Emily Gaither is originally from Macon, Mississippi. She lived in Columbus for a number of years and currently resides in Birmingham, Ala., where she is working on her master's in English, while working at a non-profit.

She has also been published in the Commercial Dispatch and A Boy's Life.

She enjoys reading, writing, playing trivia, and attempting karaoke. She shares a home with Abbey, a chihuahua, and Piper, a jackhuahua.

Unwanted Wishes

Meredith awoke suddenly and realized how hot it was. It was sticky, and the Mississippi air was thick. It sounded like the air conditioner was still running, but her slick skin and wet hair told a different story. She also remembered, as she came out of her sleepy fog, that it was her 40th birthday. “Oh joy,” she said to her dog, Sampson. “Happy birthday to me.” Simpson grumbled and burrowed back under the covers. “I know how you feel, buddy.”

Her friends, Samantha and Zoe, were taking her out for her birthday that night. She wanted to forget that it was happening, but they refused to let her. Friends were simultaneously great and annoying that way. She told them the only way she’d agree to celebrate is if they took her to see Madame Zelda, the gypsy fortune teller who was purported to see the future and had been alleged to put curses on those who had wronged her. Of course, that last part was coming from the crazy old man who kept and tried to train the pigeons in the park as pets, but, anyway, Meredith wanted to see what she had to say. She didn’t believe in a lot of that stuff anyway, and it was their treat.

They were going to see her, and then they were headed to have cocktails and a nice dinner, befitting of three 40 year-olds, and she had mentally forecasted that they’d be home by midnight. They were too old to be out much later. It was always sad to see the Cougar Patrol out prowling in tight dresses with too much make-up and too many drinks, trying to relive their youth. Meredith vowed that even if she ended up single at that age, that would never be her. She’d be the Dog Lady at home, but not the Cougar Lady out on the town.

At 7 o’clock, Samantha’s SUV pulled up in the driveway and honked. “Get out here, bitch! Sexy old lady! Let’s get this party started! Owwww!” Meredith opened the window and gave a look down that would freeze magma. She yelled, “I have neighbors, you idiots; I’ll be down in a minute!” She was still partially embarrassed, but laughing when she came outside and Mrs. Thompson was watering her lawn and giving her the side eye.

As she slid in the passenger seat and took her traditional birthday tiara, she tried to maintain her glare, but started laughing, “Thanks, you guys. Old Lady Thompson will probably call the cops and report a disturbance for that.” Zoe cackled, “That’s the most action she’ll hear all year; she’ll get over it. That woman looks like she’s always sucking a lemon. I know you inherited this house, Mere, but I don’t know how you stand all these nosy, pre-historic neighbors. They would drive me nuts.”

“They’re not so bad. Plus, they’re so nosy, they keep the neighborhood safe and crime-free.”

Samantha: “That’s true. Enough about those fossils. This is your night. Fortune, cocktails, and dinner. Maybe we can find you a man!”

Meredith: “Please. Between work, school, and my darling Simpson, I’m not worried about that. Maybe Madame Zelda will tell me when I’ll meet the ‘perfect man.’”

Zoe and Samantha: (Simultaneously) “There is NO such thing!”

As is usually the case when Meredith is with her friends, she loses all track of time and awareness. When she looks up, she sees the purple-lit awning of “Madame Zelda.” She’s trying to be very nonchalant about it, but she’s actually putting a lot of stock into this visit. Madame Zelda has a bit of a reputation of being eerily accurate. She wasn’t being entirely truthful when she said she didn’t care about men. She was lonely, but she wasn’t about to admit that to her two best (feminist) friends.

She hops out of the SUV and tries, unsuccessfully, to tamp down her excitement to Samantha and Zoe.

“C’mon, you guys!”

“We’re coming; keep your birthday panties on.’

