Other Mens' Houses

I scuttle sideways under the dining room table in the dark; he has a gun and this time he’s really trying to end me. My legs don’t work; they prefer to freeze. I hate them. I can hear his boots on the hardwood, from every direction. It doesn’t help that this isn’t my house. He’s caught me in other men’s houses before, of course.

I want my own tears. They will be a mark of dignity as my corpse desiccates thanks to this man’s absolute violence against me. A stain of sainthood. At least a stain of meaning, of more-than-dust existence. But I don’t have tears, nor the luxury of self-pity.

I know tonight’s the night. No dreams of reconciliation from either party. He’s threatened and beaten me too many times, and I’ve crawled away bleeding too many times. It’s my fault as well as well as his, I think, although I’m not sure. You run from a fanged dog, he runs after you and sinks his jaws in your flesh. He wouldn’t have if you hadn’t run. The running triggered it. See what I mean?

When she was alive, my mother whispered over me comforting thoughts for times like this. And now I realize she suffered in just this way, and I want to vomit. It’s just nature, why I go to these men’s houses. But where else can I go? The side of a lonely road, around a bend in the cold, cold mountains? It’s just my nature, but I don’t think he knows this. Sure, in a scientific way, I guess he does. But he doesn’t really know. A dog thinks he understands every nuance of his principled detente with the mailman, after all.

He’s right above me. I quiver, baring my neck to his gummy black boot. For an instant I’m ready for it to end. But he doesn’t see me.

He’s come other times, in other places, always for me. This time he’s come for me and my children, and he won’t back off. He won’t pretend not to see me crawl away in the shadows, bruised and broken, to a safe hole to mend in. Where are my children, my beautiful babies, with their eyes closed?

He paces away into the kitchen, throwing a toaster and metal pans onto the floor, into the sink. I close my eyes and shake. No tears. It strikes me with depressing irony that the woman who lives in this house might do a similar thing - hunt me down. You know you’re evil; it just hits you at unexpected times.

He will always come for me, wherever I go, whatever man’s house I go to, bringing my babies whenever I can, provided they don’t make too much noise or take up too much space or upset the lawful residents.

He’s coming back into the dining room now. Silently I crawl into the shadow of a walnut bookshelf, where my babies are sleeping. At my back are rows of cookbooks from an Italian vacation, framed photographs, a flowerless vase. He’s looking right at me and I don’t know what is worse. He’s looking at me and he doesn’t see me. I relax slightly. It’s too dark for him to see; his milky pigs’ eyes haven’t adjusted to the ambient light yet. But I can look into his. Oh how I look into his, searching for a fingernail of pity or remorse.

In his eyes I see the eyes of my babies. I don’t know, it’s a pathetic, childlike longing on my part, a shamanistic stab in the dark, ascribing like on like; an attempt to cut and paste tenderness and compassion from one creature to another. This kind of naivete is how I got here in the first place.

I try to return the ill favor and stare right through him, like he doesn’t exist. It feels lopsided and impossible, like a tenderloin staring down a steak knife. My eyes ache.

“I know you’re in here,” he says.

“I am here. And we won’t both be leaving this house tonight alive, will we?” I reply, but don’t actually say it.

Is it the wetness that causes the man’s cruelty? The roiling blood, spittle and sperm? The sweat? If they all just dried out, thin as Autumn leaves, and floated past our lives in a glint of the sun, what then? Couldn’t we survive a little longer, couldn’t we thrive?

Perhaps my lack of tears is not something to be ashamed of. It sets me apart from him. He needs his wetness drained from him. Extracted. I want to be there when it happens. I will be there.

The windowsill glimmers; a minivan approaches and swings past the house. The vibration tickles the soles of my feet. It taunts me. What if the mother in that minivan, returning from the dry cleaners, telephone in one hand, hears me cry out from within this house of violence? What if she stops, raps on the door, on some premonition? Or even to deliver a neighborly foil-wrapped plate of cookies? It’s a stale, cruel joke, this fantasy I’ve played in my mind before the blows fall.

When terrible things happen to you so, so many times, their enumeration ceases to have meaning. Life does not progress, but loops back on itself.

This time, all times, the minivan trundles past and we are alone again in the darkness.

“Come out.”

No. I will come out when I am ready. And you will know.

He throws a soup pot lid in my direction. The clang as it hits the vase on the bookshelf stuns me. The lid clatters to the ground next to me. The hairs on my back and legs feel the whirling of the disturbed air.

Sometimes, cycles break. This time, unlike all the other times, I strike back. I spring up and out from the shadows, through the moonbeam cast on the floor. There is no ‘me’, just a living shield for my children, the one amulet they get in life that actually works: mother.

My fangs sink into his neck. His hands twitch in surprise, then flail madly. Blood spatters. Serum are exchanged. The room spins as we both topple horribly down. I feel the impact of the floor through his body, but I was expecting that. I scuttle sideways, missing his treacherous hand by millimeters.

“Bitch.” He moans. It is his last word, yet I crumple into a ball from fear or reflex. He rolls onto his back, hand clasped to the wound on his neck. He tenses, then his knees slouch outwards, his eyelids push closed. My venom has conquered him.

I inject more venom into his stomach, which dissolves into a pink frothy hole. I eat my fill, but there is no one to congratulate me. The moon shifts, shadows lengthen. I gather my sleeping children from underneath the bookshelf and place them carefully inside the man’s chest, spinning a nest for them, and a covering.

The man’s hate is finally gone. His death will bring about the life of my children. They will grow around me, uphold me, giving protection in exchange for juices, as it is with all creatures.

Exhausted, I stagger through the hallway to the front door, to spin an unexpected web for the absent occupants of my children’s house. This time, we will thrive.