Dia pulled two apples off of the tree in her backyard and inhaled the crisp air and sunshine, her long, flowing gown barely covering her tan flesh. It was early in the morning, the sliding glass door to her house open wide as she walked across the lush grass, watching two sparrows bickering over birdseed around the little red birdhouse she had made with her son, Eric.
It was quiet, a rare moment of peace for her, the sweet smell of the rose bushes that lined the house drifting to her, the face in the basement window a sudden shock. Dropping the apples, she ran for the back of the house, the pale face opening its eyes wide, something red in its mouth. Upstairs the boy was stirring—she could feel it, hear the creaking of the house and his tiny footsteps on the hardwood floor. Into the living room, her nightgown coming untied, feet slipping, she ran to the door that lead to the basement, unlocked it, and flew down the stairs. There was a crash of something metal, boxes tumbling down, the meow of a cat, and the crack of a whip. Low voices muttered back and forth, and the sound of flesh being slapped filled the air, and then silence.
Dia’s footsteps back up the wooden stairs were slow and purposeful, her face covered in a thin layer of sweat, smudges of dirt on her forehead, a thin cut on her forearm, a smile slipping over her face.
Up in his bedroom Eric cocked his head to one side, picked up his favorite stuffed animal, Cody, a large black swan—ready to come downstairs for breakfast and a hug from his mother, who in his eyes, was a goddess.
“You don’t know what love is,” Dia whispered down the stairs, sticking her neck out into the darkness, listening for a response. When there was none, she closed the door, and slid the high deadbolt shut, so that Eric couldn’t open the door.
The coffee percolated as Dia squeezed lime and pomegranate into the blender, adding in peaches and a few bruised apples, honey and a bit of yogurt. She licked her fingers and stared at the basement door. On the kitchen table was a stack of envelopes, a few with bold red type on the outside—and in her nightgown pocket, a wad of $100 bills.
She raised her eyes to the heavens, and prayed for guidance. When none came to her, she started to cry.
Dia sat at the long wooden bar as the heavy bass reverberated around her, watching her own reflection in the glass, as one man after another walked behind her, close to her, their hands grazing her, their eyes traveling over her skin. Layers of dark silk flowed over her curves, contained with a leather belt, boots tight around her taut calves, her hair pulled back into a ponytail. She glowed, and there was nothing she could do about it.
The smell of sandalwood and red currant drifted from the votive candles that were scattered across the top of the bar, a solitary bartender polishing the same glass for what seemed like an eternity. In the darkness, only his white teeth, his Cheshire grin, stood out in the ever-expanding blackness, a glint in his eye—his pale, bald head shimmering with sweat. He watched her with a grin on his face, undressing her with his eyes, no doubt, as they all did.
She sipped her gin martini, the sharp sting of the medicinal juniper berries blending with the sour tang of the olive and pimento as she sunk her teeth into it, chewing the tiny green fruit and swallowing it all down. This was work, she kept telling herself. It had to be done. She’d been coming to this club for years now, and it had kept her afloat, her clients. Closing her eyes for a moment, she let the mixture of pain and pleasure, guilt and bliss, wash over her as she pictured her son home asleep in his bed, the elderly woman from next door, Diana, watching over her only child. She thought of the man in the basement she’d forgotten about last night, and the welts on his back, the spark in his eye, the heat that rushed over her skin as she had beaten him into submission. All of this energy had to go someplace, her pleas to the gods above unanswered, her heart so full of love that it overwhelmed most mortal men. Smothering, was one word they used, intense was another. They’d take her to bed, and then several weeks later, disappear. She was too much, they’d say. What was heaven one night, the passion overflowing, became an unsustainable pitch that turned to siren song, piercing their ears as they’d run away in fear.
In the corners of the bar, in the shadows, dark spirits watched her, their red eyes gleaming, wishing her failure, eager to see her battered and stained, urging her to embrace the darkness, calling her home with rancid breath. She pretended that they didn’t exist, as they hovered at the periphery, eager to help her embrace the night.