They walk into Madame Zelda’s front door, and Meredith immediately notices two things, the smell of patchouli and the assortment of chicken feet dangling from the ceiling. These are not pleasant things. She has always despised the smell of patchouli, and prior to today, hadn’t given a lot of thought to chicken feet, but now confronted with them, wasn’t bowled over with the sight. “Ew.”

“What? What’s this ‘ew’? You have problem with Madame Zelda’s chamber of fortune?”

The three girls turned around to greet Madame Zelda…

It was almost like meeting a rock star or celebrity that you’ve built up in your mind, only this one was probably simultaneously more and less ostentatious. She was shorter than Meredith had envisioned, for one thing. The way people had described her made Meredith build her up in her head to a Paul Bunyan-like height, but she couldn’t have been more than five feet, four inches tall, and she wasn’t dressed particularly “gypsy-esque” or “witch-like,” as legend would have it, but was outfitted more for a New Age convention, garbed in a flowy purple tunic, black leggings, and comfy sandals, with rings adorning numerous toes. Her shoulder-length dark hair framed her olive skin, and her eyes could only be described as piercing pools of emeralds. Madame Zelda was stunning.

Most shocking, perhaps was her age. She didn’t appear to be more than 45 years old, if that, and Meredith had pictured a craggy, wise gypsy lady, replete with the wisdom of her years lending to her visions. This was a mild disappointment. Adding to the flair of her entrance was the presence of a yellow finch perched on her left shoulder with a laser focus directed at Meredith. Of course that would be happening. Why wouldn’t it? Nothing about this had gone according to plan so far, so why wouldn’t a bird be giving her the same look her mother had when she said she’d change her major from business to English. It could melt an icecap.

The girls giggled a little nervously and weren’t quite sure what to do.

Madame Zelda swept into the room; the bird did not move, nor did it remove its gaze from Meredith, and she sat down at the table placed in the middle below the dangling chicken feet.

“Sit, sit! This wunderkind sitting on my shoulder is Copernicus. He’s been with me for 8 years. He came to me with blessings, and he gives me love and strength. My community has a strong ornithological connection. But you look at me with skepticism. And you’re all so fancy and pretty. Sit. Copernicus is telling me which one seeks my knowledge.” She was looking directly at Meredith.

Samantha said, “Well, it’s our friend Meredith’s birthday, and she’s always kind of wanted to have a reading from you, so we want to give that to her…you know…as a gift. We thought it would be a trip for us to let her get it out of her system and just hear whatever it is you have to say already, and then we’re taking her out for her real birthday night, for dinner and drinks, and to try to find her a boyfriend. Um, no offense.”

Madame Zelda affixed them with a bemused glance, and said, “Yes. Such nice friends to give your friend the gift of future. Zelda not take any offense. Only thing is, friends may not stay for reading. Zelda gets energy from one-to-one interaction, and it loses its power, like watered down, how you say, milkshake, if you stay in room. Much more power to reading if I can do it with just Meredith.”

The girls look bereft, and in seeing that, Meredith briefly considers calling the whole thing off. Who does this Zelda think she is? But there is a stronger urge telling her not to listen to that instinct. Looking back on this later, Meredith will wonder what propelled her forward. If she had just said that if her friends could sit in, it lost the inclusive birthday nature of the experience, so no dice, and they’d gone to dinner, none of the ensuing chaos would have happened. However, if chaos is meant for you, it will always find you, so you can never really say.

Samantha, knowing more than Zoe how forward to this Meredith had been looking, finally said, “That’s fine. We will go down the street to the Elbow Room and have some pre-cocktail cocktails. Here is $100. I assume that covers everything?”

Madame Zelda, looking completely innocent, said, “Dear, that covers all. I will throw in some lucky numbers for this high dollar bill. Come back in 30 minutes. Copernicus and I work quickly and efficiently. He has been telling me things already. I have been, how you say, cheating?”

Zoe, who had been quiet until this point, was annoyed, and rolled her eyes. “That’s great. We’ll be down the street until then. See you in 30.”

