AT THE PARTY, Margot scratches open her left wrist with a shard of glass she finds on the kitchen floor. It’s as if she only unclouds a small window to her arm’s inner workings; there isn’t enough blood to form even one drop, just a pink line dotted where the skin was too strong. Still, it makes a point to her drop-jawed, jaundiced-in-the-low-light peers who glue their backs to the walls.
And now Margot has a sword. Where the hell did that come from?
Oh yes, one resident of the house collects ancient Asian artifacts (he’s starting business school in China this fall and his name may or may not be Lee). Margot slices through the air with the crescent-moon metal, drunk on six beers and ultra-awake on Adderall (in fact, she has been awake for two days).
“Kill me,” she says to Craig, a hulk of a guy and a resident of the house who does not collect Asian artifacts, but who is a member of the ROTC and therefore who Margot assumes would most likely accept the mission of murder. And actually, this is his fault anyway. Inviting Margot to the party. Following her around. Finally shedding his reticence long enough to say, “You’re probably doing something wonderful,” and reminding Margot that, indeed, she was not.
“Come on,” Craig says, yanking the sword’s leather handle. Margot releases it. After many a conscious step through her labyrinthine life, Margot has hit a dead end. Faintly she hears footsteps, the Minotaur coming. This is it, she thinks as the blade extends from Craig’s arm and his eyes glow red from the high everyone’s riding.
But the metal wilts and the tip skims the floor and Craig’s free hand wraps around Margot’s red wrist, and it’s the most intimate moment she has ever had with a man.
The song on the iPod stops and another does not start. Craig’s face dominates Margot’s vision like a Chinese character – threatening with its mysterious meaning, gorgeous in its structure and singularity. The dozen fellow students unlucky enough to have congregated in the kitchen look horrified but not shocked. Margot realizes she is only illustrating their already formed assumptions about her: that the world is a tightrope far too thin for her to stand on.
Lindsay floats into the room—she really does. An heiress unencumbered even by the burden of gravity. Her crow cackle ripples from her throat, interrupting the soup-like silence everyone else has offered. Her plush lips shrink to a tight o and she actually says, “oh”, and backs up smiling like she opened the door to someone sitting on a toilet.
“Call someone,” says Craig still holding Margot’s wrist. His authority calms her.
“What’s her problem?” asks Lindsay.
Margaret feels the expression she makes—her forehead an accordion, her chin a puckered ass. It’s not attractive, yet she makes sure Craig sees it—the monster he’s made. “I’m a shark,” Margot whispers, like they all should have known.
Lindsay takes a deep breath through her nose. Margot too smells the overripe bodies around them, pities Lindsay for one second, not even a millisecond, before Lindsay snorts gleefully, rolling her eyes. “Am I supposed to, like, call the police or like, animal control?”
“Just do it,” says Craig, his gaze unbroken from Margot’s. “911.”
Lindsay swats at the fingertips of the future Harvard Law alum (a blond link in the partygoer perimeter) with whom she had been flirting earlier, whom Margot had unsuccessfully taken a stab at first (figuratively, of course, not with the sword). The boy comes alive, peels himself from the wall without one look at Margot, and follows Lindsay down the hall. Lindsay has a partnership in her mother’s Los Angeles development company waiting on ice.
Margot no longer feels the beautiful sting of Craig’s sweat pressing into the line in her wrist. Instead, the sword becomes all too important again, especially as Lindsay, the third resident of the house, closes her door down the hall, the click of the lock becoming a fly in the kitchen’s soup-silence, unable to be ignored. It has to be just dumb luck, Margot thinks, and if the world is based on that, she has no place in it. Tears erupt.
“Kill me!” Margot screams again, her voice tearing her tonsils. Some kids sidle from the room, slowly, slowly, until they start to sprint. Others stay, unhealthily intrigued. Craig hands the sword to Lee (?) who shakes his head at it like the thing started everything. And who knows, maybe it did.
Margot’s body quakes and her shrieks echo in the emptying room. Craig releases her wrist to plug his ears and Margot falls silent at this abandonment. She regrets any noise she has ever made and wishes she had known Craig better before she wanted him to kill her. He barely ever spoke in freshman biology. She feels like she is going to be sick, but decides against it.
Sirens sound. Kids run out the back, the underage and those with pockets full of pot.
“Run. Run. Run!” Margot sings to their percussion of exodus. But she actually hates their easy escape. She hates their easy 2.5 GPAs and the nepotized positions at hedge funds awaiting them. She hates the keggers and scavenger hunts and winter ski-cations they enjoyed while she struggled for her 4.0, double-majoring in English literature and classics, succumbing to substances of high performance just so she could be sequestered to grad school waitlists and never make it off (this she found out this morning). Her professors had assured her of success (“Under our
tutelage…graduating from such a prestigious university…”). Her stimulant-driven study sessions had as well seduced her with promises they apparently couldn’t keep. Her mother had suggested she apply for jobs (“just in case”) and of course, Margot had not. Now she no longer measures herself by gains, only losses—150,000 dollars in tuition, a zillion Adderall-rattled brain cells, three friends (kind of), dates (optimistic maybe), four years, her mother’s encouragement, “the college experience”, her only nice dress on which sweat and spilt beer spots currently bloom.
