Joy

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twenty-one

Joy cocks her head, studying Alvin’s face. “You must have been an intern for about five minutes.”

“Yeah, yeah, only a day before Eddie fired me.” He relaxes his grip on his pen, but just a little.

She shrugs, wanting to wave a hand but she’s stuck in cuffs. As if she were going to leap across the table and strangle the poor kid.

Once upon a time, I might have done just that, in the heat of the moment. She’s reformed. Or at least, she thinks she is. They don’t let her hang with the other inmates unattended, and she’s never had the desire to wrap her fingers around a woman’s throat, anyway.

“So what’s this interview for?” She clucks her tongue. She hadn’t anticipated any of the news outlets being at all interested in her, considering how long she’d been in here already. Her only visitor outside of her lawyer had been Eddie, and only the one time. She hopes that he’s enjoying Cancun, maybe even letting that man bun out, relaxing a bit.

Alvin takes in a sharp breath. “I’ve been working on a documentary about you.”

She can’t help but laugh. “A documentary? On me?” She shakes her head. “The world gives no shits about Joy Daisy.”

Especially now that they’re pulling all my programming. Sorry to disappoint you, kids, but you aren’t going to get to wake up with me on TV anymore. That thought leaves a bitter taste on her tongue, and she picks at the inseam of her pant leg to distract herself.

“Maybe not, but maybe so.” He takes a deep breath and smacks the butt-end of his pen into the notepad, clicking it open and putting the ball-point to paper.

She raises an eyebrow. “What are you writing already? The world gives no shits?” She can’t lean forward enough to see, so she studies him instead. He’s handsome, with his dark eyes and sandy hair. Ten-years-younger-than-her handsome, considering he can’t be older than twenty-three or twenty-four, but she can tell why she’d picked him.

She remembers him a little—there were so many interns; poor Eddie—but mostly just flashes of him flopped in the background while she and Tyrone railed some redhead. Was she an intern too? No, Eddie hadn’t been as mad about her, if Joy could recall. But damn, she’d been a sweet thing.

Joy always remembered redheads in vivid colour. There was one a few cells down from her, and they occasionally met in the showers. The guards didn’t seem to mind when they took a few extra minutes. They extra didn’t mind when they got to watch.

“So.” Alvin seems a little more comfortable now, though he seems to be having a hard time meeting her gaze. “Why don’t we start with you telling me when you knew you wanted to get into acting, as a kid?”

Joy smiles sweetly. “Why don’t we start with why a guy I fucked once is making a documentary about me?”

He finally meets her eyes this time, his own wide like a deer caught in the headlights. He’s nervous again, and she can’t help but take a little bit of sick pleasure in it.

Sick pleasure, her specialty. She wants to clasp her hands behind her back innocently, but the cuffs.

“It’s just a weird sequence of events.” She wants to put her finger to her chin in mock thought, dramatic as she is, but the cuffs. “Were you obsessed with me before, and that’s why you wanted to intern on my show? Or was it after you got fired that I consumed your life?”

His mouth opens. Closes. The pen quivers in his hand.

Taptap. Tap.

“After.” He swallows hard. “It fascinated me that a childhood icon had orgies in her dressing room at night. That her manager couldn’t find reliable interns because she kept sleeping with them. That she has slap-fests with other women because she wants to feel alive.” His tongue darts out, wets his lips, disappears. “I couldn’t stop thinking about it. But I didn’t decide to make a documentary until you started killing people.”

“Turned on by murderers?” She glances at the security guard in the corner and throws him a wink. He’s stone faced, staring back at her with zero expression. She’s impressed by his skill, how his skin stays smooth, unmoving. Not even an eye twitch, or a single wrinkle in his brow. Apparently actors should work as prison guards to practice. Or somebody should offer this beast a job.

“I’m supposed to be interviewing you,” Alvin says, cutting into her reverie. “I only have an hour, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t Hannibal me.”

A chuckle trickles from her lips, and she would have rested an arm on the table, planting her chin onto her fist, but the cuffs. “I think I’d enjoy eating you.”

“I certainly enjoyed eating you,” he quips, and then glances immediately at the statuesque security guard.

Joy throws her head back in a guffaw, a rare and true, guttural laugh that she can’t hold back. “Well played, Alvin.” She crosses her ankles, wishing she could cross her legs proper. “Ask your questions.”

So many questions all that time ago, when she’d been arrested. Yes, yes I killed all those guys. No, I don’t know why, I just did. No, I wasn’t going to kill Detective Rooker. Yes, I am pleading guilty, just ship me off to jail already, I’m done with this shit.

He readies his pen. “How did you know you wanted to get into acting, as a kid?”

At least he has interesting questions.

