"If you make any sign that you’re afraid, I will lock you away. And when I let you out, I will stab you in the God damn face.”
From underneath the door Frank could see yellow light, visibility that had been reduced to specks because of the thickness of the carpet. The shadows of Gerard’s feet were visible, making blocks of darkness in the speckled line of light. Frank had actually been awake for several minutes; not awoken by Gerard’s knuckles on the door but by the soft sounds of the lamp clinking on and the dresser drawers opening closing. He made a sound of acknowledgment, his back stiff from being propped against the sharp angle where two walls met. Making his back erect in an attempt to stretch some of the tight muscles, Frank felt like someone had placed two rulers where the rope-like muscles of his back had been.
“I was wondering if you wanted any breakfast,” Gerard said. Frank furrowed his eyebrows in the dark, feeling as if his pupils were the size of nickels.
“What time is it?” he asked in a groan. His head felt groggy and his eyelids felt heavy. Despite the wall against his back, he had slept pretty deeply. Hugging his knees, he wished he could sleep again so maybe he could forget where he was or wake up somewhere else.
“It’s about five-thirty.” There was a clicking noise. “I unlocked the door so you can come out and eat if you want.” He opened the door slightly so Frank could push it open. Due to the lack of handle inside he couldn’t open it himself. Frank found that the lock was sort of an extra precaution; it kept the door closed even if Frank found a way to push out the other side of the handle. The fact that all of the little details had been carefully plotted was concerning; more so was the fact that Frank couldn’t figure out if they had been there before or after he had arrived.
He nudged the door open with his foot, light squeezing his pupils minuscule. For a moment, he was rendered completely blind by the introduction of light and he stumbled clumsily onto Gerard’s carpet. The air felt cool and comfortable, opening his lungs as if they’d been padlocked shut. Gerard had already left and was audibly shuffling through something in the kitchen. Frank pulled on his jeans, which had been shoved down by his feet. It occurred to him that the only places he’d seen the man were the bedrooms and in the kitchen. He vaguely wondered if he’d ever get to see the rest of the house.
In the kitchen, Gerard was pulling out boxes of cereal from a pantry to the right of the kitchen table. He opened one, smelled inside it, and pulled a face, crinkling his pixie features, before spitting out Yuck! and tossing the box across the table until it almost tumbled off the edge. Frank rubbed his eyes and leaned on the island.
“Why are we up so early?” he groaned, wincing at the light coming from the bulbs above the table. Frank became aware that he’d used the word We and wished he could take it back so he could swallow it.
Gerard put a second box of cereal on the table. “I have work this morning,” he explained. Then he grumbled to himself, “Got the fuckin’ early shift…” He closed the pantry and made his way to the fridge, assumedly for milk. “I thought you might wanna eat something before I go since you haven’t eaten in a while.” After he brought the milk to the table he went to retrieve bowls. “…I won’t be able to let you out again for a while.”
Frank was surprised and shouldn’t have been. Still his heart beat quicker and his sweat felt cold. “You don’t have to do that,” Frank argued, and it was mostly out of fear, although his voice sounded somewhat angry. Gerard didn’t make any physical gesture of disagreement, but he did reply with,
“Well, that’s what you say but I know that if I leave, so will you. And this time I won’t be here to hear the window break or you picking a lock or something, so it’s not like I have much choice, right?” He poured milk into two white, plastic bowls. “All I have are these corn flakes; that’s cool right?” It didn’t really make a difference if it was cool or not, Frank knew, because Gerard controlled everything. With several minutes more depression under his chest than he had began the day with, he took his usual place at the table to eat.
Pouring a bowl of generic corn flakes, Frank asked, “How long are you gonna be gone today?” He mixed around his breakfast, moistening it in the milk. “…You were gone for a while yesterday.”
