Things have a way of falling apart when you don’t give a rat’s ass.

My job went first. They had to call me to tell me I was fired. ‘Let Go’, they called it, euphemistically. I guess that’s what happens when you just quit going to work.

Entropy seized my universe after that.

When you stop earning a living, it’s hard to pay your rent. Particularly if you’re spending your money on bail, booze and crank. Harder still when you have to spend it on getting your car repaired after running it into several things. It helps for a while if you sell stuff, but that requires that you have stuff to sell.

Most of what I own is shit people give away or leave on a street corner, apart from a good set of weights, a not-too-bad computer, an old motorcycle that hasn’t run in a couple years. That, and some pretty damned good original artwork from my tattooist friends.

The computer was the first to go – fuck work, fuck the tools I work with. I sold it to a friend. I sold the same friend my stereo and TV as well. The stereo was the hardest to part with. I figured I’d try to sell the bike next, see if it would get me a few bucks. The weights, I’d already decided, would go last, even if I had to sleep on the floor and sell my crappy bed. The art, well, the art just wasn’t going to be sold. Some places, a man has to take a stand.

I still had electricity. Not for much longer though. The phone was shut off, but I had my cell phone. My ex-employers forgot to ask for it back, and better yet, hadn’t canceled service. Water came with the rent, and well, I was wondering if I could threaten my landlady to let me slide another month, or if maybe the old bag would let me fuck her for the difference. Or maybe I should just burn the fucking place down.

There was some other shit – some fights I’d gotten into, a couple of friends I’d pissed off. A tattoo shop over the hill I was no longer welcome in, after showing up drunk, demanding something. I don’t recall details, but heard around town I’d made a serious scene and been tossed out

physically. My neighbor had cut of my credit as well, told me I had to actually pay him if I wanted more crank or weed. Which was just as well, that shit’s bad for me. Makes me see shit. Makes me talk to people who aren’t there.

I’d also tried to talk an old girlfriend into a pity fuck, which evidently made her husband pretty angry. That was a bad thing; he drinks with cops, and now I knew the local boys in blue were keeping an eye on me.

All in all, then, my life was bountiful. I spent my days trying to move on, pretending this was the day I would put it back together. I’d stop drinking, try to dig up something like a job. Today. Or tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow was better. Or the day after.

After our night, our date, I didn’t call. Gave up, let her go. I was too drunk and fucked up to call half the time, sober enough to know I shouldn’t the other half. Only as time went by, I started to ask myself, what does ‘goodbye’ mean anyway. I think I worried at that one for a couple weeks before I picked up the phone to just fucking ask her.

Obviously, she wouldn’t talk to me. I knew that, really, even as I dialed. I kept trying anyway. Because I’m too stupid to quit.

The shop usually said she wasn’t there when I called. I don’t know if she was, or wasn’t. I thought at the time they were all lying to me, but now I suspect she was missing much of the time. Eventually, Patrick talked to me, a little. He seemed sorry, or maybe it was pity. He never called me a stalker, though it wouldn’t have been unfair. He did tell me, almost in a tone of brotherly advice, that it just wasn’t a good idea, and there wasn’t anything there; that I would do better to try to move on. He wouldn’t give her messages, but did let her know I’d called, or said he did. I tried mailing her notes, a couple of times, but he said she’d thrown them out, un-read, un-opened.

Eventually, he asked me to stop. I think by then I just needed someone to talk to while I sat home, drinking and brooding. I think I was calling to talk to Patrick as much as to her. I did what he asked; I didn’t call, while my job went away and my life inched off its cliff. Didn’t call at all.

It was Patrick called me, the next time.
“I just don’t know who to talk to about this.” H confessed.
I didn’t know what to say. And really couldn’t quite recall how to talk; I’d been alone too long. “Things are going bad for her. Ever since that – that last time she saw you.”
“Why are you telling me?”
“I don’t have any fucking idea. Fair enough?” He waited for me to respond. I didn’t.

“She’s not working, Matteo. Not really. She’s here sometimes, but then doesn’t show up. She’s doing shit – stuff she shouldn’t be doing. She’s – something’s wrong.” He paused. Afraid to say it. “She’s fucked up a couple of tattoos, man. Lost customers.”

