Kady nods, then says, “You take classes. At UW.”
When I look at her with question in my eyes, she rushes on, “I saw you there once. While I was visiting a friend. You were coming out of a lecture hall I think.”
We are both quiet for a while, soaking in these new details. Kady is touching my hair, lifting it in places like she’s sizing it up.
“Take it all off,” I say suddenly. “As short as you like.” I suddenly feel emboldened by my twenty-one years. The fact that I made it this long without anyone helping me. I might as well have new hair to go with my new face and body. I’ve been here a year, in this city, in this culture.
I close my eyes.
I am not the Margo of the Bone. I am a new, tightly shaped Margo of Seattle, my white lashes painted dark like spider legs, and my iridescent skin blushed. I wonder if my mother would still find me ugly if she saw me now. I should look like a boy with my short hair, but the makeup softens me. Makes me feel tough and feminine all at the same time.
EARLY ONE MORNING, as the fog rushes in from the Sound, I am walking home from work an hour earlier than usual since the restaurant was dead, when I spot a scuffle down an alley. I linger along the street, wondering if I should do something. There is no one around to call to for help. Sometimes there are fights among the homeless—a strong possibility right now. It’s four in the morning; the late night drinkers have long stumbled home, and the working class has not yet risen. I strain to see the struggle, my breath fogging the air around me. I am cold. I want to wash the restaurant off my skin and crawl into bed. I should leave them to it, and I’m about to when I hear a woman’s scream. Short, like it was cut off before it could gain volume.
I start down the alley, my hesitation trimmed away by the sharp cry for help. I run on my toes—long, quiet strides. He doesn’t hear when I approach from behind, his back to me. A strong, broad man in a leather jacket. Pinned against the wall is a girl younger than I am. Her eyes are bleary and unfocused as she wriggles from side to side. Her attempts are futile. He is three times her size.
One hand is clamped over her mouth, the weight of his shoulder holding her against the wall, and, with his free hand, he is struggling with his pants, urging them down over his thick hips. I watch for a moment, my rage building. It’s a slow boil, but I let it climb—wanting the full force of my anger to be intact before I act.
In my mind I have already killed him. I’ve ripped him off her and slit his throat with the knife I keep strapped to my ankle. But I know I can’t kill him. There is a witness, there would be police, a long day answering questions, and eyes. I don’t want them to know I exist.
I have to be careful; he’s bigger than me. I wait until he’s slipped his pants lower. They hang mid-thigh. He’s taken the time to rip his belt free of the loops and toss it aside. I bend to retrieve it, grabbing one end and dragging it toward me, never taking my eyes from his back. The girl has spotted me. Her eyes are on my face as I approach. I lift a finger to my lips, signaling her to be quiet. It just takes a second—my arms lifting, the belt around his neck. His yelp of surprise is cut short as I pull the belt tight.
“Run,” I say to the girl, before he pushes me backward. His pants restrict his movement, something I was counting on. I do not loosen my hold on the belt, but pull tighter as he repeatedly slams me into the wall. His fingers pull against the belt, but my boot finds leverage against a large metal dumpster, and I wedge it there and hold on tight. I can barely feel the brick bite into my skin, the adrenaline coating my nerves like a nice, rubber sealant. I manage to loop the belt. I hold it with one hand as I reach down for my knife. He almost knocks it from my hand, and, in the process, I slice open his thigh, which causes him to buck more wildly than before. I lose my grip on the belt, and he stumbles free, hissing and gasping for air. He uses his seconds to pull the belt from around his neck. I use my seconds to plow him into the wall, bending at my waist and rushing forward like I’d seen football players on television do. He hits me once, in the face, and I think I’m going to throw up from the pain. He grabs my arm and pulls it behind my back. I think he’s going to rip it from the socket when I swing my free hand up and slash with the knife at his cheek. He lets me go, and I clutch his face. I swing around and press the blade to the soft spot on his neck. His hands come up in surrender, though I know they won’t stay there. Another few seconds, and I’ll be in the weaker position. That’s the thing women don’t get; if you want to keep the upper hand, you have to act faster than they do. So I stab him. Press the blade through his skin until his blood warms my fingers. I didn’t intend to kill, but I did.
Three lives, I tell myself. I stumble back as he collapses into a pile at my feet. That’s when I see the girl. She ran, but not far enough. She waited to see what would happen, or perhaps she stayed to help. She doesn’t really look committed to any one thing, even her socks—which are pulled up over her tights—don’t match. We lock eyes, hers considerably less bleary than when I’d last looked into them.
“You killed him,” she said.
I wipe a hand across my forehead, unsure of what to do next.
“Who is he?” I ask.
She’s staring at the body, and I have to repeat my question.
“Who was he,” she corrects me. “He’s dead.”
She’s a little thing. Not even legal. I eye her too-sexy clothes: a leather mini skirt and a tight sweater, and want to change my question to ‘who are you?’ But we are running out of time. Things must be decided. My fingerprints are all over this man. She’s seen my face. We can’t just walk away anymore. Someone might have already seen or heard us and called the police.
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