QUEEN OF PAIN
BY SUZANNE MARINE
**Warning/Note: The story below mentions sex and adult relationships.**
I have a replica of me. She follows me wherever I go and insists on making every decision with me. I think she’s the ugly side of me, but she says she’s the innocent side of me. She’s not, so you see that she plays games with me. We try to trip each other up, confuse the other in hopes we can lose the other, but it’s safe to say it’s hopeless. Rather, it’s a kind of burden, a sort of burn scar you can’t make over, no matter the surgeon’s skill.
Every morning, she says three words. I hate you.
She sits at the table, consumed with nervous ticks. The fingers curling and running through her shoulder-length blonde hair, foot bouncing up and down against the table’s wooden leg, posture switching between slumped and straight. Bustling restaurant goers with their unpredictable commotion invade any sense of peace she may have had when she sat down.
This is the second time.
He enters, sees her from afar. The flash of white neck, silhouette of curves. Remembers. There’s his instantaneous, sharpened smile, the warmth of it ballooning into the room, stretching towards her, ready to burst and bite. The luminescent pearls and pink sweater read as innocent, reticent. He senses what the night might be like. A delicate flower amidst the humdrum of the world. And this is the effect she wanted.
They hug their greetings lightly and take their seats. Their expressions crackle with bold intrigue, matchsticks wanting to alight. Not like the furtive first time. There are crumbs of talk regarding work and food as the stiff waiter receives their orders.
“It’s been awhile,” she says. Voice throaty yet demure. Takes a sip of wine.
“Work has me jetting about,” he responds, pauses. “Maybe next time you’ll join me.” It isn’t a question, rather a command.
She nods and smiles. Switches the subject to sous vide, a new gourmet method of cooking she’s discovered. She likes the slip of the words on her tongue, rounded, slow vowels. Smooth, sophisticated, French. The top front teeth pushing against the lower lip in the “vvvide”.
He half listens and half lets his senses become taken over by the visuals of the room. The modern atmosphere and seductive music, the beautiful people eating and conversing, and her. Full lips, the slope of her thin shoulders rolling down to a fullness. Feminine promise.
They eat, or rather he eats and she takes a few bites here and there. She’s never hungry on dates. She worries she’ll bloat and look unattractive. She tells herself her movements must be liquid languid. Think about sensuality, exude it. All while he talks about work, which is everything he lives and breathes at this moment in his life. He’s youngish, mid-thirties, a go-getter on the fast track, accustomed to solidifying lucrative deals. Just starting out, dipping a toe in the lifestyle.
She reads him, sees that his mannerisms are as studied as hers. He’s conscious of conveying a certain something. That whiff of money, the important nonchalance. Not just the rules of etiquette, but the rules of the elite. How to personify them, yet be above it. And she knows this because some of the old background falls through the cracks once in a while, now and the last time. An errant tinge of a down-home Midwestern accent. Reaching for salt immediately instead of first tasting the delicacy in the rich, mustard sauce.
But it’s all okay with her. He’s nice enough and maybe she can hook herself onto his rising star, help him fulfill a sort of picture-book fantasy of success. He will need someone like that. She senses his ambition leaking from every action, like blood into water. He wants, wants, wants, and he hides it behind a polished smile, wide as a shark’s appetite.
They finish with a creamy dessert. And she waits patiently, looking off into space at the night past the windows as he pays the bill. She rises and he helps her with her jacket. They exit arm in arm, cozy yet with some space between them that suggests a beginning. They walk across the gleaming floors towards the elevators, their steps clicking and echoing, and then to the padded muffle on carpeting that leads to his suite.
She enters, walking ahead of him as she drops her coat on the marble floor, slides off the heels, which collapse like fallen rubble. She takes in the view, the sparkling city lights, as he drinks in a view of her. She’s taken by the beauty, the golden shimmer against the black, all the little beacons. And she’s sure to display her awe and happiness as her arms raise up and wide in front of the windows as if to say, all this… and it’s yours. She knows this will feed his ego and his pleasure at having her there. It punctuates his fantasies about who he is and who he wants to be.
He takes her arms, pulls them down as he kisses her soft and slow, as if engorging on bruised fruit. He reaches under her skirt and pulls her panties down as they look into each other’s eyes.
She untangles herself from his dead-weight arms as he sleeps. The glittering pricks of light illuminate the room, making it feel like a floating constellation in a sea of stars. It’s so quiet. A departed kind of quiet. She tip-toes, finds her clothing and dresses. Picks up a blue envelope and counts the money in it. It’s correct. And she slips out, leaving the silence to grow without her presence.
Her twin says the expected words, “I hate you.”
