tagNovels and NovellasBeyond Limits

Beyond Limits


Part 1

The sun was bright. The day was bristling with sun, and here in this apartment it seemed to burn through the windows as if someone were holding a hot iron up to the glass.

All except for in the dining room where a window was broken, and here the sun and the snow poured in and had been pouring in for some time; pouring in where Lexi sat naked, kneeling and holding Cormac's head in her lap. He was dead, and she was rocking her body and weeping. She was covered with goose bumps and there were bruises on her breasts—bite marks. There was snow in her hair and on her thighs, snow caught in the fine down on her arms and snow on the dead man's face, on his eye lashes and hair, on his lips and nose. They were sitting in a little pile of snow, their own private little drift there on the dining room floor. The sunshine caught the snow crystals as they swirled about and made them refract the light like tiny prisms, shining in the air. Lexi and Cormac might have been figures in a snow globe. There was no blood, just naked flesh and white snow and bright, bright, sun,

Cormac couldn't have been dead long, no longer than Lexi had been sitting there, judging by the height of the snow around her. She was still crying, still naked, her nipples stiff, crying and rocking herself in a slow circle. The outside world with its freezing, burning sun was being held out, all except for what the wind blew in, this miniature pile of winter on the dining room floor.

"Lexi? Lexi, baby. Come on, It's Russell, Come here, baby, stand up. Let me have a look at him."

I'd just gotten the call twenty minutes ago. I could barely understand her she was so hysterical. I hadn't showered or shaved and felt stiff and dirty.

She looked at me and the eyes that one time used to be full of love for me were filled with dread and disbelief. "Oh God, Russell! Oh God! He's dead, he's dead! What am I going to do? He's dead!"

"Shhh, hush, baby. Hush. Did you call anyone? Did you do anything? Let me have a look at him, Lexi. What happened, baby? Why didn't you call someone?"

"I promised him I wouldn't. I promised him I wouldn't ever tell anyone what we did, Russell. I never break my promises to him, never. Even now. I couldn't tell anyone! I can't tell anyone now!"

I'd managed to work my way around her and stand over Cormac. The window was broken so that half the glass was missing, broken from the inside, no glass on the floor. The wind pushed in and with it the fine and shining snow.

"Come on, Lexi! Get up, baby! Get some clothes on. Let me look at him!"

She looked down at her breasts and then looked at the snow and seemed to grow dizzy. She swayed in a circle, then shuddered violently, and then shook again, her whole body spasming, an involuntary whining sound coming from her mouth.

I reached her just as she started to pass out, grabbed her under the arms and dragged her away from him, pulling her to her feet as she tried to get her legs beneath her but she had no control and they were all over the place. I couldn't miss her nakedness. She was shaved just as she'd been when I knew her, bare except for one little patch, just as I remembered. There were bruises on her thighs and lower body.

There'd been times in the last months when I would have cut off my right hand to have had her back, to have seen that body and touched her but now here she was in her sad human nakedness and vulnerability, touched by death and there was no joy in it and no courage or lust. Her skin was cold and instinctively I wrapped my arms around her but she didn't even hug me back, didn't react, didn't even press closer for my body warmth. She was cold like Cormac was. She was so much his she wanted to share his coldness.

"Get some clothes on."

I meant to guide her towards the back of the apartment but instead I found that I pushed her in anger. She didn't seem to notice.

I went to Cormac and looked down at him. I squatted down and felt for his pulse in his neck. I touched him. I'd never touched him before.

He was a handsome man, aristocratic, and even in death looked disdainful, and he was clearly dead. No pulse, his lips cold, his nostrils cold. The skin on his chest didn't rebound when I pressed it. He was wearing nothing but a pair of boxer shorts.

I had the mad thought to pull down his shorts and look at his cock. Look at the cock that's had what you wanted, that's had what you wanted to die for for these last few months. See what it looks like, if it's so much better than yours, if it's so much bigger or beautiful or remarkable in some way. Go ahead and look.

My stomach heaved with self-loathing.

I'd never thought of him as my enemy but I'd never hated a man so much. I didn't know anything about his personal life except what my imagination supplied, and so in that regard he became everything I wasn't. All my failures were his easy successes. All the things I strived for, I imagined he'd accomplished long ago. Everywhere I'd failed Lexi, he'd triumphed. That's what I thought of him. A better, stronger, handsomer, smarter, sexier man.

