From underground, the man passed out on the iron subway grate looked like a leopard in his cage. Lia climbed the St. Eulalia Subway stairs. The man lifted his head. Eyed her. “Black eye. Two dollars.” He stood up on the iron bars. “Come on! Break my nose. Knock out my teeth. Step right up! You in the red. Split my lip. No? What’s your pleasure? Kick me in the balls! One kick for 5 bucks. Make it three for 10! Break my heart for a 20.” The man staked out the same spot every day. On the subway grate, beside the enormous burning heart. The sculpture marked the emergency room doors to Sacred Heart Hospital. The crazy man looked like he was sewn together from animal parts. Head of a lion. Feet of a bear. Body of a leopard. Every other day he was someone else. Sometimes he was punch drunk, begging loose change. Other times he was a street prophet ranting about five wounds, the divine prepuce, holy breastmilk. Hustling for God or money. Over the last month, she had counted that he was at least three people. Lia went through the revolving doors to Sacred Heart. Took a hard right to the psych ward.
Delusions of a Virgin Martyr
One. Cigarette burns on her wrists. Two. Shards of coloured glass from a wine bottle embedded in her skin. Three. The strange thing they did to her breasts. Lia ran through the 13 tortures she’d committed to memory. Max came out from behind the mirrored wall. He sat, looking at her in profile. Like he was Lia’s confessor. “Tell me how you die,” he said.
She told Max one of her versions. The one that ended with the cut off breasts. He fired questions at her. Is Death the end? Would you like to die in your sleep? Would you like parts of yourself to be cut off and given away after death? Is there a heaven? Are you afraid of dying alone? Would you have a child if you knew you’d die in childbirth? She bullshitted through the death questions. Max had seen her crazy before. Only through the two-way mirror. This was the first time it was he who scrutinized Lia.
Lia’s madness was all rigged. She faked manic episodes for $13 an hour. Her job was to help blood the student shrinks at Sacred Heart. It was a good gig. She’d done worse for money. They even paid two bucks an hour more for women. They make better hysterics she figured. Being crazy was child’s play. Lia had always been good at hysteria. Able to hurt others through her own body. She’d hurt her mom many times with that little voodoo doll body of hers. She’d had an early start hurting her mother. Lia was a breech birth. Born upside down. A footling breech. That’s when one leg comes first. The other leg is crossed. The doctor had to yank her out by her ankle.
Every day in the hospital she was given some kind of madness. There was a checklist of ravings and spasms. You got ten minutes to rehearse the delirium before going behind the two-way mirror for the show. Max was there to ready himself for his finals. Naming the madness played out by a horde of broke actors. Lia wasn’t an actor. She was a street artist. Performed nights for spare change outside by the huge heart sculpture with the crown of thorns and open wound.
Max was in love with her. He fell for her the day he watched her fake postpartum psychosis. She knew just how to threaten to kill herself. He loved her manic symptoms. Her auditory hallucinations. Those ecstatic voices she heard in her left ear. The delusions of being a virgin martyr. The way she feigned sexual provocation over scars, crescent moons, rooftops.
Lia had a hunch that the psychoses were fixed. The symptoms on the card that she randomly drew were always moans and groping and sex tantrums. Looking at her body backwards in the enormous two-way mirror, she pictured the shrinks inside her reflection. Tired of their dog-eared Psychopathia Sexualis, in its original grunting German. She imagined them hunched together along with all the madmen of Sacred Heart. And the orderlies too. And the night janitor. Flogging themselves over her crazy act like it was a sex show.
The First Hanged Woman
Lia took the elevator to the roof. Went out the fire exit. The smokers’ door. Beside the Biomedical Waste room where they dump the piss tests and blood bags and human tissue and dead culture. Max followed her out with a cigarette in his mouth. Lia walked up to the ledge. She wanted to scare Max again. She knelt down and hung her head over the edge. That was the moment that she saw it for the first time. Against the hospital wall was a woman hanging upside down from her foot. Arms behind her back. Long hair falling straight down.
The graffiti was all done in red spray paint. She was positive it wasn’t there yesterday. For some crazy reason, Lia was sure it was a woman’s hand. She wished she could’ve caught her in the act. She always loved people who can’t be seen. Lia stood up and balanced on one foot on the lip of the roof and watched Max cringe. She was a woman experienced with ledges. From the 40th floor, she saw the leopard prowl around his subway grate. She swore he looked up at her with a great big black eye.
