Entropy

It just has to be said: Carol snores like a narcoleptic walrus. Back when we were dating and I was more captivated with her form than her function, I managed to convince myself it was endearing, one of those little quirks that serves as the backdrop to a lifetime of mildly amusing stories told over tea. As it turns out, nothing kills youthful idealism like marriage, especially seven years of it. 

The snoring has gotten a bit better since I threw in the towel and ponied up for one of those Hollywood shrinks. She may spend half the night tossing around now, but I’ve never been more rested. After my vasectomy, it’s the best money I ever spent. 

I managed to sneak in a couple hours of sleep before her tossing and turning stopped and her nightly assault on my hearing commenced. A little at a time, I inched her head off of my arm, sliding from under the covers with the lightest touch. Shaking the life back into my arm, I felt around in the dark for my slippers. Only finding one, I tipped-toed down the stairs and made a beeline for the kitchen. Without bothering to flick on the light, I reached behind the refrigerator until I felt the cold touch of glass. Blowing away the dust, a wry smile plastered on my face, I twisted off the lid in eager anticipation of the glory to come. My eyes bulged as it all came spewing out the moment it touched my tongue.  Wiping my chin with my sleeve, I took one whiff of the bottle and almost chucked it against the wall. Apple Cider Vinegar. That’s dirty, even for Carol.

As I wiped up the floor with my sock – half amused but wholly ticked – Suzy popped into my head for the first time in ten minutes. I tried to force her from my mind before she took root, but she clung to me like lint out the dryer. Leaning heavily on the counter, clutching my chest with my eyes squeezed shut, I concentrated only on forcing air into my constricted lungs. The panic attack had yet to arrive in full force, but the tide was coming in in a hurry and was already licking at my feet. I am not trapped. I can leave whenever I want. I am not trapped! I can leave! I said it over and over, as if mere conviction could make it true. I’d escaped my father’s diabetes only to inherit mom’s anxiety. There was a time when I was foolish enough to consider myself fortunate. Like diabetes, the anxiety could only be managed if not cured, but anxiety has the added benefit of sheer unpredictability. Never mind your self-esteem. 

My nausea subsided long enough for me to stumble over to the garbage can and jam the whiskey to the bottom. I spotted my keys dangling off the edge of the counter as I squeezed out the last bit of soap and rubbed my hands together furiously. Wiping my palms on my shirt, I poked around the fridge as if I were actually hungry, knowing all the while I was only delaying the inevitable. 

With a groan I slammed the refrigerator shut and reached for the keys, but my hand stopped short. The small, still voice in the back of my head had ditched the subtlety, shouting hoarsely for me to return to my wife and my bed, but an impish smirk spread across my face as I stood there rationalizing what I’d already decided to do. 

I’d somehow made a career out of traveling to obscure conferences and lecturing to half-empty auditoriums,  routinely speaking for fifty-nine minutes to make a point that could be summed up in sixty seconds. That sole point is that in the final analysis, people rarely make bad choices out of pure ignorance. When our decision-making fails, it’s typically because we neglect to live up to the knowledge already at our disposal. The baser part of me used to take great satisfaction in possessing this knowledge while watching others grope in the dark for the reset button to their putrid lives, but even I am unable to digest my own cooking. I’d grown quite accustomed to the mental gymnastics required to justify all of my stupid decisions. I couldn’t see any reason why this time should be any different. Squelching my conscience with a ruthless, well-practiced efficiency, I snatched the keys off of the counter and was out the door without a second thought.

I yanked my hood over my head and fumbled with the keys until I found the one for the piece of crap passing itself off as my daughter’s car. It was a two-door rust bucket with hubcaps that spun whenever the wind blew. It was a blot on my driveway, but she loved the thing. Putting it in neutral, I pushed it down the driveway until it picked up too much speed to handle. A jolt went through me as I watched it hurtling towards my neighbor’s car parked across the street. With a burst a speed I hadn’t known since my days of freeze tag, I dove in head first and mashed the brakes with my hands as the bumper scrapped against the gutter. I laid there frozen in place — my feet still hanging out the door — and waited for a response that never came. No one came rushing out their door to see about the commotion, no one flicked on their porch light. Satisfied that my plan hadn’t fallen apart before I escaped my own driveway, I muttered a few choice words to myself and started the engine.

