A/N: Should have posted this quite a while ago, but was never satisfied with it until now. It's shorter than Magdalene, but the 3rd and final part will, knowing me, probably be the longest. Sincere thanks to all who've commented thus far.
I am terrified by this dark thing
That sleeps in me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.
- Sylvia Plath, Elm
Before the coming of Thanksgiving, the snow had already sheeted the streets in white. Angela always loved looking out the window and seeing the loveliness of winter. Everything so pure. Snow absorbed sound. Muted the screams. Took the pain away from the images of her flailing limbs as Thomas stood over her, his plaid flannel shirt unbuttoned and the removal of his stocking cap making his head look repulsively flat and egg-shaped. His build was burly, his hairy skin rough and abrasive, and his eyes glazed over, completely at peace with the act of forcing himself on his daughter. Well, surprisingly, she was at peace with this too. The winter had come to remind her that death was absolute, and that he, the undeserving animal, would not see the spring.
Not many would look on death so romantically. But if it were serene, if it were welcoming like those arms that had held her moments ago, what was the crime? Those steps, or whatever they lead to, were supposed to set her free. But James hadn't looked on those steps as freedom.
James hadn't given her a reason to live. That would be a little too dubious to acknowledge, though it was the entire point of him doing it in the first place.
The sheets felt like grass now. He'd laid in them too long. He thought it would be better to get out of bed and retain the façade of normality. Being stationary only let his guilt swell.
He noticed that she was standing by the opened venetian blinds, pensive and completely naked. His shock was hard to suppress. He thought of the nosy neighbors, the passersby who studied the houses of the neighborhood. Did she care?
Instead of reprimanding her, which wouldn't benefit her fragile psyche, he asked, "Aren't you cold?"
Angela didn't answer. Sometimes she did this out of spite, other times it was because she was swept up in a dizzying revelation of some sort. James had already conditioned himself not to be offended by it.
Pig still carried a resounding sting, as much as he hated to face it.
When Thanksgiving came, he got no visits in the name of friendship, family or festivity. With his father now dead, his mother gone since he was 12, and having no siblings and little more than a disinterested cousin here and there, James expected no less.
Being in much the same situation and antisocial to boot, Angela wasn't enamored with the idea of eating a generous dinner with a man she had met only a month and a half ago.
James wouldn't be dissuaded. Early that morning, he went to the local grocery store and bought a 3 pound ham and a baked chicken, a box of stuffing, and some marshmallows to put atop the pot of yams he planned to make. The ham was in the oven, and it wouldn't be done for another 30 minutes. This gave James time to prepare the lesser things. He opened the cans of asparagus, carrots, corn, peas and brussel sprouts (Mary's brother had jokingly called them 'alien heads') and readied the dinnerware.
Angela watched with a varying degree of interest, turning her head back to see what he was doing whenever the show she was watching became boring. It occurred to her that he might be so involved in the cooking because he needed a distraction from her. He wasn't something she wanted to ponder on either. While some murky portion of her consciousness had remembered their terrible fornication, she wasn't entirely there while it was happening. It was harder for James, who lacked a substitute to shield him from his deeds, than it was for her. The others were her numbing salves, taking the evil into them so that it would be easier for the everyday Angela.
He only had his everyday James. That was it.
He took the ham out of the oven and began to cut it. The smell of pineapple and brown sugar wafted into the air and reached her nose. Angela studied the muscles of his back, how they contracted and relaxed as he worked. She remembered how her nails felt in his skin—how tough, yet pliable it was. She remembered how her eyes slit toward the ceiling as he pressed his lips on her jugular vein, his little nips and licks.
And while these same memories probably had him burning in shame, they'd be all she cared to consider come nightfall.
Her fork scraped across her plate. James had seconds and thirds to stuff his mouth and keep him from talking.
She threw around the idea of seducing him again. It was a funny thing to consider. She felt powerful, deviant.
Daddy would be so mad.
