‘Fragmentality’, Sandra M. Odell

Illustrations © 2010 Bonnie Brunish

 [ Fragments, © 2010 Bonnie Brunish ] Dona Myers’ dying breaths bubbled deep in her chest. When the final exhalation came, Compassion said, “She’s gone,” and gently closed the woman’s eyes. The bloom had faded from Dona’s cheeks except for the purple bruises along the right side of her face.

Anger kicked the ottoman. “Dammit! Gawd’fuckin’dammit!” She stormed out of the room, scattering garbage, breaking Dona’s favorite glass angel and other fragile things as she went. The other fragments let her go. Anger needed her space.

Sadness wept quietly in the corner. Envy took a long look at the still form on the couch—“I wish I looked that good in her skirt.”—and began to pick through the ceramic cats arranged on the shelf above the television.

The early evening sunlight was an infrequent visitor to the musty room, shedding light on crumpled pizza boxes and dust. Everywhere, dust. Anxiety paced back and forth in the heat, wringing her hands, peeking nervously between the threadbare curtains. “What if Dennis comes back? We should call nine-one-one. Maybe?”

“Oh, like we’d be credible witnesses on the stand,” Cynicism said with a smirk.

“Don’t say that. You make it sound like I’m crazy. I’m not crazy.”

“Nah, Crazy locked herself in the basement.”

Reason looked up from her place by the cracked magazine rack by the recliner. “That’s enough, you two.”

Cynicism shrugged and went back to reading about grapefruit and mint essence moisturizers. Anxiety continued to pace.

Doubt hovered at the foot of the couch, gnawing fretfully on her knuckles, unable to look away from the battered, rag doll body that was the substance of their reflections. “Is it our fault? Do you think we should have stayed with her?”

Reason wrote the exact time with a red ballpoint pen on the back of an unopened creditor envelope. “There’s nothing we could have done to stop this.”

“But maybe -“

“That’s why Dona let us go, because she knew what was coming.” Compassion pushed the coffee table away from the couch. Beer cans and stale cigarette butts scattered over the sticky carpet.

“Don’t,” Reason said. “We can’t disturb the crime scene.”

“What makes you think the cops are going to do anything this time?” Cynicism didn’t miss a crisp page-turning beat. “Eight domestic violence calls aren’t enough to let on they don’t care?”

“We can at least make her presentable.” Compassion lifted the dead woman’s legs onto the couch, and folded slender hands across the still chest. “Would you please get me a washcloth so I can wipe her face?”

Pity stood. “I’ll get it.”

“I said—” Reason scowled and went back to taking notes when no one listened.

Sadness and Compassion laid Dona in state on the couch.

“I’m sure Dennis didn’t mean to pull the trigger,” Love said as she arranged the mail the correct way, coupons in front and bills in back. “He was only trying to scare her.”

“Scare her, huh?” Reason searched under the coffee table and came up with two—not one, but two—empty .9 mm casings. She presented these on the flat of her hand. “Still think so?”

Love pursed her lips and looked away.

Reason pocketed the casings. “Get back in the kitchen if he still means that much to you.”

Shy brought a small pillow from the back bedroom and presented it to Compassion before quickly retreating to a corner. Compassion finished wiping Dona’s face and hands, and then gently set the pillow under the dead woman’s head. If it weren’t for the bullet holes and the blood after the fact, she could have been indulging in a rare afternoon nap.

Guilt lashed her back with a short flagellum, muttering a litany of Dona’s offenses. No one paid her any mind.

Only after the others had their turns did Reason come forward. She brushed the wispy bangs from the dead woman’s closed eyes. Cynicism muttered something under her breath, unchallenged and unrepeated.

One by one, the parts of the greater whole that had been Dona Myers assembled, even Crazy who had to be coaxed out of the basement, and Surprise who still couldn’t believe Dennis actually shot his wife. Shame kept to the back of the gathering, convinced she had nothing to offer. Love stood at the threshold to the kitchen, one foot in, one foot out.

“What do we do now?” Doubt said, nervously shifting her weight from foot to foot.

Reason and Compassion looked at one another. The consideration was brief and wordless. “What Dona couldn’t,” Compassion said, taking Sadness by the hand. Anger smiled. Love stepped into the kitchen.

