Vapor, page 10
From the night table, I quickly grabbed the lamp and alarm clock, which I had unplugged during the night for this purpose, and ran toward him. I threw the lamp at him. He blocked it with his arm and whipped out his water gun and shot me. There was a stabbing pain in my stomach. I screamed and dropped the alarm clock. I looked down at myself and saw a small shard of ice planted in the middle of my abdomen. I pulled it out and lifted my sweater and saw a bleeding half-inch cut near my belly button.
“Ow!” I said. “I’m bleeding!”
From his bag he took out a box of Band-Aids, pulled one out of the box, and threw it at me. It fluttered to the floor. He then took out a bottle of rubbing alcohol and a package of cotton balls and handed them to me.
Blood was running down my stomach, spreading to the top of my pants. I said, “You think I can just put a Band-Aid on this? We have to go to the hospital, to the emergency room. I need stitches.”
“No you don’t. Disinfect yourself and put on the Band-Aid.” His gun was pointed at me.
I started disinfecting my wound. “You said it was a water gun, you liar.”
“Ice is water,” he said coldly. “I was hoping I wouldn’t have to use it, or even take it out at all. That’s why I brought it in a bag.”
“You deceitful asshole.”
He looked hurt. “Come over here.” He took me by the arm and positioned me in front of the bed. “Listen,” he said. “First off, it can kill. With the ice knife.” He shot a large blade of ice into the mattress. “Then there are the shards, which I shot you with. We also have the ice needles, which hurt about as much as getting a shot at the doctor’s.” He shot one into my pillow. “Then there are the ice threads. Those don’t really hurt at all.”
“So what are they for?”
“For the hell of it. There’s also the boiling water category. The doses come in three sizes: tablespoon, teaspoon, and half-teaspoon. And in two forms: stream or ball of water.” He shot all the varieties onto my bed.
“Can’t your gun just do a normal, gentle stream of room-temperature water?”
He opened his mouth, aimed the gun inside, and shot a few spurts. He suddenly looked in pain, and I thought perhaps he had used the boiling or ice features by accident. But no. All he said was, “Gross pH.”
He then talked about flexibility. He wanted to see how far I could stretch in every direction.
“Show me your bridge,” he said.
“My bridge? I don’t have a bridge.”
“You know, a back bend.”
“I know what a bridge is, and I don’t have one.”
“It doesn’t matter how small it is. I want to see it.”
“But I don’t have one. Not even a small one.”
“Sure you do. Do it.”
“I can’t. I don’t even have a speck of a bridge. You could shoot me with the shards or even the dagger and I still wouldn’t have a bridge.”
He rolled his eyes. “I’ll show you your bridge.”
“No, you will break my back. It’ll be a broken bridge.”
“Nonsense.” He made me lie down on my back with my legs bent, elbows up and palms flat on the floor on either side of my head, in the proper pre-bridge position. He slid his hands under my waist and tried to force me into a bridge by lifting my middle off the floor. But I wouldn’t let him bend me; I kept my back as straight and rigid as a board, too afraid of pain or injury. Damon pulled harder, and finally my entire body (hands and feet included) rose off the floor, my back still perfectly straight. I was balanced on his hands like a seesaw.
He gave up and put me back down, panting from the exertion. “As far as I’m concerned, a person cannot truly be sane if their body is not flexible. I know I wouldn’t be.”
“But you’re not sane.”
“Flexibility is not only important for sanity, it’s important for life. You know, deep down people die of stiffness. The root of all death is stiffness. As is proven by rigor mortis.”
“That happens after you’re dead.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. Rigor mortis creeps up on you imperceptibly before you die, and it’s what kills you. You die of subtle stiffness. The intense stiffness you get a short while after death is just the symbolic manifestation, the proof that stiffness is what killed you.”
“That’s your insane theory.”
“Yes, I admit that it’s my amusing theory. But it could be true. And to a certain extent we know it is. We all know that being flexible is healthy. It even protects you against accidents. But flexibility is not only important for mental and physical health, it’s also important for emotional health. It’s an essential ingredient to successful relationships. What is far more fascinating, though, is that it is important in art.” He paused and then spoke slowly and intensely, as if imparting me with a very exciting secret: “In my opinion, the most basic, essential quality to genius is flexibility.” And he added very quickly: “There were no great artists without it.”
He took something red out of his bag and handed it to me. It was a bathing suit.
“Would you mind going in there and changing into this?” he said, waving toward the bathroom.
“Because I’d like to see your body. I need to get a clearer picture of how much work it needs.”
“I’m not a piece of meat.”
“Hey, you’re the one who wants to be the actor. Bodies matter.”
He took his plastic gun out of his bag and pointed it at me. “Now go.”
I went, sighing.
I took off my clothes, first hoping that the one-piece suit wouldn’t be too small, and then hoping it would be, just so he’d have a small failure. But it fit, and it was even somewhat flattering. But not flattering enough to make me feel totally at ease stepping out of the bathroom.