“Yeah,” Gerard agreed in a voice that suggested he wished he hadn’t been. Frank speculated that it wasn’t because he felt guilty about where he’d left Frank and for how long, but because he wasn’t there to be with him. Maybe even not to watch, but to simply enjoy the togetherness. The other man looked up from his cereal suddenly and announced, “Oh, but my shift is shorter today so I’ll be home at like, twelve-thirty.”
So only six hours alone in the dark. Everyone should be so lucky, Frank thought.
They finished their breakfast quickly (Gerard had to be at the shop by six-fifteen in order to open it) and the experience was altogether satisfying; since it had been at least twenty-four hours since he’d eaten anything, Frank’s stomach churned on the corn flakes and the throbbing headache he was getting accustomed to waking up with was finally dissipating. Gerard scooped up their dishes and plopped them into the sink, and Frank could feel the beginnings of a habit forming when he waited by Gerard’s bedroom door before the man had even told him to move.
“Oh, wait,” Frank interjected suddenly as Gerard started to approach the door. “Could I have, like, a bottle of water or something?” He looked up at his captor and suddenly felt guilty for asking. “It’s just really hot in there and I got kinda thirsty last time…” One of his hands found the back of his head and he found himself twiddling the strands of hair in between his fingers. But Gerard didn’t say no; instead he grabbed a plastic bottle full of cold water and let Frank bring it into the closet with him. They even sort of said goodbye before he left.
“Try not to drink too much water,” Gerard warned before he closed the door. “I’m not gonna be here to let you out if you need to piss or something.” Frank said okay and began to darkly look forward to a day of nothingness. “Well, bye then.” He smiled and, despite himself, Frank found himself holding back a grin that had happily sneaked its way onto his face..
The door closed and locked and the footsteps disappeared. Somewhere in the house, a door slammed shut. Frank swished around the water in the bottle, grateful for the noise. He found himself wondering if Gerard ever thought about him while he was at work. Maybe he wondered how he was doing when he organized acrylic paint into a bin, or maybe there was a certain customer he resembled and if they were to stop by Gerard’s heart would leap into his throat and he would wish he could rush home. Frank situated himself into a laying position, wishing he had a pillow. It was early; maybe he could still get to sleep. He closed his eyes and laid his head on his hands. Maybe it wasn’t even that bad.
He drifted off to sleep wondering how he could think that.
Gerard came home a little later than noon, just like he had said. Frank had fallen asleep but only stayed asleep for a little over an hour after dreaming that the house was on fire and he couldn’t get out of the closet. The rest of the time he spent replaying songs he liked in his head and trying to count imaginary things in an attempt to pass time. He drank the rest of the water and found himself getting hungry again. Maybe at some point he’d reach some sort of equilibrium, but until then his mind and body were both completely out of whack. After ordering pizza for lunch Gerard asked him if he wanted any more aspirin and Frank said no. Some part of him felt like it was asking for too much.
“We can sit down in the living room if you want,” Gerard offered. He frowned and said, “You look exhausted. Did you sleep last night? Or while I was gone?”
“Yeah,” Frank replied. The skin on his face felt too loose for his skull. “I slept a lot, actually. I’m just…really tired for some reason.” As if he didn’t have a reason for being tired. It was almost laughable. Gerard gestured towards the living room, accessible through the kitchen through a large, wooden walkway and sat him down on an old, green couch. Sitting there, in comparison to the hard chair at the kitchen table or the uncomfortable carpet floor of the closet, was like resting on a cloud. Gerard grabbed the remote control off of the coffee table and clicked on the television. It was mostly just for background noise; Frank was now some of the closest he’d ever consensually been to Gerard, and all he could think about were the mere inches that separated them.
Gerard sat stiffly on the couch. “I know this place isn’t…like, ideal for you,” he began, twiddling his thumbs and conscious of the awkwardness. “But I’m trying to make it work. I’m trying my best…for- for you, I mean.”
