a/n: The last chapter. I know this has been a long time in coming. Again, thank you all for all the support and favorites. They mean a whole lot to me.
What would the dark do
Without fevers to eat?
What would light
Do without eyes to knife?
What would he
Do, do, do without me?
- Sylvia Plath, The Jailor
Shadows zipped through the blinds when cars drove past.
James' head swam with disjointed musings. All the things he had to do around the house when morning came. All the bills that had to be paid, calls to be made. To his disgruntlement, his mind kept interrupting itself with Maria's legs, sliding up over themselves. She dipped her arm between, teasing him with the prospect of delving into them. He'd be perfectly content to melt into the warmth of her and never reemerge. To have worry dissolve again into an alien thing.
But worry was only alien to the dead.
He often had dreams of waking up and finding that she wasn't there anymore. That once again, he'd have to sleep with his back against that terrible absence. Grief was a lot like the pangs of hunger, the pain of an empty stomach. But grief didn't leave like hunger. It was never really sated.
He didn't want to feel that again.
When he reached around him, his hands thankfully landed on Maria's hip. He could feel the velvet, leopard print skirt she wore. It filled him with a relief so immense it allowed his eyelids to grow heavy again. All was well in the world.
Until he heard her. "James."
This voice. Not Maria.
He turned over. He was greeted by a thick shock of brown hair, ruffled from what the 7-year-old Angela called 'the grown-up game'. What he assumed was the sheerness of leopard print was actually her corduroy pants. Her eyes glinted in the light like dark obsidian. It gave her a strange other life, as if there were a gremlin bristling somewhere in the pit of her soul.
He felt a sinking sensation. He remembered Maria suspended above him in that rack. The Red Pyramids on either side of her, spears aching to penetrate.
Maria didn't come back after that. Instead it was Angela who sat in the driver's seat as Silent Hill receded in his rear view mirror.
The chain was drawn over the door at night. The windows closed. The house secure. She tried not to think too deeply on it, but she pondered those doors. The sound of a lock clicking into place was a very familiar one. A haunting sound. It dropped into her stomach like a stone.
A locked door meant that Daddy had locked everyone out and was free to do as he pleased. Pain would soon follow. Bones would feel like they were breaking, crushed into immobility by a bigger body. He'd break in when she was dry.
James would never do something like that. At least, this was what she tried so hard to convince herself. James knew she liked to leave at night. Rather than finding her in a dank alley or on a bridge, leering over into the water and thinking about it, it was better just to trap her here.
If it would keep her safe, he'd trap her here forever.
Angela closed her eyes at the rotating ceiling fan. She'd seen many of these in Silent Hill. Whole areas fenced off behind rusted metal grating. The blood stained mesh would waft a terrible smell into the air. The scent of smoke, cooking skin, burnt hair. Distant screams.
She wished it would all go away.
Your daddy loves you.
Angela startled awake in a sweat. The covers were wrapped like vines around her body and limbs. She wriggled out of them and tossed them off. The wool of her sweater chafed her sweating skin, and she discarded that too, leaving only her bra. Her breasts were sleek, dewed in perspiration, and suddenly even the bra felt too tight. She unhooked it in the back and let it droop around her shoulders. She kicked off her pants in and flung herself back on the couch.
Daddy would like this, she realized. Seeing her like this.
Look how my baby girl has grown…
Angela covered her face with her hands and raked her fingers down her cheeks. Her head was throbbing. The ceiling fan twirled, but the air never reached her. The heat was always there, lighting her on fire and fevering her dreams.
For me, it's always like this.
And suddenly, like a great cave-in, the world became too much to handle. A swell grew in her chest, big, lumbering, and loathsome. Her throat grew tighter. Her hair felt like sharp, parched grass around her head, her skin a cold blanket over her bones. Her body was disgusting, right from her head down to her toes.
The air never reached her. The heat of hell nipped at her feet. She felt empty and burned out, like a seared husk.
Daddy towered over her, invisible, calling her a pretty girl.
James hated mornings. He was too lazy to make breakfast, too lazy to turn on the TV. Though he was wide awake, he never could find it in him to move for the first few hours of the day. So he consigned to staring at the ceiling for a time. When he tired of that, there left him no other choice but to get up. Painfully he rose, and swung his feet over the bed. So much of the day was already gone. It was going on 1 in the afternoon. He'd gotten far too much sleep than he meant to.
It was too quiet at this hour. The TV in the living room should have been on and Angela should have been fully dressed, starting at it as if it were the most boring thing in the world but shackled to it nonetheless. This he didn't see.
Angela lay on the couch, her back facing him. The strips of her detached bra hung limply underneath her arms. A portion of her legs were covered by the blanket, but her lower back and her butt were bare, showing her white panties and pale legs. James suppressed the thought of her having done something a little too private for question, and instead concerned himself with why she was inert at this time of day. Angela always rose before him.
"Angela," he attempted, "Are you really hot? Do you think you… might be running a fever?"
Angela didn't respond. Her spine bent just a tad, likely an act of repositioning.
James considered Angela might freak out if he touched her naked back, so he stood right where he was. He ran his fingers through his hair and over the back of his head. She was in one of her moods.
Had she suffered a bad dream?
