Motherhood (Buried Series)

I twisted the knob but hesitated to open the door. His cries were strong, desperate. Not high-pitched squeals like a baby’s cry for milk or to have his diaper changed, but deep in his gut, a low, steady moan like a dying man, as if he already knew, already sensed that his mother was gone, and that sudden awareness was slowly killing him.

The front door slammed shut, startling me, and I quickly snatched my hand off the knob.

“Oh, Stephan’s crying,” he said and brushed past me into his room.

Stephan. His name was Stephan.

I lingered at the threshold, watched as he took the boy from the small Hot Wheels bed and rocked him.

He was much bigger than I had imagined; his feet dangled over his father’s crotch. I couldn’t remember if he’d ever told me the boy’s age. There were only the pictures in his phone from when he and his ex were still together and living in Philadelphia. Stephan was only five or six months old then. Old enough to sit up, utter single syllables, and possibly even stand—if he held onto someone’s leg, or a flattened cushion on the couch, or the dulled corner of an end table—but not quite able to walk. He was still too top-heavy; his body needed time to grow into his head. Time lost when his mother took him in the middle of the night and disappeared.

I wasn’t allowed to see Stephan when they moved in—the consequence of dating a man with a child and a selfish baby momma who could vanish without a trace. However, his baby pictures stayed with me. Even when I knew how fast children grew in year, I still dreamt of him as a red-faced newborn wrapped in a blue blanket, wearing a blue cap on his head, and lying on my chest. As in infant, I pictured the tiny little body that could fit snuggly in my arm—his head resting on my shoulder, his bottom in the crease of my elbow, his pudgy feet in the palm of my hand where I could curl my fingers in and tickle the bottoms of his feet until he laughed so hard, he passed gas.

Watching how he bounced Stephan up and down against his chest, I realized that round, cheery bundle of joy was what he had hoped to reunite with when he received the email from him ex promising to give his son back. He was expecting to hold his baby boy again when he left me to meet them at the Greyhound station. Instead, he found his ex standing alone, and a toddler, taller than his knees, walking without the assistance of inanimate furniture, who looked up into the eyes of his father and failed to recognize them.

“I didn’t know he was here,” I said.

“Where else would he be?” he said over his shoulder as he tucked Stephan back under the covers.

“Maybe a neighbor’s house. A friend’s.” I could’ve taken care of him, I wanted to say. It would’ve come natural to me, like sex. Even without the experience, you still knew exactly what to do once it was in your hands, right? How to position your bodies so that you were both comfortable. I could’ve kept Stephan for however long he needed. Fed him sweets and teach him songs so he’d feel comfortable with me. Tell him stories of an important trip his mother was about to embark on, so that neither of us grew suspicious of her sudden disappearance. All the while, unbeknownst to Stephan or me, his father would solicit the help of someone else, maybe a co-worker or drinking buddy, with a similar baby momma issue, who could sympathize with his actions and help him get rid of the body. And then, once all evidence of her was erased, we could get back together, I’d move in, and the three of us could be a family, pretending there was never a fourth person in the equation.

That way was less messy for me.

“I mean, what if he found her?” I asked.

“Watch him until I get back,” he said, dodging my question. He left to retrieve the box spring and drag it down to the dumpster.

Stephan’s eyes were still open, though not enough to signify that he was conscious. His heavy eyelids hinted at being on the brink of sleep, but the furrow in his brow suggested he was questioning who I was and why I stood in the doorway staring at him. Did he think he was dreaming, or had he heard what I’d said about his mother and wanted to understand. Could two-year-olds comprehend the meaning of death? Did they know it was final? That death meant someone was never coming back?

Before I could talk myself out of it, I let myself in and sat at the foot of his bed. The mattress was thin and sunk down to the floor under my weight, bringing my knees level with my chest as if I was squatting.

“Hi.” I reached out and touched his leg. He didn’t flinch or draw back,  but the room still felt cold. Maybe it was the ice blue coat of paint on the walls, or the fact that his eyes still looked open although I was sure he’d fallen asleep by then.

“I’m a friend of your—” The permanent frown on his face stopped me from saying “dad’s.” It was the same frown, I imagine, he gave his father when they met again for the first time—a look of disbelief that he or I could be anything but strangers.

“I’m a friend of your mother’s,” I said, and a sudden draft sent a surge of electricity through my body and raised all the hairs on my arms so that I searched the room expecting to find his mother’s angry ghost. Instead, his father leaned against the door, having returned from outside.

