On a sticky, early-summer morning in 197_, only a few days before her 18th birthday, when the city's air was damp and still and dirty, when clothes wilted and clung to greasy bodies, Philomena Hawkins beat the shit out of her boyfriend.
She stood over his half-naked, moaning body curled into a ball, her fists clenched and bloody, her ribs bruised, her left breast radiating pain, her left eye blackened and her lips swollen. She hurt inside, too, where he had forced himself into her. But more than her own pain, or the sound of Jack's mewling complaints, she contemplated the her memory of a stolen 20 dollar bill.
She had stopped in at a bar after her shift at the diner near Kensington Market. She'd drunk the drinks he'd bought, laughed at the jokes he told and didn't object when he'd first touched her. He was charming, and good-looking in an unassuming way and when he told her she was beautiful she was happy to believe he meant it. She knew his suggestion they return to his apartment to smoke a joint was a ruse, but she didn't care, and she enjoyed the feel of his arm at her waist, was even excited when he slid his palm across her ass. And she liked that he was taller than she was, it made her feel girlish in a way she seldom did.
But later, after they had shared a bowl of what was very good grass indeed, and after they had finished most of a bottle of wine, after they had kissed and fondled one another for a while on the couch, when she found herself straddling him, he'd begged her to hit him. Her shirt undone, her peasant skirt hiked around her things, her underwear on the floor and his cock at half-mast between her legs, she pushed his hands from her breasts and forced them above his head, holding his wrists tight in her left hand.
Tentatively, she raised her right hand, palm open, and dropped it to his cheek. The blow stung a little and she rested her palm where it had landed.
The man moaned and moved beneath her. "Harder ..." he whispered through clenched teeth. Phil slapped his face again. "Harder!"
She'd slapped him again and again, while dawn slowly flooded the room with light. She slapped him until her hand hurt and his nose bled, his cheeks glowing with the light of a thousand broken capillaries.
And his cock pushed against her, hard at last, and she opened herself to him, let him fuck her, no matter that she was the one on top, no matter that he was bleeding beneath her. He pawed at her breasts like some schoolboy, sloppy and rough, until - very quickly - he gasped and came inside her, then lay still, panting, while his cock shrivelled and slid out of her like a wet, deflated balloon.
Almost immediately, he began to snore, still lying beneath Phil's outspread thighs. His face was bruised, a thin line of drool trickled from his mouth; yet he looked peaceful and satisfied, which enraged her.
Along with the anger, a wave of self-disgust rolled over her. She was hung over and she was appalled. She lifted her right leg and got off him, rolled to the floor. She found her underwear and pulled it on beneath her skirt, pulled her t-shirt down to her waist and buttoned up her shirt.
What had she been thinking? She wanted a shower, but even more, she wanted to free of this guy. I don't even know his name! What had she been thinking?
She picked up her boots and let herself out of his bedroom; no way she wanted to wake him up! Bending to lace up her construction boots, she noticed a 20 dollar bill on the floor near the couch. It wasn't hers - Phil didn't have 20 dollars. She pondered it for a moment, then muttered, "Why not? I should get something out of this!" and stuffed the bill into her skirt pocket.
Outside, it was already getting hot.
Phil didn't like summer. She didn't like hot weather or sunshine. To Phil Hawkins, spring was a time of dread, summer an ordeal. "Fuck summer," she would say, "who the hell wants to sweat all the time?"
Phil took no pleasure in displaying her body and wished others felt the same. A tall, heavy young woman, Phil wore layers of clothing no matter what the weather, as if she imagined that wearing more clothes might make her look smaller.
In such a mood, disgusted with herself and resenting summers past, present and future, Phil made her way home, to the small apartment she shared with Jack, a small, hairy, wiry man 5 inches shorter than Phil's 5'11". Jack was 10 years older than Phil, a failed musician who dealt pot those more succesful than he was and who Phil desperately hoped would be asleep when she returned home.
"Where the hell were you?" Jack's reedy voice greeted her at the door. His piercing black eyes glared at her as she made her way along the short hall to the main room of their bachelor apartment. He was sneering through his beard.
He rose from the couch and blocked her way into the apartment. His ropy, muscular arms were bare, a worn leather vest flapped about his torso. "I asked you where you were."
"Don't whine Jack." Phil bulled past him. She stomped into their greasy kitchenette and found a beer in the fridge, then sat heavily on the couch.
Jack practiced his sneer by the wall, where she had pushed him aside. Phil saw that he was really furious, not simply pissed off on general principles. "Where the fuck were you?" he asked again.
"That's none of your business!" Phil snapped,
"Oh. Oh, I see. It's none of my business."
Phil lit a cigarette. Determined to bluff it out, she was nonetheless too shaky so say anything; her guilt had wrestled her self-righteousness into a tense silence.
"My fucking girlfriend stays out all night, doesn't call, then wanders in a 7 o'clock in the fucking morning ... and it's none of my business? Is that what you're telling me?"
"You don't own me!" Phil shouted back, slamming her beer bottle on the table before her. Under attack, her anger was once again in control, her guilt forgotten like a the plot complications of a bad dream. "I don't have to give you an account of everything I do!"
