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good-night darling

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She’s had so many nightmares of losing Karen, and they’re all coming true. She’s trapped inside this bad dream and inside her body and her mind and everything of her self is betraying her and nothing’s right.

Good night, darling

Good night, darling

Good night, darling

She’s tired. She’s been fighting this for so long; this war underneath her skin against that sick little part of her, that cancer, that consuming feeling that now she guesses has a name. She named it herself, the twisted product birthed of all these years, these long, lecherous, longing years:

love

Love love love love love love she loves Karen she’s in love with Karen

God, she’s ruined everything.

And she can’t wake up.

She’s so tired.

Karen’s face, Karen’s Horrified. Disgusted. Agonized. Face. The fear in her eyes, the denials that passed her lips. She’ll never let Martha touch her again she’ll never let Martha talk to her again she’ll never let Martha see her again and she has every right

She’ll never see Karen again. God, god, she’s looked at Karen for the last time.

She’s tired. She told Karen good night. It’s six in the evening it’s time for her bath but she doesn’t want her bath she just wants to go to sleep.

She almost doesn’t feel the gun in her hand; just the coldness against her temple.

Martha pretends she’ll wake up tomorrow morning and there will be Karen and she’ll take her hand-

but she knows she knows that for her there is no tomorrow and it will always be today and today is where it ends and

she chokes on saltwater and self-loathing and she’s tired she’s tired and she whispers

“good-night”


When Martha meets Karen, they’re seventeen and new at college and Karen seems to belong right away and Martha admires her. Karen is pretty and kind and smart and Martha wants so desperately to be her friend. She lies awake at night, loses sleep despite herself, thinking about Karen, Karen, Karen, the girl who sits two rows in front and one seat to the side of her in History class, who always puts two spoonfuls of sugar in her tea and smells like lavender soap and ink and who will sometimes miss her classwork but only because she spends her time helping other people with theirs. Martha notices these things that nobody else can’t or don’t see. Like Karen is hers. Her own to keep.

But Karen isn’t hers, and she wants to know her more, wants to know her best, better than anyone else. She wants to know Karen’s family, if she gets along with them, if she misses them. She wants to know how late Karen likes to stay up; if she’s like Martha and goes through candles fast because she’ll spend the whole night reading. What books does she read? Martha will read all of them, just to have something to say to her. Some conversation about shared interests, and then maybe Karen would realize that Martha’s companionship goes deeper than a classmate. She wants to know Karen’s dreams at night and dreams for the future and what she thinks about when she stands in lines and what she doodles on her worksheets and if she had one wish what would she wish for.

Karen Wright has many friends because she draws people towards her; there’s this thing, this energy about her that makes her somehow in the middle of everything. She is a magnet and a base. Good things build up off of her. She’s popular but always kind and not a single person who knows her dislikes her, or, Martha can’t imagine they’d be capable of it. Karen. She has every reason to be happy.

But sometimes, when she smiles, there’s something unsure, untrue about it, something sad. It doesn’t quite reach her eyes, and she looks tired. And her friends are all kind but they don’t know her, they don’t see her, not like how Martha does.

And then Martha feels this connection to her, like she knows- she knows that if she were Karen’s friend, she could make that sadness go away. She and Karen are the same, in a lot of ways; this she knows from observation, even if they don’t seem like it.

And Martha is sad- there are days where Martha is only sadness- but she can make Karen happy. And just to make her laugh, just to say something and have Karen look at her and see her- in the same way- then Martha wouldn’t be sad.


 

It’s raining when they close on the farmhouse.

It isn’t a big place, or particularly nice; thirty years have eaten away at the wood and the floors creak with every step and the walls are thin so nothing is really a secret.

But it’s theirs.

Karen runs from room to room because she can now, laughing in the delighted way that she did at graduation, like all she knows is joy. She’s thrown her raincoat on the floor and she’s almost dancing. Martha stays behind and watches, a smile growing within her. She’s too drenched to follow but oh, she doesn’t need to, because she can feel the energy. The happiness.

It is such a cold and wet day and yet Martha can see the sun because it’s Karen. And Karen is all she can see.

Karen grabs Martha’s shoulders.

“We’ve done it,” she says in wonder. “We’ve really done it. The Wright-Dobie school for girls-”

“Is real,” Martha says. “Is ours.”

Ours .”

