by Rue Karney
The corner booth was the best for watching Lonely work. Those tanned arms against his white t-shirt. The way his biceps flexed when he threw the pizza dough high and caught it open handed. How darling he looked when he accidentally smeared red sauce across his cheek.
“Evening, Peggy.” Lonely greeted me as I made my way past the counter to my favorite booth.
It’s true Lonely had a smile for every girl. The sexy ones that filled out their sweaters with mountain range breasts. The mousy ones with pink ribbons tied in their hair and too-thick glasses. The ones that smiled with closed mouths to hide their silver braces, the too tall ones and the too short ones and the ones whose dresses were tight in the wrong places. A gaggle of them sat at the counter and swayed arm in arm as they sang Will you still love me tomorrow? along with the jukebox.
Lonely set his green eyes upon all those girls but it was to me he gave the lazy smile that dimpled his cheeks.
“Evening, Lonely.” I smiled back.
It was Wednesday, three days before Valentine’s Day. At five o’clock I’d covered my typewriter and tidied my desk, bid good evening to Mr. Winterson and hurried to the ladies’ bathroom to apply a little lipstick, the one the girl at Macy’s said made my blue eyes sparkle. When I drew its creaminess across my lips I imagined Lonely kissing it off my mouth, and a shiver rippled down into my most private parts. It was a wicked thrill, for my flower was untouched. I was saving myself for Lonely.
He leaned his forearms on the counter as I slid onto the bench seat. Under the fluorescent light sun-bleached hairs glittered against his olive skin. “The usual?”
“Yes, please Lonely, but with just a little extra mozzarella, if I may.” I lowered my eyes then raised them to meet his, a trick I’d learned from Honey magazine, to make my eyes wider.
“Sure thing, Peggy,” he said.
I pulled my special knife from my purse and gave it a quick polish while I flicked through a fashion magazine. I was considering updating my style — not that I’d ever wear dresses like those girls whose thighs were wrapped so tight they could barely walk — but being nineteen years old and living in Manhattan I was keen for more sophistication. No longer was I Mother’s shy small-town girl.
I ordered a soda from the scowling red-haired waitress. Although I gave her no cause, she banged the glass on the table and when she poured from the bottle bubbles fizzed up over the sides.
“Could I trouble you for more napkins? The dispenser is empty.” I squeezed against the wall to avoid drips falling off the table and onto my pleated blue skirt.
The waitress rolled her eyes and dumped a pile of napkins onto the table.
I chose not to make a fuss. I am not one to make a public spectacle. I am, however, expert at cleaning up untidy messes. With steady hands I sopped up the liquid then went to the ladies to wash off the soda stickiness. Above the basin, Annette’s dimpled smile beamed from her latest movie poster.
The sweet, wonderful, girl-next-door movie star Annette.
Although I didn’t fully approve of her two-piece polka-dot swimsuit I couldn’t help but admire her all-American-girl chutzpah. Truth be told, if it wasn’t for Annette, I might never have made it out of my home town. The framed, signed photo she’d sent me, my most prized possession, had pride of place on the inside of my apartment door. She’d written on the photo Dream big, Peggy! Best wishes, Annette with three big X’s for kisses.
“I’m dreaming big, Annette.” I smiled at the poster.
I swear it’s true. I would not lie. Annette winked back at me and said, “Maybe tonight your dreams will come true.”
The waitress dropped my Italian sausage pizza onto the table with a clatter. I took deep breaths until the spiky tingling in my stomach settled. Annette would never let a nasty waitress ruin her evening, and neither would I.
I spread two napkins across my lap and another on the table. I moved the plate until the pointy part of the pizza slice arrowed towards Lonely’s heart. I cut the bubbled edge of the pizza neatly from the base with my special knife then rolled up the slice — pointy end to round end — and said a prayer of thanks for the food I was about to eat, amen. I took a bite. It was heaven.
I ate my slice in six equal parts because ritual matters in this chaotic world. Order matters. Manners, etiquette, following the rules, social niceties, they all matter. Mother had taught me that. A pity no one had taught the red-haired waitress. I’d barely placed my folded napkin on the empty plate when she whipped it off the table and onto her pile. She swung her hips swung through the door into the back kitchen with the higgledy-piggledy dishes stacked in her arms.
Good riddance to her.
I checked my face in my compact mirror and dabbed away pizza grease with a napkin from the corners of my mouth. I smoothed a stray hair with just a little bit of spit. I reapplied lipstick, and slid out of the booth.
“Watch it!” The waitress stumbled over my feet. A smear of pizza sauce wiped across the breast of my white blouse.
“Excuse me!” I grabbed her arm. “Look what you’ve done.”
“Tough pitooties, sister.” She shook me off and a red curl loosened from her bun, curving against her pale neck.
“The cleaning bill will come out of your pay,” I said.
