When he and Carrie fled from Nate's apartment, Martin wasn't fully aware of where he was. He wasn't sure of the date, the general time, the position of the sun or moon, and he wasn't watching the roads. Most of the drive was along a familiar highway. He knows now as he retries the drive that he didn't get her phone number and he isn't sure he will be able to retrace the directions back to the town, the neighborhood, let alone the particular street. Martin grips the wheel and tries to hear her voice in his head, tries to connect with that quiet stutter. There were words she got stuck on, and at the time Martin tried to ignore the stutter so as to not be rude. He now knows he should have paid closer attention.
A first glimmer of memory appears and Martin grabs the fragment before it vanishes. It was a right turn off of the highway. It was a right turn at a landmark, something her lips hated spitting out. Martin can hear four, maybe five sounds firing to make out the beginning of the word. It is either an S sound, like a hiss, or maybe an F sound. Martin freezes all other thoughts to try to keep the memory. He is losing it. He sounds it out, settling on the F sound. He bites into his lower lip and blows air out around his teeth.
“Come on.” He rings out the steering wheel. He clamps his eyes shut and hits the F sound harder. On the fourth blow he hears something new. The vowel was an I, fi fi fi, he puffs the sound out. “Fi-fi-fi, fire!” He catches it. Before the memory disappears, he sees it, sees Carrie sitting next to him with little Jane in her arms, sees her leaning toward the dash board as she points out the window.
“F-f-fi-fi-fi-fi fire house!” she'd said. She'd pointed and said it twice and waved her pointing finger off to the right. “Make a r-r-right, there.”
Martin's truck makes the right at the fire station. Carrie made another finger flurry from left to right shortly after. He thinks it was at a stop sign. As the road curves out toward the river a stop sign appears at the end of a quarter mile of meadow he didn't see the other night. But at the stop sign, he turns right, and another piece from the other night rises from the murky memory. The steps are appearing as he moves forward. He is diving through cloudy water, reaching into the dark, remembering things only when they bump against his hands or appear directly in front of his eyes. He knows the depths could darken completely at any time. But, yet again, another piece appears. He feels that in a mile or so there will be a bridge, and he is relieved when it comes into view.
The other night, when Carrie was guiding him to her mother's house, she'd tried to speak as little as possible. The next turn is a left, on “Barn Owl” street. Carrie spent a few breaths on the B in “barn.” At a four-way stop, Martin looks up to the green street signs. One of them says “Barn Owl.”
The truck eases left. He is on the right road, now he needs to recognize the house. He relaxes his search anxiety. This street is a long loop, and the house was on one of the offshoots, a cul de sac. He will be able to find the particular house. But the relief from finding the house gives way to a new panic. He is going to have to knock on the door, maybe reintroduce himself to the woman he saw shoot a man to death in a dirty apartment a few nights ago, or introduce himself to her mother. He mouths the conversation, laughing at himself, laughing at his life.
“Hi, I'm a friend of your daughter. Yeah, hi, we've been friends for, oh, two days, almost. How'd we meet? Oh, well, funny story. Yeah, I watched her kill a guy who I was beating because he shorted me on a Craigslist deal.”
Martin sees the front driveway, sees the three feet of bricks below the light gray wood panels of the house's front porch. He puts on his blinker as he pulls into the driveway. He stops in front of the open garage.
There is no one in the garage. He stops to listen, in case they are doing something out of sight. He doesn't hear anything. He peers into the front windows as he makes his way up the front walk. He stops to listen again. Nothing. He taps gently on the door.
When it opens, Carrie ushers him inside.
She hurries him in and closes the door quickly, but quietly, behind him. As the door closes, Martin feels a rush of relief, that he found the house at all, that she answered the door and not her mother, that she allowed him in immediately, and that they know each other at all. He suddenly pictures little Jane, cradled in Carrie's arms, and his eyes search for her in the living room in front of him.
“You can't jus-jus just show up here.”
Martin turns. He hadn't taken the time to look at her face. She is not thrilled to see him.