“I was really good at lying.” She relaxes in her chair, as far as the cuffs will allow. Sends her mind’s eye back, back to when she was so small, terrorizing her parents day in and day out. “When kids discover they can lie, it’s like any other new skill, they want to try it out, see what they can do with it, right? It’s like walking for the first time. What do toddlers do immediately after they figure out how to walk? Make a beeline for that vase that was previously out of their reach. Kids just want, want, want. They don’t have a conscience, yet.

“So when they figure out that they can lie, to get what they want, they try. Most of the time they’re bad at it, or they lie about things that can’t pull the wool over their parents’ eyes. Yes, mommy, I just brushed my teeth, just now, or No, I didn’t already have a cookie. It doesn’t usually work, and they get reprimanded.

“I got reprimanded, but it didn’t stop me. It just made me wonder how convincing I could be. So I’d create these elaborate circumstances to see if I could get away with shit. My magnum opus was the time I convinced her that I had to go to the emergency room. The doctors almost sent me into surgery, they were sure it was my appendix.” She closes her eyes for a moment, remembering flopping around, drooling on herself, moaning with pain that didn’t exist. “I think that performance ruined my father.”

Alvin stops scribbling maniacally to meet her gaze. “So they figured out you were faking it?”

“Dad said I was faking it. The doctors were flabbergasted, but wouldn’t come out and say that I was faking. Mama knew afterwards, but lived in this little bubble of denial, because she didn’t like to admit that she’d been duped. It’s how I got her to do a lot of things.” She looks down at her too-short fingernails. The side of her right thumb is red and raw from being chewed too far. These weaponized hands of hers. “This little bitch in my class started flaunting that she got to be in a commercial, and it pissed me off. I was a way better actor than she’d ever be. She couldn’t even trick our teacher out of punishments for things she’d done. So I convinced my mom to get me into acting.”

“Did you like it?” Scratch, scratch, scrawwwwl.

She shrugs. “Getting to be somebody else? Play the ultimate game of pretend, and have adults take it seriously? What kid wouldn’t like that?”

Scribble, scratch.

“Did the other kids seem to like it too? On Bonky Wonky?”

She wrinkles her nose. “When I started Joy Daisy, I thought about having kids on the show. But I didn’t want to perpetuate the cycle. Have a pack of little sociopaths whose parents shipped them to me because they couldn’t handle them at home.”

Scratch. Tap. Alvin sits up straight. “Is that how you describe yourself? A sociopath?”

“I guess I am, aren’t I?” She sneers. “Kids are sociopaths most of the time, but they grow out of it. But here I am, in my thirties, in jail for killing a bunch of people. So, that makes me a sociopath, right?”

He cocks his head. “No, a sociopath is someone that doesn’t understand emotions. Are you that good of an actress that you’re faking every emotion? Based on my collected research, I wouldn’t call you a sociopath.”

“Actor.” She drums the pads of her fingers on her knees.

“What?”

“Actor, not actress, that’s sexist.” Still drumming her fingers. She wants to drum them on the table, but the cuffs. “Shouldn’t you have learned that while ‘collecting research,’ huh? Who have you talked to, in the last few months? My coworkers? My parents? The good Detective? How deep does this documentary go?”

And why do you want to know about my childhood? Why aren’t you asking the usual shit, like why a nice girl like me ended up in a place like this? Everyone wants to know why I did this to myself. Or do you already know, little intern?

He regards her for a moment before answering. “A lot of people not directly connected to you. And then an old roommate of yours. Your mom. And Abigail Leder. Mark Albatross refused to even let me on his property.”

Her teeth clench so hard she feels like they’re going to shatter out the side of her jaw. “You saw Abby.”

Don’t stay here, Joy, her little voice floats through her head, as if it were yesterday. Don’t stay on the show after I’m gone.

“You remember her?” Alvin readies his pen again. “She said you only worked together for a few months.”

Joy scratches at her thighs, but of course there are no fingernails, no sweet release of the pain of digging at herself. “How was she, when you saw her?”

Don’t stay here. Don’t ever let him get you alone. Don’t-don’t-don’t.

“Spooked. I had to delete the recording of our conversation.”

He’ll teach you how to paint the sky, happy happy joy joy…

She draws her bottom lip between her teeth and bites down, endorphins flooding her as her nerves sing with the pain.

Big big hand around a tiny child’s throat, squeezing, constricting, distracting from the horror, from everything-

“I used to want kids,” she says, releasing her swollen lip from its cage. “Used to dream about getting rich, having a trophy husband and a gaggle of giggling sociopaths of my own to smother with love and affection. To listen to. To rush to the hospital when they want to trick me into thinking there is something wrong with them for attention.”

Scribble, scratch. “What changed?”

Don’t let him get you alone.

“Physical trauma when I was a kid.” She stares at the security guard again, this time studying the line of his jaw. There’s no stubble there. Smooth as eggs, there’d be no friction whatsoever. “I didn’t find out until my teens that my uterus was just destroyed. I don’t remember the specifics, I was on a lot of drugs back then.”

