The last 2,556 nights have been nothing but pure Hades for her. This wasn't new. What was supposed to be a three-month visit has turned into seven-years of winter. She's learned to tolerate it as a nightly ritual.
Every night she lies like a statue on a bed of sweat and whatever other peculiar, moist, putrid, or gummy fluids one can think of. Every night she grips her once pasty colored sheets that drape off the sides of her mattress to find they're peppered with tiny holes and red stains.
Stains – she created using the red hue from where a fingernail used to be.
Every night her heart sinks deeper into empty stomach as her teeth chatter to the tepid air around her neck. Every night her ears quiver to the moans and squeaks of her room. Every night she gawks at the clock on the wall while the stench of gasoline, motor oil, and Johnny Walker pervade her room.
And every night, for the last 2,556 nights, she counts the drops of sweat that drip onto her swollen bosoms --- And wonders why?
Why? After seven-years of soaking up nights of desperation, tears, perspiration, fears, blood, vomit, urine, and other watery substances, doesn't the woman down the hall ever say those four words? Those four effortless words she's longed to hear. Instead, she's only heard this: "Angel's Den! Twenty bucks!"
Indeed, that was all this woman knew to say, notably between 9pm and 5am. This was the only time she would surface from the "Fox Hole." This was what the woman dubbed her bedroom. Of course, one couldn't miss her room, for the bubblegum pink door handled and the seven neon letters painted down the center of the door.
Each night, when all the streetlights and neighbors' lights glimmer white or Big Bird yellow, she would hustle to the front porch and take out the old lightbulb, only to twist in a different one from the rest in this urban community. Sections of their front yard would be smothered in this shade too. What was once green or brown during the day would be hot tomato at night. And if it were a stormy, blustery night, patches of their yard would look like a rampant stream of blood.
Still, when she initially started this at a very tender age, seven-years ago, she thought it would've lasted only a few nights – give or take – but not this long. Moreover, she thought she was helping the woman down the hall move on from the divorce.
As she watched the silhouette, the second one of the night, that short, pudgy older fellow, who only lasted ten minutes before he took what he paid; and left what reeked like baloney and Limburger underneath the head of her bed, climb from on top of her – wiping the leftover dinner on the back of his left hand – to the foot of her bed; she saw him throw his bright purple protection into the baby crib next to her bed. The short, tubby figure had few words to say while he was hastily getting dress. Until he was making his way out of her den into the long abyss, he turned his blockhead to utter:
"I hope you get used to that long, purple thing. It might be purple, but it's not Barney. Go ahead! Touch it! Smell it! See it! Hear it! Taste it! May be once you get a little older, your mommy – here – will let you experience it from me, just like hers done."
As the pudgy shadow waned from her room, she quickly rolled out-of-bed, for his words unstiffen her body. She rushed to the crib to confiscate the condom from her daughter's petite hands. Finally, she recognized the prior 2,556 nights hadn't accomplished what she hoped. After all of those long, mortifying nights, where she obeyed that woman's commands, she asked for nothing in return, except for love. Her love, the unconditional love only a mother and daughter should share.
Angel realized as she kissed her three-year-old daughter's forehead that she didn't want Alacia to become like her, nor does she want to become like Alacia's grandmother. In many ways, she's already became the woman down the hall. For the last seven-years, her body has been battered while a woman, whom she called mother, sold out her innocence. Her spirit and emotions have been frozen within a psychological winter.
Tonight, however, her wings will thaw out; her spirit and emotions will spring from her den of Hell, and she'll leave her mark.
Water gushed from Angel's eyes, as she scanned her bedroom floor. Each inch of carpet, much like her bed, revealed a dire story. Worn condoms here, old plastic wrappers there; the bloodstains throughout the bed, the tinges on the carpet. The leftover puke in one corner; the slashed panties and bras in the other corner. Nonetheless, what she couldn't see from the bare eye or from the moon's rays, she resuscitated through her memories. Smearing away the lingering tears while she observed baby Alacia sleep, she made a vow and request.
"Baby girl – I promise to make your life better than mine. I could never demand of you what my former mother asked of me. To you, she's still grandma. To me, she's the woman down the hall, who's dead! May God and you please absolve me for what I must do?"
She kissed Alacia once more on the head as a lone drop of water left her eye and settled on the infant's lips.
