The voice spoke and Frank reached for it, like a moth reaching for a beautiful, burning light.
“LET ME OUT, GERARD, PLEASE, I HAVE TO GET TO A DOCTOR!!” As he screamed, he bled over his mouth and sprayed his mixture of spit and blood over the door. He hacked, gagging on the copper taste and the thickness of the coagulating fluid, and spit an enormous drop onto the carpet. Frank whimpered, sobbing into the arm held up against the door, and shouted into the darkness, his body tensing as he forced all his air out into the cry for help. “HELP ME, HELP ME, PLEASE! GERARD, PLEASE HELP ME!!”
Somewhere else in the house Gerard screamed again; he screamed at the top of his voice, crying as if he was being murdered, the sound becoming raspy as his vocal chords were strained. He didn’t scream words, just a horrible, terrifying sound over and over again, and Frank couldn’t help but join him. The tooth poking painful holes in his skin, he remembered crying when his tooth fell out when he was five years old and his mother telling him in an impatient voice that it was going to grow back. But it wasn’t going to grow back now because Gerard had knocked it clean out of his skull.
Mid-scream, his stomach lurched and he choked on the need to vomit, trying to hold it back down his throat with invisible hands. He could taste his own bile as his body tried to force it back up; reverse peristalsis, perpetual, throbbing pain. And if he threw up he’d be forced to sit in it if and until Gerard would let him out. A little moan shook him and he thought he might be violently sick despite himself.
Frank felt around the rest of his teeth with his tongue, and some of the tension in his body subsided when no other teeth were loose. The side of his face that Gerard had slammed into the wall was swollen, his right eye rendered completely useless by the enflamed tissue, and felt as if it had been hit with a brick. He reached up to touch it and whimpered pathetically at the explosion of pain that occurred when his fingers brushed the bruises. Everything hurt; from his face to his bruised shoulder to his pride. He wanted to go back in time and pull the pieces out from the puzzle. Then he and Gerard could sit at the kitchen table together and fiddle around with pieces that didn’t match until everything was perfect again.
Gerard was still screaming outside, although the outbursts were becoming less frequent, with more periods of silent in between. Frank could hear him sobbing during the silences and at one point heard him make a similar gagging sound to the one he himself had made earlier. The idea that Gerard could spontaneously rip open the door and shoot or stab him to death occurred to him and he shrunk away from the door, feeling afraid and betrayed.
He spit up another mouthful of blood and grabbed a handful of the pillow still left in there, pressing the fabric into the back of his mouth, holding it against the sensitive, bleeding gum. Breathing through his nose, he was surprised Gerard hadn’t tried to break it again. The pillow hindered the bleeding, but didn’t stop the pain from pulsing, coming and going like waves on sand. He shuddered and spit out another, smaller, mouthful of blood. It was slowing down. He calmed himself, his breath steady but the rest of his body trembling violently. Gerard’s screaming had faded to sobs and whimpers.
It took somewhere around fifteen minutes for the stream of blood to be reduced to a thin trickle and by then all the sounds in the small house had been muted. He pulled the fabric of the pillow out of his mouth, a tiny, mucus-y line connected from the pillow to the inside of his mouth, the cloth now sticky and heavy. Hacking to clear his throat, Frank attempted to raise his voice. Through a groan, he called out,
“…Ger-…Gerard?” He said the word nervously, calling out like a scared child calling to their parents in other room in the middle of the night. His tongue felt odd in his mouth without the tooth there but luckily it was so far back that it didn’t hinder his speech too significantly. He picked up his voice again, increasing the volume through the fluid in his throat. “…Gerard, are you there?”
If he was there, he didn’t answer. Frank pressed his ear against all four walls, listening in each direction for the rustling sound of moving clothes or the raspy sound of breathing. There was nothing. Gerard had left him with no food or water, with a knocked out tooth and a swollen face in a bloody, dusty closet. With his hands against the door, tooth settled in the bottom of his pocket, he wanted Gerard to come back; not just as a person who could let him out of the cramped space or save him from bleeding to death, but as someone who could protect and care for him when no one else could.
