Hi, I’m Erin O’Riordan, and welcome to the first episode of Story Time with Erin O’Riordan. And this is my friend James the cat. For our first book we’re going to be reading CUT by me and Tit Elingtin. CUT is a crime story; it is along the lines of Pulp Fiction by Quentin Tarantino or the movie ‘Crash’ by Paul Haggis. If you’d like to read along with your own copy of CUT you can find it on amazon.com, createspace, smashwords, or in our etsy shop Writers Brain Has Wings. And I’d like to give a shout-out to our cover artist Beth Coney Smith. Thank you, Beth. Featuring real blood by Tit Elingtin. For each episode I’m going to read for about 20 minutes, and I will be posting an episode three to five times a week. In addition to the web series we’ll also have a podcast, so make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode. Chapter 1: January 2000. In Fred’s bright white room she’d stacked three rows of votive candles in red jars on her dresser. Fred’s roommate Leander said they reminded him of the cemetery but Fred used them as a meditation point when she prayed. She liked the deep blue sheets on her bed; the white and blue color scheme matched the dress and cape of the woman in the poster above Fred’s bed. The print of Murillo’s Immaculate Conception of the Escorial, painted in 1678, portrayed the Virgin, eyes looking up to heaven, surrounded by cherubim and standing on a crescent moon. Behind the Virgin’s head the cherubim dissolved into an orange haze. In the light of the burning votives the whole room seemed to glow orange. Three rows of seven candles stood before her. She said one Hail Mary for each. Fred finished saying her 21st Hail Mary and got off her knees. She she blew out all the candles except one. The cheap candle smoked, filling Fred’s small bedroom with a grey haze, reminding her of an underwater scene. She walked over to the bed and lifted the corner of the mattress. She had to grope for a moment to find it, tucked inside the elastic of the blue fitted sheet’s corner. She held up the razor to the candlelight – the blood left on it from the last time didn’t bother her – clean blood, her own. She tired of cutting her arms Fred covered her upper arms and intersecting highways of hardened scars and fresher wounds decorated her arms from the elbow to the wrist. She’d scared yourself the other night, cutting too deeply at the wrist. She bled until she felt like passing out. The blood soaked into the pillow. She could still smell it stale odor permeating the air. She would be more careful this time. She took off one of her boots and her torn black stocking. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, she reached back and turned on the stereo, tuned to the local Catholic station. The music, a choir of voices singing the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, lifted her soul. It brought her mind back to her purpose. She would feel pain not because she got some pleasure from it, though she did, but because she needed it to save her soul. If heroin took away all pain except a nagging longing for more of itself, then the pain must come from somewhere. She made the first cut above her knee, curving her wrists to angle the razor down toward the floor. She felt the acute sting over the thin skin. She made another cut higher up her leg, deep into the flesh of her thigh. Fred grimaced as the blood flowed freely. She wondered if she’d struck muscle. The Immaculate Conception of the Escorial looked up to the heavens as if pretending not to notice. The choir sang, “Lord make me a means of your peace.” She sat there, dazed, before she realized the sharp percussion in her ears was not from the radio station. She dropped the razor swiftly and unlocked her bedroom door. Leander stood outsiSe. she saw the beads of sweat on his forehead under his gently curling black hair, and his wide eyes shone. He smelled like gasoline. Fred had seen Leander huffing gas to get high, but she had never smelled it so strongly before. He looked soaked in it and smelled burnt. She couldn’t tell if his shirt was soaked in sweat or gasoline, but it appeared blackened at the bottom. “What the hell?” she said. She noticed his arm then, wrapped in a blood-soaked bandage made from a white t-shirt. She went to touch it, but Leander let out a sound of pain and jumped back. “What happened?” “Burned,” he said. Leander had small burns all the time. Fred often saw his hands dotted with small pink spots of raw flesh. He had never cried out like that. “Maybe you should go to the ER. It might be serious.” He shook his head furiously. “No time. Fred, I did something really bad. I mean, they wanted me to do it, but I didn’t know it was going to be this… never mind. I’ve got to get out of here.” “Out of my house?” she said. She thought of his half of the rent. “Where are you going?” “I have to get out of town,” he said, his eyes pleading. “I killed them. So I need to know, Fred: Are you staying here or are you coming