The Music Box

Everything was pain.

(Before the black night moves again)

She knew that, now. Everything was pain, and it had been pain, and it was going to be pain, forever and ever, amen.

She could not see him, anymore; her eyes had been burned away by his touch, but she knew when he came in. She knew he was there by the scent of him. Whisky and char, blood and cigarettes. She knew his touch, fingertips on her naked skin.

He had started by waking her, and when she realized she was bolted to the table, and her power came up, she felt the first searing heat of him. He took her eyes, and then her tongue. He took six inch swaths of her skin, and her fingernails. He took her left foot, and her right knee. He burned her and kept her sterile, kept her clean, injected her with something to numb everything except the pain.

He talked quietly to her, lovingly, even, and promised her that it was all for the best. Every single time the rush of her power came up, he burned away another inch of her, another swath of skin or another fingertip. She could smell hair and plastic, blood and shit; they filled her nostrils as though they were simply a part of the air of the world — she discarded them, as constants, and focused only on the new scents, the new stimuli that came, each time he came back into the room.

She didn’t blame him.

She didn’t ask why.

(She bends like a willow)

She didn’t beg.

She didn’t fight — not against him — and she didn’t weep.

One morning, when she woke, she had eyes again that could open, and she discovered she wore no collar, no chains. She could see the sunrise. She couldn’t smell him. She couldn’t hear him. She crawled to the top of the house and threw herself from it, slipping an instant before the ground, walking out of an elevator, skin still smoking, navy eyes wide, heart in her throat.

She had been singing, a moment before, and the note was caught on her tongue. And the flavor was… tart.

Where, what, I was, am…

Boots tripped her up, briefly, and she took a step forward blinking in the harsh fluorescent glare. The halls had a feel that was both homey and institutional; here was safe, and yet terrifying. Here, there be dragons. (No, those are different whens, different whos, different all the time except that it’s all tied together, these wheels within wheels.)

“Shut it,” she hissed, clapping her hands together, and the world shifted, shivered, and she watched herself, angry and alone, watched herself stumble and drop the pack of smokes. She watched herself have a day, a moment, that was never hers, and she frowned, running her hands through her hair. Was it braided? Beaded? Just curls? What color was the world? Her heart was in her throat when she saw him, not him, another him, someone else’s him, her own, that one, that her, that her right there that she wasn’t. That him belonged to himself, and strangely to that her, that angry, bruised, beaten her. She watched as he wrapped his arms around her and forced her chin up. As he tucked his body around hers as though he could shield her from what he was about to do. His lips at her ear. That snarl. “Stop. her.

Past became/becomes present.

(Stupid, messed-up kid — just look at what you did)

She watches as the occupants of Rockefeller Plaza move through a dance she’s seen in nightmares a thousand times — the falling woman, her perfect swan dive, and the blue-eyed man drop bonelessly behind her.

“Another life,” she says, and the her that’s in his arms turns around and puts her palms in the bloody mess she made of her only friend and paints her cheeks, then pulls her hair out by the roots, screaming, “I can kill anyone I want. EVEN YOU. EVEN YOU!” The girl on the ground is so far removed from the woman watching her; the woman can’t help but take a step away, even as her face wears pity.

She turns, and bumps into herself, suddenly, and it’s then that she realizes she’s lost being solid. She’s lost the grip she had, tethering her to the here and now.

“Where was I?” she asks herself, and she herself looks disgusted.

“Fucked that right up, now, dincha?” she snaps.

She answers, easily, “Sod off, toerag.”

The two of them high five, and she tightens her grip, squeezing her other self to dust, just as booted feet touch down in the middle of an alleyway hot as fuck on a midsummer’s day. The ground wavers, because of the heat, but she knows it’s real, now. All of it is real.

(Somewhere, a music box is playing — the music box is playing — the music box is always playing.)

She starts walking.

“I’m coming,” she tells him, her voice a determined whisper.

“Not long, now.”

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