He wasn't sure if this was an issue he should even be engaging. Angela was unhinged. She often lost her temper or suffered bursts of anxiety at an innocent or otherwise well-meaning provocation. Of course, he couldn't call out the thorn in her eye before seeing his own. He ended the life of his wife after a long string of maddening pain and spiraling bouts of alcohol-tinged depression. He dealt with despair and pain for the last three years up until this point, and not much had improved since then.
But Angela, the poor soul, was born into hell.
She slowly turned her head. Her faraway eyes appeared cloudy and heavy with exhaustion.
"Are you okay…?" James tentatively reached out to her.
Angela jerked up and her body collided into the cushions, swallowing her body shape. Her arms flew up to cover her face. Instinctual, he guessed.
"It's okay, it's okay," he held his hands up and stepped back. "It's all right. I didn't mean to scare you. You looked really out of it, so I…"
The fan of her hair slid over her features as she calmed. Her breathing slowed, her muscles relaxed. "I-I'm sorry. I didn't—" she stopped.
She looked up. "What was I doing?"
"You were asleep, I think." James aimed at unassuming, neutral responses. "Maybe you had a bad dream."
"Yeah…" she grasped her forehead and sank back down into a defeated sitting position.
While Angela might not have been aware of how scantily clad she was, or perhaps didn't care, James did. But it wouldn't be conducive to the situation to make her feel ashamed in any way. Shame could elevate to trepidation and fear, which he certainly didn't want. It'd probably be in her best interests to be accommodating.
"I can bring another fan in here if it's too hot, or open some of the windows—" Nix that, James thought. She could get the idea to fling herself out of one. "—Nevermind. I'll bring the fan in for now and bring the AC up from the basement sometime this week. You want a drink?"
Angela nodded. James wasn't sure exactly what she was nodding to. She could be agreeing about the fan but not the drink. At any rate, he guessed after a bad dream, she could be hot and have a dry throat. James went to the kitchen and set a cold glass of ice tea down on the table with a straw bent toward her. She leaned over, took a timid sip and sat back, closing her eyes. "No need… to be so nice. I know it isn't real."
James sat down next to her, conscious to put a little distance between them for her comfort. "What do you mean it's not real?"
A smile dug into her cheek. "You think I'm just a nut. You're trying not to upset me. You're… keeping me here, just like Daddy did. Nice and pretty and docile."
"No, it's not like that."
Angela got up and entered the kitchen. James sat where he was. His insides began to turn. He clasped his hands together and hunched over in thought.
Just then she returned, and James turned toward her.
Her wrist was twisting about, a knife clutched in her hand. Angela had a sly look that poked thorough her disheveled hair. Her other arm hung limply at her side and her legs were off balance. James' heart nearly stopped.
"Hey, Mister… I wanna show you something." Angela threw her head back and put the knife to her throat.
James sprung up and yanked the knife away from her and wrestled her to the ground. She squirmed and screamed and arched up beneath him. James was startled at her strength. She kneed him and used her free arm to claw at his hair, his face, his neck, anywhere it'd hurt.
"Angela! Listen to me!"
James squeezed her wrist tighter and pinned her legs down. His throat was getting tighter and before he could even hold it back, a sob heaved out of him. "Stop."
Angela stilled, her fingers loosened. The knife slid through, and hit the ground with an empty metallic clink. Her legs slacked.
James shoved the knife as far away as he could. He slowly released his hold on Angela's limbs and sat back, breathing hard. His face was streaked, and his eyes were beginning to puff up.
Angela's inert stare pulled at his heart. He threaded his fingers lightly through her sweat stricken hair and gently brushed the fringe from her face. "Angela… I'm sorry."
"Admit it, then," she breathed. "Admit it."
"I am keeping you here."
"Why? Why won't you let me go?"
His tongue twisted and the words were lost somewhere in the air. Only the room knew.
Because I love you, the curtains would say, if they could.
When May came, he rains swept across the sky. They walked after it ceased but a slight drizzle could still be felt on the skin. Puddles of marble water reflected in the light. Mud caked the grass hedges that lined the sidewalk. The sun died in the horizon. The clouds hovered over, filled with so much tranquility and despair.
James kept the doors open after that night. He realized her real madness. The locked door, the enclosure, those were her devils.
If she left, he couldn't stop her.
For some time after that, she did. He wouldn't hear from her for days at a time. He'd sit on the couch and watch his cell phone on the table, rub over his knuckles, pace the room. Wanting to scream. Or call the police. Or just burst out of the house and run anywhere, to any place she could possibly be, and drag her back no matter how she'd scream and curse him for it. And just in the darkest hour, when he would think her dead, mulling over his negligence and all he should have done, the knob would finally turn from the other side.
Eventually she stopped. She forsook the distance she forced between them. She came back to his bed, and curled up against him. He'd nuzzle his nose in her hair and breathe her in, and turn off the lamp by the bedside table. She'd be there in the morning, unlike the apparition of Maria, who would always evaporate sometime in the night. In her stead was a living, breathing, broken Angela, as real as his hand and the anguish she carried ever more palpable than that sometimes. But he could deal.
Darkness had a home in his head, settling on his mind most often at night, but one day, miraculously, he realized that despite the stranglehold of memories and distant agonies, the sins and the regret, the sun still rose.
James doubted he knew much of anything, if his often nebulous existence was anything to go by. But this, this stillness and this peace, Angela shrouded in the blankets by his side, the ceiling fan turning and the sky brightening and the birds taking perch on the wires outside and the cars driving by…
He could do without the ideal. This was all the real he needed.