A LITTLE SOMETHING FOR HERSELF
Cheryl drove her stick shift with a stiff hand; Her fingers outstretched almost touching the tape deck. Her middle finger was especially long and boney. Her hands themselves might otherwise be called dainty if it weren’t for the large bluish veins clearly visible through her faint, milky skin.
The driveway to the cabin was gravel. Her wheels crunched along and she enjoyed the sound. It was teeth grinding. She found it comforting. She stifled a little smirk as she took a deep breath, rolled to a stop and YANKED back the parking break.
For the most part she looked out of place in this rustic setting. But she had worn the right shoes and made it onto the porch and through the door with out a scuff or stain. It wasn’t raining now, but it had been. Little dripplets and plops were giving beats to the other songs and chirps echoing across the pond. The air was crisp. Cheryl always felt she could “hear better in the cold”
The cabin didn’t get a lot of use. But it wasn’t neglected. She flipped on a couple of lights, moved a few quilts – and poof! What should have been a scene from Little House on the Prairie was revealed to be more like the set for a Manhattan martini social. Indeed, after stowing the dust covers in a closet, she headed right to the freezer and grabbed a mostly empty bottle of Grey Goose resting in the ice bin.
She grimaced playfully at what little was left in the bottle. With one hand she grabbed a tumbler from the cupboard, set it on the counter, filled it with ice and poured herself what was left of the vodka - A heavy pour.
She headed back to the living room. She glanced at her watch and eased onto the couch as if she were getting into a bubble-bath… the little grin tried to sneak back onto her lips, but she shooed it away and readjusted her shoulders. She took a nice long sip and closed her eyes as she did. Slowly, as her eyelids parted, she settled her gaze on the door.
She wasn’t young. But unless you knew her you might not realize it. She was thin and her clothes were always new. In conversation, she laughed often and was loud. Her “uh huh?”s and “I know!”s were clearly audible to people who should be out of earshot. The only hint one might have of her 40+ years were the shallow crows feet that only became visible if she narrowed her eyes, as she was doing now.
Her watch rolled over to 12:00AM and emitted a little beep!! Almost instantaneously there was a knock at the door. She exhaled deeply and her grin flared causing ripples in her cheeks and weakening her chin. But with a quick pucker it was all gone. Another knock-knock echoed through the cabin. The countryside and the gutters hushed… Cheryl could feel goose bumps on her shoulders and scalp. This annoyed her.
She got to her feet and the few steps she took towards the door mingled with a third set of knocks. Her hand tightened on the doorknob… she opened the door.
Laughing hysterically, honking a horn under one arm and tossing confetti with the other – Freddy the Clown exploded through the doorway! A rush of wind blew Cheryl back a few steps – she held her hair and shielded her drink with her elbow.
“HEE HI HO, SHEE DA LEE DA Lay!!!! – To-Day is lit-tle Cher-yl’s BIRTH-day!!” – he sang, grinning enthusiastically.
“Yes, yes, yes – it’s all right. That’s not necessary” she said, ushering him into the cabin – “Ok, yes – uh-huh… there we are.”
A bit confused – his enthusiasm dampened (but still smiling) Freddy trod along the path Cheryl was making for him. His shoes sounded different on the wood floor than they did on the carpet.
Cheryl shut the door firmly. Freddy was still wide-eyed and smiling as he subtly craned his neck and looked around. He didn’t see any kids. Didn’t hear anything, either. Where was everybody? Was he early?
He made a big clown-y frown, furrowed his brow and in a cartoony voice said, “I’m not LATE am I?!”
“No, as It happens, you are always punctual” she replied. What she didn’t say was: “I’ll give you that much, clown” – but she did add: “I’m repeatedly surprised.”
As Freddy’s face was zero-ing out she ejaculated: “… and you never recognize me!” Cheryl’s smile erupted. It was an enormous face-stretcher. It was like a well-trained animal she had summoned and made to do a trick.
Freddy was becoming a bit concerned. “Um…” was all he could say at first. But then, in a voice that was less “Freddy the Clown” so much as it was “Fred Andrews, professional clown” he got out – “Dear, me. I hope there wasn’t a miscommunication about time or date.”
Just as quickly at it had appeared, her smile vanished. “Nope. Not at all. It’s just not that kind of party any more, is all.” – She gobbled what was left in her glass. She swallowed hard and winced a bit as she pulverized the cubes quickly. “Have a seat.”