His right hand was up near his shoulder as if in a sign of greeting. His left arm was straight and pointing down.

I took his hand in mine and shook it, then I rubbed my hand over his. I tried to imagine the feel of his hands on my body, as if I were Lexi. His hands were softer than mine, almost effeminate. They had touched things I wanted to touch, possessed things I had so wanted to possess.

The slightest shadow fell into the brilliant room and I looked up to see Lexi's slim figure leaning in the doorway from the kitchen, dressed now in the first things she'd found, looking utterly defeated, her hair hanging in her face. She was still beautiful.

"What happened?" I said. "Tell me what happened, Lexi. Lexi? You've got to call the police. Either you call them or I will. Meanwhile I want to know what happened. What killed him?"

She looked at me and her eyes welled with tears. "You know I can't Russell. You know what kind of relationship we had. You know the rules."

"Well you're gong to tell the cops. They don't care about your rules, so you'd might as well tell me."

She looked at me and started to cry, her shoulders falling as if the weight were just too much.

"You've got to help me, Russell. You've got to help me! Please!"

She was wearing a thick, soft, coffee-colored sweater that made her look even paler than she was, so big she looked lost in it, and I couldn't help what I felt. I could never help what I felt when I was around her and that's why I lost her, because she drove me crazy until I was finally out of control, and what she needed was control. What she needed more than anything was control and I couldn't give it to her and he could.

She came to me now with her arms out, ready for my embrace. Ready to be hugged now, but not for my love, but for my protection. She came to me, weeping, because I was the only one she had in the world, and I couldn't stand it, after what she'd done to me, the way she'd hurt me, not intending to, not meaning to, but the way she'd hurt me nonetheless, making a friend of me after she was done loving me and sharing her new love with me when I didn't want it, telling me about him and how much she was in love, what they did in bed together, how good he was to her, how he could control her, telling me too much, way too much, always telling me.

She reached for me now and I slapped her.

She stopped. My blow had doubled her over, knocked the spit from her mouth and she staggered. The blow sent a shock through my arm and into my heart and I felt again how she had destroyed me. Maybe she hadn't meant to and she hadn't done it spitefully or out of malice but she'd destroyed me nonetheless; slowly and painfully as I watched it happen, unable to stop it. She had made me her friend and told me hardly anything about them but just enough, letting my imagination feed on itself, and it had, consuming myself in a pyre of self-doubt and self-contempt.

She fell to her knees and raised her face as if to show me where I'd hit her, proud, tenacious. She was always tenacious, ready to take the next blow if I wanted to give it and I saw then that this wouldn't change anything. Slapping her wouldn't change anything, hurting her wouldn't change a damned thing, wouldn't change her love for him or the stubbornness in her heart; wouldn't bring Cormac back or change the course of our lives or undo my pain and humiliation or make me into anything different—

I hit her again, my throat filled with something rough and sharp and hot. It was my heart. I knew it. My fucking heart was in my throat, choking me.

Tears of rage welled in my eyes and I fell to my knees in front of her and grabbed her, wrapped my arms around her and crushed her against me, pressed her face against my chest and held her, held her. She wasn't mine anymore but I held her and let her shake with weeping, the cold wind from the broken pane blowing in upon us.

God let us just stay like this, I prayed. Nothing more than this. That would be enough. If just the pain of his death holds us together, it would be reason enough for him to have died.

It was a horrible thought, but that's what I felt.

I held her till my knees ached and I felt her body grow weak and lax as if sand were draining out of her, and then I let her go. I wiped my eyes. I got up and walked into the bedroom.

Their bed was big. There were the posts he tied her to. I knew all about it. I didn't want to know but she'd told me. Sometimes he'd tie her standing with her wrists tied to the foot posts, sometimes spread-eagled on the mattress, sometimes on her knees. She'd told me about all of them. What did she have to hide? I was her friend now, wasn't I? We'd been intimate, and though she'd never let me do those kind of things to her, she figured six of one, a half dozen of another and so she told me what he did to her. She couldn't believe me when I got upset and thought I was making a big fuss over nothing. Sex is sex, isn't it? I'd had her. It was someone else's turn now.

