Tears. Sex. Presents. Tears. Sex. Presents. That was the never-ending cycle of our relationship, with occasional dinner dates and late night conversations thrown in between. Whenever Paulie would fuck up, by forgetting my birthday or flirting with my friends or by doing some other shitty thing I had warned him against a thousand times, I would threaten to leave. And in the moment, I meant it.
But then the tears would float down my face, ruining my strong-enough-to-survive-without-you act, and he would reel me into his arms. Hold my cheeks in his calloused hands and kiss the tears away, swearing that he needed me. And in the moment, I believed it.
So I put up with his anger issues, with his random mood swings. Whenever I came home from the bakery with exciting news, I ignored the fact that he looked defeated and deflated, with no desire to hear about my day. And when I came home saggy and grumbling, I ignored the way he perked up, eager to hear me vent about my asshole customers.
My mother claimed he had some sort of misery complex, that he enjoyed seeing me in pain. I told her she was crazy, but she knew how we had met. At a support group. For grief. I’d lost my older sister to drugs and he’d lost his last girlfriend to a drunken driver. Our first handful of dates had been spent reminiscing over them, crying over them. I didn’t think it was odd. I thought it was sweet.
I never would’ve realized I was dating a psychotic, someone who belonged behind a special set of bars, until the night I caught him fucking another girl.
I saw her jeep in his driveway, let myself in with the key he had given me, and caught him thrusting into her hairless pussy. Like he didn’t care if I walked right in. Like he wanted me to see it.
But I barely saw her face, because she scuttled out as soon as I started yelling. Yelling about what a douche he was and how goddamn stupid I was and how it was over between us. And he could tell I meant it. That it wasn’t like all the other times. That he had crossed an unacceptable boundary.
But when I tried to leave, he stepped in front of the door, trapping me inside. “You know,” he said, drawing out his vowels. “I don’t get the obsession with vampires.”
“Are you… What?”
“Blood is overrated. There’s much better nutrition in the human body.”
I blinked, my eyes as dry as my throat. I’d been emotional in front of him before. Worried, sad, annoyed, angry, bitter. But never this nervous, never this scared.
The corners of his lips lifted. “Look around this room, Kim.”
There was a set of windows behind me, but we were two stories up. I didn’t want to risk the jump. Other than that, he was blocking the only exit.
But that wasn’t what he was talking about. Instead of filling his room with CDs or Rangers merch or posters of naked girls, he had shadowboxes stuffed with dead moths swinging from his walls, their wings pinned down with tacks.
When I’d first seen them, back in our puppy-love phase, I’d held back my disgust and tried to act interested by asking why he chose them instead of butterflies. Butterflies, I could understand, with their bright colored beauty. But moths?
He had said he felt more of a connection to moths, that they were his spirit animal. Then he had switched the subject. Or maybe I had. Maybe I hadn’t wanted to hear anymore.
But now, he pointed to a specific box on his wall, a rectangular one with two moths side-by-side.
“Hemiceratoides hieroglyphica,” he said. “And the other one is mecistopera griseifusa. My favorites. Moths that live on tears from other animals.”
I didn’t know what to say, so I settled for silence.
“Those moths stick their proboscis in eyes to suck the liquid out.” His voice was low, like a hiss, like an imitation Hannibal Lector. “The tears keep them strong. Just like me. Only I don’t have to taste it.” I flinched when he reached for my face, but he only skimmed his thumb under my lashes, like he was wiping away a tear. “Watching is enough for me.”
“Well, it looks like you’re going to have to find a new girl to watch.”
My voice came out stronger than I’d expected, but not as strong as his grip on my shoulders or the bang against the wall that followed.
My head dented the sheetrock during the collision, the pieces crumbling and dropping into my eyes, fucking up my contacts. Some of it even slid into my mouth, making me cough, long and rough.
I tried to remain standing, but slumped against his outstretched arms instead. I could feel my feet dragging across carpet, then wood, then stairs. Two sets of them. Down, down into the basement. I didn’t even know he had a basement.
When we reached the bottom floor, consisting of more dirt than cement, he let me drop.
“I have to grab a few things,” he said and then clopped up the stairs, leaving me alone.
Or, at least, with the illusion of being alone.
I was only down there for three minutes, trying to scrub the dust out of my eyes with my knuckles, when I heard a moan. No. I heard my name.
The voice sounded raspy, strained, unused.
“Is it you, Kim?” it asked. “He’s told me all about you.”
I used my elbows and knees to push myself up and stumbled around the darkened room. On the far wall, above a sheet of plastic stained with piss, there was a girl. A nude girl with long black hair and olive eyes, pinned to the wall. Like a moth.
Aside from her stale smelling clothes and the yellowness of her skin, she looked just like Paulie had described her. His last girlfriend. The girlfriend he had claimed died in a car crash.
The girlfriend he tortured for her tears.
I should’ve ran over to pry her hands loose. I should’ve tried to find a way to escape before he plodded back down the stairs. But instead, I just stood there and wondered what lie he’d use when everyone asked what happened to me.