The Far Shore
…in which Kelly escapes death, but not demons.
Kelly opened her eyes.
Ahhh. Her old friend.
She didn’t recognize all the drugs the paramedics and the hospital had jacked into her, but she did know lithium.
By her scary disorientation alone.
After the twins, the V.A. Hospital doctors in Tuscaloosa prescribed lithium. Kelly got their sage medical advice free, on Elmore’s National Guard nickel. The army may have sent her new husband halfway around the world (for what, exactly?) with a twice-over pregnant wife, but at least Uncle Sam had a generous compensation plan.
Snow-white pills. At discount prices.
The Lafayette psychologist Kelly sought out for a second opinion recommended that same little helper. Lithium. It sounded to Kelly like something they put in a needle down at Atmore to execute serial killers. She felt reluctant to use it, even after two identical prescriptions. Kelly had never taken a drug in her life … if you didn’t count Merthiolate. Her mother faithfully painted that clown-orange, lava-hot antiseptic on the occasional childhood scrape with a little plastic magic wand. Then, Kelly’s mother pursed her lips and blew and blew, a soft silent whistle, until the fierce stinging went away.
Oh, and if the lithium doesn’t work, we have one other option, a V.A. doctor advised.
The greasy jerk left his stethoscope on her unbuttoned chest far too long … and then dared to put his hairy ear against her sternum. Let’s listen to your heart the old fashioned way, he explained. Dr. Swift wore nauseating aftershave that lingered on Kelly’s clothes. He had moist flakes of dandruff in his scalp like shreds of coconut.
For especially severe cases like yours, Dr. Swift tut-tutted, all white lab coat and white teeth and white dandruff, we sometimes see positive results with … electroshock.
So, Kelly faced electrocution… or little white pills. And no matter how crazy desperate she felt for a cure, for relief from the dark feelings about her own babies, Kelly didn’t feel crazy enough to choose electric shock.
She took it. And took it. One pill every morning. Like that paper wafer they served with the grape juice at Methodist communion.
Kelly finally felt her eyes focus in the dark. She saw shifting shapes on the ceiling. She thought of oak trees moving in wind at night.
At first, Kelly simply wondered what on earth she saw. Why were mysterious sections of darkness slowly moving over her?
Then… she saw them.
The lithium devils. Her old friends.
Their eyes glowed in the shadows. They stared without blinking.
Why hadn’t she drowned? Why did she have to go through her own personal hell another day, another hour?
The devil eyes narrowed.
Kelly narrowed her own eyes. And closed them.
The doctors prescribed lithium for post-partum psychosis.
They spoke that word almost reverently, tapping their nervous pens against clipboard charts that held their notes.
Weeks passed, then months, and along with the painful, unrelieved guilt of looking at her own twin babies and despising them, feeling revulsion for them, feeling a morbid, irrational fear of them, Kelly found the daily dose of lithium rewarded her with terrible nausea and painful diarrhea and a constant stupid, dazed disorientation.
She saw frightening things.
The devil eyes.
They hungrily ogled Kelly from tree shadows and dark paths and the unlit insides of closets. They looked up at her of standing water. They stared from burning fires and from the starry sky.
Threatening things. Powerful things.
Over and over and over, Kelly lay her colicky twins in the same crib, crying. Then, she sat on the sofa in the next room, crying. She cried even in moments when Will and Mary didn’t cry.
Kelly barely ate, couldn’t hold anything down or in, yet her weight ballooned, hips and thighs growing so big blue jeans no longer fit, feet too swollen for her old shoes. Kelly’s body changed and rebelled even worse than it had in pregnancy, when all sorts of things happened beyond control or comprehension. Leaks from all her body openings. Vivid fears. Sharp pains… or else just the numb, dumb emptiness where a carefree spirit once lived.
Pregnant and alone.
Where was the beautiful girl Kelly Bellisle used to be, she wondered?
Where was the high-school beauty queen who once cruised twice around the football field at Wood Stadium at halftime atop a convertible Mercedes? The Kelly who waved a hand in a long white glove and blew kisses to five thousand friends and fans and balanced a bouquet of red roses across her lap? Where was that beautiful, innocent girl?
She had hideously transformed and gone away. Forever. Kelly knew it down inside every aching 29-year-old bone.