Samantha threw a gleeful smile towards Meredith, a shadowed look towards Madame Zelda, and the two left the dark storefront. The door let the tell-tale bell of a strip-mall space sing-song behind them as it shut.

Meredith sat uneasily across from Madame Zelda, who was looking at her with those green eyes that seemed to invade her, coupled with Copernicus, who could frankly give “The Raven” a run for his money for the creepiest bird, and Zelda, grabbed Meredith by the hands suddenly and forcefully…..

Zelda took a slightly meaningful breath and glanced at Meredith - any hint of an accent, gone. “What do you want, little girl? I know that the attraction is to have the old lady gypsy Zelda dripping with Romanian culture and giving you the crazy fortune…silly girl, silly tourist, and silly town, isn’t that right, Copernicus?” The bird sat on Madame Zelda’s shoulder, with a laser focus on Meredith, and gave little bother to anything else, while Meredith sat, looking right back at it, as if they were locked in some sort of game to which no one else was privy.

Meredith took some stock of the situation. She was actually in a game of “chicken,” no pun intended, with a finch, and a gypsy/witch/whatever she was, who was possibly about to predict her future, and she had to admit, despite Samantha and Zoe’s mockery, and her own self-deprecation, she had put more stock in this than she had wanted to admit. It defied logic, and she knew it, and that’s why she couldn’t admit to it, not even to her closest friends.

Zelda took her by the hands, and said, “I don’t think you want love. You are a modern, independent woman, who doesn’t need a man to take care of you. You can do all of those things. You can make all the money and buy all the things you need. I don’t know why you would need a man.”

Meredith interjects, “Money isn’t love. Money doesn’t hold you at night. Money doesn’t serenade you. Have you ever seen ‘Say Anything?’ He simply holds up a boom box, which no one alive now would possibly recognize as a thing, and he holds it aloft outside her window playing one of the greatest songs of all time, “In Your Eyes,” and, Zelda, no, I don’t need a man, no one needs a man, but I’d like that type of man, just, FYI.”

Just at that moment, the weather turns a bit, and Copernicus cleaves increasingly to Zelda, and the lights begin to flicker. Copernicus starts to flap his wings, but does not take his eyes from Meredith, and squawks, almost, towards her.

Zelda says, “Hmm, Sweetie, I don’t know what to tell you, but your future love life is as dry as the Sahara Desert. Do you know what I mean? There’s not much happening. It’s tumbleweeds in your future. I know you wanted better information, but I can only tell you what I can see with my vocation. I don’t mean for you to get discouraged or anything…

While Zelda is talking, Meredith has gone through a gamut of emotions pretty successfully, but she’s settled on rage by the time Zelda has gotten to discouraging her against any future love and finding her Lloyd Dobler. She would like to believe that this odd woman sitting in front of her is wrong. She really would, but she’s heard the legends of Madame Zelda, which discourage her from trying to get around loopholes concerning these types of predictions.

Zelda predicted a similar course for a man from Savannah, Ga. She foretold that he would never find true love. He seemingly defied her prediction, met a woman, and fell head-over-heel; they were set to be married, and the night before the wedding, her lovely and vengeful South African husband showed up and slaughtered the two of them, and then placed their heads on the altar where they were to have been married. She was wearing her veil.

Another type of Zelda’s predictions gone awry, Zelda set her sights on Mobile, Ala. tourist Bridget, who she “saw” was meant to be with her friend, Alex. Bridget was already in a relationship with someone else, and Alex had only ever been her friend, so she dismissed this prediction with laughter and thanked Zelda for the humor and “good show.” By the time she got back to Mobile, her fiancé, Darren, had drowned in Mobile Bay, and Alex was the one waiting to break the news to her. In the ensuing months, they grew closer, and by year’s end, they were married.