Their toys were in their nightstands. They'd switched sides. When she'd slept with me she'd slept on my left so I could use my right hand when I'd made love to her. With Cormac, she'd slept on his right so she could use her right hand when she made love to him. That was, I suppose, the difference,

I opened her nightstand: lubricant, whips, floggers, dildos, vibrators, cuffs, clamps, blindfold... I felt sick, like seeing your lover's insides.

I opened his. A few more items, plus a hash pipe, some syringes, some packets of brown heroin and two vials of white powder and some glass tubes. A candle and lighter, a smoke-blackened spoon.

I found a piece of Kleenex and picked up the vials and wrapped them up. I put them in my pocket. The syringe Cormac had used was sitting on a magazine on the nightstand. I left it there.

When I came out, Lexi was sitting against the wall in the dining room, staring at nothing. The snow still swirled in the broken window.

"I'm calling the paramedics. You want to tell me what happened now?"

She shook her head. Her face was red where I'd hit her.

What is a woman to you when it gets to this point? She's more than something you love. She's a part of you, an appendage, something you can't lose or walk away from. A part of you in held in her consciousness, and if not fed with her love and attention, it sickens, suffers, turns black and gangrenous. It rots and infects you and you're diseased and you die. That suffering is a terrible thing. There's nothing you can do for it, and, worse, you don't want to get better. You don't want to recover. You want her back.

I took out my cell and looked at her. There was really nothing to do but call. All through their relationships there were things she refused to tell me about him, which is why he became such an unholy apparition in my mind. In the absence of any information, I had built him into a mythological creature of perfect manliness, one with whom I could never compete. I'd stared into the darkness and saw my own negative image staring back, bathed in Lexi's love. I'd hoped that knowing she loved the opposite of me would be enough to free me of her, but nothing had worked. In the end I was like a bird on a tether, trying to fly away but always coming back, as if I loved the pain. And maybe I did.

I punched in the number and Lexi looked at me. She put her hand over her eye.

"Cover the window, Russell. Please. It makes it feel like a grave in here. Like a grave."

"Tell me what happened."

She breathed once, twice.

I flipped the phone closed.

"It must have been something he took," she said. "He was sick. He got sick. I'd just gotten here and he wasn't himself. He wanted me in the bedroom. He was ordering me around—'Take your clothes off! Get in the bedroom!' He never did that. He wasn't like that. Then he got sick, just started pulling at himself and shaking, pulling at his skin. I got scared. Oh God, I got so scared! He's so strong inside. He never acted like that!"

She started to cry and I let her, standing there with the cell phone in my hand.

"In the pantry," she said, "There's some tools in a drawer. Can't you nail up a towel or something to stop that fucking wind? Christ, Russell, please?"

I had to step over her legs to get to the kitchen. It was immaculate. The entire apartment was spotless. Cormac had his life under control. He held it by the throat. I wondered if Lexi cleaned for him.

I found a hammer and some nails, went into the bathroom and took a towel from the rack. It took me no time to tack the towel up over the broken window and stop the wind, and I was so calmed and satisfied with this simple bit of carpentry that I went and got another towel and reinforced the first. The towel bellied in like a pregnant stomach, filled with cold air. Cormac lay right at my feet as I worked, right in the patch of wintry light. His fingers and lips were turning grayish blue. I got another towel from the bathroom and placed it over his face, over part of his chest, his shoulder.

I remember thinking: if this is how it ends, why bother with love? Why bother with jealousy and tenderness and tears? The sluggish drag of blood that pumps within us—what use is it? The ache that is Lexi, the envy that is Cormac—why bother with them?

But that was true for the dead man. It wasn't true for me, and I turned to Lexi and waited for her to start speaking again and waited as I always did to feel the balm of her love upon me, as if that had the power to make everything right.

But again it wasn't love, it was him: "It was the drugs," she said. "I hated them from the start and I warned him. He wasn't just snorting anymore. He was shooting. It was part of some experiment he was doing and I begged him to stop but you know how he listened to me. He didn't. He didn't listen to anyone. Oh he's such an asshole, Russell, he's such an asshole!" The tears started again.

I knew all this but I let her talk. I felt myself anger. "What happened then? Who broke the window?"