And she says it back without much thought as she stares in the mirror while removing eye makeup. “I hate you too.” The black liner and shadow smudges across her lids and cheekbone like a quick, hazy thought.
“What do you think about him? How do you feel?”
“I like him. He’s nice and smart.” She shrugs.
“Are you being yourself when you’re with him?”
“I’m going to make some mac and cheese. Don’t complain about the powdered cheese. You can have a bite too,” She tells her twin.
“Okay. But what if you grow an attachment to him?”
“He will grow an attachment to me. I’m what he wants. Blonde, beautiful, tall, slim with curves. Legs that go on for miles. I’m what every guy wants.”
“Sure, lots of guys want that. But someone with a good heart too. Kind.”
“I’m kind and I have a good heart. The biggest.”
“I guess, if you say so.” Sarcastic.
“Damnit, why do you always fight me. You’re a little bitch.”
The twin sees shadowy, gauzy blurs, the layered nests of life. Smells the scent of old, dried sweat. Yawns her small, pink mouth as she awakes. Lies back and closes her eyes.
She remembers movie scenes in a peripheral way. That demented side angle that made things look perverse, very large and very small when in reality they were the same size. It gave her an extraterrestrial sense of the movie, whether or not the director intended to let this on. It was the truth told in a mirage of a look, that hint of sound and twitch of mouth before words were uttered. All the views from just outside, the seconds before the action, when you don’t belong.
She thinks of a white orchid she came face to face with once. The white petals ultra-still in meditation, purple spots dotting them in odd, random patterns. Not designed. How up close it looked like an ugly girl with white vitiligo on her eyelids, lips and nostrils, how it looked beautiful as she moved further and further away. She wonders if that’s what she looks like.
And then there’s the light when the darkness lifts.
The third time.
He holds her arms down, pulls her body this way and that. Mind games played out in a rough and tumble. Not like the glow and sensuality of the past. As if he wanted to let her know he owns her. This time and these hours. As if to say, don’t you forget. As if to fight whatever closeness has grown between them. His kisses push taut and hard.
Nothing organic grows, no linger or languor. No crystalline moments suspended in time. Only the pounce and claw.
He flips her over, body slamming into the bed, mind escaping to the left and gone while simultaneously present. He enters from behind and aims to pull her hair as if taming a braying animal, but she pushes his hand away. He’s about to… as he’s emboldened by his ownership, power, an urge to perpetuate pain.
Afterwards, he falls into stupor, stooping to the bathroom, bewildered by this animalism that’s arisen. Yet in awe. He falls into bed, looks into her eyes as she lays fallen and flat next to him. Kisses her nose. He thinks, cute as a button as she lays like a doll.
She rises to clean herself in the bathroom when he asks what she thinks of orgies. A sour moue passes through her face quickly as she turns away. She can only think of beige worms slithering over and under each other. She says she’s never tried it, before hiding under the cover of urinating. She wants to leave, gather her dignity, but she knows he must feel in control so she returns to bed and lays mummy-like, waiting for him to fall asleep.
But the session has energized him and he’ll want it again sooner than later. The give and give and give.
“You don’t have to do this,” the twin says.
“You don’t do much so I have to.”
“We can survive so don’t blame me.”
“A receptionists’ salary isn’t going to help us.”
“It’s fine, it works, you’re just a climber.”
“I have to do everything for us.”
“We can do fine on the salary. You just want the finer things.”
“Shut up. You’re selfish.”
“Selfish for speaking the truth? Huh. Selfish for thinking there’s another way. A better way. But you don’t want to know. You’re all about appearances.”
“You cause all the problems between us.”
“You’re the queen of pain.”
She walks home in the rain, her shabby, beige umbrella sagging under all the weight. Steps slow and dragging. The monotonous sound of rain drops perforating her thoughts.
He was another client and she doesn’t want to remember. The cold and odd and clinical. His strange predilection’s, the way he asked about using vegetables as if she were a toy… She’d rather shut it out, make it go away with a dismissive hand wave. She doesn’t tell her twin, but the twin understands. They eat their dinner of soup and crackers in a sacred quiet. The spoon clinking against the delicate bone of ceramic. Now is not the time.
She sits at the white, dressing table. Its curves and flourishes gilded with faded gold, as if it used to exist for a child or a princess, both encased in their own bubble, both seeing what they want to see in the antique mirror. Delusions of a grandeur.
The razor-thin clips pull tight and she pulls them off carefully so as to not get any hair caught in them. She must preserve what she has. Her fingers dig in the back, at the base of her skull and she pulls off the blonde wig, feeling the room’s cool atmosphere lightly swirling around her. That sense of a new room, the private one.
