from Night Rooms
BY GINA NUTT
Two teenagers sprawled across a green armchair and loveseat, mauve carpeting beneath the living room furniture. Flames crack in the fireplace. One says, Are you gonna see James tonight?
Her friend says, Why are you suddenly so interested in who I’m gonna see at night? Nighttime is my time.¹
The air clouded with glass cleaner and sweat, the too-sweet strike of so many celebrity perfumes colliding. My hands gripped brass, I spun clumsily. I saw myself in the floor-to-ceiling mirror each dancer vamped along as she began her set, stretching into the panels, kissing her own face—elevated onstage, shielded by a rule that forbade patrons from touching the dancers.
Someone pulled me in his bedroom. I couldn’t tell if the heat in my face was from drinking or wanting. He laid me down on the floor and stood over me, his hands held his waistband, as if making an assessment.
The bartender cautioned of raids and told us to stay on the patio. I smoked cigarettes at a picnic table, nervous we’d get caught. A friend and I drank cocktails that looked like liquid amethyst. I felt myself fray into the night. Dancing beside tables that looked like big empty thread spools, my skirt turned on my hips, the zipper and button on the side. I could hardly stand on the sidewalk. Someone carried my shoes.
I woke in the tub, wearing my underwear and tank top. I stumbled into the living room, noticed an aquarium tank with a snake. A heat lamp shined on the glistening scales. I wanted to leave, but my friend said we were drunk. Someone gave me a blanket and asked if I wanted to watch a movie. Someone told me I’d like it.
A clown at a roadside oddities shop emcees a murder ride featuring serial killers. Four travelers take it and learn of a notorious local legend. Intrigued by the lore, the travelers detour. They pick up a hitchhiker. A tire blows out.
The hours stretched shadow-long. I wanted morning, my own bed. The movie was still playing.
The villains dress two of the travelers in rabbit costumes, shove them into a coffin, and lower them into an underground tunnel system. Creatures tear open the coffin. A woman sheds her costume and runs through blue passages, a stretch lined with skeletons. She reaches a red-lit chamber where filthy people sit around with devices on their heads. A static-scratched television hums. Someone convulses on a grimy operating table.
I wanted water, but couldn’t find a glass. My head throbbed as I stood in the kitchen. A bottle of Midori glowed bright green on the counter. The snake moved on its branch, the skin patterns bunched and elongated. I worried the snake would escape and swallow me. Was the humming I heard the sunlamp, the snake’s hunger, my head? Was it bar neon dimming, the sweet-sick taste on my teeth, shower water beading on my body until the drops were full enough to speed down my skin, toward the drain?
We sat on the blue sofa in his apartment. He poured wine. In his bedroom, he stopped kissing me to ask my confirmation name. I said I didn’t have one. He kissed me more. Driving home, I saw a group of deer cross the road by the Westcott Reservoir. Two in the morning and mine was the only car on the street. I stopped to watch them, ambling and graceful. Alert eyes, sweet faces. I let him photograph me for a school project in my basement bedroom at my mother’s. A coffee can of cigarette butts beside my bed, a twin mattress supported by plastic storage totes. I had conflicting concerns: he was too good for me or he wasn’t all that nice. I thought if he saw where I lived I wouldn’t have to tell him I was afraid, he’d lose interest. He sent me the pictures, asked to see me again. I said I was busy.
The woman cradling a log like an infant—sage-like and prophetic—meets the girl’s hopelessness with empathy. She puts her palm to the teenage girl’s forehead, as if feeling for a fever, and says, When this kind of fire starts, it is very hard to put out. The tender boughs of innocence burn first and the wind rises and then all goodness is in jeopardy.²
I sometimes felt afraid heading home—on a bus or walking, digging in my purse to find keys. I was not afraid as I dressed and put on makeup, nor as I walked to the parties or moved through them. I felt safety in repetition, even as I echoed my mistakes.
I rewatched the movie with the murder ride, rabbit costumes, and underground chambers. I wanted to know how it ends. A hand emerges from earth and dry grass in morning. The hand becomes an arm, then a woman in a little-girl’s dress—blue and short with a doll collar, fabric dirty and blood-streaked. She stumbles to the road. She waves an arm from a torn sleeve, signals an approaching car. The car picks her up. She says she needs a doctor. The driver—the murder-ride emcee without costume or makeup—says, I’ll get you to a doctor.³
We watched Shaun of the Dead with his friends. We were sleepy, warm, and slow after they left the room. The next morning, he said, You’re still here? returning from the shower, to find me still in bed. Staying was a breakfast invitation without asking. I felt embarrassed I wanted his company, sad I knew the answer. Everything that was going to happen between us had happened.
I descended the quiet stories alone from his room at the top of the house. I stepped over cups and cans on the stairs, went out the heavy front door. Headed to my dorm, I passed clusters of parents and prospective students scattered across campus, tour groups with bright orange bags. I had on jeans and a red tee shirt with small white flowers, black ballet flats. I could have been headed to brunch, the library. I asked myself if it was a walk of shame if I was not wearing painful heels or something short. Was it a walk of shame if I was not sorry until I was outside the house.
Halloween and pajama parties. Playboy Mansion parties. CEOs and office hoes. Graffiti parties where we wore white clothes and drew on each other. Short shorts and miniskirts. Decade parties for the roaring ’20s, pop-bright ’80s, and grungy ’90s. Saints and Sinners. Black light parties. I saw many toga-draped forms on Syracuse streets and sidewalks, faux-olive-leaf-crowned gods and goddesses on campus buses late at night, going wherever, but I never attended a toga party. I borrowed a pink polo shirt and a skirt from a friend for golf pros and tennis hoes. We chewed mushrooms on a boys’ floor of the dorm, passed vending machine orange juice between us because we heard we’d feel it sooner. I went to a spin-the-bottle party and didn’t kiss anyone.