“Let’s get this over with,” he said.

“Are we taking him?”

He shook his head.

“We can’t leave him here alone. Who knows how long we’ll be gone? What if he wakes up again?” What if he woke the neighbors? What if they called the cops? What if the cops came and found Stephan home alone? No parents, no babysitter, but an ever-present stench of something recently dead that had been decomposing for days.

“We’re just dumping the suitcase.” He rolled his eyes. I could tell he was getting annoyed with me. I was being too worrisome. “You’re such a nag,” he used to joke back when our relationship was less complicated. Naggy, an unwelcomed nickname he gave me when I complained too much about his hot apartment, or the fact that he never wore more than a robe and boxers whenever I visited.

Sometimes I wondered if my constant whining was the reason he never made us official. Now that I knew his secret, held the power to send him to death row and take his son from him, again—this time permanently—did he regret inviting me back into his life? Did he regret introducing me to his mess now that I was making it too difficult to clean it up?

“We can’t just dump it anywhere,” I tried to rationalize. “Doesn’t she have family?”

“She doesn’t have anybody. Nobody knows she’s here. She said she was renting some guy’s basement before she moved down.” He shrugged his shoulders and sighed. “But she lies, so I don’t even know.”

I looked down at Stephan, still asleep or at least pretending to be. “Well, regardless, your neighbors have seen her. If we just dump the suitcase anywhere, the police will eventually find it, and if they show her picture on the news, it could lead back to you.”

“So what do you suggest?”

“We go far. Virginia, maybe. Or at least the border. That’s about an hour drive.”

“This late?” he asked.

“No traffic.”

He turned into the hallway, swinging his arms back and forth and pacing in a small circle. “Fine,” he finally said. “I’ll get the suitcase. You take him. We’ll drive my car.” I wanted to protest taking his car, but he raised his hand to silence me and left before I could say anything else.

Stephan was breathing heavy, though I feared if I lifted his chin, I’d find his eyes still partially open, staring down at me with distrust. I tucked the comforter around him like a cocoon and scooped him into my arms. It felt too natural to lay him on my chest, position his head in the crook of my neck, as if I’d done it many times before. His steady breathing paused for a moment, as if he’d noticed a change and needed investigate the new environment to be sure it was safe. Eventually, his body relaxed, and his soft snore returned. Looking at his face—his smooth skin, his rose-colored chubby cheeks, his flat nose, slightly bigger than my knuckle—I wondered if he was still young enough to forget his mother. If I stayed around long enough, held him more, kissed him the way she did, sang sweet lullabies until he fell asleep, would he start to believe that I was her, that I had always been a part of his life?

—Nortina

Next:
Screaming

Catch up on previous installments:
Accessory
Drive
To Live
Murderer
Body
Odor
Ringer

Accessory (Buried Series)

The odor was even more intoxicating when we returned to his apartment. I wondered if it was affecting my judgment. Maybe the stench had manifested itself into a barrier that intercepted alert signals from my brain telling my legs to run. It kept my arms stiff by my side when I should’ve been snatching up the phone to dial 9-1-1 with hands not yet soiled by the dirt we would bury her body.

“How’re we doing this?” he asked as I took each suitcase out of the other and lined them up in front of the bed.

“We’re gonna pack her body up in the big one,” I said.

“Can she even fit?”

“We’ll make her fit.”

“Wouldn’t it just be easier to chop off her arms and legs?” he said, measuring the width of the suitcase with his forearms.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said placing my hands on my hips. “Do you have a machete packed in your trunk? Because I don’t.”

He turned his back and sighed audibly.

“It’s extremely hard to dismember a human body,” I continued. “You’re cutting through bone, and you can’t do that with a regular old kitchen knife.”

He didn’t answer, only shook his head. Maybe he was finally starting to realize how deep into the sludge we were headed. A boiling tar pit that would singe our skin and fossilize our bodies. Forever preserved like the citizens of Pompeii imprisoned in an crusted shell of molten rock because they ignored the warning signs of impending doom, failed to escape before their world came crashing down in a barrage of fire and brimstone.

“Fine,” he said scratching the back of his neck. “I wouldn’t have made it this far without you, so I’ll follow your lead.”

