All Stories, General Fiction

Room For the Dead, Room For the Damned by Ella Paul

“You’re a kid,” he says, and his voice is so absolute that it leaves no room for argument.

Meesha isn’t sure she’d be able to argue even if he sounded uncertain. Her eyes are blank, her lips locked in that little downward position that everyone claims neutral (that everyone knows is actually a faint frown), and as she stands in front of this leathery heap of a man, she can’t bring herself to care that she’s been caught.

“You look like you wouldn’t mind,” Meesha says, and it’s the most demeaning thing she can say to a man, but it’s more a compliment to herself than an insult to him. She’s a gymnast, you know. Her body is hardened by muscles and curves that women older than her don’t have.

Sure, her underwear is a little plain, and sure, she didn’t have enough foresight to shave her legs. Once upon a time, she might have thought that this moment would be special, that she’d have her body waxed clean and her eyebrows freshly done and maybe even a little makeup on—but right now, she doesn’t care.

“You think I’m that much of a scumbag, yeah?”

The man laughs to himself and leans back.

He’s sitting on the bed while Meesha stands in front of him, and she wonders if this is how models feel when they’re being appraised. He only stares at her body. Her brain doesn’t matter because her brain isn’t worth anything. And her heart, soul, and sense of rationality are all gone as she stands like a Roman statue, embracing only what is and nothing of what could be.

The man’s throat bobs.

Meesha feels more confident.

She’s the incarnate of beauty: naked perfection and blossoming womanhood. The man who sits appraising her is triple her age and made of leathery wrinkles that only happen to give the impression of a face.

Surely, even going this far has been illegal.

“You’re young enough to be my daughter” is what he ultimately comments, and his lips twist back into a grimace of a smile with yellow teeth and orange stains.

Any other time, and Meesha would be humiliated to think that those chapped lips were her first kiss. Right now, she doesn’t care.

“You saw that when we were at the bar. I wasn’t hiding my face or anything.”

Her voice feels slightly different than she remembers it. It rumbles out of her throat slower than normal, and each word is a struggle past her lips, like a boat that’s forced to ride wave after wave after wave to reach a destination that never really held anything special after all.

She frowns and rubs her elbow, fingers ghosting over the little bumps.

“True enough!” the man barks, and the sound is so ugly that the undulating waves in Meesha’s throat seem to steady for a moment. “But I didn’t think you were this young. Must be the lights.”

“Must be the lights,” Meesha mutters. She wanted to repeat his words in a mocking lilt, but she only ends up sounding dumb.

Then, the man turns. He kicks his feet high into the air and lets them collapse against the bed. His hands fold behind his head, and he closes his eyes. Abruptly, Meesha feels like even more of a failure. At the prime of her life, she enters a club so she can lose her virginity, and now even that is being denied to her?

 Her hands leave her arm to cross around the bra she wears, covering the smooth skin. She’s not even humiliated because she’s naked, she’s humiliated because she failed. Again. Life’s already killed her, and the fading ghost that remains still can’t find this tiny, tiny victory.

“You didn’t have to bring me up here just so you could not fuck me.”

“You didn’t have to try to lose your virginity to an old guy like me because of some minor screwup in your life.”

“You don’t know anything,” Meesha spits, and she wants to curse at him more, but the little boat carrying her voice is blocked by a tsunami that’ll completely drown it if she tries saying a word more.

Shaking with fury or frustration or sadness, she looks away, trying to calm herself, trying to forget.

The man hasn’t asked a single question, but he doesn’t need to.

“You’re gonna say it’s stupid,” she mumbles.

“I didn’t say anything,” he huffs, and the way he spreads his legs wide as he leans back would be attractive if he were younger, if he were handsomer. Now, as Meesha stares at him, he only seems old. There’s something dead inside him. A rotting corpse is inside his worn, creased skin. “You assuming that just means it is stupid.”

Meesha says nothing. She lets go of her arm, stops touching her elbow.

“What, did your daddy cut off your credit card?” he taunts, and his words are scrunched together. He grins a lopsided grin at her, taunting her almost as if he knows she won’t give in. “Boyfriend dumped you? Maybe you got rejected by that pretty lil college you’ve been chasing after?”

Meesha’s lips are already curled downward, but now her chin pushes up—almost as if she thinks that bringing her face higher will stop the man from noticing that she’s now crying, as if she thinks that telling her muscles to go up will stop the tears from falling down.

It doesn’t work.

She didn’t want to have to think about this at all, she just wanted to forget.

Leave it to her to somehow pick up the one man in the bar who wouldn’t be willing to give her that escape.

“Tell me,” he says, leaning over to look at her with those red-rimmed eyes, “Do you really want a distraction right now? Or are you trying to punish yourself by trying to ruin your future?”

He lifts his arm out of the pillow he made for his head and fishes into his pocket for something. From it, he pinches a small ziplock bag with a white powder in it.

“You really wanna wreck your life?” he asks. “You really think it’s worth stealing from your future because you’re upset about something happening now?”

He tosses the packet at her. It hits Meesha just beneath her breast, at the spot she was trying to get a tattoo in an hour prior (but the artist insisted that he never tattoos clients on the same day they request one, that she’d need to come in on another date), and then it falls to her feet, landing on her big toe.

“Ruin your life, little girl. But do it yourself, and don’t try to do it in a way that’ll let you blame an old man later on. That packet will do more for you than I could, anyway.”

Meesha stares at him, waiting for him to say more. Is he really offering her this? Isn’t it expensive? What if she actually takes it?

But then, she stares at him—his withered brown hair thinned by time, skin like cloth that’s been crumpled up, and a brown light that gives color to his pale, gray face. He really is a corpse, she comes to realize, and even if her heart is dying, her body has still yet to fold into lines so deep they’ll never fade.

Meesha rubs her arm, self-conscious of how smooth hers is despite the hair.

Then, she picks up the packet and sets it on the bed. She wraps her coat around her snugly, and she exits the room without looking back, returning to the sea of dead people outside so she can deliberate once more on whether she truly wants to join them.

Ella Paul

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3 thoughts on “Room For the Dead, Room For the Damned by Ella Paul”

  1. Not sure why Meesha would pick this guy to lose her virginity with, but an interesting look at a young person on the edge of self destruction. It would be easy to take the package, go down that road not-so-less travelled. I like the sense that Meesha was acting, she was playing a sort of game with herself, a game with fairly high stakes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Ella,
    We receive a lot of stories where specifics are omitted. A few of them work but many more don’t.
    It shows such a writing skill to make the reader continue to wonder and not be irritated at the unsaid.
    The tone and pace of this is beautifully done.
    What I also liked is that there is a bit of goodness in the male character and there is a bit of fight in the MC. She had enough in her to consider when he instigated those thoughts.
    This is a very accomplished piece of character writing!!


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