There’s something they teach you, when you’re learning to tattoo. One of the first things you learn. Never Say ‘Oops’. But tattooists know when they’ve fucked something up. Wrong color, crooked lines, color in the wrong place. Worse yet, a word misspelled. Customers may never know; the artist does. And the other artists know. When someone starts to fuck up tattoos, they are on borrowed time in a local tattoo scene.

“Fuck,” I said.
“I can’t help, Patrick. I can’t help if she won’t talk to me. And I think…” “That you’re the problem,” he said.
“I’m the problem.” I agreed.
“I’m sorry I called,” he said.
“Ask her to call me, Patrick. Ask her to talk to me. I can’t help if she won’t.” I knew she wouldn’t.

She did though. Three days later, She called me. It went badly.

Late at night. I’d been out, drinking beer at a cheap dive bar I know. Gambling, throwing dice for who bought rounds. I’d been winning, then when I started losing, I left. I didn’t have money to buy rounds. I walked around, sobered up, mostly. Not for any reason, but I was starting get a little bored with being drunk and alone. I couldn’t change alone.

I got home, tried to work out but couldn’t concentrate. Couldn’t sleep either. I’d sold my TV, my stereo, most of my books. I started at the wall and thought about all the things wrong with my life.

My cell phone rang, startling me. I never carried it – why bother, when it rings, it’s a wrong number. It sat on its charger, collecting dust.

I picked it up, expecting the usual call, some fucking crackhead looking for his dealer. I didn’t say anything, just punched a button and put it to my ear.

“Matteo?” She sounded very small, very far away. I was dumbstruck, silent. Not completely believing it was her. Maybe I was now hallucinating phone calls.
“Hello?” she said, again, a little louder.

A long silence, that odd deadness of a silent cell phone. “Matteo.” almost a sigh. “Hi – it’s, it’s me.”

I felt choked up. Wanted to scream at her, to jump up and down, pump my fist in the air like I’d just scored a goal. Managed to croak out “baby,” finally.

“I just wanted…” trailing off. Like she was fading.

“God, I’m glad to hear your voice,” I said. “I’ve been trying to reach you.”

“I know.” Stronger now. “Why won’t you stop calling me?”

“I – I can’t stop it, baby. I…” I started to say I loved her. Knew I shouldn’t.

“You hav’ t’ stay ‘way.” Her words were slurred; she sounded angry now. “Stop callin’. Stop talking to me. Stop being – stop being – stop makin’ me…” trailing of again, lost.

“Wanton, are you ok?”

“No. No, no no no. I’ve never been ok.” She sniffed. I wondered if she was crying. Wondered if she was drunk, what she was on. “I can’t be ok,” She said.

“I want to help you, baby.”

“No.” She sounded faint and sad.

“Patrick said – he called me, he said, you’re in trouble.”

“FUCK him!” she screamed it. “FUCK him! And FUCK you! Leave me ALONE!”

She coughed, sobbed. I heard a clatter; she had dropped the phone. It seemed to take her a long time to pick it up.

“‘m sorry.” She mumbled. “Drop you.” I could hear her drink, swallow. Ice rattling in a glass. “Wanton.”
“Don’t call me that,” she said.
“I want to see you. I’m coming up there.”

“I’m not at work. You can’t see me.” She sounded almost pouty.

“Tell me where you live. I’ll come get you.” Hoping, for a moment, that she might let me into her life.

“No. Not here. Not ever. You can’t.”
“Why not?” I asked.
I could hear her breath. Then finally, she whispered “Goodbye”.

“DON’T GO!” I shouted into the cell phone.

“DON’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” she screamed it. Hurt my ear. “Fuck OFF! Get the fuckinghell AWAY FROM ME!” Screams turned to shrieks. I heard glass break, a clatter, a sound like a body hitting the floor. Sobs. Then the line went dead.

I threw the little plastic phone across the room, shattered it into pieces. Knew I’d fucked this up, again. Knew she was gone, I’d lost her. Lost everything.

The knock on my door pulled me out of fitful sleep.