The Splat Pack refers to directors who work on minimal budgets and create abundantly violent films, occasionally dismissed as torture porn. Among them: Rob Zombie, Eli Roth, James Wan, Robert Rodriguez, Alexandre Aja. No women were canonized in the initial Splat Pack.
What was I doing in those rooms is another way to ask what I wanted to prove. I knew the difference between something regretted and something unwanted. Maybe I felt worthless. Maybe I liked it. I made room for my want and sometimes wanted more. I felt sad not to hear from some people again and wondered who felt the same to not hear from me.
Veterinary school students haze first-years, including a girl whose older sister attends the same program. The sisters were raised vegetarians. Eating a rabbit liver in a hazing ritual awakens meat cravings in the younger sister. Bright blood splattered across a dull palette. Her appetite intensifies—a gas station sandwich, raw chicken, human flesh. Her body endures untamable urges and grisly reactions, the consequences of satisfying such intense want.
His apartment was behind the dorm where my friends lived. His roommates gone for Thanksgiving break, he picked me up and put me on the counter beside the stove.
Colorful lights, thumping music. The sisters attend late-night dance parties where everyone’s energy collides. It’s familiar: the light and sweat, beer blurred with waving arms and crushed red cups. Puffs of smoke becoming contrails above everyone’s head before disappearing.
I took a bus in a snowstorm to meet up with someone at a bar. We went to his place, where he put on a DVD. Neon silhouettes of women danced to techno on the screen. Drinking Wild Turkey, we walked around the apartment in our underwear for an hour before he touched me.
I had on a blue flowy top of hers, spaghetti straps and small flower appliques sewn on the neckline. My black dorm-cut hair choppy and teased. He walked between us across campus, offered each of us a hand and swung our arms.
The Splat Pack is not as familiar a horror concept as final girls and scream queens.
The younger sister puts on a dress and lipstick. She dances before a mirror, her headphones blaring like an electric pulse. She kisses her reflection, the shot taken as if from inside the mirror.
From the row behind ours, a stranger said, You two are so lucky. I want what you have. She didn’t know we were friends. We made out on the side of a house, and the year before we played Guitar Hero in his friend’s dorm room and watched Sleepaway Camp in the lounge, got stoned behind the dorm. We weren’t in love or anything like it. An incision of blue light sliced beneath my roommate’s door. When I walked him out the next morning, my roommate was making breakfast in our kitchen. I put on coffee and she told me she was worried.
A friend said, Just because someone wants to have sex with you, doesn’t mean you should. We were in a bar after class, the evening before I took a flight to see an ex. Or we were smoking between dances in a strobe-lit basement. Or we were fixing our hair and reapplying lip stain in a bathroom. It’s not that she told me on more than one occasion. She said it once and I thought of her caution often. I believed her and still my want welled up, overflowed.
The younger sister and her father sit at the breakfast table. He says, Your mom was tough at first.⁴ He unbuttons his shirt to reveal his scarred chest, the skin monstrously ruffled. She sees she was born into her hunger, a deep bodily longing.
He said the party was too hot. We were in a dark kitchen and he opened the fridge, sat on a shelf. He held on to me while we kissed, unbuttoned my jeans. I pulled away, looking at everyone else in orbits of oblivion and want. He wrote an address on a paper scrap, pressed it into my palm. His friend wanted to come with us. I said okay and caught a bus home. I didn’t see him again.
The camera like a satellite empathizes with the two teenage girls. The living room shot from above. One asks: Do you think that if you were falling in space that you would slow down after a while or go faster and faster?
Her friend says, Faster and faster. And for a long time, you wouldn’t feel anything. And then you’d burst into fire, forever. And the angels wouldn’t help you because they’ve all gone away.⁵
I said someone could stay but I was going to sleep. In my bed, he put his hand down my pants and sloshed against me. I faced the wall and he bucked against my back, my pajama pants and underwear the difference between our skin. In other contexts, this was a thing. Someone else liked it—feeling each other through fabric, wanting closely distant. I didn’t want that night though. I didn’t want him. I said it wasn’t going to happen and went to sleep on the living room couch, half-awake most the night, staring at his motorcycle helmet on the coffee table. In the morning, perched on the track of the sliding door off the living room, I smoked cigarettes, waiting for him to leave. The sun was hot. I was thirsty. I stared into the wide pit behind my apartment. The pit had a reputation. Deer grazed, feral cats stalked. Grass and weeds overgrew with abandon until someone on a riding mower breezed through the crater.
Someone paused and told me to take a deep breath before touching me again. In the seconds between the inhale and him, I didn’t know what was about to happen. I trusted him. I wanted him. My breath pulled deep, waiting to feel what he would do.
¹Lynch, David (Director), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1992.
³Zombie, Rob (Director), House of 1000 Corpses, Lionsgate, 2003.
⁴Ducournau, Julia (Director), Raw, Focus World, 2016.
⁵Lynch, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.
Gina Nutt is the author of the essay collection Night Rooms (Two Dollar Radio) and the poetry collection Wilderness Champion (Gold Wake Press). She earned her MFA from Syracuse University. Her writing has appeared in Cosmonauts Avenue, Joyland, Ninth Letter, and other publications.
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