My stomach lurched, an unsettling reminder that I hadn’t eaten since earlier that evening, and with the devil’s hour quickly approaching, our surroundings seemed to grow darker—the lights in the hall were dim, the curtains were drawn, outside the clouds and trees blocked illumination from the moon and distant stars—setting the tone for sinister activity to take place.

How quickly had he shifted the responsibility to me, as if I was the one to smother his ex, and he only followed along, fearful that he would be next if he didn’t cooperate. My decisions were digging a deeper grave for myself, well past six feet, the shovel of my tongue knocking on the gates of Hell, and despite my fear of a face-to-face meeting with Satan, I couldn’t compel myself to stop.

“Take the shower curtain from the bathroom,” I instruct him. “We’ll line the suitcase with it. Hopefully the plastic will catch any body fluids that seep through her clothes.

He left the room, and I removed the sheets from the body, taking the corners and folding them across the bed, avoiding any areas that might have touched her, absorbed her sweat, her blood, her urine, her tears. Holding them away from me like dirty underwear, I threw them into the closest suitcase, quickly zipped it up, and wiped my hands on the front of my jeans. I would have to remember to toss them too as soon as we were done.

He returned with the shower curtain ripped from the rings and pressed it into the suitcase as if lining a foil sheet in a baking pan. Then I kicked the suitcase forward, closer to the foot of the bed.

“Just pull her feet and drag her in,” I directed.

“You won’t help me?”

“Hell no! I’m not touching her!” I declared, as if avoiding physical contact with the deceased would clear me of any wrong doing.

He smiled, which sickened me further. Did he think this was a joke? A dream we could wake up from? A movie we could turn off?

The body slid down the bed, pulling the fitted sheet off the mattress—satin clinging to her moist skin. I turned away as he pulled her closer, not wanting to see her eyes begging me why. Then came the solid thump when she fell into the suitcase. He balled the sheet and tossed it over her face, relieving me of the pull of her stare. Her neck bowed in front of the short end of the suitcase, and the crown of her head stuck out above the zipper.

“Can you like . . . push it down?” I asked, holding my hands in front of me, but instead of nudging it down, he pushed all of his weight into it as if tightly packing clothes, and I heard a crack.

“Oh my god!” I turned and squeezed me shoulders to my ears.

“She’s already dead,” he said flatly.

“Just . . . fix her legs,” I said over my shoulder.

He picked up her legs, which were hanging over the edge of the suitcase, and bent them forward, folding them like an accordion so that she lay inside the suitcase in the fetal position.

“Zip it up,” I said, and the zipper made a low, deep buzz as he pulled it around the suitcase.

I looked up at the bare mattress. From what I could see through the dim  light, it was clear, a creamy white, but I imagined a stain at it’s center in the shape of a body like the chalk outlines crime scene investigators draw around a homicide victim to mark where he was killed.

“We have to get rid of the whole bed,” I said.

“I agree. It still stinks in here,” he said. I was relieved to know that he had not gotten accustomed to the smell. Even now, it still made me dizzy.

“I could take it downstairs to the dumpster. That wouldn’t be too suspicious, right?” he asked.

I shrugged my shoulders. “We can say you had bedbugs.”

“Oh, nice.” He rolled his neck and proceeded to lift the twin-size mattress. “Not too heavy,” he said balance, it above his head.

“Just don’t drop it.” As he turned sideways to fit the mattress through the doorway, I added, “We should pack some clothes too. Make it look like we’re going on a trip and not moving something fishy out of the apartment in the middle of the night.”

“Your call,” he said and continued down the hall toward the front door.

I quickly scooted out of my jeans and put them in the suitcase with the sheets. Then taking the smallest suitcase, I went across the hall into his room, opened his drawers, and threw the first articles of clothing I could see—white t-shirts, sweatpants, plaid boxers, socks.

As I zipped the suitcase, I heard a faint whine. At first I thought it was him opening the front door, coming back for the box spring. A terrifying thought quickly ran across my mind that maybe his ex wasn’t dead. Maybe she was gasping for breath through her plastic cocoon, trying to claw her way out of the suitcase. However as I approached the sound, it came from some place past her room, closer to the front of the apartment, behind a door I’d assumed was a second bathroom, though I’d never been inside. I pressed my ear against the wood, and the sound sharpened into a cry. A baby’s cry.

His son had been here the whole time.

