Dana sits at the long mahogany table. She spreads her hands over the top, looks at her chipped and faded nails.
Red, they used to be red. Red, like her lips. Red, like her shoes. Red, like his blood. Red, like the veins in his eyes. Red, like her hands. Red, like the floor. Red, red, red.
She looks up. Looks at her lawyer, her hair a sort of faded orange ginger with intense ringlets pulled back tight. Her lips are colored a mauve sort of pink, and they fill Dana with a sort of vindication. It makes the lawyer look dull and severe, like her eyebrows that are plucked to match her personality; or rather, what she is trying to show is her personality.
It’s all a farce, Dana realizes with sudden clarity. Everything is fake.
The curly up-do squeezes the lawyer’s face, a failed attempt to control the rampant strands, strands that are tortured every day to be something they’re not, curls that are forced to fit in, forced to obey with too much hairspray.
Dana thinks, she considers, how much effort the lawyer put into controlling the wildness. It makes Dana want to laugh. She wants to throw her head back like the crazy woman everyone thinks she is and cackle like a storybook witch.
But Dana, too, is able to control herself.
The hairstyle makes the lawyer’s crows-feet more prominent. It highlights the wrinkles on her forehead. Dana wants to tell her, for God’s sake let your fucking hair down.
The lawyer will figure it out, of that Dana is sure.
“He’s so handsome that he makes my chest hurt,” says Dana.
“He’s making a lot of people’s chest hurt right now,” Margaret, the lawyer, says.
“I don’t mean my heart. I mean my chest. My chest aches for him. It’s not to the left or to the right, but in the middle. When I look at him? It encompasses the whole. When I look at him it takes up my entire upper body. My shoulders, my arms, both breasts, my ribs—they are all him.”
“Not your collar bone?” Margaret responds.
There’s a guard waiting, listening by the door. One signal and he’ll take Dana back to her cell.
Margaret does not signal the guard.
Dana watches her lean forward just slightly enough so that it’s clear the act was not intentional.
“When I look at him it just throbs.”
“Where does it hurt, Dana? Where exactly?”
“Between my breasts, right in the middle.” Her hands travel to the afflicted area. She presses her fingers into the orange jumpsuit and it balloons around her breasts. Her hand flattens and soothes the excess fabric. “But it’s down a little bit. It’s not a surface ache,” she says.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a deep ache. It’s lived in, it’s been here awhile. It’s unpacked all of its baby pictures and trinkets and it’s not moving back out, ‘cause how can you move out when you’re that moved in? It hates the apartment, it does, but maybe one more year wouldn’t be that bad? Maybe it would be better than the alternative. It doesn’t have a truck to haul its bed, and no one strong enough to carry the boxes. It’s deep in there. It’s rattling around in my sternum. It’s warm and safe and why would it leave. It’s so deep, it’s so burrowed in. I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of it.”
“You realize that’s not healthy. You realize what you did wasn’t healthy, right?” Margaret asks. She leans over and grabs Dana’s free hand.
Dana links their fingers together.
“I didn’t do anything.” She looks up, meets eyes with eyes. “That’s why you’re my lawyer, to prove I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“To prove you didn’t do anything, or to prove you didn’t do anything wrong?”
There’s silence and the guard twitches uncomfortably.
Margaret looks at Dana and Dana stares back steadily. “It’s been suggested we plead not guilty by reason of insanity.”
Dana just stares at her.
“I think we should take it.”
Dana does not answer. She does not reply and she does not question Margaret’s words. Dana is not insane. Everything she’s done has been for a reason. Everything she’s done was thought out, was contemplated, was planned and carefully acted upon.
Margaret looks at the guard and the guard glances back. His eyes shift from woman to woman, as if he is unsure where he should be focusing. He is alert, he is waiting, he is prepared.
“Say something,” Margaret pleads, looking back at her client.
Dana shakes her head. “I didn’t mean to do it.”
She thinks of the man. She thinks of his blood, of his lies, of his hand so cold and limp, and she wants to laugh, and she wants to cry. She looks at Margaret’s eyes, not at Margaret. Margaret is control, is coiled, Margaret is fake. Her eyes are not. They’re sharp and knowing. Dana knows the other woman is calculating her every move. That she’s trying to read Dana, is trying to see if Dana is friend or foe—is crazy or evil.
Margaret is judging and manipulative and at that realization Dana feels warmth. Her stomach is filled with sunshine or acid and she wants to frame Margaret’s face. She wants to carve off Margaret’s face and put it in a golden frame.
“You gouged his eyes out and put them in a jar on your desk.”
She would put Margaret’s face next to his eyes.
“But I didn’t mean to,” Dana stresses, her voice sickeningly sweet and naive.
Margaret signals the guard and stands up. “You did or you wouldn’t have done it. Nobody accidentally gouges a guy’s eyes out.” She pauses, waits for Dana to defend herself, but Dana has nothing to say. She’s right; after all, you can’t accidentally gouge a guy’s eyes out.