She hugs Karen, and Karen says, “I love you,”

And Martha is frozen for a second and then she says, “I love you too,” because she does.

 

They sit on the floor and eat apples. “Why did you bring apples?” Martha says.

“We’re teachers now,” Karen laughs.

Martha is blinded by her, but looking away is not a possibility.


 

Find a, b and c so that the graph of the quadratic function f(x) = ax 2 + bx + c has a vertex at (-2 , 1) and passes through the point (0 , -3).

“Martha Dobie?”

It’s asked softly, and at first Martha thinks her mind is playing tricks on her. But she looks up from her Algebra worksheet and Karen Wright is standing next to her library table, hands clasped daintily in front of her, and for maybe the first time, Martha sees that she’s unsure. Nervous, even.

“Yes?” Martha says. Because there’s only one Martha Dobie in this library, and it’s her. Karen is talking to her.

“Uh- I- I just wanted to tell you that I really liked what you said today, in History… about how things are changing for women, and we don’t have to rely on a good marriage to support ourselves anymore… and how you’d like to open your own school?” Karen smiles and a warm feeling spreads all through Martha. “And I admire that you had the courage to- um- to speak up, even if… if you knew people may not agree with you- and I think it was unfair how Professor Barnham shot you down. This may not mean much but- in my opinion, you’d make a wonderful teacher.”

Martha can’t say anything for a moment- her heart is pounding too loud in her ears; it drowns out her thoughts.

And then she’s saying- “Thank you!” And smiling, and saying “Thank you!” again, and usually Martha is good with words but Karen here is jumbling her up and she continues before thinking with - “I thought that everybody- everyone in that class probably hated me after today, so that’s- just, wow, that’s very nice of you to say. And very nice that you think I’d be a good teacher- you have more faith in me than I do…”

“I don’t see how any one of them could hate you,” Karen says, and her eyes are so kind, so much like home , which is funny because Martha’s never had a home- “And I really do mean it, that you’d be a good teacher. Whenever you speak in class- in all honesty, I feel like I’m learning more than I do from the professor.”

“Well,” Martha says, feeling her flush, apparently unable to take a compliment, “I’m not very good with children.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“You would be, though,” Martha blurts. “Good with children. I think you would be.”

Karen gestures to the chair next to Martha. “Is anyone sitting here? Could I sit here?”

“No. Well, no, nobody’s sitting there- yes, you can.”

Karen giggles at Martha’s stuttering, and Martha joins her in it after a second. Because Karen isn’t laughing to be mean- Martha feels that- Karen’s laugh is one of the nicest sounds she’s ever heard. Auditory sunshine. She’d like to bottle it up and keep it for a rainy day.

Karen pulls out the chair and sits down. A thought seems to occur to her.

“I’m Karen, by the way,” she says. “Karen Wright.”

“I know,” Martha says.


“What do you think of Mary Tilford?”

Karen pauses in raising her tea to her mouth, glancing at Martha. “What do I think of her?”

“Honestly.”

“Honestly?” Karen shakes her head. “All right, then. Between you and me, I think she’s a brat and a bully, and I don’t know how she and Joe can be from the same family. I’d think anyone related to him should have just a bit of goodness in them.” The corner of her mouth curls up. “She’s got a good fake cry, though. I’ll give her that.”

Martha would laugh, but it’s like something’s blocking her. She rolls over on Karen’s bed, propping herself onto her elbows.

“I think there’s something wrong with her,” she says.

“You think?”

“No, really. Wrong. More than being a little bitch, I mean. I get a bad feeling from her.”

“What kind of bad?”

Martha shrugs her shoulders, trying to shake off the chill that’s settled on her. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being paranoid. She’s just...” she feels Karen’s eyes on her, worried now, “...cold. Not right.”

“Her father died last year,” Karen says quietly. “That’s what Joe says. That they think he took his own life. To be close to someone, who does that? It can change a person.”

Martha puts her head down on Karen’s bed, and says no more.


They request a housing reassignment and move into a dorm together.

(It’s easier this way; Karen is sick of running halfway across campus whenever she thinks of something funny to tell Martha. When they live together, Martha has to hear Karen’s jokes all day, but Martha doesn’t seem to mind; she has a fair share of her own).