He kept his eyes on her as he moved towards the chair closest to the fireplace – his back to the wall. Under his breath – but audible – he muttered, “I saw the address, I thought it looked weird – thought ‘what am I doing?’ …Whoo-boy”… and then louder, as he plopped down sullenly, he asked, “Ok, so what’s all this now? What’s the plan?”
Cheryl stared at him as she finished chewing and swallowed her ice. She took a moment and absorbed the dull cold ache in her teeth.
Freddy’s brow shot up and his eyes widened: “…. so…..?”
“I didn’t want a clown!” she said at last. “I didn’t want anything, even. It was my mom’s idea. Because Margaret’s parents were coming and they wanted to go off and drink or god knows what. I would have been happy to stay home, but she dragged me and daddy all the way out here so she could have a party for her work friends. ‘Come to Cheryl’s birthday’ read the invite. ‘Bring the kids’ – I. didn’t. know. Any- One….
And then YOU show up. A COMPLETE stranger dressed like a lunatic and shouting. I was 5 years old for fuck’s sake. And they thought it was just hilarious, didn’t they? I ran out back, terrified, and told them there was an intruder. I said “intruder”!! And they LAUGHED at me. I will remember that feeling for the rest of my life. It was like a heart attack in my throat. I was shocked. Betrayed. FUCK. YOU. It was like the whole party was a way to humiliate me. I REFUSED to let myself cry – knowing they’d only laugh louder. “
Freddy wasn’t quite getting why he was being spoken to in this manner – and he was only half listening to her story. He was trying to discern what category of crazy to put this lady in. Should he jet? Is she some pervert? He didn’t want to leave without getting paid, if at all possible. He was startled – but somehow relieved - when he heard children’s voices. But where were they? A little stampede erupted. It sounded as if several kids were right there in the room. “They must be upstairs,” he thought to himself.
Cheryl continued. “My dad didn’t even look at me. Mom got up and walked right past me. Just left me there on the back porch. The rest of her friends returned to what ever it was they had been talking about. I just stood there looking at their backs. It was like I wasn’t even there! I could hear Margaret shouting about balloons behind me. I turned around and through the window I could see my mother there with you; Introducing you to the crowd of children forming at your feet.” Cheryl’s face was contorting as she recalled this scene. It was like she had just eaten something very sour – but really, she was swallowing hard – as she had done that day – to keep herself from vomiting.
Freddy, cautiously, began to interject – “I don’t get – “
“IT WAS MY BIRTHDAY!!” Cheryl almost screamed this – but it came out more as a growl. “My day! Mine” Cheryl gestured to herself with those stiff fingers of hers. The thud of her fingertips against her sternum was clearly audible. She had been looking him in the eyes this entire time, but it was more than that now. Freddy could feel her entering him. He winced.
“Who the fuck is this idiot? In our cabin? On my birthday!? Everyone is flocking to him. I hadn’t seen my mother laugh like that maybe ever. You know?” Cheryl was calming down a bit, it seemed – or Freddy thought, at least. But, he was uncomfortable now. He was certain he needed to get out of there. Forget the 250$ - He’d take a double shift at the restaurant. Whatever. This wasn’t worth it. “Yeah,” he thought, “Fuck it, I’m out of here” – but before he could lift himself out of the chair Cheryl, in an emotionless near whisper, hissed --- “You” -- and chills shot down both Freddy’s arms. His fingers went numb. He felt hot. Heavy. He heard the children laughing again; Louder this time. He couldn’t move.
“I had never, ever, hated any one person or thing so much in my life – and never have again. It was amazing. So clear – so real. So inspiring!”
“I… would like to leave now…” Freddy was barely able to speak these words, and Cheryl paid them no mind.
Calmer, but no less unsettling, she went on - “No one so much as noticed me. It was like I was invisible. I walked off the porch, went right through the living room and into the kitchen. There were no locks on any of the drawers or anything like that – this was the early 70’s after all – we had a drawer FULL of steak knives. I have never known why there were so many. I took one off the top, careful not to cut myself. I recall the handle feeling perfect. It felt right. Cool in my palm. Without waiting, I returned to the living room. This room. You had your back to me. You were kneeling down handing Margaret Kay Stevenson her little balloon wiener dog.”