“You c-c-can't just come ov-over, it's not safe.”
It suddenly feels like he interrupted something.
“I wanted to make sure you and Jane were okay.”
“Maybe ju-just call next t-time.”
“I don't have your number.”
Carrie is agitated. She looks out the window, behind her down the nearest hallway, and back to Jane, who Martin can see is lying on a couch in the living room. Carrie looks back out the window again and freezes. A black sedan passes slowly on the road. Martin goes to apologize but Carrie's hand goes up. She is busy concentrating. She is watching for the car to return. She is listening. She is not the cool calm girl under pressure Martin watched the other night. Each time she looks back toward the couch, she grabs her hair. When she freezes to listen or stare, Martin can see that she isn't still. She is shaking. It doesn't occur to Martin that she might have been on something the other night. Now, she might be feeling withdrawal symptoms.
When she seems to relax slightly, Martin tries again.
She cuts him off. “Anyone see you?”
“You c-can't be-be here, you c-can't...”
“I didn't think...”
“Someone c-could have seen your-your truck that night. Someone-one could have your your your lice... your license p-plate.”
Martin's hands go up. It doesn't put Carrie at ease and she pushes past him to the couch.
“I know,” he says, staying where he was, “trust me, I thought about that. I thought about people following me home that night, sneaking into my apartment to kill me. I dreamed about it. I expected boots to kick in my door. If not that, I expected flashing red and blue lights and tight metal bracelets and the rest of my life in prison. I'm aware of that, of the dangers.”
“Not if you j-j-just drove your way here in the mi-mi-middle of the day-day,” Carrie says.
“I'm aware. No one followed me. You think I've forgotten for one second over the past two days? I'm having nightmares, I'm seeing things, I wake up in the middle of the night and puke...”
This isn't helping Carrie's agitation. When she sees that little Jane is still asleep despite Martin's presence, she folds her arms and hugs her rib cage. The more Martin talks the tighter she squeezes.
“You're out here free and clear and no one knows how to find you. You're safe. Jane is safe. I'm not. Am I safe, Carrie?”
Her left hand crawls up her neck and grabs a handful of hair. She pulls on it briefly, then covers her ear.
“You're right, someone might have seen my license plate number, might know who I am, who my family is, right now. Are my daughters safe? My ex-wife? My sister?”
Carrie's other hand climbs up to her other ear and she tries to silence him, tries to block out the noise. She closes her eyes.
“Stop... st... st... stop...”
“I came here to see if you need anything, if you need help or food or...”
She waves her hands briefly before they return to her ears.
“Shh... sh shh...”
Martin stops. Something is wrong. She isn't okay. The way she pulls at her hair and scrapes her scalp and squeezes her ribs is not normal. He sees it, in a flash, the way she pulls at her skin and clenches her jaw and shuts her eyes against the light. She is coming down. All of his drug experience is from bottles and the bar, but he can tell her body is crying out for some kind of fix.
“I jus just need... quiet. I nee need quiet for a sec for a second.”
The baby starts crying. Her little arms reach up from the couch, grabbing at the air above her head.
“I'm sorry,” Martin says.
Carrie steps around behind the couch. She looks, for a moment, like she is going to pick Jane up and try to calm her. She doesn't, she takes a look at Jane and then turns right and steps slowly down the hallway. A door closes quietly and Martin is left with a whimpering Jane.
Martin steps carefully down the single step into the living room. Jane notices him as he approaches and she stops crying. When he smiles at her, her whimpers soften. She stops and stares back at him. He waves and says “Hi, Jane.” She kicks her legs and tightens her fists. The grimace on her little face fades.
The silence is too long for Martin, something is wrong. He calls out to Carrie. No answer. He makes his way toward the hallway. The first door is open. It's a bathroom. The second door is closed. He stops and listens.
“Carrie? Carrie I'm sorry, are you alright?
There is no answer. He knocks on the door.