Darling Kelly. Lost and gone forever. Dreadful sorry.
The demonic lithium eyes watched her dwindle, body and mind, and they waited.
Twins. Conceived in headlong passion… and yes, it surely had been love. Mad love. Truly.
Love. The opposite of lithium, and deadlier.
Kelly’s first time with Elmore Rogers was like nothing she had ever experienced.
Her orgasm slammed home with shocking speed, fast and careening and violently powerful as a freight train, and it lasted and lasted and lasted. Then, Elmore’s yearning body made her come again, and it lasted even longer, stronger. Kelly still couldn’t remember whether she passed out from pleasure.
After Elmore, that feeling… boy and body… was all she thought about. Day and night and day and night. Kelly craved animal passion with Elmore Rogers more than pride or propriety or practicality.
What had Elmore done to her?
Early in senior year, Kelly experimented with Dan Neeley. She would always remember him, her first. Danny was sweet and good to her. Danny made her laugh. Goofy, farty old Danny. He would make some girl a wonderful companion and father, Kelly knew in her heart. But Danny Neeley only wanted one thing in the whole wide world – to grow up and be a hometown cop and wear a badge and keep the good citizens of Lafayette safe and happy.
Kelly dreamed about the shops of Paris and the restaurants of Rome and the moon over Manhattan.
In her year at college, Kelly dated a hot bleached-blonde mess of a California kid who wanted to be a writer (like Faulkner, he earnestly told her, or Brautigan). Flint wrote violent short stories about surfing and sharks. Kelly let him touch her and kiss her breasts, and she even let Silver Surfer slip himself inside her one single time after an outdoor Jimmy Buffett concert.
Kelly came home to Lafayette to spend the summer before sophomore year. She hung out some with Dan Neeley, mostly for old time’s sake. Danny actually studied these days – he had started course work in law enforcement at Wood Junior College. He still clearly adored Kelly, and the old redhead was always good for movie and a pizza. Kelly appreciated cheerful companionship. She felt deeply in “like” with Danny.
Their last intimacy came in hot, early August after Danny returned from his annual two-week National Guard duty. During his time in the woods, Danny received an official letter from the City of Lafayette asking him to join its small police force. They would send him to train in Montgomery for three months.
Kelly gave Lafayette’s new officer in blue a fond farewell. They met in his apartment behind a new Denny’s. Kelly found it an improvement in every way from the flatbed of his Silverado.
I’ll miss you, Danny. But I want to be honest. I met someone I really like, Kelly told him. She whispered the words like a close friend, a confidant, as they rested afterward.
In fact, she added, surprising herself, Danny, I think I love him.
Danny Neeley slowly rebuttoned his shirt and nodded, his head newly shaved, his big blue eyes wide and honest. He told Kelly he understood.
“I love you, Danny,” Kelly told him. “I love you as a friend forever. You are good as gold.”
But Kelly had found something better than gold.
She ran into Elmore, as fate would have it, back at the high school. Their old stomping grounds. Looking back, the encounter seemed destined. Cosmic.
Kelly had driven over Friday afternoon after a piano lesson to deliver a birthday present to her favorite old English teacher, Mrs. Lois Baker. Mrs. Baker taught remedial summer school in her afternoons. And why was Elmore there? The rangy center fielder’s scholarship hadn’t worked out – Elmore got in a little grade trouble, as he later explained it. Kelly heard through the grapevine, though, that Elmore drank his scholarship away. The coach’s zero-tolerance policy interfered with Elmore’s party life. So, the retired jock returned home to Lafayette to figure out a future.
Lafayette looked permanent. Elmore joined the local National Guard unit to make a little weekend-warrior money each month, and his old baseball coach helped him land a full-time job keeping infields and diamonds in shape for summer church softball.
Kelly had given Mrs. Baker a big hug and left the high school. On a short walk across the parking lot back to her faithful green Plymouth Belvedere, the blazing August afternoon brought sweat beads out on her lower back.
Kelly opened the car door. She had every intention of returning to her parents’ new home in Wood Forest subdivision for a supper of bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches and Golden Flake potato chips. They’d watch the Atlanta Braves play baseball again … and win again … then click off the remote as another Friday night of life funneled off into nowhere with the fading screen.
