she had AIDS after the fact. Or Syphilis. If she got their phone numbers she’d call them in a couple months and hit them up for abortion money. This could turn into an enterprising source of income. And if they had condoms? Give me a break, she thought. They all hated condoms. She could engineer a rip or a tear if need be. There was always a way through with subterfuge.
She headed out for a nearby country-western bar. Those cowboy-wannabees were always sniffing around for a squeeze and a squirt. The music twanged – one of those songs where the dude loses his woman, his truck and his dog in no particular order. Didn’t they ever get sick of that shit?
Claudia spotted the first loser standing at the bar. His t-shirt read, “Poker in the front. Licker in the rear.” Oh, now this was a real class act. She smiled shyly, attempting to puff her hair up into a cotton candy carnival deal. She was sure she could never erect a tower of hair big enough for this guy. He leered back anyway and sauntered over like the cock that he was. Leaning in close to her, he whispered, “Do you wash your pants with Windex? Because I can see myself in them.”
His breath smelled of mud and tobacco. Indeed, when she looked closer she saw a slimy brown caterpillar between his cheek and gum—Copenhagen snuff. He was a winner.
He took a seat without asking. Despite his jocular manner, she noticed something underneath that was deadly in his red-fisted veined eyes. It actually made her shiver.
Two others sat down as well. All three wore leather: vest, chaps, belts. Tattoos of skulls and daggers ran across their necks. One of them had his entire face plastered in tattoos. The other had diamonds embedded in the center of his teeth.
“You know what,” Claudia said, “I was just leaving.”
“Don’t think so,” the first said, his hot hand clamped at her wrist, forcing her back down. “Not until I say, anyway.”
She searched for the bartender, but he was busy at the far end, filling glasses, taking orders. She’d decided to station herself way back here in order to catch the roaming eyes of men coming and going out of the restroom. Well, that part had worked, but the end game-exacting misery on some unsuspecting dolt-now seemed not only out of the question, but as far from Meg Ryan as you could get. She was moving into ‘Thelma and Louise’ territory and she knew it.
The trio stared at her. Ink on skin. A swastika. A pierced heart. Black eyes. Trickle of sweat down a scarred cheek. Flared nostrils. Bloated blue tongue.
“You’re no prize are you, little bitch.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers, Copenhagen,” one of them snorted.
So that was the whack-job’s name. She would remember that when she escaped. Claudia hadn’t been this frightened in a long time, maybe not ever. Her pulse throbbed near her right temple, signaling the onslaught of a migraine. Things were not going as planned.
The place was packed. Someone hooted. Someone else turned the jukebox up loud and a group started line dancing, completely closing her off from the rest of the room. Not only was she hidden, but it was noisy enough that should she decide to scream, her voice would be lost in the rowdy din.
“All right,” Copenhagen said. “Let’s go.”
His hand clutched her, fingers like bolts through her wrist.
She tried to steady her eyes, meet his crazed slaughter of a stare. “What if I said, No?” she stuttered.
Standing, he opened his vest, showing two wide-bladed knives.
It was hard to swallow, to breathe. She thought back to her failed attempts with the noose, the aspirin…
She realized how ironic this encounter was. She was no Meg Ryan, no comedic actress, nobody’s It Girl. That saying, “there are no accidents,” kept playing through her head like some hellish parental voice you could never shake.
She looked directly into the bloodshot eyes of this psychopath. He was actually foaming at the mouth.
It seemed the whole world opened up for her at that moment and she wasn’t afraid anymore. She’d only been standing in her own way. She didn’t give a shit how it happened.
“Okay,” Claudia said. “I need a promise from you first.”
Copenhagen’s eyebrows lifted. “Yeah? What the hell would that be?” He smirked at his friends and shook his head.
She pointed at the knives. “When you’re through, make sure to plunge one of those straight into my heart. Make sure it’s spot-on and deep.” Claudia’s face was filling in with blood. It was her agenda now, not his.
“That I can do.” He winked at Claudia.
She shuddered. “Then we’ve got a deal. Let’s go. Get on with it.”
Claudia led the three of them out the door.
This month’s contributors to Exquisite Quartet are:
Ben Tanzer, the author of the books 99 Problems, You Can Make Him Like You, My Father’s House and So Different Now among others. Ben also oversees day-to-day operations of This Zine Will Change Your Life and can be found online at This Blog Will Change Your Life, the center of his vast, albeit faux media empire.
Linda Hedrick, who is working on an autobiographical novel and is dealing with her submission phobia. She writes for her blog, www.cerebralboinkfest.blogspot.com, and frequently does guest posts on book collecting for www.privatelibrary.typepad.com.
Len Kuntz, a writer from Washington State. Over 500 of his poems and short fiction pieces appear in print or online at such places as Juked, PANK Magazine, The Midwest Coast Review, The Legendary and Gemini Magazine. He blogs every other day at http://lenkuntz.blogspot.com.
Meg Tuite, whose writing has appeared in numerous journals. She is the fiction editor of The Santa Fe Literary Review and Connotation Press. Her novel Domestic Apparition (2011) is available through San Francisco Bay Press and her chapbook, Disparate Pathos, is available (2012) through Monkey Puzzle Press. Her blog: http://megtuite.wordpress.com.