The Trash After Sex
Her motel room smelled like gasoline. Black garbage bags were piled all along the walls. The bed was smoke-damaged. Max counted the empties. Catholic whisky. Lia smoothed out a piece of paper on the bedside table and handed it to him. The paper had been creased many times, like a love letter or an origami bird. Notice To End a Tenancy Early For Non-payment of Rent. She had 40 days from the date on the page. Lia had three days left to pay up or she’d be out on the street. The madwoman gig was her best bet to pay off the debt she owed the Motel Merida where she crashed since she came to live in this zoo. Busking didn’t pay the rent. Lia told Max to get out after. He wasn’t allowed to see her sleep tonight either. She looked around. Plastic cups. Bottle caps. One heel. Wrapper. Lube. Dead underwear. Bra. Towel. Their trash divulged something about their lovemaking. Lia wasn’t sure what. She blew on the nail marks as the love wounds began to glow on her breasts. Max still didn’t ask about her scar. Lia pictured Max out there in the night. The half-moon bruises on his chest the colour of her mouth.
Sleeping in the Lost and Found
Today she found another one. There was a little red cross in the window. Someone had been piss tested for a baby. Lia also worked as a maid at the motel. The owner threatened to cut her water and lights if she didn’t work off each night’s sleep. He only paid her half the wage. He even moved her into 12. The junk room. Lia had spent the last month sleeping in the Lost and Found.
The girls warned Lia about the sex fiends. Perverts who lay in wait with bated breath for the key in the hole. Lia felt like a zookeeper. Walking in after the mating rituals of sea turtles or leopards or stray dogs. The job was really to collect the junk generated by one night’s sleep. In her 38 odd days cleaning the rooms, she’d found some strange shit. Whips. Prods. Collars. Bunny tails. Donkey ears. Forceps. Dozen condoms floating like jellyfish in a steaming bath. She’d also found body parts. Red finger nails, a tooth, a long black braid. All parts of the body that grow back in your sleep. Everything becomes a charm when it leaves the body. Like baby teeth and eyelashes. The old bitch who’d been cleaning the night’s garbage for half her life had seen a body once in 21. The leftover from an out-of-body experience. The saddest, she said, was a little boy shaken quiet. The new girl had seen something vaguely human in the toilet of 7.
Lia had the habit of checking what room she was about to enter as if sacred or unlucky numbers on the doors would reveal what would be inside. She couldn’t help but conjure the people who slept there by the pattern of the bedsheets on the floor, the curtains left open slyly. Lia pictured sex from the cipher of their trash.
Virgin sex in 3. Sheets blushing with blood. Cuckolding in 11. Lia knew a room where the sex had been for cash. In 16 once, she found a bottle that said Hypnovel and a used needle on the night stand. She envisioned the desperate, groping sex of a man’s last night with his dying wife. The wife taking it in the ass. Husband blubbering. And all the while she’s counting up all the shit she’d done to hurt others— when she’d stepped out on him, what she said at his mother’s funeral, what she did to the mirrors, that letter she sent. Then counting up the ways she’d been made to suffer. Hoping against hope that the number of her wounds would outstrip the number that she caused. Then maybe, even if she’d done one more small act of kindness sometime when she was a child, like teaching her kid brother what blue and yellow make, she’d squeak by and meet her little boy again up there in heaven. The other girls who worked the Motel Merida thought she was crazy.
Lia unlocked 8. It wasn’t her first dildo. There had been other forgotten cocks. She pictured the owners of these toys. The male body not enough for them. She bagged the body part to stash in her room later.
Lia knocked on 13. She always knocked three times to avoid the freak show. She went in with her toilet bleaches, ribbed condoms with spermicidal lubricant, and complimentary pillow mints. The room was dark. Lia stripped the beds. There was a sound coming from the bathroom. She knocked, then pushed the door open with her foot.
The Pleasure of Beheading
They all staked out their own corners like sex workers. The headless man. The caricaturist who had elephantiasis of the scrotum. Juggler. There was a magician who wouldn’t work Friday nights because he was shomer Shabbos. Contortionist. Professional swallower. Ventriloquist married to a woman in a permanent vegetative state. The mime was a fragrant 79 year old homosexual. Living statue of an angel. Tarot card reader. Her cardboard sign read $10 for life. $15 for love. $20 for death. Each of the street artists seemed to complete what was missing in the afflictions of the other artists. Any act with pain and comedy made good coin. Lia listened over the shoulder of the tarot card reader.
