Eddie is naked, curled up on her side. She frowns in her sleep at the roll of thunder.
The thunder cracks again, closer this time, and Eddie rolls over onto her back, throwing her arm over her eyes. A warm, sultry breeze from the open window caresses her face. Slowly, she wakes.
Eddie yawns and stretches, her flat, tattooed chest rippling with whip-thin, corded muscle. She crosses her arms like an Egyptian Pharaoh, and traces the mastectomy scars that start high in her armpits, run across her upper rib cage, and nearly meet in the middle.
They are the wingbones of the beautiful bright phoenix that covers her entire front torso.
Eddie's forefingers slide down the center of the magical bird, down the center of her hard stomach, and stop at the dark red tattoo of a full-blown poppy just above her pubic hair. Eddie's hands tenderly cup the poppy, and she whispers her awakening prayer.
"Anything for you, my love."
The thunder crashes, and Eddie smiles. She knows May will want to make love when they get home. May loves thunderstorms. Eddie closes her eyes, and remembers the last one. Beautiful May, her poet, her princess, dancing on the balcony just for her. May's long red hair flashes like flame in the lightning, and her smile is all for Eddie.
Still smiling, Eddie rolls over to look at her alarm clock. It hasn't even rung yet, she has plenty of time.
It is flashing 12:00, 12:00, 12:00.
Panic. Sheer, screaming panic. Eddie does scream. She screams in rage at herself, and in terror for May. She leaps from her bed like a startled panther.
She grabs her leather hip pouch from the dresser, rips open the zipper, and pulls out her watch. It is 2:25 in the morning. The club has been closed for almost half an hour.
Eddie fights back tears as she yanks on her panties. She will not cry. She never cries. Not since Billy. She snarls instead.
Eddie wants to run screaming out to her car naked. She wants to race to the girlie club where May dances and scoop her up in her jaws like a lioness saving her cub from hungry hyenas, but she cannot. She has to prepare, and prepare thoroughly.
Eddie pulls on her armor; her black leather jeans that fit her like a second skin. She puts on her shield a piece at a time. First the bat, then the panther, then the dragon, then the wolf. She opens and closes her hand, and the fistful of heavy silver rings makes her feel like death incarnate. She takes her sword. When it slides into her palm like a deadly little serpent, it is not just a black-handled stiletto she bought from a little boy on the street. It is her own Excalibur. Eddie presses the button. In a flash of silver, the blade is there, like magic. Eddie touches the tip of the stiletto to her palm, reopening the tiny hole that she will never allow to heal. She kisses the pinhead ruby of blood that wells up there, and whispers.
"Anything for you. I am coming."
Eddie yanks a black tank top from her dresser and pulls it on. She glances up at her reflection on the mirrored closet door--flat chest, narrow hips, blonde spikes, burning eyes. An avenging knight, an obsessed paladin. Her hands clench into fists. She slams her mastectomy scars, and feels a stabbing twitch of pain.
Eddie grabs her keys and runs for the door.
She opens the door of the old Barracuda, and the hinges scream like a woman. Eddie slams her chest again. Pain, dull and red. It makes her feel alive and fierce.
She remembers waking up from the surgery, looking down, wishing she were dead. Too afraid of silicon for implants, she had no excess fat in her hips or thighs to create breasts from her own body. Picture-perfect, Jane Fonda housewife aerobics queen, she suddenly had no tits. She was Half a Woman.
Eddie starts the Barracuda's engine and spits out the window. She throws it into gear, and screams out of the apartment complex.
Eddie is glad her breasts are gone. How could she have missed them, she wonders? Ridiculous fleshbags, only good for one thing. Only good for feeding the baby who broke her heart.
"Please," Eddie breathes. "Please, May, be safe. I'm coming."
The wind from the open window is warm and wet, but guilt washes over Eddie in a cold, black wave. She gasps and screams. She hasn't felt guilt this strong since Billy. Billy Billy Billy. She suddenly can't get him out of her head. He pounds in her skull like a jackhammer. Eddie moans like the damned.
Eddie and Allen just couldn't believe it when their perfect baby got sick. How could he? After all, he was theirs!
She was Edwina then, stupid Junior League name, and nothing bad ever happened to Edwina. But it did, because her only son, her beautiful blond little four-year-old Billy had leukemia, and nothing in the world could save him.
She watched him waste away. Watched him throw up, crying and pleading with her to help him. She watched his hair fall out, and his eyes sink back into his head.
Allen grew distant, angry, and Eddie cried at night and wondered if he somehow blamed her. During Billy's last three weeks on Earth, Eddie knew he did.