There are many nights where Karen doesn’t sleep, but it’s usually because every time she  tries to not talk to Martha for more than five minutes she ends up overflowing with unshared and seemingly vital thoughts.

Tonight is different, though.

Tonight Karen is heavy with life and her eyes close the minute her head hits the pillow and she doesn’t even say a “good-night’ before spiraling off into white noise.

But.

There is a shift.

Karen is awake.

It takes her a minute to pin down the reason of this shift but it’s clear as soon as it’s found.

Martha is crying.

Martha doesn’t cry often, or, she doesn’t let Karen see her cry often. And Karen likes to think their lives are happy enough that there’s no reason for Martha to be sad. So the sound strikes her with instant wrongness, instant worry.

“Martha?” Karen says, in a voice just above a whisper.

The noise stops- all noise, all breathing from Martha’s side of the room stops.

“Are you okay?”

No answer.

“I heard you. I know that you’re awake.”

The answer takes far too long, and has far too little conviction.

“I’m fine.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Nothing, Karen, I’m fine. I’ve just got allergies. Go back to sleep.”

“It’s Winter. You don’t have allergies.”

“Go back to sleep.”

The words sound rude, and possibly Martha means them to be, but the way she says them isn’t.

Martha ,” Karen says, in her voice that she’s practiced, the one that means ‘I know you’re lying and I’m not angry but I want the truth’. “What’s going on?”

Martha takes a shuddery breath. Karen can see the shape of her shift through the shadows. “It’s nothing. Just a nightmare.”

“About what?”

“It’s silly.”

“Obviously it’s not, or you wouldn’t be so upset.”

“You know I worry about silly things, Karen.”

Karen finds herself sitting up and pushing the covers away from her legs. She stands and crosses the few feet to Martha’s bed, kneeling down and resting her chin against the mattress. She’s staring at Martha’s back.

“Martha, please tell me what’s the matter.”

She watches Martha breathe a few times. Except for those breaths, the room is silent. Martha will speak when she’s ready.

“I had a dream where we got our school and it was perfect. Our students loved us, and we had enough money, and everything was exactly the way we wanted it, how we’d worked so hard to get it.”

She pauses here, and shifts.

“But then you met this… man.”

Her voice quivers.

“I can’t remember his face but he was very handsome and kind and everything you would want in a husband. And as you grew closer and closer to him, you went farther away from me. You couldn’t even hear me when I spoke to you. And you two were going to get married and leave me behind and leave the school and everything you used to care about and you were going to leave me.”

Martha’s crying again; Karen can hear it.

“And the day you were going to get married, I tried to talk you out of it. But you looked at me and you were so angry and it was like- it was like all of the caring you had for me was suddenly given to him. And you said “Goodbye, Martha,” and then you left and suddenly the school was gone too and it was just me alone. And then I woke up.”

“Martha,” Karen says, and places a hand on Martha’s shoulder. Martha melts to it. “Hey, hey, look at me.”

Martha rolls to her side. Her eyes, glassy with tears, glint in the light of a full moon.

“I would never do that. I would never, ever do that. Okay? It was just a dream. Martha, you’re my best friend. I love you, all right? I wouldn’t do that.”

Martha nods, though her lip trembles.

“Move over, okay? It’s cold,” says Karen, and she climbs into Martha’s bed.

Things are a bit cramped in the twin, but they find an arrangement: Martha nestled inside the crescent of Karen, her head resting just below Karen’s chin, Karen’s arms wrapped around her.

Martha’s tears soak the front of Karen’s shirt, and Karen holds onto her a little tighter.

Karen presses a kiss to her forehead where Martha frowns, and lets her lips linger a bit longer than necessary, waiting for the puckers beneath them to smooth. At last they do.

“I’ll never leave you, all right?” she whispers.

Her heart beats fast and wild and strong to match Martha’s, and an emotion she can’t name rattles her ribs, but as much as her inside is loud, Karen is sleepy and warm with Martha curled around her and when Martha’s breathing slows, Karen drifts off with her, murmuring, “Good night, Martha,” against Martha’s hair, breathing in the clean scent of her, and deciding that tomorrow morning they’ll skip classes and sleep for as long as their bodies allow.

And she dreams of tomorrow , and all the days after that, and when she wakes up the only thing she remembers of the dream is that Martha is there, always there, and smiling, and holding her hand.


