Bourbon Penn 12


by Holly Day

If one was to believe the various entertainment magazines and newspapers that lined the impulse aisle in the grocery store, the entire world was in mourning the day Sue Pious disappeared. For nearly a full week afterward, people — many of whom hadn’t even really been fans of the diminutive pop star before her disappearance — left bundles of flowers tied with red ribbons on her doorstep, with little notes that read, “We’re Still Looking!” and “We Will Find You!” and, finally, “We’ll Never Forget!” tucked into the crinkly florist’s paper. There was even a brief discussion about erecting some sort of shrine to the memory of the pop star who had inspired so many little girls to pick up the guitar, but that faded quickly away in the wake of headline-stealing celebrity divorces and a new television season.

There was no mention in any of these papers of the disappearance of Sharon’s daughter, who disappeared a few weeks before on an equally beautiful day. Of course, the President of the United States had never met Sharon’s daughter, but if he had, and he’d had a chance to really sit down and get to know her, Sharon was sure he would have loved her just as much as he claimed to love Sue Pious.

“She really was a wonderful child,” Sharon told Sue Pious one morning. She had avoided having any conversations with her prisoner before this morning, this special morning, afraid that if she bonded with the girl, she might not be able to do what needed to be done. Now that she had spent enough time around her, though, knew what a spoiled brat she could be, what a horrible, angry vocabulary she had, she felt it safe to explain herself a bit. “Is. Is a wonderful child. Sandra,” she added, a little louder. “Her name was Sandra. She’s a really nice girl.”

“Why the fuck am I still here?” said Sue. “How long have I been here now? Why won’t you tell me what you want? People are looking for me out there, you know. You’re not going to get away with this!”

“Yes, I know. You are very important, important people like you don’t just disappear, blah, blah, blah,” Sharon finished for her. She had heard it all so many times now that it felt more like a play than an argument. “You know, I might try to have a real conversation with you if you would just listen to my story, just once.” Sharon put the tray of brown food down on the ground and pushed it just hard enough to send it across the ground to where Sue Pious lay. Turkey, stuffing, some potatoes and gravy. Sharon watched the former pop icon, the former Ms. Miami contestant, as she inhaled the food in front of her. What would people say if they saw her now, a hundred pounds heavier than when Sharon coaxed her into her car, pretending to be the mother of a sick child who was Sue Pious’ biggest fan? She’d have a hell of a time convincing MTV to air any video that showed her gyrating her way across a stage now.

“Fine.” Sue’s mouth was full of irresistible, moist, gravy-soaked stuffing. If she was anything, Sharon was a damned fine cook. “Talk to me. Tell me about your pitiful little life, how losing your daughter left such a huge hole in your heart that you can’t stand to get up in the morning. What about me? What about the people I left behind?”

“The people in your life have other people,” said Sharon. “I had no one but Sandy.” Sue Pious finished her meal and gestured for more. Sharon picked up the plate still smeared with bits of gristle and gravy. “I have no one but Sandy.”

Sharon turned her back on the handcuffed woman slobbering over a pile of turkey bones and headed back upstairs. Upstairs, it seemed like a perfectly normal house, with nothing untoward going on in the basement whatsoever. While Sharon was not Cuban herself, her tastes in furnishings had been heavily influenced by the largely upper-class Cuban community she’d grown up in. Her furniture was mostly pink, and while her couch wasn’t real leather, from the doorway, or in dim light, it could have passed for pink leather. Her prize furnishing, a small chandelier, hung directly over the tiny dinette next to the kitchen. She and Sandy would often sit at this very table and talk about how one day, when they had a bigger house, they would have a chandelier like this one except much bigger.

Now that she had Sue, the extreme contrast between the dark, wet cubbyhole of a basement full of ripe people-smell and her actual apartment was almost palpable. Coming up the stairs felt even more like she had ascended to some type of pink, sparkly Heaven, up from the depths of a Hell that took up more and more of her day. The longer she held Sue captive, the more Sharon was certain that this sparkly version was as close as she would ever get to Heaven.

• • •

The TV flicked on automatically at 7 a.m., and Sharon woke up to the concerned face of a local news anchorperson. Cecelia something. “According to Police Chief Grayson, local police are apparently close to wrapping up the case of missing platinum-selling pop star Sue Pious,” says Cecelia-something. “Please tune in tonight at nine for a special interview with one man who says he has all the answers.” Sharon was up and dressed before the commercial break. She had never dealt very well with irony, and refused to let it happen to her this time.

She opened her front door and stepped outside for a smoke, trying to look casual. There were no police cars in the street, no suspicious strangers loitering nearby.

“Hey, Baby.” Her neighbor, Sam, sat on his front porch, smoking a cigarette. “You still home from work?”

“Yep. For at least another week, then I’ve got to go back.” Sharon pulled a cigarette out as casually as she could and put it between her lips. Sam’s lighter was right there, right on time, his warm, brown hand cupped around the flame against the wind.

“That’s a shame, Baby. You can’t be expected to, you know,” he started, then turned away. He tried again. “You’re looking better lately. You know, since …” He cleared his throat uncomfortably.

“Aw, Sam.” Sharon smiled and patted his hand. “I don’t know what it is, but I’ve just got this feeling, you know? I think things are going to get better after today. I don’t know why.”

