Safe with Paul Newman
THE GIRL IS BURIED IN a locked metal box. Three feet of shoveled sand is above her. The memories of how she got here are fuzzy. There was a man or men. There was a car and there she was, a girl stuffed in a trunk and then shoved in a box.
The girl wishes that instead of the desert that she was at the beach. She imagines an old man her grandpa’s age wearing a floppy hat, a metal detector sweeping the sand. The metal detector beeping, uncovering a woman’s wedding ring, then finding her. Then, free at last, waves lapping her toes.
She thinks about the old movie her mom let her watch the time she had the flu: Paul Newman with those baby blues, his unshaven face. She has a postcard of him. It’s by her nightstand at home, rumpled from the kiss of her fingers touching his lips each night. In the movie, he’s in the hole for three days. His box was made of wood; hers is a metal coffin. In the movie, there was a slat of light so if he wanted, he could crane his neck and squint and see a sliver of daylight. Here, it is only darkness. Night is a man swallowing her.
One day, the box is rattled and falls hard on its side. The lock is broken. The policeman sees the girl: her malnourished body. But it’s the eyes he sees first: switch on, switch off eyes, the girl like an animal, cornered. There are ants crawling up her nose, in her eyes, out of her mouth, shivering against her eyelids like lace, falling down her cheeks like tears each time she blinks. Her swollen body. Each ant bite leaving behind a pinprick of blood.
The girl watches him as he watches her. His dark sunglasses slide down the bridge of his nose as he bends down to look at her. His shoes are as shiny as a road freshly painted. He speaks softly, hands resting on his knees. He wants to say, you’re safe now. You’re safe. But he knows words like that will not comfort her.
He carries her to the car. She lies in his arms as silent and limp as a doll. Tucked into the shiny car, she wishes she had her postcard of Paul Newman. She’d hold him close to her chest, and she’d let him look out the window with her, see the sky in all its brightness, search for the horny toads with their ridged backs.
Candace Hartsuyker is a third-year fiction student at McNeese State University and reads for PANK. She has been published in Maudlin House, Cease Cows, X-R-A-Y, and elsewhere.