Three Women

Summary: James' attempt to save Angela, who falls off the edge of reality quite often, treads into forbidden terrain. James/Angela

A/N: Rated T for swearing, suggestive themes, disturbing subject matter, and sexual content—to a limit, which is why it remains at T.

This will be a three-shot. I'd love to hear your thoughts. :) Thank you to anyone who reads and reviews!

One: Magdalene

They thought death was worth it, but I

Have a self to recover, a queen

Is she dead, is she sleeping?

Where has she been,

With her lion-red body, her wings of glass?

- Sylvia Plath, Stings

James' hair blew about wistfully and the lobes of his ears reddened in the cool night. The streets were all but desolate, his only company being the wind that whistled through the leaves of the trees. The lawns were all dewy and the mood shone bald and white in the sky, a big head staring passively at him.

He thought the waves must be whipping against the shore like lashes from Toluca Lake. He remembered having studied that black water. He envisioned all the people that disappeared down there, their bony hands still pleading to be dragged back up to air after they'd already drowned. Maybe they all happened to get sucked down into an eye somewhere in the lake. Maybe Toluca had an appetite.

In that way, he was reminded of the Golden Gate Bridge, a wonder he had seen only in photos. The grandeur of ending your life there was only an illusion. The truth was, those who jumped off the Golden Gate would always wish in their last seconds that they hadn't, because once they hit the water, their bones would break and the force would suck them in like falling into a tornado. They'd finally know how a goldfish felt as it was being flushed down the toilet. What a feeling.

Being alive and now having time to reflect on this, he could now say that the waters of Toluca Lake would not have been generous either. He evaluated his more recent suicide fantasy: disappearing into that blackness with his wife and his car. Somehow, he always imagined that he'd be sitting peacefully in the driver's seat, watching the water rise above his windows and leak through the edges of the car doors. Mary's unseeing eyes would open and her unfeeling mouth would break into a soft smile. Being so proud of him. Now we can be together, James.

That was nothing but a fairy tale.

Angela had said that her own fantasies had been silly like that—overly romanticized and feeling just right like Goldilocks' porridge. She imagined, as he had, that her death would fit like Cinderella's glass slipper.

He'd managed to talk her off the steps.

Though the fire was hungry, her love for life extinguished long ago, and her heart black as ink, he still refused to give her back her knife. He told her he wasn't her mother, or her brother. He told her he wasn't like her father. And he wasn't saving anything for himself.

"I won't go through with it if you won't," he told her.

Of course it had all been a lie. His life didn't depend on whether or not she ended hers, but at that point, she was so deluded she would believe anything. It was then, tricked into thinking that she could stand to be responsible for yet another lost life, that she broke down. She sat on the burning staircase, shielding her eyes from the portrait of the bloodied, tarp body that mirrored her own figure, stained at its private part. She told him she didn't want him to die because of her. She'd already taken a life.

"You're forcing me to live!" she screamed.

The street winded into a small alley, where it ended in a brick wall and a small mountain of garbage. He found her there, standing against the wall, her eyes to the floor and her sleek hair fringing over her profile. She wore the same sweater every day and refused to change. Whenever it came time to clean it she would warn James not to look because she'd have to take it off and she'd be in her bra. Don't get any funny ideas. Pig.

He never paid attention to the names. That's all they were. If it made her feel better to degrade him, then it was fine by him. If it makes you feel better, Angela.

"Are you deaf? I told you to go!" And the vase he had bought her shattered like puzzle pieces, spilling its guts of water and petals all over the linoleum. Rachel came in, Mary screamed her out. James stood still, and Mary's voice went so shrill that he could do nothing but leave himself. She would end up hurting her voice.

If it makes you feel better, Mary.

"What're you doing here?" she slurred. Still she did not lift her head. Pig.

He had his hands in his pockets, a measurable distance away from her just in case she freaked. Angela could be the most volatile creature at the worst of times. He just hoped she would come around from this dolorous stupor she was in before the nighttime's bad elements started to rear their heads.

