JUST LIKE ME
I dreamt in synaptic flashes–wrenches, a muddy stream, a knife in my mouth, dead brown leaves and the insects underneath them. It’s so black in here that I didn’t notice I’d opened my eyes until my finger felt the hard gooey surface of my sclera as I tried to push the sleep from them. For a moment, just a moment, I felt like I was falling even as I was rising. It was a complete and short sleep, the kind that makes you lose track of time, a Sudafed sleep.
I twist my head so it rests on whatever I’m lying on and notice the outline of my toes on a very, very thin bar of grey. Is that the purple I painted on them for my date? My body feels so numb, like at any moment I’m going to feel those charlie-horse pains but so far they haven’t come. I go to massage my leg awake and as it spasms I realize it’s hairy. Christ, where are my clothes? OK, calm down, calm down. I pull myself into a sitting position and run my hands over my body, over my breasts, my thighs. I’m totally naked and I’ve never felt my ribs stick out this far. My fingers linger on the tattoo of my son’s name on my shoulder. I can feel the raised ink. Caleb. He’s only 3 years old. I feel stronger.
I try to stand up but stumble down. The grey bar is getting brighter. I need to get to it, I know, I know. I feel the faint impression of grit and pebbles and concrete under my knees as I crawl towards it. The grit feels sticky on my lips as I press them to the slit, centimeters of me push out into freedom and I inhale as much air as I can to fill my lungs. The air tastes like earth and mud, it sticks to the membranes of my throat.
It’s some sort of door, folding metal, more like the back of a semi than a garage door. I chip my nail polish and scratch my fingers as I push my hand in the crack and pull it up as hard as I can. I make out row upon row of white door faces with big padlocks the size of crowbars. A public storage unit. Seeing all those locks makes me so hungry.
I see a cockroach flit through the bar of light inches from my face and I start to scream and I’m on my feet banging on the door. I’m not calling for help and I’m not thinking, not worried that whoever put me here is in a car nearby. I’m so weak and standing was stupid and my throat feels so dry and raw and it’s so easy to sleep.
When I wake up it must be early afternoon. The light this penetrated the concrete and metal box and I see her. She’s in the back, lying on her side, on the opposite corner I crawled from. The roach. Jesus, please Jesus. I can barely make her out, but she’s wearing clothes, the same pale yellow polo and green knee-length skirt they make us wear at the diner but the polo isn’t yellow anymore but blotched with red spots. Is it Amber? I don’t want to know, I don’t want to know but I have to.
I steel myself and stand, hand against the aluminum wall. When over her I want to vomit but there’s nothing in my stomach to throw up so I bury my head in my clammy naked shoulders and gag against the wall and against the wiry hair of my armpits. Her hair is dark brown, just like mine, but it’s been pulled out in clumps and I can see her red sticky flesh with little pinprick holes that look like dirty pores where the hair used to be. I can’t see her face–no one will ever see her face. Her skull is beaten in and her long hair is stuck in the pulp underneath it. No face, just hair and red flesh. Her hands are behind her back with two pairs of crisscrossing handcuffs.
I wait for a moment, staring. Staring anywhere but her head. I don’t smell anything, don’t see any bugs. I want to go away, back to the door, to the air. She has my build. Amber and I look like sisters. I grab her feet and start pulling towards the slit. It takes everything, but I make it over and twist her body so I don’t have to see her face. Panting I close my eyes but when my eyes close I see her fingers scraping the ground as I dragged her and how when her skirt rode up, snagged on concrete, she wasn’t wearing underwear. I don’t know if I want to keep my eyes open and see her or close my eyes and see her and I start to cry. It hurts. I don’t have any water for tears.
Leaning over her, I see particles of dirt and gravel embedded in the skin of her thighs, which rose in red and irritated circles around them. I notice the mud on her shirt and I remember the stream and the dirt. The taste of steel on my tongue had felt so real. I’m so cold. I start to pull off her shoes and when I pull off her socks she has purple toenails, purple toenails just like me. My hands are trembling so hard I can barely get the buttons out of their holes. I turn her and yank down her collar and her head bobs off the concrete floor and somehow my eyes have found water and there on her back surrounded by the bruises and knife cuts like punches I see she has a tattoo, a black tattoo just like me. Just like me. Just like me. It says Caleb. Jesus, he’s only 3 years old.