with me?” She looked around the room and took in the sight of the candles, the Murillo painting, the bloody razor lying on the carpet. She didn’t need to wonder if she could leave it all behind. “I’m going,” she said, pushing him toward the doorway. She blew out the candles as she knelt and reached under the bed. She pulled out a black sweater and her junkie works, wrapping the works in the sweater. She stuck them under her arm. With one hand she grabbed her black violin case. With the other hand she took hold of Leander’s unburned hand. He pulled her out the back door toward the alley. They didn’t bother to lock the house. An unfamiliar car sat parked at an odd angle on the grass between the alley and the garage. Whoever Leander had killed, he also stole their car. Fred shuddered but had no time to think about it. She would miss her mother and father, her sister Paula, and some of her siblings, especially Domingo. Her little brother had always been so sweet. She would miss Father Shelby Sanborn, but she would find another priest in another town. She’d confessed these sins later. “Wait here,” Leander said. He ran back into the house, sprinting so hard she could see the strain on his face even in the darkness. Fred placed your violin on the floor of the backseat and stashed her junkie shit in the glove box. She pressed the sweater to the bloody wounds on her upper thigh. Damn, she’d cut too deeply again and the blood didn’t stop. She was tying the sweater around her leg when Leander returned. He jumped into the driver’s seat so violently the vehicle shook. He breathed harshly, loud in the silence of the car. As they sped away, Fred looked back at the house one last time. She could see light in the kitchen window. “Leander,” she said, tightening the sweater around her leg, “Did you just set the house on fire?” He laughed. Fred never heard Leander laugh like that before and it scared her. He sounded scared too: scared and excited. **** Darius sat up. He heard Renata’s car pull into the garage. He’d fallen asleep on the couch watching TV, forgetting to keep an eye on dinner. He sprinted to the kitchen, but she got there first. Renata lifted the lid off the pot on the stove. Darius’s rice and beans stuck to the bottom of the pan in a burnt, gluey mass. “Don’t worry about that,” Darius said. He put his arms around Renata, pulling her backwards away from the stove, and kissed her. “I made chicken too. It’s warming in the oven. How’s your sister?” As she spun around to face him, lifting up on her toes, he leaned in and kissed her. He held her there, his hands traveling down her back and resting in the pockets of a short denim skirt. When she pulled away she drew a deep breath. Then she turned on the oven light and checked on the chicken. She gave him a small smile of approval. “My sister isn’t well,” she said, reaching for a pair of oven mitts. “I’m really worried about her. Anyone who not only lost a baby but can’t ever have another baby is going to be distraught, obviously. I don’t know where normal grieving ends and something abnormal begins.” She pulled the pan of chicken from the oven and set it upon the stove. Darius took two plates down from the shelf and handed a spatula to Renata. “I’ve dealt with lots of abnormal people,” he said. “What about Monica didn’t seem right?” she told him as they sat down at the kitchen table. “Well, she hasn’t gone back to work yet.” “That’s normal,” Darius said. “It hasn’t even been a month yet. She’ll go back to work when she’s ready.” Renata finished a bite of chicken. “Travis told me she got fired. She hasn’t said a word about trying to get her job back or looking for a new job. She gave up. They can’t afford to live on only his salary, and Travis went back to work for a while, but I don’t think he’s been going to work lately either. And they were high, Darius.” “They what?” She gestured with her fork, a piece of chicken stuck to the end of it. “You have to promise me you won’t tell anyone,” she said. “They smoke pot.” Darius laughed. “You’re so sweet,” he said. “Who did you think I was going to tell? Did you think I would arrest them or something?” “This is serious. They’re not making any money or taking care of themselves, and now they’re on drugs. I know you’re not going to arrest them. Hell, if you put people in jail for smoking pot, half the town would be in jail right now.” “Including half of the police department,” he replied. “The point is, using drugs can’t be good for their mental health. It can’t help them get back to their normal lives.” Darius sighed. “It sounds like they want to escape from the pain for a little while. It might actually be helping. As for getting back to normal, who knows what is normal when you think your whole life’s about to change and then you find out you’re not a parent and you never will be.” “We are not parents,” Renata said. “We still manage to go to work, keep food in the house, and stay off drugs. Somehow I find the strength