"Angela, you know it's dangerous at night. You should come home."

He had to choose his words carefully. If they did not fit, if they were not the right size, Angela could get very difficult. She was like a sleepwalker. James could never wake her from these moods, or force her to face reality. There was no other reality when she was like this.

"What home?" she sneered.

"Our home." he said softly.

"I don't have one."

"Yes you do. You live with me."

"I don't live with you. You trap me there. So you can do things to me."

"I would never do anything to you, Angela. You know that."

"My house burned down. I burned it down. It… ate it all up like firewood! That's what that house was. A big bundle of firewood." She spat on the ground as if it were the remnants of her hated home. "Good riddance."

"No, our house is still standing. Waiting for us to come home."

Us.

James inwardly flinched. So much for trying to get Angela back to sanctuary.

"Us?" she spat. Her eyes were on him now. He saw her eyes glint angrily in the way only her eyes could. "Daddy, there's no us. There never was!"

Angela did not see James anymore.

He wrestled within himself, with all the sentences his mind could possibly formulate, and for everything he came up with, one little word within them would be sufficient enough to offend her and insinuate things he didn't mean, and make the chance of Angela's return shrink further into obscurity.

He was sure that if he approached her, she would most certainly fly into a rage.

She might even try to kill her father a second time.

How could he keep sounding like a man he never met? James bit his lip. Sweet pleads were off limits. Thomas employed those time and again. No words of reprimand, or rage or spite. That was him too. Thomas Orosoco, the slain beast.

He'd have to use a new approach.

And so, James left her there.

-:-:-:-:-

At around three in the morning he heard that soft rapping. He sprung to his numb feet and walked cautiously toward the door, trying to channel his immense relief and not seem too eager to answer it. Angela hated the sight of concern on someone's face. Reminded her of her mother, that useless bitch who knew nothing, refused to acknowledge that her own daughter was being raped up the ass by her own husband. Swine.

Angela's face was distorted by her tears. Her bangs stuck to her forehead like pressed grass. She wouldn't look up at him. She didn't need his stupid sympathy.

James stepped off to the side and let her through. Standing out from the majority of the female crowd, most of whom clamored to be held in times of distress, Angela didn't want to be touched. She never wanted to feel the fingers of a man on her skin again.

Making sure to keep a safe distance, James approached her with an old Bugs Bunny mug of hot cocoa. He wondered for a second if she'd actually accuse him of spiking it or something.

But no accusation came. She grasped the cup in fingers whitened by the cold, and trembled slightly as the heat transferred to her arms. She blew ragged breaths on the surface. The milk chocolate rippled slightly and the little marshmallows bobbed around like buoys at sea.

James wanted to get her a blanket, but he didn't know how she would feel about being wrapped around a cloth that smelled entirely like him. A pity that he needed to consider things like these.

Ah, to hell with it. She was cold.

"I'm gonna get you a blanket." James returned with one of his older comforters, a relic that had survived the homicidal washing machine, the spills of countless Pepsis and more recently the ketchup of his late night microwave hotdogs.

Angela didn't acknowledge him—not that he'd ever expected a response.

He unfolded it and draped it around her shoulders, letting it fall over the top of the couch. She looked like a superhero leaning over a cup of hot chocolate after a particularly tough day on the job. He was almost tempted to laugh, but he managed to remind himself who he was dealing with.

"Thank you," she muttered.

Am I James now? He wanted to inquire. Or am I just your father on his better days?

Discovering that Angela's family members were living vicariously through him was a daily occurrence. She flitted between this world and that, and James would only find out exactly who he was when he said the wrong words.

Still, he was making progress. She wasn't spending as much time behind the door of her childhood bedroom anymore, her arms wound tightly around her closed legs and dreading the moment when Daddy would pry them open.

