Rule of a Lady
“I know what I saw.” Bonnie said. She paced. Her middle finger at her mouth, working a hangnail. Her other arm folded across her chest, that hand tucked under the other elbow. Guarding. Protecting. Defensive. Bandaged.
“It was dark. It was late. You’d been drinking.”
“We’d been drinking. We had been drinking.” She lit a cigarette, held it up at him. “Don’t say anything.” She spat the words out, drawing hard on the cigarette, wanting to feel her stomach turnover at it. Maybe even wanting for it to make her sick like it had when she’d smoked that first one from a slicked pack of Winston’s from out the kitchen drawer when she was seven. She could light a stick match on the back of her front teeth when she was ten. She’d quit ten years ago and wanted this cigarette to make her sick, take her back to the place before any of this.
As soon as he went to bed she was going to fix herself a drink, slither into the bathtub, smoke more cigarettes, and try not to pick at the stitches because she was pretty sure that opening that back up would convince her that she was, in fact, still alive. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to know.
“Baby, it was just a shadow.” Dalton hadn’t started out in life with much patience. She’d long ago made quick work of what of it he had.
“It was not a shadow.” She glared at him. She admonished herself for arguing. He didn’t believe her. He’d made that clear at the hospital, telling them that she was stressed out. Telling them all sorts of things about her that weren’t true. Making her sound crazy. “If it was you, I’d believe you, Dalton. I would try to help you figure it out.”
“I can’t do that, Bonnie. One of us has to stay rational. One of us has to stay calm.”
“Go on, say it.” She stopped in the middle of the room, staring at him, sucking on that filter tip for all it was worth. “Say it, Dalton. Say it! You said it enough times already! SAY IT!” She screamed at him, her eyes bulging, her face flush.
“Bonnie, I think you need to talk to someone. I think you need to get some help.”
“No. No. No, no, no. NO. I am not doing it. I am not going through that again. The reexamination of why Bonnie is all fucked up. No. How could you even, Dalton? I need you to believe me. I know what I saw.” She paused long enough to light another cigarette. “Dalton, he was real. He was here and he was calling to me. There was no white light. There were no harps playing in the background and it was real and…” She stopped herself. It was dangerous to tell him too much. He’d only try to use it to hurt her later. He’d just use it against her.
“Bonnie, I know you miss Nanna.” Dalton sat on the sofa, sipping at his beer. He was almost casual at times, shaking his head at her. He looked different to her. His calm suddenly seemed to be very calculated.
“You know what, maybe you’re right. Maybe it was just a shadow. Maybe it is just because of what happened with Billy Sunday. You remember Billy, right Dalton?”
“Bonnie, you know that was an accident. Billy was my friend.” Dalton looked at the carpet. He was plotting his exit.
“And I was fucking him. Right? I was with Billy Sunday in the coat room at church and what happened? What happened, Dalton? What happened with you and Billy Sunday?” She was walking away, going for the bottle of red that was sitting on the kitchen table, the one she’d been stealing sideways glances at all night. To hell with it. He was trying to convince her that she was insane, what difference did it make if she was drunk too?
“Don’t change the subject, Bonnie. We’re not talking about the accidental death of my best friend, things that happened fifteen years ago. We’re talking about what you said you saw. You were doing so well, Bonnie. What do you think triggered all of this?
Evil bastard. He was so careful. Accidental. There was nothing accidental about the broken coat stand or the bruise it had left on Dalton’s knee when he broke it. There was nothing accidental about it sticking through the back of Billy Sunday. He was still dripping down the inside of her legs when they pulled the sheet over his head. She was fucked up. She was way fucked up. She climbed in the back seat with Dalton, as soon as they’d cut him loose at the police station. Oh she’d loved Billy. Bill was going to get her out of that town. Dalton would never leave.
“You killed him.”
“I’m going to bed, Bonnie. What you think you saw has nothing to do with Billy. I don’t appreciate you trying to turn this around on me. I am going to bed.”
“Goodnight!” She raised a full glass of wine at him.
He closed the door to their bedroom.
She ran the water as hot as she thought she could stand it. All of it was so stupid, really. They’d been drinking, playing Scrabble, and she’d heard the noise, that noise, outside. As usual, she didn’t tell him. She said she needed to get something out of her car, her Chapstick. He was standing in the driveway. He pushed her up against the car, pushed his hand down the front of her pants and kissed her hard on the mouth. He said, “Tonight, you leave with me.”
There was a fluttering, a rush, a rustling, in the air. A strange darkness spinning around her. Her head hit the concrete and bounced once. At the hospital it was all about how had she cut her wrist? And her insistence that she hadn’t cut it. Her insistence that he had cut her. “Who? Who? Who?” They said. She laughed at them. Inappropriate laughter. She was delirious from the blood loss. She laughed because they sounded like owls. That was another thing, how long had it been before Dalton had looked for her? How long that she’d lost that much blood?
