by Julie Innis
My serial killer can't commit. His knife blade is dull and raises red marks across my skin the way a pencil eraser might--long, pink, but hardly fatal. "That the best you can do," I taunt despite myself. "Not that great a serial killer, huh? Too little practice?" I had grown tired of his bravado days ago, all his big talk of dismembered bodies buried throughout the suburbs of Cincinnati. Ohio has a long history of being the birthplace of serial killers, he said.
"And presidents," I added, hoping perhaps to prompt a career shift.
"Shut up," he said, and started sawing again at my ankle joint.
Our days together fall into an easy rhythm- breakfast then a trip to the bathroom, his eyes politely averted, then a little mid-morning torture before he heads off for work or whatever it is he does until evening when he starts back in on my ankles.
The thing is, my ankles aren't my best feature, prone to giving out whenever I attempt ice skating, suited up so cutely in tight fuzzy sweaters and short flirty skater skirts. When I was younger, I got my brown hair chopped into a Dorothy Hamill wedge and watched Ice Castles so many times, I wished I'd be struck blind so that Robby Benson would come and rehabilitate me. Oh but for my weak ankles!, which had lately run to fat as I closed in on my fortieth birthday, still in the world of the sighted and woefully single.
"Whatever happened to Robby Benson?" I ask my serial killer after he sets aside his knife for another cigarette break, punching random burn marks into the soles of my feet. I make appropriate grimace faces and little squeaking sounds of pain though the circulation in my feet is cut off by his expert binds so he might as well be burning himself for all I can feel.
"Who? You mean Lloyd Benston?"
"What, the democrat? You're a Democrat?"
"Now what do you think," he snorts, rolling his big brown eyes. Figures I'd fall victim to a Republican serial killer, and a relatively good-looking one at that. Mitt Romney good looks with those fudgy brown eyes, determined jaw, and thick thatch of wavy hair. We met at the bar around the corner from my apartment. He'd sidled up to me just as my seabreeze was in need of a refill. A few years older than I, judging from the crow's feet and slight streaks of gray at his temples. Hardly the serial killer type, but then again, I'd read an article recently about the number of women who fall for these guys once they're on death row, sending them letters in jail, pledging their undying love. Oh how I longed to be among those undying women, instead of here, hours passing, slowly dying from the various cuts on my legs, no deeper than the nicks I've given myself shaving. Frankly, this whole process could take months.
"Can't you just hurry this along, cut open some femoral artery? Haven't you ever watched ER? No one dies from foot burns," I say.
He takes a long draw on his cigarette, blowing the smoke out slowly, his lips pursed and full. I think of Robert Chambers and wonder if I'll at least get some raunchy sex out of this, then blanch at the thought of how many days have passed with me wearing the same panties. Hardly what I want displayed in an evidence baggie.
"This is getting old," he sighs.
I nod and do the best I can to shrug, what with lying on my bound hands. While my ankles could easily be considered my worst feature, my hands are clearly my best. I'm pretty pleased with them, treating myself to frequent manicures and hot paraffin treatments. My only hope is that, by starting at my feet, I'll be long gone before he has the chance to chop off my slender fingers and delicate thumbs.
"Maybe a little fresh air, some sunshine?" I jerk my head towards the boarded up casement window. In typical serial killer fashion, after we'd stumbled out of the bar together, he'd gotten all business-like, knocking me over the head with an empty beer bottle, shoving me, half-conscious and limp, into the back seat of his car, dropping a musty old wool blanket over me. In crime shows, a shot of my abandoned car in the bar parking lot would be established, causing the police to wonder what had happened to me. But, unfortunately, I did not own a car. In this crime show, there would be no establishing shot. No one to know I'm even missing.
"Maybe you're right. I'm feeling a little hungry," he says, patting his stomach a few times for effect before smoothing the electrician's tape back over my mouth. "Listen, I'm going upstairs for a bit," he says, his voice trailing off as he stands, brushing the dirt from his jeans. "See you later."
It figures I'd get a serial killer with a short attention span. After he leaves, I wiggle around a bit, trying to work myself loose, punching my swollen tongue against the tacky tape. I can hear him moving around upstairs, the quiet drone of TV, the sounds of pans and running water. Flipping myself onto one side, I survey the room. In typical serial killer fashion, he was keeping me in his basement. Nothing special, a washer and dryer in one corner, some cardboard boxes piled against the wall, a workbench full of shiny new power tools.
Maybe hours pass, maybe days, before he comes down again, setting a tray of food down next to my head.
"Hungry?" He pulls the tape back from my mouth, politely turning his head away to avoid seeing the trail of drool that pulls away with it. I'm really not at my best until I've had a hot shower and a few cups of coffee. He props me up against some boxes and gestures to the tray. There's coffee, a few slices of toast, some jam, a glass of milk and a bottle of water. "Wasn't sure how you take your coffee."
"With milk please."
He tips some milk into the mug and holds it to my lips. "Careful, it's hot." I slurp a mouthful, and then take a bite out of the toast he's holding in his other hand. We alternate between slurps and bites until I'm done with breakfast. I figure he's going to start torturing me again, but instead he stands with the tray. "I'll be down with lunch later," he says before heading back upstairs.
A week passes. Three squares a day with occasional torture, nothing major, a few cigarette burns, a few shallow passes with the knife. It isn't long before he starts losing interest in me. I've seen these signs before, the glazed eyes, the half-hearted laughter at my jokes, the monosyllabic responses when I try to engage him in conversation. "You know, if you stub out the cigarette between my toes, now that would really hurt," I say, brightly.
"Sure, maybe later," he says, standing. When he goes upstairs, he leaves the hall light on so I won't be too afraid.
He starts bringing girls home at night. Music, laughter, the tap of high heels across the floorboards. One girl opens the basement door and peers down at me- "ooh, you are kinky," I hear her call to him.
"What have you been saying about me?" I yell at him the next morning. He's running late and I have a splitting headache from caffeine deprivation.
"Well, I'm not some good-time girl you can keep tied up forever..."
"You're right." As he says this, his cheeks flush slightly. I feel something inside of me turn and it's all I can do to keep from crying as he passes me a square of buttered toast.
The best I can figure is that he slipped me something in my water because when I wake up the next morning, he's managed to cut my ropes without me knowing. I wait around awhile, hoping maybe he'll change his mind and come downstairs to check on me. Nothing. I slip on my shoes and brush the dirt off my pants and go upstairs. I kill some time, watching TV, drinking a few of his beers, my feet up on his coffee table. The phone rings and the answering machine clicks on, his voice announcing into the room that he's not home right now. Some girl leaves her name and number. As I'm leaving, I press erase.
I walk by his house sometimes, hoping to run into him, but I think maybe he's moved on or at least changed his work hours. I tell myself he's the one with the problem, not me. But it hurts just the same.