I am an apparatus taken for granted by modern man. I create fire at the demand of a mechanized series of movements. I can perceive the minds of those who ignite me and I can destroy. I collect owners and I collect their memories.
His madness engulfs.
Clay picked me up off the table and ran his fingers over the ridges in my sticker. He recognized the defacement as trademark Amelia. It was a habit she had as long as he could remember. He traced the memory of the recent days past.
After arriving home from the local bar, Clay entered his home to discover that his wife, Amelia, had left the coffee pot on, and a note behind. The note, scribbled in her imperfect hand read, “Happy anniversary fuck-face.” Clay remembered the feeling in his chest that ensued. A heavy twinge, a pain rooted deep in the idea that he was losing the only woman who was ever sad enough to let him love her. He fled the house in hopes of catching her at work.
As he approached the motel, he noted the vacancy sign and how for the first time since Amelia had worked there, it expressed “no” in front of it. As he parked his car, he ran through the excuses he could spit at her, why he had forgotten that today marked their fifth year of marriage to one another.
I got in a car accident.
I was arrested.
They kept me late at work.
As he passed the rooms that lined the walkway he heard Amelia crying out, not in dismay, but in pleasure. The sound itself stopped time. He peered through a slit in the dingy curtains to see her, sitting naked on the bed. She was looking toward someone, someone who found refuge in the shadows of the room. He needed to act, he needed a drink.
He walked to his car, retrieving a barely touched fifth of whiskey from the passenger seat. He drank while he thought.
He thought of his father, and his dangerous habit of looking up while the world beneath his feet disintegrated. An astronomer by title, and workaholic by nature, the departing of his alcoholic wife was coped with by sixty hour work weeks. This, unfortunately, left Clay an orphan. He picked up his momma’s bottle and headed for adulthood with a healthy disrespect for his father, and an unrealistic longing for his mother.
That is when he met Amelia. A woman inaccessibly depressed. He married her in hopes of obtaining the one girl in rural Kansas that did not want to escape. She was perfectly sad and stayed perfectly-put.
A man emerged from the hotel room and lit a cigarette. Clay was never good at confrontation and the whiskey made it harder to think. He approached the man, the rage welling within him.
“You have a spare smoke?” He asked, instead of delivering a swift punch to the man’s unsuspecting jaw.
“Sure,” Dave uttered. Annoyed by the interruption in his own thoughts.
Clay envisioned Amelia, scarlet with arousal, sucking off the man before him. He imagined her calling out his name, he imagined her skinny legs enfolding him, drawing him into her. As he imagined, the madness welled.
“You got a light? I guess I only brought the addiction,” Clay managed to slur out.
Dave passed me to Clay. Before Clay could light his cigarette, Dave disappeared behind the door of the room. Clay went back to his truck and reached for a rag on the floor. He twisted the fabric into a dingy wick, a wick he placed half in the bottle. It reached just far enough for the liquor to soak into the fabric. He thought it was a hell of a bouquet to give his wife on their anniversary, homage to the five years of sadness and anger that preceded it. He lit the end of the wick and tossed the bottle. The sound of the glass shattering was followed by the woosh of flames engulfing the curtains.
He stumbled back to his truck and drove away.
Sitting on the cold wood of the bar-top, I recall the warm touch of Amelia. The inferno of her madness.
She collected her madness in her chest.
She picked me up off the bedside table and lit a cigarette. She was thinking about the note she scrawled, the imperfections in her handwriting, the way the words tilted on the page, like a drunken stumble frozen in one nauseated lean. She exhaled. She thought about the man lying next to her, face burrowed into a pillowcase that had previously cradled the heads of countless people.
He was not the same man who gave her the ring that was now on the adjoining bathroom’s counter.
Dave uttered a simple “hello” and the rest became its own version of history.
Her eyes stumbled down his frame and settled on the foot of the bed. She remembered how her empty bed looked that morning, unmade. The man lying next to her stirred awake just in time to see a tear descend down her cheek. She saw the way he masked his non-existent concern behind a stone face.
“You know, everybody cheats.”
She was annoyed at the assumption that her tears were born of guilt.
She stole another breath off the cigarette. She sat there, small and sad.
In this moment I came to the overwhelming realization that she was more defined by the negative space around her than she was by the matter that composed her. An empty unraveling, an existence set entirely in the realm of the non-real. Her desires seemed to serve as a black hole to her heart, pulling in every burden and making it infinitely small, compacted, and nestled at her very core. She took to collecting these burdens in her beating bloody organ like microscopic marbles. She liked the weight of it, gave her a sense of gravity to stay-put.
This bloody, marbled mass was her madness.
When she fucked Dave, she gained access to a small glimpse at the horror within herself, and that is why she did it. She loved her husband, but the way he fucked her made her feel ugly. Gentle and reserved, as if he was afraid of getting too far inside of her.
She speculated the origins of her overwhelming masochism, the nature of her need to feel pain, to derive her pleasure from it. Perhaps it was that all of her lovers, to some degree, actually loved her. Her gut dropped; more marbles. She wondered if everyone just bought in to the idea of love like the idea of God. She rendered herself incapable of both that emotion and that belief.
She would have liked to say that it was Dave’s composure, his confidence that attracted her to him. Moth to flame. It was not. It was the muffled screams that echoed out from the rooms he temporarily occupied that grabbed her attention, the relived faces and bruised wrists of the women he had just fucked senseless. The serenity of surrender.
Amelia looked at Dave, who looked into space.
