Trapdoor: a novel by Vixen Phillips
Cracks In The Ice
I slam down the receiver of the public phone, hard enough to cause a loud crack. Whether it’s plastic or bone, I can’t tell; I don’t care.
“What the fuck are you looking at?” I yell into the face of the nearest onlooker, a proverbial brick toilet maybe half my height again and twice my width. The pockmarked mess that barely passes for a face beneath steel wool hair contorts into a scowl. I just laugh. Feeling lucky tonight, Raven?
“Raven.” A gentle voice echoes my name like a warning in my ear. No, I don’t want to talk to you, Pegasus. Don’t want to look at you, don’t want to unleash this impotent rage upon you always and again.
I try and avoid those sad silver eyes filled with concerned pity. I don’t need your pity, and I don’t deserve your concern. “You’re too late. I’m doomed anyway.” That’s what I want to say. Instead I find myself grabbing his wrist and tugging him towards the bar. If ever I had a sanctuary, this is it. Twenty dollars from the gig goes aside on a little something for my son, which means after I shout us a fifth drink, I’m back to scrabbling for change in my pockets.
I let him go to take possession of my JD and coke, while he tries to rub away the pain of my touch. “Poor baby.” I’m aware of the mocking tone in my voice, not that I’m going to do anything about it. “You’re not having a good night, are you?”
“I’m not a baby,” he snaps, and snatches up the Midori and lemonade. After a moment’s silence, he places the glass down on the counter. It’s empty.
Guess I deserve that. He wouldn’t see it as a term of endearment, of course. No different from last time, when he threw up, all for doing then what he’s doing now—trying to keep up with me.
“Let’s sit,” I say, nodding towards a booth behind the pool tables. Most of the punters have cleared out now it’s nearing last drinks. We finished up our set half an hour ago, but the anger hasn’t stopped burning a hole through my brain, the embers newly stoked since she phoned in that abusive tirade.
I slide over, closest to the wall, taken by surprise when he moves right in beside me. I wish the couple of people who do linger around the bar would just bugger off. Maybe then he’d continue that massage, long enough for me to get up the guts to spell out my feelings for him, and finally put this charade to death.
“That was her?” he asks.
I gaze into my drink. He’s staring at my hands, and the scratches left by the bitch’s claws. His nose is still puffy. At least the bleeding stopped before we went on. I can’t believe she hit him. A blow meant for me, so why did he take it?
Because if she’d hit you, you would have hit her back. In front of your son. And they would have taken him from you. For always.
Well sure, that would be a reasonable explanation. But a voice that isn’t Wendy’s keeps nagging at the edges, insisting there’s something more, another hidden reason. It gets louder, this voice, whenever I look into his eyes, when I felt his touch tonight, when I held him and he pushed away from me, just like I pushed away from him. Could it be—both of us using my son as an excuse to never get any closer?
I take a swig from my glass. How much more of this shit do I need to drink before I build up enough courage to tell him?
“Yeah. It was her. Demanded to know when I’d be coming home. Said Damien wouldn’t go to bed cos I upset him so bad. Then she launched into the second-rate dad speech again.” I bite down into a block of ice, hoping it cushions some of the hate.
“I guess this would be when you killed the phone, huh?” He tries to smile.
I laugh, all self-pity and self-derision. “No. That would’ve been when she told me what she did to get him to sleep.” I glance in his direction, daring him to ask. For a moment he opens his mouth, then shakes his head, letting it pass. Guess he’s got enough imagination to fill in the blanks. Enough experience, too, if what little I’ve put together of his childhood is true.
“Please don’t get drunk tonight, Raven,” he says at last, and reaches out, clasping my hand.
I stare at his pale, spidery fingers, nails painted to match my hair glittering in the light. Right now I feel as sober as I’m ever going to get, but I’m well-trained in the art of never betraying my feelings. “Too late for that.” Meaning what, exactly? Too late for a warning, or too late to touch? He lowers his head, defeated by this statement. I squeeze his hand despite myself. Not too late to touch. It can’t be. “Why do you care?” I ask.
He looks up again, pausing, evaluating the question. Seems most everything I say tonight ends up with two meanings. I’m a serpent with a forked tongue. One path leading to the truth I deny, fearing happiness, the other a lie that got me into all this trouble in the first place. He follows my lead, my rules, and chooses the second path.
“Don’t give her more of an excuse than she already has. Finish up your drink, and go home.”
“Oh, so now you don’t want me around, either?” What the hell are you doing, Raven?
The way he looks at me, coupled with the words I couldn’t stop myself from saying, spikes my heart. “It’s never been about what I want.”
Like I need another reminder that I’m too much of a coward to deal with any of this. What do you want, then? That’s what I should be asking. “I’m sorry,” I hear myself say, into my glass. Finish up your drink, and go home. Probably the best advice I could hope for.
