Monday, February 1, 2010

Short Story: Good Morning, Margaret

 By: Allen D. Reed

    When Margaret woke up, she wasn't at all surprised to find that she was still hanging by her wrists in the cold, dust-lathered basement. The smell of vinegar hung in the air like a eulogy, just as it had every morning for the past few weeks. There was an inch thick layer of dirt and cobwebs that framed the only window in the room. If one were to pass the window outside, it would look like someone had leaned a lint trap against the base of the house, but it did allow enough light in to illuminate the shelves of pickled vegetables. It was the same old tomatoes, onions, and pickles, as well as the large jars of indiscriminate produce that she had to look at every day. One of them seemed to contain an entire gourd. Barney liked his food pickled. It's the only way he would eat it.

She was glad that her wrists had stopped hurting, but knew that if she were ever free again, her hands would most likely need to be amputated. They had turned a macabre shade of purple and could not be moved. A week ago, she could still move her fingers, but only somewhat. Now they were motionless and dead—a means to hang Barney's meat and nothing more. The most recent bites he had left on her had begun to scab over. She thought it would've been nice if one of them had been infected. Margaret doubted he would even notice between his bites of pickled onion and toothy assaults on her if she were running a deadly fever. She knew that by the same time tomorrow, there would be a new set of wounds to renew her hope. The ones she already carried sang to her in a chorus of pain, but pain had become a way of life. Pain had replaced her previous annoyances—lost keys, dead cellphone batteries, traffic—with something to really cry about, though it seemed like she hadn't shed actual tears for the last couple of weeks. It wasn't for a lack of trying. It was most likely dehydration. Sometimes Barney gave her water, and sometimes he made her drink the vinegar from the jars. She hadn't had either in days.

As painful as her wounds were, they were not the worst assault she had to endure. She could feel the places his hands and dick had been with an electric clarity that almost burned her skin. To think that there was a time when she allowed Barney to touch her willingly filled her with a nauseous cocktail of embarrassment and self-loathing. In her previous life, she had read that psychopaths had a tendency to be some of the most charming people. Barney was certainly no exception. On their first date, he took her to a Rangers game. She had told him on the phone that she loved baseball, but didn't enjoy watching it on TV. During the third inning, he caught the first foul ball that made it halfway to the nosebleeds and gave it to her. After the game, he managed to get it signed by Scott Feldman and said that he doesn't normally just hand his balls over. Margaret had a good laugh at that. Lately, the memory of hotdogs and nachos meant more to her at that time than the memory of her parents did. She had stuffed herself to point of misery that day. Barney, of course, only had a pickle.

The television upstairs kicked on with the volume turned all the way up. Margaret could hear the voices coming from it, but could not make out the words. She didn't need to hear it clearly to know what was on. Barney watched the news every morning at nine o'clock to check for possible developments in the investigation surrounding Margaret's disappearance. A couple of weeks ago, there had been a statewide search for her. She would hear the muffled voice of her mother pleading from the floor above her in a desperate tone she had never heard before. Of course, the search had been called off since then. Margaret had ceased to be news worthy—a fact that Barney reminded her of every morning while opening a jar for his breakfast and caressing his not-so-impressive erection. “They forgot all about you,” he would say. “Looks like it's still you and me, baby girl.” She had no doubt that she was in for the same scene that morning, only with a possible change of endearment. She could be “momma bear” or “doll face” or some other sickening term that she'd never be able to hear from another man again. Other than that, it's always the same morning. Barney was nothing if not consistent.

Margaret could hear him milling around upstairs. His heavy footfalls sounded like the hull of a ghost ship from her place in the basement. She figured he was getting dressed for breakfast. It was always the same black dress pants, white tank top, and bib with the words “Happy Birthday!” written in blocky, blue letters. She had begun to wonder which yellowed, dusty jar he would eat from when she heard the kitchen sink start to run. She knew it was the kitchen sink because the pipes in the house lurched to attention when they were called to duty. It was always a wonderful sound to her because it meant the possibility of a glass of water. There were those times when he would drink the water himself and offer her the remainder of the putrid vinegar left in his jar. She hoped it wasn't one of those days. It was one thing to die of fever, but her body would never let her die of thirst.

The TV upstairs fell silent. It was almost time. There was no way Margaret could brace for impact, so to speak. What she could do was hold her breath and try not to scream while the fresh bites and foul, pickled tongue plagued her skin for another few hours. She could try to remember hot dogs and nachos while he forced his way inside of her. She could hope for a drink of water.

The door at the top of the stairs opened with its signature moan, and then there was the sound of boots pressing on ancient wood. Her mind grabbed desperately for thoughts of rescue, of food, and of the faces of her family, but all such thoughts made their escape, leaving her alone in the cold, fetid basement. As Barney came into sight, he addressed her in the usual way.

No part of this work may be reproduced or republished by any means without the prior written permission of the author.


Post a Comment