Life left her.
She was on her way home from work when it happened. She took the same path through the park as she always did. In the summer the trees obscured more.
Harmless was the word that came to mind when she saw him. His sudden appearance on the dirt path didn’t startle her. His question felt reasonable in its request. He asked her for the time. She was foolish enough to look at her watch.
It happened easily. She didn’t scream. The stranger retreated to the shadow of the dogwood tree and cleaned her residue off of his knife.
She stared at her lifeless likeness, still dressed in her uniform from the ice cream shop, twisted on the ground beside her. Television taught her this kind of separation couldn’t be undone, but movies suggested it might be possible. She lay down carefully on top of herself. She tried to melt into the still-warm, and was met with stiff corporeal refusal. So many times in her short existence she’d said that life wasn’t fair. All the while secretly believing that she could be an exception.
What would her mother say when she found out? Control: the concept fled through the trees.
The man who still did not have the time put away the knife. An accordion of black fabric flapped down from his hands and onto the ground. He shook the form until it grew. The sound of a zipper sliced through the cricket chatter. The man wrestled with the limp limbs. She marveled at the last sight of her skin. Familiar flesh bloomed with new purple and yellow before disappearing into the colorless bag. He struggled to get her head down. All of that thick hair strewn with leaves. The strands seemed to cling onto his gloved fingers. It creeped him out.
The bag dragged solidly against the earth. Slick green blades, incapable of resistance, flattened in its wake. She followed him where the trees swallowed light. A glint of a license plate. A jingle of keys. She climbed into the trunk with the bag. A feeble engine rumbled below. She rested her head against the window. The vicinity confirmed her lack; no reflection, no cloud of breath appeared on the glass. A vision of her mother arrived without warning — her mother waiting alone at the kitchen table, beholden to the sounds of sneakers on the porch.
The trunk opened to night. The man pulled hard and the bag tumbled out. She heard the river before she saw its distant line. The current, dark and active, could be heard all the way from her mother’s porch. The bag scraped against the rough terrain, over cigarette butts and bottle caps. The man loaded the sack with stones. Breath exited unsteadily from his nose. Tonight, gravity worked for and against him.
The water accepted her body without a splash. How strange she felt to watch her own departure, and yet remain. She hovered beside him and watched the darkness churn. The man broke from his stillness to wipe sweat from his brow. His sleeve dipped to reveal a black band across his wrist. Its insect sound was barely perceptible over the river’s infinite crescendo. Tick, tick, tick.
She erupted. A hatred toward all she had ever overlooked. A hatred toward ever being observed.
Her howl rattled nothing. Wind in her mother’s empty cup.
She followed him home, pushed his cans off the shelf while he ate, opened windows after he closed them, set the radio to the stations he hated before his morning drives. He swatted and swore, but for her, none of it felt like revenge enough. True revenge was to live on unscathed. It helped her calm down to try not to take her death personally. Perhaps she could have been anyone. At her lowest she’d think, at least he only killed her. He could have done worse, or more. He’d moved decisively as a guillotine.
She vacillated between apathy and action, and turned his stereo all the way up when he least expected it. His starts grew to leave her numb. Her laughter turned brittle. She lay on her side on top of his rose bushes, unable to feel the thorns. Two figures in blue trousers came to the door for a noise complaint. Radios crackled and bleeped from their waists. The man, who thought they’d come for something else, began to talk. True revenge was to live, but maybe this would do for now.
Yet as the figures strode down the drive with a thrashing third in tow, the girl’s sense of vindication went with them. The further their bodies receded from her view, the more difficult it felt to tell them apart. Her mother materialized beside her, told her she was proud; he deserved everything that came to him.
Her mother. That’s who she needed to see. But the girl remained stuck to the vacant lawn. She could no longer remember where she lived.
LILLIAN PAIGE WALTON is the author of Meter-Wide Button (Sapp Press, 2021). Her stories and non-fiction writing have appeared or will appear in The Art Paper, Wyrm, the Poetry Project Newsletter, and SPAM Zine's Plaza. A visual artist as well as a writer, Walton's sculptures and drawings have been exhibited internationally.