I was halfway down the block when the reality of what I was doing began to sink in. Carol would never accept this, not in a million years. It had taken me years to figure out that no matter how hard I tried, I could never have them both. So I chose Carol. Looking back, I can admit I did it more out of duty than desire. I never could’ve imagined that living without Suzy would’ve proven so difficult, and I just couldn’t do it anymore. 

I was going to see her! A surge of energy rushed down my spine at the mere thought of it! I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so alive, so filled with hope for what a night could bring. I didn’t have to keep lying to myself. I could finally admit that I needed her. What would she say when she sees me? It had been so long. Now, there were no more letters, no more pictures, no more poor substitutes for the real thing. 

For the next half an hour I swerved in and out of traffic, chasing people out of the fast lane as I cackled like the Joker blowing up a hospital. I couldn’t remember which exit to take, but as the billboards went from selling fancy vacations to pushing cheap vasectomies, I knew I was close enough. I missed a row of cones by a hair as I swerved across two lanes to make my exit. I drove until I recognized parts of the old neighborhood. It was amazing to see how much of it had been gentrified with manicured lawns and wrought-iron fences, but as I kept driving it was clear where the developers had drawn the line in the sand. Town-homes were replaced by motor homes and coffee shops were traded for liquor stores. The city planners had done their cost analysis and decided that these alleys were too bloody to pave over. 

Slowing to a crawl, I drove up on the curb and rolled down the window. I gazed in astonishment at my old elementary school, abandoned with waist-high grass, its windows boarded up and tin roof caved in. The asphalt basketball courts were cracked and weedy, the rims dangling precariously from the rusty backboards. The buoyant joy I’d felt for the last hour seeped out like helium from a week old balloon. My eyes stung looking at what had become of it in my absence. It deserved better than what it got. As decrepit as it was, a lot of good happened there, even if I was the only one that still remembered.

The neighborhood had never been kind to strangers and it looked like it had doubled down on that policy since I left. Still, I winded my way through backroads and alleys until I came across the old pawn shop where Suzy and I used to fence the CD players we stole from K-Mart. I picked a quiet spot down the street, cut the engine, and waited. Not even a minute passed before a woman with a red wig knocked on my window. She adjusted her bra strap as she flashed a smile with more gums than teeth, but I shooed her away without bothering to roll down the window. Flicking me off, she made her way down the street to the next car, tugging at the back of her skirt as she wobbled in her heels.

I was busy counting the runs in her stockings when a white SUV came to a screeching halt down the street. A slender woman with a blond wig hopped out and waved at the driver as he sped off. Slipping a wad of money in the inside of her boot, she put on another layer of bright red lipstick and straightened out her jean jacket. Her eyes narrowed into thin slits when I flicked my headlights. She approached, cautiously at first, but gained confidence with every stride.

“What do ya need honey?” she said with a grin as she poked her head into the window. Her smile melted when I flicked on the interior light. “What’re you doing here?!” she hissed as she glanced over her shoulder. I caught eyes with a man standing in the alley. He tapped the guy next to him and pointed in my direction.

“Get in,” I said.

“I’m working!”

“I’ll pay, just get in.” She sucked her teeth and gave a thumbs up to the men. They hung around for a moment but vanished as suddenly as they’d appeared.  

Mashing the accelerator to the floor, we were around the corner before she’d even put on her seat belt. I waited a couple beats for her to say something, but she seemed content with pretending I wasn’t even there. 

“Well, hello to you too,” I said, not bothering to take the venom out of my voice.  

She flipped her hair and settled into her seat. “I made my decision.”

“I’m not here to change your mind.”

She glared at me out of the corner of her eye. “I haven’t seen you in a year and the first thing out your mouth is a lie?”

I stared blankly at the headlights as they whizzed by in blurry streaks. “You know, for some reason I thought you’d actually be happy to see me.” 

