VOICES: The Interviews
Allow me tell you about the little project AJ Brown and I are working on. In the coming months, one character from each story in AJ Brown’s collection VOICES will be interviewed by me! Hmm … Actually, let me tell you what AJ says about our project:
“No, this is not your typical interview session. What I want to do is make each interview like a story, one that continues until we reach the end. Some of these are going to be short. Some of them might be long. I don’t know. Like you, I will find out just how long each interview is based on the questions Lisa provides me. I don’t know the questions ahead of time and neither do the characters.
Since this is an interview, I will go ahead and say up front there are spoilers in each session. If you have not read Voices, I urge you to do so before continuing. If you haven’t read the collection, you have been made aware of possible spoilers.”
So, as the man says, Spoiler Alert!
* Spoiler Alert * Spoiler Alert * Spoiler Alert *
While this project was originally intended to be a promotional piece, it has taken on a life of its own… or maybe the characters have taken over. It’s hard to say. Read Voices, follow the interviews here and at Type AJ Negative… let me know what you think.
Voices: The Interviews
Session 13: Jenny
… With that said, Danny stands, picks up his chair, and takes it back to where he originally was. He sits, and Lisa turns her attention to the notepad once again. She flips the page, and her breath vanishes. The name at the top of the sheet makes her stomach turn. Angry moths flutter about inside, and she suddenly wants to throw up. Lisa stares at it and realizes she is getting very close to the end of the interviews. There are just three people left, two of which she knows could be the most difficult of them all.
As she sits, staring at the name at the top of the page, written in her hand, she knows when she looks up, the interviewee will be in sight, just as all the rest of them have been.
“Go ahead,” the silky wet voice comes from beside her left ear. A cold finger traces down her arm, leaving a white line in its wake, until it runs out of skin and touches the paper. The finger tapping it is charcoal black with a long pail nail on its end. “Go ahead, Lisa. Look up. Have a chat with little Jenny Harris, the dead girl.”
She shakes her head. This is too much. This is way more than she bargained for. There is too much … too much …
“Too much what?” Mr. Worrywort whispers. His tongue slithers from his mouth and licks the side of her face. Though it is as dry as sandpaper, she imagines it leaving a slimy residue behind.
“Too much pain in this room.”
Mr. Worrywort lets out a whistle. It is not shrill and high-pitched, but low and as mournful as the sound of a train in the middle of a cold night. It’s haunting, and her body jerks from the shock of it. He laughs, a throaty sound that scares her. And that is something she wishes she could control: her fear. It is also something she doesn’t believe she is going to be able to get hold of right away. The shock of Mr. Worrywort’s gleeful voice shakes her badly. “Not enough pain,” he says, his voice like dry leaves rubbing together.
Not enough? she thinks. You’ve got to be kidding.
“Look, Lisa. Look at …” he pauses, as if he doesn’t know what he wishes to say. “Look at herrrrrr.”
Mr. Worrywort taps the pad on Lisa’s lap. She glances at it: Jenny.
Lisa looks up. There, in one of the chairs is the waif of a child, too thin to be healthy, her clothes dirty and her eyes sitting in the deep hollows of her sockets. Her bottom lip is chapped and cracked, and her skin is like ivory. A skirt covers her thighs, but Lisa can see her knees are bruised, and is that blood along the inner parts of her calves? The little girl looks down at her hands, turns them over. Her fingers are brittle sticks, the fingernails cracked and dirty.
Lisa opens her mouth to speak, but finds she can’t. Her mouth is dry, and her tongue feels much too large. The girl looks up, and Lisa’s tongue almost shrinks to the back of her throat. The eyes are void of any shine and hold the glazed over look of someone who is no longer among the living.
Lisa lets out a long breath and forces herself to speak. “Hello … hello, Jenny.”
The little girl says nothing.
“No one will hurt you here,” Lisa coaxes. “I won’t let them.”
Still, Jenny doesn’t speak. She doesn’t move. She doesn’t blink. She is as still as a … as a corpse. She imagines if she was to touch Jenny’s skin it would be cold and stiff.
