Girls in trouble throw the best parties. Martin knew this but still he’d come. For her thirtieth birthday Tori flounced about in a white silk dress with enormous dots, her breasts marked by the black circles like askew targets. Martin thought he might throw cashews at them later in the night once Tori was drunk—she’d get there shortly and wouldn’t know from where the little nut bullets originated. Surreptitiousness was his specialty. Martin winked at the Christmas lights Tori had nailed into the substantial wood molding overhead, probably while tottering on a step ladder supported by her new lover Tom. She was notorious for stupid shit like that, carelessly wreaking destruction wherever she went.
Martin would rather slice his throat with the knife—the one Tori was waving around over her cake ablaze with pink candles—before he’d shake hands with this Tom person she was now associating with. Martin had been watching Tom all night: He was the sort of man who wore tight rust-colored jeans and his blond hair in a bun and scattered giggling women like sparrows whenever he moved from one room to the next. Martin’s heart buzzed above the din of hip hop and the racket of dancing and talking.
He still loved Tori so dearly and needed to tell her this: As of last week, of the eight women he’d slept with in his life three were now dead.
Originally he’d planned on coming to the party with the hope that Tori would come around to loving him again. But now that he was here he realized that was an impossibility tonight, surely, and might remain so indefinitely. She had to get above the trouble she was immersed in with this Tom person—she’d waded through a rising flood of it all her life and was unable to see that Martin had been the one walking at a circus-act height, holding a hand out to pull her up, waiting for her to look up at him with those golden eyes. That’s how he imagined it anyway. But now he realized this was the wrong line of thinking. As much as he loved her, the priority was now to simply warn Tori of her precarious position in his list of lovers.
Ah, here was Tom, appearing behind the birthday girl, pressing himself against her from behind to ease her knife-wielding arm down into the dessert, as if they were now wed. As if this was the jovial cake-throwing photo opportunity at a ballroom reception. Tori and Tom, Tom and Tori!
Martin opened the palm of his hand and began smacking himself in the face. Gently at first, then harder. He had to warn her. He didn’t know how it might happen—maybe this knife portended violence?—he feared he had become the devil hiding in the shadows, bringing death to all he loved, by mere association.
Death 1: Maria, his high school girlfriend, had been hit by a van during a jog.
Death 2: Jen, a college girlfriend, had “fallen” off her apartment roof in South Korea. Death 3: The most recent Shania; poor, deluded Shania, who had listened too attentively to the voices in her head and had ended it herself.
It was Shania’s death—just last week—that most clearly turned this line of misfortune for Martin’s ex’s into a pattern.
Tori could be next.
Tom and Tori were laughing, smearing pink frosting across their mouths and kissing, passing the creamy stuff back and forth on their tongues for everyone to see. Martin’s hand moved more violently against his head. How could he warn her? Those who noticed his ineptitude fell still while the bass line rumbled across the wood floors. He was raving, both of his hands now getting in on the action, wildly smacking his forehead, his neck, moving up to pull at his hair and the guests possibly thought he was having a fit or a fight with a phantom swarm of bees. But Martin was simply repressing the urge to push through the hipster crowd, fedoras and flat-sandals, bespectacled-men with beards, girls with feathers in their hair, and take the knife away.
Among other places, Katherine Gehan’s writing has appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Literary Mama, WhiskeyPaper, Luna Luna Magazine, The Stockholm Review, Sundog Lit, Pithead Chapel, Third Point Press, and has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize, Wigleaf’s Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions, and Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net Anthology. Find her at www.kategehan.wordpress.com or @StateofKate.