Three months after your ex-fiancé trades you in for a younger model, you’re sifting through old horror DVDs being sold for a dollar at the local flea market when a man you haven’t seen in a while penetrates your dead heart. Lurking at the bottom of the stack, he’s dressed in tattered clothing with a bald head and fish-white skin. A grimy hockey mask cloaks his face in shadows, and the droop to one of his eyelids traps you in a stare. Jason’s enormous presence is so on top of you it’s a black cloud bearing down upon your soul, but you crave this creepiness in a way that shakes up reality. Within the blink of an eye, he’s sneaking up behind you, stroking the small of your back. Your hard nipples poke through your tight T-shirt, and brooding desire oozes out of him. Your ex was jealous of Jason, intimidated by the ripple of muscle under his skin, disgusted by his dark intensity. He would have pushed you past this table by now, around the corner to dreadful comedies. But he doesn’t control you anymore, so you buy thirteen movies not caring that you know the endings to each one, and reopen your heart to your long-lost love.
Jason follows you down the aisle when you leave the vendor. Dead stillness is pinned to his eyes, stabbing you in the back, leaking into the cracks of your heart. He knows things about you, like how each day is a shambled breath of broken memories bleeding out in a stream of darkness; each day is a reminder that you survived the previous one and can the next. Never so bold, you stop and write your phone number on his hand. His head tilts to the right, and you wonder if he’s “slow,” like his stride, as you near the exit. Just when you think you’ve lost him in the crowd he’s latched to your back, a ticking time bomb not caring about the consequences of love and hate because there’s something in him that God will always forgive. You need to forget how afraid you are to be with a man who doesn’t know every inch of your skin. You need to ignore the fact that Jason smells like Tequila-vomit too, and let him open your car door. You should flirt with him because this large gaping warning of caution can put you back together again.
As the weeks unfold, so does his presence, tightening like a hand around a throat. Your daily cravings for him make you want to bleed, and you realize you’re slipping into a “relationship” with him, a “relationship” with no sex, that is. Two months in, he still hasn’t tried to touch you. Maybe he doesn’t need to make love to a woman to feel connected to her, but what straight man do you know doesn’t? Perhaps you’ve gained too much weight? Drinking too much? Talking non-stop on the phone while he breathes? Or, it could be he’s gay, or a virgin? You could handle that last part, but not some Mama’s boy unstable enough to follow her to the grave. You should stop with the scenarios, okay, and just be patient. Appreciate his comfort, especially on that cold leather couch that feels like a slip n’ slide menace under your pajamas every night. Your ex-lover’s silhouette will eventually disappear from the bed. Until then, sit in the living room with Jason and stare at his shoulders. They are beautiful breathing beasts you could climb.
Although it’s nice to have him around, you need a woman sometimes. Your best friend Carol-Anne gets an earful and uses your heartache as a dartboard for her judgment. Jason is a burnt up vagabond who looks like he got caught in a meat grinder. Her. Exact. Words. You thought she was having a seizure the first time you brought him over for drinks, her face all twisted up as Jason tried baiting kindness out of her with a trembling hand. He cowered near the television, a hulking form of muscle stuck in a paused moment of nerves that she embraced with cringed eyes, carving his name in big red print at the top of her mental hit list.
You’d never treat any man she dated that way. College roommates, close as sisters, you stood by her side at her wedding, her babies’ births, then, sadly, at twenty-eight, on the front pew of her husband’s funeral. Her cold convulsive tears were like icicles digging into your neck as you held her, and no matter what followed in her life, you floated in her boat of despair until she swam into another marriage.
But now you’re hurting. And all she can say is, how could you be in love with this creep? She hates that you’re spending so much time with someone who “ain’t right” in the head, because honey, if you’re going to pick a man who’s been shot, hung by the neck, set on fire and reborn again, girl, please, at least make sure he’s got money, not some weird last name that’ll trap your unborn children in the back of the school line with the X, Ys, and Zs. Try Zoloft. Yoga. Therapy. Jesus. Anything but a man who actually enjoys working in the woods. Those are the ones who stab you in your sleep.
Carol-Anne knows your type though, so tell her to take a hike. You’ve always been attracted to the crazy, beat-up looking guys, the ones who drink too much when they’re out camping, spitting out the word fuck like it’s a noun instead of something they want to do. Next time your friend needs you, don’t answer the phone. In fact, focus on you for a while. Let go of slobbering regret and tangled memories over a man who cut your head clean off your neck when he moved out. Forgive yourself for making choices that were right for you at the time. You coasted through your twenties and early thirties chasing your career before slamming into him at the tail end of a decade you weren’t ready to let go of. Then early forties morphed into a monster consuming you with questions about the future, because, like so many, you fell into the trap that breaks everyone: the picture of how life’s supposed to be. But that illusion even screws up saints, so give yourself a break and stop wishing your life was a rerun. You’re not immortal. Jason has told you that over and over again.
