The P u l s e Finds Itself Denise calmed herself thinking about horses. Her bedroom was lamplit, a corral, a Newport in her fingers. Sitting beside the window, she was looking out to somewhere, a sidewalk, parking lot, Macie St., a white pick up truck slowly moving, becoming a horse. For that minute, every thing seemed holy. Out the window, she saw that horse sent to find her and take her away from Addison, Illinois, Robert. She could barely see that it was just his truck. Or that Robert was coming up the stairs. What sounded like hooves under the floorboards. She rubbed her eyes, stood up from the deep blue of the armchair and found a vinyl to set herself a mood. Placed it on the turntable and dripped the needle softly into the grooves of the black silence. The song came on in full. Letting herself wander, she rode a wave through the room singing, just singing and grooving. The room so soft she almost felt safe. Red carpet beneath. Hardwood under that. Eventually there’s a bottom. No way out. Took a deep breath. Almost an ocean. Exhaled her I gotta get the fuck outta here mantra. The last drag of her cigarette. She let the body collapse. the warm shallows of hair, the nylon under; growing taller and darker, there was almost a fire smoking down between her breaths seemed heavy, the vertebrae: a soft damp under the shoulders and a lack of wings, and the hiding places of the body, and the places where the body is sore from fighting against the earth; waves moved past the palms and nearby, the knuckles tightened to close, then, felt the touch of nylon from the carpet below; the lungs pushed back the air, ends of the body: the roots, the soles, the hips, everything seemed to sink deeper into place;
at the base of the spine a string was untying the exhausted legs from their wounded woman coming back into shape; the length of her veins was still pulsing –– the breath weak –– the air dried, the teeth, so quiet: those two strips of white paper longdissolved on the tongue. The door gave in to Rob’s hand. Coughing as he entered the room, he first turned off the music. Before he saw Denise, he dropped the keys onto the turntable. The scratch was silent. Then he turned his neck to see the woman on the carpet breathing weakly. She looked so close to dying he wanted to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.
Wake the fuck up.
He barely heard her, was too focused on the Autumn air that was hanging outside the window where an old neighbor kept watch across the parking lot. Rob moved toward the window where the old neighbor saw his middle finger stick up before closing the blinds against the whole damn town of Addison. Every step back was a wonder to him, and he could hardly tell what he was. Alive? He looked around. Yes. This was his apartment. In his mother’s building. That was his white pick up truck outside. And this was his girl on floor. Who was so close to dying that he wanted to make sure. Wake the fuck up Denise.
How much did you take?
I took seven tabs and look at me!
Igottagetthefuckouttahere What did you say? I said look at me.
The room was becoming smaller and the footsteps were growing louder, and everything was moving, darker with each step toward the girl.
She said it audibly.
I gotta get the fuck outta here. He kneeled down on the red carpet next to her. Took a deep breath, almost an ocean, and threw the knuckles into the glasses above her eyes and felt some blood on some body, and felt the force echo back through his arm in a rush so thick he felt he needed to feel some more. With pulsing arms he turned her shoulders away from his body onto the carpet just so the mouth could breathe. Hooked his elbow against the chin and pressed his knees like a smoke blanket over the lungs, her ribs cracked. At this point he knew for sure he was alive. Then he moved the chin clear into the air. With the knuckles he broke her jaw into soft, little pieces. I said look at me. Don’t you dare go away. Like velvet, under a skin of blood, still warm, all she could see was red carpet while she dreamt about horses.
* The next afternoon, Rob drove them both sober to a gas station on Diversey to smoke his last Marlboro while he watched the fullservice attendant wipe down the windshield of his white pickup truck, watching him try not to wince at the girl’s face inside. Accidentally, Rob burned a hole in his windbreaker then swung his hand to dust the ash onto his acidwashed jeans. He struggled to look at Dee and smile. I know it’s not that bad, but damn you look nasty. The jaw was swollen shut. For three seconds their eyes locked together and for three seconds it was too hard to look longer. But god damn.
Sit tight, I’ll be back in a minute.
