Chapter Four

The poison that runs its course through her

pale white skin with strawberry gashes

all over - all over

- JackOff Jill

Lara took a deep breath. "I have something to ask you."

"What is it, dear?" said Thalia kindly.

Ignoring a look from Mark, Lara went on. "I… I only wondered when I might take Ama back. I mean, it seems like a good time seeing as how we've got a house now."

Mark put his head in his hands. The aunts were silent.

Finally, Thalia said, "Ama, go to bed." Her voice was harsh, and Ama hastened to obey, but Lara caught her by the arm.

"What do you say?" Lara demanded.

"Lara, please be sensible," said Thalia, "Don't get upset…"

"Upset about what?" said Lara.

"You gave her to us. You can't just expect to have her back any time. We've grown rather attatched to her, I'm afraid, and we're going to keep her."

Lara pounded her fist on the table. "She's mine!"

"She's not anybody's," said Mark loudly, "She not an object, for chrissake."

"Kindly do not swear in this house," said Thalia swiftly.

"No," said Lara, "You're right, Mark, we should let Ama decide." She turned to her daughter. "Ama, what do you want? You want to come with Mommy, don't you?"

Ama burst into tears.

"Lara!" exclaimed Thalia, "You can't ask a child a thing like that! See what you've done! Look, you couldn't take care of her then and you can't now. You'll never grow up, Lara! And you're never taking this child."

Lara stared at her aunt for a moment, still keeping a firm grip on Ama with one hand.

"Lara," said Mark quietly.

Slowly she let go of the girl and stood up. She didn't look at her aunts as she left. Mark followed, silent.

August stared at her reflection. The kitchen knife was in her hand already. There was an unquestionable urge that seemed to consume her entire conciousness. She had to do it (just a small cut- it's okay). She had to so something (something besides just standing here stewing in my own wretchedness). She couldn't even begin to understand this urge, why it made her feel elated to cause herself pain. Nor did she understand why (WHY!) everyone else reacted so violently to it (what makes me so different from them why are they so incomprihensable why cant they understand me or at least understand that I don't understand…).

But she knew that if she kept on like this (like what?) she would surely die. Even though there was no reason for her to feel the way she did… She was happy, really, she was. She just didn't feel happy. Not when Maria kissed her, not when her friends came through for her, not when she was painting or eating chocolate or orgasming or dancing on the roof to Billy Holiday.

She wanted to break that goddamn mirror. No reason. She wanted to shatter all the windows or jump out one, just for the sake of destroying something.

But she couldn't. That was the worst part. She wasn't allowed. All the people who thought they cared about her would rather see her healthy and suffering than bleeding and happy. She hated them for it.

Lara fully regretted her decision to take the house as she made her way down the long, empty, hallway to answer the door. They didn't even use the upstairs. She sighed and pulled the door open.

"We had a fight." August said simply.

Lara took in her friend's hollow cheeks, puffy eyes, falsely bright hair, sloppy make-up, and clumsily-packed suitcase.

"C'mon," she said at once. "You look terrible. How about a cup of tea? Or wine, or gin, take your pick." She ushered August down the hall. August didn't reply, but gave an odd hiccuppy noise as she sat down at the kitchen table.

"A cigarette," she said numbly as Lara pulled her jacket off of her, "would be nice… I finished my last two packs this morning."

Lara took a pack from her pocket and put it in August's trembling hands before sitting down across the table. "What happened?"

"I blew it." August fumbled with her lighter and took a few good drags, seeming to calm down somewhat.

Lara waited.

"I'm such a bitch," August continued. "The one person who ever loved me and I failed her."

"August-"

"She did so much for me and all she wanted in return was for me to be a little happy some of the time and I couldn't even do that." August looked at Lara with her hands gripping her hair, her mascara beginning to smear.

"You can stay here as long as you want to." Lara didn't know what else to say. She was never good at cheering people up.

August muttered a "thanks" around her cigarette. After a minute, though, she dropped her head onto her arms.

It took a minute for Lara to realize that August was crying. When she did, she came around the table and hugged her as hard as she dared.

August sobbed and shook her head, feebly pushing Lara away. "I- I'm sorry. Oh God, I'm sorry for everything."

Why do you put up with me?

"Don't be sorry," said Lara soothingly, stroking August's flaming hair.

"I'm just so scared, Lara. I'm just so goddamned scared… that maybe, maybe I'm right. Maybe nothing's worth anything. Maybe there's no such thing as being happy…"

"Oh, don't say that, you know that's not true. You've been happy before."

