Wicked Wanda by Julia Madeleine

I looked up from the I heart bitches tattoo on her wrist that I’d done last week to her staring eyes behind smudged glasses. At first glance Wicked Wanda looked like an overweight teenage boy with that barbershop haircut and no makeup. Wanda wasn’t so wicked though. She was more sad than anything.

“I like that you look me directly in the eyes, Miss,” she said. “People don’t make eye contact anymore, you know?”

My heart jackhammered but I decided to ignore what she was doing. I pulled out the picture of the Virgin Mary I’d drawn up for her and turned the paper toward her, pushing it across my desk. She frowned like she might cry.

I looked up from the I heart bitches tattoo on her wrist that I’d done last week to her staring eyes behind smudged glasses. At first glance Wicked Wanda looked like an overweight teenage boy with that barbershop haircut and no makeup. Wanda wasn’t so wicked though. She was more sad than anything.

“I like that you look me directly in the eyes, Miss,” she said. “People don’t make eye contact anymore, you know?”

My heart jackhammered but I decided to ignore what she was doing. I pulled out the picture of the Virgin Mary I’d drawn up for her and turned the paper toward her, pushing it across my desk. She frowned like she might cry.

After a moment she said, “I really like what you’ve done with this, Miss. I like how you did the halo around her head and the cigarette is a nice touch. Could we make the high heels those strappy kind that go around the ankle though, Miss? I’ve always liked those.”

I never asked why she didn’t use my name even though I’d told it to her often enough. Wanda’s formality was endearing and disturbing.

I forced a smile. “Sure, that will look great.”

In my peripheral I saw someone walk passed the window and resisted the urge to look, to see if they noticed what was going on inside here. I didn’t know what would happen if someone actually came in, stumbled upon the scene. A part of me hoped they would and another part just wanted them to keep on walking.

In my head I examined the days schedule. I had a mother and daughter booked in thirty minutes. Mom was getting her dead dog’s paw print. And the kid was getting a feather breaking off into mosquito sized birds that all the seventeen-year-olds wanted, downloading a fuzzy picture from the first page of their Google search like three billion other teens.

The excitement of both of these designs was nearly overwhelming me. I usually tried to get creative with it but what can you do with horses and water? They’re too big to drown. But sometimes, every once in a while, it was possible to save one of them.

I watched as Wanda’s eyes filled with tears. She said, “People say she was a virgin, but she wasn’t a virgin. She couldn’t have been if she had Jesus.”

I nodded, smiled and looked at the monstrous collection of horizontal scars on the inside of her forearm; some long healed, some pink, others raw, seeping. I would have preferred fresh skin for this piece. It also sucked tattooing scar tissue. She would need to stop cutting that area and let the skin heal if she hoped to have it tattooed.

“I feel so close to you, Miss. You’re the only one I can talk to now. The only one who listens to me.”

“You must have some friends. You have brothers and sisters?”

“There’s no one. Just you.”

“Well, maybe if you got out once in a while, joined a church or a club or something.”

“I used to have a dog but he ran away.”

She looked tired. Her arm must be sore in that position for so long. I tried not to wince.

“I’d like you to come to my house for tea. I’ll do a Tarot card reading for you. Can you come tomorrow?” she said, brightening. A light shone in her eyes behind the greasy glasses.

I swallowed, gazed at her, but refused to say anything, afraid to commit. Afraid not to.

“Okay, Miss, tomorrow morning. Stop by before you come into work. Let’s say ten o’clock.” She smiled for the first time and lowered the knife from her neck, released a breath. A smear of blood visible on her pale skin.

She closed the knife, put it in the side pocket of her combat pants. On a sticky note she scrawled her address and placed it in front of me, then got to her feet.

“See you tomorrow, Miss. And thanks for everything.”

I sat there staring at the floor, taking deep breaths, picturing the arterial spray all over those new ceramic tiles. I suppose I was going to have to bake cookies now.

Joy by Julia Madeleine

The way Joy calmly swept up the broken teeth from the kitchen floor would leave anyone with the impression of a woman who didn’t get too upset about things. This was just part of the familiar routine, sweeping up teeth, wiping blood spatter from walls.

That’s what a woman gets sometimes working two jobs after the husband—finally surrendering himself to being a woman trapped inside of a man’s body—runs off with the marriage counselor; four boys raising themselves as wild as a pack of dogs and just as vicious.

Normally at this time Joy would be leaving for work, her shift at the bar just about to start, but her schedule had become unexpectedly obstructed. Andy, her fourteen-year-old, was wailing in the bathroom from alcohol being poured into open wounds.

At that moment Dale, Joy’s eldest boy, careened into the kitchen. There was so much blood on his white T-shirt it didn’t look like he should be walking around.

“Ma, he’s bleeding real bad.”

“Head wounds always bleed a lot, baby. Put some pressure on it.”

Dale nodded, his eyes glazed. Dale was the toughest. Always cool, always calm. Always knowing just what to do. Except for now.

From beneath the thick lashes glued to her lids Joy watched the way her youngest, sitting in his highchair, shoveled Kraft dinner into his face. She sucked on a cigarette, arched an eyebrow at him, and said, “I told those fucks upstairs my boys would go all trailer park on their ass.”

She carried on sweeping, her toenails glowing neon pink, a Chinese silk robe swallowing her pixie body. “They’re keeping God damn elephants up there and the elephants like to move furniture around at six in the fucking morning.”