My apartment is small. One larger room, with the bed, and until recently, a wall full of TV and stereo. Another, smaller room, galley kitchen and breakfast nook. That’s where the weights live, where the table would be if I had one. A bathroom on the far side of that. It’s on the top floor in one of those courtyard-garden places, like on ‘Melrose place’ only without all the models.

Once it hadn’t mattered that it wasn’t much of an apartment. It was just a place for my bed and my stuff. This was just where I slept, and once in a while brought someone home if she didn’t have a better place of her own we could go.

Now, it was my world. With most of my stuff gone, the place wasn’t cluttered. Even drunk, stoned or miserable, I kept the place clean. That’s easy when you don’t own anything, and it gave me something to do.

I sat up, confused, wondering if I’d dreamed the knock, or if one of my neighbors had taken up midnight carpentry as a new hobby. Corrected the thought, 2:37am carpentry. But I don’t have any neighbors – I’m on the corner, one side a second-story outer wall, the other empty now for a couple of months.

The knock sounded again. Absurdly, ‘shave-and-a-hair-cut’, like in a cartoon. “What the fuck” I mumbled to myself.

I got up, pissed off. Some asshole, lost, maybe looking for my downstairs neighbor for a late- night score. Mixing up apartments.

I pulled on sweat pants to avoid flashing whoever was disrupting my beauty rest. I keep an old Louisville slugger by the door in case of traveling salesmen, and as an afterthought, grabbed it to make sure whomever was at the door didn’t want to stay long.

I yanked the door open.

She stood away from the door, leaning against the balcony rail. Her arms were crossed tight, hands in her armpits under her jacket. Hugging herself, her entire body turned in, shoulders hunched. Her head was down.

She looked at me from under her hair. She was wearing sunglasses, cheap biker KD’s with salmon-pink lenses. I could just see her in the dim moonlight.

“I’m sorry. I woke you,” she said, a small, forlorn voice.

“My god, Wanton – what are you – “

“Can I come in?” she asked. She looked at the bat in my hand.

I stepped back into the apartment, dumped the bat by the door. She brushed in past me. I switched on a lamp.

She was in old army camo BDU’s, much ripped and patched. An oversized denim jacket. Her hair looked slept in. She had something I couldn’t quite see in her hand; Her arms stayed crossed.

She looked around. Seemed confused at the empty space, looked at me as if to say ‘is this all?’

“Welcome to my home,” I said. “I’ll give you the grand tour.” I turned, 360, gestured around. “There, that’s the whole place.”

She looked for a chair I don’t own, then sat on the bed. Didn’t say anything. Didn’t take off her glasses or coat.

“Wanton, what are you doing here?”
She didn’t tell me, just asked for a drink of water.

I got it, tap water in a big cracked coffee mug that said ‘Bad Boy’s Bail Bonds’ on the side. “Sorry, I’m out of ice.” I said.

She shook her head, said it was ok. She drank it in small sips, holding the cup with her right hand. Her left was now inside her jacket.

“How did you get here?” I asked her.

“Patrick’s car – I borrowed it. He’ll be mad, when he finds out,” she said.

She sighed. Looked at the floor. She started to shiver; dropped the empty cup.

“Honey?” I sat down next to her, put an arm around her shoulders. Just sat with her like that until the shivering slowed.

“We have to end this,” she said. “I thought it was already ended.” “No.”

“I though it never – we were never – “

“We were, though. I know what I said. I was wrong,” she said, still speaking to her boots, head hanging.

“Wanton – look at me.”

She lifted her head toward me. I pushed the glasses up onto her forehead; there were bruises on her face, on the left side. More on her neck. Her eyes were glassy, the pupils looked wrong. Dark circles under her eyes.

“What are you saying, Wanton?”

She stood. Walked a couple of steps, into the middle of the room. Her arms were at her sides now. She turned back towards me.

I saw what she held in her hand now. A little snub-nosed revolver, like a police special .38.

“It has to be over. Really over,” she said. “But you said you can’t, said it after the elevator. You can’t – stay away.”

“Wanton, I -”
“Matteo, I can’t either. Can’t stay away.” I stood.

