Something obscene was happening onstage. A man was simultaneously bleeding from a head wound and having a violent orgasm.
He sprayed the results into the audience and they held up the plastic tarps they were all wearing. Some cheered. Most grimaced. A few were repeat attendees from the night before. Lucy turned the lights down.
The applause was a surprising roar. That last transition was always a strange one. She brought them back up for curtain call. Jax hadn’t cleaned up the head wound. If anything, he’d smeared it even worse, in only a couple seconds. A lot of people jumped to their feet. Their significant others uneasily followed.
The cast bowed, a strange crew in fishnets and black eye makeup and sticky fluids. Lucy flickered the lights. They skipped offstage. She brought up the house lights and waited until the audience left to clean it all up.
Lucy craved a cigarette. The audience’s collective faces were twisted and confused. Some were laughing still. Reacting to what they had and hadn’t expected. Sometimes it took a while for everyone to funnel out, but tonight they left quickly. Lucy left her box and went backstage for the cleaning supplies.
The gloves were missing. Ugh. She grabbed bleach and paper towels and looked behind everything else. Looked at the floor. Ugh. Looked behind and Chris was watching her. She yelped.
“Nice work tonight.” The gloves flopped on his shoulder.
Lucy glared. “Thank you.”
“Looking for something?”
She sighed and held out her hand. Chris slapped it and laughed too loud. But the gloves fell and she could snatch them. So she did.
“You need to take off that jacket.” She said. “It’s not yours.”
“Oh.” He shirked it off his shoulders, onto the floor. “Excuse me.”
“Now pick it up.” Lucy said.
He just smirked. For too long, again.
“Pick it up,” she said, “and hang it up.”
He did so. “Yes, miss.”
Lucy shook her head, and returned to the stage. Everybody had left, but their muffled voices were loud behind the stage door. She usually liked having the theater attached to a bar. Except right now. Drunk merriment developed while she was on her knees wiping stage blood. And no one ever offered to help her.
Sometimes (when Jax hadn’t made a sticky mess of things), she liked being in there and having that moment of relative quiet. Stillness. Before going back out and watching everybody get wasted, and (let’s face it) getting wasted herself. But tonight the blood was a pain to get out, and the loneliness didn’t feel good. So she wiped it up and threw it away and crept out to the bar with a bag of blood-soaked laundry. Her bones hurt.
Lucy sat at the bar and ordered a double bourbon on ice. It came immediately and was cold and satisfying. Jax was laughing loud from a distance. A crowd of people—audience members and friends and maybe strangers—inevitably circled around him. But he would be over at the bar once he saw her. He always was.
From across the bar, Chris was staring at her while talking to his girlfriend. How did she not notice? But then again Lucy hadn’t noticed either. She would let him talk and flirt with any number of women (sometimes men) and she would do exactly what she was doing now. Drink bourbon and stare off into space. Sometimes with Jax beside her, sometimes not. Until he came to her at the end of the night with those brown and soft eyes. They shouldn’t have made it okay, but somehow they did. But not forever.
The girlfriend knew. And somehow it was still okay. But she wanted to destroy Lucy. Instead she stood with her back to her while Chris stayed forward and stared.
Memories of bitten lips and slapped faces. Sex that was too much for her but that at the same time she’d thought was perfect. Hands on throats and hushed whispers. Sometimes I just fucking hate you. And now he wanted to go again?
“Hey hey!” Jax clapped Lucy on the back. “A bunch of us are having a smoke. Want to come join?”
“Can I leave my stuff here?”
Outside they passed around chocolate cigarettes. Too powerful to buy legally, so Jax would of course find them on the internet. They were brown and narrow, like clove cigarettes. You could take a deep breath and fill your lungs with sweet toxin. The dizziness would instantly hit you. It slammed into her.
Lucy leaned her head back and exhaled a thick cloud. You weren’t supposed to smoke them this fast. The laughing and chatter melted into ambient noise. She just wanted to be here with the stars. Bikes and cars passed on the street. With eyes closed, she could believe they were water. Softly passing. She could pretend they were all water.
Jax was talking to her. From so far away. But still so loud. Telling a new person about her. But what was there to say?
“Lucy over here makes all the gore effects for us. Right?”
She smiled, eyes closed. “Gore meister. That’s me.”
But then something wasn’t right. A stomach churn in the wrong direction. But then it was gone.
Jax smiled and smacked her on the back. He was talking like this about her because he loved her. Everybody around them knew that. And they also knew he was at least one—maybe two—decades older than she was.
“Tell them what you did tonight, Lucy.”
“..Made up a nearly severed head.” She motioned to her own neck. “Like, not all the way off, just with a hack mark halfway through, so you can see the blood and bone and guts and stuff.”
“You did that?” the new person said. “That was sick!”
Lucy grinned. “Thanks.”
Jax had left his hand on her shoulder and was squeezing it gently. One night earlier, she had been in his car, too stoned, kissing him in front of her apartment, feeling like she was spiraling too fast, backward on a ferris wheel.
She took one last inhale of the smoke and became even dizzier. Head spun. She backed up next to the bar door, with its silly little posters for upcoming plays and shows. She could pass this off like she was fine.
“But yeah,” Jax was saying, “this new playwright wanted to premiere his piece with us. And he’s just the right kind of sicko for our brand.”
Sicko. What her roommates and parents had called this stuff—these people—when they’d seen them. Not everyone was built to see blood and gore and body parts and sex with all of it thrown at their faces. Sickos.
Lucy opened her eyes. She’d read that play with him, with Chris, and whispered through all the strangest parts, waiting and hoping for him to throw her down and have his way with her. So maybe she was a sicko too.
“I’m going to get my stuff.” She said. But she walked past her bags and into a bathroom stall and squeezed her eyes shut over the bowl and coughed.