They Do Things Better in Albuquerque, by Michelle Ann King
They say we forgive someone because we need it, not because they do. I think that’s true. I also think we tell someone our secrets not because they need to know but because we want them to.
I tell Den my secrets because I want him to know what he got himself into by marrying me. That’s only fair, right?
I’m thirty years old today. When I was a kid I always thought I’d be living in America by now. If we lived in America we could be sitting in a cabin or a lake house. A mountain hideaway in Michigan or a waterfront ranch in Oregon. Somewhere with wooden walls and wild views and beautiful isolation. No neighbours, no traffic noise, nothing but empty sky and the calling of birds. In my mind’s eye I see ravens; huge and sleek, black harbingers of doom.
Is that really ravens, or am I maligning them unfairly? I don’t know. But if they’re not precursors of disaster in real life, they are in my head. And that’s where the important stuff happens, after all.
But I don’t mind, really, that we stayed here. London, grey and neon, both frighteningly alive and as full of rotting corpses as any zombie film. We still have an affectionate relationship. Probably because we’re so alike.
But if Den and I can’t be in the mountains, at least we have snow today. Snow provides the kind of isolation you normally can’t get in a city. Blank, buffering snow, masking and silencing the world underneath.
‘Have we got a shovel anywhere, Jan?’ Den asks. ‘In the shed, maybe? I’m sure I’ve seen one somewhere. I should go out and clear the drive.’
‘No,’ I say. ‘Leave it as is.’
He shrugs. ‘All right. Do you want some breakfast?’
‘Yes,’ I say, although I don’t. Den can’t cook, but that’s a good thing. I have nightmares, and sometimes only the smell of burning bacon can waft them away. The smell of the preparation of dead flesh. It feels like a ceremonial action, the start of a complex ritual that will bring about the end of the world. I think that I have been enacting this ritual for most of my life. I think the ritual is my life.
You can eat nightmares, but most people don’t know that. Den doesn’t. He doesn’t know I eat his. They fill me up.
He left his wife and kids for me, five years ago. He dreams about them a lot, dreams about witches and demons pulling them into bite-sized pieces. In the morning he blames it on too many late nights in front of the Horror Channel.
He shouldn’t have left them. I don’t think he knows that either, though.
He kept a photo of Baby Harriet in his wallet for a long time. Baby Harriet grew up to be a monstrous teenager, all bile and cheap piercings that she doesn’t know how to properly flaunt. I ate her picture, and I know her intimately.
Her mother, Carly, is simply concrete now. No juice left. I’m sorry about that.
No, I’m not.
The snow is still falling, the air thick with glittering white. Would it choke me I went outside and tried to breathe? Maybe. Maybe I’ll open the door and find out.
In America, I would be able to breathe easier. Montana, Texas, Alaska; all those wide open spaces providing great lungfulls of air. In America, I wouldn’t be the way I am. I wouldn’t be who I am. I would keep my accent because you always have to remember where you came from, but I could call myself Bobbie-Sue and say things like buck naked and gotten and son of a bitch.
In South Carolina I would have humidity and heat rash and go looking for alligators. We’re all in a fishbowl, and sometimes they forget to feed us. The water gets murky and I bump my nose against the glass. It’s all just lip-synching anyhow.
I have a headache. They usually follow the nightmares. The bacon doesn’t help with those much.
Den works in insurance. Received wisdom says that’s boring, but I don’t think it is. Den doesn’t ever seem bored. That’s his superpower, I think. You don’t want to know what mine is.
‘There’s something I have to tell you,’ I say as Den comes back into the living room with two plates stacked high with bacon sandwiches. In New York, the sandwiches would have fifteen other exotic ingredients and be made with three slices of dark German rye bread. These just have ketchup.
We always eat in the living room, on the sofa, in front of the TV. Even when it’s not on. We don’t actually watch a lot of TV. My mother used to say that you should always eat at a dining table, otherwise it showed a lack of class. That made me laugh. Still does. But credit where its due. She was the classiest prostitute I ever met. And I met a lot.
Den puts the plates on the coffee table. I pat the cushion beside me and he sits down. He folds his hands in his lap and looks grave. Den is good at looking grave. I think it comes from all those insurance claims. All those litanies of disaster. Storm, flood, lightning, malicious damage, subterranean fire. I don’t even know what that is, but it sounds terrifying. Like the wrath of gods.
He always listens to my secrets but I don’t think he always believes them. Does the failing lie with him, or me? Or with the universe? Perhaps there is insufficient verisimilitude in the truth.
‘I killed a man once’, I tell him. ‘I wanted to kill my father because that’s more mythological and myths are how we make sense of the world. But I never knew who who he was, and hunting down all my mother’s clients from 1973 seemed a little over the top, even for an obsessive like me.’
I wrap my right hand around the left side of my neck. It’s a restrictive position, and therefore comforting. It does me good to be restricted. It ought to happen more often.
‘So I chose a stand in,’ I continue. ‘A representation. I don’t know if he deserved it, if he was a bad father, a bad man. Probably. We all are, to some extent. The hero of one story is the villain of another. Myths again, you see? That’s how it works.’
If we’d moved to Maine, some small town from a Stephen King novel, I wouldn’t have had to do all that by myself. I wouldn’t have had to get my hands wet. There would have been a vengeful spirit or a physical manifestation of my psyche to do it for me. But we stayed in Camden, and they don’t believe in the supernatural here.
Den puts his hand on my thigh and squeezes. I’ve heard that squeeze before. It says you’re safe, it’s okay, I love you.
‘I promised him sex, drugged him, laid him out in the bath and razored his wrists. Lengthwise, not crossways. That’s how you tell if someone’s serious.’
My own scars run in horizontal bands, like bracelets. I never wear long sleeves, even when it’s cold. If we lived in Florida, I would never need to. Except that there are no real people in Florida. It’s all make believe there. All smoke and mirrors.
‘I wrote his suicide note in Esperanto, to add a touch of flair to the proceedings,’ I say. I can speak six languages fluently and write decently enough in another four. Plus Klingon, just for the hell of it. Because today is always a good day to die.
Den nods, picks up his bacon sandwich and takes a big bite. I hold mine, inhale the chargrilled smell and put it down again. I don’t have much of appetite for food.
I have got—gotten, whispers my alter-ego Bobbie-Sue–drunk on absinthe, bitten off a girl’s finger during a fight in the school playground when I was six years old, slept with a priest, driven the wrong way around the M25 at 3am. I have killed, I have lied, I have broken faith. I am not human. I am not always real. I have seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. No, wait. That last one was science fiction.
I am not who I say I am.
I tell Den these things, but he stays with me, I don’t know why. And I have stayed with him, I don’t know why. Ennui. Disaffection. Habit. Maybe that’s actually the definition of love.
Outside, the snow is still falling.
If we lived in Albuquerque then things would be different. If we lived in Albuquerque then we would… actually, I don’t know what we would do. I don’t know anything about Albuquerque other than that it has a great name. But I’m sure they do things better there.
‘I want to move,’ I tell Den. ‘Emigrate. To America. To Albuquerque.’
He finishes his sandwich, wipes his mouth and takes a bite out of mine. ‘Why?’ he says.
Because I think if we live in Albuquerque, I won’t kill him.
‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘I just heard it was nice there.’
Michelle Ann King lives with her husband and stuffed penguin in Essex, England. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming at Daily Science Fiction, Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, The Molotov Cocktail and others. She blogs at Michelle-Ann-King.blogspot.com
0 Click to show the author some love!
Tags: creepy, michelle ann king, murder, relationships, secrets