"Well what the fuck would you do if I just didn't come home one night? How'd you fucking like that?" He started across the room towards her and Phil got to her feet.
He pushed her, hard, right between her breasts. Phil fell back against the couch.
"How the fuck would you like that? What were doing anyway? Giving some prick a blow-job for a beer? Huh? Is that what you did?"
Phil couldn't answer. Jack was so close to the truth her rage collapsed on her, leaving her mute and shaking.
But Jack's hit had been rhetorical; he didn't seem to notice her failure to respond.
He stood over her, hands on his narrow hips, shaking his head. "I don't know why the hell I put up with you, you cow. I really don't. Chicks like you are a dime a fucking dozen. You lie, you cheat, you don't even fucking call ..."
"Then why don't you move out?" Phil asked coldly as she gathered her strength. "It's my fucking apartment. Where'd you go if I didn't put up with you? You wanna go live on the street, go live on the street!"
"Oh fuck you!" Jack turned and stormed out. Phil stared after him. Why hadn't she just lied to him, told him she'd been out with Elaine or Debbie? She was pretty sure he'd wanted her to.
She lit another cigarette and stared blindly at the door. Images of the guy's face - had she ever known his name? - played in her mind's eye: the twisted pleasure he'd shown when she hit him, the bruises she inflicted. She remembered the hot skin pawing at her breasts, the small cock pumping away inside her, giving her almost no pleasure at all in return.
God, she thought, this was - what? - the fourth time she'd cheated on Jack in the 6 months they'd been together - when had she become such a slut? But this was the first time she'd been away all night, the first time, she thought, she had given him cause to suspect her of anything.
Why couldn't she say no? She felt as if, given enough drink, she became someone else, someone who would do just about anything, with anyone, for no reason at all. And not once had she enjoyed it. She didn't enjoy sex with Jack much, either, she admitted, wondering if she just didn't like sex.
"Fuck." She was tired, she was hung-over, she didn't want to think about it any more.
She lay down on the ratty couch and closed her eyes to the empty bottles littering the floor, the swath of newspapers covering the broken glass that had once fronted her old, floor-model television to protect bare feet from the shards (in a fit of righteous indignation at one idiot commercial too many, Phil had taken a baseball bat to the front of the box; neither she nor Jack had bothered to sweep up the result in the weeks since then).
In the self-imposed darkness, she drew a deep breath. "I," she said to herself, "am profoundly bored with my life."
Not long after, she heard the key turning in the lock. Jack walked in, lugging a 2-4 of beer against his hip. Phil sat up and, wordlessly, Jack sat next to her, leaned forward to open the case and offered her a bottle.
"We can't go on like this."
"Oh fuck, here we go again." They'd put away half the case and both spoke with the slow, deliberate cadence of the nearly-drunk. They sat close but not touching. Jack lit a cigarette, blew an angry stream of smoke from his mouth.
"Okay," he said, "I can't go on like this."
"Do you love me?" Phil asked, reaching to stroke his cheek.
"What!?" Jack brushed her hand aside. "Do you love me?"
Phil touched him again, leaned towards him. She kissed him, but his lips stayed closed. She took his cheeks in her hands and kissed him again. "Let me show you," she whispered, her lips brushing against his.
Jack pulled away. "Not now," he said, his voice at once angry and frustrated.
"Okay." Phil nodded and pulled her hands from him. She leaned forward and reached into the case of beer. "Do you need another?"
"I just started this one," he said, then grudgingly added, "thanks."
"Okay." She popped open the bottle, dropped the opener back onto the coffee-table and leaned back with her beer. They sat in uncomfortable silence for a while, smoking and drinking, as the afternoon became evening and the room grew dark, as if each was waiting for the other to answer the same question.
"I'm hungry," Phil said as she dropped her empty bottle back into the case.
"There's some pizza in the fridge," Jack said quietly.
The kitchenette was in worse shape then the main space of the apartment. Phil opened the fridge and pulled out a cardboard box, laid it across the sink - there was no room on the counter, cluttered as it was with dirty dishes and an assortment of empty beer bottles. She rinsed a plate and laid two of the remaining slices on it, then returned the box to the fridge. When she turned back to the counter to pick up her plate, she noticed an envelope lying among the clutter, damp and stained from something that had spilled on it. It was
addressed to her, unopened, but nearly soaked through.
She took it and her plate back into the main room.
"When did this come?" she asked, holding the envelope before her.
Jack didn't look up. "When did what come?"
"This! This fucking letter!"
"Oh," Jack said as Phil joined him on the couch. "Yesterday, I think."
"Fuck," said Phil, knowing she was being unreasonable, but unable to stop herself. "Why didn't you tell me about it? We're you just gonna let it rot on the sink?"
"It's practically soaked through, Jack! Why didn't you just drop it in the fucking toilet?"
"Oh Jesus, Phil! It came yesterday. Maybe if you'd been home you could have rescued it!"
"So why didn't you tell me it was here?"
"I forgot, Phil! Jesus fucking Christ ..."
"Well don't leave my mail lying on top of god damned garbage any more," she said. Carefully, she slid her finger beneath the flap, pulled a single sheet of paper from the envelope.