His venomous looks when he thought she couldn't see, and his abrupt refusal to touch her stabbed Eddie through the heart. When he finally said it, it nearly killed her. Something woke her up. She rolled over to ask Allen if he were all right. Eyes open wide in the blackness of night, he was hissing "your side of the family, not mine. Your side. Your side." She lay next to him gasping like a fish, too hurt to even cry.
They were both there when Billy died, on either side of his bed, touching him but not each other. He had been unconscious for hours when his skinny neck convulsively arched. Billy gasped, his eyes rolling in terror. His breath caught in a strange hiccuping hitch, and he moaned with a sound like nothing Eddie had ever heard. He was dead as he sighed and sank back down onto the pillow.
Eddie screamed and wailed, throwing herself across the bed and pulling her hair in primal agony. Allen backed away from her, ashamed.
Six weeks later, she felt the first lump.
Eddie wails and slams the accelerator to the floor with her booted foot. Please, she prays silently. Please stay put, May, please don't go anywhere where they can get you where He can get you, Please!
Her narrow face twists in fear and she touches her sword, which is safely tucked into her back pocket. She will stay, Eddie tells herself. She will not walk out into the darkness. Not after last time.
When Eddie arrived at the club one night, as she did every night, May was not there. She was not waiting in her dressing room, showered and sweet, ready to tell Eddie about the weird people she saw that night. She was not curled up in the stairwell, writing one of her miraculous poems. She was not there at all.
Eddie nearly went mad. She grabbed the manager by his skinny arms, screaming at him "Where is she, where is May?" The little man trembled, and pointed at the door. The young artist who was there night after night sketching the girls from his favorite dark corner looked up and giggled. Eddie roared and kicked over his table as she charged past. She was through the doors before his pens and charcoal and pencils hit the ground.
Eddie ran down the back alley, past the garbage and the rats and the winos, heart hammering, eyes wild. At the other end she saw May through the glass of the coffee shop. May smiled and waved at her, pointing at two cups of cappuccino on the table.
Eddie threw the door open and strode across the room. She towered over May, who looked up at her with clear, loving eyes. "How could you!" Eddie thundered.
"How could I what, love," asked May, eyes dancing with amusement.
"How could you walk here, by yourself, in the dark? Someone could have--done something to you. Someone could have hurt you." Eddie could not make herself say "killed you".
People were staring.
"Why would anyone want to hurt me?" asked May, looking suddenly unsure.
"Because you're so fucking beautiful!" Eddie was shaking. A trickle of sweat slid down her cheek like a tear.
"Sit down, Eddie, it's all right."
"It's not all right. Don't you know there's a fucking murderer loose in the city? A serial killer, May."
May smiled, just a little. "He only kills prostitutes, Eddie."
"How the hell is he supposed to know the difference?"
May's mouth dropped open, and she looked down at her lilac minidress. When she looked back at Eddie, her eyes were filled with tears and pain.
Eddie was skewered through the heart. She threw her arms around May and kissed away her tears, whispering "I'm sorry, I'm sorry baby. I didn't mean to hurt you. Just don't scare me again, okay? Okay?"
Eddie is trembling. She never wants to see that look in May's eyes again. Ever. May, her angel, her savior. Eddie takes her hands off the wheel and slams her scars. It doesn't hurt this time. "Fuck you, Allen," she whispers. "Somebody loves me."
Allen was cold, implacable when Eddie told him the news. "I'm sorry," he said, meaning "I hope you die."
He was dutifully there throughout the surgery and the chemotherapy, but only in the flesh. Every time he whispered "It'll be okay, honey," every time he put his arms around her as though she would break, she could see the accusation in his eyes. And the disgust.
Then her breasts were gone and she was home from the hospital, and it got worse. Allen begged her to wear a wig, to cover her bald head. She did it for him, feeling stupid and ashamed. Eddie never undressed in front of Allen. She couldn't stand her own emaciated, mutilated body, and she was terrified to let him see. Then she started catching him in sideways, horrified glances, eyes riveted to her chest, clearly wondering just how horrible it was. It made her want to crawl under a rock, or just die.
Allen hadn't made love to her since before Billy died, over a year ago. After awhile, she didn't care.
But Eddie recovered. The doctors said it was a miracle. Her hair grew back, and she began to gain a little weight. One night, smiling at Allen like a shy little girl, stupidly hoping, Eddie pulled off her T-shirt.
His face twisted in absolute revulsion.
Sobbing, Eddie ran from the house in her bare feet. She never saw Allen again.
They did the whole thing with lawyers, and by the time it was through, Eddie knew she would never touch a man with love again. She thought she would never touch anyone.