Shame kept Love company in the kitchen while Reason and Compassion worked out the details. Guilt was in and out.

“It didn’t have to end this way.” The flagellum flicked and rustled against Guilt’s leg, an extension of her hand. “Dona should have listened to him. None of this would have happened if she’d only taken the skirt back in the first place.” Her hand twitched and the blow landed sharp and deserved over her shoulder. The welts on Guilt’s back were only now beginning to stain her loose shirt.

“The others don’t understand Dennis the way I do,” Love said as she mixed egg salad with dill pickle relish, not sweet pickle relish, never sweet pickle relish. “Yes, he has a temper, but he’s a good man at heart. Remember his goofy smile when he first asked her out? And how about when he brought her flowers to apologize for the last time he lost his temper?”

“I guess.” Shame peered hesitantly around the edge of the kitchen entry.

“What are they talking about now?” Love searched for the right serving spoon.

Shame returned to her stool in the corner “I don’t know. How can I go out there after everything that’s happened?”

Pride wouldn’t let Envy take any of Dona’s belongings. “I don’t see why I can’t,” Envy said, arranging the porcelain thimbles that had survived Dennis’s tantrum the week before.

Pride didn’t look up from applying a second coat of L’Oreal’s Apple of my Eye nail polish from Dona’s secret dreams box. “Because they’re not yours.”

“Well, it’s not like anyone else wants them.”

“I’d like to take one of the pictures of Dennis from his Alaska fishing trip.” Love hesitantly touched the corner of the frame.

“You want to remember what he looks like, pry open Dona’s eyes,” Cynicism said. “He’s the face behind the smoking gun.”

Compassion took Love aside for a whispered, heartfelt exchange. Compassion made it a point to keep the two apart after that.

With a place for everything, a call to 911, and essentials stashed in an overnight bag, what remained of Dona Myers left the house without looking back.

The local Motel 6 at the south end of town was convenient, quiet, and inexpensive. Room 218 was a refuge cast in earth tones, small and clean, and the skewed angle of the nightstand in the corner made a happy place for Crazy. Pity draped towels over the particleboard corners to cushion sharp edges. Hate stayed as far away from Love as she could, which everyone but Cynicism agreed was for the best even though the two had once been inseparable.

After directing Vanity and Envy away from the bathroom mirror, Reason outlined the plan and asked for a consensus. “United we stand, divided we fall,” she said in the only voice she could.

Surprise ran her hands through her hair. “I just don’t get it. I mean, I didn’t expect we’d need to do anything this soon.”

“I’m not so sure this is a good idea,” Doubt said. She peered out the window before Annoyance jerked the pull bar from her hand and drew the curtain across the view. “Isn’t there a better way?”

“Why do we have to listen to this?” Anger paced back and forth near the door. “I mean, it’s his fault! Why are we wasting our time in here?”

Calm looked up from her crossword puzzle, but it was Compassion who said, “We need to focus. We’re not going to leave anyone out.” She glanced at Love sitting on the edge of the bed with her head in her hands. Compassion went to Love and put a hand on her trembling shoulder. “Dona’s life wasn’t easy, but we can do our best to honor her memory.”

Love lifted her head and looked into her own eyes. “It was a mistake, that’s all. Dennis didn’t mean to hurt her. There were so many good times...” She took a trembling breath. “Please, don’t ask me to do this.”

Sadness dashed into the bathroom. Shame hurried after. Doubt waited forlornly outside the door where Anger pushed her aside as she paced.

Suspicion gave up her place so Compassion could sit beside Love. Compassion took Love’s hands in her own. “We’re asking you to do what’s best for Dennis.”

Love closed her eyes and put her head on Compassion’s shoulder. Anger stopped mid-stride. Reason watched from a distance. Even Cynicism paused in her reading, looking up in a semblance of Hope. Heartbeats marked time between one truth and another.

Love eventually opened her eyes. “All right, then,” she said softly in a voice Dona was never heard to use. “For Dennis’s sake.”

Pride smiled. “That’s my girl.” Dennis wouldn’t have recognized her.