There was a sudden warmth, an abstract comfort, in the pit of Frank’s middle. As the feeling spread like a fungus over wet logs and old rocks, he breathed out the words, “I know.” A smile creeped across his face and he bit down on his lip to try and hold it back. Whether Gerard saw it or not he didn’t know, but he hoped he hadn’t. In the back of his head he reasoned that it was because he couldn’t stand the thought of Gerard knowing he was a source of brief pleasure for him. It wasn’t out of pride; it was out of something else, just not something he recognized.
On the other side of the room, the doorbell chimed and Frank became aware of the door to the outside. Gerard stood to answer it and he had even wordlessly reached for the bronze-colored handle when he went completely rigid, stiffening as if his muscles had seized up. Everything became hard, as if he had simply become filled from his taut back muscles to his scalp with solidity.
He spoke as if he was fragile; as if he might just crack and break if he let his voice get too loud.
“Don’t say anything.”
It sounded like his voice was about to overtake his body, like it was a snake that might burst out of his chest or an enormous beast that might replace his bones and slip into his skin and violently beat Frank to death.
“If he looks at you, you look away. If he speaks to you, you say nothing. If you make any sign that you’re afraid, I will lock you away. And when I let you out, I will stab you in the God damn face.”
Frank’s arms and legs became a mess of shaking nerves. His brain told him to scream for help, to get up and maybe try to run past him, but common sense tightened his muscles into knots and stuck his lips together. A part of him whispered, He can’t take you both. Call for help and run, he’ll help you. Grab something from the kitchen while he’s dealing with the other guy and get the hell out.
But he thought, yes, he can. Yes he will. Be quiet, it’s almost over.
Gerard twisted the doorknob and Frank feared so badly that his voice would suddenly fling itself from his chest and he would cry, HELP ME, HELP ME!! HE’S CRAZY, HELP ME, HELP ME!! For whatever reason, the horror made him remember once standing on a balcony of a tall building, afraid that in some odd spasm he might accidentally hurl himself down onto the pavement. The membrane keeping his mind plastered down to his body had ruptured. Stability floated away like flakes of snow and dust.
There was another series of knocks at the door- they were a little more rushed (Hey didja forget about me I’m delivering your pizza, here)- and Gerard seemed to melt inside his skin. He changed, morphing from a violent schizophrenic to a kind stranger at the door in a span of about three seconds. He smiled and paid for their lunch; he even asked the boy (who was in his late teens) how he was doing. Smiling smiling- Yes I’m fine- Why thank you yes- smiling- Goodbye. Frank’s body shook like he was in a freezer.
Gerard set down the square box of pizza, along with a liter of black Pepsi, on the short, rectangular coffee table. He plopped down next to Frank as if he was as light as a feather. Grinning. Opening the cardboard box, he nudged Frank with his elbow. “C’mon dude, you gotta be hungry.”
Frank didn’t want to eat. If he did, he might throw it back up. Gerard plucked off a thin piece of black and red pepperoni and crunched the fried meat between his molars.
“What’s the matter?” he asked in a half-concerned voice as if he assumed whatever issue Frank was having must have been somewhat petty. There was nothing to be afraid of in Gerard’s head. Life was perfect. Frank still didn’t move, and he felt that if he did he might accidentally disassociate Gerard from his own contentment. Gerard continued, “You’re not eating.”
Frank breathed and his body seemed to settle into place. “…I’m not feeling too good.”
Gerard wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, chewed, then swallowed. His eyes were passive. “I know what’s wrong,” he said. He set down his lunch and turned towards Frank.
“It’s because I’m not giving you freedom,” he began in a flat voice. Frank only stared, partially aggravated because Gerard was only half right. “You want me to let you outside and…you wanna not sleep in the closet during the day. And you want me to not…hurt you…” He looked towards the ground and his hands balled into fists around the fabric of his jeans. Something warm left him as he breathed outward, and he sucked in something cold and dry and flat.