Scratch, scratch. “What was the trauma, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“You ever done ketamine?” She compares the security guard’s ears. One is slightly bigger than the other, almost a little lumpy. Maybe he’d been injured in a prison riot. “You snort enough of it and it just puts you into yourself. You don’t pass out, just lay there, experiencing things on the inside of your body. You don’t know what’s going on on the outside, because the outside doesn’t matter.”

Don’t-don’t-don’t…

Alvin glances at his watch, and takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “I need to ask you a flat-out question.” He blinks a few times. “Did Mark Albatross sexually abuse you as a child?”

Maybe the security guard was just born with lopsided ears. Maybe when he went to preschool the other kids would call him names and tug on them when he wasn’t looking. Maybe he’d go home crying every day because he was being bullied.

“My mom asked me once if the other kids on Bonky Wonky were mean to me,” she says. “She told me that I didn’t have to go back if I wasn’t happy. She didn’t know that I was the mean one. I wanted to be the favourite.”

You’re my favourite, sweetheart, so talented…

Alvin stares at her, staring at the security guard, and she wants to link her fingers around the back of her neck, but the cuffs.

“I couldn’t tell mama that she’d never have grandkids. I asked my doctor not to tell her. She said she wouldn’t. But then she told my dad. I was a minor, and apparently patient-doctor confidentiality is a grey area with a minor.” Maybe the security guard mutilated one of his ears himself, so that he’d look tougher to the inmates. “Dad didn’t know what to do with the information, so he just pretended he didn’t have it. I heard the call. I know he was told. But he didn’t talk to me about it, didn’t tell my mom. Just ignored it.” Maybe the security guard wanted to look tough because he was soft as mashed potatoes underneath. “Mom thought other kids were mean to me. I knew better. And then Dad knew better. But he never did anything about it. So neither did I. Good old Dad taught me that day that my secrets should stay secret. That I should keep acting. That’s what we do with our… traumas.”

In her periphery, Alvin freezes, stock still.

“Do you still feel that way?” he asks.

She flashes him a thousand-watt smile, finally tearing her gaze away from Lumpy-Ear. “What do you think?”

He takes a deep breath. “Did Mark Albatross sexually abuse you as a child?”

“Why does it fucking matter?” Her expression changes like a switch flip, rage burning in her eyes as she spits the words at him. “You walk on in here to interview me and throw his name around like confetti?” You’re so talented, sweetheart. “You harass Abby after all these years? My mom? My mom doesn’t even know me. She doesn’t know shit. Your documentary is going to be shit.”

He points at her with the pen. “See? Emotions.”

Her expression flips again, the rage disappearing in a blink just as quickly as it had come. “See? Actor.”

Alvin sighs, running his hands through his shaggy hair.

She smirks. “I literally told you in the first five minutes that I’m a liar. What do you want me to say? That Mark Albatross repeatedly raped me while I was working under him, that he used to choke me out and nearly kill me, that that’s why I’ve spent my whole life trying to be somebody else until I started lashing out and choking unsuspecting lovers to death in some sick sort of revenge plot? That sounds like what you’re going for, the icing on the cake for your magnum opus.” She curls her right hand into a fist, extending her finger to lift it to shake at him, but the damn cuffs. “Except I lie, and I lie, and I lie. And you don’t know what the truth is, no matter how many people you talk to, because you don’t know if what they’ve seen is a lie. None of your research is reliable. And you’re never going to know the truth.”

“Abigail said she’d come forward against Albatross if others did.” Alvin presses his palms against the table, pen lying useless on the steel. “If that’s what happened-”

“Because a convicted murderer is a good person to have in anyone’s corner during legal proceedings.” She inclines her head. “Pick up your pen, Alvin.”

He swallows hard. Looks down. Peels his palms from the table and picks up the instrument, readying it at the paper.

“I’m a sad middle-aged, spent woman that’s always wanted something she can’t have.” She closes her eyes. Scribble, scratch. “Now I’m in jail for the rest of my life. I’m not allowed to room with anyone because they’re afraid that I’ll strangle them in their sleep. So I get a suite all to myself. And the highlight of my day now is going to be coming up with ways to fuck with you when you eventually come back to visit me.”

He throws the pen down and scowls. “What makes you think I’m going to come back?”

“Why are you making a documentary about me?” She raises an eyebrow. “Why did you say yes when I invited you to get stoned and have a foursome in my dressing room? Why go to all the trouble of tracking down my sex worker roommate? Did you watch some of my old streams? I think those were some of my best acting yet.” She leans forward, fluttering her eyelashes. “And I think you’re just as fucked up as I am.”

Alvin opens his mouth and closes it again.

The door opens, and the guard who had brought her in enters. “Time’s up, Miss Daisy,” he says.

Joy giggles. “Oh, you.” She is compliant as a kitten as he gently lifts her to a standing, and leads her towards the door. At the last second, she throws a wink over her shoulder at the bewildered younger man sitting at the table. “Til next time, Alvin.”

END

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