There really wasn’t a lot to say any more. He surveyed the damage. One lip, swollen and bleeding. One nose, bleeding. One eye, blacked. He studied the shiner, and was amazed at the way it was turning purple and blue in real time.
“Real time” he scoffed, thinking of technology and how it made words necessary that never had to be used before. Like many other things, it irked him. His breath grew strident.
The swollen eye squinted, trembling. That hurt. Hurt a lot, but it was good. It was preparation for the pain to come. Harry leaned in a little closer, amazed at the way the flesh was plumping, as if it were growing. He’d never really watched an injury swell up before. Who would? Most people were distracted by the pain or if it wasn’t their pain then they were distracted by the screaming of the afflicted. Swelling got looked at periodically, like time-lapse photography, until it had completed its ugly and uncomfortable blooming. Harry was not even a little bit distracted. He was studying the evolution of this injury.
His head tilted from side to side, turned left and right as he observed the bruising from different angles. There weren’t any real indicators that it was a fist. Harry was relieved, no one wants to look like they’ve been in a fist fight. The lip, though, and the nose. Damn, got all caught up in that black eye. He sighed heavily and pinched his lips together, ran a hand over his forehead and pushed back his hair.
Debbie’s head turned and lowered reflexively.
Harry’s hand shot out and grabbed her jaw, lifted her face back up. The way her legs kicked out told him the growing, deepening red there masked something rather more serious than he’d first imagined. Her eyes grew watery and he could feel her legs twitching. Well, first her legs and then the rest of her body as he squeezed her jaw. She was too afraid to retaliate, and a sense of satisfaction welled up in him at this realization. He squeezed harder. Heavy drops of salt and water slid down her cheeks. Any other time, she would have clenched her jaw to keep her silence. Now she sat there, fighting with her body to keep from thrashing against the pain.
She wasn’t very good at it, Harry thought with satisfaction as she finally made the sound he was listening for. Her sound of acquiescence, the sound Debbie made when she was finally agreeing that Harry was right. He really loved that sound. Nothing that Debbie said, nothing else that she could do with her body could make Harry feel this way. Harry felt like a man. He’d feel even more like a man later, when he would kiss her so hard his lips would look bruised, too.
The next day when Harry left for work Debbie lay in bed, taking comfort in the warm pile of silk sheets and down comforter swaddling her. She was glad he was gone. She sort of wished she could be gone too. The strains of some old song came to her, about a bird in a gilded cage. She felt like that was her life.
In the mirror she studied her face, touched it. Gingerly, she probed her jaw with her fingertips. She thought about last night and cried in the bath. Harry was hurting her. Only he wasn’t…sort of. The effigy had been his idea, and he’d pushed for it. Debbie couldn’t help thinking that there was some point, some place in time when she could have stopped the whole thing from happening. When, and why didn’t she?
When Harry got home that night Debbie had dinner ready. “Delicious!” he exclaimed, and pulled her to his lap. His lips and teeth on her neck, his hands sliding up her sides. His grasping felt amateurish and too eager. He was being too agressive with her, and he was going to leave marks.
“Harry, stop. Please.” She had been trying lately to be assertive with him.
“What, Deb? I’m just being enthusiastic. You need to go plug in?” He slapped her behind.
“Harry…no. No I don’t want to go plug in any more. This is getting out of control.” She was starting to feel her oats. Bolstered by dinnertime libations and a growing sense of fury, she stood up and turned to face him.
“I want to get rid of that thing!” She pointed in the direction of the effigy’s room. “Harry, it’s got its own room! How do you think that makes me feel? It’s like you’re cheating on me!” She was fired up now. The perfect cheeks livid with her anger.
“Cheating on you? How? It’s a clone of you, you control it. It’s you, Debbie. Am I cheating on you with yourself?” Harry’s calm served only to further raise Debbie’s ire. She stamped her foot on the floor, enraged.
“Harry you beat it! With me in there. With me piloting the damn thing. It’s sick! It’s sick, Harry and I can’t do it any more. If you still need to, then, then I don’t know what to tell you. It will just have to be over. I’m done, I just can’t keep living like this.” Harry didn’t move. His face was a mask of calm in the middle of her sound and fury. Debbie shook her head. Her beautiful lips were twisted into an ugly grimace of disgust. Harry couldn’t stand to see that.
Debbie didn’t know it hurt like this. When in effigy she always kept the pain as low as she was able. It was okay with Harry because he loved how much she could take. This must be what it is like when the pain reduction is off, she thought.
On his way out the next morning Harry called in to work for Debbie. She’d caught a flu, he said, and would not be able to take any assignments for a while. The agency duly took note and assigned other models to Debbie’s jobs for the next week.
She didn’t look too bad, not even close to how her effigy looked. Harry didn’t think they’d argue again about it.