“I haven’t hurt you yet,” he said. “Even though sometimes I want to. When I heard you screaming in the closet yesterday I just wanted to kill you. Or cut you. I wanted to make you be quiet.” A part of him lost his self-control and a shudder traveled up and down his spine like electricity. “I told you that I slept in closets a lot when I was a kid. I did. I meant it. Sometimes my dad would put me in there and he would say- he would say through the door-…Your mother wanted a girl, Gerard. But you’re a boy, aren’t you? So act like one- boys aren’t scared of the dark!” He suddenly clutched his head, his hair falling in his face.
“He loved my mom and my mom wanted a girl so there wasn’t any room for me. He never cared about me, he never came to any of my parent-teacher conferences and he never let me stay home when I was sick because then mom might get sick.” Gerard clawed at his head, digging his nails into the soft skin of his scalp. “Even when I threw up.”
Frank was afraid to move away in fear that Gerard would feel the shifting of weight and break down completely. The idea that maybe he should try to console the other man occurred to him, but he didn’t extend his hand to touch Gerard’s shoulder or to stroke his arm. He kept his fingers to himself as if Gerard might bite them off.
“I never got to see her because he always put me in the closet when she ca-came out of her room. Like I was sick or ugly or so-something,” he stumbled. His voice suddenly became low and aggressive. “I hate him for that. I hate him. I want to shut him up, I want to not be so jealous of everyone who has someone because of him. I want to kill him!” He growled. “I want to kill him for taking away my mom and my friends! I want to kill EVERYONE!”
Frank reached out to touch Gerard on the shoulder, praying it would calm him down, and said in a soft voice, “Hey, man, it’s gonna be ok-“
The words on the edge of his tongue were cut short by Gerard’s knuckles colliding into his cheek and nose. He spun off the couch and gripped the edge of the coffee table to try and ease his landing on the carpet. Gerard stood up behind him and made a rough groaning sound, similar to what Frank imagined an angry bear sounded like. He tried to drag himself forward, digging his nails into the rough carpeting, but Gerard stepped onto his lower back to keep him still. Blood dripped from Frank’s nose onto the floor, the fabric drinking up his fluids.
Gerard kneeled down, pressing his knee between Frank’s shoulder blades. He gripped the other man by the hair and pulled his head up.
“You wanna leave?” he asked in a shaky voice. “You wanna leave me alone, don’t you?” He dropped Frank’s hair and Frank tried to shake his head, but Gerard exclaimed, “You’re lying!!” He stepped off of Frank’s back and thundered around the coffee table. Frank tried to shrink away, the warmth of his own blood dripping down the side of his face and gathering in the fibers of his T-shirt, but Gerard seized him by the collar like a man punishing a dog and dragged him into the kitchen. He kicked at the linoleum and dug his nails into Gerard’s hand, but he was pulled across the tiles to the side of the island facing the counters and drawers. For a moment Frank thought Gerard might let go in order to look through the drawer, but he held tight onto the cloth, single-handedly opening the drawer and searching through the silverware.
With a burst of strength, Frank managed to tug himself out of Gerard’s grasp, the fingers coming loose from his collar. He stumbled forward, his socks slipping on the tiles and sending him onto his hands. The heel of his palm collided with the floor and his wrist twisted, sending a jolt of electric pain from his wrist to his elbow. Sliding himself several feet across the floor with his one working hand, he turned his neck back, watching as Gerard sauntered towards him, knife situated in a tight fist.
Frank opened his mouth to scream, but the only sound that came out was an almost inaudible screech. He tried to grasp the floor in order to pull himself away but his fingers slid across the linoleum as if it was greased. Gerard grabbed Frank by the back of the shirt and flipped him onto his back, moving to straddle his waist to pin him down. Frank reached for the knife, grasping at the hand that held it, but Gerard lifted his arm high and out of Frank’s reach.
Gerard jerked his neck, flipping his hair out of his eyes. He brought the blade down, the other hand on the opposite side of Frank’s head to support himself, and pushed the tip against Frank’s jugular. Frank could feel it there against the skin, his heart pounding so ferociously that the vein might have pulsed against the sharp edge until it was punctured. Above him, Gerard panted but didn’t move, his mouth open as he breathed but didn’t speak. Frank swallowed and looked up at him, tears making trails down his temples and the blood from his nose dripping down the back of his throat.