Her face softened as she took a deep breath. “You know better than that. Come by the house later. We can catch up.”

“Come on now. You know I can’t do that.”

She rolled her eyes. “I can come by yours if that’s better.”

“Not funny.”

“You don’t want me to say ‘hi’ to the wife and kids.”

“Suzy!” 

Chuckling at me with the vilest smirk, she rolled her eyes and reached for the radio, but I slapped her hand away without half a thought. “You can have an attitude if you like, but I’m still not changing my mind.”

“Fine, but you’re not changing the station either,” I said, turning the A/C on full blast mainly to annoy her. I’d forgotten about the little dimples she got when she was trying to hold back a smile. It was only there for the briefest of moments, but it reminded me of a simpler time for Suzy and I, before life ruined us both.

“Why are you here?” she said, shaking her head. “I mean really.”

I pulled out a wad of cash and tossed it to her. “This enough for the night? That’s got to be a few hundred dollars.” 

She flipped through the money, her lips moving as she counted.“I’m impressed,” she said in a rather unimpressed way. “Who says you can’t make money with a sociology degree.”

“I believe that was you, actually.” 

“The lies you tell. So, you made tenure?”

I let out a deep sigh. “Not yet, but I’m right there. I can feel it.” I glanced over to see if she was actually listening and was met by her piercing stare. “I haven’t even told Carol this, but I think I’m onto something big.” She perked up in her seat but said nothing. “It’s a twin study. I won’t bore you with the details, but we’re studying how two people coming from the same place and the same circumstances can wind up completely… W-well, we’re still hashing out the uh-” I snapped my fingers as I searched for the word. 

“Cost?”

“No, no… Details. Whoever said the devil is in the details should be knighted. Then shot. Organizing this thing has been a mess. Finding the numbers to form a decent sample size is hard enough, but every time we’re ready to go someone else drops out at the last possible moment. I can’t even-” 

“I know! Why don’t we do it?” she said. 

“W-What?” 

“Would I get paid?”

“Suzy, we’re fraternal.” 

“So what? We’re still twins.”

“But we’re not identical. It would never work.”

Her lip curled up the way it always did when she didn’t get her way. I could’ve fixed it between us. It wouldn’t have taken much, but I was always going the extra mile for her, always the one reaching out. After a while, a man’s arm gets tired. 

We’d traveled a stack of miles already but weren’t any closer to where we were going. Meanwhile, the distance between us only increased while we waited on the other to break the silence. The first rays of sunlight were already clawing at the horizon and I’d given my graduate assistant the day off, which meant I was the only one left to lecture. No matter. I’d had my fill of trying to round a square into a circle. 

I chanced a look in Suzy’s direction. Arms folded, legs crossed, she’d scooted as far away from me as she could get. I could see her blinking back tears in the window reflection. Staring into the abyss, I gripped the steering wheel tighter and struggled to keep the old resentment from welling up within me. 

“I’ve never seen your children.” 

The voice came out of nowhere, light as a snowflake with a serrated edge. 

“What’re you talking about?” I said. “You’ve got enough pictures to cover every wall in your house.”

I could feel her staring a hole through me. “You know that’s not what I mean.”

“How many times have I told you that Carol doesn’t… She just doesn’t understand. I mean how could she?”

“Nobody cares if she understands or not. I made my-”

“Decision! Yeah, yeah I know! Just because you said it a million times doesn’t make it any easier to accept.” 

She slapped her hands against her thighs. “I told you as a courtesy! It doesn’t make a bit of difference whether you accept it or not!” 

“You can’t be this pigheaded! I never saw someone fight so hard for the honor of a piss poor decision! Forgive me if I don’t strain to see the wisdom in it.”

“You condescending bastard! Where was your honor five years ago when you came begging for tuition?”

“This again?!”

“Were you worried about how I made my money then?”

“You’re going to dangle that over me for the rest of my life? I’ve paid you back three times over. When are you going to-”

“You sold your soul! Once it’s gone you can never get it back!”