A day later they found Dennis not by his goofy smile or a receipt for “I’m sorry” flowers, but by his more usual habits. Compassion tracked him from the Red Handed Massage Parlor, to the state liquor store, to Drew’s Brewhouse, his after work place, his “wha’d’ya think I was fuckin’ doin’?” place. Cynicism laughed when she heard his whereabouts. “What? A whiskey shooter or six to wash the blood off his hands?”

Anger mashed the buttons on the TV remote, never satisfied with the result. “Fuck’im an’ his stupid fuckin’ bar. He’s such a fuckin’ ass.”

Love glared at her from across the room before turning back to reminisce with Pride over coffee and powdered sugar donuts. Anger continued to mash buttons, having little use for Love.

Compassion sent Suspicion to the bar, a hovel of smoke, tinny music, and pool tables with worn felt tops. Wedged between an out-of-order payphone and an older man with spent dreams and bad teeth, Suspicion watched all of the things Dona knew but could never prove. How Dennis flirted with the barkeep, and entertained a dried out bag of a waitress eager for tips of one sort or another. How he shared a bowl of pretzels and the occasional word with a bare spit of a man on his right. Dona loved pretzels; Dennis never shared.

She noted how Dennis watched the clock behind the bar, kneading his palms with calloused thumbs. There was an odd bulge at his waist under the right side of his jacket. His ball cap was pulled low, and there were bits of food in his beard. Suspicion finished her Coors and ordered another.

When her purse buzzed, she took out the cell, glanced at the text, and left a damp single on the bar for a tip. She straightened her blouse, and made her way to the door with a stop at the pretzel bowl. Dennis leaned to the side for her reach and followed her hand from the bowl to her mouth. He blinked and choked on his beer.

The pretzel was salty and malt sweet as Suspicion rubbed it against the roof of her mouth on her way out.

Vanity burst through the door, waving a section of newspaper over her head for everyone to see. “We made it into this morning’s paper! Right here. We’re in the community news section.”

Envy slouched in her seat, crossing her arms over her chest. “Yeah, but it would have been nice to be on the front page.”

Love held out her hand. “May I?”

“Hold on.” Vanity skimmed over the brief paragraphs, mumbling as she read. “... Dead in her home... Shot twice... Here! Authorities state they are seeking the victim’s husband for questioning.” She slid the section across the table. “It doesn’t mention Dona by name, but that has to be us. We’ve never been in the paper before. Do we have any scissors so we can clip the article?”

Love skimmed the report as Annoyance read over her shoulder. Love passed the paper to Shame when she was through. “That has to be Dona. Everyone will be looking for Dennis now. I hope he’s all right.”

“Who cares about Dennis? What’s Dona’s mother gonna to think?” Shame hung her head. “She didn’t want Dona to marry him in the first place.”

Anxiety settled fretfully near the nightstand. “I’m glad they didn’t mention Dona by name. I don’t think she would have liked that.”

“Of course she would,” Vanity said. “Is there anyone in the bathroom? I need to fix my hair.”

Reason and Compassion waited until the paper had made the rounds before accepting the tattered section for their own review. “And you made sure Dennis saw you while you were out?” Reason said.

Vanity leaned out of the bathroom. “Hmm? What? Of course he did. I didn’t think he recognized me at first in the deli line, but I know he got a good look at me before I got on the bus. I swear he turned white.”

“I know he saw me this morning at the Exxon like you wanted.” Sadness dabbed her eyes and set to make a fresh pot of coffee with trembling hands.

Compassion nodded. “And?”

The tears came again. “He looked pretty shaken.”

Pity helped Sadness open the coffee pack. “That must have been hard.”

Compassion nodded. “What about Calm?”

“Oh, she’s still on him,” Vanity said, returning to her place in front of the mirror. Her voice sounded hollow through the half open door. “She gave me a call while Suspicion was snooping around the trash after Dennis threw away a receipt.”

Fear clung to Doubt. “He’s going to figure us out, I just know it,” said the one. “Maybe we need to try something else,” said the other.

Reason neatly folded the section of paper into quarters. She cut a look at Compassion. “No,” she said slowly. “I think it’s time to pay our respects.”

Cynicism shrugged. Love put her head in her hands. The rise and fall of nursery rhymes came from behind the nightstand in time with a rhythmic knocking on safe, padded edges.