—Nortina

Next:
Motherhood

Catch up on previous installments:
Drive
To Live
Murderer
Body
Odor
Ringer

Drive (Buried Series)

Of course, he didn’t own a suitcase. That would’ve been too simple. He didn’t have many clothes—you tend to pack light when you drift from place to place. He’d only been in town six months when we met at the DMV—I renewing my license, he getting his CDL.

“I’d make a great truck driver,” he’d said later that afternoon over coffee. “I can’t stay put in one area for long.” He then recited the cities he’d lived before temporarily settling in Greensboro, North Carolina. Boston, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Richmond.

Repeatedly he’d expressed his desire to live in Atlanta, or further south in Florida, possibly Miami, with its white beaches and exotic women. However, he loved how quiet Greensboro was and reveled in our small town atmosphere. By then, I was already smitten, so I convinced him to give my quaint little city a year, enough time for him to fall in love with it, and subsequently, with me too.

“I don’t want to be a burden,” he said.

“It’s a little late for that,” I scoffed as I backed out of the parking space in front of his apartment.

“I mean, I don’t want you to get your hands dirty.”

“Then why even show me…her?” I couldn’t make myself say body, still in shock that I was agreeing to help him. How could I blatantly ignore another woman’s voice silenced forever? Could I be that blindly in love after only a few months?

Our first night together was in the backseat of his Toyota, under the clear, starry night sky. We’d pretended to have found the perfect spot for a date when truthfully, the blanket lining the backseat, the pillow propped against the door handle, the pile of laundry rising from underneath the driver’s seat, and the toothbrush and tube of toothpaste in the cup holder had always been there.

We’d just finished watching his favorite movie on Netflix, Doomsday. He had an unsettling obsession with graphic deaths—blood squirting from the neck of a decapitated body; a man with half his face blown off from a shotgun, blood splattering on the camera lens; cannibals surrounding a pyre, a primal chant of hunger exiting their lungs as a crane lowered their hostage into the dancing flames.

My pizza had been sitting at the back of my throat, waiting to resurface as the scenes became gorier. I squirmed in the seat, but he put his arm around me, stilled my body, kissed my neck and my collarbone and lower, unbuttoning my blouse.

“I love to give you pleasure,” he’d whispered, going further to say that he couldn’t be aroused until he knew I was, until he knew my entire body was quivering under his touch, until he knew I was gushing to have him inside of me. But I could already feel him rising during the movie, when I was still shielding my eyes behind my fingers, when I turned my head every time a sword severed a limb. Was it my moans that turned him on, or could it have been the last breaths of the dying characters on screen?

How easy it was for him to kiss me back at his apartment, to touch me, give me pleasure while his dead girlfriend decomposed in the bedroom. How easy it was for me to return his affections. Was I really any better than him?

“Are we going to the store?” he asked.

“We can’t leave a trail.”

“You sound like you’ve done this before,” he said jokingly. I was never a fan of his dry humor. It came at the most inappropriate of times. His voice often carried when he spoke distastefully of “trannies” and referred to white women as “snowbunnies” in public.

“I’ve watched enough forensic files cases on TV to know that killers are always caught when video of them buying weird items at Wal-Mart, or Home Depot comes out,” I said, keeping my eyes on the road, both hands on the wheel, making sure my tone remained stern so that he could understand the seriousness of what we were doing.

“What could be weird about buying a suitcase?” he asked.

“In the middle of the night?” I pointed to the clock on the dashboard displaying the time. 1:45 AM. “And what if they find your girlfriend’s body inside a suitcase that you recently bought. They would have the receipt, the tape. The evidence is stacking up against you already.”

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Fine! You’re baby mama!” I sharped right into my driveway and put the car in park.

“How would they know it’s not your suitcase then?” he asked.

“It was a gift from my parents back in college. A luggage set to go to Mexico for Spring Break with a couple of my roommates. I’ll take my nametag off it and it’ll just be a plain black suitcase. No trail.”

He nodded and moved to unbuckle his seatbelt.

“Stay here,” I said, and taking the keys from the ignition, I trotted up the steps into my house. The luggage set was in the back corner of my bedroom closet. I packed the three smaller suitcases inside the larger one, lugged it back down the steps and heaved it into the trunk.

—Nortina

Next:
Accessory

Catch up on previous installments:
To Live
Murderer
Body
Odor
Ringer

Murderer (Buried Series)

I ran for the door. The foul stench exuding from the mattress seemed to engulf me, an invisible force pushing against my body as if the walls were closing in. I held my breath, my neck throbbing as adrenaline pumped through my veins. Using my shoulder, I tried to burst through, but he extended his arms and held onto the door frame on either side of him, blocking my escape.

