The Sad, Square Hands of Molly Jar
by Andrew F. Sullivan
Molly Jar had her mother’s face, a valentine heart kissed with freckles on both cheeks. She had her grandma’s eyes from her father’s side, bright blue and full of ice. She had her Aunt Charlene’s hair, thick and black and tangled. She had skin so white it almost looked blue and three weeks of probation left when Sandra picked her up that afternoon and said we got a good place to go party out in the sticks, no one will even hear us out there. Mick got some crazy pills from his Mom after she died, you know. All the pain shit, the high end stuff. From behind the windshield, Molly Jar waved one of the big, thick hands she got from her father toward Venezuela the Cat, who blinked slowly in response. Then Sandra’s hatchback, covered in stickers and a sad coat of yellow, puttered down the driveway and out into the dark.
Molly wasn’t going to say no. Her mother was asleep and she would stay asleep until six am or so, shrieking awake from a nightmare she’d refuse to discuss afterward. Molly would have to change the bandage across her mother’s back where the water had burned her deep enough to need a graft, the water she’d backed into on the stove while dancing alone in the kitchen.
Donna Summer had come on the radio and Mom was just overcome, how else to explain it? A bass line directly hooked into her youth and a dance floor hundreds of miles away from a farm house with no farm to speak of, a gray house on a gray hill in what used to be a gray town but was now more like a village if you were just driving through it on the way to somewhere else, somewhere better, which Sandra always said was anywhere but here. And Molly was tired of that, of waking up to a scream, of waiting for someone to relieve her dad from the night shift, of the probation officer telling her it was good she wasn’t dating Tobias anymore and then leaving his own number in her phone with a winky face emoji like she hadn’t already guessed he was a perv. Next time she might just ask him to whip it out and laugh no matter what she saw.
Molly knew how to break a man like that. A stupid, mean, small one with bad teeth.
And she could go back to the cold gray courthouse where everyone was looking at her like she was a unicorn, what’s a girl like you doing in a place like this, who did you wrong girl, what you need, I can get it for you, one of the guards whispering in her ear like the room ain’t full of other people, like the judge ain’t going to start giving her side-eye from the bench, like the one court reporter there isn’t going to call her a “colt” again in the paper and then have all her friends start sending her pictures of her head replaced with a horse’s head or saying neigh every time she tries to speak at a party. And she could do all that and where would it get Molly?
Back in that courtroom again, sitting on her hands, the one part of her she hated to show because we all have those parts. Sandra would say it was her feet, she looked like she had camel feet and then Mick would say something about a camel toe and the whole thing would get kind of violent and weird, like they were gonna fuck or fight and that’s where it usually goes in a grey town like this, Molly thought, poking at the shattered back window of the hatchback as they wound through the woods, up into the hills outside town, further and further away from the house and the thought of Tobias telling her all she had to do was distract the cashier at the 7/11, that’s it. Just a distraction, whip out your tits or show him your man hands. Do something.
Sandra pulled over finally at a bungalow perched on a hill under the dead trees with a bonfire out back and Mick sitting on the railing out front waiting for them, his eyes huge in the headlights. You could see how hungry he was. Mick laughed at the sight of the car because it was still dripping with yellow paint here and there, but he didn’t look at Molly, he knew Sandra wouldn’t like that. At least Sandra had small hands, not the eerie childish ones some girls get stuck with for life, stubby, unformed things. No, she had the hands of a lady, a real lady, like the kind that used to wear gloves up to the elbow everywhere they went outside the house, and if she was a lady, well then Mick better learn to be a gentleman, is what she would tell Molly like it ever mattered, like those two weren’t already codependent, throttling one another in their sleep and headed nowhere. Pop it between your teeth and taste it, Mick said. Taste it.