Do you want…me?
A set of car keys materialises in front of my face, jingling like some bogan wind chime between both our heads. “Home time, kiddies!” Monty calls, his cheer well out of place. “Better come along before your coach turns into a pumpkin.”
There must be enough combined angst in the look we shoot him to almost kill off that trademark grin. Almost, but not quite. Damn. But I agree to a ride anyway. A small concession to your wishes, Pegasus. I finish up and follow them out to the lane.
If I’d remembered that Monty’s latest musical obsession involved Queen, I mightn’t have bothered, Pegasus or no Pegasus. I sit beside him in the back seat, trying my best to call up the part of my childhood where I loved ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ enough to sing along with it in true Wayne’s World fashion, but that long-term memory loss that’s supposedly associated with drinking as much as I do must be kicking in, cos I swear I can’t do it.
Several times during the journey, I glance across at him, hoping to catch his eye, hoping he’ll reach out for my hand again, so much so that I leave it unclenched on the seat between us, as close to his leg as I can without breaking the concrete subtlety that is Raven de Winter. But the whole time he just sits there, arms folded over his chest, staring out the window. Whenever I catch a glimpse of his reflection, he looks miserable. That’d be my fault, too. Again. Always.
We reach the top of my street, rather appropriately, as the late Mr. Mercury gets to crooning about how nothing really matters, and I roll out onto the patchwork asphalt, then poke my head back in to say my good-byes. Gosh, I’m feeling social tonight.
Truth is, the last place in the world I want to be is that house of hell only two picket fences away.
Pegasus still isn’t looking at me, so I save a farewell especially for him. “Bye, Peg?”
Even Monty and Noriko look surprised when he ignores me. Monty raises a brow and Noriko waves sadly as they slowly reverse onto Punt Road.
“Nothing really matters…to me.” The words ring in my mind as I watch the car till it disappears from view, leaving me like they always do, eventually, to face the nightmare alone.
His face is so beautiful. Perfection, frozen in sleep. I’ve never been into religion—something about the whole concept of faith I could never stomach—but tonight, looking down on something so precious, I find the term ‘angel’ again coming to mind. How two worthless beings could produce such a lovely creature between them is completely beyond me.
You’re all I’ve got in the world, Damien. The only thing I’m allowed to love. The only truth that can’t be twisted into deceit, the only blessing I can’t taint into a curse.
When a tear lands on the porcelain cheek, I get stiffly to my feet. I only hope he’s dreaming, like all children are supposed to—a fantastic voyage of unbridled imagination, unbound by adult fears—and for this reason I won’t wake him, even if all I want is to pick him up and hold him, hold him so tight that no one could ever come between us, that I could never—would never need to let him go.
“About bloody time you came home.”
But the real world always creeps back in, casting a stain over everything. The twisted shadow on the wall is a far more accurate portrait of what lies within her soul than the figure standing in front of me. I push past her, forcing her to follow me out of the room. Whatever happens next, my son’s got nothing more to do with it.
I close the door softly behind me. Only then do I let the same black poison stain spread to my heart.
She’s hissing and spitting but I’m not listening, as she stalks me up the hall to our bedroom, that place I dread the most. Knowing she wants each night to be ‘The One’; that I might actually have to let her swallow me up and confront the fact that my life is a lie. Not that I’ve been physically capable of doing that for too many months to count—at one stage she went as far as suggesting Viagra; I laughed so hard I spat in her face. Even my dick can’t be suckered in that easy anymore. Pity how wisdom comes with so much hindsight.
Her spouting of the endless list of my failures drones on, as I walk towards the window, raise the blind, and find myself staring up at a full moon. A nice pagan explanation for my madness. My mind drifts back to Pegasus in the car, refusing to look at me, refusing to even say good-bye. How could I have fooled myself into thinking, even for a millisecond, that he could have feelings for me?
“It’s never been about what I want.”
Her voice—his words. The crossover of imagery, desire, and hatred makes me sick, the moon fading into a swirl as I spin away from the glass and shove her to the floor.
That was for Pegasus, for the one that I truly—
No, don’t say that. If you say it, if you ever admit it to yourself, it becomes the truth, and then— And then, she’ll see it, and she’ll take it from you, like she’s taken everything else.
I watch myself pull her up by the ends of her hair, covering her mouth since I can’t stand to hear her squeal. Not one more word. I throw her against the wall. Not so nice when you’re on the receiving end, is it, love?
Love? Is that what this is, this delicate fever, this gliding across the edge of a knife?
She thinks this is for her. Both of us, the deceived, the deceivers. Both of us living a lie, all for being so comfortable beneath everyone else’s gaze, so ‘socially acceptable’. Not tonight. No more. It takes a certain strength to lie, a certain faith, and all I feel is exhaustion.
