I’m holding the doorknob
and Liz is on the other side, wrenching the handle, calling my name. I still have no idea
what I’m doing but I lock the door anyway.
“Mark?” Liz asks, her voice close to laughing.
That relaxes me a little.
what are you doing?” Louder now; I’d mistaken laughter for hysteria. “Mark
open the door! MARK OPEN THE DOOR! MARK…”
I want to but don’t. This matters too
matters too much.
leave her beating on the door and shouting my name.
I try to concentrate on the six o’clock
evening news but it makes me too nervous. I keep expecting my picture to pop-up in the
little window graphic next to the anchorman’s head, maybe the sullen shot six years
ago of me standing between my parents after my high school graduation, just two weeks before
they crossed the street looking left and never saw the truck speeding to their right. I
imagine my name in glaring print on every newspaper headline; television reporters lurking
outside my home; being led to a courthouse through a reaching throng of people; curious
strangers staring at me years later, wondering why they recognize me.
Panic’s filling me like a darkening
cloud. I inhale a joint to calm down. Liz has stopped shouting. Now I can barely hear her
crying through the vents.
been three hours since I locked her down there.
Liz can wail her guts out all night and
she won’t be heard. The house to the left of my rental hasn’t been filled since
my last neighbor moved out and the one to my right is being rebuilt. These row houses run
through Baltimore like a rusted chain, from my neighborhood in Federal Hill to nearby Fells
Point, where Liz lives.
has always been close to me, a few links away on the chain.
Her sobs rise from the basement.
slinks over the sun. I venture downstairs with a microwaved slice of steak and a pile of
“Liz?” I ask again, and walk cautiously toward the door.
The basement consists of a long
hall with a small storage space under the stairs and three doors opposite, leading
to a laundry room, a guest bedroom and a small windowless room. I’d locked Liz in
I set the plate down and undo
the lock and pull open the door and the door smashes open because Liz shoves it into me.
I twist to reach for her but slip on the steak. Liz rounds the corner for the stairs, glances
back at me and runs into the wall. We rise and I lunge and catch her foot. She screams
like hell and kicks and her heel catches my jaw but I don’t let go. I keep holding
her foot as she kicks me again and again in the face and screams, and then her body twists
but her ankle doesn’t and she cries as it snaps. I take her in my arms and drag her
back and Liz asks, “Why are you doing
this to me Mark why are you doing this to me why are you doing this” and I
lead her into the small room and lock her in again. I hear her fall to the ground after
the door closes. I head back up, breathing heavily. Blood’s on the stairs. I hope
it’s from me.
slouched in the Jeep’s passenger seat months ago when we drove to the Outer Banks
with a group of mutual friends, her bare foot dangling out the window while she leaned
back to talk to me. That’s how I remember her, the image that always comes to mind
from our first meeting. Liz: tan, brunette, beautiful, barely five feet, brown wells of
water for eyes. We spent most of that weekend talking, sometimes with others but mostly
alone, lying next to each other on blankets on sand, wisps of hair in her sun-squinted
eyes. We came back to Baltimore and fell in bed, fell into a blur of weeks that abruptly
ended when she worried I’d gotten her pregnant.
She wasn’t, but the sex was over. I was afraid
she’d end everything but Liz kept in touch. She’d call after a night spent
drinking and dancing and we’d talk through those blue hours beyond midnight. She’d
also lost both of her parents, cancer brutally took them in back-to-back years, and I’d
never met anyone else who shared that “adult-orphaned” feeling. Some people
lose their parents at a young age and are forced into maturity; for others, the opposite
happens. Something inside you is caged.
We’d spend day after day on the phone,
but then I’d suffer through weeks when I didn’t hear from her and she didn’t
answer my calls or texts, so I’d take matters into my own hands. Liz only went to
a couple of clubs in Baltimore, Paradox or The Get Down, and I’d head to both after
the hours waiting for a text became unbearable. I wouldn’t wear a full disguise,
just a cap and a fake beard; the darkness of the clubs helped me completely disappear.
It’s hard to describe the
happiness I felt when I’d finally run into her, when I’d see Liz on the dance
floor or lazily sexily slouched in a lounge chair, one leg dangling over an arm. I made
sure she didn’t see me, stayed out of sight after I spotted her, tried not to stare
as she spoke or swayed with friends or strangers. That was all I wanted, to see her. I’d
watch her until she left, I’d leave and later that night, she’d text.
It was kind of our thing that
she didn’t know anything about.
But then, Price.
Price was a small-time dealer; he only
sold weed, and he only sold it to the white neighborhoods. I knew him in high school and
we ended up briefly working in the same restaurant afterward, 203 Sports Bar in Federal Hill. I liked him but he made me nervous. You’d head to
his house for a party and Price would greet you with shrooms, make you eat a couple on
entry. And then he’d carry his gun around the house, wearing jeans with no shirt,
high and holding a beer in one hand and a Glock dangling from the other.