As she walked away from the crib, her toes squelching through latex and plastic, a familiar voice – two – in fact, rang from the dim hallway."I want Angel! Here's my money. I want the Den." The man said in a deep, coarse voice.
"No, you can have me instead."
"Because Gary . . . she just finished with a trick, not long ago," The woman stated.
"So? I've my twenty, and I want to wish her a happy one . . . my way."
"A happy, a happy one . . . a happy what?"
"Birthday! Damn! Are you sure she's your daughter?"
"Oh, right! Yes, just give her a late gift next time. I don't think she's feelin' all that well. Plus, daylight will be here soon. I need a gift too, Gary."
"Fine. Next time, you owe me Angel."
Angel was rather relieved to hear what the woman said; nonetheless, she wasn't surprised the woman, her alleged mother, neglected her birthday: it's not as if she remembered the last six.
On the other hand, Gary was a regular to the house. In fact, Angel knew him as Mr. Wallin, her elementary school bus driver. The very thought of Mr. Wallin sweating on her and kissing her neck with his crusty, chapped lips was enough to bring her exasperation. She recalled the first night with Mr. Wallin: it was the worst Christmas ever, not to mention her last.
Angel waited before moving again; she wanted to hear if her mother, that woman, decided to give into Mr. Wallin's offer. Furthermore, she thought it was odd that she only had two men tonight. In fact, both of them acted as they never been with a young woman, let alone one who has turned eighteen. The first man must had performance anxiety, for he messed himself before he was able to unzip. And the second man, well, he was just a stout jerk.
Angel decided to peep down the hall to see where Mr. Wallin and her mother were located. She stared into the abyss and saw nothing but black. Then she heard her mother holler, "Gary, close the damn door and tell me what you want!" The door slammed. And Angel knew Mr. Wallin would exhaust all of his time judiciously.
The man was an eerie bus driver, and behind close doors, Mr. Wallin let his creepy sexual side out. He always carried unusual items with him; for instance, dry dog bones. Mr. Wallin had this eccentric fantasy where he pretended to be a dog handler or as he called it, a bitch trainer. He would then take his time burying those arid bones somewhere on or in his body. From there, he'd give his sullied named women, either Angel or her mother, a few seconds to sniff out the bone and perform whatever sick, perverted sexual feat he craved.
If their time ran out and no bones were found, he'd chain them up like a dog and take his slow time violating them. Still, it was a no winning game with Mr. Wallin; even if, the bone were found, he'd still treat them like a dog. Dogs in third world countries received better treatment than what he dished out. Angel still wears the scars of his dog chain around her neck and in-between her thighs: she's had them since she was eleven.
Of course, she blames Mr. Wallin a great deal for her disfigure body. Her marks will never heal, only stretch. Yet those scars are only seen on the surface; she hasn't forgotten about the scars that can't be seen -- Those that grow each night and broaden internally. She blames the woman down the hall for them.
Looking back at the wall clock, she knew time wasn't on her side. It was five after four. She'd last than an hour to plan, or do whatever she'd in mind. The two devils would be preoccupied for at least the next forty-five minutes, yet Angel didn't have a sturdy plan. She wasn't one to work well under time constrictions. She could've strolled leisurely right out the front door after Mr. Wallin slammed her mother's bedroom door, but she'd be leaving a precious life behind.
Of course, even if she were to flee this house of horrors, Angel wouldn't know who to turn to since most of her neighbors looked at her and her mother as bits of garbage; even though most of the alleged family men in her neighborhood had visit Angel's Den a handful of times in the previous seven-years.
Going to the police wouldn't be an option either since Angel has experienced the fury of many dirty cops in her bedroom. In fact, Angel's mother made a pact with some of the city officers to try out the Fox Hole and Angel's Den free if any of them ran out of coffee and doughnuts.
Her father could've been a choice, except she hasn't seen him since he and her mother divorced; she's talked to him a few times over the phone until that got disconnected two-years-ago. Besides, Angel never let on anything was wrong during their conversations because she thought what her mother was making her do was normal. If she were able to meet him now, she probably would've killed him with her bare hands for having agreeing with her about staying with her mother. Angel then would've to kill herself, for it was her words, not her father's, which ultimately sealed her fate.
"Daddy, please – I want to stay with mommy 'til the end of the year. Please, daddy! Pretty please, with extra kisses on top! She's my mother and my hero. For when I grow up, I want to be a mother, just like her. You see."