But was that the only reason? Because Daddy would rue the day when another man got to taste her, to feel her? Was she really that sick inside that she'd use James to get even more revenge on a dead man—a man who had already died by her own hand?
No, no. It couldn't be that simple. So entirely…petty.
"Not very hungry, huh?" James remarked.
It wasn't a question so much as a comment. Indeed, Angela hadn't eaten much. She never really liked food.
James had gotten full a long time ago, but thinking that they ought to have a nice selection, he made a healthy portion of food. If only he had more friends, so much wouldn't have to be wasted. He guessed he'd just put the leftovers in the fridge. That would hold them over for the next few days.
"I wasn't terribly hungry. I don't even remember the last time I had this big of a meal anyway."
James was well aware. One of Thomas' favorite punishments had been the deprivation of food, and being always in a state of want, Angela had learned to skirt her needs until he decided she had suffered enough. This only happened on more merciful days. On some darker occasions, a meal only followed the shedding of clothes.
Still shackled by the old ways, Angela couldn't bring the fork to her mouth too many times. This leaked into other things. She refused to shop for new clothes because her sweater was a part of her now—as were her corduroy pants and beat-up Swiss sneakers. Thomas didn't welcome change. Not in clothes, personality or preference. It was a form of defiance.
His heart sank. Thomas was still very, very much alive. Sometimes he feared that neither the knife she had repeatedly gored him with, nor the fire that had scorched his bones would ever truly efface him. The same went for the others. Her mother and brother were little more than ash. Yet they still talked. They still laughed and taunted.
It was the price she had to bear for taking their lives.
He'd once read of a Japanese folktale where a murdering thief carted the corpse of a woman on his back, pondering on where to bury her. As he walked, she gradually became heavier and heavier. When he finally noticed how heavy she was, she had morphed into a boulder and crushed him.
"Do you regret it?" Angela asked.
James looked up at her from his plate. His fork was suspended above his third serving of potato salad, looking as hesitant and pensive as he was.
"Do I regret… what?"
He reddened, and it seemed that his food would come back up. He stood from the table and stacked Angela's neglected plate on top of his, taking the dishes to the sink. The way the silverware clanged when he set it down on the marble tabletop made her flinch. He clutched the edge of the tabletop and didn't turn around.
"Why the hell would you ask me something like that?" He was desperate, disparaging. "What's wrong with you?"
Angela sighed. When her hand clamped his shoulder, he tensed and refused to look back at her. Was he suspecting that this would end up like last night?
"I'm sorry. I don't know why I say some of the things I do."
"You… you know that I'm a murderer. If it bothers you… then you can go." His fingers folded into his palms.
"I've killed, too." Angela pressed her forehead on his back, closing her eyes. "I can't crucify you for that. Even though I want to."
He turned around.
"I wanted to find something wrong with you. A reason to run away. That's why… I did what I did."
He let out the raspy breath he didn't know he was holding.
"But I couldn't. I liked it… The way you held me." Her eyes dimmed and became distant. You were loving. You were consoling.
"So you don't hate me?" He reached into her hair and rubbed his thumb along her cheek. She didn't pull away.
So I'm not a pig?
They held each other tentatively, both being unused to affection. Her from having none for the better part of her life, and him from having no wife to hold him for the last three years.
Neither of them had any knowledge of where this would lead to. They only knew that they both understood each other in a way no one else did. Somehow, that was sufficient.
He didn't have a clue how something like this could even work out. He never put much stock in any serious relationships after Mary, so it was hard to envision a future with anyone.
By nighttime, the street poles all beamed, lighting the snow and casting orange shadows. Snow wafted down somberly, barely noticeable through the slits of a venetian blind. It piled on through invisible means, keeping Angela at the window for minutes at a time. A John Candy movie droned on behind her.
James turned his attention on his empty limbs, only now beginning to remember the withdrawal of not holding anyone. How unproductive it felt.
He feared that someday, she would disappear. And he'd have no one to blame but himself.
Angela, usually unaware of him, studied his refection in the window. She feared the same.