He took a long gulp of whiskey before standing to make himself another. His mud-caked boots slowed as his stride grew shorter. He sat back down quickly, almost losing balance, and pulled a wad of twenties from the breast pocket of his dirty t-shirt.
“Gas money.” He tossed the folded, sweat-creased bills across the table.
“Thanks.” Leah tucked the money into the pocket of her ironed dress pants, shocked by his uncharacteristic thoughtfulness.
“Y’all kids have fun in—Panama?”
“Yea, Dad. Panama.”
After turning on the dishwasher, she tiptoed past her dad, asleep in front of Fox News. She turned off the TV and covered him with an afghan before heading to her bedroom.
She pulled the small bulging black pouch of money from her toiletries bag, and added to it the money from her back pocket. She sat on her bed, left leg folded underneath her, counting the cash over and over. $2665. $2665. $2665. That would be $2000 for Thatcher, and $665 for gas, food, and four nights’ stay at a motel. She carefully folded the money again and zipped it away in her suitcase, all but $200 for the road.
Leah met Thatcher through Adam and knew him as Adam’s alcohol hook-up. Thatcher was about seven years older than Leah, had spent a year in Afghanistan, and was a veterinary school dropout. He lived in an old trailer alone about ten miles past the high school on some land he inherited from his grandfather. Leah had been to his house a few times to have sex with Adam, as the couple had no intentions of asking Adam’s parents or either of her own if it would be all right for them to fuck there instead, or risk a tryst with parents anywhere nearby. Adam’s parents thought he was saving himself for marriage, her own mom was too eager to be “the cool mom” for Leah’s comfort, and she didn’t have the heart to do that to her dad. He had to deal with enough.
One drunken night at Thatcher’s house, Leah staggered bottomless from the spare room where Adam lay passed out on a futon. She sat down beside Thatcher on the living room couch, hardly aware of how scantily clad she was. Thatcher held a Natural Light in one hand, and stroked her stomach with his other.
“So vet school?” Leah purred, drunk enough to appreciate Thatcher’s grey-blue eyes and unshaven face. With Leah drunk, he was a rock star.
“Yea, I know. Like anyone can see me doing that.”
“Why’d you quit?”
“Didn’t quit—flunked. Couldn’t remember the drugs.”
“How far did you get?” she cooed, curling her leg underneath her, her mouth resting just below his ear.
“Last thing we did was amputation. Learned everything about it, sawing through bone, like all that crazy medical shit, right? Know that stuff perfect, right? Couldn’t remember the drugs.” He put his beer on the floor and his arm around her shoulders.
“Right. It’s simple, right? Fucking simple. Just cut through to the bone and saw through that. Fucking simple, right? Couldn’t remember the drugs.”
At 4AM after a total of maybe three hours of sleep, she carried her suitcase to the car and closed the trunk. She wanted to make sure she left before her dad woke up. She had her crutches and her suitcase in the trunk, and gas money in her pocket. She stared at the ground and smiled hard as she got into her car. By tomorrow, she’d be whole.
She filled up her tank at the first 24-hour gas station she came to, and bought a few 20-oz Pepsis. Pulling back onto the highway, she set the cruise control. Plugging her iPod into the dash, she set about counting mile markers. The clouds at sunrise made red streaks in the sky. At a quarter tank, she stopped for fuel and tacos. At the next bathroom stop, she pulled out her blue Sharpie and re-traced the marks on her leg. She loved them, those pretty blue lines. She couldn’t stop thinking that soon, that finally, the marks would truly be permanent—they would never again be faded by shower or sweat.
The deal between Leah and Thatcher was struck one early morning at Thatcher’s trailer. All thoroughly trashed, Leah and Thatcher sat on the living room sofa together as Adam lay passed out on the bathroom floor. Thatcher put his arm around Leah’s shoulders, and nudged his free hand under her shirt. Leah giggled, and drunkenly tried to stay quiet.
“Do you think I’m pretty?” she asked.
“I mean, do you think I’m pretty, like really pretty, or just kind of pretty?”
“Shit, you’re gorgeous, right? You’re gorgeous.” He sloppily kissed her neck.
“I never feel pretty.”
“Shit, you’re gorgeous.”
“Look, can I tell you something? This is stupid, and weird, but can I tell you something?” She looked into his faded blue eyes.
“Look, I’ve never felt real. I’ve never felt… whole. Like, this is crazy, but I’ve never felt like I’m a whole person.”
“Yea, shit, you’re gorgeous.” He clumsily toyed with her nipples.
“I want you to do something for me. I’ve got the money.”
“I’m serious. It’s weird.”
“I’ve got the money. You got through amputation, right? You know how to amputate, right?”
“Yea, just couldn’t remember the drugs. Fucking simple.”
