UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION - 05/2012
A PLACE TO CALL HOME
At the age of seventeen, Freeda Pill left the country to live in the city. She had visions of standing on stage, living a different life through her lines. She imagined her long legs waltzing down a red carpet through a tornado of smiles, flashes, hairdos, makeup, shoes, martinis, and gorgeous people. Freeda had dreams of stardom, but she would have settled for the role of an extra in a Pepsi commercial, because most of all, what she wanted more than anything else was a place of her own.
Freeda wanted to walk through a front door that did not exude the smell of apple pie when opened. She hoped never again to see such gaudy, floral furniture hogging up space in a front room, like some errant, territorial bush that had found its way in through a crack in a wall. Her beautiful blaring eyes, full and green, never again wanted to look at the countless knick-knacks randomly placed onto ledges, mantles, shelves, and tables. Little things that meant nothing, not even to the ones they had been given to, but there all the same, cluttering. Freeda wanted nothing to do with such pieces anymore, because for her, they did mean something. Touch them, if she wanted a scowl. Move them, if she desired dreadful anger. Pick them up and throw them out the window if Freeda wanted seventy-nine lashings from her father’s willow branch.
And Freeda longed to be surrounded by barren walls; not ones mounted with the heads and bodies of furry critters, hundreds of eyes staring back at her day and night, crying, pleading, begging for answers: Why? Why am I here, frozen in death, forever doomed to look upon my murderers? Her father’s taxidermy business paid well, but not well enough to hire an assistant who could assume Freeda’s horrific responsibilities in the garage.
Seventeen-year old Freeda Pill wanted to move through a house that had no pictures in it. Pictures of pale faces, lively for the camera, pretending joy, happy-go-lucky for the sake of the family, the holidays, and look at that man behind the flash, cooing and shaking a fucking teddy bear to a group of adults because they actually thought it was funny and laughed. SNAP! Captured and printed: the fleeting moments of happiness.
Freeda Pill wanted a place to call home.
She found an apartment in the South Bronx, and cried herself to sleep that first night. She felt lonely, remorse, yet happy as well. She never told her mother or father where she was going. She just disappeared one afternoon, the family savings account from under her parent's mattress stashed into her purse, as she stepped onto the eastbound Greyhound bus.
Her luggage was single, and scarce, containing only essential clothing, and a few pairs of shoes. But this was Freeda’s plan. And with a lasting smile, that first week in her apartment she beamed with excitement as she decorated her home with absolutely nothing at all. Freeda found a waitressing job. And while pouring coffee for strangers, her mind danced circles throughout her apartment. It was a filthy dump, smelled of stale cigarette smoke, cat dander, cat piss, and at best, had unreliable wall-sockets that had already destroyed two hair-dryers. But Freeda didn’t care. Her only concern was that since the apartment came “furnished,” she needed a way to dispose of the old furniture that did nothing but take up space. And even though she entertained the thought of keeping the kitchen table, Freeda decided against it one morning while eating oatmeal on the window ledge that overlooked the alley below. That same day, she bought a hammer from a local hardware store, smashed all-to-hell her furniture, and tossed the pieces down into the alley through that window.
Two weeks later, to her surprise, Freeda felt something. It dawned on her, this “feeling,” as she paced her empty apartment one evening, dining on Top Ramen noodles. Something seems to be missing. Freeda bought a plant the next day, and placed it on top of the refrigerator. She smiled, content with this single decoration, hers and hers alone, nothing to it. And Freeda remained content for another week, until she spontaneously bought a book shelf at a thrift store, on her way home from work. Three painstaking hours later, there it stood, finally assembled, against a wall; an empty tower of oak-laminated particleboard. Freeda had a raging tantrum that night, screaming at herself in the bathroom mirror, vowing never again to waste money on such useless items. In the morning, she retrieved her hammer from the kitchen drawer.
But to Freeda’s vast disappointment, the feeling that something had been missing from her apartment lingered on, plaguing her mind long after she had stared holes into the barren walls. Like an angry hunger, or insatiable thirst, this feeling swam inside her even as she smashed real holes into those walls with her hammer. And it wasn’t until a freak incident occurred—one of criminal intent—before Freeda glimpsed a possible solution to the puzzle of her new home.
Mr. Pizza Man broke down with hysterical laughter when he entered Freeda’s apartment. She thought him cute, and invited him in while she counted her money.
“Christ! You just move in, or something? This place is a fucking tomb!”
“How much do I owe you?” Freeda asked, her eyes sullen and hurt.
“Well now… that depends on a few things, don’t it?” The pizza man’s own eyes turned a mood. They became dark, sinister. It all looked too easy for him: A gorgeous brunette, apparently living alone, with nothing at all to protect her, and her curvy body from the likes of him. He placed the pizza down onto the kitchen counter, then unzipped his pants. “How would you like it, sweetie? On your knees, or right up your…”
Although, there was that hammer.
Freeda also had a steak knife, and relying on her experience from her father’s business, it took her no time at all to make pieces out of Mr. Pizza Man. In her wisdom, she knew she should have called the police, but again, there was that “glimpse” of a resolve that had struck a chord in her body, like the relief one felt at the end of a very long and loud wail. With each cut of flesh, snap of sinew, and crackle of bone, Freeda believed she was working toward this resolve. And later in the night, as she stood in the middle of her apartment, soaked in blood, chewing on pizza, Freeda smiled and stared at her walls, which were no longer barren, riddled only with holes from her hammer.
Of course, he wasn’t the first pizza man to have disappeared in the South Bronx. And when the police came to her door the next day, Freeda made sure she wore nothing but a bath towel, and a country-girl’s charm. The officers left her building minutes later, lewd images touring through their minds. Freeda was a good actor, after all.