“Oh really.” She folded her arms under ripe melon breasts. “In that case I’d better make it worth my while.”
She picked up a dirty plate and wiped it across my chest.
The counter girls pointed and giggled at the red stains streaked across my blouse.
“How…how could you?”
She picked up another plate. “Want me to show you again?”
I threw my money on the counter and hurried to the door.
“Night, Peggy,” Lonely said, and gave a cheerful grin. “Looks like you enjoyed tonight’s pizza a bit too much.”
The counter girls giggled louder.
Shame burned my face. I ran out of Lonely’s and into a bitter wind, head down and heartsore. A cab driver blared his horn as I crossed the street. I stumbled into a puddle. A downpour fell from the sky.
I burst into tears. My lovely evening had been ruined and it was all that waitress’s fault.
It was Mother who taught me how to plan for the good times and the bad. She was a simple soul, quite sweet in her small town ways, and devout. But as I blossomed into a young woman, Mother’s narrow imagination bristled against my open-sky dreams in increasingly unpleasant ways. Her attempt to dispose of my precious signed photograph of Annette, a perfectly respectable role model for a demure young lady, prompted a difficult decision.
The day after high school graduation, as soon as I’d done a thorough clean up of Mother’s unfortunate mess, I got on a bus to New York City. I cut my hair and fixed my teeth. I topped secretarial school and landed a job at one of the most prestigious offices in Manhattan. I dined at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel with an eligible bachelor with excellent prospects. That hadn’t turned out as well as I’d hoped, through a misunderstanding that was not my fault. Still the sticky situation, although unfortunately not averted, had been thoroughly cleaned up and I learned a valuable lesson: true love is more important than money.
Soon after, I met Lonely. One glance from his lovely green eyes, one dimpled smile was all it took. Something hidden deep inside me burst open and bloomed. He was the man for me, the only one who could fulfill my desires. Step by step, week by week, I worked to create our beautiful future, the future we deserved together. Now all was in jeopardy.
I ran up the five flights of stairs to my apartment and shut the cruel world outside.
“Oh Annette, what would you do if you were me?” Her dark eyes smiled at me from the back of my door as I shivered in soaking wet clothes.
“Go back there and stand up to that red-haired floozy!” Annette said. “You have not come this far to be bullied by a sloppy demon-haired slut.”
“Oh Annette, how can I go back when Lonely thinks me a fool?”
“You go right back there, missy, and show him what you got!” Annette jiggled her breasts in a most provocative fashion.
“Oh Annette, I don’t dare!”
“Yes, you do dare. I dare you!” She gave a saucy wink. “Now go clean yourself up and get yourself back there. Tonight.”
When Annette spoke, I could not refuse. I ran a hot bath, soaped up, shaved my legs and my underarms and washed my private parts with care.
The time had come.
The street was deserted when I pressed my face against the front door to Lonely’s and peered through. The closed sign was out and the parlor was empty. The only lights came from towards the back, in the kitchen.
I knocked and called out, “Lonely, are you there?”
The wind whipped around me, chilled from the recent rain. I turned up my coat collar and hurried down the alley. The light at the back entrance was a halo of gold against the overcast night. I pushed against the door that led into a narrow passage behind Lonely’s kitchen. When I heard voices, I stopped. There was a deep groan. And a woman’s voice, high-pitched, squealing.
That voice echoed through me and with it came the stained-glass fragments of memory.
The deepening pink of neatly sliced flesh.
Claret blood spilling onto a gleaming linoleum floor.
And the polished blade of my special knife reflecting my mother’s dead eyes.
I clenched my fists tight and shook the pictures loose from my mind. I thought instead of the peaceful green grass and perfumed red roses of Mother’s final resting place in the back garden. It had been back-breaking work digging her grave but knowing Mother’s beloved rose bushes would flourish for years on her rotting flesh and bones comforted me. She deserved at least that much.
I took a deep breath. I steadied myself. I crept through the dark passage with my hand against the wall to guide me. The rubber soles of my low-heeled shoes made no sound.
Light from the kitchen filtered into the passage. I flattened myself against the wall and peered around the door jamb into the kitchen. A sweetly painful sensation flooded my groin.
Lonely was flat on the floor, his legs bare, his arms flung wide. The kitchen lights shone bright, but his face was shadowed beneath the torso of the waitress. Her red hair was a wildfire spilling down her naked skin. Her back arched, her buttocks bounced, and she screamed, “Fuck me fuck me fuck me.”
I covered my mouth with my hand. I wanted to scream, too, Get off him!
I glanced around the kitchen. On the bench was a whole round mozzarella cheese wrapped in plastic, a white bowl filled with purple olives, a bowl of sliced red onions and two large salami sausages. A pot of red pizza sauce simmered on the stove.
