DAISY CHAINS by BLUE COUTELL an episodic novelette
episode four: romans 1:18-32
To Astrid, the idea of love seems too abstract to be real. Love is just a Picasso. Love is just odd shapes and colors forced into realism where they don’t belong. Ivy places a kiss on Astrid’s lips and tucks back some of Astrid’s nearly-black hair. On instinct, Astrid presses herself against Ivy, ever striving for increased closeness. Ivy is the most magnetic thing she’d ever discovered. There was nothing but a phenomenon that brought them together on their first day. Ivy was too close to the edge on their first day. So was Astrid. That’s when Astrid realized she was not alone in this world. Ivy’s hand grips at Astrid’s hip, her fingertips creep close to the edge of the other girl’s waistband, causing Astrid to break the kiss and grab Ivy’s exploratory limb. “They’re asleep,” Ivy soothes. “There was no light on under the door.” Ivy sees the blatantly fear in Astrid’s eyes. She tries to kiss it away. A kiss on one cheek, then the other, ending at the forehead. A small unsure smile sparks on Astrid’s lips. “You don’t know them, Ivy,” Astrid says. “They’re not like your parents.” “What is that supposed to mean?” Ivy says defensively. “Well for starters, your parents love you.” Ivy’s brows furrow, clearly dismayed. Visiting Ivy’s home last week had been surreal. Her mom made them tea, and asked Astrid what she wanted to study in college. Astrid lied; she had said English. But only because she read a lot of books. Ivy’s mother had frowned and said Ivy wasn’t going to university. Astrid thought it was wild to have parents who didn’t care about that kind of thing. “Babe, your parents love you. Some just really suck at showing it.” Astrid bites down on her lower lip. There is so much Ivy doesn’t understand. Astrid doesn’t want to argue, so she stays quiet, releasing the hold her teeth have on her lip. Ivy looks as though she wants to pursue the conversation, making Astrid do a silent prayer to God that she lets conversation die. Like an answer, Ivy’s face relaxes. “All that really matters is that I love you, Astrid.” Astrid’s heart beats wildly in her chest. She wonders how Ivy knows that. Is this what love feels like? Astrid can’t tell. All she knows for sure is that Ivy felt a lot like happiness should. “I love you, too,” Astrid says, thinking maybe she shouldn’t have said it so soon, like the magazines say, and tries to take the lead, pre-emptively kissing Ivy. “What the fuck is this?” Astrid rips her lips away and looks at the figure in the doorway. There he is with his bulbous hairy belly and the smell of metabolizing beer. Ivy and Astrid both shoot upright in the bed, with Ivy sliding off the bed into a stand. “We were—” Astrid starts. “—Practicing kissing. The magazine said it should be a specific way and I just wanted to see—” Ivy finishes, nice and well prepared. Astrid’s father approaches her on the bed and grabs her wrist. He pulls her forward hard and through her bedroom door into the hallway. Astrid passes her mother standing there with her Bible between her fat fingers. Shame burns Astrid’s cheeks. “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another,” her mother cites from the book of Romans. Astrid can hear Ivy’s footsteps trailing down the hallway, protesting loudly, echoing along the walls. Astrid is shoved roughly into the kitchen chair. Everyone is looking at her, even Atlas, who has risen from his spot near his guard of the front door. Ivy is still talking, but all Astrid hears is her mother saying: “God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.” “What are you going to do?” Ivy says in a panic-ridden voice. She’s riding a frenzy she’s never ridden before. She can feel every nerve ending on fire. “Shut up, girl!” Astrid’s father yells at Ivy. She can barely see Ivy through the tears clouding her vision. Astrid’s father grabs a can of wet dog food from beneath the sink and the crisp line of broken metal seems louder than the crying. He grabs Atlas’s bowl and it slides out with a sticky slop. He sets it in front of Astrid, and it reeks enough to make Astrid gag. She can hear Ivy cry in outrage. “What’s the last bit?” her father prompts. “Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” “Go on then, eat.” He points at the bowl. There are no utensils to speak of. Astrid sees Atlas in the corner of her vision, sitting beside her usual chair. Astrid knows well enough by now that fighting it just draws it out. She dips her head to the bowl, embracing her “penalty.”
The house is quiet. Astrid’s mother had a church group she went to every Thursday afternoon, and Astrid is skipping class. She’ll get in trouble, but that was a problem for future Astrid. The one she hopes won’t exist. She creeps into her parents’ bedroom, afraid that the smallest sound will bring them home from miles away in an instant. She doesn’t actually know where it is; she can only guess. She searches the bed stands, beneath the mattress, under the pillows. That leaves only the closet, or it is not here at all. She starts from the bottom of the closet and works her way up. At the top shelf, she feels the canvas bag and pulls it down. The gun is heavier than she realized. She takes it carefully out of the bag, fumbling around to see if it is loaded. Feeling silly, she loads the gun with two bullets, after an unbearably long learning curve. She replaces the bag but takes the gun. It will stay with her until the perfect moment. It is coming.