“You’re spilling the coffee, babe.”
Agatha pointed a long, brown finger at the ceramic mug. Dark liquid overflowed past the rim and pooled onto the table of The Starlight Diner.
Ronald jerked the coffee pot away from his mug. A well-worn crease appeared between his brows as he reached for the napkins.
“Sorry,” he said, though it was not her lap that was soaked but his. He did that often—apologize when the need seemed far afield.
A habit of language, he had told her once.
Between the two of them the only apology was owed from her; she was the one who had blurted it out, without any preamble to ease her boyfriend into the fact that she was –
“Pregnant?” Ronald paused his wiping to flick his gaze towards her. The shock had worn off somewhat, but the width of his eyes could rival the dinner plates on which their evening meal had been served. The slight downturn of his lids had always prevented them from reaching the infantile nature of their light blue hue. More than once, Agatha had found herself wondering if melancholy dispositions could be pre-ordained by God.
She held his questioning gaze, but didn’t respond. Her ears twitched at the unmistakable clip-clop of heels coming up behind them. A waitress.
“More napkins, please,” she said, without bothering to turn her head.
“Sure thing, hon.”
Agatha caught a flash of blonde hair in her periphery. The golden locks had achieved the modern miracle of being both shiny and inextricably linked with grime at the same time. The same went for The Starlight Diner itself. Agatha smelled cigarette smoke on the waitress, but not on her breath. Her hair and her skin were the only things that wreaked. She didn’t care for tobacco, but someone she lived with was a heavy smoker.
The waitress sauntered through the swinging door to the kitchen. Her breast pocket rustled with about fifteen dollars in cash. The money could cover a pack of nicotine patches. She cared about this person enough to want them to quit.
Agatha took a breath and called her senses back to focus. If she let them wander too far she would start picking up radio tunes from the cars zipping by on the overpass above the diner.
Ron was smiling.
“You’re happy?” The words slipped from Agatha’s mouth. Too loud. A few people at the counter turned their heads to look.
“Of course, I’m happy.”
I’m the one who’s supposed to be glowing, Agatha thought wryly.
“Baby, this is…I can’t believe…A father, I’m going to be a father.”
You’re forgetting who the mother is, Ron,” Agatha spat, bitterness that had nothing to do with the coffee, rising in her throat.
Confusion brought Ronald back to earth.
Such innocence in his voice, and yet the word condemned her like a knife to the heart. The metal fork she had been clutching collapsed in her hand like clay.
Ronald noticed. He glanced out the window at the gibbous moon. It was waxing, nearly a full orb that competed with the blinding neon that decorated the windows for control over the night. Slowly, he reached across the table to take Agatha’s hand. With his thumb, he rubbed circles over the skin beneath her knuckles until her grip relaxed beneath his tender touch; the disfigured fork clattered to the table.
“I suppose it’s getting near,” he said gently.
“More napkins for table two.”
The blonde waitress was yards away, behind the kitchen door, intermittently drowned out by the sizzle of a frying pan, but to Agatha, her voice was as clear as if she were next to her, shouting into her ear.
“The good lookin’ fellow spilled his coffee. That one’s got a pair of dreamy eyes on him. His date on the other hand, well…I reckon she don’t own a comb.”
A growl welled up in Agatha’s throat. She disguised it as a cough.
“Agatha,” Ronald started.
“I’d like to go home now.” She stood up suddenly.
Ronald rose with her, concerned.
“I can walk on my own,” she said, batting his proffered arm away.
Pride would not allow her to apologize for cutting their Friday night ritual short. The Starlight Diner was nothing special, but familiarity held sway where Agatha’s heart was concerned, plus, it was close to the University. Ronald came for the live music; Agatha loved their steaks.
The waitress was still chatting away in the kitchen when they left the booth. Ronald paused to pay, shelling out an extra ten and placing it carefully beneath a salt shaker.
“You always tip too much,” Agatha said, hands on her hips.
She didn’t know why she complained; she owed her life to his generosity.