We locked eyes for so long that the tree came as a shock to us both. The window shattered as the tree scrapped the mirror and the paint off the side of the car. I ripped the steering wheel to the left and almost put us in a ditch before regaining control. Gasping for air, we didn’t even look at each other as we limped along another couple miles before pulling over into the parking lot of a closed bank, screeching to a halt under a flickering streetlight. While I sat there catching my breath, Suzy calmly picked the glass out of her wig like it was lint. 

The moonlight danced along her proud cheekbones, setting fire to her emerald eyes. A lock of her auburn hair slipped from behind her ear, a yellow hair tie holding it together like a bundle of straw. It was longer than I remembered, but frayed at the edges like she’d dyed it ten times too many. She’d inherited the best of mom, taking it all for herself and leaving none for me. Maybe that’s why there had never been a rivalry between us. It was plain to see that she won in a landslide.

“You should go see mom sometime.” Suzy was too preoccupied with her wig to give an answer. “I’ll come with you if it helps.” 

Rolling her eyes, she chucked a piece of glass out the window. “How do you know I haven’t been to see her? You live there now?” She snatched off her wig and shook it out the window to get rid of the last shards of glass. “Thanks for the ride, but I’ll catch the bus next time.” 

“I bet she’d love it if you brought her some flowers.”

“You’re still on that?” she said, rolling her eyes. “Look, you bring the flowers and I’ll bring the tears. That’s the way its always been, so why change now?”

I slouched in my seat, pinching the bridge of my nose. Suzy always had a complicated answer for a simple question. “Did you like it at least?”

“Like what?”

“The tombstone. I wanted to go with bronze but-”

“I’ve been meaning to ask about that. Didn’t she want to be cremated?” I couldn’t even fix my mouth to respond. She had a lot to say for someone who didn’t even show up to the funeral! “Fine,” she said, her face softening after seeing the disgust on mine. “To be honest, you could’ve used a piece of rotting wood for all I care.” 

“Suzy!”

“‘Here lies the mother of a whore. The fruit fell at the foot of the tree.’” She was out the car before I could get ahold of her. 

I crawled over the center console and fell out the car onto my elbow. “Get back here!” 

“What’s the matter? Can’t handle the truth?” she said backpedaling as I struggled to my feet, blood running down the back of my forearm. I chased her around the car until the air leaving my lungs had more urgency than the air coming in. Still, it wasn’t even long enough for her to break a sweat. While I doubled over clutching my chest, Suzy strolled to the opposite side of the car and leaned over the hood, a wry smile etched on her face.

“I’m surprised at you,” she said, resting her chin in her hand as she looked down her nose at me. “You always had a blind spot when it came to momma, but I thought you’d outgrow it by now.” I wanted to scream at her, but I couldn’t catch my breath long enough to muster a word. A dirty look would have to suffice. 

“You wanna know the truth?” She was relishing every moment of this, like a lioness toying with her prey before going in for the kill. “Momma was never married to daddy. She was his whore. She just never figured it out.” 

“I’m gonna kill you!” I said through clinched teeth, rage fueling my second wind as I continued my pursuit.

“I see you learned more from dad than you care to admit!” 

I stopped in my tracks and slapped the hood until my hands tingled. “Don’t you ever! EVER!” Suzy’s mischievous smile faded. Even I wasn’t worthy of such a pejorative. “If mom had known, if any of us had known, he never would’ve seen the inside of a courtroom! So don’t you dare drag momma’s name through the mud thinking you’re gonna come out clean on the other side!” 

The blood drained from her face. “Sean, I gave up being clean a long time ago.” Her bottom lip quivered as she leaned over the hood into the light. “You see this one?” she said as she parted her hair at the edge of her forehead. I could just make out a round, half-inch scar. “That’s from Momma’s ring. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was eleven. It had already been going on for a couple years and I was beginning to understand what was happening. I’d just had my first period and I guess Momma figured it was as good a time as any to talk about sex. 