“Oh! The phallic Ace of Wands. Now, the High Priestess. Very spiritual card. Sexual. You are more sexually attractive to men tonight. You are also a version of the moon. The Hierophant. The pope. His name means holy show. It’s the fifth Major Arcana card. Sacred number. The number of the senses. Number of wounds. You’ll have five men in your life. The Hanged Man. It’s a shaming. Image of a thief, a martyr. Always someone broke. They only ever hanged the poor you know. Rich people would have the pleasure of a beheading. This is a comic execution.” Lia watched the final card. It was upside down. A naked baby. The Sun.
What Happens When You Get Shot In the Head
She took out her torches and gas by the enormous heart. Her act was body burning. There were three movements. Touching, Tasting, and Killing. Barefoot, she let down her black hair to catch the direction of the wind, then turned her back to it. She dipped the wick of her torch in lamp oil. Struck a match from a Motel Merida matchbook and held out her right hand. She waited for eyes. Lia stuck her hand in the flame. Didn’t move. She waited for the moans of the spectators, as if it was the crowd who were getting burned. She dragged the flame up her arm. Switched hands with the torch and stuck her left hand in the flame and traced up her other arm. Lia held the base of the torch in her mouth and stood with both arms outstretched so that the onlookers could see that fire did nothing to her. Body burning is rigged. The oil fire burns hotter at the tip. The base doesn’t burn. Lia tapped the torch on her hand and left a ball of oil burning. Then the other hand. She placed the torch on the ground, two hands burning. She brought the balls of fire close to her chest and closed her fists. Lia lay down on her back and stuck her feet in the fire. She stood and held the fire to her mouth. Stuck out her tongue to taste the flame.
Dipped her torch in oil again. Placed the flame on her tongue and held it. Longer. Longer. Lia lowered her body to the ground. She held her breath. Bowed. With her head on the ground, she lifted her body upside down. The fire fluttered there in her mouth like a red bird. Lia suffocated the fire. The little crowed cheered. Some tossed coins into her hat. A cop pushed through the crowd. They were blocking the view of her. He probably thought they were all gawking at the body of a jumper from the top of Sacred Heart.
“What’s your act?” “Body burning.” “You need a license for body burning.” The cop wrote her a citation. Ninety-five dollars for burning alive. He moved onto the leopard around the other side of the heart.
“Punch me in the face. Two dollars,” he said.
“You like it behind bars?” the cop said.
“Come on! Hit me with your blackjack! 10 bucks. Knock my teeth out. No? Alright. Cuff me and then beat the shit out of me! 15 bucks. That’s a steal.
“Taze me! Fifty bucks for fifty-thousand volts of electricity. Trigger the excited delirium. Make my heart lose control. Hallucinations. Agitation. Scratching fits. Disorientation. Burning up. Uncontrollable masturbation. Sudden death. Levitation!
“Do you need to be put back in your cage?”
“Shoot me in the fucking face. Step right up! You with the firearm. Stuff that shitty Glock 22 into my mouth. Put the hollow point right through the back of my skull. Come on! One thousand dollars! Throw the money to the crowd. Do you know what happens when you shoot a man in the head? Bullet pierces my cranial bone. Gun smoke scorching my skin. Bullet right through my prefrontal cortex. Goddam it! Just lost my ability to reason calmly! Now I’m really ready to go fucking crazy! Bullet’s deep into my hippocampus now. All my beautiful childhood memories. Gone. Wait wait wait! Hold your fire. I’ve got a deathbed confession. I don’t have any children! Before you kill me, I need you to jerk me off and take my germ! Then you’re free to shoot me in the face. Sperm is immortal. It’s the only thing can’t die. It’s been reproducing and reproducing since the beginning of time. The beginning of life! Shooting, impregnating, born! And shooting, impregnating, born! And shooting, impregnating, born! Pull the trigger motherfucker or I’ll do the shooting!”
