“Don’t you miss your family?”
She saw his Adam’s apple roll. “The man I was when I was home was nothing I was proud of. So compromised.” The corners of his eyes shone with wetness. He looked at Vi. “It’s hard, isn’t it?”
She gripped the knife behind her back.
“Is it supposed to be so hard you think?”
She couldn’t see anything through the sheet of tears. “And sometimes harder.”
Vi could feel the momentum building inside of her, the adrenaline push, lifting her toward something.
“I want to think,” Matthew said, “that there’s some benefit to this road I’m on, you know? That I’m...gaining something. Something no one else has. That enlightenment is right around the corner.”
“Something to make it all worthwhile.”
“Do you ever just...” Her hand sweating onto the leathered handle of the bowie. “...want it all to end?”
“Yes,” he said. “God yes. Death is...all I think about.”
He shut his eyes and he kept them closed as he continued to speak.
“Nor dread nor hope attend a dying animal. A man awaits his end dreading and hoping all. Many times he died, many times rose again. A great man in his pride confronting murderous men casts derision upon supersession of breath. He knows death to the bone. Man has created death. Isn’t he lovely, Yeats?” His eyes were still closed.
Violet could scarcely breath. She was thinking of Max and nothing else, Matthew looking serene for the moment, and he was asking her if she had any poetry under memory that she might share with him, just a verse or two to rattle around in his head while he drifted off to sleep.
She told him that she did.
She was thinking of Max.
Her heart racing and her mouth running dry.
She started one she’d memorized in high school that had always stuck.
“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter. Therefore, ye soft pipes, play on.”
Matthew whispered, “I love this one.”
She brought the knife around, had intended to drive it straight down in a single, fluid motion, but seeing the blade poised over Matthew’s chest stopped her.
She kept telling herself do it do it do it do it, but nothing happened.
She couldn’t move.
A droplet of sweat fell from her brow and struck a piece of newsprint covering Matthew.
Several seconds had passed since she’d finished the line of poetry and any moment now his eyes—
Matthew’s eyes opened—a flicker of contended calm before he saw the knife and what must have been a visage of primal terror staring down at him.
Do it do it do it do it do it do it.
Matthew’s lips parted, as if to speak, but instead he started to sit up.
Violet stabbed him through the chest—the blade buried to the hilt, and she was on top of him and leaning all her weight into the knife, twisting, and she could feel his heart knocking frantically against the blade, the vibration traveling through the steel and leather up into her hand—four perceptible beats and then it stopped and Matthew let out a stunned gasped.
For a long time, she didn’t move.
Just stared down into Matthew’s eyes, watching the intensity of life recede into a glazed emptiness.
She couldn’t stop trembling.
At last she rolled off of him.
Already, his blood was pooling on the cardboard and soaking through the right knee of her tracksuit. She crawled out of the box and got three steps toward the oil drum before she spewed her guts across the floor, stood bent over retching until she could produce nothing more than dry heaves.
“I did it,” she said, gasping. “You hear me you son of a f**king bitch, I did it.”
She spit several times. The acidic tang of bile burned her throat.
“I want to see Max,” she said, her body quaking with the malevolence of what she’d done. “Luther. Luther!” she screamed.
Luther didn’t answer.
“You have a lot to learn,” he said.
“What are you talking about?”
“Trust. Specifically, when not to give it.”
Her son screamed through the earpiece.
Violet’s legs failed and she was suddenly on her knees and screaming, her fingers raking through her hair. Luther was still talking, but she didn’t hear a thing. Everything drowned out by the rage and the cries of Max.
“Please, Luther!” she begged. “I did what you asked. Please!”
Max’s wailing intensified.
She jumped to her feet and wiped her eyes, rushed over to the cardboard box and took hold of the knife, pulled it out of Matthew’s chest, the blade lacquered in blood. She wiped it against her pant leg and hurried out of the alcove and back into the corridor. The darkness so perfect she had to trail her hand along the wall for a guide and brace against the garbage that covered the floor.
Thirty seconds later, she stumbled out into the lobby and through the ruined double doors into the rain.
Her son still screaming, and she screamed back, “Stop hurting him!”
The crying became louder, like someone driving a nail through her eardrum. She couldn’t take it, couldn’t stand the thought of what Luther was doing to him.
“I’m going to kill you!” she screamed.
Violet grabbed the earpiece, ripped it out.
Immediately, a flash of searing pain and the heat of blood streaming down the side of her neck.
She dropped the earpiece and stomped it into pieces with the heel of her tennis shoe and ran out into the night.
The rain pelted her face and the sky flushed with the pinkish tint of city-glow from the lights of downtown.
Across the concrete barrens, just darkness and the slightest silhouette of things—the water tower, trees, smokestacks.
She ran through an abandoned neighborhood, her shoes soaked through to her socks.
The weakness in her legs growing more pronounced by the moment as the freezing rain poured down on her.
Under the pink sky, the profile of factories loomed in the distance.
She broke out of the neighborhood, found herself running across a wide expanse of fractured concrete—a parking lot treed with old light poles.
By the time she reached the first building, her heart was screaming in her chest, and her eyes burned with sweat—a moment’s reprieve from the cold.
The building stood fifty feet tall. Brick. Graffitied and with giant, multi-pane windows, mostly emptied of glass. Vi jogged along the side of the building until she came to a pair of double doors.