SAVAGING THE DARK
I am not I. This is not me. I haven’t come to this place, this end,
Connor’s green eyes watch me. His arms are above him, wrists handcuffed to the bed. I’ve had to gag him: one of his white T-shirts rolled up like a rope and tied tightly around his head, between his jaws. It must be terribly uncomfortable. I want to run to him, set him free, stroke his hair, weep on his shoulder, say,
He wears nothing but a pair of old shorts. They’re stained yellow. The color runs down the crotch of the shorts and onto the bed under him. The stain darkens the sheets, as if it were blood running out of him, not urine at all. Otherwise he’s naked, his skinny, hairless white chest quickly rising and falling, his pale legs splayed before him.
The bottoms of his feet are dirty, I notice. I slip the pistol into my belt and move to the bathroom, grab one of the faded old motel washcloths there. I run it under the cold water faucet for a moment, wring it out, and come back to him.
“Sweetheart? Let me wash your feet. They’re not clean.”
I crouch down but with an intake of breath he pulls his legs back.
“Come on,” I say. “Don’t be shy. You’re dirty.”
He studies me, his eyes wide. Sweat glistens on his skin. I reach out a hand—slowly, gently, as you might to a wounded bird. Finally he allows me to take his left foot in my hand. It smells, I notice, but I don’t mind, not really. I move the wet washcloth over the foot carefully, making no sudden moves. I don’t wish to frighten him. I’ve never wished to frighten him. Not once in my entire life.
I finish cleaning his foot and study it closely—the smooth uncalloused heel, the cute little toes.
Finally I put the foot down and reach to the other. He allows me to, doesn’t resist. I study the foot closely. A small blood streak on his heel. Black smears—dirt? oil?—along the arch. Bits of the motel’s shag carpet clinging, even tiny jagged pieces of plant.
I can tell from watching his eyes that he doesn’t trust me anymore, doesn’t believe I’ll do the right thing, doesn’t perceive that everything I’ve done has been for
It occurs to me that it’s been a very long time since I’ve seen Connor cry. He cried a lot, once. Now, no. I suspect he doesn’t want to give me the satisfaction, doesn’t wish to allow me to see him open and vulnerable. Connor is closed to me now. I know that. He doesn’t need to tell me. Yet my life is nothing without him, this eleven-year-old soul-stealer, this heart-thief.
I hear a car pulling up fast in the parking lot outside, tires on gravel, automobile doors slamming, voices. Through a slit in the curtain splinters of light play on the wall opposite us: red-blue, red-blue. There is no siren. I’d thought that there would be sirens. It’s quiet, really. I can hear their crunching footsteps and the static sounds of their car radios. How like a movie scene this is, a scene from some ’30s or ’40s crime picture by Fritz Lang or Raoul Walsh. I wonder if Connor realizes it as well.
Will they knock on the door? And if they do, will it be gentle, a meek little tapping like a shy child might make? Will a soft voice say,
Or will they not knock at all? Is that why they’re gathering out there so quietly? Waiting?
Connor hears them too. I can tell. I sidle up next to him on the bed, pull the pistol from my belt again. His eyes widen as I switch off the safety. I want to touch him, caress him, hold him. I want to love him forever. I want to rip him to shreds.
Across the street I habitually take to get home is a soccer field. I rarely take any notice of it, or of the middle-school games that are played there, but that afternoon something strikes me about those shouting pubescent voices and I stop for a moment to watch. It’s a boys’ game: eleven- and twelve-year-olds in blue uniforms and gold ones charging up and down the field, jumping, kicking, falling. They don’t strike me as being particularly adept—there are missed kicks everywhere, balls flying the wrong way, boys skidding on the grass and landing on their bottoms. And yet they’re clearly having a good time, and I find myself enjoying their energy, their happiness. Lithe young limbs, arms skinny or muscular, legs fish-pale but quick. And their faces: I can see in some of them the men they’ll become, the growth, the expanding, the hardening of features that will happen. It makes me wistful, somehow. These beautiful boys seem perfect, as if they are in their exact historical and emotional moment, as if someone should figure out a way to hold them there, suspend time, keep the game going forever.
I don’t know how long I stand there, but when the referee blows a whistle and the game ends it’s like being pulled abruptly from a dream. Daily reality slides into me again and I shake my head, move on. I think one of the boys in gold has vaguely noticed me, this tall older girl (all of fifteen!) staring at them from across the field. He seems to watch me for a moment before he turns back to his coach and friends and laughter and Gatorade.
As I make my way home it seems to me that I could enjoy spending time with such children. Certainly not as their coach—I’m hopelessly maladroit at all sports—but perhaps as their teacher? I wonder what it would be like. I think about my own teachers: Mr. Arnold, Mr. Vale, Ms. Owen. It’s hard to imagine being them, standing in front of a classroom each day, talking, handing out assignments, grading tests. Though I spend five days a week in their company they never seem entirely real, somehow. And yet I know I’m smart, maybe as smart as some of them. I remember being shocked the previous school year when I’d overheard a student asking our English teacher, Mrs. Rocca, what old black-and-white film had the line “I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”—and she didn’t know! I was so embarrassed for Mrs. Rocca that I didn’t have the heart to step into the conversation and tell her it was from one of my all-time favorite movies,
I don’t think about the boys on the soccer field again, not for many years. But from that afternoon I have it in my mind that I will be a teacher, that it’s my fate. My destiny.
But I was still half a person then, not a whole person. Since the age of twelve I’d been half a person, as lost and as clumsy and as despondent as any half-person would be. There was no whole me, no