Lullabies for Suffering: Tales of Addiction Horror
Monsters by Caroline Kepnes
You are a virgin. You are eighteen years old and you’ve never done anything remotely criminal. Yes, you ate too many Devil Dogs, you played alone, and you got fat. But you lost five pounds before starting college. You’ve been there for your mother. You’re there for her right now, in line with her at TJ Maxx. She likes to shop every time she comes home from rehab. You say you believe it when she says, “this time it sticks.” You aren’t lying to her. You aren’t faking it. Every time feels like the time that it will stick and this time is no different. She pays for a bigger bathing suit—detox makes her thighs rub together—and she laughs with the woman at the register. The laughter is a good sign, a sign that it will stick. You pick at pink bubblegum that someone pressed under the counter. It sticks. Gum is sticky. There is no such thing as gum that doesn’t stick.
Your mom swings her bag of new bathing suits in the air. “Come on!” she says. “Let’s get outta here!”
Outside, it’s summer, your first summer as a college student. You walk with your mother like you never left, like you’re the same old kid. She picks up a penny and you never do things like that. You wish you were more like her, that she was more like you. Her sobriety never sticks and your virginity always sticks and she elbows you.
“Why so quiet?”
“You want to get ice cream?”
You don’t want ice cream but you want her to stay home so you say that you do. She drives the car. You ride shotgun, the virgin and the cokehead. You have never even smoked a cigarette and your mother has had so much sex. When she’s clean the men are tidy and cold. They come from the Internet and they don’t stay long. When she’s using, the men are filthy and relaxed, like henchmen in a movie. There was that guy in the wife-beater who pissed on the deck. There was that married guy who wore suits and didn’t take off his wedding ring when he sat on the sofa and hogged your TV.
“Soft or hard?” your mother wants to know.
She giggles like a kid at school. That’s always her joke when you come to this place where they have ice cream that needs scooping and ice cream that comes from a machine.
“Hard,” you say because no matter what you say she’s gonna elbow you and embarrass you in front of the younger girl who’s making your ice cream, blushing. There is no indoor seating area and you are jealous of the girl inside, roofed in. You bet her mother isn’t a cokehead and then you turn red because what a mean thing to think you fucking virgin, you fucking loser.
Your mother’s cone arrives first and your mind is full of dirty words, a car wash in reverse where the vehicles emerge covered in shit, in mud. Your mother licks her cone—vanilla—and if you weren’t a virgin, you wouldn’t notice the tip of her tongue. She wants to sit at a picnic table and she gets everything she wants when she’s clean, when she can’t have the one thing she actually wants: Coke. Blow. A bump.
Your cone isn’t dripping and her cone is dripping and you sit across from each other like two people on a date except this isn’t a date.
“Hey,” she says. “Maybe we should get one of those Slip ‘N Slides.”
A couple of nasty boys who can’t be older than twelve laugh at you, what a loser, he’s here with his mom. You wish you were twelve. When you were twelve you didn’t worry about being a virgin because twelve-year-olds can be virgins.
Your mother crumples up her napkin and hurls it at the boys and they leave.
You shouldn’t disagree with her. Not when she just got home and the sky is hot and she has a brand new bathing suit and rehab is sticking. But those boys got to you, those kids who get to be the kid that you never were, free and mean. You bark at your mother because you didn’t have the balls to bark at them. “I’m too old for a Slip ‘N Slide.”
“Don’t be like that,” she says. “Don’t care so much about what other people think.”
“I don’t care.”
“Yeah, you do and what a waste. What do you care if the neighbors see us having some fun? They’ll probably wanna come over.”
You used to stay with the Pyles who live up the street when your mom went away. You picture Mrs. Pyle in a one-suit, wet, in your back yard. “No they won’t.”
Your mother shrugs. You’re right. No one in the neighborhood wants to come over. They’ve seen too many random cars in the driveway, sometimes black and whites with the red lights blasting shadows into the other homes. It’s too quiet now. Your mother is bored of her ice cream, but she eats it anyway. You can’t think of anything to say to her and you worked so hard to lose all that pudding on your belly this year. You don’t want the ice cream but you eat the ice cream because you’re a bad son. You don’t believe it will stick. Not anymore. Not with her wanting to slide on a plastic tarp in the back yard. That’s who she is, isn’t it? She wants to slide, she doesn’t want to stick. She pulls at her bra strap.