“But you know what’s weird? Why didn’t anyone try to stop me? I wasn’t even trying to conceal the knife in any way. I was right behind you, and yet they didn’t see me at all. They could have seen past you easily – but they didn’t. Even my parents and their friends out on the porch could have seen through the windows if they had so much as taken a moment to glance in my direction. It was a bright beautiful day. I remember thinking to myself: ‘There’s nothing preventing me from doing this.’”
“Doing what?” – Freddy heard himself speak – but didn’t mean to. He immediately wished he hadn’t when Cheryl smiled – bearing her too white teeth.
“I stabbed you. Three times.” Cheryl raised three fingers and in a childish voice said “Thrice!” like a little kid who had just learned a new word. Proud of herself. She was beaming.
Freddy yelped and fell out of his chair. He pulled off his wig and grabbed the back of his neck – he looked at his hand. It was covered blood. He immediately became short of breath. The pain was intense. Tears welled in his eyes. He coughed and blood filled his mouth.
Cheryl was positively giddy. The sounds of children screaming and loud voices filled the room. Clamor! Freddy began breathing heavily; incredulous – in shock and invigorated. A group of kids ran through the room. He shot to his feet.
“you little bitch! What did you do?” he shouted
“Yes! Hahaha!! That was probably your last thought! HAHAHA! You collapsed and just bled and bled and bled. Your legs twitched. The kids ran away and the grown ups ran in all at once. Daddy swept me up in his arms. And I watched them not knowing what to do with you. They were afraid to touch you or to take out the knife. My mom was kneeling beside you when she must have realized what had happened. She looked back at me over her shoulder. Her eyes were big and red and she looked as if SHE were going to cry. I was very carful not to smile at her – but I wanted to. Oh, I wanted to so bad.”
“I’m – you killed me?” A bomb went of in Freddy’s gut. The pain in his neck shot to a million points all over his body, but he was distracted by a group of little boys and girls huddled in the corner. After a moment, they were no longer in sight.
Cheryl watched eagerly as Freddy’s rage turn back to helplessness. “What… why? Wha is this?” he said finally
“You know….” she began in a patronizing tone, wistfully “…that afternoon caused a lot of hubbub. Things were never quite the same. It was amazing, really. I was never out of anyone’s sight again. The presence of therapists and sitters and social workers became constant. It was wonderful! We played games and would talk for hours. I would draw pictures and they would ask me all about them. They would take photos of me and videotape me playing. I was like a movie star!”
Freddy was on the verge of tears.
Cheryl chuckled “and you’re a – you WERE - a nobody, with no friends and no one missed you. A filthy piece of trash. My parents had a funeral for you – no one came – well, except your sister. She stayed and spoke to my family for a while. That’s how we found out about what a drunk you were. “
Freddy wilted. His lips quivered and he moaned in disbelief as he collapsed on the floor.
“Eventually, I think I was in my early teens, I told one of my counselors that you had raped me. That kind of eased things up. It seemed to be the answer everyone was looking for. And I only said it once. No one ever asked me about it ever again. I haven’t heard your name in years. But, you know, it hasn’t been easy on me. I have had to keep it together at times most people would have folded. I have never really been able to let my guard down. Haven’t been able to allow myself to SEEM too happy that I did what I did. I didn’t want to ruin it, you understand? Yup, I really do look forward to this time of year. It’s a little present I give to Me.”
Freddy began to cry. He held his face in his hands and wept.
Cheryl’s phone rang. She answered, as she often did, in an outside voice, pleasant – clinical, loud - “Hey there! Oh, yeah, I just ducked out for a sec – I wanted to check what was left at the cabin for tomorrow. And boy do we need to make a liquor run! Oh, stop! I can do it! Well, okay. Yeah, I’ll be there in 10 – wait for me, ok? Ok, bye bye!”
Through Freddy’s fingers little droplets of blood fell onto the floor. His sobs were getting heavier. Cheryl walked quickly into the kitchen and returned with a paper towel in one hand and a bottle of 409 in the other.
Freddy was fading, slowly at first, but ever more rapidly. Soon, he could no longer be seen at all. When the sounds of his crying, too, were gone, Cheryl walked over to where he had been. She crouched down and with a couple squits of cleaner and a quick swipe she removed the blood from the floor.
In seconds, she had disposed of the paper towels and the spray bottle was back beneath the sink. Satisfied, she checked the time, clicked off the lights, and headed home.