“Can we talk, Jenny? Is that okay?”
Jenny finally moves her head, slightly cocking it to the side.
“I want you to be okay with it. I’m not going to force you to do anything. Okay?”
Lisa barely hears Jenny’s voice. It is not more than a whisper and sounds like it hurts for her to speak.
“Are you sure you want to talk to me?”
She nods, a simple dip of her head, down, then up. “Yes.”
“Okay, Jenny.” Lisa looks down at the notepad. Her stomach rumbles and she truly believes she is going to throw up right there, just let it all out onto the floor between herself and Jenny. When she doesn’t vomit, she proceeds. “Remember when you were nine, and those boys saw your momma give you to the bad men? Was that the first time?”
Her head moves slowly to the left, then the right, then back to center. “No.”
Lisa’s heart sinks into her stomach, joining the angry black moths and the sour milk threatening to come up.
“So, there were other times?”
“Do you know how many times she gave you away like that?”
Again, left, right, center. “No.”
Lisa licks her lips. “Do you know how many times there were after the time the boys saw you? Do you remember?”
“She’s not going to talk to you, Lisa.” Mr. Worrywort says. He is still standing behind her. His hands settle on her shoulders.
Lisa stiffens. She doesn’t take her eyes off of Jenny, who is now looking, not at Lisa, but beyond her, behind her, to the shadow of a man standing over her.
“Jenny, are you going to talk to me? You said you would, but so far, you don’t seem to want to.”
“Are you sure?”
Mr. Worrywort’s hands falls away from Lisa’s shoulders.
“Okay.” Lisa swallows the nothing in her mouth. “Did your momma ever tell you why?”
“Why she gave you to those men?”
Jenny shrugs. The breath she takes is visibly deep and when she releases it, something in her rattles. Tears form in her dead eyes.
“It’s okay, Jenny. You don’t have to say. You don’t—“
“Momma likes men. She doesn’t like me.”
“Then why didn’t she give herself to the men if she liked them so much?”
“They don’t like her.”
“But they like you?”
One side of Jenny’s lips inch up in a sad, haunting smile. She doesn’t answer the question. She doesn’t need to. The sour milk and angry moths begin to give way to a hot anger of her own.
What is wrong with some people?
Lisa licks her lips. “How did your momma treat you other than that? Other than giving you to the bad men?”
The terrible smile remains and the dead stare seems to grow more distant, something Lisa doesn’t believe, even though she sees it.
“The men weren’t the bad ones. Momma was the bad person. She gave me to them for her powder.”
Jenny nods. “She sniffed it on the kitchen table.”
“Oh … her powder.” Lisa’s eyes are wide. She had a feeling that is what Jenny meant, but it didn’t register, not right away. Once it did, that anger boils up like lava in a volcano threatening to erupt.
“Quite the wretch, her momma,” Mr. Worrywort says. The cheer in his voice makes Lisa want to stand and punch him as hard as she can. To do that would mean she would have to look at him, face to face, woman to … whatever he is. She isn’t quite ready for that, but she has a feeling if she wants to get out of here with her sanity after the interviews are over, she is going to have to look him in his
eyes. She shudders at the thought and turns all of her attention back to Jenny. She notices the little girl’s skin has changed. The pale white has given way to a tinge of gray. The blood she thought she saw on Jenny’s inner calves is more visible on the hem of her dress, and has it dripped onto the floor beneath her feet?
“Jenny, did your momma know Jake and Cody’s dad had you?”
The smile falters. “Yes.”
“Did she give you to him, too?”
“Some people will do anything, Lissssaaa.”
She ignores the hateful voice behind her the best she can, even as her skin crawls and the hairs on the back of her neck stand on ends. “Can you tell me what happened? You don’t have to, but I would like it if you could.”
“He hurt me. He … hurt me.”
Jenny’s hands are trembling. The nails on her fingers have become a light purple and her skin has grown a darker shade of gray, almost like the color of ash in a fire pit.
“Oh, you’re going to make her suffer, aren’t you? I’m going to enjoy this.”