She was the 21-year-old Angela at breakfast, the Angela that shot back haughtiness when he simply asked her if she liked her eggs scrambled or over-easy. But then she was the 7-year-old Angela when she broke the plates and toppled over the grandfather clock Frank had bequeathed him before he died. The 7-year-old spouted his deeds back at him for him to face fully—that his mouth tasted like cigarettes and his hairy chest disagreed with her skin. She described them like murders.

These accusations would churn great repulsion in him. That any human capable of morality and reason could subject a child to these sordid behaviors, things he'd only ever seen in his hidden adult film collection and short stack of magazines, was unthinkable. He thought—what if something like that had happened to Laura? He trembled and banished it from his mind.

He couldn't blind himself to what he'd accomplished the minute she went into one of her fits. He had made progress.

"Angela.. Do you mind if I sit here?" James pointed to his own couch, of which he most certainly had the right to sit on. But in any situation, Angela's feelings came first.

"Don't be such an idiot," she scowled, her even mood ruined by James' stupid question. But inwardly she was a little moved by his politeness, how considerately he sought after her permission.

James sat down. He didn't turn on the TV, which Angela quietly appreciated. Instead he stared into any object that would trigger an occupying string of thoughts and observations.

Angela stared too, nowhere in particular, just allowing the warmness to envelop her and bring her back down from the darkness that had her head swimming in circles like a fish in a bowl. She didn't mean to treat James this way all the time. But she couldn't just turn these episodes off. They came and went when they wanted to regardless of how she felt about them. It was only a matter of consequence that James had to suffer in turn.

It was the burden he had to bear in return for saving her life.

James could deal; he had carried heavier burdens. Angela would come around.

At least that was what he was telling himself at the moment.

Angela finally turned to look at him, and the sight caught him a little off guard. Her jaw slacked, her hair matted and everywhere, even in her eyes. She didn't seem to care. Her eyes were most definitely dead.

"What's wrong with you?" she asked.

James struggled for a response. What was wrong with him? How Angela could ask this question without first taking into consideration her own state was beyond him.

Moments passed, until James finally settled on leaving the question unanswered. If she meant that she still didn't understand why he was helping her, he didn't much feel like justifying it right now. He was weary from all the dread and worry that she put him through after she decided to disappear. He sighed and yawned into his hand.

"Do you want me to turn the TV on for you? I'm going to bed.. If that's okay."

"No." Angela said, the little brat. "I want you to sit here and talk to me."

"It's very late."

"You said you'd be here for me."

"I am here, Angela. I'm always here."

She didn't appear convinced.

As of late, Angela appeared to trust James to the point of even sleeping in the same bed with him. Although, there was a large space in between them. He had at least managed to conquer her fear of proximity to a man while she slept. Of course, after an episode like this, it would be more prudent to sleep in separate spaces tonight.

Maybe he would have to stay awake for the night. At least until she grew sleepy, which by then he would gladly give her the bed and he'd take the couch. It was how it had to be the first few weeks after he brought her home. Reverting back to the old routine didn't bother James.

Angela stood and placed the mug down on the table and wrapped the covers around her. Sighing, James walked to his bedroom and snatched all of the clothes sprawled on the bed, along with the TV remote that he'd lost while pacing the house, fighting ominous thoughts, anxiously awaiting her return.

The blanket cascaded to the ground like a curtain.

Angela's fingers snaked their way up his chest, making ripples in his shirt and pulling it up just to where his belly button would be exposed. He gasped. He hadn't even heard Angela approach him from behind.

She ran her fingers back down again. One rested on his stomach while the finger of the other hand slipped into the hem of his jeans, giving a slight, subversive tug.

"What are you doing?" he sounded breathless, after he'd just come back in from a run around the block. His voice felt small and inconsequential. He wasn't even sure if Angela heard him.

He whipped around and grabbed her forearms to get her to stop. She brought her dry lips to his and pressed her breasts onto his body. He hated it; he hated the feeling of her. She was soft and, to his own disgust, not entirely unwanted. This mere fact scared him so much that he pulled away and strutted past her, his arm to his lips and his eyes wide. He stopped himself before he could leave.