He tries the door handle. The door is locked. He can hear something happening behind the door but she won't answer him. She is coming down from some drug and she has locked herself in a room and won't respond.
“Open the door, Carrie!”
“I'll kick it in, Carrie! Open the door!”
He doesn't wait for a response. He steps back and lays into the door with a heavy kick. The lock blows out of the door frame sending splinters and wood shards into a dim room. Carrie is in the corner on the floor. As Martin rounds the edge of the bed she has the syringe drinking up the last of a charred spoon's contents. She aims the needle for her left elbow.
He did interrupt something.
When Martin lunges in, his force drives the needle in deep. She screams, not at the pain, but at the thought of him stopping her from shooting up. He pulls her wrist and the needle comes out. None of the liquid gets in. Carrie screams again, stutters crazed angry nonsense. She is strong, but not nearly strong enough. Martin lifts her entire body up by the one wrist and wrestles the needle out of her hand with his other hand. She slaps and scratches at his face. He tosses her onto the bed. She sits up, ready for more, and he raises his hand to slap her. She doesn't flinch, doesn't look away, doesn't blink. She stares at him, into his eyes, and her eyes beg him to do it. The tears fill her bottom lid and start to fall down her cheeks. She needs something to take away the pain, and if he won't let her use drugs, she'll settle for a beating.
Anything to take the pain away.
“Please,” she whispers.
He doesn't hit her. He drops the syringe to the floor and stomps it, smashing glass and plastic and needle and drug into the carpet. They are both wild-eyed and panting. The fire in their eyes collides between them.
Neither wants to lose here, Neither wants to budge.
Finally Carrie looks down at the carpet, at her precious drug. This maniac smashed a drug-filled syringe into her bedroom's carpet.
“Where is the rest?” Martin asks. She doesn't answer, just stares at the little stain and the jagged bits of broken plastic. The other syringe calls to her from the bedside stand. Her head tilts and her eyes look at it for a second. She looks back down. She hopes Martin didn't see her look. When he steps toward the bedside stand, Carrie jolts across the bed and reaches for it. Her hand hits the syringe and her fingers wrap around it just before Martin's hand comes down. He grabs her hand and lifts her up by the arm. Her free hand slams into the side of his face. He takes the blow with barely a blink and grabs her other hand. He leans into her and pins her, on her back, on the bed. He sits on her stomach to control her kicking legs. His fingers slide up to the base of her wrists so she can't jab him with the needle as she kicks and screams underneath him. Her screams deepen into growls and grunts. She twists back and forth and spits in his face. When she sees his arm she tries to get close enough to bite. Martin pulls on her other arm so she can't reach. He does the same thing when she switches and tries to bite his other arm. When she can't get either, she lifts her head up and bites at Martin's face.
“Stop!” Martin yells. When he feels her fighting intensify beneath him, he settles his weight down until he can hear her groan under the pressure.
“You feel strong, big man!” she hisses. She continues twisting and screaming in his face. Martin squints against the rage and presses her wrists into the bed. Her squirming has moved them to the edge of the bed and Martin can feel that he will have to adjust his position or he might slide off the edge. He knows the second he lets off the pressure, Carrie could get free. She is thin but she isn't frail, not in this state. The tendons and muscles of her forearms feel like thick rope.
“Hit me!” she yells.
He pinches his thighs together around her hips. It limits the range of her kicking. He sits down more and the squeaking of the bed frame quiets slightly.
“Where is the rest?” he asks.
“I know you w-want to! You're so b-big and st-st-strong, just hit me!”
“Where is the rest?” Martin demands. Carrie doesn't move. “Where is it? I know there's more.”