There were dozens of stories like these surrounding Zelda’s “gift.” Meredith was quiet while mulling over this information, and then abruptly slammed her hands down on the table. “You are a fake, crazy woman! I’m not listening to this! You know nothing; you’re a cheap tourist attraction that has about as much credibility as the bearded lady and the world’s fattest twins. I don’t have to listen to this.”

She yanked her purse from the floor, and in her fury, the contents and her black pearl necklace went flying everywhere. Beads, credit cards, lipsticks, a flurry of receipts and all the caverns of a woman’s purse sprayed Zelda’s table and floor as the two stood transfixed at the mess. As it settled and Meredith began to feel more than a little silly, Zelda made an inhuman sound that sounded like she was being strangled.

“Copernicus … my heart! He is dead! What has happened to my soul, my flying child?”

Meredith hurried over to where she was standing, and there he lay, still, no rise and fall to his tiny chest, and secretly, although she immediately felt terrible, she was glad those laser eyes were no longer piercing her soul with every move she made.

“What happened to him? Nothing would have hurt him. It was mostly paper and beads. It shouldn’t have been anything hard or harmful.”

Zelda leaned down, bereft and picked up his tiny body, cradling him like a precious stone, and ran a delicate finger down his feathers, cooing to him, “My poor baby, my poor, poor baby,” and as she caressed his stiffening body, turning him slightly to his side, a tiny black pearl dislodged from his beak and fell onto her hand. She turned on Meredith, her eyes blazing fire, as she gently placed her departed Copernicus on the table.

YOU DID THIS. You horrible girl, who is so unlovable. All I did was tell you the truth, and you threw a fit because you couldn’t handle it, and you killed the most important thing in the world to me. He did nothing to you. He was more special than you will ever hope to be, and you couldn’t stand it. You hate that you are not special. You are ordinary, and that is why you couldn’t be loved. You will be sorry.”

Meredith became alarmed, quickly, at the look and tone coming from Zelda. She had never had someone aim such vitriol at her. She wanted to leave. Now. “I didn’t mean to hurt him. I am so sorry. I was just upset at what you said. You don’t know me. If you did, you’d never say those things. Really. I’ll pay you extra or whatever you want. I’m really so sorry.”

“PAY? PAY for my best friend? Everything you say makes it worse. I do know you; you just don’t get it. You have made the biggest mistake of your life. Honey, you’ve made the biggest mistake of several lives. You know the stories you have heard about me? You haven’t heard the one you’re going to star in. I was wrong…You will have love. You will have so much love that you can’t take it. It will consume you. I predict a lot of love for you, Miss Sorry. And because you are so repentant, I also predict great wealth, tremendous wealth that will make your head spin. Wait, and we can’t forget good health. No, we mustn’t neglect that. There, Miss Sorry, I predict for you a great amount of love, wealth, and health. I guarantee it. Let’s see how much happiness you will have. Now, get out of here so I can be alone with my friend. I’m sick of looking at your face.”

Meredith stood there for a second or two, completely confused, and walked out into the steamy night to find Samantha and Zoe. As the door closed behind her, she heard deep laughter, and the sound of a bird chirping.

Standing Still

The drink had stopped helping, and I felt dizzy, not from the wine,
But from feeling small and insignificant. I felt like wives
Whose husbands leave them for younger women must feel.
Places like that make me feel uneasy, like someone prone to seasickness. The only thing I could think to say, to ask, was of
this boy sitting nextTo me who said he was from Yugoslavia. I asked him
About Slobodan Milosevic. Maybe I shouldn’t have asked him that, but
We were in that place, with the loud music and smoke and laughter of
Sleek seals who made me squirm. It was college; I wanted to sound smart,
And when the words fumbled their way out of my mouth, he gave me
A look of horror of offense, and then his mind helped his features remember
Where he was, and he broke into a slow smile that didn’t bore me.