"Why are you doing this? You call me a pig, and then you.."

The sounds of cars driving past hummed into the windows, and a particular chill blew through. Or maybe it was only him.

"I didn't call you a pig," she admitted. "That was him.. Him I called a pig."

He spun around. "I thought you were terrified of this. This is your worst fear."

Angela had to be a different person now. He just knew it. She had her times when she dissociated into her child self, and she was all fear and trembling. Then she had the other one—what he'd cautiously call the "everyday" Angela. She was pessimistic, biting, and cold. But who was this one? Moreover, was she simply a defense mechanism that came into play whenever the other states did not accomplish her needs? Was this Angela the manifestation of her Id, the part of her that might actually have liked those caresses, that squeezing and the occasional slap of her behind?

Lust wasn't a hard thing to communicate. It was clearly there. Staring back at him like some marble-faced succubus.

She approached with no trepidation, cupping his cheek in her hand. He had the sudden image of Maria reaching through the bars in much the same way. Those eyes had glinted like the Cheshire Cat. The prison darkened and her fingers slipped away into the black forever. She was dead again.

When Angela kissed him a second time, he did not pull away. He simply allowed it. While Angela closed her eyes, James kept his open, his gaze fixed on her eyelashes, how sleek they looked up close, thick as elephant grass and dark as the hairs of a fruit fly under a microscope. Her face was sallow. She was both beautiful and ugly, if that were possible. She was a marriage of opposites. In another universe, she would be a vixen. She'd show her legs and sport a sharp bob to bring the attention to her fiery copper eyes. She wouldn't be afraid of anyone. Much less a man.

That unpredictable thing, the coils of lust, unfurled in him. As he returned her kiss he slowly began to forget who he was, who she was. The world had ceased to turn and all became still. All that moved was them, hands over skin, hair and cloth. He hardly knew what he was doing, but then again, neither did Angela.

He fell back on the bed. She climbed on top of him, effectively pinning him down. She threw her head back and her hair reacted as if wind-blown. He couldn't believe his eyes.

She'd known exactly how he liked it. Forceful and unapologetic, she bit and raked and held on for dear life. Exactly who she was projecting this fraught lovemaking on he could only guess at, which gave him a shudder, but nevertheless, what Angela wanted, she got.

If it makes you feel better.

Abuse me.

The minutes became ambiguous. The light took its sweet, sweet time, inching out as a caterpillar trekking across a branch. It was easy to con himself into believing this was a dream, and he'd desperately hoped it was. Angela couldn't act this way. She just couldn't.

This was something masked, something that had found its way to the surface against all reason and common decency. But how could he judge? He had lost himself in his own insanity once. Done things he never thought he'd do. It was a scary and exhilarating place to be.

Maybe he'd made more progress than what he hoped for.

Pig seared through his thoughts, what little of them he was entertaining, like acid. It echoed. He could make no reply.

-:-:-:-:-

The sky was open and calm, the color of a bruise. The trees were black figures, the windows of the houses like vacant eyes, and their residents sleeping mice. Naked, yet warm under the coverlet, Angela stared into the distance. She had her back to James. Only her smooth shoulders and the small of her back were visible. She was hollow. She loved that uncomplaining absence in herself. A wicked peace had crawled up her limbs and kept her normally nervous frame from squirming. She knew the child self would be appalled, and perhaps the apparition of Thomas would break into an ashen smile. His teeth would be white—pure ivory after the fire. She did not hate him so much when she thought of him that way.

A dead man can't laugh.

James was a man who lit up after the deed, but with his discarded pants pocket devoid of cigarettes at the moment, he turned to Angela to run his fingers through her hair. Would she still be as receptive?

She suddenly bristled and swatted his hand away like an insect. Wounded, James' hand retracted back to his chest. He wanted to say something, yet he didn't.

He didn't know who he was at that particular moment.

And come to think of it, it'd probably be better if he kept the questions to himself.