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By Judy Viertel

I’m running. I stop to retie my shoe, and find myself looking at a young woman’s breasts. She’s walking towards me—I don’t mean to stare, I’m not a lesbian, although my short hair and lack of makeup often confuse people. It’s the way her tight shirt pushes her breasts up that makes them difficult to ignore. They’re oddly rounded, like two cereal bowls propped against her chest. As I finish with my shoelace, she wobbles past on spiked heels. Ankle breakers, my grandmother would have called those boots, and her leather skirt is so tight she can only manage tiny, nibbling steps. The two men she’s walking with have to support her as she steps down into the crosswalk. They look ten years older than her. They outweigh her, each of them, by at least a hundred pounds. It’s none of my business. Even so, I start thinking about something I recently read.

A man murdered his wife. She was a fashion model. Did he use a gun, or was it a knife? I can’t remember. He killed her and dumped the body. But first, he cut off all her fingers. He pulled her teeth. Why? No fingerprints, no dental records. There was no way for the police to identify the body. But those detectives, they were smart. They traced the serial numbers in her breast implants. That’s how they caught the husband.

I wonder: those fingers—how did he get rid of them? They were fingers he’d kissed many times, fingers that had, no doubt, curled themselves tenderly around his penis. Did he drop them into a garbage disposal unit? Did he smile as he flipped the switch?

The woman and her companions sway down the street, laughing. They’ve been drinking, I figure. I decide to follow them. There are many upscale clubs on this street, places with polished wood and carefully composed cocktails. Places where, on a warm evening like this, a young woman might easily drink too much and find herself in trouble.

Those men, I think: they look dangerous. And even if the police are able to identify her body by the numbers bar-coded into her beautiful, artificial bosom, it won’t be any consolation to her. Not when she’s dead. The woman looks a few years younger than me: I’d guess she’s about twenty-two. Given the chance, I’d speak to her like a sister. Be careful, I’d say.

When I was a child, my parents often left me in the care of my older brother. He used to make me watch horror films. I’d cry, and he’d say: don’t be so sensitive. They caused terrible dreams, those movies. Sometimes I still have nightmares: a woman is tied to a chair. She sees a man coming into the room with pliers. She screams. A boy, shackled nearby, blindfolded, hears the screams and wonders, is he next? Horror movies are just stories, but they teach us about human nature. It’s possible for people to hurt each other—not for survival, not for the sake of some ideal, but just because they enjoy inflicting pain.

I watch the three of them enter a restaurant. I lean my face against the window, but I can’t see through the tinted glass. The door swings open and a woman comes out. She’s another young beauty, but of a different type: snake tattoos twist along her muscular arms. She looks at me, checks her clipboard, and asks: are you waiting for someone? May I help you?

I notice her assessing my sweatpants and messy hair. No, I say, but thanks for asking.

Okay, she says. Smiling, she retreats into the restaurant.

I move along, embarrassed to be caught looking in the window, and suddenly feeling silly for thinking I might be of help to a young stranger. Before the door closes, I catch a snippet of music. It’s just a few minimal, tinkling notes, but I find it compelling. I think: I might like it in there. Not wearing skimpy clothing, of course, and not surgically enhanced, but still: enjoying a drink. Chatting with a man, perhaps someone I’d just met.

I’m running again, my powerful legs pushing me through the fading light. I wish I could free myself from my brother’s hand, but I still feel it, pinning my wrist to the couch. All those movies we watched, those broken bodies—how do I make them go away?

Jan. 20, 2017, 1:10 p.m. 0 Report Embed 0
The End

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