In another smoke-filled place, humming with music and laughter, with money stolen
From my sister and mother, I had gone with no one I should’ve and breathed
In cigarettes with heady confidence -- and kissed a boy -- and played pool.
There were cool, tough boys who James Dean might’ve known.
He didn’t get in that car; he decided to leave the world of facades, but he still dangles
A cigarette between his lips as though Sal Mineo could happen around the corner
In any instant, and the leather jacket in tossed over his shoulder with one finger.
He could materialize now and ask me to go for a ride.

I once packed my car and escaped to a place named Conshohocken, where I met a Jewish Swinger and his wife -- I wanted
to report him to the Jewish Anti-Defamation League for besmirching their image, not for being Jewish, but for being a
small, slithery man who watched me at night -- and then I went to Manayunk, and I squeezed myself into an overcrowded
city, not to fit in, but to go unnoticed for a while.
You can’t do that in the South.
I met idealists and masquerading capitalists, and I could be whichever I needed to be,
Because I was reborn like a phoenix.

And I ate things that I took from men I couldn’t understand, food that dripped onto my hands and burned my tongue and filled me.
There were involved discussions with wine about politics and feminism and things that made me insides hum.
A man opened his coat to me on the street, and I loved that no one else was shocked, and I recovered quickly.
A taxi driver cursed at me when I thought he wanted to say hello, but I learned.
The streets screamed some nights, and I watched the light dance on the roofs of cars and inhaled it.
Once, during a bout of loneliness, a possum in the driveway comforted me and reminded me of muddy rivers and gravel roads, so I came back to see the mud settle for myself.

The Yugoslavian and I left together, not to discuss Milosevic.
And after, in the sweat and the slickness, we immediately hated each other.
We had nothing to say, and it made us sick,
That we needed each other that much for such a short time.
I wondered if he missed home or felt out of place, and if he felt good about himself,
But I couldn’t vocalize it, and he couldn’t understand me if I did.
The light was filtering through the gauze in the window,
And he became shy and different about seeing me.
I left as quickly as I could find my crumpled underwear, and I can’t remember his name.

The Artist's Smile

Sarah woke up suddenly, jolted out of a good dream, or maybe just a sleepy memory. She pulled on her robe and went into the kitchen to start the coffeepot. She knew she was smiling, but couldn’t seem to shake it as she doled out the coffee and the water. Surprisingly, her mother was awake, slumped over the newspaper.

“Mornin’, darling; did you sleep good?”

“Yes, ma’am, I did.”

Her mother reeked of cigarettes and alcohol, and she could only imagine what she had gotten up to when she got off work last night. She worked in telephone customer service, the late shift, and usually ended up going out with co-workers until all hours of the night. Sarah rarely saw her.

There was a loud noise from the back of the house, accompanied by cursing and objects falling out of the closest. Sarah’s stepfather, Ray, was awake.

“Where the fuck is my hunting vest, Mama?”

Sarah’s skin crawled more than usual by Ray’s presence. She hoped that if she ever got married, they never started referring to each other as “Mama and Daddy.”

“I don’t know, Ray, but could you stop yelling? I’ve got a little bit of a headache.”

“Never mind, I found it.”

Through this exchange, Sarah hadn’t stop smiling. Ray walked into the kitchen and said, “What’s got you so happy?” He looked at where her robe had started to open around her cleavage, “I can make you real happy if you let me,” and he reached for the tie around her robe.

“Leave me alone!”

“Ray, I told you about that. She doesn’t know you’re joking.”

Joking. Yeah.

Since her mother and Ray had married four years ago when Sarah was 14, she had caught him watching her shower, watching her dress and undress, and most recently, she had forcibly removed him from her bed by threatening to tell her mother she had proof he was cheating on her. She didn’t, but it did the trick and got him out of her bed.