Her little one stared at her with a quiet fascination as she swiped a strand of fine blond hair from her brow with her cigarette hand and continued the rant. “Me, I’m like a fucking ninja when I move around my apartment. You wouldn’t know anyone even lives here.”

She wondered how the couple upstairs were doing, having witnessed the knock-down-drag-out in her kitchen moments earlier. She’d never seen an old couple fight like that. Grandma too, throwing punches at Joy’s kids like a street fighter, long grey hair flying around her. Then the old bastard picked up a chair—solid walnut—and cracked Andy in the head so bad it knocked him out.

“You know I never once complained?” Joy said, “Never once. I’m used to noise with four boys. It’s no big deal. They got some nerve complaining about me playing Amy Winehouse. It wasn’t even loud. Please. At least the noise I make is pleasant. Not like their elephant circus.”

“Ma! We need some bandages!” Dale yelled from the bathroom.

“Look in the cupboard, baby.”

“Not fucking Band-aides, Ma. Fucking bandages. The bleeding won’t stop.”

“Use a towel.”

Joy bent over to sweep the teeth into a dustpan, the sound like pebbles tumbling into plastic.

“And then they go and get their feelings all hurt because they think I’m poking fun at them for being fat. Well, what the fuck? You’re fat, you’re fat. Big deal. They get all up in my face like I’m so out of line pointing out the obvious? Please.”

Dale stumbled into the kitchen again, tears shining on his cheeks. “Ma? Something’s wrong. Andy’s not breathing. He’s all white and he’s not moving.”

Sirens in the distance altered them, making the drastic turn of events instantly real. Something jagged inched its way up her esophagus—the usual nausea of being alive in the world perhaps? Or was it panic clawing away inside of her? She swallowed it back down, turned to the baby and said, “Did I tell you that old fuck upstairs used to be my Sunday school teacher when I was a kid? Till he started praying to Jim Beam.”

With her painted toes she stepped on the lever at the bottom of the garbage can and the dirt and broken teeth slid into the trash. Joy gazed through the window at the dying sun burning out into a crimson stripe across the clouds, dragged on the cigarette butt and said, “Fuck. Guess I’m not gonna make it into work again tonight.”

Bad Manners by Julia Madeleine

Angie was well aware of her husband’s cheating. Just as soon as she got that GPS installed in his car, the curtains parted on his duplicity. By then Angie knew all about the other woman. Her name; Lorna. Where she lived; in a crappy apartment building around the corner from Jay’s office.

Their blow up over Lorna had been brutal. A cooling off was needed and Angie had taken off for a few days. Jay had agreed to stay home with the kids.

Angie pushed a curl of red hair back from her face, struck a match, and lit the end of a cigarette. She leaned her forearms on the railing of their secluded lakefront cottage, a glass of gin and tonic in her hands. Lightening flashed in the sky across the lake. A cool breeze had picked up now that the sun had gone down.

Angie loved it up here in Muskoka. It was the perfect environment for helping her work through things. The peace and serenity. No neighbours to disturb her. She loved the nature and wildlife; hoards of hummingbirds, dragonflies. Even deer that they left salt licks for around the property. The salt licks didn’t hold up in the rain though. They were big blocks, a square foot in size, yet the rain destroyed them every time. Jay was thinking they should try a more durable brand of salt licks.

It wasn’t that the marriage was bad. They’d always been in love. Sure she’d put on a good hundred pounds with the birth of their son. Then another hundred and fifty with the second one. And then the depression. But she was still attractive. Jay was just having a mid-life crisis. These things were to be expected.

Why Jay chose that skank Lorna to shag was obvious from her photos. Looked like she gave it up easily and for free. Not even bright enough to earn a living to support her offspring from her hobby of spreading her legs.

If the truth be told in those on-line dating ads people post about themselves, Lorna’s would read like this: Uneducated, well-used mid-thirties, welfare mother to four illegitimate children from various fathers. Enjoys partying and drunken needy sex with married men. Likes to post amateur half-naked pictures of herself on social websites. Desperate, lonely, and not too picky. Some self esteem issues.

If Lorna had just been polite and showed a little respect when Angie phoned her up, Lorna wouldn’t be in the predicament she was in now. All it would have taken was a simple apology. That was the polite thing to do. That was the respectful and reasonable thing. If Lorna had just eaten that small piece of humble pie and admitted she was wrong, and not spewed out an unnecessary stream of obscenities, calling Angie a fat cow of all things, everything would be fine. Lorna would be at home pleasantly drunk, giving someone else’s husband a blowjob.

Angie didn’t think that was too much to ask for. A little decency, a little common courtesy. But Lorna was clearly a vicious little bitch whose bad manners had now gotten her into a heap of trouble. Now she was paying for it. Now she was certainly feeling sorry.

Angie sipped her drink and watched the light show across the lake. Looked like it was going to be a horrible storm. She took a long drag on her cigarette and stared at the naked woman down below in the back yard. The black flies had been particularly nasty today. The mosquitoes were out in full force. And tonight a downpour.

Angie sighed and watched the way she shivered and twisted, trying to support herself against the tree. Her wrists and feet were bound with dental floss, a thick piece of duct tape across her foul little mouth. There was a noose around her neck, the end tightly wound and knotted over a sturdy branch in the ash tree above. Underneath Lorna’s bare feet was a salt lick.

Angie yawned. It was time for bed. She stabbed her cigarette in an ashtray. Tomorrow she’d go for a boat ride and feed the fish.