“Gerard,” he gasped. His was holding onto Gerard’s arms as if he was on the edge of a cliff and they might keep him from falling. His feet twitched.
There was no response. Just the sound of breathing. Gerard’s eyes were large and blank, looking down at Frank, but not seeing him. He had retreated back into his own head. Frank couldn’t help but imagine the inside of Gerard’s mind like a council of faceless, anthropomorphic shadows that were debating whether or not he should cut Frank’s throat open. Gerard probably had no say in what went on in there; he just stood by and let angry, arguing voices make most of his decisions. Without meaning to, Frank snorted and gagged on his own blood, spitting it out onto his lips. It tasted like pennies and he choked on it some more.
A switch seemed to flick; a light turning on on the inside of Gerard’s skull. He made a sort of high whimper and dropped the knife beside Frank’s head, retracting his hand as if the knife was going to bite. He pulled his hands into his chest, grasping them with fingers over fingers as if he might be trying to hold them back.
“Oh, shit…” he whispered in a breathy voice. He grabbed the knife and pushed himself off of Frank, setting the knife on the table, out of reach of the both of them, and turning his back to the man on the ground. His hand was on his forehead as he cursed to himself, as if holding his brain inside his head with his palm. Frank lifted himself up onto his elbows, the pain in his wrist acute, but seemingly unimportant.
Gerard kept his hand on his head. “God, oh God, shit,” he cursed, conspicuously exasperated. With Gerard having his back turned, Frank took the opportunity to slide himself away a few feet until his back hit the wall next to the table. In pain and afraid, he curled himself into a ball, with his knees to his chest, and waited for Gerard to calm down.
“Oh, God, Frank…” he panted. “I’m…oh, God…” He turned back and either didn’t notice Frank had moved away or didn’t care. “…I need to take a break for a while. I need to do something...” He clenched his eyes shut briefly, then said, “I need to make things better.”
The pain in Frank’s wrist sent a bolt of discomfort all the way through his shoulder and he noticed that it was starting to swell. He wanted to tell Gerard that he needed to go to the hospital, or just get any sort of medical care, but if he did Gerard might break the wrist that Frank assumed was only sprained. After pacing around the kitchen for a few minutes, Gerard turned his attention back to Frank. From the floor he looked abnormally tall; his legs long and lean, the color of the pants making him resemble a black grasshopper. He was breathing more normally now, his face a little bit shiny and sticky looking from crying.
“Okay,” he began, sniffling and taking a heavy breath. “I think…I need to lie down for a while. You too.” As he watched Frank’s swelling wrist he seemed to become filled with more despondency, like somewhere an invisible hose was pumping him full of sadness and regret. “You’ll have to go in the closet again because I still don’t trust you.”
“No!” Frank cried, clutching his wrist and sitting up as much as he could. Gerard looked only slightly surprised at the plea, but Frank shrunk back anyway. “Gerard,” he whimpered. “…Please, I need to get to a doctor. I think my wrist is sprained or something and I don’t know if my nose is broken.” He paused, waiting for Gerard to interject, but he didn’t. “Please, Gerard, it hurts like hell.”
Gerard moved his tongue around inside his mouth, mentally gnawing over the request. It was difficult to tell if he would say no simply out of malice, as a moderate act of vengeance, or simply because he just didn’t want Frank to leave. There didn’t seem to be much more substance to Gerard’s reasoning than he didn’t want to be alone. He was either truly a simple creature, or something very complex hidden beneath the guise of one. Separating his lips with a slightly wet sound, he said,
“I can’t take you. But I’ll give you whatever meds I’ve got so the swelling’ll go down and maybe you can sleep through the rest of your pain.” He hesitated, a step then a slight pause, and approached Frank’s corner. “I know you don’t wanna talk to me. Or touch me. I know you want me to take you home because I’m a freak and I keep trying to hurt you. But you’re gonna make me better, Frank. See, I’m already calmed down.” He opened his arms in a gesture towards himself and smiled weakly. Frank took a breath and looked the other man up and down as if expecting to find something different, or something that said, Yeah, it’s alright now.