Her cries are getting louder now. She tells Martin again and again to hit her, to be a big man and hit her. She tells him she knows he wants to, she knows it turns him on. After she says that and sees that he isn't going to hit her, she stops fighting. She stares at him, lets her chest heave with each frantic breath. She relaxes her hands and arms. Martin can feel them give in but he doesn't move. He asks her again where she's hidden the rest of the drugs and she lays her head back against the bedspread. She closes her mouth and her eyebrows rise. Her face softens. Martin tells her he wants to help her. Carrie smiles. When her hips move, Martin braces himself, thinking she is about to start thrashing around again. His grips on her wrists tighten. Her hips rise again, gently. She rolls her hips up and into him. There is rhythm to it, a rolling, circular rhythm he hasn't felt in a long time.
Carrie had, over years of surviving different men, realized her defensive options. She learned early on, with her step father, that she would need to get used to taking hits from men. She would need to learn how to let the sting of a hard slap burn itself out quietly. She had to learn to ignore the ringing in her ears and convince her brain that she was aware of the damage to her cheek or her nose or her eyebrows or forehead or neck and that there didn't need to be so much pain. I know I was hit, she would tell herself, I'm aware of the damage so tone down the pain a little bit. Over time, her brain listened. The stings were shorter and shorter. The bruises could be acknowledged and then ignored. Don't remind me about the bruises, I got it, she would think, and the pain would dissipate. She understood that the men would hit her and if she went down and submitted, the men would leave. It would be a few minutes or a few hours and the men would be back, apologizing for the abuse, but imploring her to never make them do that to her again.
Her submission, her ability to take the abuse, became a form of control.
When she realized she couldn't get Martin to hit her, she tried another tactic. The men in her early life often first responded to their frustrations with something other than physical violence. Carrie quickly became aware of the value of her sexuality in limiting the punches and kicks and subsequent trips to the emergency room.
She moans softly as she writhes beneath him. Martin pins both of her hands to one side with his left hand so he can use his right hand to dig the syringe from her grip. Once he has it, he gets off of her and stands. He did see her desperate look toward the bedside stand and he goes to it. He opens the drawer. There are discarded tissues, a chap stick tube, and a small, ornate box. Martin takes the box and can hear Carrie whimper “No, please.” When he opens it, there is a small baggy with a substance inside he immediately assumes is heroin, even though he has never seen it.
“Is this it?” Martin asks. Carrie has turned onto her side and curled into a ball. She is crying, eyes closed, into the blanket. Martin accepts that her reaction means it probably is the last of her stash. The syringe is empty and he drops it on the wreckage of the other. Again, his boot comes down and there is a muted crunch against the carpet. He walks to the bathroom and flushes the drugs, baggy and all, down the toilet. He pulls the garbage bag out of the bathroom's garbage can. It is half full, mostly tissues and the wrapping from the toilet paper rolls. He brings it back into the bedroom and picks up the broken syringes. They go in the bag, along with the splintered remains of the door frame and lock housing. He ties off the bag and sets it on the bed behind Carrie and he sits down next to it.
Carrie's body is trembling slightly as she cries. Martin doesn't know what to do. He starts to reach out a hand but it hangs in the air and then he pulls it back. He starts to say something but pulls that back, too. He isn't sure of what to say. He thinks there is probably nothing to be said. He sat this way on Juliette's bed. When her boyfriend broke up with her one week before prom, she had screamed and thrashed around her room and cried, too. She had given up and laid on her bed and tucked into a ball and cried. Martin hadn't known what to do then, either. But he had finally knocked on her door and walked into her room and sat on her bed. Her stared at her back as she cried, unsure of what to say or do, and eventually found his hand drawn to her shoulder.
Before he knows what he is doing, his hand touches Carrie's shoulder. She flinches hard at the contact and her crying stops. She is waiting for something terrible, waiting for pain or humiliation. Martin squeezes her shoulder slightly.
“It's booze, for me,” he says. “Since I was thirteen it was always booze.”
Martin squeezes her shoulder again and says that he is sorry. Carrie was prepared for abuse. She wasn't prepared for understanding. When her crying resumes, it is louder and deeper than before. It is wild and out of her control and she bawls into the covers and the thin second blanket and into the sheets below and Martin braces them both against a surging tidal wave that crashes over and around and through them as it tries to carry them away.