Molly was good at following directions and she didn’t hesitate. She let it drip down her throat and let the medicated dust swirl into her lungs with the ash from the fire and everything smelled like smoke. Smoke billowing up into branches, into the stars, until all she tasted was the smoke. Figures moved around her in the dark, high school friends, girls from the Wendy’s by the highway, girls from the community centre pool, girls who were too old to be girls, too old to be here, but where else would they go in a town like this? Last year a girl drowned in the quarry water and everyone said she was living inside the old excavator at the bottom now. Last year two teenage boys held up a gas station and then accidentally lit themselves on fire when they lit up while stealing gas. Last year some idiot tried to rob a 7/11, but wiped out on the floor by the slushie machine. His girlfriend still had her tits out when the cops showed up, the two cops who stared for a while before they cuffed her, said damn, those are some thick wrists, while never taking their eyes off her chest. Even with the large cuffs, they could barely hold her.
Molly heard all those stories travelling around her in the smoke and the cinders and she said aloud that everything was okay now, it was warm here by the fire. And that’s what they needed right now, all of them out here in the fucking sticks, man—warmth. No one heard her, but someone threw a half empty beer bottle into the fire and for a few seconds, everything burned green and safe.
Sometimes people got the story wrong, started talking about a gun in her hand, even though there was no gun at all, just Tobias with a stupid flashlight wrapped in electrical tape, waving it around and saying all kinds of nonsense. Sometimes she got texts asking her if she really hid the weed inside herself, like there was any weed to start with, like she had trained to stuff herself full of contraband every day after school. Her dad called it contraband. Her principal called it a sad state of affairs. She told anyone who would listen that Tobias hadn’t told her what was going to happen. He told her he just wanted to make it clear no one could fire a Mitchum and get away with it, not after all the hours he put in when they needed a night shift manager.
Molly told everyone she was done with this place, yet she was still here, still swirling around the fire, still waiting for the meds to kick in and the lights behind her eyes to explode. Her chin was still split from when one of the older girls in the county jail stepped on her face in the middle of the night, asked her what it tasted like. The men, the boys, all boys really, all fucking boys, stood further back from the flames, stood in small circles smoking, lay in lawn chairs with puke on their chests, screamed at each other in the smoke about daisy chaining and nudes and limp dicks. Someone said the bungalow was abandoned, someone else said it was their uncle’s fuck pad and when he died, no one wanted to clean it up. Too many bad memories in there, too many dead cats, too many forgotten engine blocks and empty bottles of lube.
And from the other side of that bungalow, white and pale blue and sickly in the dark, came Sandra’s scream. Molly knew that scream. She knew it from catching Sandra’s pinkie in a bus window when they were eight. She knew it from the time Sandra fell off her old boyfriend’s bike and had her kneecap scrapped raw and pink. There were still tiny bits of asphalt trapped under the scar. She knew the scream because it was the exact scream Sandra made last time Mick had hit her, telling her she was shit, she was trash, she was lower than scum because some dude had laid a hand on her while Mick had his face turned toward the fire or the music or his phone.
It didn’t really matter.
Molly lurched up from her chair, dancing like her mother in the kitchen in the dark with the water on high boil, swaying like her father when he was asking for another slice of pizza on the front lawn, locked out of the house again. She lurched toward the bungalow and the scream that kept its form through every permutation, the scream calling her like a dog whistle no one else could hear or wanted to hear out there in the smoke. It got easier to ignore things eventually.
Outside the circle and far from the fire, the cold crept back into Molly’s lungs. Her eyes were blind without the flames, but she followed the noise, now repeating like a signal beacon just for her. She stepped over a couple rutting in the frozen grass, a bare ass rising and falling without pausing. She felt bottles and plastic wrap under her feet, but focused on Sandra’s scream and what Mick called her when he was drunk, the great slag, the great slag of Bueford.
Around the corner of the bungalow, there was Sandra, but Mick wasn’t touching her. A coyote, or something like one, lay on the grass, its muzzle covered in blood, its own blood, leaking out from the inside. Thick and black under the moon, and Mick and his lurching boys kept running up to stomp on the body, to press cigarettes against its fur, to listen to it howl. It sounded just like Sandra, like it had waited outside her window in the night, mimicking her cries. Its face was shredded, melted, snarled and broken, but its lungs were still strong.