"I want to be . . . just like her."
"Daddy, please -- . . . Please, daddy!"
"Pretty please, I want to be a mother. . ."
"Just like her."
"A mother, just like her."
"Just like her."
Just how ingenuous those words were, the innocent voice of that forgotten age. Angel stared at the long and short hands of the clock; the words of an eleven-year-old girl transcending her dilemma. She was in a trancelike state. Serene by the voice speaking in her head. The voice was tender and chaste, yet animated. It giggled. And made Angel's mouth turn upright, a radiant grin, for the moonlight crossed over her lips and face. A white tear fell on her cheek, as the fleeting voice lowered to the voice of reality.
"Alacia, I want to be a mother, just like her."
"Alacia . . . mother, just like her."
"Alacia, a mother, just like her."
"Alacia, a mother, just like me!"
At that moment, Angel broke out of her trancelike state, only to hear the tail end of her premonition. Observing the time, she only had fifteen minutes. A sense of helplessness convened in her bone marrow; furthermore, she still didn't have a plan.
She began to recognize that maybe her eleven-year-old voice had sealed her fate. Perhaps, this lifestyle was her true destiny: she'd become the woman she's always wanted to become – just like her. And may be that eleven-year-old girl in her mind was her own daughter, Alacia, at that age. Perhaps, Alacia's destiny is the same as hers and her grandmother. Angel was again petrified in her thoughts; she didn't know what to do, say, or where to begin.
It was ten minutes to five, and Angel had failed. She not only failed herself, but also she failed as a mother to her daughter. What could she possibly do in the next ten minutes that would change her and Alacia's life? She thought about asking God for guidance, but remembered every time she asked for his assist in the last seven-years he only delivered anguish and misfortune to her.
As she raised her face from the palms of her hands, she saw the same moonlight cover the baby crib. She didn't think anything of it, but she heard baby Alacia breathing a tad differently. The closer Angel came to the crib, the louder and heavier the baby gasped for air. When Angel finally leaned over the crib to check on Alacia, she saw that her daughter must've rolled over on her stomach sometime after she checked her last. It appeared that Alacia's harsh wheezing had stopped.
Perhaps, she was getting dehydrated or hungry since dawn was an hour or so away. Or, may be, she was just hot – because it was the middle of summer with no true cooling unit, just fans and windows, which barely worked or were closed shut half-of-the time. Or, better yet, Alacia needed to be changed and put into fresh, cooler garments.
Angel went with the latter and decided to prep her bed for the change. She found an old white T-shirt on her nightstand; one that she hasn't worn since she was fifteen. It read, "World's Greatest Daughter," on the front of it. It was a shirt her mother gave to her three Christmas' ago, after some asshole chared her shoulder with a cattle prod. Angel only wore the shirt once or twice, mostly she used as a towel to wipe away the nightly tears.
Angel placed the shirt on her bed with the lettering face down on her mattress. It wasn't the label that produced agony in her eyes; it was the person who gave it and the incident surrounding that day. Now, looking at the shirt from the backside, it was merely another shirt that dried her tears – almost like a genuine mother would've done.
Nonetheless, she reached in to pick Alacia up from her crib to realize the color in her face was unusual. It wasn't pale or peachy like earlier: it was a light purple, almost deep blue color. There was no movement in her limbs! No wail in her voice! No eye-opening! No breathing! And no heartbeat! Baby Alacia was plainly living in the past tense.
Angel's maternal instinct was there, but it was veiled under years of torment. She never held the dead before, only carried it in her heart. She placed her daughter's wilting, lukewarm body on the shirt; she watched Alacia transform from a once bubbly tot into a store-bought rag doll. Angel then opened her mouth to scream but heard silence. Moreover, the fountain in her eyes all but dried up.
As the morning birds began to sing, greeting the new day, Angel was overwhelmed with emotions. Yet she couldn't release them. She didn't want to believe the one she was living for was deceased. She made a pledge to Alacia – both of them would leave and live together – free of their previous environment. Therefore, she wrapped her baby in the shirt and placed Alacia over her shoulder, only to have seen a piece of rubber fall on the floor.
Angel picked it up to notice it was still soggy and coated in blood and yellow gunk. She then went to put Alacia back into her crib to realize that rubber piece came from her bed. It was a section from a yellow condom that Alacia was lying on top of for most of the night.
