Kirsten Rue

It's really cold out. The nozzle on the gas pump sings with cold, bites her hand. She sits in the car and puts her hand in the crease of her knee. It stops hurting and she drives away, not paying for the gas.

The darkness has no end and no beginning, just a swathe marked with the white dashes of the road, like a pattern. She drives into it. She wishes to be even more unconscious than this, in the darkness.

An hour away, and no one has followed. She checks into a Motel 6 and she knows she looks young. There's not much she can do about that, just enunciate more, throw her shoulders back. Which she does.

In the room she turns on the heat as high as it will go and draws the blinds; they clack together on plastic rings. She runs the water and watches her face as the room steams up: it fogs, then vanishes.

That night she orders pizza with a credit card number she took from the till register. Peggy Ann Derlish orders two large Meat Lovers. Mrs. Derlish will polish off a whole box. When the delivery man knocks on the door, she asks him to please push the receipt under the door; signs it in a shaking hand; pushes it back out; waits to hear his footsteps walk away. She opens the door a crack and feels blindly in the hallway over the stubble of the carpet.

She can't watch TV; she won't call anyone. She runs a hand over her thighs and it feels like a stranger is touching her; she wants to crush her face into the pillow, deep enough to be on the other side of dark. Her sleep in dreamless, shapeless: fold after fold of it; but there's an edge. On the corners she can feel it, wind coming in through a doorframe. A prickle of dread.

In the middle of the night, she wakes up to find that she is sucking her thumb. Her ankle sticks out from a corner of the coarse coverlet: a pale shell.

The next morning a voice pleads for her outside the door and calls her by her name. He calls her "Miss." They will get this all straightened out. No one wants to hurt her. His voice tip toes towards her in the predawn light, noses her, snuffles through her clothes, disturbs the curtains.

Miss. She looks at her wrists and contemplates the veins so lovely
there—that, to have swirled the underside of her skin with such a pattern, surely, her maker had a plan.

The door rattles on its hinges—a cut out square, traced in white; pulling the covers over, she curls, nose to knees, and holds, waits. The thought becomes a comfort to her somehow, even as the sound intrudes.

She is branched with blue.

Kirsten Rue lives in Seattle. Her stories have been published in Quick Fiction and others.

Detail of illustration on main page courtesy of Jim Bob Blann.

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