His immediate disinterest in her was probably a hazard of the job. She thought of clever ways to explain the marks, the bruises. It would never matter anyhow. Her husband was a man who liked to make love in the dark. He was too busy to soak in her naked body, ever. Regardless, the excuses formed.
I fell repeatedly on a bamboo rod.
I violently resisted arrest.
She picked me up off the bedside table and absentmindedly scratched horizontal lines into my warning label, a habit from her past. I sensed my time with her was coming to an end. Her very collection of madness was taking its toll. She set me down, opened the drawer and peered at the Bible. She glanced toward the bathroom as a shadow outside the window. Dave emerged.
“I’m not done with you, dear.”
Amelia, embarrassed, obediently sat down. Dave went to his bag and produced two pair of handcuffs. He secured her wrists to the bed frame and grabbed a cigarette.
“There. Now you can’t go anywhere. I’m going smoke. Then I’m going to shower off your filth. I want you to think about what’s coming to you.”
He wears his madness on his sleeve.
He lifted me from the table with a single swift motion. As his fingers clasped around me in empty embrace, I felt the opposing sensation of exposure. A sensation I doubted was different from the way his women had felt when he removed their clothing, exposing them. It was a motion so quick one would hardly notice the sensation of the fabric brushing their skin before it hit the floor. At his mere touch I was naked, like them. They usually trembled in his presence. I stood my inanimate ground.
“There. Now you can’t go anywhere…”
He stared at the smoldering end of his cigarette, like it was going to reveal his future via smoke-signal. He thought about the last time he felt sadness, the moment he recognized her misery as his own.
Many days he had approached her at that desk, he had no need to say anything. She knew what he wanted, one room for three hours. The hourly rate was not posted on the board, would have given the other customers a notion of what really went on there. Usually he would walk in; she would scrawl a note on the board and set two keys on the counter separating them. He would always pay cash, which he would toss onto the barrier, never handing to her. This transaction took place at least four times a week, and when you are a regular in the motel industry, conclusions tend to be drawn about your life choices. He felt her judgment burning though him, and he didn’t want to let it bother him, but it did. It infuriated him. The fury was his madness, which identified hers. He wanted to prove to her that he was more than an animal, or at the very least that she was an animal too.
He was pleased at the way this seemed to catch her off guard. It was the sensation that in this moment, his utter transparency submitted itself to a more opaque quality.
He had made his living off of crushing the madness in others. He would inflict pain and pleasure simultaneously, in a grand symphony of opposition. He would punish the pleasure, and please the punished. All this seemed to do was mute his madness temporarily.
He had given Amelia all the pain he could muster. She was not a paying customer, and this was not another day on the job. The truth was that this was personal. A conquest he disguised as pro-bono adultery.
His mistake was in thinking that her madness would submit to his. She would sustain a gaze into his eyes when he least expected it, when he was hurting the most. This bothered him. Most of the women that employed him refused to open their eyes for most of their exchange, especially the more turbulent moments. This always reminded him of when he was himself a frightened child, covers pulled to the crown of his head. If he couldn’t see the monsters, they could not see him. Eyelids like sheets, he would somehow be incapable of seeing what they truly were.
Amelia did not follow suit.
When she stared at him he would drive himself into her further. He was hoping for a sigh, a wince, any validation that he was even in the same room as her, let alone within her. Nothing. Nothing spare that relentless stare. His frustration immense, he reverted to shaming her.
“Turn over, turn off the lights, turn something for fucks sake.”
She masked her hurt behind a soft-sedated face. The misery scrawled itself in apathetic lines on her face. He had immediately regretted this decision. He was not in control, her madness was.
She obediently twisted to a face-down position, and though he could not tell exactly, it looked like she finally closed her eyes. He reached out and grabbed a handful of her hair. He yanked her head backward to discover that his suspicion was true; nothing of her piercing irises could be seen beneath the flesh of her eyelids. His petty triumph came in the form of orgasm.
He hated how he wanted to hold her and tell her that he had lied, that she was beautiful. That she was the first woman he had wanted to defile in a long while. His own personal monster was sitting on the bed next to him, smoking a cigarette.
He pretended to wake. He saw a single tear repelling down her cheek and jealousy consumed him. It became clear to him in that moment that what terrorizes people is personal. No matter what he did he could not render this reaction from her. She held her emotions close and he held his out for the world to see. He felt inadequate.
“You know, everybody cheats.”
The silence that ensued was in grave contrast to the screaming in his head. He wanted to prove to her so many things and all that had been accomplished was his own submission to her. His madness grew in the form of hatred. It waxed in the presence of his current solitude. He drew a deep breath from his cigartte.
“You have a spare smoke?”
Dave hardly noticed the man walking toward him.
Clay sat reading the paper.
“This could be the biggest tragedy to hit rural Kansas since the Clutter family murders. Earlier this week the small town of Concordia Kansas awoke to a tragedy at the local motel, The Bluebird Inn. The victim, 32 year old Amelia Barnquist was found deceased, suffering fatal burns. Dave Hutchensen, in a tragic attempt to save Barnquist’s life, expelled the contents of an entire fire-extinguisher over her charred remains. According to a statement made by Hutchensen early Monday morning he had left Barnquist, restrained to the bed in the room some twenty minutes before the inferno. During Hutchensen’s absence, what is speculated to be a maltov cocktail soared through the window of the motel room and instantly engulfed the bed and Barnquist in flame. “As soon as I heard the screams I came out, by then it was too late,” Hutchensen, who was showering at the time, explained. Law enforcement is puzzled at who exactly is to blame for the untimely death of the woman. Barnquist’s husband, Clay age 35 is still missing and is wanted by the local police for questioning…”