Angel was baffled, for she removed the purple one from her daughter's hands earlier. However, this one was yellow, and there had only been two men in her room tonight. The first one didn't have time to put on a condom because he got off in his jeans, and the second one had the purple one.
The rest of the baby's bed was clean of plastic and latex, until Angel lifted Alacia's pillow. She must've found a jackpot of yellow ones buried underneath her pillow, and all of them resembled the piece that fell out of Alacia's little mouth: they were all dyed yellow. Altogether, they looked as if Angel uncovered bullion underneath her baby's cushion, but they were condoms.
Angel paced back and forth in front of the crib that held her dead daughter. Speculating how and who placed those condoms there. She was always so careful of keeping the crib sterile from filth. It was then Angel heard the voices rise from the Fox Hole. It was a few minutes passed five, and Angel was racking her brain trying to recall who typically don that color. There have been countless men in-and-out of Angel's Den over the years.
To convincingly, identify one man over another would be like finding Waldo all the time. Angel was mentally and physically exhausted; she finally started to come to terms that she's a dead infant in her room. Suddenly, the voices of Mr.Wallin and her mother swarmed her ears.
"Gary, don't forget to place the payment on the kitchen table before you leave," The woman down the hall stressed. "I need to change the lightbulb out-front."
"Woman – I'm not gonna shortchange you; don't I always pay?"
"I've something I want to give to Angel – or rather her little one." Gary mentioned in a swift voice.
"Why Gary? It's after five; I'm trying to close up shop."
"It'll just take a few seconds – if that."
"Gary, just come back later tonight and do it. She'll still be eighteen tonight. Give it to her then! It's not like I've anything to give her for her birthday. Plus, the baby is still sleeping. I've giving Angel a life. That's her gift from me."
"Just-a few seconds- that's all!"
Angel didn't understand why her mother wore that diaphanous nightie out to change that ruby lightbulb; she thought her mother should've just changed it in the nude. Also, she didn't know why Mr.Wallin wanted to come in her room. How was she going to explain the inert corpse in the crib?
Angel felt intense guilt for how Alacia spent her final night on earth, not only that, but also the last three-years.
If only she'd enough sense back when Alacia was born, she'd have made an arrangement and left this house earlier. But it was that woman down the hall, her mother and Alacia's grandmother, who ingrained in her mind at the age of eleven she'd be worthless without her. To some degree, Angel's mother was correct. Angel knew nothing else but being a sex slave; she'd to desert high school after giving birth when she was fifteen.
Angel had no loyal friends, for the girls at school all knew what she and her mother did at night. Even the guys at school never took a second glance at her. The teachers and staff all saw her in the similar light too: A walking and talking STD. Her peers used to ridicule one another with the slogan, "You caught the Angel," when they were ill. Angel was degraded day and night, and after she'd Alacia it worsen; so she decided to quit school.
Nevertheless, she heard Mr. Wallin's footsteps as he approached. He wasn't coming alone either, for the familiar jingle of metal clanged against his boots and the floor. Fearing Mr. Wallin wasn't coming to her room for chitchat, since he never came to the room without his dog chain, she felt he'd a sinister objective in mind.
Therefore, Angel abruptly hopped back in bed and pretended to be napping. She was still naked from the first visitor; she didn't see any reason to dress, because generally by this time of night, she's already been recycled at least six or seven times over; so what's the point of dressing up, when the men who visit her aren't fascinated in her panache – just what's underneath.
"Aww, how nice? I've a sleepin' Angel on my hands," The deep, wooly manly voice said, as he was rubbing the metal chain in his hands.
"It's a-shame I've to wake you from your sweet dreams," He garbled, while rubbing the end of the chain up Angel's left leg.
The chain was cold, yet soothing to the heat that blanketed her room. However, Angel knew there was nothing genial and soothing about the man hovering over her. His heart was as cold as his chain, and his soul was just as dead. She realized this when she was an eleven: It was Christmastime, and much like this night, her mother neglected to buy her any presents. Instead, her mother sold her virginity as a gift to support her drug addiction. This all took place in front of their brown Christmas tree, and the man who unwrapped her innocence back then was the same man licking his crusty lips now – Mr. Wallin.