The cop gave it to him in the eyes with the pepper spray. The leopard started shrieking. “It’s burning. Look! The city is burning.” The cop put him down. “The whole head is sick! Body is sick. Boot to the head. Bruises and sores and raw wounds.” Another squad car jumped the curb, all lit up. The cops hauled him up. He kept screaming, “I’m warning you, you sons of bitches. Don’t speak. You have nothing to hope for from any promise. Nothing to fear from any threat. Anything you do or say may be used to judge you.” They smashed his head off the door frame.
She was life-sized. A little taller than Lia. Too big for a garbage bag anyway. She was lying upside down off the bed in 1. Lia rooted around her body for the air hole. It was her left tit. Lia squeezed. She watched as the vinyl wrinkled around the blow-up woman’s eyes and mouth. Her brow creased. Breasts and buttocks sagged. Her stomach bulged then deflated. Thighs withered. Breasts disappeared. Her back hunched. Neck tightened. The woman couldn’t support her head. It scrunched. The whole blow-up woman shriveled up. Lia bagged her.
Erotic Target Location Error
Lia couldn’t shake what she saw in 13. “Paraphilic infantilism,” Max called it. Proud of his sex pervert acumen. She left out what the man in the tub had said about her breasts when she retold the story. “Utter humiliation. He wants to be spanked. Punished. He’s desperate for erotic lactation. Did he piss himself?
“He was in a diaper.”
“Did he want to be kiss-fed? Or just suck your breasts?” Lia said nothing. “Beautiful breasts outside of pregnancy are an evolutionary flaw. He just has a problem with his lovemap.”
“He’s a pervert.”
“He’s just got an Erotic Target Location Error.”
“He wants to sleep with his mother?”
“No. He pictures his body as another body. Like an animal.”
“It was a baby.”
“He believes it. The man’s a baby. The erotic target is not his mother. It’s himself. Some men want to be swallowed up into a vagina and return to the womb.”
Lia gave Max Taphophobia—fear of being buried and coming back from the dead. It was supposed to trigger a panic attack. Mock dread. She asked for him to open the door. Couldn’t feel her fingers or toes. Her madness had been getting better over the weeks. Today, her performance was perfect. She felt that she could quicken her blood pressure. Will her heart to beat faster. Skip a beat. Stop. Replicate the static of nerve endings. Spontaneously combust. She was aware that parts of herself wandered her body at will. Her blood. Air. Feces. She imagined the womb too could wander a woman’s body, lured by fragrant smells.
Lia had perfected all her diseases. Nightmares, cold sweats, perceptual disturbances, visions of rodents, a vision of battlements. She could give Max terror in ascending order. Bathmophobia. Fear of stairs. Ecclesiophobia. Fear of churches. Erythrophobia. Fear of blushing. Gephyrophobia. Fear of bridges. Globophobia. Fear of balloons. Gymnophobia. Fear of nudity. Haphephobia. Fear of being touched. Hypnophobia. Fear of sleep. Nyctophobia. Fear of dreams. Spectrophobia. Fear of mirrors. Stygiophobia. Fear of Hell. Tokophobia. Fear of childbirth. Uranophobia. Fear of Heaven.
A Good Price for a Cremation
Lia caught all the emergency room babble during the hours she did her fire act. It was all death hearsay. Every hole’s got a tube coming out. Is that a life in there? You tell me? Is that a life? What’s a good price for a cremation anyway? What do I do with the ash? He was shitting blood. Doctor said she went in her sleep. She has to fast for 24 hours. They gave him 6 months. And that’s why you need a safeword! If he gains another pound he’ll die. He woke up during the surgery. His gut was wide open. They gave her 40 days. His heart can’t take it. They had to put him under. My God, he was burning up. If she really wants twins that bad, she needs to sleep with him right after she breastfeeds. That or eat a shit load of wild yams.
The bridge to the Motel Merida had rows of metal crosses on either side. All the crosses were strung together with wire. The purpose of the crosses was to cage people for a little while longer in the world of the living. Still, there were holes. You could find a way through with a couple of good attempts. Lia peered over between the crosses and looked straight down. It was as if she had been expecting to find her there. Upside down. The identical red woman. Lia thought that the only way that the image of the woman could have been spray painted, was if the artist were to hang off the bridge, as though she was doing an outline of her own body. Like the kind the cops do around a victim. Lia kept on.
