She watches him, not knowing if she should make a run for it. But he pays her no attention at all, just puffs on his cigar and stares out into the night.
Finally she says, What you want anyway?
This is the first time he turns to look at her, like she’s a ladybug landed on his knuckle or something.
I want lots of things, he says. But nothin you got the power to deliver.
She squints at him a little while longer but determines the threat is not an immediate one, so she sits back.
That’s just fine, she says.
And for a while their gazes over the city are a perfect parallel.
He takes a puff of his cigar and then asks her a question.
You ever seen a slug with no legs?
She can’t figure out the direction of the question, but it seems safe to answer it.
I did a few times, she says. Walkin all arms and elbows like a katydid.
Uh-huh. He puffs the cigar again and goes on. You know, I heard of one commune over in Jacksonville decided to make a perimeter of gaspipe fire to keep the slugs scared off. What you think of that?
I think that commune’s dead reckoned by now.
Because meatskins ain’t scared of fire. Too stupid. March right through it. Then all you got is a bunch of walkin torches trying to eat your guts.
He nods slowly, and she sees that he already knew that about fire and meatskins. He was just testing her.
Sarah Mary Williams, he says, pronouncing each name as though reading it on a billboard in the distance. My brother Abraham doesn’t believe you come up from the south. He’s suspicious-minded like that. Me, I believe you.
Go ahead and both of you believe whatever you like. It’s a free country.
They are quiet for a while. She inhales the smoke from Moses’s cigar, and it tastes sweet in her lungs. When it seems like he has nothing more to say, she gets up from the chair and turns to leave. That’s when he speaks again, without looking at her, with no recognition of her going or coming.
This hole here, he says, gesturing to the dark space of night sky in the maw of the broken-out pane. It was here when they first came. Somebody must of jumped. When they took up residence, they just widened it and made it into a scenic lookout.
Who’s they? Ain’t you one of them?
I’m a traveler by nature. I been lots of places. The provender of the earth’s good enough for my kind. Abraham, he likes this place. I ain’t so sure though.
Right at this moment, this place is a fortress. But if a man was inclined to do so, he could open up one of those loading bay doors in the middle of the night, and suddenly we’re in a death house.
That’s when he looks up at her, his eyes level with hers even though he’s sitting and she’s standing, squinting at her through the smoke of his cigar, his fingers picking flakes of fallen tobacco from his beard.
You know what I think? she says.
What do you think?
She points through the hole into the dark throat of the diseased landscape.
I think you’re more dangerous than what’s out there.
Well, little girl, he says, that’s a funny thing you just uttered. Because I was just now thinkin the same thing about you.
She leaves him sitting there, glancing back just once before she goes through the stairwell door and observing how the cloud of smoke from his cigar gets pulled in wisps out the dark gaping hole in the glass wall—as though it is his soul, too large for his massive frame and seeping out the pores of his skin and wandering circuitous back into the wilderness where it knows itself true among the violent and the dead.
BACK IN her small room she takes a Nembutal and falls asleep almost immediately. It’s probably the pill that makes her slow to comprehend what’s happening an hour later when the key is slotted into the door. She is so deep down inside herself that it’s difficult to climb that ladder to the top where things are actually happening. The key in the door, the rattle, the turning of the knob, and the airy squeak as the door swings inward once and then back shut. She scrambles to the surface of her consciousness, arriving there and shaking herself awake just as the light in her room is turned on.
Abraham, she says.
I came to kiss you good night.
She squints and rubs her eyes against the sudden light. He’s standing, hunched over and swaying a bit, drunk. His leer makes her take stock of what she has on—just a T-shirt and underpants.
Get outta here, Abraham.
Hey, he says, looking around, is this your blade? Pretty nifty.
He picks up the gurkha from the table and unsheathes it. Then he swings it through the air a few times making swishing sounds with his mouth like a boy playing swords.
Put it down.
He sets it back down on the table, but not because she asked him to.
You played some good cards tonight. You’re one of those tough girls, aren’t you? One of those rough-and-tumble girls. You like to play with the boys.
She pulls herself up on the mattress, her back against the wall, her head still cloudy and muddled.
You better get, she says.
But you’re still a girl where it counts.
He comes around the table and steps up on the foot of her mattress and stands over her. She draws her knees up under her but can’t quite fold herself into a crouch. Then he unzips his pants and pulls out his flaccid genitals. It looks like a bouquet of deflated birthday balloons.
Put it in your mouth, he says. Make it big.
You best stow that. I ain’t kiddin with you, Abraham. Put it away now.
Come on, Sarah Mary. Everyone around here’s the family type. All the girls want to nest. Sometimes a man’s just gotta get his nut and go back to killing creepers. What do you want and I’ll give it to you. Pills? Liquor? Just do me this one favor. Just put it in your mouth for a little while.
I said stow that business. I don’t go in for silliness with the likes of you. I ain’t playin now.
The fog around her head begins to lift, and she can see him take two steps toward her, his crotch getting so close to her that she can smell the thick mustiness of it.
But you’re so pretty, he says. I just want to cum on you a little bit.
That’s it, she says.
She curls her hand into a fist and drives it forward hard into his crotch. It feels like punching a sack of warm giblets. It makes a smacking sound and sends him collapsing backward, his pants falling down around his knees while he writhes on the floor at the foot of the mattress.
But his groans evolve into something like growls, and he picks himself back up, his face tomato red, his eyes wet, and his teeth clenched.
I didn’t wanna have to do it, she says. Come on, Abraham, I’m just tryin to get along round here. Don’t muck it up for me.