He was six foot and bald and
muscular with an “I give a shit?” attitude that made vaginas wetter than a
bad day in England. I saw him at The Get Down talking to Liz and my stomach tightened.
Of course they left together. Of course they started dating. And of all the women Price
was with, of course Liz was the one that stuck. Fuck my luck.
“Mark,” she said, after they’d been
dating a month, “we really shouldn’t text or talk much anymore.”
“Yeah, but…” I let the fragment
They dated for two more months and then, one night, I received a
distraught call from Liz. Price had left her for another woman. We spent the night talking
until he returned. It only took a day for him to win her back.
This time, Liz and I stayed friends. She
was really the only constant in my life, always on the phone or texting me after Price
had fallen asleep. I thought I might love her; it felt like love. Sometimes that’s
like when she told me they were moving in together, it’s too much.
“Want to go to lunch?”
I asked her.
did. We sat on the edge of a pier in Fells Point. Liz let her legs dangle over the water.
An indifferent sun hung in the October sky.
“You and I make good friends,” Liz said,
at some point in our conversation, “but we’ve never been able to be more than
let her words settle inside me.
“Why do you think that is?”
think,” Liz said, seriously, “because you don’t have any pets.”
“Pets are an extension
of love. I have my cat, Dizzy. Most of the guys I really liked had a dog or cat. Even a
fish. I think it means something.”
“I have a couple of mice,” I told her.
“But I share them with the rest of the building.”
Liz smiled at me. “You’re weird, dude. But
I’m glad you wanted to meet up today. I need to tell you something.”
not just moving in. We’re getting married.” Liz looked steadily at me. “I
know you’ve never had things with us…figured out. I felt like something was
left unsaid. Even from me.”
“Is it still?”
“You can never say everything you need,”
Liz smiled. “Especially when you’re saying goodbye.”
I asked her back to my house. She
followed me to the basement without question, all the while explaining why she didn’t
are you doing this?” Liz asks.
It’s been two hours since she tried to escape.
I sit against the door and stare
into the darkness of my basement.
“I think I need to see a doctor. My
ankle hurts. A lot.”
close my eyes, knock the back of my head against the wood and tell her:
“I just want, I just wanted
you to know how I feel. I didn’t expect all this to happen.”
“Please let me go.”
go to the police,” I tell her, and think: I can’t believe I’m saying
you’ll go to the police.
“I won’t,” Liz begs. “I swear. I don’t
even know why you’re doing this. Did I do something wrong?”
“You didn’t do anything wrong.”
I knew what you were.
“Mark,” Liz tells
me, and I hear her limp toward the door, “please. John knows where I went, and he’s
going to start looking for me. He’ll call the police. Please, Mark. I won’t
eyes stay closed.
is so close, so maddeningly close.
“It doesn’t matter if you tell anyone.”
“What do you mean?”
Her voice is hushed.
“Are you going to kill me?”
what you think I am?
“Then please let me go.”
going to spend the rest of my life in a cell.
You’re the reason.
“Do you want me to say
I’m sorry?” Liz continued. “Then I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m
sorry for what I did to you and the way I acted and I’m sorry I hurt you and slept
with you and left you and I’m SORRY.” Liz is shouting now. “I’M
SORRY I’M SORRY I’M SORRY…”
Silence, echoing silence, like the
moment after a slap.
I jump out of my recliner and
hurry to the front door, worried that Liz will hear the sounds.
I pull open the door, slip outside.
is standing in front of me. He’s wearing sweatpants and a tank top, a small black
duffel bag over his shoulder. It’s hard not to notice his arms; even resting, his
muscles look like they’re in mid-flex. I can smell the musky sweat from his pits
here?” he asks.
“Hi John. No.”
“Her car’s parked in the street,” he
says and points.
glance to where he’s pointing and see her tiny blue Civic.
Well, shit. Hadn’t thought
“Liz was here,” I tell him. “She wanted
to talk about some stuff. I guess she went for a walk.”
“Is she mad about something?” Price asks,
and he lifts the bag off his shoulder, drops it to the ground, opens it and rummages inside.
I see shoes, water, weed baggies, a towel, shorts. A gun.
“I don’t know.”
takes the bottle of water, unscrews the top and drinks.
“Just got back from the gym,” he
you brought the gun in case someone was using your treadmill?”
Price laughs. “You’re
weird, dude. Anyway, I finished up there, headed home and couldn’t find her. Figured
she’s pissed that I missed dinner.”
Price grins. “Knew she’d come vent
“Every chick wants a gay best friend.”
“Sorry. Homosexual. Anyway,
just tell her I’m home. And I’m sorry.”
“I’m not…you don’t
want to come inside?”
I’ll see her later.”
I can’t believe he doesn’t want to come
in. “Are you sure? You don’t want to wait for her? Make sure she’s okay?”
