Happily Ever After
Thin rays of light penetrate cracks in the shutters, painting stripes on the rough floorboards of my attic room. Dust motes dance drunkenly in the beams, and I don’t like it. When the morning dance starts, they come. I don’t like the dark, either, but they leave me alone then, my single candle burning, burning, burning until it gutters in a pool of molten wax.
The dust motes dance faster and they come: the man with the paper and the ink, the woman with the tray of porridge, tea, and hot water, the black cat with the blank, unwavering stare.
The man slams the paper and ink on the table and looks at the night’s work: three pages. He picks it up, reads it, crushes it in his fist. “Trash,” he says, and throws it on the floor where it joins other crumpled pages.
The woman dumps the tray on the table. She looks at nothing and everything. She trudges around the room, gathering the crumpled wads of paper from the floor. She says nothing.
The man looks at me. “Trash,” he says, and leaves the room. I like it when he leaves; he’s too mean for my small room. Besides, he smells—even above the pong of my chamber pot.
The woman doesn’t look at me. She picks up the chamber pot and, wads bundled in her apron, leaves. She says nothing.
The cat stays. Staring, staring, staring, it says nothing.
I know what I’m supposed to do now: wash, drink, eat. I do all three.
The woman returns with a clean chamber pot. She collects the dishes and leaves the water jug. At the door, she turns and grimaces. “Trash,” she says. I shudder. Those teeth! Black, some missing, others worn to nubs. She leaves.
I listen. She’s gone. I try the doorknob. Locked. It’s always locked, but I always try it.
The cat noses the pile of ragged blankets that comprise my bed. It sits, staring at me, green eyes fixed and accusing. I stare back. It says nothing.
I stare at the blank white paper on the table, at the pen, at the ink. I pick up the pen, dip it in the ink, and write. A word. Two words. Three. That’s what they want, the man, the woman, the cat. They want me to write. They want me to write a story—a story with an ending. They want happily ever after. I write stories. I write stories that intrigue, thrill, horrify, even amuse, but I don’t write stories that end. Stories don’t end. I write the story and then I stop. There’s no happily ever after. There’s no end. Horror succeeds upon horror, time without end, never-ending.
I write some words. I sit a bit. I write some more words. I ball the paper into a wad and throw it on the floor. I sit some more. I fill a page. I fill another page and wad it up. Balls of wadded paper surround my chair. The cat comes over, bats a ball, watches it roll. Bats another and another, watches them roll. I watch them roll. The cat scatters the balls about the room. I stare at the cat, it stares at me. It wants me to write more. I write more. I ball up another page. The cat swats it into the chamber pot. “Trash,” I think.
The woman comes in with soup. It must be noon. The dust motes no longer dance. I see strips of daylight through the chinks of rotting wood, but no dance, no stripes on the floor. Too bad. I miss the dance when it’s gone.
The woman gathers the wads. She sees the wad in the chamber pot and grunts. She picks up the chamber pot and leaves. First time she’s taken the potty out at lunchtime. I’m usually stuck with the stink.
I drink the soup. Vegetables cooked beyond recognition. No meat—just a chicken bone. I spit it out. The cat paws it, sniffs it, stalks away.
The woman returns with the empty pot. It still stinks. “Write,” she says. She leaves with the soup bowl. I go to the door and try the knob. Locked. The cat hoists its back leg toward the rafters and licks the base of its tail.
I write, I sit, I wad. Write, sit, wad. The cat sits, stares, swats. Sits, stares, swats. Alliteration. I write it down. Write, sit, wad. Almost alliteration. Scribble, sit, scrunch. No. Don’t like it. Rhyming alliteration, then. Sit, spit, sh—. I cross it out. He hits me when I swear. Sat, spat, sh—. No. He’ll hit me. Write, wait, wad. It works. I write it down. It’s a story. It’s my story. It’s what I do. Stories come, stories go, but they don’t end. Stories never end.
Supper comes: bread—hard, dry, stale. I eat it. I’m hungry. Always hungry. The cat leaves when the woman comes for the empty plate and I am alone with a candle and more blank, white paper.
I try the doorknob. It turns.
I sit, pick up the pen, dip it, write a word. Two words, thr—
The doorknob turned? The doorknob turned!
It never did that before!
I go to the door and try the knob. It turns. I stand there. It turned. This hasn’t happened before, not since they brought me here, the man, the woman, the cat. I pull. The door opens. I step out into a long, dark corridor. I steal along it, quietly, quietly, quietly. I go down the stairs, one step, two steps, three, more, more, down, down. They’re in the kitchen, the man, the woman, the cat. I hide in a dark corner and watch. They are eating. Meat, sizzling and juicy; potatoes, steaming and fluffy; vegetables glistening with melted butter. My stomach gurgles. The cat is eating. Meat, gravy. A surge of saliva fills my mouth. I’m hungry. Always hungry. I want their food. I want the cat’s food. I want any food.
The man and woman are looking at pages. Crumpled pages, the edges curled and ragged. Pages with my writing on them. Pages I had wadded up and thrown on the floor, now piled on the table.
“Sits, stares, swats,” he reads. “Clever. This one’ll bring in quite a bit.”
She nods and smiles with her ghastly teeth mocking me in my dark corner.
“How many is that now?” he asks.
She goes to a cupboard and brings back a stack of magazines. She counts them. “Ten,” she says.
“Twelve,” he says. “Don’t forget they published two stories in one issue. Twice.”
“Twelve,” she says. “And this will be thirteen. Lucky thirteen.”
They both laugh.
I climb the stairs, back to my room, and close the door. I go to my table and write, sit, wad. No. Write, wait, wad. The candle dies and I go to the blankets on the floor and I sleep. In the morning, the dust motes dance and they come, the man, the woman, the cat. He throws my night’s work (another “clever” story?) on the floor, she gathers the wads. The cat sits, stares. The man and woman leave. I wash, drink, eat. The day continues as all the other days before, except I don’t try the doorknob. I write, I wad, but mostly I wait. The woman brings my supper. More bread. I drag my chair beside the door. I stand on it with the water jug in my hands. I wait. The woman comes back for the empty plate. I hit her over the head with the jug. She falls to the floor and doesn’t move. She might be dead. I move down the corridor quietly, quietly, quietly. Down the stairs. I smell dinner. The cat sits in the kitchen, staring, unblinking. The man smooths out my wads, stacking them. His back is to me. I see a knife on the counter. I pick it up and creep behind him. He hears me and turns just as I lunge. The knife plunges into his belly. He falls to the floor and doesn’t move. He might be dead.
Dinner is on the stove. I stand there, dripping with the man’s blood, and eat from the pots. Meat, potatoes, vegetables. Pie. Pie! I am full, very full. I haven’t been full in a long time. I go to my room and wash. I exchange my blood-drenched clothes with the woman’s. She’s heavy and limp. I wash again. I leave my room, go down the stairs, through the kitchen, and out the door. The cat darts past me and I stagger after it. The food, so much after so little, heaves in my belly, and I lurch from side to side. I spew and fall into the gutter. I don’t move. The cat pads away down the darkened alley and I lie there in my vomit, a story that doesn’t end.