An uproar turned Kelly’s head. On an ear-splitting riding lawn mower, Elmore Rogers pulled up in the parking space next to the Belvedere. A reek of gasoline filled the air.
Kelly had no clue that her life had just changed.
Elmore cut the engine and tipped back his Braves baseball cap. Instead of immediately speaking, he picked something off the tip of his tongue. A piece of grass. Newly mowed grass bits covered Elmore, and his Lafayette Lions T-shirt showed dark spots, sweated through.
Kelly went ahead and greeted him, after it occurred to her that Elmore Rogers just might sit there till the end of days and never speak.
“Well, hey, Elmore,” Kelly said cheerfully. “You look hot.”
Elmore’s fine white teeth flashed into view. What strapping young man wouldn’t smile at a compliment like that?
“You look hot, too, Kelly.”
She suddenly realized the double-entendre. Now, Kelly was glad for the heat. She deeply blushed.
“I mean, you look… healthy, Elmore,” she corrected. “What’s new in Lafayette?”
Elmore really did look healthy.
Kelly couldn’t take her eyes away from his handsome, deeply tanned face. Shocks of wavy brown hair wisped from the edges of his baseball cap. She took in Elmore’s fine cheekbones and the steady eyes. His mouth surprisingly opened and spoke, saying something Kelly wasn’t sure she heard, thanks to a sudden rush of blood to her head.
“You look… healthy… too,” Elmore said, and Kelly felt herself being teased. “Pretty. You always did.”
Kelly quietly closed the Belvedere door. She leaned her back against the hot metal and window glass. Thinking back on the day, she would wonder if she did it to keep from swooning.
They talked about high school. They told a story, then two. They remembered teachers and football games and the time Kelly sang in church. They talked about Danny Neeley. Nanny Deeley, Elmore called him. So stupid. But it made Kelly laugh, and Elmore laughed, too, the way Kelly hardly ever remembered. Wow. A single happy outburst, Kelly thought, made Elmore… different. The brooding, unpredictable loner of their school years… laughing with his head thrown back?
Kelly suddenly felt something she didn’t believe.
Kelly Bellisle folded her arms across her chest, almost in self-defense. She squinted straight at the setting sun and the silhouette of a lean, tall, golden young man seated, so at ease, on the riding mower.
An incident from high school flashed into Kelly’s mind.
She kissed Elmore. Once.
It happened after cheerleader and football practices, a hot day like this one.
It felt like an experiment. A joke. Kelly hung out with Danny then. She couldn’t even remember how she and Elmore had run into one another, or why. She did recall how his muscular stomach and chest had pressed her, how big his hands felt aggressively pulling her near. Kelly had smelled something grown-up, forbidden, on his breath. Elmore’s soft kiss surprised her, and she had opened her mouth just the tiniest bit to touch her tongue to his.
Afterwards, on her drive home alone, she tingled with pleasure.
Suddenly, in an August-hot high school parking lot, Kelly now kept her lips tightly closed to keep her tongue from saying something without her permission.
She didn’t even need to say it.
Elmore carried a full set of keys for the athletic facilities. He left the reeking mower where it sat in the parking lot. Without a word, he joined his arm in Kelly’s and walked her toward the gymnasium like two dates arriving for prom night.
Elmore unlocked the gym’s big metal doors, cupping the mass of metal keys in his palm to keep them from jingling. She would always remember that for some reason, and the size of his hand.
On a wrestling mat in a dark, smelly equipment room off the basketball court, Elmore pulled Kelly down.
She wore a happy, daisy-yellow summer dress, and Elmore wore those sweaty work clothes… until they didn’t.
Elmore fit her perfectly. Perfectly.
His key unlocked her, and she lost control.
Kelly Bellisle never, ever regained it after that moment.
O my god, o my … god! Fuck me, Elmore! Fuck me!
Kelly heard those words escape her, her voice, crying, breathless. She’d never said such things before. Ever.
Elmore kept killing her, an assassin, one little death mounting atop the next, and the next.
It was a miracle, over their pounding hearts and gasping breaths, that they heard a voice outside the storage room.
“Hey?” someone called in. “Hello? Who’s in there? Somebody locked up in there?”