I have to stop myself from opening
“Take care of my lady,” Price tells me, and he picks
up his bag and saunters off. “Send her home when you’re done with her.”
I need to get Liz’s car out of here.
I search the house for her car keys and realize Liz must have them.
Back to the basement.
“Is your purse in there?”
I ask the door.
“Yeah.” A pause. “You need my keys,
then she laughs.
let Liz laugh for a few minutes–although her laughter worries me, sounds like she’s
going insane–and tell her, “No one’s going to find you anytime soon.
Not soon enough, anyway.”
That stops her laughter.
“Not soon enough for what?” she asks.
I actually don’t have an answer; it just
sounded like a tough guy thing to say.
“Not soon enough for what?”
“I just wanted to talk to you. That’s
did talk, Mark.”
The way Liz says my name, exasperated, feels like she’s
kicking my heart down the street. Like she’s done with me.
“You don’t know how much you meant to me.”
wouldn’t have left you with me.
“You meant a lot to me too.”
I shake my head, realize she can’t see
me through the door, and tell her, “Not the same.”
“What does that mean?” Liz sounds hurt,
or she’s pretending to be.
“You didn’t care this much. You wouldn’t have
locked me in a basement.” I pause. “I’m
not sure that makes sense, but you get my point.”
A different laugh, genuine and surprised
and quick. “Well, no. But I did care.”
“Mark, I did.” The way she says my name
is different now.
“Why do you think I kept
in touch all this time? You’ve always been the person who understood me best. I told
“No, you didn’t.”
“Then I should have. Please, Mark, let
me out of here and none of what’s happened will matter. I promise. I won’t tell
just really wish you could…” I let the rest of the sentence drift.
“I could what?”
“I’ll be right back.”
do you mean, Mark?” Her voice is higher, worried. “I could what?”
She’s calling my name as
I leave, and I hear her as I hurry upstairs and peek through the window to make sure Price
Panic and guilt have been wrestling inside of me ever since I locked
Liz in my basement, but now something sharper is in my stomach, my hands, my ears, a shrilly
urgent message from my conscious telling me I’m going too far. I ignore it.
I need something sharp.
Twenty minutes later I head back
down to the basement.
I knock on the door to Liz’s room and there’s
no answer. For a moment I’m worried she escaped, but then she says, “Mark?”
“Okay, I’m going
to open the door and this is going to look kind of crazy. It’s not. I’m not.
I’m not going to eat you or anything. I just want you to be surprised.”
Silence punctuates her one-word
It’s nothing but a small twist, a flick of my
fingers to undo the bolt and set her free.
Liz is standing back from the door, her purse in her hands. There’s
a bruise under her nose, dried blood.
“Why are you dressed like that?” she
asks. “And what are you holding?”
“Wear this…would you mind putting this on?” I
hold out the dress I made.
limps forward, takes the dress and looks at it with curiosity and disdain. “This
looks like you cut up a white towel and taped the strips to a t-shirt.”
“I just want you to see
something,” I tell her. “Put it on.”
“Why’d you change into a tie?”
I smile. “Come on, please?”
pulls the shirt over her and the strips from the towel fall to her knees. Some drop to
the floor. I probably should have used better tape.
I grab the mirror behind me. It’s a
standing, full-length mirror my mom bought. I place it in front of us, then stand next
to Liz in the doorway.
stare at our reflection.
just wanted you to see…I wanted you to see what we’d look like. If we were
the ones getting married.”
Liz doesn’t say anything. Just stares.
Here.” I bend down, pick up a teddy bear and give it to her. “Pretend it’s
a cat. See? Pets. We have pets.”
I watch her face in the mirror. Something occurs to me.
“You know,” I tell
her. “This does look sort of crazy.”
“No,” Liz says, and she steps forward
to get a better look. “I like what you did.”
“Really?” I ask. I’m surprised
by what I feel.
But it’s not happiness.
“Touch the mirror,” I tell her.
“The mirror. See the carved wood? Touch
close my eyes.
want Liz to grab the heavy mirror and slam it into me.
I’ll end up staggering backward and
falling to the floor, a thousand shards of glass around me, pressing into my skin. I’ll
hear her upstairs limp-running to the front door, crying. I’ll hear the door thrown
open, Liz running off so fast that she doesn’t bother to close it.
“Why do you want me to
touch it?” she asks.
Her voice is so close that I can almost feel her body
as she reaches out.
E.A. Aymar's debut thriller, I'LL SLEEP WHEN YOU'RE DEAD, was published by Black
Opal Books in 2013 and the sequel, YOU'RE AS GOOD AS DEAD, is available now from the same
publisher. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, SinC and the International
Thriller Writers. His column, Decisions and Revisions, runs monthly in the Washington
Independent Review of Books. He lives with his family just outside of Washington, D.C.