Than She Ever Imagined
worth it but still she tried to avoid the worst and deepest of the puddles.
Drenched for the most part even swaddled against the weather—-raincoat, hat,
and leaky rubber boots—Sheila went through the pointless motions of trying to
stay dry even as ice water ran down the back of her neck. She was a beige and
gray woman toiling through a black and gray cityscape, damp and defeated. Just
finding her way home was an ordeal and once arrived, no comfort awaited.
Was it surprising that
found no joy in her life? If she were to do away with herself, would those who
might find her body be puzzled that she had killed herself? After the landlord
forced the door to find her there forgotten save for the stink of her, would
they ask themselves why, oh why with so much to live for, why in heaven’s name
did this woman take her own life? Sheila thought not.
Looking at herself
bathroom mirror, the only mirror in her house, Sheila pondered not the “why?”
of her impending suicide but, instead, she meditated on the “going through with
it and doing it right.” She had, after all, been disappointed by so much during
her 25 years that she quite rightly feared that her own demise would prove a
bungle or a let-down or just another waste of time.
There was loneliness.
were longings unsatisfied, goals unattained, dreams and wishes unrealized.
Sheila mined her memory for a reason not to die in the same way she looked at
the ceramic knickknack, a shepherdess with crook and lamb, adorning an
otherwise barren shelf and she struck nothing in either to stop her
self-destruction. No single part existed by which she could justify the whole.
Sheila endured a childhood unremarkable for it’s very
remark, no awards or ribbons or certificates of achievement, friendless and
awkwardly so, tolerated by parents barely tolerable themselves until her
after-graduation flight to a different kind of solitude as if that would be a
cure. There were some terms at a university where Sheila floundered in
confusing classes with even more confusing classmates before she skulked away
with her lackluster Cs and Ds and no one even noticed that she’d left.
She felt like putty. She learned that she was soft and without
angles, malleable had anyone ever cared to mold her though not even her
professors had indicated that possibility. She was beige and gray and
invisible. Sheila made herself available, no one responded, and she didn’t know
what else to do. She sat her life lumpenly.
There was a job then
pointless hours earning pointless money that only ensured she could pay her
pointless bills so she could work some more and acquire more bills. Sheila met
no one though she tried, could connect with no coworker or neighbor despite her
tentative overtures, and she could make no friends. She cashed her checks and
shopped for her groceries and moved about the world as if sealed inside a jar.
The blossoming she
never occurred and her appearance was, to be generous, drab and her
personality, to be truthful, was unfinished. She was putty and, had she been
truly visible, Sheila knew she would be recognized as such and then ignored all
over again. It was all a losing proposition.
Sheila said “hello”
to the few people she encountered in the courses of her beige, gray, softly
sodden days and counted those as her relationships.
to her manager when she left the shop each workday.
“Take it easy,
answered and she always tried to do that and she never quite could.
she told the bank
teller. “I’d like to cash this check.”
“Have a nice
day, Ms. Cord,”
the teller always admonished her. Sheila knew that she wouldn’t have a nice
day, that she couldn’t have a nice day, that she couldn’t even manage to take
Dark days followed darker nights. In winter mud, wet and cloying
cold, she slouched her way to and from the place of her pointless employment
and past the shops where she made her purchases. Along the way back to her
rooms, Sheila would stop in those shops and purchase the tins and boxes from
which she ate. Her days off were even worse than her days at work for she truly
had nowhere to go with only the television to remind her that other people existed.
She’d sit and eat, silent and unmoved and growing larger and softer as the
programs unreeled before her. Sheila never laughed and she never cried and she
eventually would turn off the machine and sit in silence or sleep until it was
time for work again.
The futility of this repetition was beginning to become apparent.
She could find no compelling reason to keep doing any of it and, one beige,
gray afternoon on her way to her rooms from where she worked, Sheila added to
her purchases one small paper package of razor blades called “safety” though
why she could not understand. They seemed seductively dangerous to her.
And so, balanced on the edge of her not-very-clean tub in her
not-very-clean bathroom, it was with true and real surprise that she saw the
paper packet of razor blades she opened with the desire to open her arteries,
continue to open and open more and more and further and further beyond the
possibilities of its apparent size and shape, beyond the limits of its own
dimensions and begin unfolding and unsheathing and opening again and again and
then again in ways, both strange to witness and unimaginable until before her
stood a being, a form composed of
knives, needles, razor blades, jagged shards, and smooth scalpels, opening more
and spreading to become a kind of metallic person, a jumble of sharp angles and
cutting edges, a face like a flower of cutting steel and glass and flint, like
a fan of knives.
It then spoke to her with a voice composed of tuned metals,
that sounded like ripping, rippled foil, like iron nails dragged across a
shattered mirror, like shattering obsidian, like a bundle of needles disturbed
“Sheila, dear,” his voice insinuated the room.
And the creature
there trembled with light gathered and magnified and reflected, a blinding aura
of potential, and the potential of a blade in repose. “So sad.”
“Yes,” she replied. “Oh, yes. So sad.”
He shimmered as he moved, and the shivering sounds of sharp
run across each other accompanied the sight. He was disorienting and beautiful
and very, very frightening. Sheila wanted to cry but was afraid to do so.
“Afraid?” he asked her.
“Sad and afraid,” he pondered. “This is no
way to live.”
