Tender by Brianna Wyble

I feel the scream rise, but I crush it back down into a solid lump of coal, and then further, harder, until it becomes an imperfect diamond of rage stuck in my throat. I can’t let it out. I can’t swallow it. It sits, laboring my breathing. I shove it down as hard as I can, store it, just like all the others. The rage, the sorrow, the pain. It all goes to the same place.

My life is like a demented fairy tale where the princess barfs jewels and escapes the evil Prince in her shitty Honda. I should be rich from all this.

Georgie never notices this, the seething rage, when we fight. He just thinks I’m reserved, silently hating him, and he’s partially right.

He’s left the seat up again, but I don’t notice until my butt hits the porcelain and I can feel the bruise blossoming. I feel it rise again.

Once I’ve calmed down, I go to the living room where he’s nestled in “his chair”, a suede recliner with a large crocheted blanket over his lap. A blanket I made, but never get to use. He’s ruined it with his sauce covered wings or pizza that falls apart. I don’t know how much beer he’s spilled after a “long day at work”.

“You did it again,” I say.

“Eh. Grab me another,” he says, waving an empty bottle of Yuengling at me. “Did you hear me?”

He turns to me, his face pinched, making him look like a troll from those stupid fucking fantasy games he’s always playing. He spends all his time talking to a bunch of losers online instead of actually spending time with me.

I stayed with him for too long and now I’m trapped. He was so good in the beginning. I thought he loved me, he wanted me. Maybe somewhere deep down he did, but I can’t tell beneath the slurring in his voice and the stench of his beer breath. If I didn’t have mountains of debt, if I didn’t have such a crap job, if I had somewhere to go, where could I be right now?

He waves his hand in front of my face, almost slapping me.

“I need another. Isn’t that your job?”

And I hear him say this, but I feel like I’m frozen there. Red flashes before my eyes, then black. I see the tender skin around his cuticles pulled back from his nails. The tissue and fat beneath pulsate with his heartbeat. I’ve bloodied the blanket, but it doesn’t matter.

I stare into his eyes, no, just sockets with white pus oozing out. I don’t remember doing this, but it was me. It drips down purple lips and swollen tongue.

His precious bottles are broken around him. One I’ve used to slice into his arms like a succulent roasted chicken. I long to carve out juicy biceps and snip luscious veins. The meat looks tender and I wonder why he couldn’t be more like his flesh, malleable but strong.

There’s a sweet smelling coming from him that pulls me in. A little bit of sweat and beer mixed with something else.

Surprise. Like I’ve just popped out of a birthday cake.

Surprise!

The last thing I lay my eyes on is the twitching of the tender tendons and sinew.

I blink twice, then rub my eyes. Georgie’s staring at me, saying something. I try to listen despite the buzzing in my head.

“Bring. Me. Another. Stupid.”

“Sorry,” I say, taking the bottle to the kitchen. I grab another, pressing it into his palm. The skin around his nails is fine. A bit cracked. He pays no attention to me.

I walk back to the kitchen and stick my hands into the soapy basin. The image flashes in front of my eyes. All I can see is the blood, his blood. The copper smell lingers on my tongue. It’s sweet.

Something pricks my finger, pulling me back to the sink and soapy dishes. I take it out to find a small red dot forming. When I put my hand in again, I pull out a broken beer bottle.

 

A week later was the party as bleak as my future. Georgie was drunk, too drunk, again. I drove us home while he sang Irish songs that made my ears scream. I have never hated him more.

Oh, but I have, I thought. The image of a broken beer bottle and his blood crowded my mind.

As we pulled in front of our tiny apartment, much too crowded for my tastes and dirty from the moment we signed the lease, I hoped he would let up tonight.

Georgie had no intention of doing so.

I slung my bag over a chair and began to take off my jacket, when Georgie was suddenly behind me, ripping it off my body like tidal wave trying to sweep me under. He pawed at my skin like an animal. I don’t know if it was the stench of beer or his persistent pawing at me, but I was done with him that night.

“No,” I said, but it didn’t sound right. It was more of a growl. I sounded like him, like a feral animal. I didn’t like it.

“You’re fuggin’ weird,” he said, still grabbing at my back. He was always grabbing. It had been sweeter, softer, at first. He pulled me off the street when I failed to see a car coming right at me. I remember my short breath, racing heartbeat, and a warm arm around my waist. Even after he pulled it away, I could feel the warmth. I swore, at the time, I had been struck by cupid’s bow, that it was fate, that he was “the one”. I was silly. Stupid. When I turned around, there was Georgie with a big grin. I offered to take him out, as thanks, and we never stopped seeing each other. Only after a year of us dating did I start to see him, understand him.