At the end of the bridge she watched Jesus light a smoke. He handed the lighter to Pontius Pilate. It was Holy Thursday. Passover. They were about to start practicing the crucifixion for tomorrow. Lia bummed a smoke. Jesus smoked shitty homeless cigarettes. Every year the crucifixion was a huge show. St. Eulalia Street was already blocked off. There was a wood cross lying on a steaming subway grate. Pontius Pilate asked Jesus if he remembered last year’s Mary. They wondered what ever happened to her.
Massacre at Fatso’s
The sex next door was coming through the wall. Lia could hear it most through the mirror where a few screw holes had been drilled right through. A girl was being humped across the floor and up onto the wall. Lia knew this, but not from the sounds of the couple. Lia had discovered in that cut rate motel, that during sex there are very few human sounds. Apart from drunk sex, which Lia swore she could tell, and sex professionals barking in the night, she could only tell that the couples in the rooms next door were having intercourse from the groans the room made.
Lia turned on the little TV. A naked woman was hog tied. Red gag in her mouth like an apple. She changed to a fat woman show. Then a paternity blood test talk show. Then the 36 hour-long mating ritual of sea turtles. The male dies at the end. Then a starving children commercial. Then back to the hog tied woman being locked up in a cage and flipped upside down by a guy hung like a horse. She changed through the different versions of the11 o’clock news. Swapping male and female voices. Thirteen car pile-up. Car fire was the source of the accident. Death threats were made to the nude protester. Hunger strike in the woman’s prison enters into its 37th day. Remains of two victims were identified by their teeth. Rolling blackouts continue. Teargas was fired on protesters. Another finger has been found—police say it is a woman’s. Dozens were hospitalized over the bad meat. Record high temperatures hit.
Lia kept it on the news of a massacre.
Wyatt Augustus was shot and killed by police following yesterday evening’s three hour standoff at the busy north-end restaurant, Fatso’s. The first victim was waitress Julia Olviedo. She was shot 13 times with a Parabellum Submachine gun, as Augustus reportedly shouted anti-woman curses at her.
Victim Agnes Stephens was killed with a single gunshot to the heart from a Pump Action Remington Model 870 shotgun. Augustus fatally wounded her 7-year-old son, victim Felix Stephens. Nine year-old Sebastien Perpetua was also killed by machinegun fire despite being sheltered by his pregnant mother, 30-year-old Felicia Perpetua. Augustus then turned to her boyfriend, Justin Logos, and shot him once in the chest. Owner and proprietor of Fatso’s, Marcello Pietro, reportedly tried to shield diners with his body. He was shot in the cheek, armpit, thigh, hip, stomach, and buttocks with a 9mm Luger. It is being reported that Augustus force-fed victims before shooting them. Many tried in vain to stop their bleeding with napkins and pieces of bread. Twenty one victims have been killed. Thirteen more have been wounded. Nearly all victims died of gunshot wounds to the chest. The stories of more victims continue to come to light. Police say that Augustus took his wife and four daughters to the zoo directly before the massacre, and according to eye witnesses, had lingered near the leopard cage for a long time. We go to a live shot now of Fatso’s, where a candlelit vigil has formed.
Lia shut off the TV. By this time, the couple in the next room had roused, ready for another bout.
Bra in the Parking Lot
It looked strange. Just lying there on the pavement in front of her motel room. The eviction notice was posted on the door. She’d done a hell of lot of things in that room more worthy of an eviction than not paying up. No trespassing, the sign read. All her worldly possessions were outside by the curb. Two large black plastic garbage bags. One of the bags was already open. Lia checked her fire. It was all still there. She had the feeling that somebody had rummaged through her. Lying there in the parking lot, her glass bottle of perfume, her toothbrush, seemed to have mystic qualities. She picked up her garbage bags and got the hell out.
Good Friday is Shit for Business
Lia looked at Jesus coming down the street. Veronica was wiping his face with her veil. Jesus was really good this year. Believable. The streets were lined with gawkers. Everyone praying about their household catastrophes. Or checking to see if this year’s Jesus was handsome or tripped in all the right places. She thought Jesus should pass a hat. The cops didn’t hassle him. They let him pass to be crucified in the intersection under the red traffic lights. Jesus must’ve had a permit. Good Friday is shit for business. All the stores were closed. Mannequins nude and contorted in the windows. Too early for the drunks. Only Emergency was open. And the titty bars. Always open. She sat down under the gas discharged light trapped in electrified glass tubes in the shape of a red cross burning above the ambulance entrance. Across the street in flashing red neon was the outline of a woman. Leg wrapped around the pole. Hanging upside down.