Craig stacks cups and sweeps broken glass into the corner with his shoe. He licks his
hand and glides it over the mossy-green shake on the table.
“Run, run, run away too, coward,” says Margot, yelling over the yowling sirens. As usual Craig stays silent. So Margot pushes against his tensed torso and calls him a pussy for not killing her and accuses him of loving Lindsay like everyone else. Then she shoves him again. And maybe it’s his poisoned veins or maybe it’s something else that melts his body from ice to water, but he swooshes across the room and knocks his hip against the counter. The impact sounds like ceramic cracking; Margot guesses he’ll have a bruise.
“Fuck,” says Margot, snatching the nearest object, a meat mallet from the kitchen sink, and beating it against the already almost-healed seam in her skin, and it barely hurts at all, which hurts her even more.
“What. Do. You. Need?” Recovering, rubbing his hip, Craig speaks loudly, slowly, as if Margot has fallen down a well.
“A loaded gun.”
Craig hardens at this and traps her hands within his, melding her left palm with her right mallet-clenching fist. A shock runs through her. “What do you really need?”
“I—I don’t know.” It’s as if Margot boarded a plane to Bali but landed in Lithuania instead. People tell her she’ll make it to paradise eventually, but she has yet to see the proof. And what should she do in the interim? She has debt. She has no marketable skills. She does not speak Lithuanian. It’s disorienting (or maybe that’s the drugs).
Craig kneels onto the floor, a violent proposal. “What do you need?” He repeats through gritted teeth, their hands still steel crushing clay.
“To leave Lithuania.” Margot’s words tremble.
Craig nods, either understanding or truly giving up, and relaxes his grip around her thin, delicate fingers. Margot notices the softness of his skin. Now their fingers are porcelain wrapped in velvet. Margot wonders how, once shipped out, Craig will kill a man with cloth.
“What do you need?” asks Margot.
Craig exhales like he’s been holding his breath. “I just need you to be OK.”
A heat rises in Margot. She feels herself blush. Tears would come, but her body has run dry. She wants to ask, Really? She wants to ask, Why? But then she wants to ask, Where the hell have you been?
“Fuck you,” she says. (Of course.)
Someone knocks. Margot raises the mallet like she’s wielding a weapon and runs down the hall. As she passes his room, Asian-artifact (Lee?) slams his door.
Suddenly, Margot hits the floor and produces the marriage between a gasp and a bark and realizes that Craig’s body is no longer water and instead a layer of rock that has just landed on top of her. How pleasant it is; she yearns for a burial.
“Don’t,” says Craig plucking the mallet from Margot’s hand, relaxing his full weight onto her.
So Margot is actually not a shark; if she stops moving, she will not die. Instead, torturously, time will melt her youth; she’ll spend her life just waiting to die, and clearly, she does not know how to wait.
Whispers come from Lindsay’s room and the banging on the front door accelerates. Yet Margot focuses on Craig’s breath in her ear, begins to count so she’ll know how many seconds she has lain with a man before she dies.
“Is anyone going to get that?” yells Lindsay.
Craig lifts himself up. Six seconds, thinks Margot. Craig pulls her to her feet, then tucks the mallet in his pocket and guides her to the door, arm under her armpits, supporting most of her weight. Now, apparently, she can barely walk.
When the door opens to firemen, Margot leans against the jamb and cackles, emulating Lindsay with the inkling that this could be the root of her charm. Then she hates herself for it.
“What are you doing here?” she says.
“We were called.” The one in front finds her wrist with his eyes.
“Why would anyone call firemen?”
He tells her they are first responders.
The fireman shrugs. “To calls.”
“Pffft.” A splash of spit arches from Margot’s lips. Craig asks where they’ll take her and the fireman tells him. She furrows her brow, eyes both of them sideways.
“Take me to hell, you pussies.”
She starts to leave. From behind Craig embraces Margot urgently, like a child catching a lightning bug that will soon darken and be lost to the night. He tells her to be good and she tries to bite him.
“Onward!” Margot skips down the stoop. She wishes she knew how to say, “See you later, suckers,” in Lithuanian. She sweats from the onslaught of summer air. An ambulance arrives along with police cars. Then a sweet voice carves into the riot of sound.
“Good luck,” Lindsay calls from her window, smoking a cigarette. Harvard appears beside her and they smile and wave, like they’re bidding farewell to a loved one who is going somewhere, on an adventure. Maybe they were Margot’s friends after all. Quickly, they duck back inside the dim room.
Uniformed people bustle around her, but Margot is alone. The flashing red lights register only as sound—blinding, crackling sound. The fireman motions to the opening doors of the ambulance and Margot shades her eyes against the bright white light beckoning her.
Hold on. Where is she going and who will be there when she gets there?
She turns back to the house where Craig watches and waits.
“I want to stay,” she says, digging her heels into dirt.
The night air against her damp skin sparks. The fireman grabs her. She is writhing.
“Does it look like I’m on fucking fire?”
Kristin Walters is an MFA student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming at Blue Lake Review, Grey Sparrow, and Huffingtonpost.com. Occasionally she tweets at @KWwords. Her guilty pleasures are watching movie trailers, eating all the strawberries, and wearing flip-flops in the rain.