“But I can’t be with you,” she said. “So it has to end.” She waved the gun, gesturing vaguely to include us both. “So one of us has to go.” She let the gun fall to her side again. Looked at the floor. “Only, I’m not sure which one,” She said.

I took a step toward her.

She looked at me, put the barrel of the gun to her neck, under the point of her jaw. “I thought about it being me. But then I thought, how could you live with that?” She turned the gun toward me. “But if it’s you, then how can I…” She trailed off. Looked at the gun. Let it drop to her side again. “I don’t know. I hoped you could help me choose.”

“Wanton,” I said. “That’s – ” I was going to say ‘crazy’.
“I know. But it’s what has to happen. It’s how this has to end.”

She pulled the hammer back on the pistol with a terrifying ‘click’; stepped forward and kissed me. The pistol rested between us, cross-wise. I recall wondering, as we kissed, if this would be the last mouth I would ever taste.

“No – it doesn’t have to.” I whispered to her. She drew a breath, held it. I braced myself, expecting the gun to go off.

Instead, she stepped away, turned. Still not ready, not sure who the gun was for. She looked at the walls of my apartment, artwork everywhere, some framed, some tacked, some leaned against the wall. She seemed to study each piece, though I don’t think she was. She made a circuit around the room; the gun was clenched in her hand, the knuckles white. Her finger lay outside the trigger guard.

When she reached my bedside, she stopped, looked down. Touched the black panties that still hung from my bedpost. “Mine?” she asked me.

“Yours,” I said.
“You kept them”
“I almost swallowed them”
She looked over her shoulder at me, still at the foot of the bed. Smiled faintly, shook her head.

She turned back to the side of my bed, found the little pencil sketch I’d taken, the heart slashed with a razor, which was tacked to the wall next to the bedpost. “Oh – here it is,” she said. “I drew this after, after our first time. I was going to get it – Patrick was going to do it for me. But it’s more you, isn’t it? I wish I could do it for you.”

She looked at the things on my table; a crappy clock radio, a little lamp I’d gotten at a yard sale someplace, a couple of books. She pulled the drawer open, found condoms (how long had those been there, I wondered – the box was unopened), some dirty magazines and hand lotion. She came out with a bindle I’d forgotten was there – crank left over from one of my binges.

“Wanton,” I said.

“You mind?” she asked, not waiting for my answer. Dumped some onto the back of her hand and snorted.

“Ow! Fuck!” she said. “You should buy better crank.” She dropped the bindle into my drawer, shut it.

“I need to pee,” she said.

I followed her, watched her pull her BDU’s down one-handed and sit. “You like watching me pee?” she asked.

“I do, actually,” I said. Surprised that it was true, and that I was telling her, now.

“I wish we had more time,” she said, smiling sadly. She stood, pulled up her pants. Stepped out of the bathroom.

We faced each other, less than arm’s length apart. Looked into each other’s eyes. “We can,” I said. “We can have all the time in the world.”

“No we can’t,” she said. She raised the gun between us again, looked at it. I put my hand on her wrist.

We stood, frozen. My hand locked on her wrist, not letting her move, her arm rigid, but not fighting me. Looking into each other’s eyes.

I raised my other hand, slowly peeled her fingers from the gun, like taking a rattle away from a baby. She never relaxed her grip, but never fought me off, either. I took the gun away from her, uncocked it. Kissed her cheek.

I walked away, to the front door. Popped open the action on the little gun, ejected the bullets into my hand (four, one chamber left empty, for safer carry). I opened the door, flung the bullets into the bushes below. Closed the door.

She was standing behind me, silent, lost. Her reason for being here now taken away. I dropped the gun and took her in my arms.
“I just saved your life,” I said.
“Or maybe yours,” she replied, into my shoulder.

It was one of those moments – where I can see, looking back, the whole thing at a crossroads. Where I might have changed what happened after, had I done something different, thought before acting, used that good judgment people talk about.

Or – fate. I had no choice. The stars aligned. The will of gods, spirits, or (more likely), demons.

For a moment, I considered calling for help, seeking guidance. Maybe get her detoxed, off whatever she had in her system other than my crank. Maybe there were friends or parents who could step in and help with this. Maybe people I knew would know what to do.