She didn’t know why her mother stayed with him, except for the money. He was a part-time contractor, but a few years back, he had gotten lucky and won $100,000 in the lottery, he had inherited his house and all the land, so they didn’t have to worry much about money. He did what he wanted, and he didn’t seem to care much what her mother did. In fact, she heard them talking through the walls one night about somebody paying them to have sex with her mother. She was only 38 and turned heads everywhere she went. It made Sarah’s stomach crawl. She just wanted to get as far out of Virginia as possible, study art, and now, maybe, go with Kurt. She smiled again.

Thinking of Kurt and last night took her away from the bleak scene before her. She didn’t have to think about her mother and what she had become or how long it might be before she couldn’t fight off Ray anymore. Kurt made her feel like sunshine lived inside her; she didn’t know that feeling was possible. The only time she felt like that even a little was when she was painting, and it wasn’t the same.

The painting did take away some of the dark thoughts she had that she had never told anyone. Her mother tried to make her talk to that man, Dr. Elliot, after she cut off that bitch Tammy Thorsen’s hair and told her she would slit her throat in her sleep. She didn’t even remember doing it. She remembered Tammy making fun of her clothes and telling her that she knew where her real daddy lived, in a big house in Richmond, with two little girls. She just wanted her to stop talking, and the next thing she remembered, she was being pulled off a hysterical Tammy.

She never thought much about her real father after that. Her mother never mentioned him, and when she did start to think about him, a dark cloud entered her head, and she had to paint to get it to stop. She didn’t have many, well, any, friends at school, just the art teacher, who was so excited for her to get an art scholarship to the University of Georgia.

She was walking home one day a few months ago, covered in paint, praying Ray wouldn’t be home, and she heard somebody say her name. She didn’t see anybody, so she kept walking. She heard it again, turned around, and there was the most beautiful boy she’d ever seen. She’d seen him before, of course, at school. He was the IT guy, Kurt Davenport. He was the sports guys, the honors society guy, he was head of the popular crew; she had no idea why he’d be calling her name.

“Did you lose something, Sarah?”

“Um, d-d-d, I wha?”

He was holding one of her best paintbrushes in her hand, the light hitting his piercing eyes as he cocked his head amusingly at her.

“Oh! Yes, that’s mine; thanks so much!”

“No problem, sweetheart. Can I walk with you?”

M-m-me? Walk? You? Yes, walk.”

Get your shit together, girl.

They walked in silence for what seemed like hours, but was only a few minutes, and Kurt said, “Art, huh? You into that?”

Sarah stammered, “Uh, yeah, I know it’s not, like, cool or anything, but I like it, and I don’t have to have anyone around to do it, so, yeah, I’m into it. I guess that won’t get me into any parties.”

“Whoa, calm down, I think art is cool. I’d like to learn a little if I had the time. Most of my activities keep me pretty busy. If I had a teacher as pretty as you, I might give it a try.”

Sarah blushed so hard, she was sure her face must be on fire.

“Oh, okay, Kurt, sure, I’m pretty, whatever you say.”

“It’s true. You hide behind your hair, but you’re a knock out. Think about what I said about giving me art lessons. I’m serious. We’d kind of have to do it in secret, because my parents would flip if they heard I was taking art lessons, but I want to learn more about you, um, about what you do.”

It’s amazing the things you can ignore when you’re happy. Ray’s skulking and sweaty breath constantly behind her melted away, her mother’s hungover morning conversations and the sudden occurrences of her co-workers not much older than Sarah staying the night, finding what looked like burned spoons in the trash one night -- none of it mattered anymore. She and Kurt met in an abandoned warehouse that her art teacher owned and let her use, and she was teaching him to paint.

He was a terrible artist, not that she would tell him, but he seemed to be so much more interested in learning about her. He asked her questions about growing up, which she sidestepped, and he asked her questions about her hopes and dreams and fears. He kissed the tip of her nose and her eyelashes and told her he couldn’t imagine why she didn’t think she was pretty. She felt all the bile and hate she had always felt towards everyone dissipate, and she began to imagine a future with Kurt.

