Love Is A Killer
By Daryl Qilin Yam
She stands before the hotel, unmoving. She tilts her head upwards, her expression dreamy and distant, as though there are bubbles before her, floating without a care in the world. But instead, she is staring at the top of the building, its forehead branded by a neon sign, flashing and blinking in jarring red. The name of the hotel is unremarkable, and so she forgets about it.
She crosses the street. Her heels, five-inched stilettos gold like glitter, clicks on the worn gravel, clack, clack, clack. Her coat reaches past the knee and is made of red wool, and it flutters in the wind like a cloak; but she is nothing like the Little Red Riding Hood. Her face, for instance, is not hidden. Her hair trails behind her, the scent of dried fruit and artificial flowers lingering in the air. Her nose is held high, she can't stand the fumes from the cars that roar past. Her eyes tell the passer-bys that she could not be bothered.
Bothered about what? she asks herself. She chooses not to answer the question.
She steps through the creaking doors, into the blast of noisy air-conditioning. The lobby rushes past, she knows it off by heart; she's been here too many times before. The receptionist behind the counter, spiteful of her wasted beauty, mutters to another who she thinks she is. The waiters and waitresses lounging around the cheap dining area stare at her, but they avoid her too. They all know who she is. The receptionist guessed correctly.
When she enters the elevator, the doors begin to close. In that moment, she has a full view of the lobby, the hotel staff all staring at her standing silently with pursed lips in the elevator as though she were the plague. She might be, she hasn't gone for a proper examination at the clinic yet. As the doors slide shut, the number of faces scrutinizing her shoes, her coat, and her hair all begin to disappear, like a scene change in a movie.
That's what she thinks of them: one by one she forgets about these self-righteous people; what they think of her does not matter.
The elevator ascends. This gives her a thrill; it intrigues her, what lies up there. To think she can still feel something, after all this time.
As a child she loved God, or rather, the idea that a thing like Him existed. He was something out of reach, something she couldn't grasp, something so abstract it didn't take much to understand before you could fool others that you do. She never managed to wrap her mind around the concept of God's love for her. How could something out of reach, something invisible, love something tangible like her? Nor did she comprehend the notion of the afterlife. She was often reminded to do the right thing, the kind of acts that would make God smile (smile? Could a mouthless thing smile?). She was also constantly told that if she treaded the wrong path later in life she'd go straight down to hell. Why is hell down? she had asked. Why isn't it up? Is it because the wrong way is always downwards?
She walks down the hallway of the thirteenth floor, the top floor. Her heels do not click as much up here; at least the hotel management managed to care enough to have this storey carpeted. Thud, thud, thud, go her feet, like multiple anchors hitting the seabed below, one by one. Although the ventilation here is thinner and weaker as compared to that of the lobby or the elevator, she does not sweat. She is as cool as a cucumber, crunchy and sweet.
The doors of the hotel rooms trail past, 13-a, 13-b, 13-c She does not know the name of the lousy room she's supposed to go to, but her boss gave her a slight clue as to how she might identify it. There on the brass knob hung a sign. It was a Do Not Disturb sign, but the man had used a black marker to scribble on Hey monkey, let yourself in over the original words. She feels offended (slightly, because she soon shrugs it off). She doesn't like bananas that much, so why should she be a monkey?
She knocks on the door, but no one answers. She presses her ear against it, and she hears a shower running, the water drops noisy and heavy against the bath, as though it was raining blood in there. She then presses her hand against the knob; the knob twists as expected, and the door pushes open. There is a rancid smell; the bubblegum soap wafting from the toilet cannot disguise it well enough. She smells socks and underwear, damp with spots caused by sweat.
She takes off her coat, revealing the dress she wore underneath it. The necklace around her neck gleams like old worthless coins, dull but sparkling nonetheless. The room has nothing more than a dresser, a few chairs, an oval-shaped mirror, a closet, and a bed, which was the reason why she was here. She walks over to the bed and runs her fingers across the coarse quilt. She wonders what would become of the skin on her back. Would the material cause it to redden, like the rash babies usually get? Or like a slap in the face, the sting visible, a sunset?
The toilet door opens. The smell of soap is stronger now, a happy and joyful cover-up for all the nastiness that is going to happen. The man has a towel wrapped around his waist. One of her eyebrows arch: she found the sight of the man surprising. She usually got fat old men with too much money in their retirement fund but this one was young. Thirty would be a good estimate. Short hair crowned the top of his head, and his build is lean but not too skinny. He must have a wife.
He introduces himself. His name, she does not bother to remember. His age, she had guessed well; he would reach thirty tomorrow. He has a spouse bingo. He mentions his wife's name, which is identical to hers. She twirls her hair, feigning lack of surprise; she wonders if that is the reason why he had chosen her specially (or so her boss said). Whatever the case is, name identical or not, she quickly made another deduction.
Is this your first time with a person like me, she asks.
Y-yes, he stammers.
She laughs; genuine emotion, finally expressed. Is this the first time you're doing something wrong? she jests. He nods in reply, shyly or jokingly, that she couldn't tell.