Eddie bought the Barracuda, rented an apartment, and started sculpting again. She had been a gifted artist in college. At the age of 35, she discovered she still was.
She didn't have to work, not really. Eddie's family had Old Money. They hated her now, rejected her, but to disown her would mean admitting that something was wrong. Her parents sent her a check every month, and tried not to think about her. Although Eddie called them, they didn't come to her first gallery opening. Eddie never called them again.
She had been alone for just a few weeks when she first felt the power of her scars.
At home she always wore a robe, and avoided her full length mirror like poison. She would shed the robe at the edge of her bed each night, peeling it away like snakeskin, reluctant to release it. Finally she would let it drop to the floor and dive under the covers before she could feel the air from the upright fan on her bare skin.
Then, in the depth of the night, the phone rang.
Eddie sprang up and answered it, her heart pounding. "Billy?" she whispered, before she could stop herself. There was a drunk on the other end, who laughed, asked her for a blow job, and hung up.
Sobbing, Eddie turned on the light and went to the sink. She splashed her face with cold water. She reached for a towel, and saw her naked body in the mirror.
Water ran from her face and down over her chest, over the white, thick scars where her breasts used to be. They seemed to glow in the fluorescent light. Eddie couldn't take her eyes off of them. Horrified, she realized she was going to touch them.
Her hands trembled, and her lips skinned back from her teeth as her fingers got closer. Squeezing her eyes shut, Eddie touched.
The scars were warm and rubbery, not horrible at all. Eddie traced them with her fingers. She could barely feel her own touch.
She opened her eyes and studied the shape of the scars, the way they curved up across her chest. Eddie traced them again, and realized they were wings. They were her freedom. All they lacked was color, the fire and fury of the Phoenix.
The tattoo took three sessions, eight hours apiece, and cost a small fortune. The tattoo artist felt the power of Eddie's new incarnation, and it turned her on. Gloved hands covered with ink and blood, she gripped the sides of the table and kissed Eddie on the mouth. Eddie was flattered, excited, but she knew from the kiss that the tattoo artist was not the One. There was only One for her. The artist smiled and asked Eddie to call her, if her One never showed up.
"May!" Eddie screams. She pounds the steering wheel, willing the car to go faster. It has begun to rain.
Eddie was out on a late-night drive, pain and loss chewing at her soul, when she saw May for the first time. So tiny, so slender, so young. One hand on her face and the other clutching a little purse, sobbing as she walked, thin shoulders shaking.
Eddie's heart leapt. She knew, without a doubt. Eddie wanted to shout "You! You are the One, my One True Love!" Instead, she slowed the car, rolled down her window, and called "Hey! Are you all right, girl?"
May turned to her, face beaten and bruised but still so beautiful. "I had an abortion," she said, "and he beat me. Thomas beat me up and threw me out."
So honest, so pure! How could such a perfect, delicate creature exist? Her heart pounding against her ribs like a triphammer, Eddie managed to say, "Why don't you come home with me? We'll get you cleaned up." She held her breath.
May smiled, radiance within pain, and opened the car door.
"I'm coming, my angel," Eddie screams into the storm. She is almost there. Oh please, oh please. Her chest is cold and numb with dread. Her chest is almost always numb, except when she hits it, or when May runs her tiny pink tongue along the scars. Eddie shudders with terror for her little love.
Eddie did clean May up, carefully wiping the blood from her face and giving her icepacks for her bruises. May was sweetly grateful, holding her coffee cup in her tiny hands and telling Eddie the tales of one failed relationship after another. "I always pick the mean ones," she said, smiling sadly. Eddie was almost brusque in her attempt to hide her love.
"Stay here tonight," she said, voice gruff. "We'll figure out what to do with you in the morning, huh?"
But they couldn't figure out what to do with May in the morning, so she stayed.
Eddie tried to give May her bedroom, but May insisted on taking the couch. "It's your apartment, silly," she would say.
May also insisted on paying rent, and she paid her share faithfully. She made good money as a dancer. When she wasn't at work, she graced Eddie's apartment like a flower, writing beautiful poetry, or reading, or dancing down the hallway or on the balcony. She loved Eddie's sculptures, and loved to watch her work with the clay. May was filled with childlike delight when Eddie dedicated a figure of a dancing cat to her.
Eddie worshipped May, but she never touched her. She had faith that May would feel the power and purity of her love, and let her know. Eddie was right.
They were sitting on the couch, talking quietly, laughing together, when May turned to Eddie with something like surprise on her face. She leaned forward, oh so slowly, and pressed her rose petal lips to Eddie's cheek. Eddie couldn't breathe. May's arms slipped around her waist, and she leaned her head against Eddie's shoulder. "I love you," she whispered, as Eddie bent to kiss her.