Lonely moaned. The waitress screamed his name. I slipped off my shoes and crept across the floor on stockinged feet. I grabbed the whole mozzarella in my left hand, yanked back the loose red hair from the waitress’s head with my right and shoved the cheese into her mouth, wedging it tight. Her eyes widened with shock. I gripped her shoulders, twisted her sideways and dragged her kicking body towards the walk-in freezer.
“Peggy, hey, Peggy!” Lonely was on his feet, hopping towards me while he struggled to pull up his pants. “Peggy, stop!”
Muffled sounds came from the waitress’s mouth. I pulled open the freezer door, pushed her inside, slammed the door and locked it.
“Peggy, what are you doing?”
Lonely hobbled towards me, dragging up his underpants in one hand and holding onto his trousers with the other.
“Saving you from her.” I rushed towards him. He staggered backwards. When I threw my arms around him, he overbalanced and fell to the floor. His head smacked on the linoleum.
“Lonely?” I knelt beside him and patted his stubbled cheek. “Lonely? Are you okay?” I filled a cup with cold water and splashed it on his face. He groaned.
I rolled him onto his side, took butcher’s string from the bench and tied it around his wrists and ankles. I wrapped his calves and knees in saran wrap, just to be sure. He groaned again.
“Shhh.” I wet a tea towel and pressed it against his forehead. “I’m here, Lonely. You’re going to be okay.” I propped him up against the storage cupboard.
Lonely looked at me through unfocused eyes. “Peggy? What’s happening?” He looked down at his bound wrists and ankles. “What are you doing?” His eyes darted around the kitchen. Thumps and screams came from inside the freezer.
“What have you done to Joan?”
“My girlfriend, what have you done to her?”
“She’s not your girlfriend, Lonely. She’s a nasty trollop. She assaulted me.”
“What? Peggy, I don’t—”
“Shh.” I pressed the palm of my hand across his mouth.
That he struggled under my touch seared pain through my heart.
“Oh, Lonely.” Tears rolled down my cheeks. I went to the bathroom. Annette was there in her polka-dot two-piece, queen of her world. I gazed into her fierce brown eyes.
“Help me, Annette,” I whispered. “What should I do?”
“You know exactly what to do,” Annette said. “Take charge and make him your man.”
“What about the waitress?”
Annette gave me a look. “You brought your special knife didn’t you?”
“Well, yes,” I said.
“Then why are you wasting time asking me questions? Go Peggy, go!”
I hurried back to the kitchen to find Lonely tearing at the string around his wrists with his teeth. I grabbed a whole bell pepper from the work-bench, yanked his wrists down and shoved the pepper into his mouth. His eyeballs bulged.
“Oh Lonely, don’t worry.” I smoothed his slick dark hair. Joan’s screams from inside the freezer shrilled as she pounded on the door.
“I’m not going to hurt you, not unless I have to.” I shifted the pepper a little, so it didn’t tear the corners of his sweet lips.
Joan thumped harder. Her demon voice cursed me.
Lonely’s eyes were deep green pools. Tears wet his long lashes. A muffled sound came from his throat.
“Don’t worry about her.” I kissed his forehead. “She can’t hurt you anymore.” I unbuttoned my coat. My brassiere-bound breasts pointed at Lonely’s face. His eyes widened as he shifted his gaze down my bare skin to my suspenders and stockings.
A tingle spread from my belly down to the dark thatch between my thighs.
“Oh Lonely.” I caressed his cheek. “Let me love you like you deserve to be loved.”
“Let me out!” Joan screamed from inside the freezer.
“Shut up!” I roared back at her.
Lonely’s soft lips quivered. How I longed to kiss him. But it was not time, not yet. I had work to do.
I turned on the pizza oven and made sure I set the temperature right. I rolled and flattened and threw the dough and pressed it across a silver pizza pan. I spooned on the rich red sauce and spread it to the edges. I grated cheese and sprinkled it across the base. I took my special knife from my coat pocket and sliced the Italian sausage with clean, sharp strokes.
“Am I doing a good job?” I asked Lonely.
“Why, thank you.” I lowered my eyes, lifted them again and gave him my brightest smile. It was difficult for him to smile back at me with the bell pepper stuck in his mouth, but I could see the crinkle at the corner of his eyes.
Plump dark olives glistened in a white bowl. I’d never had olives before but I’d seen Lonely pop them whole into his mouth, his eyes alight with mischief as purple juice stained his lips. I took one. Its saltiness was a shock. I rolled it around my mouth and bit into its rubbery flesh. I fought the urge to spit it out. True love is a partnership and I couldn’t have things all my own way. I had to show Lonely I could please him. I sliced the olives and scattered them over the pizza and put it in the oven.
By the storage cupboard, Lonely was squirming against the ties that bound him.