In her delirium she told them the devil cut her wrist, only it wasn’t the devil, it was just some really wicked fallen angel. They were sure she was having some Billy Sunday guilt-remorse-grief issue. Dalton and Billy had both known, she’d been seeing things since childhood. She never would have told them, at the hospital, but he had come for her there and she was ready to go, the White Angel. The first time she’d seen the White Angel she was only a year old. She’d fallen off of the porch. He looked so peaceful standing there, in the garden. It had looked like dreams and everything you think a ghost is supposed to look like, except for the teeth. The White Angel had smiled at her and she had known that it wasn’t an angel. She managed to run screaming for her mother. They told her there was no way she could remember that she was too young, but she did. She remembered everything.
When she was eight, she’d seen it again. A bad dream in the middle of the night, calling for help and then, wide awake. The White Angel had appeared at the foot of her bed, shown those teeth, again. She pulled the covers over her head, stayed that way until sunrise. Billy Sunday. What did they really know about her? Except that maybe it was him, or something to do with him, that’s all they wanted to know.
The water turned her skin a ruddy color, a red stripe around her body like a ring around the tub. She unwound the gauze. She looked at the neat, straight, stitches. The doctor had put his hand on her knee, he was sympathetic. She wanted to say, “Take me home with you, you’ll never be sorry.” But you know, maybe he was too uptight anyway. Maybe he didn’t party. Maybe he couldn’t understand something like fucking Billy Sunday in the coat room at church, during services, and wanting to get out. Maybe he couldn’t understand white angels, weird sounds in the driveway and all the things that made her the mess that she was. She was so far gone. She looked at him and said, “You gonna fix me up, Doc? You gonna stitch me up? Are you going to heal me?” Smiling at him.
“You’re too old for games like that. My name is Allen. We have to refer you. Do you understand?”
“Oh, I understand.” She tried not to cry. Failed.
“What brought this on, Bonnie, is it?” he wrapped the gauze around her wrist.
“I didn’t do this, you know. I saw a demon.” She looked at him, his white coat, his stethoscope, and everything about his slightly middle aged, Master’s Degree that said, “Trust me.”
“You’re telling me that you think that a demon did this to you?” There was no one else there, only her and Allen.
“Or the devil himself. It’s been chasing me for as long as I can remember.” Bonnie said. Guiless. Exposed. Two a.m. in the E.R. “He shows up in my driveway sometimes. He makes this noise and I know to go outside.” She never took her eyes away from his face. Allen was handsome.
“You know you’re going to have to talk to someone.” Allen, Dr. Corvus, carefully taped the bandage together over the stitches. She’d heard it all before, manifestation of guilt fantasy, delusion. They all said the same thing, that is was because of Billy. That didn’t explain all the things that happened before Billy.
“You don’t believe me.” She looked at the mottled linoleum. Hospitals, they make so much money because they are so smart about sticking to the individual tile linoleum. Somebody bleeds too much into the cracks, just rip that tile out.
“I believe you, Bonnie. I believe you.” He didn’t smile. He didn’t mock. She believed him.
“You want to fuck me.” Her tone was flat.
“Yes, but not like this.” He reached into his pocket. “This is my card. Talk to someone, Bonnie. I’m here all night, this is my shift, graveyard.” He said.
“My kind of guy, Dr. Corvus.” She lifted her numb hand at him. The one she was looking at now, in the tub, just as numb. Her first stitches had been for a cut to the bone on the ring finger of her right hand. She’d reached into a glass rack and caught a broken one. She’d watched the doctor stitch it up, saying, “It seems like it isn’t even my hand.”
The attending physician had said, “You’re fascinated?”
“I guess I am.” She looked him in the eye.
“You might could have stitched this yourself.” He smiled.
“No.” was all she said.
She knew what she’d seen. He was tall. It was tall. The skin was a scaly, greenish-black. The wings translucent and iridescent like a dragonfly. His eyes glowed dark amber in the moonlight. It was always in the moonlight that he appeared for her. His nails dragging the driveway, out of place in suburbia, but then, where do demons belong? She’d let him feed on her. Not on her blood, something that happened when he kissed her, something that felt like dying because he understood. It felt like he was taking part of her soul. He was the only one who understood that she had seen him, she wasn’t crazy. She unwrapped the bandage in the tub and he kissed the wounds. He leaned his head on her head and put his hand on her shoulder, there again, just like he’d done in the driveway. She felt herself sliding under the water and welcomed it. No matter where she was, he was the only one she could never hide from.