It’s Friday night and you’re on a fifth glass of Chardonnay with him on the couch, watching a scary movie you’ve seen a million times yet soak in like it’s the first. Truth be told, he’s been pouring the poison he doesn’t drink, not asking you to slow down by the way. You get the feeling this sweetheart would hold your hair back if you got sick. He rolls his scruffy hands up and down your legs stretched across his lap in flannel pajamas, eyeing you in a kinky way. You better watch that boy; he’ll trap you in a pantry and have his way with you. You scoot a little closer, trying to lick his cheek, but hiccups burst up your throat. You sound like a dying fish now. Get your shit together before Jason thinks you’re retarded.
He chuckles under his breath, and eventually you’re as quiet as a baby seal with laryngitis, if that’s a thing. The wine has gotten to you, that much is clear. After a few moments, Jason presses a hand onto the side of your neck, gazing with serious eyes, speaking volumes of life into your soul. Like, why are you treating yourself this way over a man who gave you the leftover pieces of his heart when you deserved the whole thing? Grieving is one thing but wallowing in it is death. Don’t forget those restless nights powered by that man’s wandering eye or how he dipped in and out of arguments with sweet-talk so convincing you were a burning moth in a flame. The engagement ring was real nice, Jason admits, but sweetie, it took him five years to ask, plus he wouldn’t set a date. He treated you like some screaming victim trapped in a shabby tent of false protection, trying to staple wounds that should have been sealed. Honestly, he did you a favor by leaving. He held your head underwater for too long. At least now you can breathe.
When Jason is finished talking, the messy truth is spattered all over you, your tongue somewhere down by your ankles. Who knew he could say this much, and so profoundly? You’re having trouble gathering your thoughts, so he drapes an arm around your shoulder, hypnotized by a scene on TV. Teenagers are huddled around a campfire telling ghost stories about some kid who drowned in a lake. Fear and sadness stir in their faces, and then, a mournful memory rises up from your own grave. You drunk-dialed your ex a few weeks ago, saying you missed his hands, his tongue, his smell, like wood smoke and wet leaves. Then another wailing confession lurched up your throat: the ticking clock in your forty-five year old ovaries has tripled in speed; if you want a baby, have it now your gynecologist said, but how do you hit a rewind button that an asshole stole from you? How did he walk away while your heart was bleeding on a machete? Take responsibility for your own pain though, because you had a choice too. When his voice trembled at the end of the call, wishing you eternal happiness, it was like swallowing a dose of medicine you didn’t know he had access to.
Jason squeezes your shoulder now, and just like that, the wounds stop rattling. Just like that you want to latch on to his heart the way memories latch on to legends. You want to touch him, really touch him, so you slide your hand down between his legs, and pleasure fills his chest for half a second, until he stops you. Confusion lights his eyes, a slither of pain too, and you can’t understand why someone so big and strong, so unafraid of the world, won’t love you.
You start to pull away, but he guides your hand up his body to his heart and holds it there. Your gaze welds to his as deep breath loosens in his chest. A sound you’ve memorized births in the background all around you…ch,ch,ch,ha,ha,ha…in and out it goes as his fingers slip up the back of your neck, into your hair, taking you to that special place he’d never abandon you in. A boat, in the middle of a lake. The sun, a crystal in the sky. Freedom, everywhere without having to ask for it. Your eyes begin to flutter with sleep. You drop your head onto his shoulder, and he holds you like a lost soul taking in the last of the sun as it sets. He knows you can breathe without him, that one day you will, but until that happens he promises to stay close and to save you each time you sink into the beating pleasure of him and all his glory.
Kathryn A. Brackett holds a MFA in Fiction from the University of Pittsburgh and has published work in Emrys Journal, Waccamaw, and Mythium: The Journal of Contemporary Literature, to name a few. Her fiction has been adapted to short film and anthologized. She has also received numerous accolades in competitions over the years, some judged by notable writers like Sara Gruen. A lover of all things Jason Voorhees, you can find her at www.kathrynbrackett.com when she’s not relishing horror movies.
Wow, Kathryn Brackett really has a number of amazing accomplishments. She is a gifted writer with a fantastic imagination. Who would have thought of linking Jason Vorhees to loving a woman. It is amazing how some women gravitate towards “BAD BOYS” and enjoy the craziness that comes along with the territory. Ch, Ch, Ch, HA, HA, HA. This sound is music and a thrill to a lot of women seeking a broad, burly guy wearing a hockey mask on the first date…