The above illustration, "Blowing Bubbles," has been adapted for use here by generous permission from the artist, Cyril Rolando.

September 28, 2009

WGI 1st Place: Beast by Hilary Davidson

BEAST by Hilary Davidson

Kelly didn’t see the devil tattoo until the man was half-naked. She’d already admired the ornate dagger on his forearm and the dragon whose tail encircled his wrist. Those, she’d noted before they’d left the nightclub together. Back at her apartment, as they’d shed their clothes, she’d seen inked barbed wire around one bicep, a clock face without hands on the other. But this tattoo was different.

“What is that on your shoulder?”

“Numbers,” he said.

“It has horns and it says 6-6-6.” That earned her a dead-eyed stare. “Isn’t that, like, the Antichrist or something?”

“Number of the Beast. Do we have to get into this now?” He unbuttoned his jeans.

It had been years since Kelly had been inside a church, let alone a confessional, but this guy was creeping her out. “You know, I’m feeling a little funny.”

“You look good.” His voice was almost a growl.

She was suddenly conscious that she was sitting on her bed in nothing but a lacy black bra and thong. They were a treat she’d bought for herself after she and Richard had broken up, a reminder that someone else would find her hot and not ditch her for some stupid junior associate at his law firm. But she didn’t like the look in this guy’s eyes. She was looking for a new boyfriend, not a mauling from a Satan-worshipper.

“Maybe you should go.” What was his name again? And what the hell was she doing with him? Sure, she’d hooked up with guys in college, but they were friends, or friends of friends. Then she’d been with Richard for two years. She’d never invited a total stranger back to bed with her, until now, and she already regretted it.

“You’re not serious?” His face was handsome, though Kelly would have liked him better if his hair hadn’t been shaven off. He had blue eyes, high cheekbones, and a full mouth, which was twisted in confusion or frustration. “I’ve got condoms,” he added.

“I have to get up early for work in the morning. I’m really tired.”

He grabbed her with one beefy hand and pulled her to her feet, pressing her body against his. “You have to go to work... tomorrow?”

She pushed him away. “Just go. Please.”

“What are you, some kind of head case?” He shoved her back onto the bed, not hard enough to hurt her but with enough force that her fingers inched towards her phone. But he pulled on his jeans and grabbed his shirt and shoes, muttering to himself all the while. Bitch, she heard him grunt. It was only when he turned to leave the room that she saw the swastika on his back.


***


“It freaked me out,” Kelly told her friends at work the next day. “Who gets tattoos like that? Hitler?”

“666 and a swastika,” said Marietta. “That’s creepy. Beyond creepy. Eww.”

“Crazy,” Lori chimed in. “He must be a white supremacist.” She bit into a chocolate bar. Lori ate chocolate all day long and never gained an ounce, while Kelly starved herself to stay thin. Lori was engaged, too, and the big rock on her finger taunted Kelly. It wasn’t fair. “Why did you bring him home?” Lori added.

Kelly rolled her eyes, but the question bothered her. The night before, she’d wished her ex would come into the club and see her grinding against this guy who was so much bigger and stronger than he was. Richard, while a rising star at his law firm, would look like a geek by comparison. Kelly had seen him with other girls since they’d broken up, and she wanted to prove she was still a babe.

“Lucky you got him out of your apartment before he went all CSI,” said Marietta.

“CSI?”

“You know, hacked you up into little pieces,” Marietta clarified. “Like a jigsaw puzzle.”

“It’s like there are no good men out there anymore,” Kelly said. “All of them are psychos.”

“I’m so lucky I’m engaged,” Lori said through a mouthful of chocolate.

Kelly swallowed hard. The three worked at the same collection-agency call center, and somehow Lori — the tomboyish one with the bad skin — had snagged a handsome banker who went rock-climbing with her. Before Kelly could shoot back with something snarky, Marietta broke in.

“I hope they’re not all crazy,” she said. “I’ve got a date Saturday with the guy who took me out last week.”

How could Marietta get anyone to out with her until she lost 20 pounds? Kelly was prettier than either of her friends, so why did they met normal guys and she found freaks? She tried to tell herself that she wasn’t being left behind, but she knew she was eating their dust.


***


Over the next several weeks, Kelly was haunted by what she came to think of as her close call with the Nazi. What had she been thinking, bringing him home? No one was going to marry her if she slept with him right off the bat. Not that she wanted to marry that guy. Still, it was a tough meat market out there. How was she going to reel one in for good if she didn’t put out some bait?