“Mama’s intuition?” He drug the words out, reluctantly, painfully, as if obligated by the laws of neighborly conversation to do so.

“Yep. Mama’s intuition.” She turned her attention back to the street, searching for armed police officers scuttling crab-like between parked cars. They weren’t there. Sharon let her breath out slowly.

“So, that pop star that’s missing,” she said. “I just heard on the TV that they think they know where she is.”

“Ah, I don’t pay much attention to crap like that,” grunted Sam. “It’s not really news, right? Some rich girl goes missing, and everyone’s got a picture of her in their front window. Some nice, ordinary little kid goes missing, and the ‘missing’ posters go down in a week. Doesn’t seem right.” He cleared his throat again and put his hands over his eyes. “God, Sharon, Baby, I didn’t mean— I just—”

“You’re a good friend, Sam.” Sharon stubbed her cigarette out on the handrail. “Everything’s going to be okay. Like I said, I can just feel it. Everything’s going to be okay.”

They stood like that for a while, quiet, until Sharon was convinced that nobody was coming to get her. She turned and headed back inside just as the sun was beginning to turn the horizon pink, leaving Sam to his own thoughts. There was a lot of stuff to do before midnight.

Sharon flipped the television on for company while she got things ready. Cecelia was back on, interviewing a nine-year-old boy about the jars of pennies he’d sent to Washington to help buy soldiers new body armor. The little boy seemed so grown-up and serious that Sharon had to stop and watch the interview. “Kids shouldn’t have to worry about stupid stuff like that,” she said aloud, suddenly blinking back tears. “What is this world coming to, when kids have to worry about shit like that?” She wiped her eyes furiously with her sleeve as she loaded up the first plastic garbage bag, taking careful inventory of everything that went in. Once she went downstairs, she couldn’t come back up until it was all over.

A pair of scissors. Two full boxes of black trash bags. Two rolls of silver duct tape. A three-pack of latex gloves. A bottle of dish soap, a scrub brush, a roll of paper towels. An emptied milk jug refilled with tap water. A box of thick sidewalk chalk. A tin of lighter fluid and a box of matches. Every single knife from her kitchen, even the dull ones.

Cecelia-something still babbled from the television screen as Sharon finally closed up the garbage bags and prepared herself for the trip downstairs. The headline news was about Sue Pious. Some guy in Tucson claimed to have seen Sue Pious in a grocery store, wearing a giant sun hat and sunglasses, like she was in disguise. A woman in Alberta, Canada said she saw Sue Pious hitchhiking, and saw her get into a semi driven by a large black man. Finally, the Tampa Bay police chief said he had Sue Pious in his jail, but wouldn’t let the press talk to her for another 24 hours.

“Funny how nobody’s seen my daughter in any of those places,” Sharon murmured. It was all the pep talk Sharon need. She shut the set off and headed downstairs, past the pink of her beautiful dinette set and into the darkness of the basement.

“Fucking bitch,” snarled Sue Pious as soon as she saw Sharon. “Fuck you, they’re looking for me, you fucking bitch. Fuck.” She heaved her gigantic, soft body against her tethers and spit at Sharon. Sharon shook her head at Sue sadly. This would be the last night she and Sue spent together. The former pop star was the closest thing to real company Sharon had had for a long time.

“I wish things could be different,” she said softly. “I’m not a bad person, and I know you’re not one, either. I just can’t see any other way to get my daughter back.” She put the garbage bag down on the ground and began to empty it out. Sue Pious’s eyes grew wide and hysterical as Sharon pulled out the stack of knives and the bottle of lighter fluid.

“Listen, you don’t have to do this.” Sue’s eyes were frozen on the pile of knives, the unfurled black garbage bags carefully taped to the inside of the carefully-drawn pentagram on the cold concrete of the basement floor. “If you set me free, I can help you look for your daughter. I’ll make a campaign out of it. I can go on tour and put your daughter’s face on concert flyers around the world. One of my fans is sure to recognize her picture and help lead us to your daughter. Sandra! They’ll help us find Sandra! Please don’t do this!”

What Sharon wanted to tell her right now was that she already knew her daughter was dead. Nobody had to trot Sharon’s little girl’s cold, stiff corpse in front of her for her to confirm that sick, hollow feeling in her stomach that had followed her around since the night Sandra disappeared. A mother knows these things. The past six months hadn’t been spent looking for her daughter. They’d been spent trying to find out how to get her back from whatever place little girls go when they’re dead.

Sue Pious’s screeches faded to a dull burn in the back of Sharon’s head as she began to dig through the other woman’s body for the answer to her prayers. Months of following rumors and reading rituals off the Internet had led her to this point, the creation of her very own ritual for conjuring the dead. This had to be the answer. This had to work. Somewhere inside that gigantic, bloated, dying hulk was Sharon’s daughter, reborn, nurtured by six months’ worth of gravy-soaked meats and cream-filled cakes and bits of Sharon’s own flesh and blood.

“I know you’re in here,” she muttered, up to her elbows in blood. There was no turning back now. “I know you’re in here. You have to be.”

Holly Day has taught writing classes at the Loft Literary Center in Minnesota, since 2000. Her poetry has recently appeared in Oyez Review, SLAB, and Gargoyle, while her recently published books include Music Theory for Dummies, Piano All-in-One for Dummies, The Book Of, and Nordeast Minneapolis: A History.