Trapdoor: a novel by Vixen Phillips
This is your faith. This is where it leads you. This is what I am.
I hold the silver cross up to my face, as a gust of wind outside the window lashes the curtains and scatters its blades of ice around the room. I just listen. I don’t feel. I can’t feel.
I feel too much.
I can’t turn around, can’t look at what I’ve done, can’t face this eidolon thing you call faith.
I had to do this. I couldn’t let you see. Couldn’t let you care.
So why am I still here? This place, this time—I’ve been here before. As a child. A child whose old man put him to bed, not with fairy stories or teddy bears, but his breath and his fists reeking of booze.
This is what I’ve become. Same as him. That’s what she said. It’s what she told all of them. It doesn’t matter whether they believe it or not. The problem is, I believe it.
I may not do it to my son, but I do it to you, Pegasus.
I put my head in my hands, pressing the cold silver against my eyelids. Powerless to protect myself from the chill within. Please, not tonight. Just leave me alone. Isn’t this enough?
All I can do is hurt you, but that’s not what I wished. I don’t expect you to believe that. I don’t expect you to believe me. I did this to you so you wouldn’t have to see. I did this to you so I couldn’t hurt you anymore.
What if he doesn’t wake up? What if you hurt him too much?
No. I knew what I was doing, exactly what I was doing when— When I hit him.
I stare at a spot on the carpet, somewhere between the suitcase and the door. I know how to knock someone out without killing them. I trained myself to retain control, even when I’m drunk, cos of my dad. And now I’m using my hatred, my defences, against the only person left who—
Don’t use that word. You’ve got no right to use that word. What do you know of love?
I move towards the suitcase. Time to run away.
Time to leave.
Instead I find myself in the kitchen, staring at the shards of broken glass littering the windowsill and the sink. I pick one up, to examine a spray of blood. Pegasus’s blood. That cold wind now caresses my cheeks. Were you trying for a way out? Or were you just angry? Angry at me.
Who could blame you? I hold the glass against my wrist, making a tight fist out of habit, an age-old attempt at getting the veins to stand out from my opaque skin. I recall the sight of the phone, scattered over the floor in a hundred tiny pieces, another victim of his anger, anger only I deserve.
I’m making you the same as me. Poisoning everything you are.
My fingers let the glass shard slide back into the basin. Feeling sick, I sink to the floor, flattening myself against the cold, hard tiles. Nothing I can do. Nothing left for me to do. Leaving’s easy. But then what?
Shadows dance across the ceiling, creeping up on me. I wish—I wish I never hit you. I wish you were here, to put your arms around me, to whisper my name, to tell me it’s all going to be okay, to tell me there’s some way to save—
“Damien,” I whisper, my pathetic sob loud and intrusive in this small, lonely space.
Nothing left to lose. So what do I do now? What am I supposed to do?
Step forward and introduce yourself to the rest of the human race.
I laugh at myself, and a new emptiness echoes in mad zigzags through my head.
I’d always associated courtrooms with men in wigs, and grand juries, and swearing oaths on the Bible. Not surprisingly, the real thing was nothing like I imagined.
The morning turned out sickly-sunny. I met up with Judy, who insisted we go for coffee, though I refused to indulge in her need for small talk. My mind was off elsewhere, practising my numbness. I already knew I was failing miserably.
Wendy and her lawyer, the same one who’d materialised at Monty’s that night, turned up ten minutes late. I knew it was all over when I couldn’t even bring myself to hate her as she swanned into the courtroom, face all done up like some macabre exhibit from Madame Tussauds. So there I sat, a wolf in a trap, forced to suck up all her lies. Watching Judy and the lawyer and the magistrate watching me and believing her, till in the end I started to believe her too. Don’t think my hand strayed too far from the silver cross the entire time.
Pegasus. His name chanted in my mind as an incantation, to make those terrible words—that feeling—disappear. Please save me. Show them how this isn’t the truth. They’ll believe it, coming from you. Please.
But Peg wasn’t there. He was never going to be there, all cos I’d been so afraid. She said I—
She said I was like my dad. She said I always came home drunk, and hurt them, and she told them I—
She said I did to Damien what her family did to Pegasus. “I can’t prove it, of course, but the poor little thing’s so terrified, it’s all he can do to let me get near him. That bastard—” here she flashed those evil eyes at me. ”You hear how they are, these queers. I just know he had…sexual relations…with my son.”
Every scandalised face turned to gape at me, but her smug smile was all I could see as I launched myself across the table. I was crying, too far gone for stoicism or shame. “Why the fuck are you doing this to me? That’s bullshit, all of it, and you—”
“Raven,” Judy said, touching my arm, but I slapped her away. You believe her. You all fucking believe her. You think I’d honestly—?