After nearly ten hours, Frank’s mouth had become laced with copper, as if a sheet of metal had been molded around every crevice and hill of the cavern. From the tip of his tongue to the very pit of his esophagus he was thirsty, feeling like someone had taken a ball of cotton and swabbed out his inside of any moisture. He stopped calling for help three hours ago, when his throat gave a gravelly crock midway through a cry. He stopped pawing and pounding at the door because it felt like he’d been hit by a truck. Gerard was lean and below average height, but when he lost himself in the back of his head he was as strong as an ox; strong enough to flip over a table and beat Frank near senseless. There must have been a hidden storage of adrenaline somewhere in his body because Frank couldn’t imagine how he became so aggressive so quickly.
Maybe he’s like the incredible Hulk, Frank thought through the thunderstorm of heat and dehydration. And I made him angry so he got super strong. Maybe he’s really Ed Norton and I’m really Liv Tyler and tomorrow morning we’ll win an Oscar…
He hiccupped and snickered. No, that’s silly. The Hulk didn’t win an Oscar…
Frank had been sure that Gerard would have come back within the first couple of hours- five, maybe seven at most- but he could gauge by the thirst and the pain that it had been at least twelve. Rain came, tip-tap-ing like children’s fingers on the roofs and windows, and Frank remembered a weather report mentioning rain in the very early morning. He wanted the roof to open up, to fly off, and he would open his dry mouth so the rain might drip into it.
His muscles ached and pounded and he imagined broken bones and torn ligaments that might never heal; he feared infection, remembering and reliving his childhood dread of being eaten in pieces by insects. He imagined a writhing cluster of minuscule green worms pulsing in and out of the place where his tooth had once been.
Hunger came but he knew it was just thirst under the guise of hunger, his body trying to confuse or distract him from the pain of dehydration. His head was a throbbing wound, an enormous bleeding bruise constricting the blood flow to his brain. If he died, no one would find him because they had not found him while he was alive. No one was coming because no one cared.
Several more hours past and eventually he just passed out, unconsciousness enveloping him like an old blanket made of wool. There were no holes to let in light; just blackness. And he dreamt nothing.
Needles and the legs of walking stick insects poked holes in his throat. The rain was gone but the pain came back, like a pile of rocks held above his head in a rope net finally gave and stoned him. Consciousness brought awareness of the pain, awareness of thirst and hunger and loneliness. He was too afraid to raise his arm and touch his fingers against the swollen part of his face; afraid of the pain and afraid that it might be even worse than before. The tooth sat snugly between the fabrics of his pocket.
Gerard had been gone for so long, and by the time Frank had the energy to think about it, it had been either a little before or after twenty-four hours. With his fingers crawling up and down the door like a lethargic spider he thought that maybe Gerard had just given up and died. Probably gone somewhere where he could overdose on the unknown medicine in the bathroom cabinet or put a bullet in the back of his throat. Thick tears made pearl-shapes in the corner of Frank’s eyes and he wanted to lick at them as they dripped down his face. He imagined Gerard laying down to die in a dirty bed and all at once the dam holding back the sob in his throat cracked and burst and he leaned his forehead against the door and wept.
His muscles clenched and were sore as he cried but he cried anyway. He tried to weep out the guilt and the physical pain. Neither of them went away, they just made sticky tracks down the front of his face.
Eventually he just slumped against the door, ready to listen for sounds that would never come, and let himself either slide back into unconsciousness or die. He didn’t care which because it didn’t matter.
This time he did dream. He dreamt that he and Gerard were sitting in the swing seats of a Ferris wheel. June bugs lay dead underneath their seats and below them people ran with plastic cones of pink and blue cotton candy. The smell of fried dough swirled around them and summer warmed the backs of their arms. Gerard stood up in his seat and looked over the open side of their seat, holding onto the metal bar behind his chair. He put his feet up onto the door, the right and then the left, and stared down onto the concrete, his black hair flying around his head. The sun was orange and purple. Frank stood beside him and as Gerard stepped off the edge Frank reached into his mouth and threw his teeth down after him.
Sounds came. Frank could hear them, coming in from the hallway and stopping outside the door. He heard them through cotton and cellophane. The door opened and he looked up with his eyes wet and wide, his face swollen and bruised. He trembled, his knees beneath him and his arms keeping him supported. He spoke, but didn’t hear it. I thought you’d died.
“Are you ready to come out?”
The voice spoke and Frank reached for it, like a moth reaching for a beautiful, burning light.