Lisa’s hands clench into fists as the heat on her face intensifies. She relaxes them, tries to remain calm, and stares at Jenny. She can see the torture in the poor child’s eyes, even if they are void of any other emotion. Death has a way of showing people the last visages of life before it fades out, and what Lisa sees on Jenny’s face is fear mixed with the pain of being ripped open in her soft spots by a horrible man and allowed to do so by an even more horrible woman.
“It’s okay,” Lisa blurts out. “You don’t have to say what happened. I have a feeling I know already.”
Jenny opens her mouth to speak and the tendons in her jaw creak. Both sides of her lips where bottom meets top cracks, but no blood spills from the wounds. Lisa closes her eyes, opens them and is staring at the notepad. She looks back up at the now decaying little girl and tries to hold herself together in hopes of getting through the last couple of questions. She’s not sure she’ll be able to without going absolutely mad with heartache.
“Your … your spirit got trapped after …” Lisa can’t keep a clear thought in her head. Everything runs together. “… it got trapped after … after what happened after … after it was over …”
Mr. Worrywort laughs, high-pitched and full of joy. He has fallen away from her, but still close by. Lisa feels desperation rising in her heart. Not only is her skin humming, her stomach quivers and both of the heels of her feet bounce up and down, her toes feeling numb from the pressure on them.
“Do you remember that, Jenny? Do you remember being trapped?”
“Yes! Trapped! Do you remember being trapped after you died?!”
Mr. Worrywort’s laughter suddenly ceases. Lisa can feel him staring at the back of her head. He—like herself—probably didn’t expect her to tell Jenny she had died, but she had, and now all she can do is watch the little girl and hope she will respond.
“I remember pain and crying and his nasty breath as he did … things … to me. I remember screaming for him to stop. I remember being slapped and …” her voice grows louder and her words begin to come out faster as she speaks, even as she stares at her no longer shaking hands. “I remember the burn of a cigarette on my stomach. I remember the pillow on my face. I remember wet and sticky and sweat and …” Still, her words grow faster and the center of her bottom lip cracks and the skin around the edges of the sides of her lips begins to tear. “I remember walking through the apartment and reachingforthedoorknobandleaving. Irememberfallingasleepagainstthewallanddreamingeverythingoverandoveragainandwantingtowakeup …”
Lisa’s face is streaked with tears and her lips are pulled down in a frown so sad and so long, she fears she will never be able to smile again. Behind her, Mr. Worrywort is clapping his hands and shouting like a mad preacher giving the gospel of hellfire and brimstone and all the bad little boys and girls are going to go to Ha-yell!
Jenny stops. As suddenly as she started, she stops. She looks at Lisa with her now white-filmed eyes. “I couldn’t wake up,” she whispers.
Then there is silence. Jenny’s body sags, as if all the life that had ever been in her is now truly gone. Mr. Worrywort’s clapping stops, but he is still there. She can feel him. Lisa’s sobs end with a sniffle and a deep breath.
“But Jake set you free … remember? When … when he killed his dad.”
Jenny’s face holds the tattered ruins of innocence lost. Her head lulls on her shoulders for several seconds before her neck seems to gather strength. She looks up at Lisa and her lips are no longer cracked and splintered. Her skin is not ashen, but back to a light shade of gray, almost as if she is reverting back to the way she was when she first appeared.
Lisa is careful when she asks the next question, but she feels it is necessary. “Jenny, do you hate your mother?”
The once sad smile became wide, showing glints of grayed teeth. She doesn’t respond, but Lisa knows the answer. She supposes she always knew.
“What would you say to her if you could?”
Jenny’s dead, glossed over eyes stare straight at Lisa and she says one word. “Nothing.”
TO BE CONTINUED …
If you missed it, read
Voices: The Interviews Session 1, here
Voices: The Interviews Session 2, here
Voices: The Interviews Session 3, here
Voices, The Interviews Session 4 here
Voices: The Interviews Session 5 here
Voices: The Interviews Session 6 here
Voices: The Interviews Session 7
Voices: The Interviews Session 8
Voices: The Interviews Session 9 here
Voices: The Intervies 10 here
Voices: The Intervies 11 here