But I held her. And she felt right in my arms. And even in this state, she smelled good. And her arms were around me now, her hands stroking the small of my back, where she’d marked me.

So I kissed her, instead of listening to that tiny voice of reason. Told it to wait, to fuck off, I’d listen later.
I don’t know if it made any difference. I do know, put there again, I’d make the same mistake. Every time.

Wanton shrugged out of her coat, let is fall to the floor. We began to kiss, both of us moving slowly. My hands slid under her shirt, stroked her sides and back. “Hang on” she mumbled; ” I need a drink”

She fished something out of the cargo pocket of her pants. A bottle. She unscrewed it, dropped the lid. Gulped, then passed the bottle to me. Cinnamon schnapps, with some sort of little gold flakes floating in the bottle. I sipped, passed it back. She gulped again.

She smiled at me as she wiped her mouth. Her eyes were glassy. I took the bottle from her hand, took another belt, the sweet fiery stuff burning on the way down, and found the lid. I tossed the bottle onto the bed, the picked Wanton up and tossed her after it.

I leaned over her, kissed cheek, neck, each breast, then down her belly, still covered with her tee shirt. I pulled her engineer boots off, her socks. Realizing she had tiny flowers tattooed on her toes, I kissed each one. I kissed back up, one kiss on each knee, then slipped my fingers into the waistband of her pants, tugged them down. She arched, lifted her hips, helping me.

I tossed her pants to the floor, noticing there was still something in the cargo pocket – a small, zip-up leather case bounced out when they hit the floor. She wasn’t wearing panties. I could smell the musky sweetness of her cunt.

I laid my head against her, where hip meets belly. Breathed in her scent, wrapped my arms around her and hugged. Just held her. Her hands stroked my head. My scalp was rough and sand-papery, needing a shave.

“Come up here,” she said. So I did. I crawled up her, lifted her to a sitting position. She peeled off her shirt, dropped it, and we began to kiss. Her mouth tasted of cinnamon.

She rolled me onto my back, had her hands on my neck, face, scalp as we kissed. I lay under her, spread eagle. Soon she was biting at my neck, a little harder, sucking. Her hands on my nipples, pinching, twisting. I began to murmur her name. My hands gripped the bedposts. She was astride my leg, her thigh in my crotch. I could feel her nails, rough, digging into the skin on my chest as she began to suck my nipples, then to bite them. She began to knead my cock through my sweat pants.

I pushed her off, down, held her, held her wrists above her head. Kissed her, hard, bit her lip. She was gasping; I held her with one hand, found her tee shirt, used it to lash her wrists to a bedpost. I went to work on her nipples with my mouth, found her cunt with my fingers. She gasped again as I slid my fingers into her cunt, my thumb on her clit.

“Goddamnit, FUCK ME!” she yelled.

“Not yet,” I said.
I shifted, above her on hands and knees. She was squirming, her hips twisting, legs kicking at me. I worked down, kissing belly, hips, then held her hips, held her still. I began to lick around her clit. “Hurry!” she said.

I worked on her clit, then licked her cunt, then slipped my tongue into her ass. I worked back and forth, each touch on her clit making her more frantic. I began to finger her, sucked on her clit, my thumb in her cunt, a finger slipping into her ass.

I heard the tee-shirt rip as she tore herself free. She grabbed for my head, my ears, pulled, then pushed me away. I slid off the bed, and she came off it after me, biting and scratching. She tore at my sweat pants, dragged them off of me. She grabbed my cock, took it in her mouth, sucked and bit. I yelled, hoarsely, grabbing the back of her head as she sucked my balls into her mouth. I pushed her back, tried to come up off the floor.

She pushed me down, her full weight on me; bit my nipple, sucked, her hand on my cock, squeezing it. Her teeth closed on the skin of my chest, next to my nipple. Hard. She bit; drew blood. I yelled, knocked her away.

She rolled off of me, was up like a cat. She had something in her hand \u201aÄì the schnapps bottle. She twisted the top off, drank, and then was over me, pouring the fiery liquor on the bleeding wound she’d left on my chest. I screamed again, took the bottle from her, drank off the rest of it, then pulled her down on top of me.