The surprised surprise lovers scrambled, frantic, to locate garments.
The storage room door eased cautiously open. A hand fumbled for the light switch, and a shocking fluorescence all at once filled the storage room, buzzing. The lights abruptly went black, then sputtered again to life.
Mr. Dove, the ancient janitor, peaked in. His black face seemed worried, maybe even a little frightened.
“If somebody in there now, you say,” he ordered. “I’m gonna lock this door back for the weekend. Ain’t nothin’ to eat in there but baseballs.”
The badly stacked wrestling mats and a big messy pile of football shoulder pads, like a heap of strange skeletons in a cave, gave no answers. Metal baseball bats and dingy practice basketballs quietly lined racks along the walls. A door hung open on a giant washer used to launder the football and baseball uniforms.
“OK,” Mr. Dove told nobody in particular. “Ghosts go back to sleep. We reporting a false alarm.”
The janitor closed the door and loudly locked it. Mr. Dove’s keys jingled off into the distance.
Seconds later, suppressed laughter began under a smelly mound of shoulder pads. A bare male foot poked out of the pile. A smaller foot followed, the toenails rose red.
Shoulder pads trembled and tumbled. Two heads and four bare shoulders popped up. The heads looked at one another and giggled, then snorted and sucked air hysterically. Naked shoulders soon shook uncontrollably with laughter.
Kelly and Elmore didn’t get it together again for five long minutes.
Then, they got it together.
From that afternoon on, Kelly had one purpose in life – she burned to physically join her soft body to Elmore Rogers’s hard one.
Kelly woke in the morning and lay down at night desiring him. She wanted Elmore to fill her, complete her, dominate her, exalt her, make her feel wild, uncontrollable, unbelievable abandon. Again and again and again.
All the rest of her life… and any and all of her lives after this one.
Kelly and Elmore found ways to meet secretly. They snuck through strategically unlocked windows at their families’ houses. They offered to run errands for parents and kinfolks, then met behind Scarborough drug store or in that sedge-brush field behind Burger Master or under the bleachers at Wood Stadium. Anywhere.
Sometimes, on fire, Elmore and Kelly didn’t talk or kiss or touch. They locked like wild animals, tearing away clothes as they snarled and mated. They coupled standing and sitting and on all-fours and under and over and on top and under again.
Again and again and again.
Each and every time, Elmore drove Kelly purely out of her mind. She lost control and flew from the world to a heaven of pleasure… and a feeling far beyond heaven and pleasure.
Kelly learned to scream… and how not to scream, though she wanted to always, every position or change of position. And in places and at times when screams of passion didn’t need restraint, Kelly Bellisle’s joy sounded like bloody murder.
Afterward, when the last delicious freight train had rumbled through and Kelly’s wild black hair pillowed her head on Elmore’s chest, she felt his strong male heart beating like a tribal drum calling the world to war.
Dr. Castillo straightened up on a little black rolling stool. She lifted the stethoscope from her ears, untangled the arms from her chestnut hair.
“Here,” the doctor said gently. “You’ve got company, Kelly.”
She carefully fitted the twin arms into Kelly’s ears.
The stethoscope diaphragm went against Kelly’s abdomen, just so. She lay perfectly still on crisp white paper that covered the examination room table.
Kelly heard a rhythmic murmur. It was the strangest moment of her life so far.
Then, she heard another one, blended, then distinct, then blended again with the first.
Two, said Dr. Castillo. Two babies.
Kelly wore such an incredulous expression that the physician explained it.
The doctor smiled, with some reserve.
Dr. Castillo had known Kelly since the little girl’s own heart had beaten inside Annette Bellisle, her mother, twenty-two years ago. Now, this beautiful young unmarried child (was Kelly still a child? maybe, yes a child)… this beautiful unmarried Kelly Bellisle had twin heartbeats inside.
“They’ll be born. They’ll be my babies,” Kelly announced with no hesitation. “I won’t go back to school.”
Dr. Castro nodded, her eyes on Kelly’s young face. She understood from her patient’s expression that the pregnancy was no big surprise. The young woman had done some thinking, made some decisions.
Twins? That threw a twist into things. But Kelly never blinked.
“Elmore Rogers?” Dr. Castro asked cautiously.
