Sacrificing Ideas on Pacifism
The news of his death came from mutual “friends”. She said “friends” while lifting her index and middle fingers into air quotes, the polish on her long nails catching the light. These weren’t real friends, of course, just people she tolerated; she had long ceased to trust anyone who would keep in contact with him, who would entertain the notion that he was a good person, a person to be friends with. The news came through various social media outlets, as it does now, hastags #gonetoosoon, #rip______; this was news she waited for her whole life, it seemed, or at least half her life now. Almost half her life. When she found out, she raised a glass of gin to her lips and smiled. She licked the lip gloss off her lips. When her bill came she tipped 30% and told the waitress this was the best goddamned day of her life.
So it had been a motorcycle accident; he had taken up motorcycles in recent years (and of course she kept tabs on him, looking through any public account he had, his Instagram showing him sweating over a motor, all grease and sweat and she could still smell it). Any time she felt the fire of her rage dying out, she had to make sure to throw more kindling on it, to stoke the embers. The fact that he was breathing the same air as her, seeing the same sky—even halfway across the country, all these years later—infuriated her. So it had been a motorcycle accident, after all, and even a helmet couldn’t save him. Internal decapitation. She had wish it would have been worse, that he would have felt the agony, but as the Facebook posts reported, he was gone in an instant.
When pressed for a comment, she kept a low profile. “What a shame,” she told one friend, who didn’t ask her to elaborate. She didn’t comment on anyone’s posts. She just kept her eye out for memorial service information, fingering the corners of her credit card, just in case. But the wife decided a memorial service would be held on the west coast at a later date. His body would be shipped to the east for a wake and funeral, as he had lived most of his life there and had a family plot that was already paid for. So she was able to put her credit card away after all.
She bought a blonde wig and large glasses and a week before the services she attended a wake at the same funeral home. Just a stranger from the paper, she signed the guest book with the name “Ruth Ann Peters” and knelt at the coffin for the length of the Lord’s Prayer. She mingled in the foyer for an hour, sipped water from a flimsy paper cup, and when the director and attendants slipped out for their third smoke break she took note of the utility closet, which was more likely than not where the circuit breakers were. She did not notice any security cameras, put she made note to purchase spray-paint, just in case. When she used the restroom, she surveyed the ceiling.
That week she also took some of her hard earned and rarely used vacation days and traveled to Portland to shop and day drink. She used her credit card for everything. She sat on the pier for a few hours, buzzed from her merlot, watching the boats bob in the current. She thought of the past ten years; she had a good job as a paralegal and often caught herself staring at the mirror, pulling at the skin on her face which did not seem as taught as it was when she was younger and foolish and let him smash a bottle against her jawbone. Sometimes she would finger the scar on her cheek or press her hand gently to her throat. She caught herself doing this when she was most anxious, it seemed. But she had a beautiful condo and a good car and friends that met up for dinner and drinks several times a week. Still, she would sometimes have the nagging sensation that she was a phony, that the briefcase and paperwork and Outlook account was only a part of a thing she had shaped into “her”; that the real her was stuck somewhere in the past, cowering in a closet behind a door that was slowly being kicked down.
She stopped at Home Depot on the way home and bought some supplies she did not already have at her house. She paid cash for those, just in case.
The day of the wake she knew she was going to have to be careful. She went to work as usual, but found herself distracted, did not get anything done. At 4 she packed everything away neatly and drove home with a slight tremor in her hands. She chewed a Klonopin as she dressed and put on her makeup, her heels, her earrings. She knew she may see people she hadn’t seen in years, and she wanted them to see that she was doing well, wasn’t broken. She knew these things brought out all sorts of people, scurrying like beetles from under a rock in their mock grief, desperate for something to talk about later on. She would be as cold as the New England winter he had moved to avoid, but not frozen. She would dab at her eye with the rough tissues funeral homes often provided.
But oh—when she got there, to see the casket open, someone she had not seen in person in years so gray in death and his family broken—it was almost too much. She stood at the casket, biting her lip and trying not to simultaneously throw up and laugh, for a moment, then signed the guestbook and smoothed the front of her dress as people looked at her and then quickly away. She walked into the bathroom. Her nerves steadied and her skin cooled. She took off her heels and steadied herself on the toilet, lifting the drop ceiling tile and tossing her bag into the darkness above her. She climbed the sink, peering into the opening, but she was not sure it could hold her weight, so she replaced the tile and stepped out into the hallway, where, thankfully, no one was paying her any mind.
She walked with purpose to the utility closet and said a soft prayer that it would not be locked. It was not, and with gratitude on her lips she scanned the room, saw the circuit breaker, saw a space behind a rolling shelf with cleaning supplies and tissue boxes, and tucked herself down as small as she could, waiting.