“You fucking bitch!” I said, and kissed her. She laughed, kissed, lowered herself onto my cock. She licked schnapps and blood from my chest as my cock slid into her. “I love you,” I said into her hair.

“Shut up,” she said, starting to move on my cock. “Don’t talk”. She put her fingers over my mouth. I thrust into her, held her waist, working her up and down, She was moaning, gasping, and then crying out.

We rolled across the floor, me on top, side by side, her on top. She clawed at my chest, kissed me, bit. Her nails on my back and shoulders, her teeth in my neck, my ear lobe, tearing at my earrings.

I was on top of her when she came, screaming and choking; I could hear her teeth click together as she tried it bite me, my chest just out of reach.

She squirmed away from me, pushed me, was up and across the room. I followed her, was going to throw her back onto the bed.

“No – wait a second,” she said. Held me off, arm’s length. “Wait – no more – not yet”.

I looked at her – my cock still hard as an iron bar. She looked at it, looked at the wound on my chest. Smiled. “Just a minute – like you said, we have time. I need something first though,” she said. “Go get me something more to drink”.
I found a bottle of Jack that still had a couple fingers left in it, brought it back with me. She had the little leather pouch open on my table when I came back. I could smell something burning. She had my bindle of crank out, another little baggie of her own next to in, a little stub of candle burning. A spoon.

I watched her prepare one rig, then another. She smiled at me.

“Let me have that,” she said, reaching for the bottle. I handed it to her, took it back, a couple sips each.

She did me first. Found a vein like a nurse, cleaned my arm with a few drops of Jack, slid the spike in. A dark light began to shine in my skull.

I didn’t watch her do hers. She put her kit away. I took a last swallow of whiskey.

My skin tingled. The skin on my face was hot and tight. My heart tried to gopher it’s way out of my chest.

“Baby,” I said. Pushed her down. She was starting to sweat. So was I.

I rolled her onto her side, entered her with no foreplay. Heard her gasp, not ready. I grunted, pulled out, drove back in. I felt like an animal, Pawed at her breasts, wanting to lick her as I fucked. Wanting to eat her, bite out chucks of flesh.

I slipped my fingers into her cunt along with my cock, then into her ass, licked her taste off. I pressed her into the bed with my body, driving into her, sliding her across the bed, her head banging into the headboard.

She put her hands against the headboard, pushed back, pushed her ass against me as I fucked her, our bodies slapping together. Sweat pouring from my skin. She was slick all over. Sweat and spit were dripping from my mouth, my chin, dripping onto her. I thrust hard, pulled back, lost balance and slipped out, then drove in, hard, entering her ass this time. She screamed, I could feel skin tear as I stabbed into her, kept thrusting as she screamed. There was blood on my cock when I slipped out, drove into her cunt. “Yes! Fuck! Yes” She was screaming into a pillow, then sobbing as I drove back into her ass. She kicked me, twisted, and squirmed away, crying now, hair in her face, her eyes crazed. I went after her as she rolled off of the bed, tried to get into her on the floor, but she was slick and I couldn\u201aÄôt hang on. The she was up and across the bed. She was sobbing.

I was up and after her, slower now. She had something in her hand, standing on the far side of my bed. A knife.

It had been in my pants pocket. My jeans, neatly folded under my bedside table. A big Spyderco tactical folder. A fighting knife with a razor-sharp serrated edge. A knife meant to open fast and do maximum damage quickly.

She snapped it open one handed. Not looking at me. Looking at her own wrist. She raised the knife. She was sobbing.

“Wanton! FUCK! NO!” I screamed, throwing myself at her, trying to slap the knife out of her hand. She screamed wordlessly, slashed at me twice, gashed my forehead and neck. Shallow, but bloody. I slapped again, knocking the big knife from her hand, picked it up. “What the FUCK do you think you’re doing! I screamed at her. There was blood in my eyes from the forehead slash.

“Damn you! DAMN YOU!” She screamed back, grabbed for the knife, almost getting it. Her hand coming away bloody. She slapped me, punched, clawed at the gash in my forehead. I saw stars, lost track, them realized she had the knife; I’d dropped it. She backed away; I lunged. She slashed me across the stomach. Not much on it, I think she just meant to ward me away, but the knife left a razor-line above my navel that opened and bled as I moved.

