An 8mm Clip of Violence
by Peter Stenson Read author interview June 27, 2011
So we were tired from sex and maybe with each other and this wasn’t good because I’d just moved in with Kelly and her three roommates and daughter. I’d left the halfway house. I’d told them thanks for everything, but I’d gotten it figured out. I believed it. I lay on Kelly’s futon, my new bed. Our room was a pantry with two missing walls where she’d hung maroon sheets over the openings. The two real walls were decorated with her artwork—nightscapes painted in oils, silver the only highlight on darkened water.
I was seventeen.
She was thirty.
We lay there. It was late, maybe sometime past one. Everyone was asleep. We were naked. We spooned. I had my hand on her stomach. It felt like holding onto risen dough. We’d been together for a month. We told each other love you’s.
I had just smoked a tenth of tar and I saw an 8mm black and white film inside of my head. It was a third person shot of me in a suit. It was a different era, the twenties perhaps. I was older, my widow’s peak grown. I cracked open the door. Saw Kelly sitting at a vanity. She was putting on a cheap pearl earring. We met eyes through the mirror. I held a gun. I fired.
Kelly pulled away from me on the futon, distancing herself as much as she could. She had the same half of a dimple as her daughter. She said, What did you just think about?
I don’t know.
I don’t know. Why?
She shook her head. Her chin doubled. I reached out to touch her face because it was something I felt like I should do. She didn’t close her eyes like she normally did. She stared at me. She said, Why?
I was sure the vision was born from knowing I’d fucked up my life again—me convincing Kelly that smoking heroin wasn’t the same as shooting it, the daily toils of fighting off the sicks, blaming this on Kelly, feeling like she was a sexual predator, hating that her four-year-old daughter came before my precious needs—but I stayed silent.
You just thought about killing me.
I laughed and told her she was high and I bridged the foot-gap and tried to be cute-boyfriend, nestling into the nook of her neck. Her always-soft body was rigid. I put my arm around her waist. I forced my leg between hers. The head of my penis traced her stomach.
Why, she asked again.
How the fuck did she read my mind? Was it a guess? Had I started to sweat? It didn’t make sense.
And it was me at seventeen, laying with the second person I’d ever slept with, and I was broken in the way that anyone is who knows heroin before high school, and I wanted to be better than I was and she’d seen that—Kelly, a woman who during our first conversation sitting outside of a coffee shop had asked what my favorite memory was, and I’d told her about being a boy and renting a cabin with my father and how he taught me to wood carve, how this somehow had made me feel old, my father’s trust in me to wield a knife, his silent nods, our socked-feet covered in shaved flakes of basswood—and Kelly had smiled then at the coffee shop, telling me things I needed to hear about me being a good person, having kind eyes.
I told her I wasn’t sure.
Is that what you want to do?
I felt stupid. I felt evil.
Your energy is too strong to keep hidden, she said.
I thought this was more of her hippie bullshit and I wanted the conversation to be over and sex was the only thing we really had in common and I started in with my mouth on the cluster of freckles at the base of her throat. I wondered if she was psychic. If that shit was real. And she consented with a kiss and her breath was the stale-sour of sleep and I didn’t want to think about it again, but I kind of did, just to see if she had the ability she claimed.
I watched her face, its rounded features, soft, a dimple and a half, and the movie played, the same exact clip of me in the pinstripe suit from the twenties and the vanity and the gun and she opened her eyes and I was like no fucking way and it wasn’t fear or anger in the muck of her irises, but confusion.
I said, I don’t know.
She pressed up with her hips. She said, I know you don’t.
We did what we did and it was different than any other time, rougher, Kelly demanding, us baser versions of ourselves, and I told myself love was having no secrets and being vulnerable despite knowing the other will hurt you. These felt like lies. I worried that we’d wake up her daughter. That she’d come into the room with no walls, all nubby knees and cold feet and four years old, and ask why I was hurting Mommy. I was getting close. Kelly flexed, faking an orgasm. Or maybe her daughter would simply stand there underneath the maroon sheets and nightscapes in oil, too afraid to say anything, just wanting to be tucked back into bed, kissed on the forehead, told that things were still okay. Kelly’s lips parted. Her front right incisor was chipped and I thought it was both disgusting and beautiful. I told her I loved her and I wondered if she knew this truth, too.
About the Author:
Peter Stenson has stories and essays published or forthcoming in Post Road, Passages North, The Pinch, Blue Mesa Review, Crate, The Coachella Review, Gulf Stream, REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters, and Upstreet, among others. He is currently working on his MFA in fiction at Colorado State University.
About the Artist:
Ashley Inguanta is a former art director of SmokeLong Quarterly and author of three poetry collections: The Way Home (Dancing Girl Press, 2013), For the Woman Alone (Ampersand Books, 2014), and Bomb (Ampersand Books, 2016). Next year, Ampersand Books will publish her newest collection, The Flower, about how death shapes us.