“You can’t leave!” he pleaded.

“You killed her!” I screamed, and again said, “You killed her! You killed her! You killed her!” It was all I could say, over and over, pounding my fists against his chest, pulling down on his neck, elbowing his side, attempting to cut him down so that I could get past, out of this room, out of this apartment, to fresher, cleaner air, untainted by death, free of the culpability of knowing that a dead woman lay underneath his bed sheets.

He suddenly wrapped his arm around me and scooped me off my feet. He cupped his hand over my mouth, my muffled screams of “You killed her!” vibrating against my teeth. He kicked the door closed behind him and carried me to the other side of the room where he slammed me against the wall, the top of the mirror on the dresser next to us bouncing on the plaster in beat with the back of my head.

“Be quiet! I have neighbors!” he whispered sharply. He pressed his forearm into my collarbone, cutting into my windpipe. Unable to speak, I lifted my chin and nodded my acquiescence. He relinquished, and I collapsed to the floor in a fit of coughs, clutching the base of my neck with both hands.

“Why…would you show…me this?” I asked, heaving for air, then choking on the sour fumes, between words.

“I thought you could help me.”

“Help you do what?” I squeaked as I lifted myself off the floor.

“You’re my girl now—”

“You make me your girlfriend so I can help you cover up a murder!”

“Keep your voice down!” He raised his arm as if to push me up against the wall again and shut me up by applying all of his weight to my throat. I ducked and circled around him, making a mad dash for the door, but he was just as quick. I’d barely cracked it when he slammed his palm onto the wood just above my head, rattling the door as he smacked it shut, sending a tremor from the door handle, through my hand, up my wrist, to my elbow and further, until my entire arm shook like Jell-O.

He sighed heavily behind my ear. “You don’t understand. You don’t have kids,” he said, and I felt as if I’d been stabbed through the back of my heart. He knew how much I wanted kids, how desperate I was to become a mother. He’d listened to my fears of an echoing clock ticking inside my womb, sat with me as I scrolled through endless pictures of my friends’ children growing before my eyes. When he’d lost his boy, he’d tried to erase him from existence. He’d tossed all of his toys into the lake, deleted pictures from his phone. Still, every Christmas, every fourth of August, memories would creep back in. He wanted to start over, recreate his first child, and I wanted to be the woman to grant him that, giving us both what we desired most.

“She took my son from me,” he said as he began to pace back and forth in front of the bed. “I don’t expect you to know how that feels, but for a year, I didn’t know where my son was at. If he was in this city, or that state. If he was alive or dead.” He stopped and looked down at his palms. “When I held him for the first time after that year—” He swallowed hard, stuck his hands underneath his armpits. “He cried his head off… Because he didn’t know who the fuck I was!” He starting pacing again, looking down at his feet. “Me. His fucking father!” He repeatedly stabbed at his chest with his index finger. “And this bitch walks around here, smiling and laughing. Moving all her shit up in my house. Acting like nothing’s changed. Like she didn’t keep my son from me for a year. Like she didn’t have another man raising my son for a year. Like she didn’t have my son calling another nigga ‘Daddy’ for a year!”

He stormed for bed, fists balled at his side, he climbed onto the mattress, drove his knee into her gut, landed one punch after the other onto her face; the covers slowly drawing back under his force, revealing pallid skin; her dead flesh absorbing the blows and cutting off the reverberating sound. When he tired of punching her, he clasped her neck, locked his arms and pushed down, strangling her corpse. “If I could bring this bitch back to life and kill her again, I would. And it wouldn’t be with no soft ass pillow this time either.” He rocked the bed as he spoke, banging the headboard against the wall. Neighbors wouldn’t call the cops; they’d knock in response, protesting the presumed rough sex.

I quickly turned away, squeezing my eyes shut. “Stop it! Please! Just stop it!” I flung the door open, sprinted down the hall to the living room, snatched the curtains hanging over the patio door, yanking the rod down with them. I slung the door down its track, stumbled outside into the cool, night air, and doubled over the balcony railing, vomiting into the flower pot one floor below.

—Nortina

Next:
To Live

Catch up on previous installments:
Body
Odor
Ringer

An ironic addition to the Write or Die link-up this week. I hope you enjoyed. 😉