Joseph is so busy; Karen doesn’t expect to see him for at least a week. She isn’t prepared when the doorbell rings and it’s him, and he’s standing here and he looks so handsome and he’s holding a bouquet of roses that must have cost more than her blouse and suddenly she feels underdressed and inadequate- and Martha says she should never have feel those things, that if she loves him she should feel comfortable around him- but she can’t help it. Love is such a new addition to their relationship that the ease that comes with it hasn’t yet arrived.

“Dr. Cardin!” she says, knowing that a blush is creeping across her cheeks. Karen is not one to be flustered often, but many things about this man make her act in ways she never has had the time or interest to before. “This is- unexpected!”

“Ms. Wright. Karen,” he says, with a soft grin. “May I come in?”

She realizes she hasn’t really opened the door, and brings it wider. “Of course.”

He steps inside, and, after a moment, holds the flowers out to her like he’s unsure about them.

“I brought these for you,” he says. “I think you said that you like roses. If that’s wrong-”

“No! I mean… yes. I do like roses. They’re very beautiful. Thank you.” She takes them and their hands brush for a second of lovely palpitation.

Karen is strangely giddy on the inside, her organs doing funny things, as she leads Joseph into the parlor. “Please, have a seat. I’ll get a vase for these flowers. Would you like some tea or sandwiches? We’ve just had lunch, so there’s some left-”

“No, but thank you for offering. I can’t stay very long.” He takes a seat on the couch. It’s where Martha usually sits; Karen doesn’t comment.

“I was meaning to ask- what brings you here?” Karen says, then hastens to add- “Of course, it’s always a pleasure to have you in, but this visit is a bit… out of the blue… and you say you can’t stay long… is something wrong or-”

“No, no, nothing’s wrong. I just-” Joe stops and smiles a little at her but it’s not the kind of little polite smile that this normally entails; it’s different and she doesn’t recognize it. “I wanted to see you again. I mean, I couldn’t wait.”

And there it is. Karen’s blushing again. “Dr. Cardin-” she starts-

“Please, call me Joe. We’re not strangers,” he says.

“Sorry, Joe, that’s very-”

“I’m sorry if you were working or if this is a bad time, it’s only- it seems like forever until next week,” Joe says, an apologetic expression crossing his features. “I had a bit of a free moment, so I thought I’d stop by and see how you were doing.”

“Oh- oh yes. It does…” Karen says, “feel like a long time… a very… that’s very kind of you, Joe. Everything here is fine. Martha’s just had a telegram from her aunt… you know, I told you about her… she’s the actress, the one with all the stories?- so she’s a bit worried about that, but-”

“No, how are you?” Joe says. “Not anyone else.”

I am very well,” Karen says after a moment, with an unsure laugh, “and even more so with you here.”

She is at once conscious that she’s still standing and holding the roses, and her hands have gotten very tight around them.

“I’m glad to hear that,” Joe says.

“I should get a vase,” she says.

“If you’d like,” he says.

Neither of them move.

“Maybe later,” she says, and sits down next to him.

They’re quiet for a while. Karen thinks of plenty of things to say, but every few minutes Joe opens his mouth and she doesn’t want to accidentally interrupt him. That would be embarrassing.

After far too long of silence, she decides it’s safe to speak, and starts- “Have you had any interesting patients-”

Just as Joe says, “If I’m being honest, I guess I did have a reason for coming here.”

Karen flushes. Joes does too. They both say “I’m sorry,” at the same time.

“You go,” Karen finally says.

“Oh. Alright. I was saying- there’s another reason I came here. I wasn’t sure if I- well, what I’m trying to say is- I know this is a bit out of the blue, and it’s perfectly fine if you… and maybe you’d prefer if I wait, I mean, this isn’t exactly the most picturesque of settings, but… ah, I can’t wait.”

“What are you saying?” Karen breathes.

“Karen,” Joe says, “I- I’ve never known any woman- anyone- like you. You’re the most kind, intelligent, beautiful, selfless, and loving person I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet, and continue to meet. It may seem silly to say I love you so soon, but it’s true. I’m crazy for you, Karen. And yes, this is sudden, and rushed, and I’m not saying it right, what I want to say, because how I feel about you, I can’t really say it, but…”

Karen doesn’t think her heart has ever beat this fast.

Joe lowers himself from the couch and onto one knee. From his jacket pocket he produces a tiny box and lifts the lid carefully. The ring inside is lovely, an antique.

