My name is Leslie Harris, and I am damaged goods.
Just ask my husband. He can tell you the countless ways I've let him down, what a disappointment I've been, how he never really loved me. You might think that someone who doesn't love me now and swears he never did would let me go. But you would be wrong.
I've been watching Mick pace across our hardwood floor for the better part of an hour. He's worn a path from the ridiculously large stone fireplace to the bar along the right side of the room, pausing occasionally to refill his glass. He's in the kind of mood that would have frightened me before, but what more can he do to me now?
Mick looks shorter, and a little less fierce, from my heightened perspective. At 6'5" he normally towers over me, but he would be just as intimidating as a shorter man. His eagerness to follow through on threats instills a deep fear in everyone who knows him.
Mick resumes his pacing, his footsteps echoing through an otherwise quiet house. Each time he passes my end of the room, he stops. As he stares through me, he looks as if time has gently whisked him back to happier days.
Of course he feels that way, he has me right where he wants me.
Mick abandons his pacing and walks directly toward me, stopping less than a foot away. He stares more intently this time, studying every feature. His breathing is all I can hear. He slowly reaches out his hand as if to stroke my cheek.
Suddenly Mick's cellphone rings, splitting the silence and startling him into dropping his glass. The room, and my mind, fill with the tinkling sound of shards bouncing across the hardwood floor. That is the sound I'd expected to hear when the windshield shattered. Instead, something not unlike the sound of crumpling cellophane had accompanied my fade to black. My awareness had resurfaced briefly in the emergency room, and once more in intensive care. But the next time I woke up I was here.
"Yes?" Mick answers. "...Oh, hi Jason...It worked...I'm positive...She's here all right." He reaches out his hand again, more confidently this time. I brace myself for his touch, but his fingertips never reach me.
At least he can't touch me anymore. Being out of reach is a small but meaningful side effect of my present situation.
"She's as beautiful as the day we met...Come see for yourself...No...No way...She's staying right where she is..." Mick crunches glass on his way back to the bar. He reaches underneath it for another, which he slams down next to the bottle. "I said she stays put! I'm warning you...Shit!" Mick lets the phone roll off his fingers and drop loudly onto the bar. He pours another drink, downs it, and fills his glass again. Mick hates to be hung up on. Fortunately for him, most people we know lack the guts to do so. Jason, however, has been quite ballsy lately.
It never used to be that way. Mick had been firmly in charge of their friendship and ours for more than a decade. Mick never met a situation, or a person, that he could not control.
I tried to tell Jason how unbearable my life had become, but he wouldn't believe me. Mick would put me down in public and Jason would join in on the joke. I would complain that Mick kept me home and alone, and Jason would defend their need for nights out with the boys. It wasn't until Jason witnessed Mick pinning me to the stairs with his fist that I was taken seriously. Things got nasty after that--shoves here, broken furniture there--until everything exploded last night. He started off by accusing me of fucking Jason, and finished by declaring I was damaged goods. I left him as soon as he fell asleep.
Damaged goods. That supposed to mean that no one would want me. Why would they? I'm mentally unstable. I'm bitchy. And I'm no longer as thin as I was when we met.
Of course I was fourteen then. I don't know any twenty-nine year olds that look fourteen. I've endured fifteen years of comparison to my girlish self, all because of one stupid mistake I made on our first date.
I hadn't wanted to go into that store in the first place. We'd wandered in and out of tourist shops all day and I was tired. But Mick had insisted. Just inside the door we were accosted by the picture box.
The frame was larger than a standard studio portrait, and deep. Inside was the three dimensional image of a young girl. She looked real and I was completely creeped out. Mick decided he had to have one of me.
I relented, and a cross between my youthful beauty and adolescent petulance was preserved for eternity, or so the warranty claimed. I hated it. Mick loved it. For years it has hung in our living room, where he can compare me to it on a daily basis.
If I'd known then what I know now, I'd like to think I never would have agreed. But you know what they say about hindsight--it's a helluva lot more accurate than prophesy.
With a sigh and a belch, Mick opens yet another bottle and walks over to me. Leaning as close as circumstances allow, he reminds me that I'm staying here and disappears. I can only assume he has left the room. My line of sight is restricted by an inability to turn a head. After much muttering and cursing, Mick reenters my vision field with our shotgun and shells. Obviously his mood has worsened. Pacing and swearing and drinking are commonplace for him. Brandishing a loaded weapon is not.
Mick walks over to the back door. I hate that door. It's glass, with floor to ceiling windows flanking it, and beige vertical blinds covering the whole mess. I had something completely different in mind, but Mick is the architect. What do I know?
Parting those blinds with the gun barrel, he spills moonlight onto the floor. Although it's been dark for hours, Mick has yet to turn on a light or build a fire. If it weren't for the light seeping in around the blinds, the room would be pitch.
"Jason's on his way you know." Mick says, letting the blind fall back into place and turning to face me. "He's got cold feet. Wants to undo everything. But it's a little late for that now isn't it?" Mick approaches me again, gesturing first with the shotgun and then the nearly empty rum bottle. "He's worried about bad karma." He laughs, wiping his mouth with the back of his bottle wielding hand. "I told him it was all your fault. That you're the one that run off in the middle of the night like a pouty teenager." He takes a long swallow from the bottle. "You're staying here. Where you belong."
I don't belong here, but I'm certainly not going anywhere thanks to Jason. I have to wonder how Mick got him to go through with this. Maybe he waved a gun in his face too. Of course, Jason had no reason to believe it would actually work. He probably felt like he had nothing to lose, by humoring Mick. No use risking angering an irrational man.
"Are you listening Leslie?" Mick is shouting now, his face just inches from me. "You're staying put!"
Mick hears Jason's car before I do. He peeks through the blinds again and then hurries to the corner by the fireplace. Carefully he puts the bottle on the floor, and settles into his favorite chair. The shotgun is resting across his knees.
Down the hall I hear Jason's key in our front door. He calls out to Mick, who doesn't answer. Soon he is in the room. He hasn't had time for his eyes to adjust, so he doesn't see Mick in the corner. And I have no way to warn him.
As soon as Jason gets to me, Mick cocks the shotgun.
"Hi Mick," Jason says without turning around.
"Get away from her." Mick steps into the middle of the room and gestures with the barrel, but Jason doesn't move. "I said get away from her."
"You know this won't work." Jason reaches for me. "You can't keep her like this."
"Get your hands off my wife!"
If I could make noise I would be laughing, because this is just too ridiculous. My life and impending death have been reduced to soap opera. I know it looks like a triangle but it's not. I'm not in love with Jason. I've never even slept with him. And I'm certainly not in love with Mick. So why are they fighting over me? Because Mick will go to his grave a control freak, and Jason is a hopeless romantic, determined to save the damsel in distress. They'll never change. They'll never grow. They'll never be anything more than what they are. And neither will I.
We have no choice but to play our parts. Mick is the ogre. I'm the helpless victim. Jason is the white knight who can't quite reach the grail. None of us can change this.
Mick raises the shotgun to shoulder level. Jason lifts my frame off the nail and suddenly I am falling. The last thing I see is darkness. That last thing I hear is breaking glass.
The light is beyond bright. It is searing. But I am free! I open my eyes and look down.
Far below me is Mick Harris, straddling Jason's body. In his hands he
holds what's left of the holographic picture box.
Saga Drake lives in the midwest with her two creative children, and her husband, Geoffrey. Despite these distractions and her duties as editor of Artistic Intent, she still finds time to write. She began her writing career as a journalist and photographer for a small newspaper. "Portrayal" is the first of her fiction to be published.