In the Belly of Cetus

Kak walked into the suite, nearly stumbling over Rudy’s packed bags. He was on the balcony. The sliding door was open letting the evening breeze rustle the blinds.

“Going somewhere?” she asked.

He came in from the balcony, beaming, slightly drunk. At least, she thought, here was someone genuinely happy to see her, who asked nothing of her. There was no price of entry. No money. No chicken. No lifetime commitment. 

“I thought you left,” he said.

“Didn’t you see my things still here?”

“I’ve been distracted. Trying to solve a problem all day.”

“What a coincidence,” she said. “I’ve been doing the same thing.”

“Any luck?”

“No.”

“Same here.”

“Rudy?” She didn’t wait for him to answer. “If it’s hopeless, why do we try?”

“Because something happened. I don’t expect you to understand.”

“I might understand better than you think.” Here went nothing. “I have to tell you something.”

He sat down. Who did that anymore? Who sat down to hear news? Yet there he was, giving her his full attention.

“I should feed Evelyn first,” she said.

“Evelyn?”

“The crab.”

“It has a name?”

“Of course.”

“I didn’t realize it was a pet.”

“She isn’t. We’re friends. I brought her something from my sandwich.”

“You’re friends with a hermit crab.”

“I’ll be right back,” she said, starting for the bathroom.

“Kak.”

She stopped.

“The thing is,” he said, “she isn’t in there.”

He had a guilty look she didn’t like.

“What did you do?” she asked.

“You were gone so long. I just thought—”

“Where is she?”

He held out his fist and slowly uncurled his fingers. There she was. Evelyn.

“What are you doing with her?”

“Um. Just getting some air.” He squinted at the shell. “It’s a her?”

“Yes.”

“How can you tell?”

“Give her to me. She must be starved.”

It bought time. The thought of telling him the truth started butterflies having dogfights in her stomach. But Liliana had a point. He’d gotten her this far. Had trusted her. He deserved to know before she vanished. She’d feed Evelyn and tell him.

Kak flipped on the bathroom light and set the bottle of rum on the vanity. The inverted foam carry-out lid on the counter was unmistakable. He’d built her little crab a house. Complete with a watering hole. Kak warmed at the thought of him caring enough to do it.  

She unwrapped the slice of cucumber from her sandwich with Ugarte. Now Evelyn could fill her hermit belly. Kak looked into the crab’s tiny blue eyes. What did she think about? Did she spend her days mindlessly eating and drinking? Or did she flinch at every shadow in fear that she’d caught the attention of a passing bird? Did she worry, with every tick of her little clock, that she’d outgrow her protective shell before finding a larger one? And what did a hermit crab do for that anxiety?

Her fingers found the doxepin. She twisted off the cap. The level of the capsules in the bottle was lower than she’d expected. She shook the capsules into her hand and counted them back. Impossible. She counted them again. Only twenty-eight. Seven fewer than yesterday. When had she taken that many? She had no recollection of it. What the hell was going on? What number would be too many?

The object reflected in the vanity mirror stopped her. It hung on the shower door behind her, entirely out of place in this sub-tropic region. A full length fur coat. Beautiful and repulsive at the same time. Rich chocolate in color. She ran her hands down it. Cool and smooth to the touch. The texture of death. A bold answer to her offhand comment on the ferry. She didn’t understand when he’d had the time, but she understood what it was. A challenge.

Who the hell does he think he is?

She knew the answer. The Bound Woman had given it to her in the cemetery. Liliana said it.

He thinks he’s Perseus. Never mind that he isn’t. It’s enough for him to believe it.

Kak stripped quickly, leaving her clothes where she stood. Cloaking her naked body in the fur, she ran her hands over its smooth elegance, put them in her hair and tousled it out of place. As if by the act she’d set the clock back to when the gods walked the earth.

She turned out the bathroom light and crossed the room to open the curtains. The silk lining of the coat slipped across her hips, thighs and breasts with each step she took. The moon had risen. She pulled at the curtains to let the glow fill the room.

If giving a man everything he wanted and then taking it away didn’t bring him low, what would? And if ejecting him from bargaining and into depression didn’t send her the other direction, into anger, then nothing could and she was screwed anyway.

The rum. She circled into the bathroom, uncapped the bottle in the low light and flipped the two water tumblers on the counter right side up. Pouring each of them a third full, she carried them to the window, into the moonlight.  The rays bouncing in from the water lit up the rum in a ghostly phosphorescence.

“Rudy.”

“Yeah?” he called from the sitting area. 

“Come here.”

She raised a glass to her lips and downed it, feeling the heat build in her mouth and throat, the inferno plunging into her empty stomach. If she had to be consumed by fire in the belly of Cetus she wasn’t doing it in chains. If she was going to burn she’d by-god do it with her hands free.

The simplest decisions can launch us toward destruction. Click the link to read the rest of the book.

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