High Voltage

Page 31

I showed her around the flat, emphasizing the many dead bolts on the inside of the door, the food in the pantry, the way you had to jockey the stove knobs to get them to work. I didn’t open the fridge; I’d grab Shazam’s blood on the way out.

She walked woodenly to the bedroom, stood staring blankly at the bed, storms rushing behind her eyes. When bad things happen, you relive them for a while, keep seeing them over and over. Psychiatrists call it “intrusive thoughts” but that makes it sound like they’re infrequent and intrude into “normal” thoughts. There are no normal thoughts in the near aftermath. You’re trapped in a movie theatre that’s playing a horror flick over and over and you can’t escape because somebody locked all the doors and the film’s rolling on every wall.

Unless you get angry enough to break down a door.

Some things aren’t worth analyzing. You leave them behind. Actus me invito factus non est meus actus. Then there are those actions you chose to make that shouldn’t be analyzed either.

If I can’t make them angry—the right way, and there are loads of wrong ones—I invariably lose them.

She had no purse. No money. Her clothes were torn and dirty, her oversized man’s shirt an obvious pilfer, an employee shirt from an out-of-business petrol station with the name “Paddy” emblazoned on the pocket. “You got a phone?” I said.

She nodded and fished it awkwardly from the shirt pocket.

“Put my number in it.” I rattled off the digits and watched her type them in. “If you want to leave the flat, text me. Me or one of my friends will come get you. My goal is to keep you safe and alive until your head clears. Got it?”

“Got it,” she whispered.

“You want anything, text. Do you need a doctor?”

She shook her head. “I’ll heal.”

Her body would. We’d see about the rest. “Your name?”

“Roisin,” she said numbly.

Connection made. “Cool.” I turned to walk away when I felt her hand on my shoulder and turned back to her.

Then she was hugging me, and I thought, Shit, if she touches my head, I might blow her up, so I was even more awkward than I usually am when someone hugs me out of the blue, but I figured it out and sort of patted her comfortingly on the back while trying to keep her away from my neck and head.

She gasped with pain and stumbled away. When she turned her back to me, I saw blood on her shirt, blossoming over her right shoulder blade. A considerable amount.

“You can go now,” she said. Tightly. Not because she was angry but because she was barely holding it together. I wanted to demand she show me her back, determine for myself whether she needed a doctor.

I know what it’s like to have somebody try to zoom in too close to the things I don’t want to talk about.

Still, I wouldn’t be waiting a week to check on her. I’d be there again tomorrow. Morning. With coffee and bandages and the hope a safe night of sleep had calmed her enough that she’d let me take a look.

For now, a parting distraction. “Don’t freak out if a huge…uh, catlike thing with violet eyes and a fat white belly pops in. I mean literally, just appears out of thin air. Don’t throw things at him, and whatever you do, don’t call him fat or even let him know you think he is. He’s super sensitive and emotional, gets weepy. He can turn into a huge sobbing mess on you. Just tell him Dani isn’t staying here right now and he’ll leave.”

Roisin whirled like a jerky puppet who wasn’t pulling her own strings. “Wait, what?”

But I’d already grabbed five pints of blood from the fridge, tossed them in a bag, and was out the door. “Lock up behind me,” I ordered as I closed the door.

Shazam always scanned our flats before he materialized, Roisin had nothing to fear.

But, for a time at least, she’d be worrying about a purple-eyed, emotional, very fat cat appearing, and the hours until she finally slept would pass more easily.

I learned young that moments of comedy during the horror show can be a life raft, enough to keep you bobbing in a violent, killing sea.

She sold me.

To the highest bidder.

Double-crossing Rowena, my mother sold me on the open market like a prize pig, I learned later, with a video of me trying to freeze-frame in my cage, of her making me crush various objects in a tiny fist, accompanied by a detailed list of my superhuman abilities.