A siren brought in the first victim. Two men hauled her out strapped down to the stretcher. Lia overheard the scraps of pain. It wasn’t the first time Lia eavesdropped on a death. This time it was a stabbing. The paramedics and cops were using acronyms for the different kinds of death. More sirens came hauling out the dying. Lia heard AD. Accidental Death. DOA. Dead on Arrival. EDP. Emotionally Disturbed Person.
Max told her all those acronyms don’t mean what you think. The paramedics and doctors have their own versions. When someone came in DOA, the medics would say Dinner’s on the Angels or Devil Opens Arms. AD was Another Decay. EDP was Every Damn Psycho or Every Delusional Pussy. They were different wherever you went. According to Max, they were fucking demented over there at Our Lady of Sorrows.
Burning Alive Standing on Your Head
She rifled through the bag of everything she owned and took out her fire. She wanted to make some coin to blow on a bottle of Redbreast, and if tonight was a really lucky burning, maybe a place to sleep. She’d been through it before. The need to abuse her body in order to keep it living. She took off her shoes. Undid the strap of her dress. Tied her skirt off to one side. She took off as much of her clothes as city bi-laws would permit. She checked the weather with her hair. Lia lit up.
She traced her arms. Her hands and feet. Her tongue. A woman tossed a few quarters. Pity money. She felt sick for that change, those little pieces of silver. Her body wasn’t enough. She was running out of places on herself to burn. Some dick tossed in a couple cents just to get close up. Lia couldn’t complain though. She was a scam artist. She wasn’t burning alive. She faked it like a drunk orgasm. Faked it like the street Jesus. The death at the end of the show was all a hoax. To end her show, Lia bent her forehead to the ground with the fire on her tongue. Standing on her head, she saw him crossing the street towards her, like he was walking upside down in the sky.
New Moons and Animal Blood
“This city is a whore!” The leopard had his eyes shut hard. Blinded still by the pepper spray. Raving. Lia listened in on his doom. “Help me. My father’s dead. Help me. My wife is dead. No son! Murderers! Whisky’s pissed in. My friends are all damn thieves. I am going to destroy this city. I’m gonna cut out the fucking impurities. I’m gonna break you all. Save my soul from everlasting fire. I won’t refuse new tortures.”
He looked at Lia. “Your body’s gone up like a match! There’s nothing’s gonna be able to put you out!” Lia killed the flame in her mouth and fell. “Go ahead and scream. Your pain. What’s it to me? Fuck your pain! Your body’s a burnt offering? I don’t want your blood. Look, there’s smoke coming off your skin. Your incense is choking me. Fuck you and your new moons and your animal blood. I can’t bear you. I can’t look at you. Your hands are full of blood! Can’t hide your sins in that scarlet fire. They’ll be white as snow. Don’t you know He bleeds when you bleed? Mingle your blood with His blood. Pray for mortification. Open up your old wounds. You’re derided by the spectators. Strip your clothes off! Strip your heart of the world! Burn your arms. Burn your tongue. Burn off your breasts. Be spared for eternity. Look at your naked, bloody portrait. Number your wounds. Collect your tears!”
By the time Lia looked back at the leopard she was out of breath. Out of earshot. He was lashing out wildly. Outfacing the sky. Crying out to no one now. Alone on his iron grate beside the burning heart.
Things You Throw Off Bridges
Lia started counting her steps when she began to cross the huge overpass. She always knew the distances her body measures. Lia had counted 153 steps from the crucifixion to her spot behind Sacred Heart. She knew how long she’d been in that damned city by the length of her black hair. She’d had 40 days and 40 nights to vacate the premises. Docket Number 1525 on the eviction notice. A black eye was two bucks. Ninety-five dollar fine for burning herself without a license. Infringing on Municipal Code Chapter 313—Streets and Sidewalks and Chapter 241— Noise. Unpaid busker license fee $42.14. No body burning nine meters from intersections. Fifty metres from musicians. Away from subway doors, mail boxes, newsstands, phone booths, cash machines, fire hydrants, psychiatric hospitals. Twenty-one victims killed. Thirteen wounded.