“Karen Wright, will you marry me?” he says.

Karen freezes for a second and Joe’s face falls.

She wants this. She wants this. She wants this.

Except-

There’s a nagging, a problem poking at her heart. Marry Joe. She could marry Joe. But if she did, then what would she do? Have children of her own, instead of teach them? Live in the house Joe bought, instead of the one she and Martha saved up enough money for for years?

Martha.

But. Joe.

Joe, who is everything she wants in a husband.

“The ring is a family heirloom,” he’s saying. “My father gave it to my mother…”

“Yes,” Karen says softly.

“What?”

“Yes,” Karen says. “I said yes. I’ll marry you. Yes.”

She smiles at him and tears well up in her eyes and she thinks they’re because she’s happy, because this is the happiest moment of her life, because she’s never wanted to sing so much as now. And Joe slides the ring onto her finger and stands, slowly, like he’s not sure if he can keep himself upright. She’s smiling more because he’s sweet and then he’s kissing her and she’s kissing him and

she loves him 


Neither of them see Martha standing in the doorway, with her voice and thoughts gone and her heart shattered in pieces at her feet.


 

In a way maybe she knew he’d show up here someday. She can’t hide from her past forever. She can’t run away from the place and the people and the ghosts and think that it will fix things. That’s like putting ice on a broken bone but never splinting it.

Doing more than ice hurts. She’s numbed herself.

His hair is wet. It’s raining.

“Joe,” she says.

She wants to feel something, seeing him here. Anger or fear or sadness or joy or that old companion of his, love. She wishes for her voice to break, or for her to break; she wants to yell or slam the door in his face or fling herself into his arms but when she searches deep within herself for any flicker of emotion, there’s nothing. No real desire for any of these things; she’s just still, still and cold and numb. Karen has been scraped dry, hollowed out, and all of her is just empty and Joe is unreal and ghostly before her.

“Karen,” he says, in a soft, scared way.

His hands are shaking. He’s still wearing his ring.

She left hers on the table after she took it off and never touched it again.

She had loved him so much.

They are standing here staring at each other and Karen knows that Joe is feeling more than she is and she’s almost guilty for it.

“May I come in?” he says, finally, and it breaks the quiet but not really. The world around Karen is still silent, a bubble formed so he can’t touch her,  and the sound bounces off of the bubble and she very nearly doesn’t hear it.

And she does hear herself saying “Yes,” but that too is empty.

She opens the door.

He steps inside.

She closes the door.

He doesn’t look around. He only looks at her. His eyes are starving.

“I’ve been trying to find you,” he says. “I wasn’t ready to talk to Aunt Amelia and Mrs. Mortar could barely help me- she told me you left after Martha’s funeral-”

Away.   get-out-get-out-get-out She turns away and makes a noise that might have originated as a “Stop,” but doesn’t end that way. She can’t have this conversation; she can’t ever have it; it needs to be over; let it be over; don’t say that joe don’t say that don’t say her name don’t come here and tell me things i already know and look at me like that like you love me

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to- to, um-”

“Of course you didn’t,” Karen says, her voice whistle-thin and flat. “You’d never want to hurt anyone. You’re such a nice man.”

It’s still raining. The window is open. She won’t close it.

“How have you been?” It’s timid, how Joe says it. Like he knows he holds no authority here, not with her, not like he used to.

“Breathing.”

She feels his eyes on her back. She feels how he wants to come here and hold her, comfort her. But he won’t. Not until she lets him.

She won’t look back at him. She won’t open herself.

They stand like this for seconds or minutes or hours until something in Joe breaks; she almost hears the snap.

“Karen, I- God, I- I needed to see you. I need to.”

“I’m standing right in front of you, Joseph.”

It comes out colder than she intended, but she finds that’s where her feelings are.

“God damn it, Karen, what did I do?” The loudness Joe says this with is startling, Karen thinks to him too. His voice cracks and he’s talking too fast. “Please, tell me what I did so I can fix it. Please, Karen. Help me, okay? Help me. Karen.”

She turns. He stands

“Fix what?”

“This. Us…” He takes a step back, and says in a quiet voice, almost like a child shamed: “I want to know how to make you love me again.”