“Can you take off this leg? Right here.” She stood and faced him, pulling down her skirt and panties before straddling him. “Right here.” She pointed where the blue dashed line now lay.
“Anything, gorgeous. Anything.”
She stumbled into the spare room, clothes in hand, and fell on the futon. Hanging on his drunken promise, she fell asleep alone.
4:12PM and the text message finally came through. Leah wiped away her panicked tears and reached for her phone, hand twitching. “Ex 129 e ave, waff house.” She smiled her toothy yearbook smile, tears again flowing down her cheeks, and sped beyond her cruise setting towards the exit. She toyed with her silver hoop earring, and rambled lyrics as her speakers blasted. In the rearview mirror, she wiped the mascara from her cheeks as she pulled into the parking lot beside Thatcher’s beaten up Civic.
The restaurant was sparsely packed. She sat at the counter next to Thatcher, opposite the restaurant from the other patrons. He was nursing a cold cup of coffee. She ordered a chicken melt and a Coke when the waitress finally came around. Thatcher didn’t look up from his coffee.
“So where are we staying?” Leah asked, kissing Thatcher’s cheek.
“Super8 up the way. Cash deposit is $100 for the room.” He toyed with his fork.
“I’ve got the money.”
“Shit, yea.” He toyed with his fork, and drank a cold sip. They compared their trips in short details, her bubbling with barely contained excitement, while he stared at his coffee. Leah took the check and left the waitress a $10 tip. Thatcher looked up, and stared into her clear green eyes. “Fucking gorgeous,” he said, staring at her soft dark blonde curls and few freckles. They walked out to their cars, and Leah pulled out the small black pouch from her suitcase. “For the room,” she said, handing Thatcher $400, and kissing his cheek again. He slowly turned to his car, and she followed him a mile up the road to Super8.
The room was chill, and the curtains open. Two double beds, a small table with two chairs, and a dresser with a TV all shared the same stale motel smell. She laid her suitcase on the floor by the small table, and closed the curtains. Thatcher tossed his suitcase up on the table, and pulled out a silver toolbox. “Everything we need, right?” He handed Leah a coffee mug from atop the motel television. “Get to it.”
The mug sat cold on the bedside table as Leah stripped the bed to the sheets. She counted $2000 from her small black pouch and laid it on the bed, fanned out, while smiling up at Thatcher, her clear green eyes shining. “All’s there,” she said, and reached for his hand. He gathered the money without touching her. He watched as Leah removed her pants, staring at the blue marks on her leg. Leah giggled. “I thought it would help!” she chided, before pouring a mug-full of whiskey. She held her nose and drank.
Leah stumbled to the bathroom, announcing she had to piss. The door left open, she removed her panties and sat down on the cold porcelain. “I’ll be whole,” she repeated. “I’ll be pretty. I’ll be whole.” Staring at her feet, she imagined the left one absent and smiled. The gray bathroom looked spotted pink.
She shed her top and bra on her way back to Thatcher before falling backwards onto the bare sheets, her skin flushed pink from the alcohol. “You’re about gone,” Thatcher said, handing her another shot. “Let’s go.”
He took the scalpel from his silver box and sat on the edge of the bed. His hand twitched. “Shit, right?” he panted, and took a swig of whiskey from the bottle, before pouring Leah another. “Shit.”
He held the scalpel over the dashed blue line, his hand twitching. He pressed it to the mark, slowly. “Shit,” he said, pulling his hand back, and took another swig. Leah lay still on the bed, her breathing steady, her eyes closed. “Now I can be pretty,” she slurred.
He tied his belt around her thigh a few inches above the blue perforation. He pressed the scalpel again, an inch away from his first cut, into another blue mark. Half an inch deep, and he pulled back his twitching hand. Leah lay still on the bed, her breathing slowing. She lay with her dark blonde curls framing her face. She was gorgeous, he thought. Her clear pale skin and that hair—she could be anything, he thought. He pressed the scalpel into her leg again.
Leah woke up, her head pounding, in the dark motel room. She was covered with the hotel comforter, and her arms felt heavy. She tried to sit up, and managed. Her stomach ached, and her vision blurred. The nausea was overwhelming. She heaved towards her feet, on top of the comforter. The force made an indention in the blanket between two even masses. She fell backwards to her elbows, confused, her head pounding. She pushed the blanket down with her right foot, before sitting up again.
Her left leg had three 1-inch cuts, right on her blue mark. They had been stitched back together neatly, her skin barely swollen around the thread. She started crying. “Thatcher?” she called out. No reply. “Thatch?” Silence.
She lay back on the bed, sobbing, her head aching, Thatcher gone. “Fuck!” she screamed. “Fuck. I’ll never be pretty.”
A girl with an un-natural attachment to a Sharpie marker goes on a road trip.