“I know,” Sheila answered. “It isn’t.
I don’t want to. I don’t know
“You wish for something,” he continued. “You
wish for more.”
“Yes,” she affirmed. “More. Much, much more.”
“And here you sit with me.”
“Then we shall sit together for awhile,” with his
voice brittle and
sharp and comforting in a clean sort of way.
‘How strange,’ she thought that there at the pinnacle
isolation and upon the cusp of her demise, she would finally find a friend, a
confidant, a person (or a sort of a person) who seemed to care for her. ‘How
strange. How beautiful. How perfect.’
“How strange. How beautiful. How perfect,” he told
His gentlest touch, his lightest contact, and Sheila bled.
sounds of their caresses were the sounds made when skin parts whisper-soft
under surgeons’ knives. Still, her longing grew within the glow of candlelight
and flavored wine, the flickering reflections that her razor-man shed, and she
grew both bold and slightly anesthetized. She flirted with her razor-man.
Sheila reached to touch
face and she did touch his face and then she put her bleeding forefinger into
her mouth to taste the blood he had brought forth from inside her.
“Does this hurt
asked as his lingering touch drew a line of deep iron red from her skin, a
crimson line of contour from below her ear traveling down her neck and across
the tops of her breasts. The line gaped, a fault line filled with blood.
“Never. It will never hurt me to be touched.”
And she kept telling
even when the real answer was emphatically “yes” until she could no longer
speak at all but could only open more and more under his embrace, until his
kisses skinned her face and her eyes rolled white, her teeth gleamed white all
the way back to her molars against the shocking red shine of her naked muscles
and bone. Sheila’s meat quivered in the open air.
“You are becoming
he told her as he stripped away the lie of her and revealed the true of her.
Free of flesh and yellow fat, her mouth fell open like a flower all long tooth,
white bone, and sheets of red muscle along her jaw. “So beautiful.”
The cold, wet air on
now-exposed nerves sent Sheila’s senses reeling, the sheer weight of pain
overwhelming her capacity for rational thought. She became her own reactions
and there, teetering along borders she had only dimly imagined, Sheila lost her
sanity in a blinding rush of agony and new-found love.
Her razor-lover gently turned back the layers surrounding her
throat, peeled open her skin and fascia and muscle down to the very cartilage
and he opened that, too; the rush of cool air through Sheila’s new orifice
slobbered her devotion and its concomitant ecstasy.
Beige and gray no longer,
Sheila blossomed crimson, scarlet, deep burgundy red under his attentions and
each caress exposed something new and secret and long hidden away from view. It
was all revelation.
Each uncovering brought new jolting wonder, agony, and awareness.
Unobscured by eyebrow or eyelid, her vision sharpened; she saw cleanly and she
saw clearly, and she watched with naked eyeballs as what had once been inside
her spilled outside and spread uncoiling across the floor in a multicolored
slick of organ meat and membrane.
she marveled at
her own concealed colors, awed and humbled that she’d carried them so long and
unaware. Sheila thrilled as the blades that were his hands and fingers cupped
her breasts and whispered them to ribbons, hanging shreds of golden fat and
meat. The white-hot stab of billowing pain carried her nearly outside herself
as her flesh shredded with his caress, hot floods of her brilliantly oxygenated
blood laving them both.
Sheila reached to stroke
cheeks, to return his loving touch, and watched the skin and meat of her
fingertips fall away in translucent slices against the angled edges of his features
and each slice brought the nerves in her hands closer to her surface, each
nerve singing electric fire into her overloaded brain.
tell if the
wetness between her legs was purely sex or just what was left of her sex, her
genitals in tatters, fragments, and still pumping pure, white-hot sensation to
the glowing nucleus of her cerebral cortex. The feeble orgasms that used to
reward her clumsy, lonely masturbation were burned to cinders by the heat of
what was exploding inside her newly skinned skull. All other joy and sorrow,
all other emotion and feeling withered away under the awful raw burning that
swept Sheila toward willing destruction. Helpless in her razor-lover’s embrace,
she arched and arced and convulsed herself enough to fling her colors against
the wall, great swathes of red and yellow and lines of blue across the rotten
plaster and shining brighter than any paint or pigment.
And as what Sheila
becoming rose above her flayed self and as what Sheila had once been fell heaped
beneath, she found herself, for the moment, alone and bleeding in her bathroom.
Her razor-man fled in sudden collapse upon himself and back down to the small
and dangerous blade held in her hand, and Sheila could take a breath to
contemplate her new and profound state of nudity, her slavery to pure
sensation. This she did and she saw that she was a red woman, a blindingly
white woman, and fully opened in a room awash with color until she was quite
nothing at all.
Masterson, English professor at CUNY-BMCC in New York City, has authored Garnish Trouble,
Artificial Rats &
Electric Cats, and Trial by Water.
His creative writing, literary criticism, photography, and journalism appears
in dozens of magazines, newspapers, galleries, and journals. Masterson holds
degrees from the University of New Mexico; the Jack Kerouac School of
Disembodied Poetics; and Shaanxi Normal University. Masterson’s work has taken
him to the People’s Republic of China, Ukraine, Japan, India, and inside men’s
and women’s state prisons in the United States as an instructor and mentor, and
into nuclear power stations as an observer and reporter.