“Joe…”

“That sounded wrong. God, I’m doing this wrong… what I mean is, I can’t… I can’t make you do anything. But I- I-” He looks so hurt. “Karen, I love you more than anything. You’re the only person left that I know that I can trust, and that I can love without it being a… a question. And I’m sorry.” Here he stops, and his voice is shaky when he begins again. “I’m sorry about what happened to you, and what happened to Martha. I don’t even know what… it was a horrible thing, and I can’t even imagine-” He stops again. “God, what I’m trying to say is that I can’t fix what happened. But just because things got broken doesn’t mean that we can’t try to make it better. I’m a doctor- my whole life is dedicated to making things better. And maybe it will take some time, but Karen, we can be happy again. I love you, and you love me, and if we just hold on to that then we’ll be alright.”

Karen’s answer is chaotic and sharp and complex but it is also simple.

“No.”

It hangs in the room, poison.

“I’m sorry, Joe,” she says, everything about her cold. “I don’t love you anymore.”

Joe looks like she’s slicing him into tiny little pieces with a dull knife.

“Or maybe I do,” she says. “I don’t know. I just… I don’t know. Everything is different, now. I don’t know how it’s supposed to feel.”

Joe is crying.

She had loved him so much. She loved him and that was why she made him leave and that was why she took off that ring.

But now-

“Karen, I’m going to come back tomorrow,” he says. “And we can talk about this again. You’re upset, you don’t know what-”

“I know exactly what I’m saying,” Karen says. “Please go away. And don’t come back.”

“I’m coming back tomorrow-”

“No,” Karen says, “You’re not.”

She turns away from him and she waits for the door to open and close and waits for his presence to leave her home.

She can still hear him crying when he goes.

A single tear slips down her cheek. She’s shaking. She sits down on her couch and runs from those thoughts, the ones of confusion and betrayal and loss and. What could have been. Of Martha.

 


The clock is chiming midnight and Martha can’t sleep. She went to bed three hours ago. There was nothing else to do. It’s midnight and she’s been lying here since nine but time doesn’t matter because what, really, is time? It’s only a path that normal people follow, around and around and around again each day until they’re old. Martha isn’t normal anymore and it doesn’t matter if she’s gone off the trail.

She is so, so awake. Everything inside her, it seems, is awake, though she lives the daylight hours as a sleepwalker. As soon as she gets the thing she wants: to sleep, she can’t.

In this house, Karen is sleeping. She breathes the same air as Martha and it’s passing between her lips and maybe she’s dreaming about tomorrow and how it could be better. Maybe she’s dreaming about Joe.

Martha would like to be air. Air, that no one can see, that feels nothing and hears everything; air, that Karen needs. Perhaps then they could be even.

She turns over onto her back and stares at the ceiling, made of shadows. It’s quiet in here without Aunt Lily in the other bed; Aunt Lily who snores and mutters jumbled Shakespeare in her sleep  and who wakes up either before dawn or sleeps late and fusses if Martha makes any noise. Aunt Lily, who couldn’t (wouldn’t?) save them from the accusations that shouldn’t have existed at all because there’s no truth there none at all how could Mary Tilford know any of this it isn’t true it isn’t true

She swallows back a sob and a scream.

There’s something about the darkness and the quiet that makes Martha question things that should be unquestionable. Karen is her best friend friend friend and she is happy for Karen marrying Joe and Mary Tilford is a goddamned liar and this is not her fault this is not her fault and women don’t women don’t women don’t touch one another one another one another that way and this way she aches karen karen karen karen karen karen it’s perfectly natural natural natu

“good night, martha,” says karen and martha almost asks her to sleep in her bed tonight like they used to at college when martha needed to breathe calmer and karen would hold her the way she supposed a mother would, if martha had a mother, and told her breathe, martha, in, out, okay . only karen next to her steals all of her air, not like a mother or a sister or a best friend but something else she doesn’t know but she doesn’t care and she’d suffocate for

“good night, martha,” says karen and two weeks ago she would have kissed martha’s cheek before going upstairs, but that is not allowed to happen anymore. martha is not allowed that split-second of sweetness. a barrier stands between them now, built of the things they’re both too scared to say. bitter, no

“good night, martha,” says karen but she doesn’t say it because she forgets, she forgets tonight. she’s never forgotten because she knows martha likes to hear it, knows it makes her sleep better. karen is gone karen is not here karen’s left karen’s left with joe and no “good night, martha” never again and martha can’t sleep can’t sleep can’t sleep can’t

“good night, martha, ” says karen “i love you”

“i love you too”

“martha?”