“You should’ve seen her: stuttering, beet red, sweating. She couldn’t even bring herself to say the word without burying her eyes in the floor. I was so confused. I couldn’t figure out why she was so bashful about it when he was so… different. So there she was, stumbling through a conversation she’d been dreading since the day I was born, when I blurted it out. Every last bit of it, all at once, no comma’s or periods. I’d wanted to say something for so long, once I let a word slip I just couldn’t bring myself to stop. Not even when I saw daddy’s truck pull into the driveway.” A shudder went down my back, taking the sizzle out of my anger. Just the thought of daddy’s truck idling outside was enough to tie my stomach into knots.  

There is an unsteady rhythm to daily life with an abuser, a pattern of oddly predictable chaos that colors your perception of love and life itself. The crippling anxiety that descended upon us at the sound of dad’s truck was an unwelcome guest that never left. It was our routine. Dishes flew into the sink as mom hurriedly scrubbed away crumbs, toys kicked under the bed, hair combed, head up, shoulders back, toes pointed straight ahead. Look alive! Suzy and I would rush to take our place by the door and await inspection from our dictator. It was our rhythm, unsteady as it was. The fear held us together until it finally tore us apart at the seams. 

The air caught in my throat. “You told her?” Suzy merely nodded her head. “Well, what did she say?”

“Nothing at first. I just watched the color drain from her face as she took little gasps of air, her eyes so wide they could’ve popped out of her head with a good sneeze. We went on like that for awhile, her saying nothing while I crushed her soul with every word. Then everything went dark as I crumpled to the floor. One minute I was pouring out my heart, the next, blood was pouring out of my head. I know deep down that she didn’t mean to hit me. She meant to kill me. Or at least kill what I’d come to represent. I can forgive her for that. I’d destroyed everything she’d ever known to be true in an instant. But I can’t forgive the two years she went along as if I’d never said a word.”

Hands trembling, teeth clinched, it took a moment for the rage to return, but when it did, it brought every demon from my past with it. “Liar!” I shouted inches from her face. “She took a bullet for you and it still isn’t enough!” 

“If she had gone to the police instead of sweeping it under the rug, it never would’ve come to that! Yeah, that monster’s in prison, but somehow I ended up paying for it more than he ever did! He’d already taken my childhood, but he managed to steal my family too. I lost momma forever and you’re not too far behind.” 

With clinched teeth I ran my fingers through my remaining tuft of hair. Even though she’d stolen a good deal of my steam, I still had to suppress the impulse to scream at the top of my lungs. It was a familiar feeling. The rage constantly operated in the background these days, coloring even my warmest feelings with an icy veneer, but no one brought it to the surface quite like Suzy. 

Fear is the root of anger and we’d spent our entire childhood smiling through our desperation. Now, we were little more than scared children yelling at each other because there was no one else to yell at. She was bitter because I moved on from dad, painted him into a moldy, cobwebbed corner in the back of my mind and left him there to rot. I was bitter because she couldn’t do the same. 

Sliding onto the hood, I watched the clouds race by like they were late for an appointment. There was something soothing about the way they drifted without making a sound, moving to and fro without leaving a trace. I envied how they could move so freely without a past to encumber them. I loved Suzy as much as I could love anything. How cruel was it that she was the only thing anchoring me to a life I longed to forget? 

“I’m convinced it’s better to have been born a bastard than to become one,” I said, my voice cracking. “I’m the bastard that watched my father kill my mother. That will never wash off. I’ve come to terms with that. I just wish you could see that mom died for something worthwhile when she died for you. I never blamed you for what happened back then, but I do blame you for what you’ve allowed yourself to become.”

Her lips parted just a bit as she rose from her seat next to me. She reached back to slap me, but thought better of it. Seeing that the passenger side was locked, she pushed past me and snatched open the driver side door. I yanked out my keys, unlocked the door and slid in next to her as she rifled through her purse.

“Why are you doing this? Suzy!”

Her eyes lit up when she found what she was looking for. She pressed the sharpened screwdriver up against my neck. 

“Get out.” I shook my head even as my hand felt for the door handle.

With pursed lips she pressed a little harder. She flinched when she saw the drop of blood trickle down my neck, but still held the screwdriver firmly to my throat. “Get. Out.”