Of course, they never went anywhere in public together. He said it was easier this way. Until they were ready, there would be too many questions from everyone, and he wanted them to stay in their bubble. She thought she might meet his parents, soon, but he hadn’t mentioned it, so she didn’t push it. She was perfectly content in their bubble as well. She always found that if you let the outside world in, something awful happened anyway. She thought he might have mentioned their relationship to some of his friends, because they had been acting a little nicer to her at school, but then she decided her imagination was just running a little wild.

She couldn’t think about much else when they weren’t together. She couldn’t believe that someone so amazing wanted to spend time with her, and he was all she wanted to breathe. Now, she knew what it must be like to be on drugs. Her fix could never last long enough, and she wanted to see him all the time. Of course, with all of his commitments and responsibilities, that was impossible, and the few times she had texted him wanting to see him, he had gotten a little mad at her. She was on his timetable, and it was frustrating, but she’d do just about anything to be able to spend time with him.

They had a special night planned on Saturday. They were finally going to have sex, and Sarah was a bundle of nerves. She was excited, but also terrified, because she knew Kurt was experienced, and she was the exact opposite. She was going to buy something lacy and sexy and special for him and hide it, of course, so her mom or Ray wouldn’t find it, and she knew after this night, nothing would be the same between her and Kurt. He was going to ask her to be with him after graduation, and they would work out the details. She could hardly sit still thinking about the possibilities.

She made so many preparations. She bought candles and flowers and wine and lingerie and had to strategically hide all of these things all over the house. If her mother or Ray found any of them, she would have to answer so many questions, it wouldn’t even be worth it. She took extra special care with her appearance, brushing and coaxing her hair into voluminous waves, expertly applying make-up after an online tutorial, and sliding into a form-fitting outfit she knew Kurt would love. Luckily, Ray and her mother were gone, so she didn’t have to explain herself, and she headed to the warehouse.

Leaves were falling around her as she rushed to get there, crackling under her boot steps. She loved when the weather started to get cooler, and you could almost smell the new possibilities in the air. She saw Kurt’s Jeep already hidden in his usual parking space, and her heart began to pound in her ears. She couldn’t wait to see his reaction to how she looked or to begin their special night. She opened the door, and Kurt looked up, appraising her fully.

“Why do you look like a whore?”

Her face burned like he had thrown acid at her.

“What do you mean? I wanted to look pretty for you.”

“I don’t think you’re trying to look pretty for me. You look like somebody that just finished working a street corner for the night.”

She couldn’t believe he was speaking to her this way. Tears started streaming down her face.

He walked towards her. “Baby, I’m sorry. I’ve just had a long day. My parents are pressuring me, and I didn’t mean to take it out on you. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

She reluctantly let him put his arm around her, and he started kissing her. He started off gently, but then became more fevered with his movements. He pushed her down on the futon almost angrily. She could barely catch her breath, and he was on top of her, holding her arms and touching her roughly.

“Stop it, Kurt, you’re hurting me. I don’t like this, not this way.”

“It’s fine, Sarah, you’re fine. This is what you wanted.”

“This is not what I wanted. It’s like you’re mad at me. Stop. Get off me.”

Kurt straightened up, let go of her arms, and gave her a look so dark, a chill went through her body.

“You don’t get it, Sarah. You’re really in no position to tell me what to do. No one knows where we are, or that we have ever been together. You can’t defend yourself against me. If I were you, I would just shut up and do what I want. Did you think I wanted art lessons this whole time? I don’t give a shit about art or you. I knew you would do anything to appease me, and that’s what you’re going to do now. And when I’m done with that, I’m going to slit your throat, roll you down this hill, and no one will ever find you again. No one cares about you or where you are, and no one ever will. You’re a ‘throw away’ girl, and that’s what I’m going to do with you.”

