By Anne Marie Wirth Cauchon

Two Dollar Radio
November 2013


Kid in the cage said, Nuttin Like Assassination Day, and played it. I'd danced forever, licked my cracked lips, still had my drink. Brought it down from overhead and tipped the rim and lapped for water but there was none. Gasped. Breathing suffocated and I gasped. The smell was putrid, soured, sickly sweet like the Secret, the Edge, the One. Human skin slick with sweat smeared against me as shoulders surrounded me. And throats and hair. There weren't any human eyes but there was the music.

Kid in the cage said, Under the Influence, and played it. I dropped the cup I had. I couldn't see the floor. My knees danced down. Down but I couldn't see the floor. Under the influence. I checked my pockets for the cash. What the fuck you mean can't see the floor? A private joke, Ruth says hands on her head Ruth says hands on her ass hands on her tits ha ha. I took a step as if this was dancing.

Kid in the cage said, Indo Silver Club, and played it. So I got it, I had it, I could fucking dance; I could dance forever. I lifted my body. I shook my rib. Cage. And chin. With a throat so loose I'd better shut my eyes. Hands like untamed pigeons flew. If there was an above the heads for real, I'd have flew too.

Kid in the cage said, Protect Ya Neck, and played it. I got one open wandering eye alight on Ruth's scar. Which spread and spread, ran and hid up under the good shorts. Comfortable shorts. Practical. Splotch pulsed, its own body. Whatever you do, do not look. My nothing but slit eyes drug dragged across her hips and arms. Watch your step kid. Watch your step kid. She pumped her pelvis off beat and licked her lips with a lit­tle tongue, eyes half-shut. Like mine I'd imagine. So I was all, You've got to get her the hell out of here out of here here, you get her out here.

So I looked above us for where there'd be no shoulders throats or scars, for where there'd be no body, for a scrap of clear air free air but above they just had smoke. Like outside. Kid in the caged rocked his torso non-stop. His blue metallic dress paced, photographing between the bars. Long lens zoom copy record. Somebody's always watching. Watching me, watching that Ruth's scar throb. Which is my name. Which is what they say I am called. I hid my face but when I said Stop the sound was lost. Then. There was a voice I'd heard before.

What have you done, it hissed.

And stopped. A woman's voice.

What did you do, it said. What did you do? God. God. What did you do?

Like that, just like that. My hands dropped from my head to my hips and I stood still and looked. Everywhere was lips. Then the voice. And it all began again. I couldn't make the words out. It could've been Bridget. She'd been dancing close by. I brought my head around to see, and there she was. Bridget blond as hell but she just stumbled head loose, eyes blind like she couldn't talk and hadn't.

A soft light came.

Kid in the cage said, Contract on Love, and played it. Which started with clapping then Wonder sang, baby baby sign right here on this dotted line and you'll be mine till the end of time. I mouthed the words. In a wave dancers' faces turned and they lifted up their cellphones! The little blue lights, the blue lights washed back and lit us from above. A hollow was made for Lydia and Audrey to step up and dance. Like always I looked back at Bridget. She swayed but she was looking right at them, she saw them. She always saw them, she was always seeing them in her mind's eye. Shoulders and torsos swarmed me. I was struck in the face and inhaled my own bone smell and blood smell with iron and thick.

Let me out, I tried to yell. Goddamn let me out.

I'd said it aloud since a man, black-haired, mean-browed, leaned over me. So I'd collapse in his arms like a fresh corpse, so I'd beat him off with my bony fists until he was through. If he grabbed my wrist, I'd never escape. I stared up at him. The Evil Eye tattooed behind his ear. Watching me. This was it. Let me go, I hoped I'd said aloud. This was the end. He had me by the arms. His face breeched, wet red cavity yawned and the teeth, teeth. I gasped.

Hey, he said. Hey. Hey.

I stared up at his eyes, I'd seen him before, his hair damp with sweat and stuck to the weak skin circling his ears, the Evil Eye. Evil Eye. I reached for Bridget but she didn't see, her eyes were glass, her arms in the air. She shook, dancing with her head loose. I tried to pull away but there was nowhere to go and he had me by the arm, he had me by the small of my back. His grip was stiff, I buckled in pain and tried to sit but couldn't. He yanked me to slouch standing. He had Bridget by the wrist.

Hey, he said. Relax, all right? You want out?




Shit, he said outside.

The fire stink hung in the thin air. Bridget took two steps along the wall and sat hard in the dust. I tossed him off and tried to run but didn't make it far.

It's not like I'm going to try and fuck you, he said.

I stopped and crouched and leaned over my knees with my head down. Dawn was close. I flicked my head up and leaned back against the wall and watched him but he was rolling a ciga­rette, he didn't look my way. Which made me think I needed a smoke, before daybreak encased me. I got one whole out of my crushed pack and lit it. I tried to count my cash but my hands shook. Looked like two hundred. I couldn't remember spend­ing that much. I looked the man over, but he just smoked his flaccid little rollie and didn't raise his eyes, didn't make a move. His other hand he had wrapped up in some filthy makeshift bandage. I could ask about it. For something to say.

Dawn could come, anytime. I looked for a crust of White Light on the tip of a mountain or on the horizon but didn't see any sign of sunrise. I leaned against the wall. I wanted this fuck­ing night done. The vinyl siding cut into my backstraps. I sat on my heels and traced my finger on the ground.

Thanks, I said. Things got a little confused. I didn't know if…

Confused? he said. What was that?

Bridget slumped down the wall and quietly vomited into the dust.