August nodded but knew even as she did it was a lie. She could not remember a moment of pure happiness. She wasn't even sure she knew what the word meant.

Surely no one could remain this unhappy for long. Surely something would change, the feeling would cease or ease. Like when you stub your toe and while you swear and hop around you're just waiting for the pain to go away. Only what if it didn't what if it kept hurting and you kept hopping feebly around trying to physically get away from it… Surely no one can survive on a broken heart. And surely, surely this feeling could not be real.

It had all started when August woke up one morning and felt the sunlight on her skin.

The white of the sheets, the gold of Maria's still body, the light that clung to her eyelashes, the silent cloud of coal-black hair. It was all too much for August. A moment of complete stillness- it was hard to believe that any thing, any time, existed beyond this room and this insant. But August's beating heart betrayed her, telling of the clumsy passage of time.

What else could she do? She had to take a photograph. She had to keep this stillness alive. She believed that if she just kept still enough and silent enough and if she could freeze time she might be able to be not happy but content. So, you see, there was really nothing else for it. It was take the picture or watch your life turn to a blur until you drop dead of exhaustion and everyone expecting you to.

But Maria found the photo. She found it in a drawer that was supposed to be August's. Their fight was loud and red. They screamed themselves hoarse until neither had anything at all left in her. Maria went to work, and August went away.

It was at the big house that August began what she called the great work of her life. The upstairs was, after all, empty and filled with daylight and therefore ideal for a studio.

She tried it first in acrillic paints. Three times she painted it, each time discarding her work, growing increasingly frustrated. She realized that the paint wasn't what she wanted. She tried watercolors, and for a very long time she thought it was the way to go. Months later, however, she had to accept that it wasn't working either.

"God damn it!" she stormed one day, having just destroyed her latest attempt.

"What are you doing up there anyways?" Mark asked her. They were in the kitchen, and he was feeding the cat.

August pounded the back of her head against a cabinet. "I'm trying to paint… but I just can't do it right…" She waved her hand, "It's all wrong. I don't know why, it's just all…" She trailed off.

"I really don't understand how you can paint," commented Mark. "I mean, how you can make things look like themselves."

She laughed scornfully. "That's the easy part. No, the bit I'm having trouble with is… is how to make a bunch of brush strokes say what I want. But the… I think it's the flow… is all wrong. And I don't know how to fix it."

"Well, obviously I don't know what to tell you. What kind of picture is it?"

"Oh, I can't tell you that, it would ruin it. I can't explain it anyways."

"Oh."

She looked at him suddenly, as if seeing him for the first time. "Hey," she said, "D'you want to see some of my other stuff?"

"Sure." He shrugged, slightly pleased with himself for being socialable.

At first she showed him merely some photographs and paintings that were pretty, or obvious, or cliché. It was her worst work, merely skimming the top of her talent, and therefor her heart. She grew more comfortable with him seeing her work, however, and felt herself relaxing. It was easy to show him.

When she was confident that she was comfortable showing him, she pulled out the painting which, so far, she most loved and hated (and feared). It was a large canvas showing a lone figure small in the foregraound. A red-haired woman bowing her head, her eyes hidden by a bandage wrapped aound her head, her elbows at her hips but her forearms splaying out from her sides. The white skin of the forearms was opened, and blood pulsed in a delicate arc, like a fountain or a flower. The woman was naked, and seemed to be floating. Behind her stretched infinity- black fading to red, fading to orange and then slowly to yellow, which seemed to bleach away towards the top.

Mark looked at it for a long time, his face expresionless except for the small frown that never seemed to fade. August was mildly surprised that he had not started in horror, as everyone else had done.

When the silence had stretched so long that it simply couldn't continue, he said "What do you want me to say?"

August looked away from his face, which she had been studying for signs of a reaction. "Well, what do you make of it?"

"I love it. I know that… But you're probably not supposed to," he added. Then, more slowly, "It's… lonely."

She remembered a Christmas eve spent on the roof of the girls' dormitories, and the conversation that led her to reveal her secrets. Hesitantly, she asked "Does it… Do you you think it's exciting?"

He stared at her, trying to decipher the meaning behind her words. She stared back, and two pairs of brown eyes found a link. He didn't have to say anything- not being completely sickened was enough of an answer.

She couldn't hide her releif. Someone, at least, was as crazy and fucked up as she was. Someone, at least, (maybe) understood.