By Elle Nash - Sep 24, 2018
On our wedding night David shows me what it takes to kill a man. In the hotel room, we lay on the unmade California king, my stockings slick against the stainless white sheets. David opens his laptop and navigates to a website full of recordings like this: a video of a man being burnt alive in a cage, his body going taut and black; a video of a man getting shot in the head, a cavity the size of a fist blowing out the back of his skull. There are a lot of things I don’t know about my new husband. He looks at me when he pulls up the video. His eyes are slightly sallow and set back like a farm animal, expressive and docile.
I pretend to watch, but I focus my eyes on the intricate beading of my wedding dress draped over a chair in the corner. My breasts ache. The man on the screen shrieks and a sheet of goosebumps appears on my skin. I am filled with something soft and new and want to cry, but nothing comes. It is not ready. I imagine the funeral, open casket, the man’s head sewed shut were the bullet left, sunken in like a newborn’s fontanelle.
Once my sister asked me to watch her baby. I’d never been around babies before. I put the baby on the bed to change its diaper and turned around for just a second. The cold thud of its body against the hardwood paralyzed me as I waited for it to scream or cry. Before I turned around in that split second of silence I imagined the baby was dead, how my sister would never forgive me and forever be marred by its absence. But the baby wasn’t dead. The baby just sat there and didn’t do anything. I looked at the baby and the baby looked at me.
First the baby said Mamamamamamama
Then the baby said Dadadadadadadada
Then the baby said A-dah, a-dah, a-dah, UGH, se-se-se-se-se-se-se-se-se
I stood there, watching language form in the mouth of the baby. How a syllable was connected to each emotion, the da connected to the loud emotions and the ma connected to the quiet emotions. When the baby tried to move its lumpy body, it kicked its legs hard in the air and the baby banged its head and nothing happened.
In our hotel room David takes off his black trousers and his shiny new shoes and puts them directly on top of my dress. I don’t say anything about the shoes on the dress because I bought it from a Salvation Army for less than twenty dollars, and there were already yellow armpit stains in the lace and brown spots on the train.
He gets into bed with me and puts his hand into a bag of potato chips. He eats the chips one by one, wiping crumbs onto the comforter before navigating to another video on his laptop.
“Movies make death sterile,” he says. “There is a lot more blood in violence than you think.”
I sip champagne from a plastic flute while the video plays. It’s from a series called “Cops versus the Public.” Sometimes the public wins, but mostly the cops do. In one, a man in Los Angeles is being commanded to release his gun as he stands on his doorstep, four flashlights pointed at him, four cops behind the camera. The man hesitates, then throws the weapon, underhanded, to the ground. Someone releases a K9 unit. As the German Shepherd rushes towards the man, one cop fires, and then everyone fires.
The cops empty their clips into the man and the dog.
David says, “Fuck L.A.”
“Why?” I ask.
I ask my new husband a lot of questions.
David says the cops in L.A. are always ready to fire. That he once had a gun pulled on him for a routine traffic stop.
“What were you doing in L.A.?”
The receding edges of his mouth tremble.
“Nothing,” he says. “I was traveling out there to buy a car.”
He unbuttons his shirt and removes it and I rub my hands across his back, feeling the raised scars of the black-and-white chainlink fence tattooed across his shoulder blades. There are three letters in the tattoo, abbreviations or initials. He won’t tell me what it means.
Three weeks ago, I offered him a place to stay when we met in line at CVS. I was filling a prescription for Ativan and he was buying Bronkaid and caffeine tablets. Something about the shape of his body told me he’d done terrible things. I had always wanted to date a man I thought might murder me.
The hotel is the nicest place I’ve ever slept and as I move my legs across the sheets I know I am not good enough for them. I don’t ask David how much the room cost or how he paid for it. He lights a cigarette and I take another sip of champagne and ask him for a cigarette. He hands me the one he just started, flipping it around the way you hand someone a sharp knife, butt end first. I take the cigarette and then he lights his own. I watch him wipe potato grease off his fingers onto the perfect white sheets before touching the keys on his laptop.
The champagne bottle is almost empty. I ask my husband if it’s okay to call room service for another and he says, “Yes, baby, but we have to put the cigarettes out first.”
I grab a pillow from the bed and hold it across my breasts. “Why do they empty the entire clip?” I ask. My husband says something about 9 mm bullets and how they are useless. He puts a large hand on my stomach and rewinds the video of the man in L.A. He plays it again, frame by frame.
Here is where the man releases the gun, here is when the gun is five inches away from his hand, when a cop releases the German Shepard, when a cop shoots first. Here is when everyone else fires, and then the man goes down and kicks his legs into the air; and here it’s too dark to see what the dog is doing but we know the dog is dead.
David says, “Do you see how it takes a firing squad? It lets everyone feel like they’ve killed while absolving them of knowing who did it, who had the confirmed kill.”
When I take too many pills, a sinking feeling envelopes me. When I lay down I go deeper than my bed. I lay into the floor, beneath the floor, and feel smothered. But the smothering isn’t claustrophobic. It feels comforting, like a womb. “Do you think they can feel their life leaving?” I ask.
He moves his hand to my chest, and grabs my tit, swollen like a nectarine. “The brain goes on repeat,” he says. “Shock pushes the body to move so even while it’s dying, it doesn’t know it’s dying.” He massages his thumb in circles, and though it kind of hurts I don’t say anything.
Room service knocks and I jolt from the noise. We put out our cigarettes and David unlatches and answers the door in the nude. He comes back with the bottle, and we pop it open, taking turns holding it by the neck while we drink. He brings me an Ativan from my purse, taking one for himself. I grab the room service menu and crush the tablet as we watch the video again.
I think of my sister’s baby and how once a life is gone it’s gone. How we take risks without realizing they are risks exactly, how death can come for us at any moment. The pain in my tit lingers and I think of the baby I know is already in me. I touch my stomach when I watch the man on the screen die.
And the man on the screen says Mamamamamamamama.
And the man on the screen says Oh god, oh god, oh god, UGH. Se-se-se-se-se-se-se.
And the man on the screen kicks and kicks his legs, and then kicks his legs one final time.