“Yes, ma’am. Sweet Elmore.”
If Kelly seemed surprised by the doctor’s guess, she didn’t let on.
“I love Elmore, and he loves me. We’re going to have wonderful babies and be wonderful parents.”
They married at Lafayette Methodist, the bride in white and Elmore in the first suit he ever owned. Their friends pelted them with rice like shotgun blasts as they made their getaway to the Gulf Coast in the Belvedere. Danny Neeley put a bottle of champagne in the glove compartment… and an open, rancid can of sardines on the hot manifold under the hood.
They called the Gulf Coast trip their honeymoon. Kelly felt too sick to eat. But Elmore feasted on oysters – raw, baked, fried, roasted, stewed. He gave that delicious smile of his when Kelly leaned her tummy on him, full of life, and whispered that he didn’t really need so many oysters. He couldn’t be more fertile.
Ninety days later, somebody started a war in Iraq. Elmore got mobilized, and so did Danny Neeley and about twenty other Lafayette Lions.
Elmore and Kelly went together to the Guard center, a 60-year-old Quonset hut in need of repairs. They explained about the twins and the due date, just four months later.
Nothing could be done, the Guard explained without even trying. Elmore and the boys from west Alabama would be deployed.
Their last night, Kelly and Elmore stayed up all night, talking and slow-dancing in the little garage apartment the Bellisles had hastily fitted out for them. Elmore drank a little whiskey. the newlyweds took turns putting 33s on Kelly’s old turntable. Tammy Wynette. The Band. Johnny Cash.
At dawn, Dan Neeley’s truck horn blew one time out front.
Elmore smiled… oh, that smile… and he went out the door.
Kelly cried till her face hurt, and then she cried more.
She finally put the box of tissues away.
She wanted to be strong now for the twins.
She knew she would be.
Will and Mary came in April, a month early.
Spring still hung around. Tired red and pink and white azaleas clung to dark green bushes all over Lafayette.
The moment Will and Mary left her body, Kelly felt worthless. And guilty.
When the babies cried, she cried, too, heartbroken, snot-running, helpless-to-stop, sobbing jags. Sometimes, she couldn’t make herself go in the room with the pink raging monsters. Who had squeezed these ugly ETs out into the world? How many different ways could newborns devise to torture a mother?
Would they finally kill her?
Where was Elmore? Where was the daddy?
Out with the boys, fighting people he didn’t even know who spoke some language he didn’t speak. He talked on the phone about driving heavy trucks through some god-forsaken desert. Everyone told Kelly he was fighting for his country.
Why couldn’t Elmore be here to help her fight? Kelly needed help so badly. Why couldn’t Elmore stop the screaming voices in her head, always in her head? Drive her places she needed to go? Bring supplies and weapons to defend her… what?… her sanity? Her panicked mind?
Kelly hurt all the time, inside and out. She was losing. Didn’t she matter to Elmore more than a desert?
One morning, Kelly didn’t recognize the shapeless, stringy-haired, haunted witch staring out of the mirror at her.
She opened her mouth, and she hallucinated that her tongue was the meat of her own twins.
The doctors gave it a fancy name. Postpartum depression. The baby blues. Just two medical words, like that.
Baby blues. Tra-la.
Kelly despised the way these men – always men in that V.A. place – clucked sympathetically with their open notebooks in their laps and said, in so many words, It happens. Your case may be more severe than most. Most mothers don’t have to go through this. Short term. It will pass. Take these meds. Go to a counselor. Make healthy lifestyle choices. Let friends help you. Talk to your minister.
She took their lithium. She devoured her little white friends.
The twins latched to Kelly’s breasts and sucked her life out, glancing up with their evil slitted eyes and crying like dying cats each time they spit out a nipple to puke.
They woke Kelly whenever she tried to sleep, whenever she had a dream. They crapped their little diapers constantly, bowels active as birds in berry season, the smell of urine and feces filling Kelly’s house and sinuses so completely that it never really went away.
She smelled colic and crap and pee and newborns on her skin, day and night. Her deodorant and mouthwash and perfume smelled like the babies.
When they came out of her at Lafayette General, a month early and already fully malevolent, Kelly’s delivery doctor had been a stranger. He came from India, or somewhere, a substitute for Dr. Castillo. She’d been deployed too, a rare case in Alabama where a woman got mobilized. Surgeons kept busy in the Middle East.