My hand rested on the door handle but something wouldn’t let me pull it. My tongue unstuck itself from the roof of my mouth and seemed to move on it’s own. “If you’re going to do it, then go ahead. I’m not going to stop you. But before you do, it’s my turn to tell you the truth. You’re better than me. You’re better than me in every way and it drives me crazy just to think of it. You’ve never been in a room where you weren’t the smartest person. You don’t even notice how people gravitate towards you. Anything you ever touched turned to gold and you were always too oblivious to notice. You could be a doctor, a lawyer, if you ever made up your mind to teach, they’d fire me in a second to hire you. You could be anything. You could be everything. Instead, you’re a statistic, and for some reason you’re okay with it!”

I braced myself for a tirade that never came. The tension dissipated from her shoulders, slowly at first, then all at once. Her gaze unblinking, she gave me a wan smile as the screwdriver dropped from my neck. Never before had I longed to hear a voice so much, but empty words are a poor substitute for a fulfilling silence. There was nothing more to be said. Nothing more to be done. 

The blue lights flashing across her face interrupted our moment of peace. Her grin evaporated as she glanced over her shoulder. Sinking into her seat, she cursed under her breath and jammed her purse into the glove compartment.

 “Lock it!” she hissed through clinched teeth. “What are the cops doing way out here?” she said as much to herself as to me. 

I didn’t realize what was happening until I spotted the squad car in the mirror. “What do we do?!”

“J-Just be cool. Think you can handle that?” she said as she tossed on her wig and straightened it in the mirror. 

The officer took his time getting out, but when he finally did, Suzy let out a groan and somehow sank even further into her seat. “Not him, not him, not him, not him," she whispered over and over. 

“What’s wrong?” 

She said nothing as she wiped a tear from the corner of her eye and forced a smile onto her face. “Mr. Wilson, long time no see,” she said in a sultry voice. Hand on his pistol, the officer took a step back and shined his flashlight into her face. 

“Well, if it isn’t little miss Suzy!” He turned his flashlight off and snapped his gun back into the holster. “I see you’re out here burning the midnight oil as usual.” 

“N-not tonight. We were just talking.” 

“Talking?” He shined the flashlight into my face. “A man like that don’t come all the way out here for talk. License and registration.”

My heart leapt into my throat. “But I’m not driving. Why do-”

“Just your license, then,” he said with an edge to his voice. Suzy shot me a dirty look that rivaled his. He snatched the license from me, his lips moving as he read my name and address to himself. “I thought you looked familiar. You’re that hotshot professor I’ve been seeing in the paper.”

My heart sank. Of all the times for someone to recognize me. “I’ve written an article or two.”

“Oh, don’t be modest. A man ought to be able to toot his own horn every now and then. By the sound of it, you’re going to change the world. You think you’re up to it?”

“It’s worth a shot, I guess.”

“You guess?” He chuckled and waved his hand at me. “Take it from me, kid. Don’t waste your time. Things are the way they are, and that’s the only way they’ll ever be. The moon ain’t never gonna be the sun.”

“And yet it still shines, even if it doesn’t know it,” I blurted out.

He froze for a moment, then spit tobacco out the side of his mouth, scribbling furiously on his notepad. “You know, I never liked you eggheads. All the brains in the world and still can’t figure out what to do with a whore.” Suzy put her hand on my leg just as I was about to open my mouth. He grinned at me, watching me squirm in my seat.  

“College pro-fess-or,” he said, flicking my driver’s license in my general direction. Sounds like a mighty fine gig. What do you think it’ll do to your career if I arrested you right now for solicitation?” 

My heart dropped to my stomach. “But I’m… I never-”

“You’re in a car with a hooker in the middle of nowhere in the dead of night. You don’t need to be a mad scientist to understand the math.”

“Wait a minute,” said Suzy.

