A piece I wrote in 2010 and found recently as I was sorting through my boxes in the attic.
By Elizabeth Gosney
“Give it back.”
He looked at her, a shadow in the darkness. The night was dark and the alley even darker. He couldn’t make out her face, but that voice was unmistakable.
“Give it back,” she said again, this time slower, harder, as if the words hurt her mouth.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
He was lying. He knew what she wanted, but lying was easier than the truth. He knew what she wanted, but there was no way for him to give it back to her.
“What are you doing back here, kid? I just came out to get some air. I haven’t seen you in weeks, where’ve you been? Hey, let’s get out of this alley, yeah? I need some air — that club is disgusting. But you know that, huh?”
He consciously made his voice casual and unassuming to mask the anxiousness gnawing at his stomach, along with all the alcohol. The anger in her voice struck at him like fists, putting him on edge. He was unsure how much he’d had to drink, and consequently unsure how able he was to think effectively.
“Come on, kid. Let’s get out of here. I’ll buy you a drink and we’ll catch up. Yeah?”
He faltered on the last word, his voice almost pleading. His slip in confidence startled him — he was used to having the upper hand in situations, but now he felt like a wounded gazelle on the African plains. He held his breath and squinted into the shadows, waiting for her response.
She took two steps toward him, just far enough for the green florescent light from the street lamp to catch the side of her face and illuminate her sharp cheekbones. This woman did not look like the girl he remembered; she had been soft, rosy, innocent and charmingly naïve. This woman was hardened, her face gaunt and gray. He’d forgotten how muscular she was, her broad shoulders accentuated by her thin, gray t-shirt. He was four or five inches taller than her, but the way she was looking at him made him feel small. Her rigid stance resembled that of a caged circus animal who’d been beaten and neglected. Her eyes were fixed on him, unblinking, as if he held the chair and whip. She was preparing for the kill.
“I don’t want your drinks, and I sure as hell don’t want any more of your conversation. I want it back. Now.”
“Like I said, kid, I don’t know wha—”
The force of her voice was almost tangible, pushing him backward in a startled, drunken shuffle. Reaching back with his hand, he steadied himself against the cold brick wall, the fear of a vengeful woman overtaking his imagination. He was a nice guy, wasn’t he? He didn’t make trouble, did he? Why was she acting like this? What had he done? — He was lying to himself now. He knew what he’d done, but he refused to admit that to her. This was ridiculous. He wasn’t afraid of some girl, angry or not.
“Look, kid. I’m gonna get outa here. You coming or what?”
Without warning she leapt at him from the shadows, driving her shoulder into his chest. His reactionary neurons fired like a 1912 Model-T Ford doused in stale beer, leaving him helpless to brace himself before his head slammed into the brick wall behind him. He slid down the uneven stone to the damp ground, grabbing the back of his head as the warm blood began running down his neck, seeping into his blue shirt collar.
She swung at him wildly, hitting his nose, his ear, his jaw. Blood filled his throat as he tried to cry out. He fell onto his side, half choking, half gasping. Wrapping his arms around his head, he squeezed his eyes shut and prepared for the next blow. He waited, lungs burned from holding his breath in anticipation of pain. But the next punch didn’t come. Slowly he opened his eyes. She stood over him, straddling his outstretched legs, her shoulders heaving up and down with adrenaline-fueled breaths. Her eyes were closed, her brows pinched together, and her hands hung limp at her side.
“What am I doing, David?”
She opened her eyes and looked down at him, pleading. He stared back through his guarding arms, silent, afraid of triggering another attack with the sound of his voice.
“I shouldn’t be here. But I knew you’d be here. And I hate you. But I, I need you. Because you have it and I want it back. David, give it back. Please.”
He could only stare at her. The combination of liquor, head trauma and her freakish mood-change put him on the verge of vomiting. Unwinding his arms from his head, he carefully pushed the upper half of his body off the ground and sat back against the alley wall. He breathed heavily, watching her. The fluids seemd to seep from every part of his head. Still afraid to speak, he looked down at his bloody arms and hands. He didn’t mind blood like some people did. It was like saliva, like earwax. It was just life.
She stepped over his legs and sat next to him, her back against the wall, her eyes straight ahead. He stared at her, not knowing what to do. He wanted to hit her. He wanted to run away. He wanted to throw-up. But he couldn’t move. He just stared.
“Do you remember when we met, David? It was a year ago. It was right here, at this bar. Do you remember what you said to me?”
