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"the girls" by Neil Gaiman
She seems so cool, so focused, so quiet, yet her eyes remain fixed upon the horizon.
You think you know all there is to know about her immediately upon meeting her, but everything you think you know is wrong. Passion flows through her like a river of blood.
She only looked away for a moment, and the mask slipped, and you fell. All your tomorrows start here.
You know how it is when you love someone?
And the hard part, the bad part, the Jerry Springer show part is that you never stop loving someone. There's always a piece of them in your heart.
Now that she is dead, she tries to remember only the love. She imagines every blow a kiss, the make-up that inexpertly covers the bruises, the cigarette burn on her thigh -- all these things, she decides, were gestures of love.
She wonders what her daughter will do.
She wonders what her daughter will be.
She is holding a cake, in her death. It is the cake she was always going to bake for her little one. Maybe they would have mixed it together.
They would have sat and eaten it and smiled, all three of them, and the apartment would have slowly filled with laughter and with love.
There are a hundred things she has tried to chase away the things she won't remember and that she can't even let herself think about because that's when the birds scream and the worms crawl and somewhere in her mind it's always raining a slow and endless drizzle.
You will hear that she has left the country, that there was a gift she wanted you to have, but it is lost before it reaches you. Late one night the telephone will sing, and a voice that might be hers will say something that you cannot interpret before the connection crackles and is broken.
Several years later, from a taxi, you will see someone in a doorway who looks like her, but she will be gone by the time you persuade the driver to stop. You will never see her again.
Whenever it rains you think of her.
Thirty-five years a showgirl that she admits to, and her feet hurt, day in, day out, from the high heels, but she can walk down steps with a forty-pound headdress in high heels, she's walked across a stage with a lion in high heels, she could walk through goddamn Hell in high heels if it came to that.
These are the things that have helped, that kept her walking and her head high: her daughter; a man from Chicago who loved her, although not enough; the national news anchor who paid her rent for a decade and didn't come to Vegas more than once a month; two bags of silicone gel; and staying out of the desert sun.
She will be a grandmother soon, very soon.
And then there was the time that one of them simply wouldn't return her calls to his office. So she called the number he did not know that she had, and she said to the woman who answered that this was so embarrassing but as he was no longer talking to her, could he be told that she was still waiting for the return of her lacy black underthings, which he had taken because, he said, they smelled of her, of both of them. Oh, and that reminded her, she said, as the woman on the other end of the phone said nothing, could they be laundered first, and then simply posted back to her. He has her address. And then, her business joyfully concluded, she forgets him utterly and forever, and she turns her attention to the next.
One day she won't love you too. It will break your heart.
She doesn't know who owned the jacket originally. Nobody claimed it after a party, and she figured it looked good on her.
It says KISS, and she does not like to kiss. People, men and women, have told her that she is beautiful, and she has no idea what they mean. When she looks in the mirror she does not see beauty looking back at her. Only her face.
She does not read, watch TV, or make love. She listens to music. She goes places with her friends. She rides rollercoasters but never screams when they plummet or twist and upside down.
If you told her the jacket was yours she'd just shrug and give it back to you. It's not like she cares, not one way or the other.
She is not waiting. Not quite. It is more that the years mean nothing to her any more, that the dreams and the street cannot touch her.
She remains on the edges of time, implacable, unhurt, beyond, and one day you will open your eyes and see her, and after that, the dark.
It is not a reaping. Instead, she will pluck you, gently, like a feather, or a flower for her hair.
heart of gold
Sisters, maybe twins, possibly cousins. We won't know unless we see their birth certificates, the real ones, not the ones they use to get ID.
This is what they do for a living. They walk in, take what they need, walk out again.
It's not glamorous. It's just business. It may not always be strictly legal.
It's just business.
They are too smart for this, and too tired.
They share clothes, wigs, make-up, cigarettes. Restless and hunting, they move on.
Two minds. One heart.
Sometimes they even finish each other's --
Standing in the shower, letting the water run over her, washing it away, washing everything away, she realises that what made it the hardest was that it had smelled just like her own high school.
She had walked through the corridors, heart beating raggedly in her chest, smelling that school smell, and it all came back to her.
It was only what, six years, maybe less, since it had been her running from locker to classroom, since she had watched her friends crying and raging and brooding over the taunts and the names and the thousand hurts that plague the powerless.
None of them had ever gone this far.
She found the first body in a stairwell.
That night, after the shower, which could not wash what she had had to do away, not really, she said to her husband, "I'm scared."
"That this job is making me hard. That it's making me someone else. Someone I don't know any more."
He pulled her close, and held her, and they stayed touching, skin to skin, until dawn.
She feels at home on the range; ear-protectors in position, man-shaped paper target up and waiting for her.
She imagines, a little, she remembers, a little and she sights and squeezes and as her time on the range begins she feels rather than sees the head and the heart obliterate. The smell of cordite always makes her think of the fourth of July.
You use the gifts God gave you. That was what her mother had said, which makes their falling out even harder, somehow.
Nobody will ever hurt her. She'll just make her faint vague wonderful smile and walk away.
It's not about the money. It's never about the money.
Here: an exercise in choice. Your choice. One of these tales is true.
She lived through the war. In 1959 she came to America. She now lives in a condo in Miami, a tiny French woman with white hair, with a daughter and a grand-daughter. She keeps herself to herself and smiles rarely, as if the weight of memory keeps her from finding joy.
Or that's a lie. Actually the Gestapo picked her up during a border crossing in 1943, and they left her in a meadow. First she dug her own grave, then a single bullet to the back of the skull.
Her last thought, before that bullet, was that she was four months' pregnant, and that if we do not fight to create a future there will be no future for any of us.
There is an old woman in Miami who wakes, confused, from a dream of the wind blowing the wildflowers in a meadow.
There are bones untouched beneath the warm French earth which dream of a daughter's wedding. Good wine is drunk. The only tears shed are happy ones.
Some of the girls were boys.
The view changes from where you are standing.
Words can wound, and words can heal.
All of these things are true.
t o r i p h o r i a
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