Shelly Wass

I canít breathe.

Disgraceful, the way they just threw me away. As though I no longer had any meaning in my body. As though I had not given birth to that small boy. He still cries for me, you know. My boy. He remembers the shape of my breasts and the feel of my arms. He remembers the sound of my voice, soft, in his ears. My body, my son in my arms.

What became of my body, what undid flesh and bone alike? People always told me I had beautiful hair.

"You have beautiful hair," they would say.

Victor would grab my beautiful hair the same way he had caressed it. Open handed, lifting his fingers through, then holding tight, close to my scalp. It was difficult, sometimes, to tell the difference. The difference being the way he loved me and the way he hated me from the start.

Iím only 19. These small towns, they have a way of stunting a person. They have a way of trapping a girl and they have a way of killing, slowly at first, brutally in the end. People have a way of disappearing in small towns. But there is nothing left of me here. I was broken down first then torn apart. They had to starve them first, you know. A week, I think, they hid me while they let them get hungrier and hungrier.

I never liked those hogs. The way they devour. I could never imagine a substance or even an idea I would tear through with my teeth with such vengeance. But, we never know what we are capable of. I will never know what I am capable of.

I just wanted out. Not for long, a gentle reprieve from the beauty of my boy. A moment of silence from that man.

Victor. He was the joy of my life for a week, and the terror in my mind ever since. He blocked the door, leaning against it, one arm resting against the frame. Funny, the look on his face. Even the look was the same as the stance. I remember the way he leaned the same way on my motherís door the night he picked me up for our first real date. I had the same makeup on my eyes that night.

"Fuck, I love you in that dress," he said, pulling me towards him by my hips.

I pushed his hands down and away, calling to my mom and walking out with him. We stepped out the door and I could smell the farm on his skin. I liked the way he smelled like the earth. It made me feel safe. No, not safe. And, no, I didnít like it. There was something unholy about it. Even then, I felt like I recognized that smell from some part of my life that hadnít happened yet. Ominous, really. In fact, the smell terrorized me in much the same way that the look on his face did. I could never understand how such hate could flash in the eyes of the father of my son. But not that first night.

"I am going to show you something youíve never seen," he said.

I sat next to him in his truck. That is the way we do things here. We sit next to our men and we silently rebel against the closeness.

"Iíve lived here all my life, there is nothing I havenít seen," I said.

"Danice, donít be so smart. You havenít seen this, have you?" Victor handed me his knife. Unsheathed, it caught the reflection of the dome light he had switched on. I could see my face, my hair. I turned it just so and caught Victorís face on the blade. Distorted. Something about the way his face was framed by sharp edge and dull. He was smiling and nodding his head.

"Iím not impressed," I told him. I handed him the knife and he set it on the dash.

But this is not the way to tell this story. It went much faster than that.

He fucked me that night in the truck, my dress pushed up to my shoulders. He couldnít even have seen my face. I cried when I got home and I ran to the phone the next day when he called. We were married. Not married, but he owned me. In a small town like ours people know fast who you belong to and when you belong to someone like Victor, people stay away. He was sweet, he was vicious. I loved him from the first night.

I saw the knife again eventually, but he saved that till later. I moved in with Victor and his dad. They lived on this ranch, the one that smells like the earth that is upturned with every step of every hoof and boot. Sloppy, like mud, but not mud. More like soup. It was cramped. Victor held my hand even when I walked down the hall with him. I followed him through the house and he deposited me on the sofa or chair and told me to wait.

" I have something for you," he said.

"You donít have to," I said, smiling. He leaned down in front of me and his face changed color. He was shy like a boy that night.

"I love you," he said. I knew he did not.

"Iím pregnant," I said.

He stood. And I heard that sound. It is a sound like riffling through trash. It is the sound of slop. He turned away from me. I looked out the window and listened to that sound. Victor left me there. Later I found a crumpled bag under the bed. I lifted a white bra and panty set out of it. I had seen the set in the window of the clothing store in town. I thought they were slutty.