She kept backing up, screaming at me; “Staythefuckback, I’llfuckingdoit!”

She turned the blade in, pressed it to her abdomen, just above her pubic bone. Edge up, like a samurai ready for seppuku, about to disembowel herself. The tip of the knife dug in, trickles of blood running down into her pubic hair.

I lost my mind. The mental image of her beautiful belly torn open and spilling guts sent searing white light through my skull. I was moving before I could think or speak. All my high-school football skills came back, muscles remembering. I hit her like I was sacking a quarterback, all fast-twitch- muscle movement, taking her down as quick and hard as possible, slamming her to the floor, driving breath out of both of us.

I came up off her, terrified I’d driven the knife in; saw blood, but I’d just raked it across her hip sideways. Parallel furrows from the serrated edge were carved into her like tilled rows in a field, oozing droplets of blood from groin to hip.

The knife was beside her. She was clutching her gut – I’m not sure she knew the knife hadn’t gone in. I grabbed the knife, flipped it away, heard it stick in the doorframe with a solid ‘thunk’.

She was sobbing. So was I. I got my arms around her, pressed her to me. Then we were kissing, sliding to the floor. And then we were fucking again, my cock inside her, her arms around me. I was above, dripping blood from several cuts onto her breasts, her face. She was licking it from her lips, moaning my name.

“I love you, Wanton, I love you, I love you” I was moaning as I came, the orgasm like jets of fire through my gut, my balls, my cock. I pulled out, still coming, pushed my cock into her ass, thrust, my orgasm seeming like it would never end. She had a hand on her clit, rubbing herself, coming with me, gasping, thrashing, blood all over her belly.

We came to a shuddering, sobbing halt, moaning, hurting, bleeding, my cock sliding out of her, covered with blood. Our faces were pressed together, breath mingled. She rolled me over, pushed off of me. Kissed me once, quickly, then she was up and struggling into pants. I tried to get up, couldn’t quite.

“NO!” she shrieked, then commanded; “Stay down!”

She was leaving, I realized. Going away, again. I started to get to my feet, screaming at her to stop, wait, not to go.

She had my bat in her hand, waving it at me, screaming something, telling me again to stay down. I didn’t.

She swung the bat with both hands as I came off the floor. I tried to get an arm up, missed, felt the bat connect with my skull. It sounded like Barry Bonds smackin’ one outta the park. I saw a brilliant flash and then blackness. There was a roaring in my ears. I went face down into the carpet, almost stayed there.

I heard some door bang open in some apartment far away. She was leaving.

I tried to push myself up from the floor – I was nailed, bolted down. A rhinoceros was sitting on my shoulders.

She was going away.

Suddenly I was up – not sure how. The room was a blood-red tilt-a-whirl.

Out the door onto the balcony, vertigo whirling me in all directions. I reeled towards the stairs. I could hear her footsteps – or maybe my head clanging. I hit the stairway, was down half a flight, then stairs came up to meet my face and I was sliding, rolling.

Up again, now on the ground floor; my bare feet slipping in something dark and wet on the pavement. I couldn’t tell if it was blood – everything I could see was red. I was sprinting. I could see her at the gate, fumbling with the latch; I was almost on her, then she was through, running, looking back at me. I slammed into the gate, screaming her name.

Then I was listening from down inside a dark well; someone else screaming in my voice that he loved a girl named Wanton.

I woke up in the in a very bright, very white place. An old, ugly woman was saying something nice about my tattoos.

I had no idea where I was, or what I was doing there. My read seemed to have giant vice-grips squeezing it. When they asked what year it was or who was president, I didn’t know. Or maybe just didn’t care. I gradually figured out that I was in a hospital, and the nice, ugly woman was a nurse. After a while she went away and another one came back, this one younger, prettier, with dark eyes and a name I couldn’t pronounce.

They kept at me for a while, poking me with things and looking in my eyes. They asked me a lot of questions. I got bored after a while and started making up hallucinations to tell them about.