A clear head and Calm’s thinking directed Compassion and Anger to the rest stop five miles from the state line where drivers stopped for a cup of weak coffee and a quick stretch. “There he is.” Anger reached for the passenger door handle. “Heading to the men’s room.”

“Hold on.” Compassion shifted in her seat behind the wheel, counting the men hurrying in and walking calmly out. “Okay. There probably isn’t anyone else inside.”

They slipped out of the car and edged into the restroom when no one was looking. The cold room smelled of urine, cigarette smoke, and disinfectant, the only sign of use a single, closed stall.

Anger and Compassion stood side by side in front of the scarred metal door. From the other side came shuffling, coughing, the rough tug of denim pulled up, and then the hollow cascade of the flush.

Dennis opened the door and stepped out to find them waiting. He made the sound of something small caught in a trap, his eyes wide and bloodshot.

Compassion smiled. “Long time no see.”

Anger showed her teeth. “Miss me?”

“Dona?” Dennis ran the back of his right hand over his mouth and took an unsteady step back into the stall. “Shit. Donas? But I—” He reached for the bulge at his waist.

Compassion sprayed him with mace. Anger hit him in the face with the flat of a crowbar. Both showed their teeth when they smiled.

Cynicism woke Dennis with smelling salts; Hate got his attention with the .38. Reason and Calm made a show of talking her out of playing Dead Man Out with a gun everyone but Dennis knew wasn’t loaded. Dennis twitched and squirmed, his gaze held captive by the pistol’s bore until Hate passed it to Cynicism who blew imaginary smoke from the muzzle as she stepped aside.

The house was still. The early evening light reacquainted itself with the dust. Everywhere, dust. Dennis jerked against the cuffs that held him to his favorite chair beside the couch with no cushions and a swatch of yellow EVIDENCE tape on the back. “Hey, now. Wha’s goin’ on?” The right side of his face had started to swell.

Annoyance nudged Surprise. “Didn’t I tell you he wouldn’t figure it out?”

“Figure what out? I... I don’t understan’.” He looked at the woman gnawing on her fingernails to his right. “Dona? Babe? How’z about givin’ me a hand?”

Doubt looked from him to Calm standing beside her. “I can’t do that, can I?”

Calm put a hand on her shoulder and smiled reassuringly. “No.”

Dennis strained; the cuffs held fast. “This is crazy.”

Cynicism tucked the pistol into the waistband of her pants. “Naw, she’s down in the basement again.”

Dennis looked from one. “Dona?” To another. “Babe?” To another. “Is that you?” Finding only a familiar face, each uniquely different. “C’mon. Joke’s over. This isn’t funny.”

“It wasn’t funny every time you left a bruise,” Vanity said, flipping back her hair.

“Or when you pulled the trigger,” Shame added, blushing.

Dennis licked his lips. “Aw, now, that’s not being fair. I mean, I’m your Pudding Bear. You can’t do this to me.”

Reason shrugged. “We already have.”

Dennis smiled his high school sophomore best, the smile of the boy with big dreams, enamored of his own edgy reputation. “You know I, I loved you, love you. I meant I love you. You know that.” His right eye began to twitch.

“Nine millimeter love, the bestest kind,” Anger said in a razor-edged sing-song.

“You know how it’s been lately, huh? Sure, sometimes I lose my temper, but I always make it up to you. Bring you flowers. Cadbury bars.” Dennis’s twitch developed a twitch. “What about all the good times?”

“What about the new skirt?” Cynicism said.

“Fuck you.” Dennis flushed and the smile shattered. “Who do you think you are, huh?”

“Not Dona.” Reason looked him in the eye. “She’s dead.”

“Dead,” the fragments said in whispers.

“Murdered,” said Calm.

“Murdered.” The word reflected bloody and sharp across their faces.

“But you couldn’t kill us,” said Love.

“We’re all that’s left,” said Compassion.

Anger cracked her knuckles. “And now it’s our turn.”

The sound stripped the flush from Dennis’s cheeks. He shrank back in the chair. “Hey... c’mon. What’s all this, huh? I didn’t mean it, ‘kay? Please.” He searched the throng. “Dona, babe, I didn’t mean it. I’m sorry and all. See? Lemme go.”