Agatha was small, but quick. Ronald’s long strides were able to keep up when she let them. They made it across the floor in the time it took for the band in the corner to strike up the first few notes of “Jolene.”
A man nearly crashed into them coming in through the front door.
“Watch where you’re going,” the man slurred. A fleck of spit flew from his lip, warm and wet and the cause of an intense shudder when it landed on Agatha’s cheek. The smell was sour. There was enough beer in this single fleck of spit to make a child tipsy.
“Sorry,” Ronald said automatically.
The man used one of his beefy shoulders to shove Ronald aside. He made to move past them, but Agatha stood her ground.
“What did you call my boyfriend?”
“Leave it,” Ronald warned.
The drunk looked around for a moment, searching for the source of the voice.
When he caught sight of Agatha, he let his bleary gaze rove from one end of her five-foot-two figure to the other. Anyone else would have shrunk from the scrutiny, but she was prompted to hold her chin higher.
The drunk smiled, a snaggle-toothed catastrophe of yellow and black.
He leaned into Agatha, blowing his breath into her face. Her nose rioted, scrunching in on itself.
“Listen honey, I think you could do a lot better.” He reached for the space beneath Ronald’s belt. “You need a man who can fill out his pants—”
The snap echoed throughout the diner. It took a moment for the drunk to realize that Agatha had broken his wrist.
The man howled and clutched at his flopping hand like someone trying to hold on to a fish. Agatha didn’t get to properly enjoy the show; Ronald rushed them out the door.
“Was that really necessary?” He turned on her when they reached the car.
“Call it defense.”
“Defense of what?”
“Of you, Ron. Let’s go.”
She took a moment to stare at herself in the reflection of the glass door of the car. The beat-up Volvo showed a pair of iridescent green eyes – the kind of eyes you would see on a lonely stretch of road, caught for the briefest second in the beams of a car before the animal darted off into the brush. Agatha blinked and her irises returned to their normal dark brown. Control was becoming to her like the quails that darted between the cacti of the Arizona desert – irresistibly chase-able, inevitably elusive.
Agatha clutched her stomach the whole ride home. The fetus was the size of a lima bean right now. Nothing that could kick or hiccup, nothing that felt alive. But she felt its weight. It dragged her down into the seat.
The apartment: no grass, no green, just stucco and dirt. It wasn’t much better than a dorm. The only benefit was privacy.
They stepped into a pitch-black foyer. Ron couldn’t see the dark shape careening towards him until he flipped on the light. Ruby, the Doberman pincher, fawned over his hand with her tongue. Agatha, she watched warily, the threat of a curled lip always on the cusp of her muzzle.
“Move, Ruby,” Ronald demanded.
Agatha flashed her eyes at Ruby, and she backed up obediently. Ronald continued on into the kitchen. Agatha stayed behind, starting at Ruby until her rear plunked onto the floor where it belonged.
“It’s a small apartment, Ruby. There’s only room for one bitc—”
She jumped and followed after Ron’s voice. Her human form was without tail, but she felt its phantom presence tucked between her legs.
“I was only joking—”
“We’ll have to move to a bigger place.”
Ronald had moved from the kitchen to the minuscule living room. He ran his hands through his silky auburn hair, surveying the space that could barely fit the ratty couch let alone the stacks of books they had tucked into every corner. It wasn’t the first time that Agatha doubted the practicality of two English majors living together.
“This place is barely big enough for two,” he said. “We’ll need one more bedroom for the nursery—”
“–and of course, there’s school. The stipend is tied up in your scholarship. That’s alright. I’ve been wanting to take a year off. That way I can finally finish writing that book…”
“I’m getting rid of it.”
Transformation is painful—that much she knew. But sometimes it is harder to witness than it is to experience. The distortion of flesh into the monstrous skin of the wolf that she was forced to don each month was nothing compared to the tearing at her soul that came from watching the joy leak from her lover’s face, to be replaced by the pale tremble of distress.
“You…you are?” he whispered.
“I have to,” she said firmly.
Because this world doesn’t need another monster.