And there it is, her true self. A skull with wispy brown hairs, mousy. Her round, bright blue eyes, like a doll waiting to be sparked alive. The full lips, pouty and fleshy. Small ears tucked close to the head. And the twin, nestled in between the right side and the back of the skull. Her smashed nose, puffy, slanted eyes watering in the corners. The pink lips like a porcelain rosebud. An amalgamation of old woman and fetus, an ugly that conveys an oracle-like aura. That kind of fortune teller that cannot possibly have her own life. She squints and adjusts her eyes to the light. Clears her throat for she hasn’t spoken the whole day. Wants to be sure she still has a voice.
I take the accusations and mean comments, but I let it slide off like slick oil. None of it bothers me because she is me and I am her. We both would rather be free, or so we say, but then what would the world look like. Upside down, dark turned inside out. Something like our privates splayed open for all the world to see and smell.
Me, my face shown to the world. Would it see my light? My beauty and worth. Or would it see a puckered, smashed ball of slimy flesh. Would it project its deformities onto me, thus making me feel darker and darker, pinching out the flame I was born with. Make me the bad one because I’m the ugly one.
No, it’s better this way. I tend my fire, my light, and she can show the bright, pretty hair and eyes to the world. They see it and don’t know there’s a darkness within her. She passes.
And I get what I want, my secret world.
I take the tiny square of cheese from her fingertip. Pull it into my mouth with my tongue. Fattiness floods my taste buds, my rounded teeth hole-punch the gooey texture. And when all the juice and flavor have been completely wrung out, I make a small hum to call her finger back and spit it out. I’ve had enough taste, enough savor. Sometimes she taps her finger next to my head to hurry me up. It’s enough, you always want more and more she says.
I sometimes long to swallow, feel the fullness. I wonder what it is to feel satiated and bloated to the max. But my throat enters her brain, a canal into a dead end.
“Do you love him?”
“He doesn’t love you.”
“Maybe he does. You don’t see the way he looks at me.”
“I can hear it in his words. He likes the idea of you. But doesn’t even know you.”
“That’s fine with me.”
“I don’t like him. He’s a climber, a user.”
“You’re jealous, like all the other women in the office.”
“Oh God… ugghhh. Get over yourself.”
“You wish you could switch places with me. That’s why you don’t want me to be happy. You want to be with him.”
“Never in a million years. I actually detest him.”
“You better not. Better not.”
The umpteenth time.
He doesn’t pay anymore. It’s that time of limbo, not a client anymore, not a boyfriend. Or maybe he is, she thinks. It’s that tight rope a female tip-toes on when she doesn’t feel her power. The now and the future are all up to him.
He works and she brings over Chinese take-out. As they eat she delights him with sweet nothings, high pitched gossip reminiscent of small minds, tidbits of tedium that occupy the thoughts of air heads. A high wire act to make him feel in charge so he can fall in love with her. And he thinks she’s so delightful and lovely and easy to control because he knows the lay of the land beneath her.
He takes her hand, leads her to his bedroom. This time there is no drama, no power plays, just the mellow routine of knowing each other for the umpteenth time. Knowing where the skin is smooth and where it undulates. Grasping familiar mounds and contours. Hearing the moans he’s followed before. And then he hears a meow. Soft, but definitely present and identifiable. Startled, he looks up and pulls out of her. He hears it again, jumps out of bed to search for it under and around. How did it get in here?
She can feel the vibration.
“Where is it?” He asks.
She shakes her head no. Pale as a ghost. Turns her head when he hears it again.
He looks askew, towards the side. “Here, behind the bed.”
“No…” She shakes her head.
He doesn’t understand.
“It… it’s…” Her blue eyes as big as saucers. A pale, naked zombie doll frozen in fear.
“What is it?” He’s impatient at the distraction.
They hear it again. This time followed by a cough, as if coming from someone in the other room.
“It’s me… or really… her.”
“My twin.” She pauses then turns her head, mouth grimaced. Pulls up the back of her wig to show him. The twin’s eyes squint, adjust to the low light in the room. She sees the expensive modern furnishings, the city skyline through the windows and him, naked, on all fours like a wolf ready to pounce. His stunned eyes, animal form, raring with snarling instinct.
“What the hell?” He backs away, falls off the bed, stands in the corner. “Out! Get the hell outta here!”
She’s paralyzed, can’t believe it’s come to this. She thought…
“Now!” He throws her clothes at her and storms out.
“Out! You freak!”
“How could you do that to me?”
“I hate him. He’s not right for us.”
“You don’t know him.”
“Well, I don’t like him.”
“He was our chance…”
“He’s not real, he’s a fake Ken doll.”
“But he was my Ken doll.”