Love stepped towards him; Pride pulled her back. Guilt flicked the inside of her own wrist with the flagellum.

“It was an accident. Dona? Which of you is—don’t you look at me like that. I said don’t look at me like that. It was an accident, you stupid, ugly bitches!”

“Ooh, that’s original.” Cynicism gave a golf clap and blew him a kiss.

The color came rushing back, his tone as florid as his face. “Fuck you. You let me outta here an’ I’ll show you original. I’ll kill every one of you all over again. You hear me, you dumb cunts? I already showed you once. You still don’t listen!”

Dona’s husband hated and feared and thrashed. The remnants of Dona Myers looked on. “Finished?” Reason said when he finally sagged exhausted in the chair.

He looked up at her with rheumy eyes. “I hate you.”

“Likewise,” came from across the room.

“Let’s get everything together.” Reason turned away from him. “We’re finished here.”

Annoyance went into the bedroom and returned with a faded denim backpack and Dona’s scuffed hard-side Samsonite suitcase, a gift from her mother for being the first girl in the family to graduate high school. The others moved about the living room, tidying up under Reason’s watchful gaze.

Dennis craned his head to watch. “What? Wha’s’goin on?”

“We’re leaving,” Reason said, taking the backpack and setting it beside the front door.

Dennis scowled and squinted; a tremor snuck into his voice. “Leaving?”

Reason nodded. “That’s right.”

The flagellum tapped a nervous rhythm against Guilt’s leg. “I didn’t mean for it to end like this.”

Annoyance traded the flagellum for a bag of pork rinds. “Throw this away and shut up already, will you?”

“Um... I don’t understand. Leaving?”

Love faced him, Compassion behind and to her left, Pride behind and to her right. Together they kept Love strong. “Leaving,” she said evenly. “It’s something Dona never had the courage to do.”

Dennis licked his lips. “But you can’t leave.”

“Gee-Ee-Dee-nius strikes again,” Cynicism said as she helped Pity coax Crazy up the final steps from the basement.

Love reached back for Pride’s hand. “Yes. Leaving. Dona wasn’t strong enough to leave you, so we’re doing it for her.” She took a deep breath. “You were verbally and physically abusive. You said she was too stupid and ugly for anyone else to love, and she believed you because she thought you still loved her, and didn’t have anywhere else to go. You wanted her home all the time, so she made excuses until her friends stopped calling. Even her mother stopped calling. And in the end...” She pressed her lips together, swallowed. “...in the end, all she wanted was a new skirt, and you hated yourself too much to allow her to be happy. So you killed her.”

Dennis flinched. “I said it was—”

“No, it wasn’t.” The answer was flat and precise from every woman in the room.

Dennis struggled to look anywhere the women weren’t. He settled on a spot between his knees and belt. “Okay. Okay, so after all this, you gonna, uh, gonna... kill me?”

Anger opened her mouth to answer. Reason handed her the suitcase and lead her out the door.

“No,” Love said once the door closed. “We’re not going to kill you. This isn’t about revenge. It could be, but it’s not. We’re better than that. Better than you. The keys for the cuffs are in the junk drawer. There’s egg salad in the fridge.” Compassion took Love’s other hand. “I made it just the way you like it.”

“You can’t leave. You can’t leave me. I love you, babe, you know I do.” Dennis tried to stand on his own two feet and failed. “I don’t like bein’ alone, you know that. Right? What am I supposed to do? Huh?”

“We’ll give you an hour before calling the police,” Calm said as she opened the front door. By ones and twos all that remained of Dona Myers walked out, leaving Dennis behind. “That should give you enough time to decide.”

 [ Coming together, © 2010 Bonnie Brunish ] “Don’t go. Hey. Hey!” Dennis rattled his chains. “Don’t leave me! You gawddamn... You... Hey! I’m talkin’ to you!”

Love paused at the door and looked over her shoulder, Compassion and Pride in hand. “Sometimes loving someone means doing what’s best for them and yourself. Good-bye, Dennis.”

Three stepped over the threshold. Folded into the others, paper dolls coming together, the strength of the many lending to the one. One woman who closed the door behind her. Dona Myers didn’t live there anymore.

© 2010 Sandra M. Odell

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