“What the fuck are you doing? How can you say that? It’s not the truth. It’s never been the truth, I would never—”
I stopped short as Wendy snorted at me in disdain. I’d fallen for her act, same as the rest of them. Then Judy dragged me outside, tried to calm me. I couldn’t stop shaking. I couldn’t believe—
“I never did that,” I whispered, over and over, my hands blurring beneath my tears.
“I know,” Judy said quietly. “There is some bruising, but as to the rest of it, there’s no conclusive medical proof. Calm down already.”
No medical proof. They needed to check?
After that, I had to come up with some speech on why I should get to keep my son. What I could give him, in 500 words or less. And all I could come up with was something blurred along the lines of, I love him…and he loves me. I’ve got nothing else. Ask him. But he was too young to get any say in the matter. All three of us, powerless against her. Judy sat forward and reminded them all of the fact that I was ‘the primary caregiver’. Only by then, it was much too late.
And so she won, so easily. They led my angel away, too late for good-byes as well. They even gave me papers to commemorate the event, which I promptly tore to shreds and scattered outside in the street. Judy tried to touch me again. I pushed her off, not as roughly as I wanted to. Then I started walking, letting my feet lead me where they would.
They led me to the one place I so didn’t need to be. A pub.
By the time sunset bled across the sky, I’d lost count of how many drinks I’d had. I sat at the bar—an older haunt—staring out the window, alternately ignoring and despising everyone else. Somehow, I kept hoping Pegasus would sweep through the door at any moment, pull me into his arms, and take me someplace safe and warm. But whenever the door opened, some happy couple came breezing in instead, and each time I shivered as I remembered—again—that it could never be him. I’d locked him away, for his own protection.
No, that’s not true. Not to protect him. To protect myself.
For the first time I could recall in recent history, I was drunk right on dark. I didn’t even notice Lenny till he towered over the top of me, already halfway through a sentence. I blinked, barely registering his anger. No big deal. Anger was just another emotion, and emotions meant nothing anymore.
“What?” I said blankly.
“I said,” he repeated in a louder voice, “your little whore lost his job today on your account. Hope you’re fucking proud of yourself.”
I frowned, struggling to think of who and what he was on about. When I did figure it out, the frown only intensified, bringing with it something I didn’t want, dragging me out of my apathy and off to some place I wanted to be even less than here. I heard myself muttering a threat about using that word to refer to my angel, while another part of my mind wondered what I’d actually do about it, and yet another dreamed up a response.
“Oh, what, you think you’re gonna be his first? He sure as shit ain’t no virgin. I can vouch for that. He’s a fucking whore, and he’d still be a whore if I hadn’t given him a job that didn’t involve blowing suits old enough to be his daddy and bending over to—”
It was as far as he got before what was left of my scotch and coke, and the glass, landed smack in the centre of his forehead. There was a loud smash. When he faced me again, blood streamed down his eyebrows and dripped down his cheeks. You…
You were one of them?
And then it all became so clear: how he spied on Peg at the store, how he acted around Pegasus, how Pegasus acted around him— But then, it must’ve been a long time ago. Did Peg remember him?
What if he did?
A few women standing nearby screamed as I threw myself at Lenny, sending him crashing to the ground, too angry to care how well-placed the punches I was laying into him were. I just wanted to hurt him. I just wanted to make him suffer, for what he’d done to my Pegasus. I just wanted to hear the bones of his skull fracture beneath my fists. “I’m going to kill you, you son of a diseased hag,” I spat, blinded by a red cloud of hatred.
Then I was being dragged away, lifted and thrown out onto the pavement in the cold night air.
I remember springing straight back up, trying to plough through the two bouncers—a pair of Maori guys who were probably five times my size between them—anything to get in another shot at that bastard. This time, I was going to kill him.
Instead, I found myself unceremoniously dumped arse-first on the pavement again. One of the bouncers laid a heavy hand on my shoulder, to prevent me going anywhere. “Calm down, Raven. Go home. Sleep it off.”
“What would you fucking know about it?” I glared at him with as much venom as I could muster.
“I know that if you don’t, someone’s gonna call the cops,” he replied, so calm and self-assured as he popped me right side up. Easy enough for them. They had something to live for.
“Go home, Raven,” he said, pushing me in the other direction.
I’d staggered two blocks to the next pub, half-hoping Lenny would find his way over so I could at least finish the job. But after waiting a moment I got bored and ordered another scotch and coke, desperate to quash all the little voices in my head. Not like my dad. Like Ma. This is what drove her insane.
When will they realise I’m insane? Lock the door and throw away the key. Who do I need to call, to get them to do that to me?