“Well, we have to do something. The weather guy says it’s only gonna get hotter tomorrow and we can’t get the AC fixed. I have to pay the electric, the gas bill, too.”
Your house isn’t yours, not really. Your grandmother gave it to your mom when she died, when you were in pull-ups. It still smells like a grandmother, like the house doesn’t want to belong to you, to your mom who can’t take good care of it. The words plop out of your mouth like upchuck. “I’m sorry.”
Your mother stares at you. Her hair is wiry and her eyes are clear. They’re so much scarier when she’s clean, when she sees you, when she’s not looking at you through a hazy veil of bloodshot eyes with her nose dripping and her skin sweaty. “Sorry for what?” she wants to know.
You can’t think of anything smart to say and you don’t want to say anything stupid and when she decides to go out later that night, it is your fault. All you had to do was say you wanted a Slip‘N Slide. When she comes home loud and not alone—he’s filthy, he wears boots in summer—she is high and you know she’s high by the sound of her giggles. She’s a toilet that won’t stop running and there’s nothing you can do to slow the pace of her speech, to stop the chop, chop, chopping of her credit card. You hear him next, whoever he is, kicking off his boots and snorting your mother’s stash. So you stay in your room. You don’t play music to block out the sound of them fucking. You deserve to listen to it. You are a criminal, the worst son on planet earth. You are a virgin and everything bad in this world, in this house, in your dirty mind, in your mother’s bloodstream, it’s all your fault because she was clean until you turned your back on her at that picnic table, until you refused to get on her side. When the filthy guy sticks his dick in her, when he grunts and you hear the headboard slam into the wall, you get hard and you put your hands on your body and those boys were right to laugh at you today. They’re normal. You’re the freak.
Lizard by Mark Matthews
“Do you know what I am going to do to you?” Agent Baker asked in a voice that had sunk seven layers deep.
Baker stepped forward. Amy had no room to retreat. She was fully cornered, exposed, and sat helpless as Baker took hold of her trembling hand. With a fingertip, she traced Amy’s vein, inching slowly from her wrist toward the sweet spot of the needle mark. She reached the syringe, grasped it inside her fist, then plucked it out.
“Do you know what I am going to do to you?” Baker repeated.
Amy shook her head, because she didn’t know.
“I am going to help you. You will never be sick again. Never.”
Never sick again. Never sick again—the phrase somehow made Amy’s fear bleed out of her body, and she looked up at Baker like a starving baby waiting to be fed. Baker was an infinite mother, a sexless lover, knowing her in ways never before possible. The feel of Baker’s fingertips had been surprisingly soft, warm, tender. It brought back memories of Joshua as an infant, his flesh pressed against hers when he was minutes old, fresh from her womb, moist with the miracle of life. The breastfeeding that followed was abandoned too early when dehydration hit.
But it was okay.
Joshua was going to be okay. Everything was going to be okay.
Baker held the needle with the tip sticking out between her fingers, and plunged the syringe towards Amy’s eye. Her eyelid snapped shut, but the needle poked right through the tiny film of skin. Pluck. She could hear it penetrating into her moist eyeball, the pain piercing as if she’d been stabbed in the heart. Baker tugged it out, just a touch, and then pushed it in deeper, right through her eye socket, again and again, until she finally pulled the needle out entirely. The syringe dripped with moisture.
“You’ve had your chance.” Baker attacked again.
Amy raised a hand but was too slow to defend her other eye when the syringe stabbed inside. A milky-white liquid mixed with crimson blood leaked out her eye, dripped down her cheek, then streamed into her mouth which had opened to scream. With each new stab, a new pitch out of her mouth, screaming Joshua’s name to help her, pleading apologies, rattling the bathroom walls with howls, sure that the gods would hear her pain and save her, but instead the snake bites of the needle came in rapid fire to all parts of her body. Baker pulled the needle out each time and found new, fresh skin to puncture.
Amy collapsed to the ground a ripped-open ragdoll. Her veins had been sliced apart, her flesh speckled in bloody red holes, her arms held out in front of her as if in offering. Her face was stuck in silent peace, a permanent sleep, the fluid of her life running in tiny red streams and puddling on the white tile. She’d been blinded and unable to see the bathroom door swing open and her son standing in the doorway, looking at her one last time before she died.
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