“Okay,” Frank said in a shaky voice and Gerard looked openly surprised about it. “Okay, I’ll stay. I just need something to make this stop hurting.” Remembering what Gerard had said earlier, he added, “I’ll be quiet.”
Gerard didn’t move right away, he just sort of stood there looking either sad or empty. Outside, tapping noises came every few seconds on the roof. It was raining. It wasn’t much past one-thirty but it felt like it was a bit later in the evening. Frank was shaken but tired. And for some reason, no longer afraid; just entirely empty, as if someone had pulled a plug and drained him of everything. The moment past and Gerard slipped his arm beneath Frank’s in order to hoist him to his feet. In the bathroom he wiped under Frank’s nose with a yellow washcloth until all the blood was gone. Frank could still feel some of it coagulated inside his nasal passages. Gerard said that it didn’t look broken, and it really didn’t seem like he hit him that hard since the bleeding stopped so quickly. Frank begged to differ, Gerard was a hard hitter; but he said nothing.
He took two aspirins and one low-dose over the counter sleeping pill. For the first time, he sat on Gerard’s bed. They waited there while they waited for the sleeping medication to kick in and Frank speculated that if Gerard were to seize this opportunity for a date-rape attempt, his life was in the shitter so much that as long as Gerard didn’t tell him about it, he really wouldn’t care. As long as he didn’t make an attempt to run away and remained generally pleasant, staying with Gerard until somebody found him wouldn’t be difficult.
Something in him wanted to say pleasant. It made him feel nervous.
Gerard grabbed Frank a bag of ice for his nose and his wrist. He even put a small pillow in the closet for him to lay his head on. The act of kindness felt immense when it shouldn’t have. He was still being forced into a closet and held in captivity with a bruised nose and a sprained wrist. But the act was still welcome, and in comparison to anything else he’d recently received, it was gracious and compassionate.
Frank held the bag of ice against his wrist and the pain began to numb away. “Thank you,” he said quietly. His voice slipped away into nothingness, becoming a thin, insignificant sound. Grey clouds thickened and expanded inside his head.
“I know you don’t believe me,” Gerard said suddenly, and his voice in the silence was like an arrow through paper. “…But you are precious to me. I just sometimes lose myself in my own head.” And he was calm again; a starving artist, not a speck of sadism, just kindness. And remorse.
With slightly furrowed eyebrows and the plastic baggy of ice on his swollen and purple wrist, he asked, “Why?” Gerard didn’t seem to understand what exactly Frank was asking so he elaborated with, “Why me? Why anyone?” He adjusted the ice to the opposite side of the his wrist, the hand holding the bag cold and slightly uncomfortable.
“Hardly anything in this world follows reason,” Gerard said. For some reason, he looked abnormally thin, but unlike the victim of poverty or high school anorexia; there were no extra bones or frailness, no emaciation. It was more like he had simply been built that way; with grasshopper legs and a cardboard torso. Gerard was starting to disappear, little spots of blackness devouring him away. Frank said something, but he didn’t know what; it may not have been an actual word or sentence or even a rational thought at all, but just a mismatched, nonsense sound to grab Gerard’s attention. He started to tip over, unconsciousness not beckoning him, but pulling him down with delicate hands, and Gerard caught him, carrying him over to his place of sleep. Frank’s feet dragged across the carpet.
Rest came, as did revelation. In Frank’s mind, Gerard was not unkind or malicious; he wasn’t unable to function or care for others. With random gestures of cruelty, selfishness or loneliness brought victims which brought victims which brought victims, be they lonely children or abused friends and spouses; or even a random stranger spending his friendless Thursday nights in unfamiliar bars.