In a dingy house on the outskirts of town, where rusted cars without wheels rested on concrete blocks, where weeds and wild grass grew with abandon, where the burning sun never reached into the far corners of crumbling dwellings, lived Rose.
One of those houses was hers – or at least she thought of it that way. It belonged to her current flavor of the month, a truck driver named Bernie, but she considered anything that she liked as belonging to her.
Bernie worked odd hours, two weeks on the road, one week off. Right now he was on again, newly on again. They’d had a wild ride of a night before he left. She’d scored some meth, had stood over the white stove with its grimy top and blackened greasy burners, holding a cheap metal spoon over the flame. The meth heated and bubbled, and the spoon bent downward, slowly, slowly, slowly. Rose was mesmerized by the flame, by the liquid that would set her on fire. And the heat warmed her hands and her body and her mind.
Bernie had come up from behind, nuzzling her neck, grinding against her. He’d almost made her drop the spoon. She’d snapped at him, shoved him backwards, slapped him across the face. His eyes had burned like the flame, blue turning into orange, turning into red, until the blacks of his irises bored into her own.
Then she’d twisted off the flame and ripped off the plastic protector of the needle with yellow, decaying teeth to spit it on the floor. She set the spoon on the counter and carefully dipped the needle into the amber liquid. It rose in the plastic plunger, in time with Rose’s anticipation. She felt giddy, shivery, her skin puckering into goosebumps, her heart racing, her mouth wide open and smiling. Cackling.
She’d looked back at Bernie, whose eyes had faded from red to dull blue. He came up behind her again, twisting her around, pushing her against the counter, rubbing himself against her. Her eyes met his again, not with fear masked by aggression and belligerence, but with desire. For the drug. For him.
Bernie grabbed the rubber tourniquet lying next to the filthy sink, wrapped it around Rose’s left arm, squeezed it, tightened it. Rose’s head fell back. Then Bernie took the needle between stubby, thick fingers with dirt-framed nails, slid it into Rose’s arm, into a vein, and pushed down the plunger half way.
Rose closed her eyes, floating with sensation, with pleasure. The world was perfect, beautiful, colorful. Dreamy blues and yellows and greens, soft reds and oranges, gentle yellows, they glided on the back of her eyelids, against the black. Somewhere, she thought she heard a baby crying. Wet, sucking, needy sobs. Her sweet baby Jacob. She’d hold him, rock him, sing him lullabies in a sweet voice that knew no violence, no harm. It was so lovely, it was overwhelming. Beauty was so powerful.
As Rose cruised, she clenched her fists, ground her teeth, back and forth, back and forth, gnawing and gnawing. She half opened bleary eyes to see Bernie take the needle out of his arm. They staggered to the main room where a mattress lay on the floor, a wad of sheets in a ball on top. They fell, heavy with Bernie’s weight, but Rose shrieked with laughter.
Then Bernie tucked her head on his fleshy arm, and they watched the headlights sweeping through broken and jagged windowpanes play on the popcorn ceiling.
Later, as their high had worn off, when the sun had sizzled into the ground and the moon sent chilly air into the house, the night turned ugly. The wind grew claws, the broken windows grew fangs, the floor began to throb. The mattress shook uncontrollably, tossing the edges of the sheets to the floor, but the rest, the rest of the sheets – they crawled up Rose and Bernie’s bodies, tangled in their legs and their arms, around their necks. They yanked and stretched and pulled, and the sharp edges of the threadbare cloth nipped and sliced at bare flesh.
Rose pulled at the sheets, fought them with long nails, bit them. They wouldn’t let go. But Bernie attacked, jerked them off her, heaved them to the black abysmal floor, an ocean of darkness. Then his hands became bruising, his lips hard, his belt buckle like a razor. She helped him drag off the pants, the boxers, tugged at the coarse hair on his backside. He thrust into her, again and again and again, and she teetered on the knife-point edge between pain and pleasure. She screamed when her body erupted, screamed again when Bernie bit her ear, bit her neck, bit her shoulder. Slapped her across the face with one huge, blotchy red open palm.
In the morning when the sun threw the littered room into relief, she squinted open bloodshot eyes. Bernie had gone. Already driving, she thought. She sat up, bare white breasts sagging onto a concave stomach. Purple spots lined her arms, teeth marks adorned her neck and ears like diamonds. She wrapped thin arms around thin, knobby knees, lowered a mascara-stained cheek. The other cheek sported a pink handprint. A memento of the thrill.
Had she heard Jakey in the night? She remembered hearing a baby cry. Had it been her own sweet little baby? Confused, brain muddled and melting from drug use, she absently watched a fat, sleek rat nibble on old beans tripping out of an open and corroded can lying on its side.
She needed to find her baby. She needed to bring him home. With Mama.