I thought it was cute at first. He was playful. Drunk and silly and playful. And so much like a little kitty, kneading my skin like dough. But I stayed with him, went to parties, had dinner with friends, and ended up taking care of him as he slurred his hateful, drunken words. I just kept telling myself it was school and stress. We all drank a lot. He was a guy, after all.

Naïve excuses from a child. A lovesick child.

I stayed because it was easier, a weak reason at best. I knew I couldn’t make it on my own. I liked the financial security more than I hated the things he did. You can’t ignore not having food. The pawing, the insults, it was a small price to pay.

But three years, a dead apartment, and two bachelor’s degrees’ later, his clammy hands still groped at me. By that point, I was screwed. Who wants a high-strung woman with so much debt? I had little prospect.

His jagged nails dragged across my body, like he was trying to form a topographical map of his abuse. He left trails of ghost scars, felt but never seen. I rarely wore anything revealing. Even then, I wore a long sleeve sweater and it was barely fall. I heard a few girls call me weird, say I looked “savage, but not in a good way”. College kids. Sweet, young nothings with boys like Georgie. They’d find out.

Sometimes, I dreamed about his hands, his nails. When we went to bed, he put his arm around me as I dozed off, something I hated, but he was too big to push off. When I fell asleep, my brain sparked alive and screamed.

Then I saw his nails.

It was foggy, yes, but I could still see the blade, a short paring knife, glinting off a light from somewhere. Georgie – sweet, stupid Georgie – was strapped down. Only his fingers could move, and they were squirming. Pudgy little worms, I thought.

“Please,” he said.

I didn’t hear him or didn’t want to. I was pulled to him, to those fingers. I put the tip of the blade against his left pointer finger, right in front of the nail.

I edged it under a few millimeters. Like butter. He had already begun his pathetic screaming.

“Don’t pass out now. This is important,” I whispered.

I pushed the blade deeper and felt something release inside me. It was euphoric. It was fireflies all blinking on in the summer sky, fireworks just because, it was the first taste of ice cream in June. His screams were a beautiful song made only for me.

Deep red dripped over the blade and onto my hand. It was smooth, slick, and it dripped right off me. It felt like pure magic.

I smiled at Georgie as I pushed the rest of the nail off his finger and flicked it aside. Beneath, it looked like red jello, squishy and plump. I began to trace around his cuticles with the knife, ever so playfully. I placed the tip right in front of a cuticle. All I had to do was push, just a little.

I woke up to the sound of laughter and realized it was my own. Georgie rustled beside me, mumbling something.

“Back to sleep. Just had a funny dream,” I whispered as he rolled over.

I pushed herself up against his back, reaching around him to hold his hand. I couldn’t resist stroking his hand, focusing on the nail of his left pointer.

 

Brianna Wyble

Image by LUIS FERNANDO ABONDANO from Pixabay

4 thoughts on “Tender by Brianna Wyble

  1. A metaphor for life. It is easy when you are young to believe in the charming prince, but we all change. In this case the happy every after is living with a troll who has the manners of a sloth. there is an indication that this is the normal for all graduates with a mountain of debt.
    I like the dream sequences that emphasis the emotional trauma, if the character should act out these fantasy tortures and murder – well then – all her problems would be solved. Who pays your debts when you are locked up for life? Provided you don’t life in a state with a death sentence.
    For me this was a story of self-frustration and disappointment on many levels.

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  2. The disturbing dream fancies represented here have firmer roots in reality than do the fantastic lies we tell ourselves. There’s a reason why fairy tales do not continue beyond “They lived happily ever after.” Incidentally, gotta cousin Brianna who still lords her Scrabble superiority over me. She doesn’t write anywhere near as well as you do, but she has a gift for “selling” made up words like “Quithquewm.”–which means, I guess, “Board game cheat.”
    LA

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  3. What we know about the protagonist is her anger. The tenderness is in her dreams, the fingernail torture technique. She’d make a great eviscerator in ancient Egypt, where they peeled the skin off their enemies with sharp sea shells. Her significant other has become a caricature. She sees no redeeming features in this horrible troll man and in fact wow what a nightmare evil black hat spouse. It’s interesting the way she dreams her anger out. It seems like he saved her life once, but now, her life’s with him. Ironic.

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  4. Hi Brianna,
    I have a helluva bad beef with romance and that is mainly due to it being so false as a constant idea.
    The most romantic anyone can be is when they are simply being thoughtful.
    What we are left with is the life journey from expectation to reality. That journey has a lot in it including hate, resentment, acceptance, self-loathing, disappointment etc.
    This reality has to manifest in some way that allows us to get on with it and live.
    Your story brings all these thoughts to the surface and only the brave will analyse truthfully!
    A very thought provoking piece of work.
    Hugh

    Like

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