"I don't know. He grabbed me and pulled me out here. He was acting weird, doubling over, pulling at his skin. Oh, God, I've never seen him like that. He grabbed a vase, a jade vase I'd given him and he just threw it at the window, and then he just collapsed. He collapsed and started convulsing, Russell! I wanted to call nine one one but he wouldn't let me. He wouldn't let me, told me not to call anyone!"

"And so you didn't?" I stared at her incredulously.

She got to her feet and went to him again and looked down at him. She started to get down on her knees but I wouldn't let her. I reached down but she punched at me.

"Let go of me! Let go of me, damn it!"

"Stay away from him, Lexi! Stay away from him. He's dead!"

"No! No! He's not! He can't be! Not him. Russell, he can't be! It should be you, Russell, you know that? You were the one who gave him that shit! You were the one! It should be you, not him! It's not fair, Russell! It's not fair!"

I felt jealousy squeeze my stomach into a knot and the pain tear through my heart like a serrated blade. Even in death I couldn't win, I couldn't win. I threw my arm around her and my hand glanced against the rich softness of her breast as grief and rage knocked the wind from me and I lifted her partially and drove her up and back, pushing her all the way across the room and against the wall on the opposite and just leaned my weight against her, holding her there as she shook with sobs, screaming and slapping and biting at me.

I let her. I felt her teeth in my neck, her hands clawing at me. I kept her trapped against the wall and buried my face in her hair and I let her bite me and scratch and swear and I clenched my eyes tight, so tight I started to cry too. I wept with rage and fear and horror at what had happened. I just wept. I wept in pain for what she'd done to me. I wept for shame for what I'd become. I wept in fear for what I wanted to do to her.

"Forgive me, Russell, forgive me!" she said. "Please, baby! I didn't mean it! Oh God, Russell I'm so sorry!"

"No, honey, that's okay. I know. I know."

She didn't mean it. I know she didn't mean what she said, wishing I were dead. She loved me. In her own twisted way, she still loved me. You don't stop loving someone after what we'd been through together, not like that. We knew each other too well, were like brother and sister. In so many ways I was closer to her than Cormac was or ever could have been, but it wasn't the right way, and that made all the difference.

She relaxed her grip on me, her hands falling from me like dead things. I started dialing my phone. my hands were shaking and my eyes were full of tears. I wanted to vomit.

"Russell, there's no one but you now, baby, no one!" She leaned against me, burrowing against my chest. "Please, I need you so much! You've got to help me! I didn't mean what I said. I was just crazy with grief, honey! You know that, don't you?"

"I know, Lexi, I know."

"Russell, I love you. I always loved you. Even when I loved Cormac you always had a place in my heart. You know that. I told you that enough, didn't I, baby? Oh Russell, Russell, baby, I'm just so sorry!"

911 had answered by this time, and I talked to the cop as Lexi wrapped her arms around my neck and pressed herself against me, her breasts flattening against my chest. A faint trace of her perfume wafted up from her neck and took me back a year and made my soul ache with that old, familiar, lonely ache, the wound she'd left in me.

She wasn't coming on to me and she wasn't lying to me. She really did love me and always had, even while she'd been in love with Cormac, even now while she was in love with him still. Because that's the way real life is, confusing and messy like that, with hearts all tangled up and strangling each other, and as I talked to the cops on the phone and held Lexi, I felt her breasts against my chest, and the firmness between her legs pressed against my thigh and I started to get aroused somewhere deep inside, slime that I am, and I know she must have felt my arousal too, but she didn't break away and didn't stop clinging to me and she didn't say anything or move as much as an inch. Why? I don't know. Maybe she chose to ignore it, or maybe the need for my comfort was greater than her fear of the threat of sex, or maybe she enjoyed it, or maybe she had so thoroughly castrated me in her mind that she just didn't care about what my cock did at all.

But as I held her I remembered how she used to love to listen to my heartbeat after we'd made love, and then I remembered a thousand other things about her I hadn't let myself think about in a long, long time, like how she felt in my arms, and how I used to call her my "home", because nowhere else on earth did I feel as comfortable and as at ease as I did in her embrace, because I'd shown her everything there was to show about myself and I had no ugly secrets left to be ashamed of or hide and that was a first for me. She'd been my home, my safe harbor, the woman I loved and trusted so nakedly and so totally that I suppose I'd come to take her for granted..

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