“You’re just a sucker for the ones who use you,
and it doesn’t matter what I say or do,
the stupid bastard’s gonna have his way with you.”
She wrote letters in blood red ink, the color of my lips, she would say, the color of the sudden streaks in her hair, I would think. When she would lean in, words spoken in a half-growl and half-whisper, my eyes would shut and I would see the world go from red, to grey, to black and white, to a dizzy fade to nothing. She carried a camera bought from a Pawn Shop in Barstow, you would have to stare at the floor in order to look forward, in order to point and shoot. On certain late nights when sleep was improbable, she would invite me over to her darkroom. We would huddle in close, and I would hold my breath as she dropped the paper into each developing tray. I would look at her in the shadows, the both of us looking like an old black and white movie, and I would wonder what we were developing into.
She hid bruises with a do-it-yourself blend of carnival clown white and shoplifted drug store Maybelline cover up in “Ivory”. I would squint my eyes, hold the compact mirror steady for her, and pretend to not see. Sometimes the phone would ring at the quiet hour before the sun would rise and I would cross each finger and toe hoping it wasn’t the police this time, or a hospital, or some once met near stranger delivering the news. It was always her, though, patched together with super glue and speed, a shot of whiskey, and another layer of covered up denial.
A week went by without a call, then another, and another, until the stretch of time unraveled into something like forever. I would look for her in all the usual haunts, holding my breath again, hoping that the shadows would come to life in the corner, and that she would smile up at me, show me a recent sketch, or photograph, and tell me that “doll, you need to sleep more.” It was never her there, though. She was gone. I went by her apartment months later, finally rallying the courage to knock on her door. A stranger answered, tall and thin with sea foam colored eyes. He said “hey, your the girl in the drawing,” inviting me in, showing me the torn out page he had found. On the back, in blood red ink, it said “Summer’s Doll”.
I sat for awhile with him, filling in the only blanks I knew. He was a painter and as I told him about her he smiled softly, the creases at each eye turning inward, his teeth perfect except for one upended incisor. He told me he had tried to paint the girl who had lived here before, using clues she had left behind to piece her together, painted in blacks and whites and grays, like the photographs he’d found in the half-wrecked closet.
“That was her darkroom.” I explained.
“Was she beautiful?” He asked, “like you?”
“She looked nothing like me, but yes, she was beautiful. Breath stealing beautiful.” I explained, looking at the floor while I tried to paint a picture to hold up to him, like her camera, like me.
“Did you love her?” He asked, leaning in close, whispering in the same way that she used to.
“I don’t know. She was…she was…impossible.” I said, closing my eyes, seeing the red fade into gray, again.