And then I became indignant at myself, and ashamed of feeling uneasy about my body. It was ridiculous; I was a captive. Here was the last place I should let images of tall, thin models that had oppressed women for centuries, or at least decades, add to my oppression.
I tried to comfort myself by remembering the best, and I think only, compliment I ever received about my face: I had been told that I resembled young Elizabeth Taylor, but with slightly lighter hair, and disfigured. “The way Elizabeth Taylor would look if her face had been gently squashed.”
I bluntly stepped out of the bathroom.
“Let’s see what we have here,” said Damon. “We have to work on the legs.”
He walked behind me and mumbled, “Forgive me for touching,” and squeezed my upper arm, feeling for the firmness or lack of it, I suppose. “We could tone the arms a little more. The stomach is in good shape … comparatively speaking. The buttocks need firming, but they will be taken care of along with the legs.”
“I’d like a cigarette.”
“No, sorry. That’s wish number five on the list: to stop smoking.”
“I didn’t mean it.”
“You must have. You uttered it eight and a half times during the few weeks I knew you.”
“What are the others?”
“The other wishes on your fucking list.”
“You know what they are: they’re your wishes. I don’t need to tell them to you.”
Still from behind, he placed his hands on my shoulders and pulled them back. “Your posture needs improving. Ah, you see, when you stand straight, your breasts look as young as their age. You’re lucky, they are quite large, which means they will still be nicely full after.”
I waited for a moment, and said, “After what?”
“After you do things like … exercise, and little things like eat … healthy, or … less.” He blew a bubble with his gum, which exploded all over his face. He unstuck part of it and put it back in his mouth, but plenty was left stuck on his cheeks and chin. I didn’t point it out to him.
He took some keys out of his pocket and unlocked my cell door. He took my wrist firmly and escorted
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“To the most predictable place, considering your outfit.”
“Nothing is predictable when it comes to your insanity.”
He took me to the pool and said, “Go in.”
The gun was casually pointed at me. After trying to object, which did no good, I went down the first rung of the ladder. The water felt weird. It was unusually gentle, light and soft against my legs, as if my skin were numb.
“Continue,” said Damon.
I went down another rung. I swung my foot through the water, which offered little resistance. It didn’t feel as solid as water usually did. It felt the way water might feel in a dream.
It wasn’t until I actually lowered myself into the water that I knew, like an animal who knows to stay away from fire, that I should do everything in my power to avoid going in. But before I had a chance to climb back out, Damon yanked my hands off the rail and I fell backward into the water. And I kept on falling. In truth, I sank, but it felt like I was simply falling.
It was terrifying. The water was like a form of quicksand, only quicker. I had to kick extremely hard and fast to stay afloat, and do the same with my arms. If I slowed down for an instant, I started sinking again. I tried to swim back toward the ladder, but Damon was there, with his gun, preventing me from grabbing onto the rail.
“Not yet, Anna. You’re doing well. Try to get used to it. Just a bit longer. Try to relax.”
Relax? The asshole. If I relaxed I would sink. This was not the type of water in which you could pleasantly bob around.
“You’re doing great,” he said. “It’s excellent exercise. Great for your legs. For everything. You just have to get used to it.”
“I’m already used to it,” I managed to screech, which was a mistake, for I didn’t have the energy to spare and I started sinking. My movements were now too weak to get me back to the surface.
A hand violently grabbed my upper arm and yanked me back to the air. As he pulled me out of the pool, his translucent wet trousers clung to his legs like Kleenex.
I coughed as never before in my life. Then I sobbed, sitting with my face in my knees.
I looked up at him and said, “Please let me go. Please.” Tears streamed down my cheeks and blurred my vision. I kept repeating “please,” almost maniacally, to show him I might be losing my mind.
“Calm down Anna. It’s not as bad as it seems. Just remember what we’re doing: we’re working for your dreams.”
“By making me drown? And what the hell is wrong with this water, anyway?”
“It’s highly diluted.”
“Diluted? With what?”
“What are you talking about? Water can’t be diluted,” I said, with more authority than I felt. “And certainly not with air.”
“Fine, then call it aeration. This water is drenched with air. It doesn’t offer much support for swimmers, or rubber ducks.”
“So you made me swim in air.”
“No, unfortunately. That would have been more fun. You were swimming in airy water, or slightly vaporous water.”
“Please, let me go,” I said.
“You’ll feel better if you just accept the fact that you’re here until we reach our goal,” he said, settling himself down beside me. “You might as well work as hard as you can.”
I was clawing my scalp. “I’m not going to survive. I can’t work or function this way. You’re a scientist; you know nothing about acting. Even if you did, I wouldn’t learn under these conditions. Any talent I might have will be crushed, out of disgust. But if, by some miracle, you did improve my acting and I became successful, that wouldn’t make me happy. Success doesn’t ensure happiness, especially when attained in this nightmarish way. And isn’t my happiness your primary goal?”
