An Alibi

When he came to her room, Connor Harlow found the door unlocked. It swung faintly on its hinges to the groaning of the decrepit building. This place was so familiar to him—and she, still so elusive; he had knocked so many times on that locked, water-stained door, that the change gave him pause for a moment. He sensed something was awry in their midnight routine, and it delighted him. It was change and adrenaline in his veins. He was so dull. He never did anything like this. So, he pushed on the open door in slow savoring. The suspenseful, moaning creak gratified him almost sexually. It was the adventurer's moment before orgasm. A friend in film had once told him that the creak of doors in horror movies is prerecorded and exaggerated precisely to this purpose. The groaning sighed to a stop. A ribbon of light fell on his shoe.

The first thing he saw, through the crack in the door, was her pulling a shirt over her head, rubbing her spindly wrists almost contemplatively. Not realizing she was being watched, she proceeded to make the bed. Her shadow fell at his feet as she crossed the room in long, efficient strides. She hummed faintly. The room, he realized now, was lit like a forest fire, all the lamps fully aglow. It looked entirely different, dingier even, without its characteristic dimness. He could see the corruption now, the stains on the carpet, on the scarred bed frame—which held a perfectly made bed. Eyes narrowed in concentration, she pressed down adamantly on the single lump in the center. A blood stain bloomed on the clean white sheet in a perfect imprint of her hand. It was a body, he realized, there was a dead body in the painstakingly made bed. And she was pressing her hands, in such apparent confusion, on its chest, almost as if she meant to perform CPR. Her serenity, however, completely dispelled the illusion. The corpse was, to her, simply an inexplicable stain on her neatly made sheets.

With insensible zeal, Connor suddenly made his presence known. She turned slowly and looked at him with perfectly lucid eyes, hands still flapping uselessly over the bed, like an obstinate bird with clipped wings. Closer now, Connor could recognize the pimp's lifeless face through the thin sheet. He checked the urge to vomit, as he would have liked to. He vowed he would play this brave. He touched her arm. She stared him down.

"Somehow, I don't think that's going to work," he said with borrowed bravado that he'd probably heard somewhere once and decided to imitate.

He lowered his head until it was on level with her hands. It had the effect of a sudden spotlight on a dark stage. As if discovering them, she suddenly raised her hands to her face. Her eyes grew wide at the sight of the blood then receded beneath her practiced mask, exactly the same way she had hid her face from him that first night, months ago, when he had asked her about her scars. Still, she continued to rub her hands together frantically, as if warming them. The blood looked unreal to him—far too much like ketchup, or the blood in movies.

"Come with me," he whispered upon sudden inspiration. He proffered his hand, an unspoken alibi.

Her dark eyes flared to life with hatred then cooled into ruminating embers, as she watched his hand swallow hers until it had disappeared completely from sight.

On the way out, the brake lights of the cars in front of them bled into the inscrutable night in an endless blur. Mona pressed her face to the glass of the passenger side window, shivering. But she was in silent, inert rebellion. The man's jacket was crumpled between her back and the seat. She had not defied or acquiesced, merely ignored him. He kept glancing at her on the pretense of checking his mirrors, as if to check that she was still there. The pretense was excruciatingly superfluous. He could make her jump through rings of fire and bark like a trained seal at this point, if he wanted to. And he probably would, she thought bitterly. There was no need to offer her his jacket like a high school sweetheart. And it was downright insulting to ask her name when, as they were both aware, it was completely irrelevant, which is to say, useless in sex. But most of all, his morbid fascination irked her; he needed real life in a big way.

That was how she had come to stare out the window—to avoid his scrutiny. She followed the line of cars in front of them with her eyes. Their red lights were a single, gaping, continuous wound in the night. Even as they drove on, the illusion did not pass. They never seemed to get any closer the source of the carnage, and the morbid red gash never seemed to clot. Mona's heart began to pound. Beside her, the turn signal continued its parallel nervous breakdown. She could feel herself sweating. Biting her lip, she closed her eyes and turned her head as far as anatomy would allow from her oblivious driver. Because they weren't driving away from anything. They were driving into it.