At the request of a few people (who shall not be named) who have begged to know what I’ve been up to, here is a special sneak peek of my new work in progress, tentatively titled, “Bury Me Twice.”
My first thought upon waking was, “Dammit, I did it again.” Admittedly, I was unsure if I was referring to the actual waking up, or whatever thrice-damned event that had taken place the night before.
Experimentally, I pried open a crusted-over eyelid and nearly howled at the blazing sun that was beaming through my open blinds. I could smell stale sweat and smoke, and the remnants of greasy food. My mouth was fuzzy, my throat was raw and gritty, and I could bet that I knew why.
I sent my tortured gaze sideways, toward the cluttered, upturned, plastic milk crate I used as a night stand. There was an empty pill bottle laying on its side, and a half-empty bottle of vodka keeping it company. A hunk of day-old birthday cake, and an empty take out container from my favorite Chinese place also vied for space. Growling, I lifted a weak arm, and swept everything off of the makeshift bedside table, including my cell phone, which, of course, choose that moment to vibrate and ring. Wincing at the noise, I threw my arms over my head and waited for the stupid ringtone to stop before attempting to rise from my bed; I hoped I was the sole occupant there. In what seemed like slow motion to me, I planted my feet firmly on the floor and tried to sit up. My body refused to take orders from me, the stubborn git, and I merely rolled from the mattress onto the cold, hardwood floor. Lucky for me, I was already on the floor; my bed frame had broken months ago, and I hadn’t gotten around to replacing it.
I landed in a tangled heap –twisted clothing, bed sheets and all– looking for the world like a life-sized, discarded doll. I cursed my limp legs, and punched myself weakly in the thigh. I needed to get up, and soon, if the earthquake in my bowels was any indication. I rolled to the wall, and clawed at it, using it to pull myself upright. Once on my feet, I swayed and surveyed the damage.
My small bedroom looked like a tornado from Party Central had ripped through it. Torn, cheap wrapping paper bits, plastic bags of odds and ends, price tags, beer cans, and — dear Holy One, was that a condom? I felt a horrible burn in my stomach, and wobbled as fast as I could to the bathroom. I could deal with everything later, I convinced myself.
Famous last words, and all that.
I fought my way free of the stinky, sticky, stained clothing that was plastered to my body. Off came the long, stretchy, black skirt that I was wearing as a belt. Off came the gray and black button-down shirt that appeared to be missing most of its buttons. Off came the expensive beige bra that was cutting off my circulation. Off came the panties with the tacky floral pattern. I sat down on the toilet and dragged the plastic-bag lined trash can over to me, knowing that the next few minutes of my life were not going to be very pretty.
I grunted and sweated and moaned and released all manner of body fluids. I disgusted myself with what came out, and I found myself wondering what the hell I’d put in my body in the first place. I had a vague recollection of loud music, shiny balloons, gyrating hips, and too-sweet confections being forced down my throat, chased by the warm tingle of alcohol.
I moaned so much as the pieces fell into place that I’m sure my neighbors thought Casper the Ghost was my homeboy. I almost cried out as I flushed and rinsed and tied up the bag of biohazardous waste. I was sick, stunned, in a state of absolute disbelief. I needed my phone to check the date, but in the back of my mind, I knew that it would only confirm what I already knew.
I had let my co-workers drag me to a party to celebrate my birthday.
“Oh, the humanity,” I wailed to my bathroom as I turned on the shower. Climbing in, I shoved my body under the water, headfirst, thinking that it would probably be a good idea to wash the party-smell out of my short, twisted ‘do. I hissed, however, as the water hit the back of my neck. Slapping my hand over the pain site, I felt raised, scabby skin that I know for a fact hadn’t been there the day before. Quickly, I soaped, shampooed and rinsed. Shutting off the water, I shivered as I pulled back the flimsy curtain, exposing my wet flesh to cold air. I snatched up my towel from the wall-mounted bar, and used it to wipe the steam from the mirror. Dumping the purple cloth into the sink, I grabbed the hand mirror from the metal bin on the back of the toilet, and spun myself around so I could see the back of my neck reflected from mirror to mirror.
“Oh my damn,” I breathed, as I studied the dark, inked pattern on that stretched across the center of my shoulder blades and ran about an inch up the back of my neck. My knees went weak, so I sat down on the edge of the bathtub and tried my hardest to breath.
I had allowed, perhaps asked and even paid for, someone to tattoo an ancinet, obscure religious symbol on my body? A symbol that I wasn’t sure what it meant or who it called? A symbol that I only faintly recognized because I once read a book on the subject years ago before I flunked out of college and worked a series of dead-end jobs before becoming a security guard and working with the very people who took me out, got me drugged up and drunk and tattooed?