Rob shivered through a smile, coldly opened the door to step out into the late Autumn air He moved quickly into the Shell station to buy a new pack. And looked back to make sure she was sitting still. For not enough time, Dee was left alone. She hesitated bending the neck of the rearview mirror so that she could see the damage. The left side of her face was larger, darker, and it was harder
to see how she could heal. Still, there was skin beneath the bruise and bone beneath the skin, but her teeth and her lips were both a damaging shade of red: almost pink. Could not open. The right side of her face throbbed louder than her heart, still repeating Igottagetthefuckoutofhere. They were driving to the only doctor that Rob wasn’t afraid of, and whose name Denise had never heard. Rob refused to go to a hospital, said he didn’t want to get the police involved. Denise couldn’t say anything. When they finally arrived at the dental clinic two blocks off of Diversey, Rob made a point to pull in and out of three parking spaces to finally settle along the red painted curb right outside the office. Said he would love to see the guy to come around and give him a ticket for that shit. There was a way that Rob knew how to make anyone remember his face. When they entered through a glass door into the small, storefront practice Rob bellowed for his friend, the doctor of the clinic, whom he had met one night at his Aunt Patty’s apartment party during a coke binge a month ago. Since then Rob stopped by the office every Friday to drop an 8gram Ziploc bag to the doctor, but here, it was Wednesday and Rob said he’d give him two extra bags in exchange for Dee’s dental work. The doctor agreed. Have a seat a minute. In a room of too many chairs, Denise was led to the center of the back row, against the sunny wood paneling, facing directly opposite from the secretaries, who looked at her face and hoped that this thin, blonde nineteen year old girl would be able to talk again soon so she could call the
police, or call anyone for a place to stay. They could tell he was trouble. But, no, no. They knew she would need surgery, a splint and silence for at least six weeks. Maybe six months. Too bad, poor thing. The doctor appeared in the doorway to the waiting room, stood for a moment, rubbed his fingers then turned his eyes on his head nurse, who had been holding a pencil in her mouth the whole time since Dee walked in. But now her tongue was moving. And the doctor vanished in a sweat. Then the nurse left, too. Soon, she returned to lead Denise by the hand through the sterile, carpeted hallways of the clinic. The hairspray the nurse wore was so thick Denise almost choked as she breathed through her nose. I’m sorry about that honey. She knew Denise couldn’t open her mouth, but once they reached the examination room, she helped the girl into a light blue reclining chair and held the swollen mouth in her hands, forced the lips apart for a minute to see the swelling near the teeth, and how many were crushed. Oh honey, I’m so sorry. The nurse prepared her mouth with hooks and injections of novocaine, and flipped a switch to start warming up the heart monitoring machine. The doctor will be with you in just a minute, sweetie.
How ya doin by the way? Igottagetthefuckouttahere
The nurse slipped the plastic mask over her face, and as the gas came on strong. She counted down. In the fading lamplight of anesthesia, she saw the doctor come in and take off his lab coat. His fingers across the back of a blouse untying a string. With the mask went the pain. And there were no longer faces. Ten seconds went by as ten moonless nights behind her. Twenty more. And the pulse was still beating. Another ten. Pulse was still beat ing. Too many minutes until she heard the silence of the heart monitoring machine. That last breath of gas. Her tongue shaking outta here. The room was white and graphic with pictures of the body above the wooden cabinets. Above the sterile countertop, two anatomies were moving through one another. The air was heavy and cold and the legs kicked against the wall in frustrations of pleasure. The tiles on the floor were striped with blue and purple and neither of the two who were conscious were moving towards the girl, who was, by now, so silent in her sleep. There were screams. So loud they almost sounded like hearts. It seemed as though they could never pull apart. Finally, they did. The bodies were warm
and breathing and afterward they washed their hands. Before the silence set in, the doctor dipped a tongue depressor into Rob’s Ziploc bag. Bent over. Breathed sharply. Rose and saw the flat line of the heart monitoring machine. The jaw dropped at the hinges. Throwing his body over the chair, his knees on the ribcage of the girl, cracking her ribs even more, trying to force breath into a broken mouth. He ripped off the nitrous mask and cursed himself senseless. Threw his hand across the face of the girl, knowing that whatever damage he caused he could repair. The hands interlocked to form a ball and struck down on the middle of the girl. The only word was
breathe. And he screamed breathe louder than the collapse of the chair and the fall of the machines. Hoped she could hear him. He said Look at me God damn it. Breathe. Don’t you dare go away. Held her heavy head to his hips. In that deeper part of the body. He cried.
Then a breath. A noise. The jaw breaking open.