“karen”

“i’m cold”

“put on a sweater. your hands are like ice”

“yours are warm”

“karen”

“yes, martha”

“put on a swea-”

“no”

 

shame.

Martha is awake.

She wants to take a bath. She needs to take a bath. She needs to be clean. She is so dirty and sick and scared and when will it when will it wash off; let her be clean. Let her be clean or let her drown under the weight of wrongness. She doesn’t want to wait to die from Karen because that is a ten-year-old heart attack and it hurts just enough to be too much but not enough to finish her off. She’s done with hurting. She’s done with sadness.

She runs the bath cold. It stings her skin, for a second feeling like she’s swimming at night in the winter and the water’s dragging her down, down, drowning her under the weight of Bad Things. She can’t touch her own skin; she doesn’t trust herself to; she just sits in the water and lets the cold match everything inside. Waits until she’s numb, until she can’t feel anything, until her thoughts go silent, only nothing will make quiet her want, her need for Karen. And she just floats in the shame of it all.

She sits there until her skin wrinkles and wonders if this is the only way she’ll ever know what she’d look like old.

Then she drains the water and wraps herself in the towel and stands there in almost no light with water dripping off the tips of her hair onto her shoulders and shivers.

This is wrong.

She dresses, slowly, and doesn’t dry her hair and it still drips on her shoulders and down the back of her neck.

The hallway is even darker than the bathroom and she stands, cold, on the landing.

There’s a faint light coming from upstairs.

Karen is awake.

She wants to go up the stairs. She wants to knock on the door. She wants to climb into Karen’s bed and be held. She wants to tell Karen, tell her everything

she wants she wants she wants

She can take only a step and fall back into Karen’s arms and Karen will accept her; Martha knows she will, she has to. Because they are still best friends, through all of this. Because they love one another because Karen still loves her even if things have changed, even if that word hangs between them, that dirty, awful word. Even if things have weighed between them long before this that Martha has buried deep away.

Karen will catch her. Karen will not let her fall.

Bring her some warm milk.

That’s what Martha will do, she’ll bring Karen some milk. And they can talk and laugh and finally fall asleep and it’ll be just like the old days before any of this went wrong.

Martha’s halfway to the kitchen before she realizes.

Karen won’t catch her.


 

a bad word

There has been no tomorrow for Karen since all those todays ago.

Every day she lives is today. Her life is the endless today, because tomorrow is a bad word and it promises things that it cannot deliver.

Tomorrow can be a hope, a plea, a plan, a dread, a beginning, an end, a question, an answer. What it cannot be is certain, and so Karen does not think “I will get to tomorrow” ; she thinks “I will live through today, and today, and today” and this is how she doesn’t think about it.

So many words, so many everyday words that Karen had once lived around, are changed, are tainted. They’re dirty and sick with the stains of what’s been done to her and what those close to her have done and sometimes she thinks she should learn another language like French or German or Italian because she can’t use Latin for anything, and move to Europe and stop having to hear those words, those English words that hit somewhere close to the part of her being that could break her into a million pieces.

School. Truth. Lie. Friend. Flowers. Tea. Darling. Love. Goodbye. Tomorrow.

But she could never really escape it because names are ruined for her too. How could Karen hear “Mary” or “Joe”? Or

 

(((she needs to get out of here, get out quick, run and run and run and run and run and)))

 

But she can’t run forever. She can’t run from lies, and she can run from the truths that inhabit them. She can’t live inside a lie, either; she’s had enough of that.


 

 Martha cannot sleep. 

There’s a gun that they keep in the locked drawer of Martha’s desk where the students can’t get it but it’s easy to get to if there’s a break-in or a wild animal. It’s always loaded. It’s for safety. 

Martha has the key. 

She imagines the click of the lock. The click of the gun. The quiet the quiet the quiet afterwards. 

But-but-but

Karen’s been having trouble sleeping. And guns are loud.

She doesn’t want to wake Karen up.


 

Maybe today will be a good day.

Karen hasn’t had a good today since before, but before she had so many. She doesn’t remember what they feel like. Maybe this could be one.

Maybe tomorrow will be.