Confused, she went to William Ashley, the opulent china shop on Bloor Street where every elegant Toronto bride-to-be went to register before her big day. The store was a temple to domestic bliss. While there, Kelly gawked at Lori’s wedding wish list. Tacky stuff, proving Lori had no taste anywhere but in her mouth. Kelly knew what looked good.

“I’m thinking of setting up a registry,” she told a saleswoman.

“Of course.” The saleswoman glanced at Kelly’s hand. No engagement ring there.

“What is your wedding date?”

“Oh. I, um, just got engaged.”

The saleswoman smiled. “We need to have a date. Perhaps you could just look around for now and get some ideas, for when you’re ready.”

Red-faced, Kelly slipped across the street to Holt’s, where she bought more lingerie. It never hurt to be prepared.


***


The next time Kelly had after-work drinks with Lori and Marietta, she had a shock. She’d been looking forward to complaining about men and all the things that were wrong with them, but Marietta cut in with the news that she and her new boyfriend were planning a vacation together. To Italy.

“Since when do you have a boyfriend?” Kelly snapped. Italy? That was where she was going on her honeymoon. “You’re taking a trip with a total stranger?”

“We’ve been going out for eight weeks, but we’ve been friends for four years,” Marietta answered.

Kelly felt as if she were melting away into the background. She stared at her friends, evaluating their skin, their hair, their bodies, as they yipped about Italy like stupid puppies. They had nothing on her. Why was she the one who was alone?

She slipped out of the booth, went outside, and dialed Richard’s number from memory. She’d deleted it from the phone when they’d broken up, but she called it now and then, curious whether some other woman’s voice or name would come up on his voice-mail.

“Hi, Richard, it’s me,” she said when he answered.

There was a pause. “Kelly?”

A rush of warmth hit her. “How are you doing, Richard?”

“Okay. Um, yeah, okay.” An awkward pause. “How about you?”

“I think we should talk,” she answered.

It was just curiosity, she told herself on the way to his apartment. What had he been up to for the past six months? She walked to his place. His two-bedroom condo in Liberty Village was just as Kelly remembered it. So was he: brown hair, receding slightly, brown eyes behind steel-rimmed glasses, and a lean body that showed he worked out. He looked better now than when they’d been together.

They hugged an awkward hello. Things relaxed a little when Richard went to the kitchen and came back with a bottle of champagne and a pair of fluted glasses. He’d always been thoughtful about things like that.

“To seeing you again,” Richard said. They clinked glasses and drank. “I’ve missed you.”

By the time they got into his king-sized bed, they were both slurring their words. Richard had always been quick to pounce, but this time Kelly hadn’t even gotten her bra off before he jumped her. It was a pretty pink thing with red polka dots and strategic underwire to boost cleavage, but he didn’t seem to notice. Afterward, while he snored beside her, Kelly wondered how long it would take to put together a really beautiful wedding. Lori’s wasn’t until next June. Maybe she could have hers before then.


***


Two weeks later, Kelly left her doctor’s office, her hands clutching some pamphlets. “Herpes and You” read the cover of the top one. It wasn’t bad enough that Richard had never called her after she’d slept over at his place. No, he had to give her a lasting souvenir. The blisters made every step painful for her. She’d called him repeatedly, but he wouldn’t answer the phone.

“You need to tell any sex partners you have that you have herpes, because it can be spread even when there are no blisters,” her doctor had cautioned. Sex partners? Kelly couldn’t imagine ever letting anyone touch her again.

She waited for Richard outside his building. She stood at the corner of the block, her eyes on both exits. He appeared at 12:04, predictable as ever.

“Richard!” she called.

He turned around, not quite bothering to hide his distaste. “Sorry, I’m busy right now.” He nudged the colleague beside him. “We’re going to a meeting. I’ll call you later.”

That was a lie, of course. Kelly went back to work and then home. She repeated the cycle. No call. Meanwhile the blisters itched and burned. There wasn’t a moment of the day she didn’t think about Richard. The pain kept her up at night. He wasn’t going to get away with doing this to her.

On Friday, she skipped work and went to William Ashley instead. She’d always felt comforted by its vision of domestic bliss. Fine crystal for dinner parties. Bunnykins china for babies. Silver picture frames for all the good memories. Even now, as she wanted to wriggle out of her own skin, she allowed herself a moment to look around and drink in the sight of pale bone china and polished silver. This was what she’d wanted her life to look like, but now it would never fit her vision. Unless...

