Bliss Point (3/5)

“The tiger,” Sal yells back at Mina, as they run through the stubbly grass of the neighborhood backyards. “That’s what you shot, right?”

Mina nods mutely. Gone is her desire to deny. The scream rings through her mind like a struck gong.

“I get it,” says Sal as gently as their mother, and Mina reels back on the line, hooked and stung, both encouraged and profoundly dismayed by the show of empathy.

It feels good to be understood, but bad to be understandable. She wants desperately to be like Sal: an enigma, a mystery of cold gaze and muscular arms and strawberry blonde bobbed hair. She wants that steely light in her eyes, a torch that never dims, to fall into her possession.

“You’ve never liked cats,” Sal continues, and Mina smiles grimly at the accuracy of that explanation.

She keeps her eyes forward, gaze bobbing jerkily as she tries to match Sal’s pace. Mina had started out like a race horse, flush with adrenaline, but that chemical is quickly receding, leaving her hot and panicked in its wake. But Sal is immune to tiredness, gliding forward with no sign of exertion, her legs pumping with raw, fluid, impossible strength.

“Sal, I have to stop,” Mina pants, her hands coming down heavily onto her knees as she sinks to the grass of a neighbor’s backyard. Sal doesn’t say anything. A twisted magnolia watches as she immediately slides her arms under her sister’s armpits and hoists her back up to a standing position.

“Come on, Mina,” Sal says evenly, “you know you don’t have a choice.”

Mina has never hated her sister more than in this moment. Sal registers that wave of feeling; it flood her sister’s eyes, crashing onto the shore between them. Despite her best attempts at composure, Sal feels irritation build at Mina’s childish anger. Mina: essential, but endlessly difficult. So difficult to understand, to talk to, to love. Immature, weak. Too self-absorbed to see the bigger picture even as Sal drags her, kicking and screaming, out of the shadows of her narcissism and into the naked light.

“We have to go,” Sal says, her frustration translating into a rigid sternness of tone that only enrages Mina further. “We have to save her.”

“As if I don’t know that! As if I didn’t see it myself!” Mina snaps, and Sal’s eyes narrow.

Sal doesn’t want to be martyred; she just wants her role in this recognized. Just tell me I’m right, Sal wants to say. Just tell me you appreciate everything I’ve done. But Mina never will. She’s too busy focusing on all the perceived wrongs in Sal’s expression, behavior, attitude, speech. For a second, they stare at each other, each boiling over. Just tell me you see what I have tried to do. 

Because Sal’s eyes are trained on Mina’s flushed face, and because Mina’s dream started in media res, circumscribing her knowledge of it to the final act, neither notice the two men approach. They are tall, skinny, and positioned against the sun so their bodies are in shadow as they move. They have left their red pick-up idling in the neighbor’s driveway. They are sauntering over to the sisters, their sneakers moving through freshly cut grass almost soundlessly, the crunch of sole against ground dampened by the cries of birds. Sal first registers as the wetness of the rag over her mouth as hot, humid rain.

“Sal!” Mina screams, once. Before her knees hit the ground, Sal sees the switchblade, bright as high noon bleeding through the blinds of her childhood bedroom, where she and Mina would nap, cuddled together like puppies, on cool sheets. She feels, rather than sees, the two figures closing in. The warmth of their arms around her feels perversely like a parental embrace. Sal, blinded now by a stranger’s hand, hears her sister take in a hard breath, and then a jagged sound, like the irregular sigh before a sob breaks out.

The dream returns, its shopping list of characters branded now on her mind: two villains; one sacrifice; and the tiger. Her fear, first a tiny, reddish bud on the vine, explodes into a sky-blue fire that consumes every thought, every nerve. But in the center of her terror, she remembers Mina lifting her bow to the horizon. She’s where this will end.

Mina wakes in a small, humid space. Outside, the birds chatter. She hears low voices. Her hands are bound behind her back, inexpertly. Her breathing is light and even. Being bound and alone does not faze her, because she is running now in dream-time. She feels it flowing around her, its glow like soft, gold-toned theater lights on her face. This isn’t where it ends. The backyard, with its grass as fragrant as warm apple pie and its piercing sky—therein lies the end. She will part time until she reaches that place. Fate has wound the threads sloppily enough that she can work her wrists free, wriggling out with minimal difficulty.

Her sister, Sal, is now being carried from the flatbed of a pick-up truck to a folding chair. A captor on each side, like twin body guards. They hold her up so tightly by her arms that she hardly touches the ground. Without opening her eyes, Sal pays attention to sensation: the dry feel of the grass below her dragging feet, the grip of her captors on her shoulders as they position her onto the chair. Coming from somewhere in the far distance, she hears the tinny, percussive sound of the song of the summer as it gushes out of a car stereo. Something tender about young bliss, and car rides through the desert, and blossoming flowers, and ocean waves, and once-upon-a-time.

She opens her eyes a fraction, looking around from underneath the cover of her eyelashes. She has a limited field of vision, but the angle of her head against her chest allows her to see directly to her left. A girl half-sits, half-lies, her head lolling against the back of the chair. She is wearing a white dress stained with mud on the hemline. Their eyes meet, and the girl blinks and then grins, readjusting her position on the chair so that she can look Sal in the face. Her teeth are pointed, like a cat’s.

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