This is it. This is where it changed. One month of bliss -- sex, love. Eight months of domesticity--helping on the ranch, cooking them dinner. The rest of my life terror--wrapping my arms around my swelling stomach, crouched on the floor to catch the worst of the blows on my shoulders and head before they could reach my baby.

"I saw you smile at him!" he hollered.

I lost my voice that day. I no longer spoke to Victor. Sometimes I would whisper into his ear at night. I tried to speak the voice of my baby, surely Victor could hear that.

"I want you to feel like me. Please feel like me," I whispered.

So I cut my hair. And he hated me more. And we touched less. Not the touch of tenderness. He touched with the sting of cruelty. When he touched I fell and he sometimes laughed.

"Victor, please promise me you won't do that after our baby is born," I said.

"You tricked me into this, bitch. No one is off the hook," he replied.

The baby came, red and wrinkled and squalling and beautiful. Victor took one look and left the hospital, left me to find my own way home.

What small joy can be found in perdition. How many times can one man lose his mind? We were all so hungry. We all starved, but for more than just that one week in January. In October the weather was the same but more bitter. In September Victor was the same but more angry than ever. I heard the steps down the hall and I lifted the small fingers out of my hair and set him gently in the crib. He looked at me and I think he winked. And I was spun around by those hands in my hair. I had breast fed in the living room. I wasnít supposed to do that. I am a slut. I am dirty. My child is a bastard.

This is the story. The story is this: Just one night, I tell myself. If he can let me go for one night I can think about nothing and maybe drink a beer. I can come back to Victor and the boy and we can start this again. I can do new things, I can grow out my hair. I pull it away from my face as I apply the eye shadow that has been hiding in my bag. Itís smooth and cool on my eyes. So long since something has touched my eyes so gently. I stop by the tall mirror, I stop by the crib. I walk into the living room and Victor and his dad are watching television. They pretend not to see me.

"Iím going out for a little while," I say. I lift my keys quietly off the table. Victor does not look at me.

"No youíre not. You're making us some popcorn," he says, smiling at his dad.

"No, Victor, I need to get out of here for awhile. The baby is fed and sleeping. I will be home early."

"Youíre not going anywhere, Danice. Sit down and shut your mouth."

"Victor, I need a break. I am in this house all day and I need a break."

"Shhhh, you two take this outside."

"Donít take another step towards that door, bitch."


"Look at you. You look like a whore. Where did you get that dress?"

"I wore this the first time we went out, Victor."

"Well, no wonder I thought you were easy. Danice, get over here. Youíre not going out that door." Then his fingers are in my hair, twisting, almost pulling me off my feet.

"Victor, please donít do this. Victor, let go of my hair!"

"Listen to me."

He pulls, hard, and I feel a couple dozen hairs give way.

"Hey. You think you can just leave? Come here. Look at me!"

I try to pull away, turning slightly so I can bat at his arm, trying to make him let go. But he is strong, too strong.

"Oh, now she fights. You fucking whore. Look, Dad, her make-up is smeared. Get back in that bedroom and wash that shit off your face."

The back of his hand comes out of nowhere and seems to explode into pure white light.

"Get up. Now. You fucking baby. Get up, Danice."



I canít breathe.

I hold my throat until my hands donít do what I tell them. I see my hands fall to rest on the floor beside my head. He stands over me. He towers, really. I never knew he could stand so tall. His dad is leaning beside me. I am silent. As silent as I have ever been. I know my body is exposed. I know I am not shielding myself and for a minute I am stunned. I try to lift my arms to cover my face. I donít want him to hit me in the face. They are talking, but I canít hear what they say. I am not looking at them, my head is turned to the side but I know they are there. I sense what they say and I hear that sound. The first time I was reminded of the sound of raccoons tearing through our trash. But these are not raccoons. I am not afraid of raccoons. It is the hogs I will soon know.


Shelly Wass is a graduate of the University of Montana's Creative Writing and Literature program and a current master's student at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. She has recently been published in the Taj Mahal Review and Nuvein Magazine. Additional stories have been published at theatlasphere.com and pieceofmind.com.

E-mail: tinypika@comcast.net

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