to take a shower in the morning.” “Good thing, because the strongest thing about you in the morning is your smell,” he said. She grabbed the saltshaker, shook some salt in her hand, and flung it at him. Darius moved out of the way and the salt landed on the floor. “Who’s going to clean that up?” Darius asked with mock seriousness. “You started it.” She laughed. “Oh yeah? Well, then I’m going to finish it.” He got up so fast he knocked his chair over. Renata dropped her fork, shot up out of her chair, and ran into the living room. She laughed as he caught her and pulled her down onto the couch. He pinned her to the couch and kissed the side of her neck. “Let’s go in the bedroom,” Renata said, kicking off her shoes.” “Here is fine,” Darius said. “I can’t wait.” He unbuttoned her blouse. Renata’s soft laughter let Darius know that she didn’t want him to stop. Darius stood. He pulled his shirt off and threw it onto the recliner. Renata hunted around the couch for the remote control. “The game’s going to have to wait,” she said, letting her blouse slip to the floor. She unzipped your denim skirt and stepped out of it. “Got all the action I need right here,” Darius said, looking her up and down. She found the remote between the cushions of the couch. As she was about to click it off, the TV erupted in loud cheers. Darius’s head whipped around to face the TV in time to catch the replay. “Touchdown!” he shouted. The phone rang. Renata looked up at Darius. He frowned slightly. “That’ll be Carl. He’ll want to talk about the game.” She picked up the phone from the end table beside the couch. “Carl gets you for six shifts a week. It’s my turn now.” She hit the talk button. “Something we can help you with, Carl? Yeah, he’s watching it. You can tell him all about it on Monday, ok?” She hung up. Darius stared at Renata in her bra and panties. “I don’t know about you,” she said, “but I’m going to bed.” Darius looked at the TV a moment, then back at Renata. He picked up the remote where she dropped it and clicked the TV off. Chapter 2 – June 1999 – this is a little bit of a flashback. Renata emerged from the bedroom. Darius walked around the kitchen in his blue uniform pants, a white t-shirt, and black socks. His stiff patent leather shoes sat by the back door, freshly polished. Renata knew he would not put them on until he was ready to leave. She looked up at the clock on the microwave. He only had 15 minutes before he’d have to leave. “Coffee?” he asked her, lifting the pot off the machine. He emptied most of the pot into his thermos, leaving enough for one cup. “I shouldn’t,” she said. Darius smiled. “Right. I forgot already. So how are you feeling today?” Renata patted her belly as she sat down at the breakfast table. “I feel fine,” she said hopefully. She had stretched the truth a bit. Her stomach felt a little funny, and as she spotted Darius’s empty cereal bowl, the feeling got worse. As Darius set a bowl of Cheerios in front of Renata, she frowned. “Did you want shredded wheat instead?” he asked. “No,” Renata said. “I’m not hungry this morning.” “Maybe that’s a good sign,” Darius remarked as he took Renata’s cereal bowl away. He attempted to pour the Cheerios back into the box, but they ended up all over the counter instead. He looked at the mess, then the clock. “I hate to do this to you, baby, but I’m going to be late if I don’t finish getting ready. Would you mind?” “I don’t mind,” she said. She swept the spilled Cheerios into her hand as Darius disappeared down the hall. She threw the Cheerios down the garbage disposal, thinking she really did not mind picking up after Darius. She loved him, especially in the morning, fresh out of the shower. He looked so good with short cropped black hair and dark eyes. Renata had dark eyes too. She didn’t know whether the baby would have dad’s black hair or her own red hair. A boy, she thought dreamily, would certainly be redheaded. Every man in Renata’s family had red hair, except Travis but he was a relative by marriage. Either way, she’d never complain about picking up Cheerios, toys, or Darius’s clothes… whatever. She knew she would love every moment of motherhood. As much as she loved managing the accounting firm she worked at, she couldn’t wait to quit her job. She considered nothing more important than being Darius’s wife and somebody’s mom. She heard Darius putting on his bulletproof vest. She knew the sound of the Velcro straps. Next he would put on his uniform shirt. He wore the short-sleeved one today, the department’s one concession to the 90-degree heat of the July morning. He then put on his belt, the one with the holster and gun. Ignoring the rising unease inside her, Renata thought of how proud her little son or daughter would be of daddy, going out every morning to protect people. That’s the end of Episode 1 of ‘Cut’ by Erin O’Riordan and Tit Elingtin. Be sure to subscribe and share with your friends. Click here for episode two. Thanks! Have a great day.