Sunday, February 22, 2009

Curse/Or: Where time goes to die

Good Lord, more Curse/Or? She's on a rampage!

The thing about institutions, Teresa realized as she sat at their table inside the truck-stop Denny's, is that they feel institutional. It didn't matter if it was a prison or a restaurant franchise – some things simply never changed in any significant way. Sure, the prices were higher and the pictures glossier, but there was no substantial difference between the Grand Slam of today and that of two decades ago. "Christ," she muttered over the top of her menu. "This isn't a dining room. This is where time goes to fucking die."

Her companions raised their eyebrows questioningly. Esther in particular had mastered a bored, over-the-glasses look that hovered somewhere between a glare and an eye-roll, but The Nose only managed to look like a young Woody Allen on a perpetual cocaine high. Teresa figured him to still be in his twenties, about the same age as the punk she'd assaulted earlier, only he had this nervous energy and rapid way of talking that made everything that came out of his mouth sound like it was weapons-grade bullshit. No wonder Esther had dropped the whammy on him earlier. If Teresa had been in her position, she'd have hit him, right on that punchable nose, just to get him to shut up.

She imagined it would make a crackling-crunch sound, like biting into fried chicken, when she broke it with her fist.

And back in the car, he had shut up, at least long enough for Teresa to decide there wasn't any point in pretending to be asleep any longer. "Good morning," he'd said with an idiot grin, "How are you feeling?"

"Who the fuck are you?" she challenged, sitting up in the back seat. She didn't see her purse, which meant it had to be up front, with Esther and Noise Voice.

"I am Yarrow," the Nose announced pompously. "You've already met Fulcrum here. Now I need to talk to you about –"

"Coffee," she said, looking at her watch. "It's nine thirty in the goddamn morning. If you don't let me smoke, then you'd damn well better feed me breakfast."

"We are on a very tight schedule and –"

"Yarrow," Teresa spat, "if you don't feed me, I swear before Mary and all the Saints I will bend you in half and rape your ass with your own nose."

Esther promptly found a freeway off-ramp that promised food.

She'd made a big deal about wanting to get her purse from the front seat after they'd parked. "You don't need it," said Esther. "Breakfast's on me. Besides, I took your cigarettes." She didn't smile so much radiate smugness.

"Don't care," Teresa said. "It's mine. I want it." But what she'd really wanted was the empty lighter lying on the floor of the car. She pocketed it smoothly, then made a show of taking the pack of gum out of her purse and placing it in the same pocket. She had plans for that lighter.

But she had allowed herself to be led to a table, feigning docility. Her plans required privacy, and for that she knew she'd have to play their game, at least for a while. So she'd sat and studied the situation, pretending to look at her menu, until she couldn't take the sheer mundanity of it any more and cursed.

"Nothing," she said to their inquisitive looks. "I gotta go pee. Do I need a chaperone, or am I a big girl who can go by herself?" She shot Yarrow what she hoped was a withering glare. He'd been radiating nervous energy the moment they'd gotten out of the car, and now he had these things in his hand – they sounded like coins – and he was shaking them. The motion reminded Teresa of the male "jerking off" gesture.

Yarrow looked at Esther. "Let her go, Yevgeny," she said, not taking her eyes off the menu. "It's not wise to get between a woman and a bathroom."

She could hear him whispering fiercely before she'd even reached the Ladies' Room. "I told you not to call me that in front of her!" he hissed. "True Names are power, and if we want to succeed…"

And then she was inside the bathroom, away from his irritating chipmunk chatter. She went into a stall, locking it with one hand while the other pulled out the broken lighter, then sat down fully-clothed on the commode.

The first thing she did was look at that lighter, long and hard, for a full minute, studying every banal detail of it. She noted the scratches along the plastic case and the cheap metal at the tip. She studied the flint wheel and noted how it was slightly scorched.

When she had finished comprehending every detail of it, she thought of it in an abstract sense. How it was a tool that could both help and harm. How it could be a weapon, if used properly. And how it chained her, because she was addicted to cigarettes, but it could also be used to liberate her.

Then she thought about cancer. How it had nearly killed her in prison, and the epiphany she'd had. She thought about how many cell mates she's sickened, and wondered just how much blood was truly on her hands. It was possible she'd given cancer to everyone in that facility.

And then she called upon the power that human sacrifice had given her. She felt it, warm and wet and large, a lump in her chest that she felt every time she breathed. She felt the power stored there, in the cancerous lump named after the baby she'd murdered, and the killing she'd done in his name to put it there.

She felt Tommy shift slightly, like a baby kicking inside its mother's womb, and then she was coughing, a deep tubercular hacking that seemed determined to expel a lung with each wrenching spasm. In a bathroom, nearly fetal on a commode, The Camel dislodged part of its hump into her waiting hands.

When it was done, she wiped the bloody phlegm from the lighter with some toilet paper and dropped it into the sanitary pad receptacle in the stall. And then, staring with the same intensity as before, she deliberately rolled the flint wheel.

A finger of flame shot up, burning brightly, steadily, in the dim toilet.


  1. Nice character development in this scene, all around. The bathroom scene is so visceral--watching her cough made my lungs hurt--and intriguing. WTF is she gonna do with that lighter?

    My only critical comment is that it's not really clear when she goes to the bathroom. Is it before they sit down at the table, or after? That could use a little clarification. Unless it's meant to be unclear, natch.

  2. I definitely agree on the JMBauhaus' visceral retching sympathy comment but it's funny how different readers pick up different things. I could follow when she went to the bathroom OK but at first I thought she'd thrown the lighter out rather than the paper.

    "When it was done, she wiped the bloody phlegm from the lighter with some toilet paper and dropped it into the sanitary pad receptacle in the stall."

    Seeing as the lighter was the focus of the sentence I figured anything that was happening was continuing to happen to the lighter.
    I know repetition is the flow killer but if 'it' was replaced with 'the paper' that'd knock misunderstanding on the head.
    Of course I could be the only one who did that particular double-take.


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