The damn bridge wouldn’t end. She put her bags down above where the red woman was and stepped up on the bottom rung of the rail. The bridge and the highway below made a huge cross in streaks of red lights. Or white. Depending on which way you were looking at it. She tried to watch her tear until it hit the highway pavement below. She lost sight of it. Lia didn’t know why exactly she was weeping.
She had the urge to hurl something off. Lia took out her coins. Dropped a dime over the edge. Then a couple quarters. The coins cracked car windshields. Sounded like little birds flying into the glass of a girl’s bedroom window. Took off her earrings. Over the edge. The three rings on her left hand. Charm bracelet. She looted her body.
Lia tore into the other plastic garbage bag. The bag wasn’t hers. It was one of the Merida Motel Lost and Found bags. Her hand went in. Out came a huge rubber cock. Over the edge it went. Nudie mag. Deflated body of a woman. Vanity mirror. Unopened bottle of champagne. Heart keychain with one key. Jumper cables. Wrapped birthday present. Happy 80th. Head of a kid’s doll. Unused candles. Bra and panties with the tags on. An empty heart locket. Legs of a kid’s doll. Doddy’s dog collar . Magnifying glass. A tiny elephant figurine. Dice. Strips of photo booth photos. New lipstick. Pack of tarot cards. Jam jar of laundromat tokens. Can of sausage gumbo soup. A kid’s painting. Reel of 8mm film. Baby Jesus Christmas decoration. One high heel. Dog tag. Cake decorating book– How To. Can opener and some tuna fish. Wooden painted egg. A bowl. Framed butterfly. Family photo album. Bottle of Hypnovel. Souvenir spoons. Queen from a chess set. She pulled out a naked baby doll by one leg.
Coming up the highway were flashing red lights. Lia figured someone had called an ambulance or Animal Services to scrape up the jumper on the overpass. She climbed back inside the crosses and made for home.
Kerosene Tastes like Moonshine Whisky
The paramedic ripped the lady’s shirt open. The crowd of gawkers tightened. Lia forced in. “What happened to her tits?” said a drunk. Lia knew the Catholic breath. The paramedic shouted in the lady’s ear. Grabbed her shoulder. Pulled back her eyelid. Rummaging through her senses. Nothing. Lia moved close. She saw the two crescent moon shaped scars. The dying lady was right in front of Lia’s room. Her heart had stopped. And her right hand was covered in red. There was a red stroke on the door frame to Lia’s room. One of the paramedics inspected her wound. “It’s fucking paint. Hey, we got an EDP here.” “What happened to her?” Lia asked. “She was trying to fly.” The drunk pointed to the roof. “Bullshit. She doesn’t have a scratch on her,” the paramedic said. “Nobody touch her.” He shocked her heart. The red lights from the ambulance came off her skin like the dying woman was the source of the light. The paramedic hit her again. The lady opened her eyes. Back from the dead.
Lia went around back and climbed into her room through the bathroom window. She broke the latch 40 days ago for a night just like this. The room smelled like fire. She listened as the siren slid away over the bridge towards Sacred Heart.
Lia chose her fuel carefully. She opened up her bag of tricks. Unscrewed the little red plastic container. Dipped her pinky. Kerosene tastes like moonshine whisky. Opened another. Lamp oil burns with a bright red flame. Long burn. In the end she went with white gas. It tasted like baby soap on her lips. Perfect for night fires.
The door to the roof shut behind her. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do. Lia took off her dress and bra to count up her burns from the night. In the light that spilled out of all the little holes in the city, her naked body looked white as snow. Except for that thin red scar. She walked the edge with the can of combustible baby soap, looking out at other rooftops for someone else like her. She looked down to see if even one soul in that entire crazy city was looking up at her. Lia closed her eyes. She heard the sound first in her left ear. It was coming from the far corner of the roof. From far off she thought it looked like a white bird.
She bent down. Picked up the baby. It was a girl. Lia didn’t kneel on the ledge. She didn’t have to hang her head off the side to know that the perfect red woman was still wet against the wall. With the baby in her arms, she sat down and lay her head back on the edge of the roof. Lia watched the shard of the moon disappear. She was still watching when the sun rose upside down. The newborn girl rooted for her breast.
Marc Labriola writes fiction and poetry. In the past year, his work has appeared in the The Vehicle, Hawaii Pacific Review, and in two issues of Cleaver Magazine. His work is also forthcoming in BorderSenses. He lives in Toronto, Canada, where he teaches English.