The twin hears the sobs, feels the shakes. But can’t feel sorry for her sister. It was for the best after all, although bitter medicine. She knows of her sister’s shallow aspirations. But she has her own. To find a true friend, a soul mate of sorts. Kindred spirit. And he was no one’s kindred spirit, not even his own. He wasn’t the type to even know this about himself.
The fever’s been lifted, she thinks. The nest of hair hides her, keeps her webbed in, close to the bone, but she’s never felt freer. She hasn’t spoken to her sister since then, a few weeks ago. She follows her, doesn’t have a say of where she goes and yet she’s happy. Lighter. She couldn’t bear the thought of living a lie with him and now that possibility is gone. Gone.
And maybe this is how it should’ve been all along. The sisters living two separate lives yet yoked together. Spinsters on non-speaking terms, without a man. The only acceptable one would be the kindred kind. And for once… she feels like she has a say. Even if she had to exert herself, show that she could sabotage if she needed to.
She wants to tell her she won’t do it again. That what she did was wise, her sister would eventually understand once they found the kindred one. She wants to believe that beneath that counterfeit façade her sister has a soul. Understands. But there’s always been this wall, that dead end to her brain. Insatiable need to climb.
We are separated, she thinks. But we’ll come back together again. One day.
She hears her sister answer the phone. The conversation is cryptic. Words, not sentences. Trifling sounds, braille in space. And she doesn’t share the same ear canal as her sister.
A bleak quiet. She’s devastated, but doesn’t know why. Has a sense of dust settling around her, a finality. Then the dark web descending over her. Was it a new client. An emergency of some kind. Someone who wanted her to stay. Someone who wanted her to go. A beckoning.
They walk through the drizzle. She sticks her small tongue out to taste the wet hair, to glean hydration. She hasn’t tasted anything since then. That was the punishment. She hears the familiar traffic, the honking, the swish of tire treading through puddles. Inhales the damp, fragrant rain. Breathes in fully to relish it. She loves to savor, experience and discern things through her senses.
There’s the ding of the elevator. Her ears plug up as they fly higher and higher. Into the never ending.
The door clicks and opens. There’s a formality, coldness echoing off icy walls, where are they. Some whispers, like feathers tickling the atmosphere. She wishes she had fingers, she’d run them through the air.
The sound of cloth brushing on itself. A noiseless vacuum, shadow figures pantomiming. She imagines hands attempting to grasp wind, current flowing under the palm, that widespread wing.
Then her sister’s deep moan. She thinks it sounds authentic, not a pretend fake one. A kindred one. Then a man’s exhale, careful with a strum of vocal cord. Oh… baby… Dashed and seasoned with sadness. And that’s when she knows.
She yells “No! No!”
“Stop, stop it!” Her sister shrieks.
The wig comes off with a harsh jerk. He stands above her as her eyes acclimate to the shining light. This time he’s inflated with strength, not the shock and awe of the last time. Not the caving into fear. But a defiance.
“You!” His finger stern and pointed at her. “Shut up. You don’t have a say. And you never will.”
His words hit her to the core. She’s heard them before. And now him.
“How could you sis? You know how I feel. He’s not right for us.”
Her sister sobs, “Yes, he is.” Body shakes. “I’m sorry… but…”
His finger goes to his lips to shush her sister. He whispers something slight, something that makes her sister sit up straight. The moment puts her on the spot. His hands goad her down and she acquiesces, a docile child, eyes steady and closing. He lays on the bed behind her, faces the twin. Looks into her eyes, those dusky, milky beads. Notices her pink miniature lips, the dip in the center rimmed with sweat. Touches it with his finger and shudders as he pulls it away quickly.
She suddenly feels ugly and untouchable. A diseased freak. Why put that on me, she thinks. You, you. You are the diseased freak.
He takes a pillow and lays it on top of her. And pushes and smothers. Her screams are muffled, the no, no, no force fed into her sister’s brain.
The sister closes her eyes, scans her body to see if she feels anything physically as her twin dies. She detects a lightning of energy striking from the brain for the briefest second. A last beat and then a deadening of senses, of shared history, of an unsaid goodbye. Every nerve limp and lazy, sighing in relief. The ultimate.
He pulls the pillow off, sees glassy, unblinking eyes. Closes the lids and sits up in bed.
Her hands turn back to feel her twin’s profile. The crimped, sweaty face, puffed lips, chin bump. She pulls back in fear, as if her twin could come alive and bite her.
And she senses a hollowness, a breeze in place of something solid, a seclusion from the world.
“It’s over, I can’t believe it…” His Midwestern accent sneaks to the forefront, through his well-conceived mask. “It’s over…”
He stands, looks at his hands in the dearth of the room, the deed.
© 2017, Suzanne Marine. All rights reserved.