“Why can’t you just be normal,” they’d ask. Normal bored her. She had such an appetite, so many ideas, the push and pull, the give and take, soft and hard—she constantly vibrated as if she was about to self-destruct. And in many ways, that was true. Every day in a relationship with Dia was taking a step forward, upping the ante, no way to go backwards, no way to slow down. It was a fix she couldn’t lessen or control. From girl next door to librarian to cheerleader to dominatrix in the same span of time that most men were still trying to figure out if they should send flowers. She would not hide her head in shame, nor would she cry in front of her son over her loneliness and unending desire.
So this was her solution.
“Can I buy you a drink?” the man in the dark suit asked her.
“I don’t know if you can afford me,” Dia said.
These were her clients. In a few hours this man would be tied up in her basement, his wallet on a table, naked and begging her to stop, to continue, to make it harder, to please, please stop—and she would whip him, and then caress him, and then punch him until her knuckles bled, and then kiss him as she wept, her body shimmering and shaking with release.
Dia watched the worker as he rolled the massive boulder up the incline that ran across the back her yard. She was installing a fountain, something to give her peace, the running and trickling of the clear, blue liquid a calming presence in her many moments of anxiety. She did not have the money for it, but it had come to her in a dream, and she never denied the oracle.
She stood in the shade of the apple tree and watched the man, as he rolled the rock up the hill, released it, and watched it roll back down. Over and over again he did this. Not once did he curse, not once did his face wash over with rage. Dia studied this man, his torn shirt, his biceps, his muscled legs, and tried to come to a conclusion about him. Was he a warrior, unwilling to give up, as he watched the boulder roll down the hill, trying again and again, to make it work—or was he merely dense.
“What’s your name?” she asked the man.
He paused for a moment, holding the rock in place, turning around, and sitting on it, holding it still for but a minute.
“What does it matter?” he said, “I can’t manage the simplest of tasks—this job will certainly be my last. My name is mud, lady.”
He stood up, his eyes unable to hold her gaze, as the giant sphere rolled back down the hill. Dia walked over to the where the massive rock had rested, and got down on her hands and knees in the dirt, running her fingers over the loose soil, leveling the spot where the fountain would start. Soon the man joined her, kneeling down, a smile slipping over his clenched jaw, as they pushed the dirt, pulled the grass, sweat dripping from their brows to mingle with the fresh earth. They would do this for twenty minutes, which would stretch out into an hour, one handful of dirt at a time.
When they finally stood up, brushing the dirt off of their hands, Dia glowed, and the man seemed to grow in size, his chest swelling with every breath, fists opening and closing, a sigh escaping his lips.
“You are not afraid of me?” she asked.
He stared at her, soaking up her beauty, and then turned back towards the boulder. He bent over and started to roll it back up the hill again. When it finally got to the place where they had leveled the ground, it sat still, unmoving—and he smiled.
“For you, I would go to the ends of the earth, slaying beast and man alike. I would lay prostrate as birds picked at my rotting flesh, for but a glance of your angelic face. My love for you would never waver, never lessen—your affections a spring storm that would cleanse my battered and bloodied flesh. No, I am not afraid of you.”
Dia slapped his face, and his head did not move. She made tiny fists and pummeled his chest, his arms. He was unfazed. She bent over and picked up a sharp spade, and ran it slowly down his forearm, slicing open his glistening skin, as her body flushed with heat, her eyes darting to his. As the blood trickled down his arm, he remained as still as a statue. Dia smiled and took his hand.
“Then there is hope for me yet.”
This story was originally published by the fine folks at the wonderful Pantheon Magazine. If you like this story or any of the work you find on our site, then we strongly recommend you take a look at the other work Pantheon has to offer by following this link here.
Richard Thomas is the author of the novels Disintegration and The Breaker, as well as two short story collections and dozens more short works that appeared online and in anthology projects. He is the head honcho at Dark House Press and is a columnist for LitReactor. You can find him online at his website www.whatdoesnotkillme.com.