“Uh, uh, uh.” I wagged my finger at him. It hurt me that he tried to wriggle away but love comes in its own time and this time I would be more careful. No more silly mistakes like what had happened after the Waldorf Astoria date. Disposing of a body in Manhattan takes a lot more planning and nous than it does in the Catskills. Now that I had that experience, I was confident I could manage one more. Two bodies, though, that would be downright tiresome.
I sat beside Lonely and patted his hand as the knocks against the freezer door quietened. After a few more minutes I unlocked it. The red-haired waitress fell out, eyes bulging and lips blue, the mozzarella gripped in her hand. While I pressed my fingers against her neck and felt for a pulse the smell of pizza filled the room, fresh and sharp and delicious. The kitchen was oven-warm but Joan’s skin was cold, cold, cold.
“Don’t be sad, my love.” I sat across Lonely’s lap and pulled the red pepper from his mouth. “She wasn’t a good girl. Not like me.” I licked the olive juice from my special knife and kissed each corner of his lips. “Now it’s just us, Lonely, the way it should be.”
I reached across and took the mozzarella from Joan’s dead hand. It was a little squished from her pounding it against the locked freezer door, and the outside was frozen. I dug my knife in deep and carved out a wedge from the centre. I popped the cheese in my mouth. It was cold, rubbery and bland, a bit like poor Joan now that her last breath had frozen in her lungs.
“A taste?” I nicked off another wedge and held it to Lonely’s lips. He shook his head.
“You’re right. Don’t want to spoil supper. Smells like it’s ready.”
I checked the oven. The edge of the pizza was puffed to perfection and the melted cheese was golden brown. I slid the pizza onto the bench and sliced six even pieces. My special knife cut the bubbled crust neatly from around the pizza’s edge, and I rolled a slice pointy end to round end.
“All those nights I’ve watched you cook haven’t gone to waste, my love.” I straddled his lap and teased the rolled pizza against his lips.
Lonely turned his face away from me. Tears dribbled down his cheeks.
“Please Lonely take a bite. I made it with love, just for you.”
Lonely shook his head. A sob shuddered his shoulders.
“Oh Lonely, don’t you understand? I only want to make you happy. Please take a bite, for me?”
He pressed his lips tighter than a shut clam’s.
“Oh Lonely,’ I sighed. ‘Don’t make me do something I’ll regret. I only want what’s best for both of us. Come on, open up your pretty lips.”
He sucked his lips into his mouth.
I took a bite of the pizza and chewed while I contemplated the situation Lonely, and I found ourselves in. I thought of Annette in Beach Party and how her boyfriend had got all jealous for no reason at all, and flirted with a silly waitress to hurt her. It’s a sad but true fact that some boys don’t know what they want unless you show them.
I traced my special knife down Lonely’s throat, down his breastbone, down to the centre of his chest. I pressed the knife’s sharp tip against his heart. A drop of blood welled to the surface of his bare skin.
“Open up,” I said.
Lonely’s nostrils flared. His lips did not move.
I didn’t want to dig the knife into his flesh a little deeper, but Annette had told me I had to take charge.
The droplet of blood on his chest became a trickle.
His eyes widened.
“Come on Lonely, be a dove.”
The knife pressed in a little deeper.
The trickle became a flow.
Lonely opened his mouth.
“Wider,” I pushed the pizza at his mouth.
He took a bite, chewed and swallowed.
“That’s the way.” I eased off on the knife’s pressure. “Open up again but this time close your eyes.”
He did as he was told. Inside his mouth a purple olive streak stained the centre of his tongue.
I had never French-kissed a boy before. I’d never been that type of girl. But this night was different because I was with my one and only true love.
I lowered my mouth towards Lonely’s. I pressed my soft lips against his lips. Gently, I flicked my tongue against his tongue. The taste of pizza filled my mouth. It thrilled deep inside me, a long, sharp shiver of pleasure.
I kissed him harder, deeper, and shifted on his lap. My toes dug into cold bare flesh.
I kicked Joan’s body aside.
“Please Lonely,” I whispered. “Make me a woman.”
I closed my eyes, and my flower opened to receive him.
“Oh!” It was a bit of a shock at first, but I closed my eyes and when it was all done I leaned my face against Lonely’s chest.
A question quivered on my lips.
“Lonely, will you still love me tomorrow?”
Rue Karney is a writer from Brisbane, Australia who loves to read and write stories that are strange, unsettling, bizarre and weird. Karney’s work has appeared in the anthologies Hauntings, In Sunshine Bright and Darkness Deep, Monsters Amongst Us, Pacific Monsters and Nothing as well as the magazines SQ Mag, Midnight Echo and Hinnom Magazine. Her Australian Horror Writers Association winning short story, Brother, was translated into Italian and published in Collana Mondi Incantati as Fratello.
∼ Read February’s story “Blue Scar” by George Gardner