Pegasus—Pegasus with…Lenny. I couldn’t bear to think about it, and yet the more I tried not to, the more it kept poking into my conscious mind, teasing me, mocking me, tormenting me. Those past tortures never had a face before, and now that they did—
About half an hour before closing, the real truth of the matter finally struck home, as I threw up over the concrete stairwell, too late to make it to the men’s. Pegasus and Lenny.
So, you could want him, you could let him…do that to you. But not me. You can’t even say I love you, Raven. If he’d asked you, if he’d named the right price, would you have said it to him?
I downed one last drink, filling myself with a sense of nausea and a sense of destiny, before staggering home, my heart black with jealousy and sorrow and self-righteous disgust.
If you want him, you can want me too. Or you don’t get a choice in the matter. Just like I never do.
Stupid. I’m nothing but a fool. What else could I be, to have thought—
To have thought he could want me, he could love me at all, let alone like that.
Once more, I find myself sitting on the edge of the bed, my shaking hands stroking his long silken hair. Why am I doing this? Why am I pushing away the only one who cares, the only one who cares enough to want to help me?
Because if I care, I can lose. I can still be hurt. She can still take it from me—
No. He said he had a plan B. That he would help me. That I’ve got to…trust him.
Why am I so afraid, when there’s nothing left to lose? Why are these self-preservation instincts still around, when there’s nothing left worth preserving?
“Damn you,” I mutter to no one in particular, tracing an imaginary path down his tear-stained cheek. He asked me to stay. Even after I hurt him. He said—he said—
Because I know how it ends.
And he cried.
Damn you, wake up. Please don’t leave me all alone. I’m so tired of being alone. Tell me how it ends. Tell me, somehow, that at least some of this pain is worth it.
He doesn’t answer. He can’t, of course.
I look away, helpless. Too many times, helpless. Is this how it’s always going to be? I was meant to protect you. I promised— I said I loved you. But what I’ve shown you, that isn’t love.
How could I have said those words? How could I have been so stupid? I’ve got no idea how to show anyone love, no idea of its true meaning.
Only my dad ever told me he loved me; every night, after he got done hurting me and Ma. He swore the same thing to her, too. I try and laugh, but nothing comes. It’s too close to the truth. This is the only love I’ve got, Peg. I can’t stay. I can’t bear to see the ways I hurt you, and yet—
I can’t bear to leave.
Slowly, very cautiously, like he’s some china doll, I pull his slender body close as I strip off his t-shirt, then lay him to rest on the mattress. Next I arrange his long hair in swirls around his face and shoulders. Last of all, I peel off his underwear. But don’t worry, my angel. I don’t want to do that to you. I’m not your uncle. I’m not Lenny. And I’m not like the rest of them. I just want you to think that I am.
I trail my hand down his arm, my fingers coming away slick with blood. He hurt himself tonight, with the window. Another sin I’ve committed against him.
I get off the bed and enter the bathroom, jumping at the sight of the reflection that stares at me from the mirror. Don’t look. Hastily, I avert my eyes and start rummaging through the cabinet under the sink till I uncover some bandages in the dark. Then I make my way back to his inert form.
Kneeling on the floor beside him, I take hold of his wrist and start wrapping the bandage round his hand, working my way up to his elbow, where the cut trails off. At that end I tie a little bow. As I sit up, I steal a glimpse of his naked body. You’re still too beautiful. In you, the power to remind me of my reason. In you the power to give me hope.
I bend forward for a single kiss, tasting sorrow and marijuana on his lips. I’m making you the same as me. I crawl onto the bed, nuzzling his cheeks, his neck, his chest, dotting his stomach with kisses, then burying my nose in the downy pubic hair that shines silver in this light. I kiss the tip of his penis once before returning to his face, just watching him sleep.
I could watch you forever, angel, if only you’d let me. Forever.
That’s why I’m so afraid. This is why I’m being so terrible to you. Because I know how it all ends.
I kiss my own tears off his lips, and stroke his forehead gently. Please come back to me. I can’t promise you anything. I can give you nothing. But I want you here with me, for eternity.
I sniff, running my arm under my nose, and get to my feet. On my way past again, I glance at the stereo. There’s blood on the tape deck. Something compels me to touch my own fingertip to the little red imprint on the button marked ‘play’, before I turn back to look at him. Gotta keep doing that, to remind myself he’s still here.
Now, for the last time, I crawl to him on all fours. I pick the cross off the mattress, and fasten it around my neck. Then I lie next to him, aware all the while of the hairs bristling on my arms. I’ve begun to feel again.
I’m taken by surprise when the soft music floats in. It’s a piano piece, though the tape’s so worn out that anyone else probably wouldn’t catch the melody. But I do. I’ve heard this one before. It was the song Pegasus played to me, the night—the night I told him how I felt. I thought I’d sentenced us both to our doom. Maybe I was right. But here, in this pain and this dreadful silence before the first refrain of dawn, I come to realise I’ve finally found a definition.