The memory of the moon swirls in front of my mind’s eye as I put a hand around her neck, keeping her flat against the wall. In one violent tug my other hand rips off her pyjama pants. I close my eyes as I unbutton my jeans, not seeing her, not feeling her, not feeling this incredible need— Not for her.
She’s stopped squirming and struggling. Hoping this is finally it, she parts her legs and rubs against me, whimpering. Pathetic. I don’t want to touch that—in my mind’s eye her cunt’s swollen in grotesqueness to some Gerald Scarfe caricature, all fangs and acidic drool. Swallowing the bile, I try and conjure up his beautiful face once again, his hands transforming the cuts into wings, and everything’s okay.
As okay as it can be with the madness crashing in waves into my skull.
My fingers drift down, parting the flesh of her butt. One after another, I force two of them inside. Letting out a panicked screech, she struggles against me, mouthing something about, “Raven, I don’t think you should—it hurts.” No. No no no no. If I hear her moan, I’m going to lose it, and there’ll be no point to any of this. So I cup my hand around her mouth, so tight that nothing can escape. Then I try to ram into her arse, so forceful and desperate we both slam into the wall, and she’s panting and grunting, biting my hand so hard I can feel her teeth break the skin, but it’s too late for either of us now.
Pegasus. Pegasus, Pegasus, Pegasus. There is no her and no me. Only you. Love. I love you. I want to give myself to you. Please save me. Save me from her, from myself, from these terrible feelings that are only for you.
Have only ever been for you.
There it is.
This final stark confession is almost enough to make me cum. But I’m lost so deep, and I want us to be here, together, want to make him feel this, too. I want him to know…
Beneath me, Wendy suddenly tenses. Pegasus. Did I—?
Yeah. I actually spoke the magic word out loud. Discovering an extra burst of strength from this ultimate rejection, she pushes me off, then whacks me across the face.
I fall onto the bed, my head spinning. Too numb to feel any pain, too relieved that I’ve announced the truth at last—if not to him, then at least to me—I gaze at the floor as a suitcase lands near my feet, and clothes fly into it.
Is she leaving me? If this was all I had to do…
No, these are my clothes. Of course. Why don’t you just leave? Now she doesn’t even need to ask.
When she sees me looking, she starts screaming at me, something about how sick I am, something else about me going to hell.
“I thought you wanted me to leave.” Don’t think about touching her, don’t think about what you did to her, don’t close your eyes, just don’t. I wander across the hall to the bathroom, forcing myself not to run.
Half an hour later, after doing my best to scrub off her poison and my poison and what feels like half my skin, I pick up the single suitcase, grab my latest reading material off the night-stand on my side of the bed, and walk out of the room. Guess it’s for good, this time. I linger outside Damien’s door, but the numbness hasn’t worn off enough yet to process that pain. Something to look forward to tomorrow. Along with the hangovers I never get.
Wendy starts hitting and threatening me again. Afraid she might wake him, I let her hound me back out onto the street.
Two forty-two a.m., or so my watch says, when I take a seat on the park bench directly across from Peg’s apartment. Another five hours before the first coach makes its run down the south-west coast. I’ll be on it, of course. But till then, I can sit right here and look up at his window, wishing the same sweet dreams on him that I wished upon Damien, what already seems like hours before.
It’s so cold, now the storm clouds have passed and the rain’s gone. My breath leaves smoky trails in the air as I light up a clove, licking my lips and tasting the sweetness of the filter. I wonder if this is what Pegasus will taste, if we—
Yeah, well. No chance of that ever happening, I suppose. I’m a coward. Cowards run, so that’s what I’m doing. Home to my mama. But it’s no more a solution than staying put with Wendy. I just need a chance to—
To what? Think? Change my mind? Apologise?
None of the above. I feel bad for what I did to Wendy. Deep down I have to believe such capacity to hurt is not an integral part of who I am. It’s just—the moon, my feelings, my confession, retribution…
He didn’t even want to say goodnight to me. What did I say, that was so wrong?
Several times during the course of the long dark morning, I give serious thought to ringing the buzzer and begging the price of admission to his loft. Only one thought stops me every time. What if I try to do to him what I just did to Wendy? What if I hurt him that way?
Is that really what I want?
No. On the edge of dawn, I finally feel sure of the answer, as I board the first tram to the city. Not that certainty helps. That’s why I’m running, after all. It’s what cowards do.
At Spencer Street, I glance over my ticket as I board the coach. Down near the back, sitting with my socked toes curled over a heating vent: this is the warmest I’ve been in over twelve hours. Two bus stops shy of the end of the line, followed by a half hour walk to work up the appetite. ETA, around one-thirty.
If old habits hold, I’ll be just in time for lunch. It’s been a while. Hope Ma’s pleased to see me.
Next Chapter: 04.PEGASUS: Chasing Shadows