I shoved my face as close to my knees as I could and tried not scream.
“Step one: don’t panic,” I told my round knees. “I’m 30 years old now. I’m grown. I can handle this. I’ll check into tattoo removal, check my bank account, get some tea, murder the people who let me does this, and everything will be just fine,” I said firmly. Unfortunately, my trembling hands didn’t believe me any more than my quaking knees did. I was seriously contemplating crawling into the bathtub and becoming a naked, crying mess, but I heard my phone’s annoying ring tone again, prompting me to pretend to at least pretend to be an adult.
There was going to be a lot of pretending in my future; I could feel it in my weary, hungover bones.
I stood, and padded barefoot and naked back into my bedroom, which may or may not have been a good idea considering the state of filth my room was in. Since the bathroom had been clean, I wondered if the party had been confined to my bedroom, or perhaps just my bed.
I did not want to pursue that train of thought.
I stepped through the mess, gingerly tiptoeing over anything that looked potentially hazardous. I opened the tiny cabinet that housed my civilian clothing, and rummaged around a bit. I came up with bleach-spatted sweat pants and a faded band t-shirt. I skipped underwear and socks because I was at home, hopefully alone, and, if I was counting days right, it was my day off, so there was no need for a uniform. I did find my house shoes, and made sure to shake them out before I slipped my feet into them. I unearthed my cell phone, dusted off the crumbs, and scrolled through my messages.
I checked text messages first, as those didn’t require any noise.
They were about what I expected: a lot of variations of “Happy Birthday, Monk” from ex-classmates and co-workers who still can’t spell my name correctly. I don’t blame them, really. I’m not sure what my parents were thinking when they settled on Monkilah Battle, nor did I ever had a chance to ask them. My mom died when I was 12, and my dad refused to call me anything but “girl.”
I responded to every single text, thanking each sender for their well wishes. I eyed the flashing voicemail notification, and decided to ignore it until after I had gotten some water, preferably warm water paired with a tea bag and honey. A quick check of the battery strength had me searching half-heartedly for my charger, but in this mess, I’d never find it. Shrugging, I was slipping my phone into my pants pocket when it buzzed and sang again. I pushed the button on the side to wake it up, and swiped the screen to read the new message. I didn’t recognize the sender, and my heart sank further when I saw it was a media mail. Against my better judgement, I opened it, and froze.
The subject line asked me, “Are you enjoying your present?” The picture was my back, in the act of being inked.
After four tries, I managed to type out “Who is this?” with my thumbs, both cursing and thanking whoever invented autocorrect. A reply pinged my phone immediately, but it wasn’t anything I could have hoped for. “Fatal failure. Resend?” was what I got.
A whine in an octave that I was sure I could not produce escaped my throat. I felt hot and disturbed, but was at a loss. I hit “resend” several times, but each message failed. It felt like too much trouble to Google the unknown number, so I left it alone, simply filing away the weirdness in the back of my brain, and slipping my phone into the pocket of my sweat pants.
My stomach grumbled, and I seized the noise it like the lifeline it was. Finally, I had an excuse to escape the evidence of the previous night’s debauchery. I crept out of my room and down the hallway, bracing myself for whatever mess I expected. I rounded the corner and gasped.
The living room was spotless.
I blinked in shock, even left the room, turned around three times, and walked back in. The pillows were plumped, the rug looked freshly vacuumed, and my mail, which is usually strewn across the low, chipped and scarred wood table, was neatly stacked in a pile. I was instantly suspicious; someone was playing a cruel joke on me. Perhaps I should have checked my voicemail; maybe the clean room was one of my birthday presents? I clapped and squealed in glee, thinking of all the cleaning I would not have to do.
A clink from the kitchen had me turning that direction.
“Finally,” I said. I was calm, thinking that maybe the maid service that someone had gifted me was still there, and that my bedroom had not been touched simply because I was in there. It should have at least annoyed me, at most terrified me, that some unknown cleaner was in my apartment without my knowledge. In my defense, Chinese food, sugar, and alcohol put me in a stupor and it takes awhile for me to shake it off.
“Hey,” I called out. “Did you clean this? Thanks, if you did. Who hired you?” A second clank was my only answer. As I neared the softly swinging, slotted wood door, common sense and my survival instincts kicked in. I rushed to the front door, and grabbed the aluminum bat I kept there for security purposes. Holding the bat out in front of me, prepared to swing, I crept back toward the kitchen.
“Hey,” I tried again. “The hell are you doin’ in my house?” I burst through the door, swinging wildly, hoping to scare the intruder, but instead, I was the one who squeaked and dropped my weapon. The metal bat landed on the tiled floor with a clang and I staggered backward in shock.
There was a dead woman in my kitchen, helping herself to my jasmine tea.