by Robert Kottage
Sixth chord of a train horn, descending screech of steel on steel. Sam grimaces and waits it out. We’re in the cellar.
There’s your squalling Christ in swaddling clothes, he says finally, pointing aboveground with his cigarette, trainward, puffing the words. And before the advent of breast pumps.
Nice try, Slick, I say.
1 B.P. it was.
Nice try. Now back to the subject? I brandish the magazine I discovered down here earlier.
He shrugs. Previous owner’s.
Rusted crank in hand, he flicks ash into the defunct coal grate. The furnace continues to clang and chuff beside us, clang and chuff, its oil reek flooding the cellar. Basso continuo like a sail catching tailwind.
Kim, you know what? I’m applying for a preservation easement on this baby tomorrow. Damn straight. We’d get a tax break, for one. And nobody could ever mess with her. Ever.
Goddamn Lodestar Octopus. Probably predates women’s suffrage. Look at all her crazy ductwork running upstairs to all the registers.
I open back to the centerfold. It’s a magazine about rape, appropriately called R*pe, and the models are convincing. Tag-teamed, their mascara melting, their pallor clownlike. Red walls behind them like the bowels of some mystic cell. I wonder what purpose such a place serves in daytime. But there is no day or night underground, is there, there is no hope or sorrow or second chance, time is disintegrated. Good riddance.
He snatches it from me, swings open the Octopus’s combustion chamber, and shoves it in. A flash of flame, a glimpse of hands bound overhead, then a black and curling page. Poor glossy girls. I sigh in anguish at the thought of their hot breath rising and haunting my house forever.
There goes Exhibit A, Sam says.
What a waste.
I can’t say why I said that. Maybe I’m feeling porn’s bleak entropy, or maybe it’s something else. Sam’s eyes penetrate mine, searching for understanding—that ugly spark they sometimes get, under his brush mullet bangs. His pocked forehead. He is monstrous, unattractive, the last person in the world I’d want all these many years, and I am wet once again at the thought of that. Then he begins kicking aside paint cans and toolboxes, begins cornering me against the earthen wall. I twitch with revulsion, imagining my ass suddenly naked and crushing wolf spiders, petrified rat turds, slick slugs.
No, I say, but that has been part of the game for some time now. I fight and he pins me. A filthy hand clutches my mouth, another undoes his belt, my hair grinds against soil. After a moment of annoyed negotiation he is inside me.
It’s the only room in the house we hadn’t christened. The furnace stands witness, clunking out its counterpoint. My mind begins grappling for some stray image, anything I can leverage to help me climax, and I find it in a memory from the magazine’s pages: across the floor of the torture chamber some shadows resembling, of all things, prison bars.
About the Author
Robert Kottage has previously published flash fiction in The Missouri Review Online and 3:AM Magazine, as well as a critical essay in The Cormac McCarthy Journal.