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Chapter 29 - Mr. 72

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The stopwatch girl steps her feet left, then right, then left down the stairs, the fingers of both hands cupped over her mouth. Overlapping each other, tight, like to keep something inside her mouth. Her eyes go big around and forget to blink, so dry they don’t shine except the little bit that glass might shine. The glass in her hanging stopwatch. Her fingers pressed until the skin’s gone white, any blood pressed out of the skin of her fingers and face as she steps down, left then right, each foot lower.

I don’t know.
Anytime you need to watch somebody die, die for real, check out how they get their orgasm at the end of a porn. Their mouth biting to get just one more inhale of air. Their neck roped with veins and strings of muscle to make the skin webbed, and their chin working, their teeth reaching out and digging the air. All the skin of their cheeks pulling their lips back, stretching their ears back, skin crushing their eyes shut, as their front teeth try to bite off the biggest next chunk of life.
Watch World Whore Three and you’ll see how certain folks say the death scene is just another cum shot.
The stopwatch girl steps down to the basement floor and stands there. She rips the pink skin off her hands, then a blue layer of skin—rubber gloves, pulled inside out—and throws them on the floor, where they spread, flat and dead as a sex surrogate. The girl’s bare hands slide up to cover her whole face. Her hand skin old with wrinkles and pickled from stewing inside those gloves. Her shoulders rise, her curved backbone straightens as she breathes in one big inhale of the piss smell, the baby oil and sweat of here. The breath holds inside her, her elbows crushed on top of her boobs, her elbows touching together. The breath sighs out in broken mouthfuls, jerking her whole body.
Watching her, my balls are scrubbed red. My shorts, soaked wet from the sink. I’m homeless. An orphan. Broke and unemployed.
The Dan Banyan guy, he’s looking. Not straight at the girl, but turning his ear to where she’s crying, really crying now, her breath muffled behind her fingers, her face burrowing into her open hands. The 137 guy says, “Is Cassie dead?”
Cold and broke, orphaned and rubbed raw, I peel my feet the left, right, left, right sticky steps over to stand next to the girl. In just only my wet underpants, I put an arm around her shoulders, the knots of her sweater shaking. I wrap my other arm around her until she’s wearing me. Until the stopwatch girl stops shaking. My chin hooked over her shoulder, holding her head tight against my chest, I look down to see the writing on my arm.
Petting her hair with one hand, I tell her, “My name’s not really number 72 . . .”
I don’t know.
Dead flakes of her head, sticking to my hand, showering to the floor. The stopwatch girl coming apart. I sniff my fingers and say I like the smell of her shampoo. I say at least she knows her real birth mom. The cold feel of her stopwatch pushed into my bellybutton. Holding her until she’s just breathing regular, I ask what’s her name.
And the girl pulls back a little. The silver crucifix hanging around my neck, it’s stuck to her cheek, and hangs there, pressed into her skin. She pulls back, and the gold chain of the crucifix loops between us, connecting her and me. Another breath and the crucifix peels off, falls back to my chest, leaving a red shape of it dented into her face.
Her stopwatch has stamped a round clock shape around my bellybutton.
The girl says, still in my arms, she says, “This is how much my mother hated me ...” She says, “I tell people my name is Sheila because my real mother gave me the ugliest name she could imagine.”
The name on her birth certificate, from when Cassie Wright gave her away.
With the gun finger of one hand, the girl flicks the tears off each cheek, fast as windshield wipers, and she says, “The bitch named me Zelda Zonk.” She smiles and says, “How’s that for hatred?”
Holding her, it’s not so important how I have nothing outside of this moment, outside of this place. How I have no idea of my real name or who I am. How, right here, her sweater against my skin, this moment feels like enough.
And the Dan Banyan guy says, “Did you say ‘Zelda Zonk’?” Across the basement, smiling, looking at us with his ear, guy 137 says, “Did she really name you Zelda Zonk?” And, shaking his head, he starts to laugh.
And I say my real name is Darin, Darin Johnson, holding Zelda until her cheek comes back to rest against the cross on my chest. Her stopwatch clock tick-tick-ticking against the skin of my gut.

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