After she looked at Lori’s registry and made her purchase — Lori might not have any style, but she was practical — Kelly took a cab south to Richard’s office building. The security guard smiled and waved. They still remembered her around here. That was nice. At law office upstairs, a receptionist with bottle-blonde hair and lavender contact lenses told Kelly that Richard was in a meeting. “Which way is the bathroom again?” Kelly asked. She unwrapped the pretty William Ashley box in the privacy of a stall. She shouldn’t really have let the store wrap it, but their gift boxes were so pretty it was impossible to say no. The sleek gold paper and ribbon fell away, and she tucked them into her purse, along with the gift.

By the time Kelly came out of the bathroom, Richard was standing in the reception area. So much for the meeting he was supposed to be in. “Kelly. What a surprise.” No surprise in his voice.

“I need to talk to you, Richard.”

He folded his arms. “Sure.”

“Um, can we have some privacy?” Kelly asked. “Why don’t we go to your office?”

“Sorry, confidential papers, you know.”

“Oh.” She saw him turn his head. Did the receptionist just wink at him? Had he winked at her? Kelly’s hand dug into her bag.

“I don’t have much time,” Richard said. “What do you want?”

He knew what was up, the bastard. That was why he didn’t want to be alone with her. Richard always slunk away when confronted. The only reason he’d come out to reception was to head her off at the pass. He knew Kelly wouldn’t raise her voice in public.

“You have to marry me,” she whispered. Her hand clenched around a stainless steel handle.

“What?” Richard’s jaw fell open. He recovered, shaking his head and smiling. “Have you lost your mind? Even if I wanted to get married now — and I don’t — it wouldn’t be to you. Leave me alone, or I’ll get a restraining order.”

He made eye contact with the receptionist, as if to say Can you believe this loser? So that was it. Kelly lifted the knife out of her purse and as Richard’s eyes flicked back at her she dug the blade into the side of his neck. A geyser of blood rained over her arm. Richard tried to yell, but only a sad gurgling grunt came out of his mouth. Kelly pushed the knife in harder, feeling flesh and tissue give way. The knife was a Wüsthof, eight inches long. The salesman at William Ashley had said the oval indentations in the steel blade would make the knife slice into anything. Kelly remembered suddenly that Richard had told her that he had eight inches before they’d slept together. Boy, he’d thought she was dumb.

The receptionist screamed. Richard sank to his knees. It was almost how Kelly had pictured him proposing, except for all the blood.


***


At the police station, she waited in an interrogation room. A cop sat with her, drumming his fingers on the table. Then a second cop came in.

“I don’t fucking believe this.”

Kelly blinked at him, confused. Then it came to her. The shaved head, the blue eyes, the high cheekbones. “I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on,” she said, suddenly embarrassed. There she was, covered in her ex-boyfriend’s blood, and she was face-to-face with a guy she’d almost slept with. “You’re a cop?”

“Used to work undercover in gangs.” He didn’t blink. It was almost as if he were in a trance. “Now I’m in homicide.”

“You know this woman?” asked the other cop, half-turning in his seat.

“We met a few weeks ago. I went home with her. Almost slept with her.” He shook his head. “I could’ve been sliced and diced.”

“You want to sit this one out?”

The big cop nodded. “Yeah. I’m going around the corner, light a candle. Fuck. It’s like your whole life passes behind your eyes, you know.” He shook his head and moved out the door, as Kelly watched him go. “That was a hell of a close call.”

13 comments:

  1. That was the shit, Hilary. Too many women fall for the douche bag and pass on the freak, and the freak's always (and this is from a freak)the better deal. At least the douche got what he deserved. You nailed that one though!

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  2. Hats off to your first place finish. This was unassailable storytelling with characters that really dance.

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  3. Excellent story, Hilary. "Beast" is an engaging story -- I couldn't stop reading. Great ending. Absolutely loved it. Congrats on first place -- you deserve it!

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  4. Way to go Hilary! Loved, loved the china shop thing...you're so good at juxtaposing the lovely with the underbelly...

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  5. a wild ride this. great pace and build. really loved the payoff. well done and congrats!

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  6. Oh Hilary! I'm so glad you submitted this story. It is FANTASTIC! It makes my mouth water for that book next year. Keep up the good work!!

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  7. Brilliantly written, involving and with smart ending.

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  8. Great story, Hilary. And Sophie nailed its strength-she seems so ordinary until...

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  9. First-place caliber all the way, Hilary. Loved it, especially the twist at the end.

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  10. I am so grateful for all of your kind comments. Thank you, everyone.

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  11. Hilary, great story.. loved the pacing, the characters and the ending. wow.

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  12. This is great. Loved the ending, didn't see that coming. Congrats on first place!

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