Several minutes went by before the pain and pleasure abated and I focused. On all fours, naked, wet, reeking of the polluted mud and creek, I looked into their eyes. I saw hardness and hate, grief, anger, and exhaustion—and four years of struggle from a war no one wanted. Some did. I wasn’t one of them, but we did what we had to to do in order to survive; to be free.
I rose to my feet, standing upright, hands on hips, watching them closely, looking for signs of an impending attack; none forthcoming, yet. My mind skipped and hopped over how I got here dismissing it over greater more pressing concerns, like the mission and those kneeling in front of me. The memories and emotions from that day thirty-six years ago were still fresh in my mind along with the many more recent ones causing me to pause and reflect resulting in a layer of emotional awareness that befuddled me. Another layer spread anew. Time echoed and unfixed. Each iteration generic and novel. Abstracts unfolded concurrently in real time.
And here I was.
Circumstance led me here. Not skill, nor courage, nor affection. Not for these people sitting in front of me. I tried to grab at small sentiments that fired in my now blackened heart. Remnants lingered from the merge of memories past and present. Alas, the coals were cold. I had no desire to rekindle that flame if it ever indeed fired full. Childhood friendships and lovers were often times best left in the past between the panacea of pages in words and memories and illustrations. Nostalgia proved impractical and served no real purpose in my experience. Not in this world. There was nothing to do but die again and watch the world decompose in rot around me.
But this was my purpose. My duty. Supposedly.
I looked for the crate of supplies. Honing in, I saw it. It sat behind them like a beacon. I moved towards it watching them edge aside easing to their feet with the accompanying involuntary grunts and grimaces, examining me curiously and warily. I popped open the crate and removed a pack with my name on it; alien symbols long familiar. I pulled clean black clothes over my muddy body. Middle-aged, but faring better than theirs—being childless a large part of that privilege—I had a leaner body than my cousins, but not by much. Age comes for us all eventually.
Natalie—a petite frame and a part-time runner—bore the marks of birth of four overly large males gifted to her by her six foot four, two hundred seventy pound husband—all now dead. I long heard the family horror stories of a stretched torn vagina after the birth of the first male child and the continued tearing in the subsequent births until eventually it no longer worked; something called rectocele and all other ‘celes and a finger in the rectum to release the poo and that’s all I needed to hear to be traumatized for life. I had no desire to break this pussy. My trauma aside, compassion washed over me and what she must have gone through: the pain, the shame, the humiliation—the leakage. The effects of procreation on a woman’s body were one of the many reasons I did not breed and never had the desire to. Some of us just weren’t made for it. And some of us just don’t wanna.
Her stretch marks spread across her body in a fascinating pattern, like pale branches on an olive desert. The sight made for an alluring canvas amongst the mud and broken bars of moonlight and I found myself staring at her body in awe. She noticed this and started to squirm in unease—her fingers and toes tap danced to a nervous tune. I made eye contact with her—her green eyes and brown hair unlike that of her brothers, Cody and Ben, and I recalled other family secrets long buried. I dismissed those secrets for now parking them just outside the plan if I needed to exploit them at a later time. Natalie looked away flustered, unsmiling. I shrugged not bothered nor surprised and continued pulling clothes over my body while looking over the rest of them.
Of the men, Cody was the most fit down to the contours of his solid abs, pecs, arms, and thighs. His bougie blue-collar bod seemed to have aged well with some work. I unapologetically lingered a bit too long on his nude body reminding myself that he was a blood relative and incest was gross, supposedly. Wasn’t it? Game of Thrones, fanfiction, and royal families aside. All those put-downs over the years directed at me on West Virginia and incest made me chuckle: if they only knew. My eyes met his and I gave him a shameless nod of approval. I imagined his blush surpassed his short pale ginger hair and scruff and my lips twitched in a micro-smile before falling away to nothing.
I flashbacked to young fumbling hands and inept wet tongue kisses; curiosity and a rawness of adventure that I eagerly embraced while they were—wary. I looked from Natalie to Cody. A small grin played across my lips. They met my eyes briefly then looked away. Their shame and judgment slid off me along with their anger and all those other emotions that highlighted their maladies—their social diseases weren’t mine.
A shimmer of recall nudged me, slightly. I noted it and continued.
Ben had the dad bod with the little boy guise that made him appear innocent, brainless, and charming. He wore the dumb blond look perfectly and I pictured him as a reverend—one of his many daring identities he forged briefly in the midst of all that bourgeois white male mediocrity. He moved on shortly thereafter, to what, I hadn’t a clue and didn’t really care. As the youngest child in his family, he continuously searched for his path bouncing around eagerly without direction. Of this, I could relate. I winked at him. His reply—a gentle smile and kind eyes—was genuinely warm, but hesitant and unsure.
Both he and Cody will make impeccable honeypots if and when needed, I thought. Perhaps that will work, this time.
The last two of the men stood in front of me—their bodies bloated with neglect—hadn’t fared as well. I imagined the big dent their asses put in the sofas or computer chairs as memories of their lives flashed like a montage in front of me. Their unhappy wives and children bore the brunt of their laziness and repressed emotions. I dated one and rejected the other. They’d be lucky to make it through the night.
I strapped weapons to my waist, thighs, and lower back, and slid the armband around my left forearm. It latched onto me like a leech and began working immediately. Glancing over my shoulder, they continued to search for clarity and comprehension as I pushed one into the chamber of the Glock 19 and slid it back home. I removed the remaining packs from the crate and dropped them at their feet. Each one bore their names in symbols.
Get dressed, I told them. My voice was low and hoarse, like an unused door. Where we going, they asked. South 153 miles, I replied. On foot, Reese demanded outraged. You wanna summon an Uber, have at it, I told him.
While the others exhibited signs of comprehension, my remark sailed over his head. I shook mine looking him over wondering how I could’ve ever dated him as a teenager. What a difference thirty-six years made.
© 2018-2019 Pamela Gay Mullins