They came late one night, and I was so excited to see someone besides my mother or, on the very rare occasion, one of her wasted boyfriends, someone who had surely come to set me free, that I began vibrating, moving so rapidly from side to side behind bars I became a mere smudge of white in the wan light of the TV.

I was so excited I couldn’t even talk.

No one had ever been in our home before besides my mother and those glassy-eyed, stoned men, and I was terrified she’d come back and prevent my saviors from releasing me.

When I finally found my tongue, I said over and over please let me out, please let me out, you must let me out in a stunned kind of daze.

These were Responsible Adults like the ones on the telly.

They wore dark suits and shiny shoes, and had neatly trimmed hair above their collars and ties.

These were the kind of people that rescued other people. Who came from places like the Child and Family Agency, TUSLA, another word I always saw in my head capitalized, the color of wide-open blue skies.

But despite my pleas, they stood in the middle of our shabby living room, with its sagging plaid sofa and scuffed wooden floors, and began to discuss me as if I wasn’t even there.

As if I was only super-fast and super-strong. But super-stupid. Or super-deaf.

Eventually I stopped smudging around in my stunted space and shut up.

I drew my knees to my thin chest and huddled behind bars, realizing that some people were born into Hell and just never escaped.

They said things like limit-endurance and stress-conditioning, they said things like eggs and artificial insemination and super-soldiers. They discussed how best to alter and control me.

Then they shocked me through those bars, again and again, sending extreme high voltage arcing into my small body, frying my synapses, reducing me to a quivering puddle on the worn, lumpy pallet that had once been a mattress.

They said things like surgical enhancement and discussed the regions of my brain, the possibility of dissection once they had sufficient stores of reproductive material.

They discussed the overdose they’d give my mother, erasing all ties between me and the world.

A person alone is a hard thing to be.

When I could no longer even twitch, they opened my cage.





Not since that perfect, magical-memory bubble of a night, years ago, that my mother had washed my hair and played games with me at the kitchen table until I’d been too sleepy to see, not since that night I’d drifted off in bed next to her with my tiny hands pressed to her cheeks, staring at her while I fell asleep, basking in her love, assured I was the most special thing to her in all the world, had that goddamned door opened.

OLDER and OUTSIDE awaited.

And I couldn’t move.

In the periphery of my vision the outdated, faded calendar with its yellowed, curling edges, on which my mom had stopped crossing off days long ago, mocked me with the awareness that I’d been a na?ve fool.

Believing—long past the time I’d been given every conceivable sign that I was nothing to her, and no one was ever going to save me—endlessly believing I mattered. That she cared.

Behind them the telly played a rerun of Happy Days and I lay paralyzed, synapses charred, watching them bend to grab my feet and drag me from the cage, and I wondered about the kind of people that got happy days, and I wondered why mine had been so brief.

I had no doubt their cage would be even mightier, my incarceration far more difficult to bear.

Sometimes, something inside you just breaks.

It’s not repairable.

I died on the floor that night.

My heart stopped beating and my soul fled my body.

I hated.

I hated.

I hated.

I hated.

I hated with so much hate that things went dark and I was gone for a few seconds, then I was back but every single thing inside me had snapped, changed, rewired.

Me, the happy curly-haired kid with such grand dreams, swaggering about, little chest puffed out, waiting, always waiting for someone to love me.

When Danielle Megan O’Malley died someone else was born. Someone far colder and more composed even than the Other I’d slipped into so often of late. Jada.

I welcomed her. She was necessary to survive this world.

She was strong and ruthless and a stone-cold killer. She was human, all too human, yet not human at all.

Jada stared up at them, as they talked and laughed and removed the length of chain and collar from my neck.

Oh, the feel of air on my skin beneath that bloody band!

They had handcuffs and chains. A hood.

Jada coolly analyzed my brain, my body, deciding how the current had altered things, and then Jada undid it all, remaining deceptively passive, helpless, defeated.

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