“Absolutely. And success in all your dreams may not guarantee that you will be happy, but it’ll make it as likely as possible.”
“No, there are things that matter to me much more than success, such as having my life unfold in a natural way; having the destiny that is most natural to me. You’re not letting that happen.”
“What is most natural to human beings is for them to develop their highest potential. The way it happens doesn’t matter. What matters is that it happens. Now let’s get back to work,” he said. “We have to find some other form of exercise for you, in addition to swimming in this watair.”
“Swimming in this what?”
“Watair. It’s my name for it. Can you think of a better name?”
“I think so. Watmare. By the way, I plan to devote the rest of my life to making your life hell, if not ending it altogether. Your goal is to make me happy? Well, I will be unhappy, just to spite you.”
“My life is of no importance to me. If it’ll please you to make my life hell, then do it. I’ll put myself at your disposal. Now, what types of physical exercises do you enjoy doing?”
“I’ve never heard you mention riding before. But it’s not an option, for obvious reasons. What else?”
“Same obvious reasons. And how strange that I’ve never heard you mention that one either. What else?”
“Fencing. Have you heard me mention that one? Fencing. That’s all I like doing physically.”
“Yes, but you’d have no one to do it with, and if I tried, it would be too risky; you’d incapacitate me in a second. I saw how you worked your wand in the subway. You were dangerous.”
“Your flattery repels me.”
“What other sports do you like?”
“Any sport that consists of swift transportation outdoors.”
“I see I’m not going to get much help from you. If you want me to pick your sport for you, that’s fine. How about running?”
“Excellent. Especially outdoors and alone.”
“Running it is, then.”
“Outdoors and alone?” I asked, surprised and hopeful.
“Indoors and supervised.”
“I hate running.”
“Too late. You tired me and tried my patience. We’re going back to your room so you can change into your running outfit.”
“Please don’t call it that.”
“Jogging outfit? Sweat suit?”
“It’s not my room. It’s a jail. Call it jail.”
“Okay, we’re going back to jail. But that makes me sound like a sheriff.”
We went back, but instead of making me change clothes, he looked at his watch, and said, “Actually, we won’t have time to do this right now. You’ll have to excuse me for a little while.” And he left. It was 1:25 P.M.
Through the monitors I saw Damon go into the living room and disappear behind a door. When he finally came back, half an hour later, his eyes and nose were red: he had obviously been crying.
He handed me sweatpants and a T-shirt, and told me to go change. His voice was stuffed up and nasal from the crying.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Are you upset about something?”
“That’s a reasonable assumption.”
“What is it?”
“Why do you think there’s no camera where I went? Why do you think you couldn’t see me on any of the screens? It’s because it’s not something you need to know, or that I want you to know, or that concerns you. Now please go and change.”
“I’m too hungry. I feel faint,” I said.
“It’ll pass as soon as you start jogging.”
“No, I’ll pass—out.”
“We’ll see which one of us is right,” he said, pointing the gun at me and wiping his nose on his tissue-like sleeve.
I went into the bathroom and changed into the outfit.
When I came out, he said, “Start running.”
“In here?” I looked around the small cell.
“Yes. Why not.”
“Oh goody, that’ll be even more fun.”
I ran in place, staring at him, hoping to make him uncomfortable.
“I don’t like running,” I finally said, and dared to stop moving. “It’s uncomfortable for me.”
He looked concerned. “Is it? Do your knees hurt? Or your back?”
“I don’t feel comfortable talking about it.”
“Ah, you jiggle,” he stated, nasally. “Is it your breasts? Do your breasts hurt?”
I so wished I had a heavy object to whack him with. Or better yet, my sword.
“You’re blushing,” he said.
He got three more imaginary blows. “As a matter of fact,” I said, “maybe I don’t jiggle. Maybe I just feel as if my feminine organs are being pounded loose and are about to come pouring out of my vagina, if you want to know the truth.”
He was speechless for a moment. Then he slowly smiled and said, “No, I think you jiggle.”
“Not necessarily. And if I did, it would be called ‘bounce.’ ”
“You’re right if we’re referring to the breasts. But if we’re talking about another part, like the buttocks, it would be called jiggle, I think.”
“It’s the breasts!” I said indignantly.
“Okay, I’ll try to think of something,” he said, and left my cell.
He came back, holding an Ace bandage. “This should work.”
“What is it for?” I asked, hoping it wasn’t for what I thought it was.
It was. “To wrap around your chest,” he said. “There’s no reason it won’t do the trick.”
“Yes, there’s a very good reason: I’m not getting near that thing.”
He sighed. “So what sport would you rather do?” He fell silent, and then said, “Okay. I’ve got it. I’ll just get an exercise machine that you can use in your room.”
“My room,” I repeated, rolling my eyes.
“I’ll get you a Stairmaster or a stationary bicycle. Which one?”
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