They went to bed together that night, and Eddie made love to May. Eddie wasn't sure she was doing it right, she didn't really know how, but she did things to May that she had always secretly wished Allen would do to her. May's gasps and little cries of delight made her heart soar. Eddie thought she would die of pleasure when May cried out her name.
"Beautiful" was all May said when she saw Eddie's chest.
The next day Eddie bought her armor, her shield, and her sword, vowing to defend her True Love with her very life.
Eddie wanted to tattoo May's name on her body, but May thought it would make her look like a sailor. "Instead of my name," she said, laughing, "Why don't you get a tattoo that means me instead? Like a dancing cat!"
So Eddie thought and thought about it. Finally, she got her tattoo of a poppy. It was May's favorite flower, and it was so like her, delicate and perfect and fragile.
I am coming!
Eddie skids into the club's empty parking lot. The Barracuda skitters on the wet pavement and screeches to a halt. She leaps out into the pounding rain, heading for the club doors at a dead run.
They're locked. Eddie pounds and screams, but no one answers. The building is dark. It is nearly 3:00 A.M.
Eddie turns and runs into the mouth of the black alley. She is nearly blinded by the rain and the face of her son, which has risen up before her like a tormented angel of death. "I'm sorry!" she screams, but her voice is lost in the roar of the storm.
Lightning flashes. Eddie can't believe her eyes. May is there, far ahead of her in the alley, walking toward the coffee shop. Her red hair is soaked and hangs down the back of her coat like a shimmering flag.
Eddie's heart soars. She calls out May's name, but May can't hear her. Eddie runs to catch her True Love.
May stops. She turns and looks over her shoulder, and her face lights up with delight and contrition. She reaches out her hand and Eddie runs forward and he steps out of the shadows between them, silver glinting in his hand like a wink from the eye of Death. His other hand holds a black box. Or is it a bag?
Just like Jack the Ripper.
"NO!" Eddie roars as he turns toward May, black raincoat billowing, arms outstretched.
Eddie charges. She reaches into her back pocket and pulls out her Sword. It jumps to life in her hand, slender fang thirsting for him. May staggers back, hands raised to protect her face. She trips over something in the mud and falls, hard. He is almost on her when Eddie leaps, her Sword slashing down toward the back of his neck.
"NO! NO! NO!" Eddie is screaming as she throws herself through the air. Before she hits him she can feel her Sword bite deep, feel the salt splash of his blood on her face, but he twists away and her Sword slashes the leather of his raincoat and they both go down. The box flies from his hand and hits the wall, its contents splatting into the mud. He lands on Eddie's arm, and her Sword dances away in the rain.
Eddie slams his nose with her Shield as she wildly gropes for her Sword. His nose breaks, spraying blood, and he bellows in pain. He grabs Eddie with both hands.
He sits up, faster than Eddie would have thought possible, and shoves her away from him. She clutches at his wiry arms, but she can't hang on to the slippery leather and she flies backwards, head slamming into the bricks of the alley wall.
No, she thinks as her eyes close. No, you can't. Not my True Love.
He is bending over May's still form. She lies on her side, curled up like an infant. He is reaching for her.
May flips onto her back. Her green eyes blaze into his. His mouth drops open in surprise. May kicks wildly at him with both her spike heels.
One of her heels rips his face open from his nose to his ear.
He shrieks and grabs her ankle. His mouth works, but no sound comes out. His fist comes forward in a flash of silver.
May aims this time. Her strong leg lashes out, too fast for him to see. Her pink high heel sinks deeply into his eye.
He screams again, high-pitched and panicked, and flings her aside. He falls heavily to the ground. One of May's shoes lands next to him. The other is still stuck in his eye.
Quick as a lynx, May springs up. She lands on his chest and drives the heel into his eye with all her strength.
He is flopping like a fish. His screams become thin, keening wails as he begins to convulse. His mouth fills with rainwater. May grinds the heel in even further.
He shudders, and grows stiff. He bites off the end of his own tongue as he dies. His blood is washed away in the rain almost as fast as it gushes out.
May gets up, glancing around like a feral cat. She hurries to Eddie, runs her fingers through Eddie's bristly blonde hair. There is blood, but the skull feels intact. Eddie groans.
May drags Eddie toward the center of the alley, next to the dead man. Her slim dancer's muscles ache with the effort. She pulls her high heeled shoe from the man's eye. It comes out with a sickening squelch. Furtively, she rinses away the blood and shreds of flesh in a puddle. She puts the shoe back on. Dropping to her hands and knees, May searches the alley floor for Eddie's switchblade.