So, Dr. Kakade caught Kelly’s babies, and handed them over to her. For life. Just like that.
What now? What could Kelly do at that moment?
She hurt so bad, felt so weak, so all alone. (Where was Elmore? Where?) An anonymous foreign doctor put two gray lumps of meat on her chest, Will first, then Mary, with their blood and ooze and membrane everywhere.
Dr. Kakade might as well have dropped two piles of wet chicken guts onto Kelly.
Her head swam in terror.
For a shocking moment, Kelly distinctly saw the newly severed heads of baboons on her chest, leering, barking, growling gruffly at one another. Tiny Mary still had placenta over her face, and big-shouldered Will worked greedy little fingers on both hands like a farmer on a stool milking a cow in some shit-covered stall.
Everyone had told Kelly how sublime childbirth would be. Holy. She had heard her own mother and a dozen other mothers give warm advice about the blessed event.
Those words rang hollow. Kelly she couldn’t feel what they meant at all. Excitement. Joy. Achievement. The ultimate love.
The ultimate… let-down?
Kelly burst into tears with her babies on her chest. Her arms embraced Will and Mary, but she felt nothing – nothing – but terrible dread. Terrible fear.
And sweat-soaked guilt.
What mother ever felt this way about her own little babies? What’s the matter with you, Kelly Rogers? Why don’t you feel love… or feel anything but throbbing pain between the legs and a vast emptiness?
What kind of monster mother was she?
Kelly brought the babies home. She talked to Elmore on a sputtering connection a couple of times a week. She told him to pass out cigars to all the soldiers.
Kelly couldn’t be sure because of the connection, but she thought she heard Elmore crying.
A few days later, Kelly arranged with Debbie Lane, one of their high school friends who had a rare West Alabama internet connection that was reliable, to show the babies to Elmore on video.
Kelly held Will and Mary up and tried to make a big happy smile appear on her face. She wore lipstick and make-up for the first time in weeks and pulled her hair back in the ponytail Elmore liked so much. Not thirty seconds into the video link, both twins puked on Kelly’s Sunday dress. Will first, and violently. Like a little gargoyle.
You might have baby blues for a couple of weeks, Kelly’s doctors all chanted, like a chorus. Then, the sun will come out and the clouds will burn away, and the world will be shiny and beautiful forever and ever, amen, for you and your precious babies.
Will and Mary woke in the night, crying, hysterical, barking mad. Kelly woke in the night, crying, hysterical.
She didn’t want to see her parents. She never, ever, wanted to go inside their house again. It smelled like a mortuary to her. Their faces frightened her so badly.
She made herself visit them in the parlor. Both babies cried and screamed until an evil bomb went off inside Kelly’s brain.
They all sat in front of the fireplace. Mr. Bellisle had a camera set up on a tripod. They wanted baby pictures for next year’s Christmas cards. In April.
They lit a merry fire in the fireplace and tacked candy canes and red-and-green stockings to the mantel.
Kelly, the demons, her mom, and her dad all posed for the camera.
God forgive Kelly for what she imagined. She desperately dandled the screaming twins and watched the fire crackle and snap.
God help me, Kelly prayed, never, ever, let such a thought come to my mind again.
But it did, overwhelming her.
She vividly imagined stuffing little Will, her own baby, face-first into the roaring hell of coals and flames. Holding him firmly, ignoring the frantic kicks, the struggle. The different kind of screams.
And little Mary. Kelly thought how her precious baby’s little short legs would make perfect handles for swinging her and slamming her soft little boiled-egg head viciously against the corner of the mantle.
Kelly imagined white marble blotched with red marmalade.
The camera went click. Kelly burst uncontrollably into tears.
She wept and she wept. There, there, cooed her baffled parents. Get a grip, Kelly.
Get away from me! Kelly screamed. You stay AWAY!
Kelly bundled up the twins, still yelling – stay away! – and bustled back to the apartment and locked the door.
She fed them.
Her breasts. Her beautiful breasts. The brats chewed her, sucked Kelly until blackness came.
Later that day, they would do it again. Attacking like cruel pale sharks. Again and again.
There was no mercy.