When she was fifteen, she lost her virginity: a man raped her, one she remembered seeing every Sunday. It came swift and sudden, like a hawk that had been spying on a rabbit, minding its own business. The rabbit was nibbling on the grass, aware that God was watching it or was it something else? For a moment, the rabbit had paused to sniff its surroundings, and the hawk, circling and circling, realized that it must attack now before its prey became too cautious for its grumbling stomach. It thus dived, like a bullet. With outstretched talons, the rabbit is caught, struggling and crying out whatever cries it could make.
Do rabbits cry, however? Do they bark, or mew? If only they could, then this particular rabbit could have been rescued, if there had been any chance at all.
The hawk flew over strange areas the rabbit had never seen before. Then it dropped it into a nest, rough sticks and twigs perched on top of a mountain, and the rabbit waited for the penetrating beak to strike and the sadistic chirping to ring in its ears. She still remembers, even to this day, that she had felt sad. She had lamented over the fact that the love she had been depending on God's invisible love, the same one that touched so many, blinded as much had allowed something like this to happen. Invisible love is fake love, she concluded; it is unreliable, undependable.
She feels like such a clichι, sometimes. Of course she had to be raped. There's no doubt she had to be emotionally stunted, so robbed of her heart's own pumping, self-working mechanism. The only thing missing in her life is parental abuse. What a shame.
Something interesting happened tonight. The bed had creaked and groaned, as though in a plea for the man to stop, as though it knew what would become of him if he had ever let the dirty deed be completed tonight. But the man had chosen to continue, rougher and harder. At the end, he released into the sky, and she bit her lip and moaned. And then he said:
"I love you." He was breathless.
Now it is a couple of hours past midnight. She rests her head on his shoulder, unable to sleep, in spite of her closed eyes. He has not paid her yet; he had fallen fast asleep minutes after clearing away the mess. She feels his chest rise and fall, like the waves of a quiet ocean beating against the coast, but with a pulse. He snores. She peels apart the make-up crusting her eyes, and gets out of bed.
She spots his clothes folded neatly on top of a chair, and nearly laughs at the sight. On top of it lies a newspaper clipping, and his wallet acts as its paperweight. She tries to distract herself with the things in the room and the bed, the bane of the room, fails to attract her. Was it because of what he had said? He can't possibly love her; he must love his wife instead. But why then was he here tonight? Why wasn't he tucked safely under the soft blanket of his rightful home?
Was he tired of spending all his years paying devotion to his wife? Was he sick of it? Was he searching for another kind of love, a sinful, cheap thrill to indulge in? Well, if it was the case, he must be sorely mistaken: he will wake up guilty, full of anguish and sorry over all that he had done. He will think of a way to apologise to his wife and tell her that tonight, he had chosen to be a fool.
She takes a shower and washes the sin off her, although she is unclear what that sin might be; if it must exist, it should be his, not hers. She then puts her clothes on the heels, the red coat, the necklace and escapes from this place after taking her cash. When she opens the door, she hears him stir as well, call out her name even, but she never turned back. It's not worth it, she decides, unless he has another couple of hundred left in his wallet.
Why am I so ruthless? Again, she doesn't answer one of her own questions.
She deflects the renewed staring with practised ease, crossing the lobby, stepping out onto the street. The sky is a pale blue, the sun like a ball of bright yellow, dropped into a pool of water. The early light of dawn shimmers, the edges blurred, wavy and unclear, streaming like liquid through the windows of the hotel lobby. It illuminates every face, every leg crossed over the other, every movement. And yet she feels a certain shadow, cast over her countenance, as though she is meant to belong to a certain part of the day, a time long past.
Click, click, click. Her heels smack their lips against the gravel of the road. There is a large crowd of people before her; the faces stare upwards, though she is sure the sight had nothing to do with the hotel's neon, red signboard. Out of the blue a woman from the throng of people tells her to step away and her heart starts to beat in a way it hasn't done so for a long time
A whoosh of air. The crowd lets out a cry of rude surprise; there is a sudden rush, a warm, odorous wind and then a sickening crunch of bones and the splattering of blood. She is sure drops of it must have been splattered on her coat, though the similarity in the colours makes the blood undetectable.
Click, clack. She approaches the fallen angel with caution and dread; the crowd steps closer, forming a tight circle around the crash site.
It was the man. Her man the one who couldn't tell what he loved more, the reality, or the dream of that reality. The people stare, their words in hushed whispers. The man is naked, as though something as habitual as clothes did not mean anything to him anymore. His eyes are open, bare as the rest of his body; it holds what little life is left in him, and it seems to be staring at something above him.
She panics: is it God again? No, thank goodness, it is but a floating piece of paper, like a grey-coloured sakura, drifting steadily downwards. Upon closer sight she realises it is a page taken from a newspaper, the one that was placed on top of the man's folded clothes. Like a scene out of a movie, she snatches it out of the air when it is close enough. It is a cut-out from the obituaries page, her name a caption under the head shot of a woman she had not seen before: someone young and alive. The smile she bore in the photo said as much.
She folds the newspaper clipping and places it on the dead man's chest. The crowd watches, wondering about the significance behind this act. But she knows, and doesn't have to wonder what this significance is.
True love, forced love, bought love. Regardless of form or shape, it still murders, one way or another.QLRS Vol. 11 No. 2 Apr 2012
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