"Mr. Wallin, what are you doing?" Angel uttered, opening her right eye as if she was startled by his presence and chain.
"Shut up! I've come to give you my birthday gift."
"No, our business hours are over!"
"I said, quiet little whore! Your card is on your leg, so put the damn thing on. Your gift is in my pants."
"No, I'll not!" Angel yelled.
"You little bitch," Mr. Wallin said, as he took his right hand and backhanded her in the mouth. "You're just like your whore mother; I'll fix your ungrateful loose ass."
Dazed from the slap, Angel watched Mr. Wallin drop his pants and reach for something in the crib.
"Now, put the dog chain around your neck and act like the bitch you are. Like your mother outside – your not worthy of being called a dog."
Angel's mother came in from outside to notice Gary's payment wasn't on the table, nor had he left the house. So she began calling for him,
"Gary, I told ya—I was closing shop. Leave my room! Gary, I hope you're not in the Den." As her mother walked passed the kitchen table to return to her room, she heard a loud scream from down the hall.
"You bastard! You killed my baby."
Her mother hurried down the hall to the Den; the door was cracked opened, yet she saw nothing from her viewpoint. But she heard crying and a person grasping for air.
"Die—you bitch! Die! Die! Die! Who's the bitch now?"
Her mother couldn't tell which one was speaking or grasping for air. So she opened the door further and walked inside the Den. She saw two people – Gary, who was on top of her daughter – Angel. Nobody moved, until her mother spoke.
“Gary, enough of the dicking around. Get off! Come back later tonight.”
“He’s not coming back ever,” Angel said softy, underneath his right shoulder. “He’s dead, like my Alacia.”
Angel rolled his lifeless body off her bed onto the floor; his dog chain still wrapped around his neck and a used yellow rubber in his hand.
“Angel, what have you done?”
“I’d to—he killed my baby, your grandbaby.”
“How?” I don’t believe you, Angel.”
“Take a look for yourself – M O T H E R – or should I say woman?”
Both Angel and her mother went over to Alacia’s crib. Angel unwrapped Alacia from her T-shirt, and the tot was the same color as before, just a littler stiffer.
“You see – Mr.Wallin’s condoms killed her. Just as you allowed him to kill a little piece of me when I was eleven, remember? You allowed him to take my childhood away. Thanks, Mom, for the Christmas gift.”
“Angel now lets ---“
“Lets nothing – you turned me into you. I thought having Alacia would help me live a little more. I thought you’d have changed, love us both. I thought I’d experience through Alacia’s life what was dead in mine.”
“Angel, shut up—now, we need to think!”
“Now, on my birthday, the other half of me died.”
“Angel, we’ve to find away to clean and clear your mess up. It’s bad for business; you can always have another baby: They’re just like money—it’s always being made.”
“No, you’re not my mother anymore, Mother! Alacia wasn’t like money to me; she was a part of me. Something that I thought I was to you before you tricked me out when I was eleven.”
“Angel – what are. . .”
“I believed in your promises when I was younger; I made the same promises to Alacia.”
“What are you...”
“Like you, I’ve failed as a mother. I realized, just like you’d never being yourself to say those four simple words, I never had the chance to say them to my daughter either.”
“. . . talking about, Angel?”
Suddenly, Angel attacked her mother; wrapping the white T-shirt, that she removed from Alacia’s dead body around her mother’s neck. Her mother didn’t put up a struggle: it was as if she submitted to the smell of death that surrounded the Den.
Angel’s eyes were filled with anger; she wanted her mother to feel all the pain that she suffered from her. Angel kept the shirt around her neck for seven minutes, where each minute represented a year in Angel’s life. Her mother stopped breathing after the third minute. Soon, Angel realized this woman could’ve never endured the abuse she has. Those seven minutes were like seven seconds in her life; there wasn’t enough time in life, for this woman to experience how she betrayed her daughter.
Her life was now complete: she was born; died at eleven; reborn at fifteen and dead again at eighteen. She took her daughter from the crib, and for a brief moment she lain down with the family, she never had. Her mother, Alacia, and she rested peacefully in her Den. Before Angel closed her eyes for a deep sleep, she whispered in the air, “I’m sorry! I love you! See you soon.” As her hands went limp around her neck, the morning sun crept in to kiss their lips while a gray dove in the tree sang what sounded like a hymn for those that rested inside Angel’s Den.