“If you can’t take this seriously then I don’t know why I’m wasting my time on you,” Margaret says, and her voice reminds Dana of a mother. She wonders if Margaret has any kids. Dana was able to get information online about Margaret, on her relationships and wants, but none on her children. Or lack thereof. And Margaret has been married so many times, why would she not have children?
Dana wonders what it would take to get Margaret to open up. She wonders if Margaret sees her the same way she sees Margaret.
Dana stands up and grabs Margaret’s hand. “Don’t leave me, okay? Don’t make me go back in there. I really really didn’t mean to, it just happened, okay? I just couldn’t stand it.”
Margaret looks at the hand on herself. “Get off me,” she says, cold but scared. When the hand is removed she tells the guard to settle down. “What couldn’t you stand?”
“The ache,” she stresses. “I know that’s not an excuse for what I did. And what I did? It keeps me up at night. I see him, I loved him, and I keep seeing him just looking at me. I would give anything to have him back, but he’s dead okay he’s so dead and I was the one who did it. I don’t think I could have stopped myself. I just saw him looking at her and my chest hurt so much and I just snapped.”
“Dana, Sweetie,” Margaret says, looking at the girl, looking at the crazed look in her eyes. “How long had you been feeling like this before the accident?”
“The ache used to be a good thing,” says Dana. “It used to be all warm and fuzzy and meant that I liked him that I really really liked him. But he never got an ache back. One day I asked him, you know? One day I said, Tommy does your chest hurt when you look at me? And he laughed! The fucker laughed. I told him that mine did when I looked at him and he said I was a kidder. A kidder! He liked to think that I was just joking all the time, but I wasn’t. And he would never look at me. It drove me crazy.”
“Until it drove you crazy.”
“I’m not crazy,” Dana protests. “Is it crazy to want someone to look at me? I loved him so much and he never looked at me.”
Margaret slams her hands on the table and Dana looks up. “If you actually loved him, you wouldn’t have killed him. If you actually loved him you would have wanted him to be happy.”
“Like you want your husband to be happy with his lover?” Dana asks.
Margaret makes a sputtering noise and she reminds Dana of a dying whale.
“Is that what you tell yourself when you follow him to her house? When you wait outside in your car? You’re thinking about him being happy, right?”
It’s like a dormant volcano bursting.
Margaret slams her hands down on the table and leans into Dana’s face. “How the hell do you know that?”
The guard touches his gun, briefly.
“That’s a child’s mentality,” Dana says. “Of course I would want him to be happy. With me. We would have been happy.”
“Until you snapped over something else,” Margaret accuses. “Just admit it—you were waiting for a reason to kill him.”
Dana tilts her head. “Aren’t you supposed to be defending me?”
“Maybe you don’t deserve to be defended.”
“Don’t pretend you’re nothing like me.”
“I am nothing like you.”
Dana finally allows herself to laugh, but that makes Margaret reel back and Dana doesn’t understand. Hasn’t Margaret figured it out yet? Doesn’t Margaret see how they’re connected?
How they both have bled for the people they love. How they both have made the people they love bleed. How does Margaret not see that they are the same? That they have to be.
“Then why are you fighting so hard to save me,” Dana asks. She looks down at her nails, sees the red that reminds her of the blood she spilled. “You can’t excuse my actions, so why are you fighting for me?”
Dana watches Margaret cool down. She watches as all the stunning rage, rage that made vibrancy return, dissipates. She watches Margaret, once again, control herself.
Margaret signals the guard and he handcuffs Dana. She doesn’t fight it, can’t fight, not at the possibility that she was wrong. “I’ll be back tomorrow, when you’ve calmed down. Get some rest, okay?”
Dana looks up. She sees Margaret’s curls, curls that should be loose, but are tight. She’s not wrong. She knows she’s not wrong about this.
Eyes meet eyes. “How often do you imagine killing him?”
“How often do you think of chopping off his fingers after he’s touched another woman? Or clipping out his tongue when he yells at you? Or mocks you? Or tells you that you’re completely worthless? How often do you imagine pushing him down the stairs when he wakes you up in the middle of the night? Or smothering him when he doesn’t wake you up in the middle of the night? Do you get any sleep at night? Or do you constantly worry that he’s going to leave you?”
“You’re crazy,” Margaret says, her voice tinged with disgust. “I’m nothing like you.”
“Then why are you coming back tomorrow,” Dana yells. “You’re terrified, you’re disgusted. You look at me and you see something sick, but you keep coming, you keep agreeing to come. If you were nothing like me, then you would want nothing to do with me.”
Margaret turns to the guard. “Will you please take her back to her cell?”
“I know why you’re helping me.” The guard leads her towards the door. “We’re the same, you know. We’re all the same.”
Instead of mockery and disgust coloring Margaret’s next words, it’s wonder and enlightenment. “That would mean we’re all insane.”