“What will we tell the parents?”
Her parents would forgive her, but then again, they didn’t know about her…condition.
“We’ll tell them the truth,” Ronald said bracingly.
“Your dad, Ron.”
His brave façade vanished. A flicker of fear passed over his face. She watched his hand gravitated towards the spot on his shoulder where Agatha knew the cigarette burns hid.
She had counted them once, while they lay together in the tiny twin bed upstairs. Asleep, Ronald hadn’t felt her trace the circular scars–seven in all.
He sighed. “I’ll deal with him. I won’t let him hurt you…or the baby.”
“There won’t be a baby.”
“Don’t.” She looked away.
He would never yell, never push, but she knew that if she saw the look in his eyes—it would be a tug on a collar that she didn’t have the strength to resist.
She smelled him approach. Ronald was Irish spring, aftershave, and something else that she had never been able to place, something rugged yet tantalizing, like the dry heat that rose from the desert sand when the sun was high and all seemed still and slow in the world…
“Why don’t you want to keep her?” he said softly.
With her head bowed, his fingers were the only things in her field of vision. They hovered, ever encroaching upon her stomach.
She heard the rush of blood to his cheeks, and saw his hands retreat into his pockets.
“Oh, well, I’m picturing a girl.”
“Don’t picture her—damnit—it!”
“I don’t understand.”
“Let me help you!”
She snapped her head up so that Ronald could see her bared teeth. He looked her straight in the face, but she could tell that it was taking everything in him not to flinch.
“If you think I care about that…” he began.
It was hard to shout when her teeth pierced her lips with each word, but she managed.
“It could end up like me! I could pass on this…this…curse!”
Ronald backed up; he had no choice. Her furious strides offered no alternative but to yield.
“Please,” he pleaded.
“I. Don’t. Want. It. Do you hear me?”
His back hit the wall.
“I don’t want it!”
Her fist shot out. Ronald closed his eyes, but the only thing that was dealt damage was the wall beside his head. Chips of plaster flew everywhere. Agatha gritted her teeth. Blood spilled down her chin, the scent of rust, dilating her eyes, quickening her heart. She punched the wall again and again, felt a thrill of pleasure as it cracked, like the sound of a coyote’s neck when it snapped, clutched in her claws, her teeth going for the jugular…
Ronald slid down to the floor. Tears leaked out from beneath his hands, which he had used to shield his face.
Agatha let out a breath that wavered in the air, and shook her back to reality. Ron. Before her she saw not a man, but the child she had reduced him to.
She unclenched her fists, only now noticing the pain. Her claws had made bloody notches in her palm. Ronald was silently crying. She knew he was holding his breath, attempting to suppress the sob that so desperately wanted to escape his chest. An old trick, she assumed.
Ruby padded into the living room to investigate the commotion. She sniffed concernedly around Ronald. Agatha didn’t shove her aside like she wanted to.
Instead she crouched down beside the dog, reached out for Ronald, regret softening her voice, something deeper softening her heart.
“I’m sorry, baby…I’m so sorry.”
Her claws and teeth slid back into her body. She took them in like poison, relished in the shiver that ran down her back. The discomfort was not enough to make up for the unforgivable fear that she had instilled in the man who had been kind to her for two years. He, who had found her naked in a ditch the morning after a full moon, wrapped her in his coat and carried her to safety, driven her to his apartment when she had insisted “no hospitals.” He had clothed her, fed her, let her sleep in his bed while he took the couch. Agatha still slept in that bed; the only difference now was that Ronald slept with her.
“Breathe.” She pried his hands apart to reveal the face of her beloved, red and splotchy and dripping. “Ron, breathe,” she commanded.
A violent breath escaped his lips. She rocked him back and forth while he steadied.
“It’s y–your choice,” he hiccupped at last. “Either way, I’m not l—leaving.”
Agatha paused to study the loyalty in his eyes. She pushed his hair back from his face, a gentle touch, trying carefully not to bruise.
“You should, Ron. Monsters come in many forms.”
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Categories: Short Stories