Each time they start to have sex, Jess sees her dead mother. Though it’s happened dozens of times, it’s still jarring—Jess’s mom hovering over Darrel’s hairy shoulders, wearing a crocheted cardigan and a scowl.
If Jess closes her eyes, her mother still finds a way inside and so she has to push Darrel off.
Like clockwork, the spots come next–tiny sprockets of light blurring her vision. Minutes later, a drill begins burrowing through Jess’s skull, pressure increasing minute by minute until the pain is excruciating. Jess starts to weep.
Darrel says, “This has got to stop,” as if Jess can find a remedy. She’s never told him about seeing her dead mother because Darrel already thinks she might be nuts.
Jess jumps off the bed and rushes to the bathroom, making in time, but not quite, bile splashing the top of the toilet seat.
She takes a sleeping pill, hoping she won’t throw it up, and heads to the basement where it’s darkest and cool.
In her junior year of high school, Jess had been voted Most Likely to Succeed. She was plain-looking but bright. Her studies seemed remedial and she was often bored.
The only boy who took an interest in her also took her virginity. He raped her in a basement not too dissimilar from the one she’s in now. He held his father’s hunting knife near her neck, thrusting while calling her names. As he finished, the door swung open, and there was Jess’s mother, eyes brimming with horror.
The boy tucked the knife away. Jess should have told her mother what had actually happened, but Jess was in shock, speechless at the assault, frightened by her mother’s accusations. Later, her mother all but disowned her. Repeatedly she would say, “I don’t know what your father would do if he were alive,” shaking her head, unable to meet Jess’s eyes.
Jess began sleeping with boys, lots of them, sometimes many all at once. Her grades deteriorated. Other girls wrote “Slut” and “Open All Night” on her locker. Jess didn’t care, and left the scrawls there until a janitor painted over them.
When Darrel came along, Jess was at rock bottom. Darrel was overweight and not particularly handsome, but he was kind enough and seemed nearly as desperate for a true mate as Jess was. She never told him about her sexual history, and to Jess’s surprise, he never asked.
The migraines, and visions of her mother during sex, began a week following the old woman’s death. Jess didn’t need a shrink to understand what was happening, yet she didn’t see a way out either.
Now, just before dawn, she wakes, her head a dull loaf, but the migraine gone.
She goes upstairs and makes breakfast, something she hasn’t done in years.
Darrel says, “What’s this?”
Jess asks, “Do you love me?”
“Then let’s eat,” Jess says, “and afterward let’s talk.”
Len Kuntz is an editor at the online magazine Literary Orphans. He’s been writing full-time for the last five years and has been really fortunate to have had a fair amount of work published in places like Boston Literary Magazine, PANK, Elimaeand others.