I was concussed, they told me later, had a broken bone on my forearm and a count of stitches in the high double digits. I was lucky, they told me, that my skull had not been fractured.
I’m not sure who had found me and called an ambulance; I never found out. They found me stark naked, unconscious and bleeding on the patio by the gate.

Two police had come to talk to me once the people in white coats finished their probing. A burly white guy with a brush cut and a pretty Mexican woman who looked great in her uniform. They wanted to know what happened to me. “Walked into a door,” I told them. They didn’t seem very pleased with that, and even less pleased when I asked the lady cop for her phone number.

I checked myself out the next day – or rather, I left, I don’t know if I actually checked out or if I just stole some scrubs and walked away. My memory of it is still a little confused. I didn’t go home. I couldn’t stand the thought of being there. Had the cab take me to my friend Johnny’s house – his wife wasn’t thrilled when a big tattooed man in bandages and hospital scrubs showed up on the doorstep; she took me in all the same. She’s used to big tattooed men.

The tattoo needle buzzed. Gentle, a light hand. It didn’t feel right, it needed to hurt more.

I opened my eyes. Saw Patrick, reflected in the mirror above his tattoo station. He was bent in concentration as he tattooed my back.

Wanton’s drawing was taped to the mirror. The heart with the razor.

Patrick dipped the needle – real ink this time. Blood red, like her hair. “You ok?” she asked me.
“Feel like a hundred bucks, Patrick,” I said.

I was at Johnny’s house for nearly a week before I could face anything. Slept a lot, ate. Watched TV. Swallowed a lot of pills. The pain in my head started to get better. Eventually Johnny’s wife stopped waiting on me and started asking me to do chores.

I was gradually starting to piece together what had happened to me; I remembered almost none of it at first. As things came back, I starting to consider the possibility that I hadn’t gotten the worst of what had happened.

Eventually, I went home to find the mess not as gory as I’d feared, though the carpet was a total loss, as would be my deposit. Someone had locked up the door, after the action was over. Most of Wanton’s clothes were still scattered around the room.

There’s a yuppie espresso joint across the street from my apartment with a payphone out front. I called Patrick from there after cleaning up a little. People were looking at me like I was a circus freak; I think I still looked like I’d been hit by a train. I dialed the shop’s number from memory a couple times before the memory was right.

I had to wait a long time for Patrick to get on the phone. I started to get a really bad feeling as I waited.

“She’s dead, Matteo,” he said with no preamble.

I stared at the payphone. Took the receiver away from my face, looked at it. Hearing the words but not really understanding them. Put it back to my ear.

“She’s dead. It was a car accident. My car.”

On the way home. From my house – Patrick didn’t know that part, I told him later, where she’d been that night.

She’d been driving too fast; they figured she was on something. They weren’t sure; there hadn’t been enough left to autopsy.

The car had spun out on a curve, hit something. There’d been skid marks, like she had been trying to stop. The car flipped, went down a ravine. The gas tank had exploded, the car had burned. The highway patrol didn’t find it for a couple days after it happened.

Patrick wiped ink from my skin with a tissue, studied the tattoo, re-inked the needle and continued.

There hadn’t been a funeral. There wasn’t really much left to bury. They’d cremated what was left, which seemed redundant. There’d been a wake, but I didn’t go.

We were filling in her name where she’d marked me. Patrick could just see the lines left by her inkless tattoo, her name in script. He was tracing over it. He never asked me why the tattoo had no ink.

The heart and banner went above that. I thought about changing the word to “love”, but decided she wouldn’t have liked that. We were doing it just as she’d drawn it; “Broken.”

I’d asked Patrick to steal a pinch of the ashes, before they’d been disposed of. We’d mixed it into the red ink. Patrick had wanted to add her real name to the tattoo – but I’d stopped him. Stopped him even telling me what it was.

“She doesn’t have any other name, Patrick. Not for me. Not here,” I said, fist pressed against my heart.

She’s in me forever though, I thought, wishing I could trade; wishing it were me in a little box somewhere, her here getting the tattoo. Wishing it were me, in her skin forever.

I looked at Patrick as he tattooed me. Tears were running down his cheeks.