Sarah was horrified and glued to the spot. How could she have been so wrong about Kurt, and more pressingly, how was she going to get out of this situation? She might not have the greatest life, but she wasn’t about to die at the hands of this douchebag. Kurt remained on top of her, fumbling with her buttons and shirt, and her mind raced. He had just ripped part of her shirt when she felt the X-Acto knife she sometimes used, and her hand closed around it. She began to moan approvingly, which momentarily gave Kurt pause, but he soon went back to what he was doing. Just as he tried to work his hands down her body, her hand shot out from under the futon, and she gouged him in the neck. Blood sprayed everywhere, and he howled in pain.

She quickly scrambled up and stood watching while he floundered all over the room, grabbing at anything, brushes, knocking over the table, kicking over the lamp, all the while blood pouring out of his neck. He stumbled around for what seemed like an hour, but was probably only 5-10 minutes, and he grew more and more ashen and less mobile. He finally collapsed in a heap on the floor, and with his eyes open like those of a glass doll, he stopped breathing. Sarah may have held her breath until his stopped as well.

She was lucky to have this many cleaning products on hand, although she never imagined she’d be sopping up blood instead of paint. Her mind was moving very fast now. She had to clean up as soon as possible, wrap up everything with blood on it, take it with her, push the Jeep over the gulley a few miles from the warehouse, and set it all on fire. She wasn’t traceable to Kurt anyway, but that would hopefully destroy any damning evidence. She knew a lot of the jocks rode around out here, getting drunk or high, or probably committing date rape, so it wouldn’t be that unusual that he was out here. She would have to push Kurt down the ravine, so it would look like he flew out of the Jeep when it went down the hill.

After finding her gloves and cleaning the warehouse as spotlessly as she could, she bundled up all of the bloody blankets and rags, put them in a trash bag, and planned to take them with her to burn. Several people had driven their cars over this ravine, so it wasn’t far-fetched that it would happen again. She got the Jeep in neutral, and started the flame as the Jeep went over the hill. She watched, vaguely fascinated, for about a minute, and then headed home, utterly defeated by the day’s events. She rolled Kurt behind the Jeep, slightly to the side, so it would look as though he had been thrown. His dead eyes caught hers right before he rolled down the hill.

She took the bloody rags and cleaning supplies to the landfill, where she sometimes took her art castaways and then headed home. She had managed to clean herself up, but she smelled as though she had been barbequing, and she had to put an art smock over her ripped shirt, so she looked vaguely insane. That’s fine; she felt insane. As she approached her house, she noticed with a sinking heart that Ray was home. She was not in the mood for Ray, and she had really hoped her mother might be there. Even if she was useless, she was still her mother, and a hug would have been nice.

She opened the door and smelled the marijuana. Ray was sitting on the couch with a half-empty vodka bottle in front of him, and smoke filled the air. He turned around and slurred, “Hey, beautiful, where you been?”

She ignored him.

“I said, where you been?”


“Out where?”

“Just out. I went to an art show.”

“Oh, yeah, you and your fancy-ass art. You want a drink?”

She kind of did. She knew this was a slippery slope, but after the day she had, she didn’t even care anymore. “Sure, Ray.”

“Well, alright, then. That’s more like it.”

They sat there in mostly silence with the occasional ice cubes clinking, drinking vodka tonics, and she thought about what had happened that night. She absolutely couldn’t believe it. She would never get the images of Kurt’s dark, murderous look or his dead, nothing eyes out of her head as long as she lived. All she had now was art school. That was her salvation, her ticket out of here, away from everything. She started feeling a little delirious as the alcohol went to her head.

Ray leaned over to her and said, “You sure do look pretty tonight. I think I’m finally gon’ have to do something about that. It’s not fair what you’re doing to me, teasing me like women like to do. It’s not right.”

“Ray, I want to tell you where I really was tonight. Take another drink. I think you’re going to like the story. It ends with you and the captain of the football team hanging out together. I know you always wanted to do that.”