She finds it in a puddle when it slices deeply into her palm. May bites her lip, she won't cry out. She presses the button and the metal fang retracts. She presses it again and it jumps in her hand like a living thing, glinting wickedly as a flash of lightning takes a snapshot of the alley.
May crouches down next to the corpse. She holds the blade above his ruined eye. Her hand is shaking. She steadies it with the other. May grimaces, and her stomach rolls.
She plunges the blade into his eye socket, and feels it scrape on the back of his skull.
She turns away, and is suddenly sick.
May wipes her mouth, angry at herself. She turns and makes herself look at the dead man. He looks familiar. Where is his knife? He's got to be holding his knife. May looks around the corpse. It must have been knocked from his hand. Crawling again, she searches.
May sees his box and skitters toward it. Maybe the knife fell over there...
In a flash of yellow, she sees it all. No scalpels, no bone saws, no syringes. Just charcoal and pens and pencils and May's own face on a pad of paper, melting away in streaks of blue. The artist from the club, the one who sat in shadow each night sketching the girls.
But he had a knife. She saw it in his hand. She paws through his scattered supplies, finding only a dull Exacto knife. But it was in the box, and she saw something in his hand. Clutching the muddy Exacto, afraid though she knows he is dead, she creeps toward the artist.
She sees now how young his face is, and how frightened. Dull, sickening panic starts to form a lump in May's stomach. She reaches into the pockets of his raincoat, and finds her red G-string, the one she had lost two weeks before, but no knife.
She sees that his hands are clenched into fists. Sick with fear, she opens his left hand. Nothing. She opens his right. A silver necklace slithers from his limp fingers. May catches it, holding it in her fist, eyes closed. Something is biting into her slashed palm. She opens her hand, so slowly, and she looks and the silver heart is covered with her blood. As the rain washes it clean, she sees the inscription: "To beautiful Mae".
He spelled it wrong.
May begins to sob. She presses the Exacto into his hand. His dead fingers won't grip it. She crushes his hand around the little blade, wanting to scream, to die, to smash his dead face in.
There. It looks like he attacked me.
But it doesn't because she isn't hurt, not really, and she had rammed Eddie's knife into his eye and Eddie would go to jail forever and they would kill Eddie, electrocute her, fry her and May would die and die and die inside--
Without thinking, May grabs the Exacto from the artist's slender hand and rips it across the front of her red stretch-velvet dress. Even as the fabric and the flesh part, even as the knife opens her breast and spills her blood on the crimson velvet, she knows it isn't enough.
May holds the blade in front of her face, watching it quiver in her trembling hand, and suddenly slashes it across her perfect cheekbone. She feels it bite bone, and her vision goes dull red as she starts to faint.
But she can't faint, because Eddie is stirring and moaning and starting to cough. May quickly presses the Exacto into the dead boy's hand, squeezing his fingers around the sticky handle. She scurries over to Eddie, who is moaning but not yet conscious.
She cradles Eddie's head in her lap, pressing her hand to her own cheek to slow the bleeding, and waits.
After a while, the rain slows, then stops.
Eddie opens her eyes, and looks into the face of her angel. "I dreamed you were dead," she whispers. Then she sees May's wet hair, feels the pain in her head, and remembers. Eddie tries to sit up, looking around wildly.
"Hush," whispers May. "We're safe."
"Where is he?" Eddie hisses. "I'll kill him." Her fists clench. Her hand darts to her back pocket, and she realizes her sword is gone. Her hand drops to the filthy floor of the alley. "What happened?" she whispers, paralyzed with terror.
"He attacked me," says May. "He hurt me." She takes her hand from her face, revealing the gaping slash. Eddie winces as though she were punched. Tears fill her eyes, and it feels so strange.
"You saved me," May whispers.
Eddie stares at her. "I don't remember," she says.
May touches Eddie's cheek. "You went wild," she says, her eyes shining with pride. "When he cut me, I fell, and he grabbed me. He was going to-- You took your knife, and--" May gags. "You saved me," she whispers. "I love you, Eddie."
For the first time, Eddie looks at the man on the ground. His face is shredded and bloody, like he was savaged by a wild beast. One eye is open and staring, the other a black pool of blood and rain. Her Sword sticks up from it like the flag of a conquering army. Eddie goes limp with relief.
She pulls May down to her, kissing May's fragrant, wet hair. "I'd do anything for you," she whispers fiercely. "Anything."
"I know," May whispers back, and her voice breaks. Eddie holds her tighter. A low moan slips from May's open mouth, sliding into a thin, keening wail. She throws her head back, and her tears and blood mix, running down her face and onto Eddie's cheek.