CH9: Blood Red
“They either come back or they don’t.
That’s what you tell yourself.
That’s what you learn.
As you go through mundane days
with so much of pain beating in your
chest that you feel it will explode.
You strike days off your calendar,
waiting, going for a run,
picking up a new hobby,
while trying to numb that part
of your brain that refuses to forget
the little details of your skin.
Soon, you start sleeping in the
middle of the bed, learn how to
get through the evenings alone,
go to cafes and cities alone,
you learn how to cook enough
dinner for yourself and just make
do without the kisses on your neck.
The tumor of pain already exploded
one lonely night when you played
his voice recording by mistake.. by mistake..
But you didn’t die.. Did you?
They either come back.. or they don’t..
― Ayushee Ghoshal
The body shuts off when there’s too much to bear, it goes its own way. Day after day, Nicklaus went to the basement with a new way of breaking her, the same smirk on his face. Hela just let her body lie itself into numbness and lie to herself that she couldn’t hear, see, or feel anything again and again.
Blood had dried over her body like a second skin and over the floor surrounding her and the chair she was tied up to. Bruises and deep scars covered her weak body. She wore the same clothes she had worn since she had arrived, or what was left of them. Her tangled hair fell over her face, dried blood crusted all over it.
The door creaked open. Hela took in a shaky breath and waited. The sound of heavy steps drew closer and Hela painfully raised her head. Strands of hair curtained her eyes, but she could still see his dark frame. She stared at him, just like every time he came into the room, just like every time he tortured her until she fell half dead into unconsciousness.
“Wonder why I didn’t kill you?” He slowly lowered his body in a squatting position, one arm resting on his knee and his other hand yanking Hela’s jaw. She cringed at the contact. “Because you are too useful, too valuable.”
Useful, valuable. Words for an object, meant for others to use and manipulate. An object: silent, controllable. She felt that way. Nicklaus let go of her chin and her head slumped forward. He walked towards the door and whispered something to the two guards who had appeared at each side of the door. They blended with the dark walls, barely visible. Their features were obscured by the room’s darkness.
Nicklaus left the room. Once the door was firmly shut, the guards walked towards her. Both their huge shadows loomed over her. One of the guards was bald, the bulb’s light reflected on it. He walked behind her and unchained her from the bloody chair. Hela didn’t attempt to escape as both guards took hold of her arms. Not because she didn’t want to, but because she couldn’t.
They dragged her semi-conscious body across the basement, the sound of bare feet being dragged along the concrete floor echoing through the four walls. The door opened once again, and a ray of light hit her eyes. Her head throbbed from the overkill of light and she had to squint her eyes to make sense of her surroundings.
The guards pulled her along winding corridors, now cold wood covered the ground. They stopped outside a metal door and pushed her inside roughly, breaking their bruising grip on her arms.
It was a poor lit bathroom, with white, bleached tiles covering every inch of the small room.
“Strip,” muttered the bald guard in a heavy Russian accent.
Hela froze and her blood went cold. Slowly she turned around to face both guards.
Hela could be tortured to death but never would she act like a whore, or follow any orders from those petty Russians.
“Get in the fuckin’ shower.” This time it was the other guard who talked, his hand wrapping around the gun strapped around his chest, and yet Hela stood still with her hands curled into fists at her sides.
“You have three seconds to strip, or we will do it ourselves.”
Hela did nothing. At least she tried.
Both guards lunged towards her like the beasts they were. They tore her rags into shreds, her weak attempts to hold the flimsy fabric to her body only making her body earn more bruises. One of the guards pulled her into the shower and slammed her head against the shower’s tiled wall, making her vision blur. The guard crushed his large body on hers, the growing bulge in his pants pressing against her bare body.
“Now, clean yourself suka, or we fuck you right here. You decide.” The man let go of her and stepped out of the shower. There was no curtain, so she turned her back to them. As if that gave her some sense of privacy.
She turned on the water and flinched as the cold water sprayed on her face and trailed down her raw body. She would not cry. Her tears mixed with the water as she slowly scrubbed off the blood off her arms. Red water sprayed over the bleached tiles, just like blood. Her blood, Dave’s blood, James’ blood.
The water turned off and she was pulled out of the shower. “Time’s up.” The bald guard threw her a stringy white robe at her. “Put it on now. Or we’ll drag you out of here naked.”
Hela quickly put the flimsy robe on, but feeling as naked as before. The robe clung to her body as a second skin, her body visible through the now wet fabric.
The guards yanked her out of the bathroom and dragged her along another hall. They practically threw her into another room, Hela’s numb body falling onto the cold wooden floor.
All she wanted to do was curl into a ball and cry, shout until her vocal cords ripped from her throat. But she slowly raised herself off the ground, her whole body on fire. Her vision was blurred with tears, but she did not let them fall.
The guards had moved to the door, guns wrapped around their arms. The room had a large four-poster bed, the walls were painted dark red, like blood had been poured all over them. A white countertop was placed in one of the walls, a mirror placed above it. Hela refused to look at herself, to see what they had done to her.
A tall woman entered the room. Her greying hair was pulled tightly into a bun. Her expression indifferent, her eyes cold under her spectacles. Her high heels clicked on the dark wooden floor as she moved towards her.
“Take that off,” the woman said in a monotone voice. “You two, out. I can’t concentrate if you’re constantly staring at her tits.” She waved them off and the guards walked out of the room, a strand of swear words coming out of their mouths.
She looked at Hela’s naked body. Her stare was calculating as she turned around her figure, as if she were looking at a piece of art, studying every flaw.
She sighed and went to work. Her fingers were like butterflies on Hela’s skin as she covered all her body with lotions. Wounds and bruises disappeared in minutes as the woman worked her magic. Once she finished she gave her a new robe and Hela wrapped it around her body.
“Sit,” she said coldly. Her bony finger pointed to the chair by the makeup stand.
Hela slowly walked towards the chair and sat down, pain running along her whole body.
She saw her reflection and her breathing stopped abruptly.
Who is that woman?
One eye swollen nearly shut, nose puffed to a grotesque size.
Who is she?
Laddered scratches and bruises running along both cheeks and jaw. She looked very thin, bones sticking out from her bloody shoulders.
The woman started applying makeup on her face, covering up the mess which was her face. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the feeling of soft tools brushing over her face. The woman painted, pulled, combed and straightened for hours, until every man-induced imperfection had been concealed.
The woman snapped her fingers to signal she was done. Hela’s eyes fluttered open and saw another face. All traces of cuts and bruises were gone, instead what remained was smooth porcelain skin. So fragile it seemed that it would crack at the slightest touch. She had perfectly coloured checks, blood red lips. Her eye was not puffy anymore, dark lined eyelids and fake eyelashes coating her eyes. Everything was fake, a lie. Her hair had been cleaned of blood, now cascading down her back.
She wanted to punch the mirror with her bare fists and make the reflection of that woman go away. She wanted to wake up from this nightmare. Maybe it was just a nightmare, she thought childishly. If she pinched herself she would wake up in her apartment and Nicklaus would have been dead long ago.
She snapped back into reality as the woman handed her something smooth.
“Change,” she deadpanned, whilst passing her a pair of dangerously high heels.
Hela rose from the chair and slipped the dress on. It hugged her thin body perfectly, the smooth fabric reaching the floor. The dress parted below her waist, running down her leg. Her back was left bare, thin strings around her neck holding the upper part of the dress. She turned her head slightly and glanced at the mirror. The tattoos were still there, the snake was still there. It’s head inked at the small of her back, the silk resting slightly lower. Something hers was still left.
The shoes were red, the dress was red, the walls were red. Everything was red, blood red.