Like her, he said. Extreme turnoff.

What, I paused. Bridget?

I wrote Dawn with my finger in the dust.

And upstairs I was like, total babe, he said. Shit. I mean just look at her.

But I didn't. I brushed Dawn away and looked at my dirty fin­gers, looked at the edge of the sky, where the sun would come. Maybe the black was turning bluish in the faint first light. Maybe I felt a little better. But all that was going to happen was the smoke would settle in thick again. I shook my head and did look at Bridget, who mewed, making soft little sounds, her head hanging over the gray puddle of vomit.

You okay, Bridget?

I swear I recognize you, he said through a grin.

Don't lie, I said.

What? He shrugged, all innocence. I'm not lying.

His fake smile, dapper and lewd.

I've never seen you in my life, I said.

He decided not to let his gaze respond. But he stared for too long.

Fine, he said. Fine you're right.

And pointed hard at Bridget, like he hated her. It was always that way with the parties, bodiless rage that materialized haphaz­ardly, without cause. Or the result became the cause. Like this: him with his accusation-finger upheld. He pulled on the butt of his rollie and snubbed out the puny cherry between his black thumb and finger. The tobacco he scattered around. The scrap of paper caught the wind, and there was nothing left.

It's her I recognize, he said. Your friend or whatever.

Which infuriated me unreasonably. For her. But for me more. She's heard that before, I said. She hears that shit all the time, man.

He stubbed out his cigarette watching Bridget. Now I couldn't tell if it was loathing or lust, or if he thought watching her was something he needed to survive. Bridget pretended to be dead, her head hanging, her arms limp. She looked like shit but he didn't care. So they deserved each other, I thought, looking up at him from the ground, from at his feet where I slouched. I hated them both. Just a couple of fucking clichés, play-acting at being themselves. He turned his slant eyes and dark brows back to me and paused, seeing past me, through me like I wasn't there.

She's drunk, I said. We took some molly before the party started and.

That wasn't molly, he said. Just look at her. I'm drunk. But her?

He walked toward me with his palm poised at Bridget, bless­ing her. Shadows filled his eye sockets, darkened where his gaze fell.

And who are you? I said. I don't know you. Who are you anyway? I don't even know. Who you are.

He stood over me, my head in my hands, my hair in my hands. I would rip it out if he got any closer I would rip it out. My guts filling the esophagus to choke me. Or I would choke me, hair in my hands I'd pull it out and my skull would be there. He and she would laugh. At the blood. Laughter in the blood. Ha ha ha ha.

You're not making any sense, he said, still innocence. You make no sense.

The way he said it: disgusted at me. The way he sucked the thoughts from me. He rubbed his hair, swayed, hands in his pockets, eyes narrowed. It was true I was shit, I'd be lucky to be trash in the orbit of him and her. And yet. He stood over me, wouldn't leave me alone, wouldn't leave me alone. I would cry, I thought. Finally I'd cry.

Fuck you, I said. I don't know you. I stood up. I could stand up.

Fine, he said. Guess I was wrong about you.

Fuck you, I said and shrugged him off even if he wasn't there.

Guess I shouldn't have gotten you off the floor, he said. Guess you're just like them. Like every other sorry motherfucker.

I didn't have anything to say to him, the nobody. I started to walk, keeping my hand on the siding slats, gathering dust on my palm and fingers. I drew my hand away but couldn't stand up like that. If I could just get around the corner and breathe. His breath hot on my neck, I turned over my shoulder to look. If I could just get away from him for a minute and think. He stood behind me, over me, his breath, his stare. I was at the corner, I grabbed the corner and pulled myself to the other side.

But when I opened my eyes I wasn't alone. People loitered there. Boys mostly, and the other Ruth with her shirt off, passed out with her head cocked and her mouth open. I wasn't sur­prised, nothing could surprise me anymore. She had her left hand out resting on the palm like she was pointing. There was something next to her on the ground. The boys stood doing nothing, drinking from red plastic cups.

Where's your shirt? I said. Ruth. Where is it? Ruth.

But she couldn't hear. I reminded myself this wasn't my prob­lem, but I scanned the ground for her shirt anyway. That's when I saw. It was a baby next to her, a puny monster in the dust. Maybe I'd seen it when the party started, or upstairs. A small, dim room flickered in my eye, and the baby falling, fallen. But that was a stupid idea, I'd never even been upstairs. The boys kept drinking, laughing. A couple of them I'd met before, but they didn't look at me. They'd only look at me if Bridget was around. A hand on my shoulder made me start. It was him. I stepped back with my hand up.

Don't touch me, I said.

Somebody left a baby, one of the boys said. But don't pick it up, it smells like shit.

Which made me glance down. Its skin grayish, with this funny hood pulled up, hanging into it blank, black eyes like a half ski-mask. It turned its head weakly like to shake the hood off but couldn't. It curled and uncurled its fingers and fists, groping at the dry dirt, its spine writhing weakly, its feet pawing at nothing.

Fine, he said. You deal with it.

He turned to leave but I didn't have to watch him, this wasn't my problem, the other Ruth passed out, the baby. It was some­body's problem, not mine. I didn't have to do anything; this had nothing to do with me. I didn't have to stay, there were guests everywhere. I wouldn't look at it again but I did. Its big deadish eyes gaping, the filthy blue suit it wore, its lumpy head rolling on a weak neck, its shit smell. It mewed, it didn't make a sound. I looked away quick and then all I thought was how simple it could be not to look anymore, to turn my eyes and body like this and walk or run away.