The service went until 9pm, technically, but there were stragglers, and the bereft wife, the sleepy dazed children who needed to be ushered into the car to go home and prepare for the next day, not realizing, maybe, that they would never see their father again. Maybe he had been good to them; she did not concern herself with these trivialities. It was close to 11 when the funeral directors closed and locked the doors, but she waited until 11:20 to emerge from the closet, just to be safe.
No alarms sounded as she walked down the hall; she assumed there were alarms for the doors and windows, but had taken a chance when it came to motion- sensors. She listened to her heels on the carpeting of the hall as she walked to the bathroom. She slowly climbed the toilet and the sink again, lifting the drop ceiling tile and fishing around for her bag, which she found by the strap and pulled too hard, causing it to hit her face as it swung down. Startled, she lost her footing, crashing to the floor from the sink and onto her knee, which immediately began to throb. “Shiiiiiiit”, she hissed, her ears ringing as the silence settled back around her.
She stood up and smoothed her dress again. She opened the door and walked over to the viewing room, turned on and dimmed the lights, and slowly walked over to the casket. Her heart was in her throat. It had been years since she had been this close to him. She had been closer to a child when she had last seen him, standing over her with his thumbs pressed into her windpipe, her capillaries bursting, her legs kicking out useless beneath her, finding no ground. She wasn’t even old enough to drink yet, but they were drunk, and angry, and she had thrown an ashtray at him and he had pounced on her, his face red and his words meaningless. She had scratched at his face, tried to pull his long hair, but he was much bigger than her, she had been starving herself and he was older and bigger and she thought this was not worth it and she had lost consciousness, and when she came to he was gone. Her bruises had healed and her windpipe had healed but something inside her had never healed from that day, and she remembered packing her car up and driving away thinking I am such a fool.
But look at him now! The mortician had done the best he could; the fingers were obviously broken and the way his hands were positioned made that obvious. His head seemed to be at a strange angle, with his chin resting on his chest. The makeup left little to be desired; he looked gray, and in the corners of his eyes and mouth the foundation was not blended well. She hesitated for a moment and touched a trembling finger to his collar, pulling it aside, where her initials were still tattooed on his neck. That idiot. She had gotten his lasered off years ago, a painful process. Her mouth tasted like metal.
She dropped her bag to the floor and smacked his corpse as hard as she could. His skin felt clammy, like a Halloween prop. She smacked him again. She could not stop hitting him, wordless noises coming from her mouth like a frenzied animal. This is how he felt, she realized, hitting him over and over, his face, his chest. She was crying, and she was ashamed.
She felt a wave of nausea and exhaustion sweep over her, but she was not finished. Reaching down into her bag, she took out a knife, guaranteed to be able to cut through anything. With her left hand she lifted his head by his hair—it was shorter now, he had grown up that much at least—and with a rush of adrenaline she plunged the knife into the hollow of his neck.
It should have taken a long time. She had accounted for vertebrae, thinking it would be hard to navigate between them. She did not account for the embalming fluid that sluiced over her fingers, making her hands slip, nicking herself with the knife. And she did not account for the fact that he had been decapitated internally, and so there was no need to struggle with separating bone.
She pulled his head free from his body, and, giddy with the release, she laughed, a loud braying laugh that echoed through the halls of the funeral home.
She looked down at the head in her hands, then at the body in the casket. And she knew what she had to do: run.
She threw her heels into her bag and bolted for the door, cradling his severed head in her arms like a football. He would never hurt anyone again, never beat a girl for asking for another drink, never push one down the stairs because she said hello to another man. He would never fuck another woman behind his wife’s back or teach his children that there are few consequences for their actions. But most importantly to her, she would never have to fear for her life again, never wake up in a cold sweat, never panic when her throat was sore.
Forgetting her fastidiousness, she unlocked the front door with her trembling hand. The roar in her ears was deafening. She looked around, frenzied, not sure what she should do. She knew the river was three blocks north. She began to run, her bruised knee throbbing. She thought she heard the sound of alarms, but paid no mind. She ran faster, holding his head to her chest. She was two blocks away now. She thought she heard cars, saw blue lights. Her chest was on fire. She could hear the river, the waterfall. She was one block away now. She was almost there.
*Author’s Note: Title borrows from “Prayer” by the band Huggy Bear
Kolleen Carney is the Editor-In-Chief for Drunk Monkeys and the Managing Editor for Zoetic Press. She has an MFA in poetry which, I mean, come on. All she does is eat pasta, drink vodka, and watch Vanderpump Rules. She lives in Burbank, CA, tweets @KolleenCarney, and blogs…poorly… at kolleencarney.com.