He couldn’t think. His head felt like a balloon being squeezed between a vice. He spit the blood from his mouth and glared at the side of her face. What kind of game was she playing? Because he was losing.
“I said you didn’t look like the other waitresses.” He grumbled his response, and spit more blood from his mouth. His lips stung.
“And the way you said it, I knew it was a good thing. The way you said it made me fall in love with you.”
She looked at him, returning his stare. He could feel the blood pulsating through his battered face and head as the skin began to swell. She was being sincere, honest, kind. It was her way of manipulating him. He knew that trick, because he did it too.
“Do you remember our first date?”
She looked away, her voice was forlorn, yet laced with hope. It made him feel like the perpetrator and she the victim. And really, that was how she felt. That’s why she was here. He knew that.
“We went to the carnival. Yeah, kid, I remember.”
“Do you remember the Ferris wheel?”
“Yeah, sure. It was your first time.”
His breathing had slowed and the blood had begun to dry. The stickiness of it was equally fascinating as it was irritating.
“Do you remember the car ride to the coast?”
He knew this was where she was headed. That’s why she wanted him to talk, to make him understand why she was the victim, not him.
“Yeah, kid, I remember.”
It was three hours to the coast, which meant three hours of conversation. She had wanted to listen to music, but he insisted they talk. Had he known that conversation would lead to a bloodied face in a dark alley, he may have avoided the alley that night.
He drifted away, his mind traveling away from the alley and into the blue, ’94 Honda they’d driven that day. He played the conversation in his head, remembering each dissecting comment of the three-hour talk, and how each one cut deeper into her shy and guarded person:
“You’re introverted, but more than anything, you want companionship.”
It was a statement, not a question.
“You’re confident in your abilities as an artist, but completely insecure in relationships. And you know why? Because every time you get close to a guy and open up to him, he leaves. So now you don’t trust anyone.”
He waited for a rebuttal as the car wound along the scenic highway. But she didn’t say anything. She didn’t even seem to be listening.
“Basically, the way I see it, you don’t take risks, so no one wants to take a risk on you.”
He looked over at her. Her body was turned away from him as she stared out the window. She probably hadn’t even heard him, which was too bad, because he’d made some well-worded observations. He smiled to himself proudly. He’d gotten really good at reading people. But his self-praising thoughts were cut short by a sniffle to his right.
“Woah, kid, why are you crying?”
“No one has ever — How did you — I didn’t even know — ”
She was sobbing by then, blubbering in confusion at how he could know all that about her. She told him he had said things about her she didn’t even know about herself, or at least not well enough to put into words. He couldn’t understand why she was so upset — if anything he’d done her a favor, helping her see things for how they really were.
She didn’t talked for the rest of the drive. When they got to the coast, she seemed almost herself again, but more pensive, more careful. On their way back, she held his hand and told him how special he was to her, how she was so grateful for him in her life. He hardly heard her, the radio was playing his favorite song.
He snapped back to the present, still sitting in the alley, still bloody and swollen. She was still there, staring blankly at the wall opposite them. She seemed to be playing the same scene through her head as he just had. She turned to look at him. She was crying.
“Why did you stick around? Why did you let me trust you?”
Lying now would be no better than the truth.
“Because you made me feel full. As in, satisfied. Most girls don’t do that for me.”
“Did you love me?”
She turned away from him as her shoulders began to heave. He was too drunk and too sore to care. He looked down at his bloody hands again. Pulling his legs underneath him, he pushing himself off the ground. She didn’t seem like much of a threat now. He took two steps and heard her whisper.
“I never took it, kid. You gave it. So take it back. I don’t care.”
She had stopped crying and lifted her head away from her hands. She examined her fingers like she was seeing them for the first time. Her head jerked around, squinting her eyes in disgust and confusion.
“You don’t care? You’re lying.”
He was. He did care. But not because he cared about her. He cared about himself and how she made him feel. He was selfish because life was easier that way. She didn’t understand that. She didn’t understand him. Hell, she didn’t even understand herself.
“Take it back, kid. Take control of your life. Stop blaming other people, wouldya? It’s not attractive.”
He turned his back on her and walked casually down the alleyway, out onto the street. If he went home and changed, he’d still have time to hit a few more clubs. He’d have to make up a story for his buddies — getting beat up by a girl wasn’t the way to earn respect.
© 2014 e.gosney