However, the ensuing days that had passed left Freeda with a sense of doubt. Although she now had “decorations” on her walls, she woke each night in a thrashing fit within her sleeping bag on the floor. That dreaded feeling of incompleteness had crept back into her mind, picking away at her sanity even while she slept. Freeda realized her apartment longed for more than just the pizza man.
While watering her plant one morning, she contrived a plan. Men were beasts, slaves to their instinctual cravings that kept them dumb and foolish. Like children to candy, they would follow a beautiful woman home, wherever that may be, as long as the promise of a pair of opened legs were there to greet them. And Freeda’s plan, with this assumption about men, worked. Even as these strangers walked into her living room, gasping in disbelief at her hollow apartment, with its walls of “things,” they must have thought they had just entered into the Succubus’ lair, a fantasy Freeda knew all men had. With their eyes dazzled by a concoction of imagined lust, and the observation of what they now realized were fragments of “human being” mounted on the walls, these men never caught site of the hammer as it struck them furiously in the back of the head. Thus, Freeda endowed her apartment with more decorations.
Weeks went by, with Freeda now being content. Although never cozy, her home became more and more comfortable with each piece of body added to the walls. She thought of this gruesome décor, how it reminded her of her last home. And of this, she thought as well. Did her parents still worry about her? Did they ever? While living there, they seemed only interested in maintaining the charades Freeda had grown up with, no matter what the cost. Every nook and cranny of that country home harbored some sort of sin upon Freeda’s life. Whether in the form of a North American Black Bear that took seconds to kill, yet hours to prepare; or the refrigerator magnet from Hawaii that rewarded Freeda with a violent whipping as a child, after peeling the magnet away. Every nook and cranny stuffed with memories of living, for the living; stuffed with memories of pain, for the child; and stuffed with bodies of the dead, for the dying.
Freeda supposed she had been trying to create something with her apartment. Perhaps in the process of building a new home, she could wipe away the horrors of her last one. A new home meant a new life that meant new memories; memories only for her to create.
Eventually, Freeda realized the flaw in her plan, though. Like an Interior Designer, she stood in the middle of her apartment, drinking coffee, staring. In the dank corners, where dust and grime had gathered itself long before Freeda had moved in, she saw a scrawny dog chew away at bloody fur, its mind bitten into lunacy by countless fleas. She saw trembling children, hiding in the shadows from a man with a bottle in his hand. From down the hall, in her bedroom, Freeda heard the screams of a woman being beaten by her pimp. And now, looking upon the walls of her own house, staring at the various portions of men she had lured in there, the pieces of their bodies now homeless, robbed of their own “completeness” by the expert hands of a butcher, Freeda finally observed that this wasn’t the home she had longed for either. She observed that this home too, had memories of its own.
However, what Freeda failed to observe were the abundant trails of blood that had flowed down those walls. Or, more precisely, where those trails had gathered to, through a collective current due to the misshapen floors of her ancient apartment; a single corner of pooled blood. And while Freeda wrote a letter to her parents, explaining the reasons for her sudden departure, asking for forgiveness yet promising nothing in return, that pool explored the hidden cracks of her apartment, of the building itself, and ultimately, of the apartment below her.
Freeda signed the letter with a simple statement: I think I’m coming home, then looked up after she heard the scream. This time it was a real scream, and not from her bedroom. Thirty feet below, the plump, elderly figure of Mrs. Zimmerman wrestled with her La-Z-Boy, frantic in her attempt to escape from the sticky plasma dripping down into her white hair.
Freeda placed the letter on top of her refrigerator, next to the plant, then entered into a new world stuffed with super-stardom. Her long legs waltzed through a tornado of grim faces, flashing lights, hideous people. No one knew who this girl with the country charm was, every detail about her person a fabricated component leading to nowhere. False identification. Undocumented fingerprints. Strings of incoherent babble coming from her own mouth, offering one dead end after another. And even the letter found in her apartment, written to her supposed parents, was only half complete in that it came without an addressed envelope. When asked about this detail, Freeda drew a blank face, and said nothing at all.
An asylum upstate took her in. It offered a sprawling view of maple and pine; lush greenery expanded the barred windows of the recreation room. Everyone had a good laugh over her last name, “Pill.” Even the faculty thought it ironic, most befitting.
Freeda spent her first three months in silence. Eventually, the patients and orderlies stopped caring about this. And over the next three months, Freeda observed her new “home,” with its padded walls, sterile corners, soft bed. She stared at her surroundings, day and night, searching, discovering the wonderful, blank tapestry of a white room. There was nothing to remind her of her past. No memories hiding in the corners, or faces upon the walls, asking, judging.
But then Freeda realized that something seemed to be missing from this new home of hers. Some sort of “decoration.” It came to her one evening, lying on her bed, staring up at the blank ceiling. Freeda laughed with ironic glee, for on this night she discovered an assortment of magnets, knick-knacks, and other things to scatter around her empty room. And hours later, from a bloody wrist, she added the final touch upon a wall: three words echoed by her bloodstained mouth as she wrote them: “Home at last.”Beginning at 5:00 a.m., Chris spends the only available lot of solitary time he gets in a day feeding his addiction to writing. If he's lucky, he'll get two hours in before "they" wake up, after which he lives a wonderful life as a family man, and special education teacher. His stories have been accepted at a number of publishers including Cover of Darkness, Midwest Literary Magazine, Bete Noire, *he Absent Willow Review, Underground Voices, Residential Aliens, and Bards and Sages Quarterly.
Or at his static blog: frombehindthebluedoor.wordpress.com.
© 2004-2012 Underground Voices