“Shut up! He had no problem running his mouth earlier, let him speak for himself now.” He turned his icy gaze back to me. “Why, you didn’t even bother to take off your wedding band. What are you gonna say to your lovely wife when she has to come down to the station and bail you out? We were just talking? Psh!” He leaned in, resting his hairy elbow on the window, winking at Suzy with a butterscotch grin, a bulge of tobacco protruding from his bottom lip. “Son, I will have you know you are sitting next to the finest hooker this side of the Mississippi. You’re spoiling her, giving her all these fancy ideas. Next thing you know, she’s gonna want you to wine and dine her first. It ought to be a crime to waste something so… exquisite. As a matter of fact, I’d say it is. Step out of the car, son.” 

“What?!” said Suzy, smacking the door. I watched in horror as he waddled over to my side of the car - pulling at the back of his britches - and yanked my door open. Pulling me out by the arm, he spun me around and put the cuffs on so tight my hands went numb. 

“You don’t have to do this,” said Suzy, stepping out of the car.” 

“You stay out of this!” he said. “It’s too late anyway. Once you’re cuffed, tough luck.” 

“I can’t let you arrest him,” said Suzy with glassy eyes. “It’s bad for business.”

“Can’t let me? Since when do I need a whore’s permission to-”

“I am what I am, Mr. Wilson. I know it may not be much, but I’ve come to terms with it. Now you have a job to do and I understand that. But this man’s only crime is seeing something in me that simply isn’t there. For that he should be pitied, not imprisoned.” She gazed at me with glassy eyes. “Is there any way we can settle this, between us.” 

A jolt went through my body. I tried to lock eyes with her in the window reflection, but I could only see myself, sweating, hair matted to my forehead, flushed all the way down to my collar. I tried my best to cover up the scent of truth, but the root of denial is shallow and is soon scorched upon examination. I knew what was happening, that I could end it all before the snowball got too big to stop. Instead, I watched it roll downhill and gather steam. Neither of them said a word. Were they waiting on me to give voice to reason and save them from themselves? No. The sea was far too rough and I found myself taking the final life vest for myself. They would have to save their own souls.

The cuffs loosened and slid off with a reluctance that contrasted starkly with the enthusiasm with which they were put on. Slack-jawed, I gazed at the indentations in my wrists as the tingling in my fingers began to subside. Mr. Wilson grabbed me by the back of the neck and mashed my face against the car. My ragged breathing created a thick fog on the window as I struggled to free myself. 

“If you utter one word of this to anybody,” he hissed, pressing the cold barrel of his pistol against the side of my head. Not even bothering to wait for a response, he gave my neck one final squeeze and flung me to the ground. “Now get!” 

I warily got to my feet, my eyes never leaving Mr. Wilson’s gun as he slid it back into the holster. Hands on his hips, sweat bleeding through his shirt, his eyes burned with contempt as he looked down his nose at me. He would never forgive me for this. I’d somehow become a witness to his corruption, and as such, I would always be a threat to it. 

Smiling with pursed lips, her colorless cheeks stretched to their breaking point, Suzy watched me with glassy eyes as I made my way to the driver side. I tore my eyes away from her and slid into the car, turning up the radio until the window rattled. Arms folded, glaring at me through the windshield, Mr. Wilson muttered under his breath and turned away from us, impatiently tapping his foot while he waited for me to depart. 

Everything in me wanted to hate him, but I stopped short. I could see far too much of myself in his image for my liking. He had ceased to be an officer of the law while I had ceased to be human. Carried away by our desires, we’d conspired to prey upon the flesh of a woman who’d never had any other function in life but to be used. Could he see what we’d become? Was he beginning to run his hand against the jagged walls of the pit we’d dug for ourselves? Yes, the light of day would recoil at the sight of my transgression, and when the sun does rise, it will shine upon a shattered man. 

As if I was stepping out on the first ice of winter, I cautiously pressed the accelerator with the tip of my toe. As I crept away, I gazed at Suzy’s dim outline under the flickering streetlight. A strand of her dazzling red hair peeked out from under her wig and danced limply in the breeze. Just as I was about to turn away, the streetlight flashed bright as a bolt of lightning, illuminating everything for miles in every direction. Then, as suddenly as it appeared, the light went out, leaving us all in darkness.