A definition of love.
I wrap my arms around him, and press my head to his heartbeat. Closing my eyes, I settle in to wait for him to wake once more and give me a reason—any reason. A reason to give me what I want. Not to hurt him, not to touch him in the way all those others did, not for hunger, or abuse.
A reason to make love.
Weak sunlight steals through the curtains, as birdsong and traffic outside and dull voices downstairs announce the onset of a new day. I lie here listening to the dull thud of his heart, as his body grows warm beneath me again. And now his fingertips touch the edges of my face. I stop breathing, too afraid to do anything.
When I dare to look, the first thing I see are those sad silver eyes, fixed on me. I sit bolt upright, waiting out the moment till I can trust myself to speak. Then, “Are you okay?”
The mattress pings, as he rises more slowly. I want to help him, but I don’t dare touch. I’ve already done enough.
“My head’s a little sore. But…I think I’m okay. What—?”
“I’ll run you a bath.” I roll off the bed, the sudden movement bringing waves of nausea flooding back. He wanted to ask me what happened. I can’t tell him, not yet. Delaying the moment he pushes me out of his life.
I head for the bathroom, turn on the taps, and find some fragrant oils to squeeze into the water. Soon, rose-scented bubbles rise towards the ceiling. I’ll tell him. Then there’ll be no way he’ll ever forgive me. Too many reminders that nothing lasts forever.
I turn off the taps, testing the water’s temperature, before I return to the bed. Pegasus hasn’t moved. He glances at me, twisting a lock of hair absentmindedly around one finger. Too ashamed to look into his face, I lift him in my arms, carry him across the floor, and lower him into the bath. Then I take up my seat on the edge of the claw-foot tub, deliberately facing away from him.
He lets out a heartfelt sigh. I start to scratch at one of the scars on my left wrist. “What—what did we do last night?” he asks me.
“You don’t remember?” My voice is cold, challenging him to dredge up those horrible memories.
“I—I remember I was waiting. Waiting for you to come home. I was worried about you. I felt as though—” I can hear the uncertainty in his words. “I don’t remember much after that. It—it hurts. What’s going on, Raven? What have I done?”
I start to laugh; can’t remember when I did this cos I was actually happy. “Not you,” I say at last. “Me.”
“What does that mean?”
I shrug and gaze off into the living room. “I locked you away cos I was scared you’d leave me. Then I came home drunk, and tried to fuck you. Then after all that, I knocked you out. I couldn’t let you see me cry, not this time.” I’m amazed at how nonchalant I sound. Does he hate me all the more for that?
When he doesn’t say anything, I at last turn to face him. He’s staring at his hands, most of his body and hair submerged in the bubbles, a little frown shadowing his face. Finally, he looks at me and says, “I woke up naked. Did you—while I was asleep—?”
I blink in surprise, then disgust, then shame. “I didn’t rape you while you were asleep. I wouldn’t. I…couldn’t.” My voice breaks. He won’t believe me. Why should he? Nobody ever does. They didn’t believe me when it came to my son, either. You’re the only one who knows me, Pegasus, and this is the side of myself I’ve chosen to show you.
It’s already over. So why am I still here?
“I—I betrayed your trust. I didn’t want—” No. No excuses. No begging forgiveness. Just leave. It’s over. Go.
“There’s nothing left of this,” I mutter, and get off the tub. “I can’t stay here.”
Behind me, I hear the sounds of splashing water, and he grabs hold of my arm, whipping me around to face him. His eyes burn little holes into me, two moons that give off heat with their intensity, and somehow, now, I’m afraid to look away.
“You can’t leave me,” he says, quiet but firm. “I’ve waited too long for this. For you.”
I can’t answer, but he wants more than that. He wants me to believe. “This is about Damien? I told you, we’ll get him, somehow. We’ll still be a family, I swear.”
Our foreheads press together. “Not about Damien,” I murmur. One of his hands clasps my own; the other pulls me close against him, back into the bathroom, to the sanctity of the water. “Not just about Damien,” I correct myself, as he lowers himself into the tub again. “About you, Pegasus.”
He smiles as I say his name. Why is he letting me do this? “I can’t stay here. I’ll—” make you the same as me “—destroy you.”
He looks aside, considering this. “Not my destruction,” he says at last. “My salvation.”
I choke on a sob and his name, as he turns that gaze, bright and defiant and full of hope, loose upon me.
“Stay,” he says simply, pulling me down into the water above him.
I want nothing more than to curl up inside him, forever protected by the light that burns within. That would be home. “Yes,” I agree weakly, and he holds me tight against the flood of fear and relief that fills us both, drawing us even closer together.
I was a fool to think we could ever be apart.
Next Chapter: 12.PEGASUS: True Faith