Molly began to swing her solid square hands, the one her dad used to bash fence posts into the earth, the ones her grandfather had used to haul coal up out of dank wet, lost holes in the ground, the ones she spent each night cursing before sleep. Molly didn’t paint her nails, didn’t want to draw attention to what her mother once called a “deformity” at a parent-teacher conference. Tobias didn’t even like it when she tried to jerk him off, said it was like having his uncle squeeze his cock. They were her father’s hands, bright white and all bone.
Sandra kept screaming while Molly worked the boys over, taking her own hits to the tits, to the eyes, to the soft spots in her armpits when she overshot another haymaker. She staggered back while Mick laughed at the fucked up coyote, still moaning some song out toward the moon. She staggered when Mick threw a beer bottle at her face, stumbled down on to her knees and took a knee from one of the skinnier boys to the face. No one could hear them. No chants of fight behind the bungalow, just another mess on the hill no one wanted to acknowledge. Her probation officer would ask what happened to her lip. He would ask to see if her teeth were alright.
He would tell her to open her mouth wide.
Mick came over, wrapped a hand around her mouth, pulled her face toward his, told her she was a dumb bitch looking out for another dumb bitch. We got coyotes fucking wolves and dogs, fucking everything, making something worse. Eating cats after dark, snatching them up. You ever imagine that? Eating cats like they’re rabbits. Mick pushed another pill into her mouth, told her to stop taking everything so serious. The freak deserved to die, ain’t no one looking out for it up here, not even you Molly. Sandra was just sniffling now, a small sound. Screams and hoots from the fire joined them. Molly’s white hands were brown and red and one knuckle showed a tiny bit of bone. Someone must have caught a tooth on the skin.
Mick laughed again just as the headlights bounced up the hill, the blue and red lights flashing out a warning half the kids ignored. Someone tried to douse the fire with a bottle of vodka, someone else threw an old paint can into the flames. Molly lay on her back with Sandra standing over her, trying to yank her up off the ground. Mick’s laugh echoed behind him as he fled down the hill through the trees, directly into the black, throwing himself headlong into the nothing. Tobias always said Mick was the sane one. The one who knew just when to stop.
Older voices surrounded Molly as Sandra tried to pull her up from the cold dirt. They snatched Sandra away, her screams muffled by the car door slammed in her face, her tiny body tossed into the backseat. Men in uniforms, men who’d pulled her father off the neighbour’s roof, who’d found her mother wandering the streets looking for him, they asked Molly to stand up, to tell them what she was on, to explain how she got involved with what they were going to call arson. The paint can in the bonfire exploded, tossing sparks and flame toward the ragged bungalow. It didn’t take, but it was close enough. Too close is always close enough.
Again, they struggled to slap the cuffs around her wrist. Again, they remarked on her pale clear skin, her tangled hair. She wouldn’t let them see her eyes. They were bloodshot. Molly could feel the sensation fleeing from her fingers. The cuffs too tight again, always too tight.
They thrust her in the back of the car with Sandra, Sandra who was no longer crying, who was working her own tiny, slim wrists back and forth, slowly sliding the cuff off her left wrist. Molly could only watch. She said nothing. A small cut opened on Sandra’s wrist, a black trickle in the dark that spread over the seat. She did not stop though. Slowly, her hand began to emerge. Screams and shouts rattled the branches outside. Molly watched and tried to flex her big square fists, as if the metal would bend based on the suggestion of violence. As if she was already free.
Sandra did not bother with the second wrist. Her hands were separated now. She pulled the door open and Molly followed her out into the trees. Run. The men in uniform were stalking around the building, gathering up couples fucking in the grass and boys too drunk to stand on their own. Run. The coyote, half wolf, half dog or whatever Mick had called it, watched them in the headlights, watched with eyes that were glass now. Run, Sandra said. Just like Mick did. Down the hill. They still got you on probation, they still got you on all kinds of shit. Sandra’s fingertips dripped blood in the headlights and then she was gone down the hill into the trees.
With her thick, square hands cuffed behind her back, Molly Jar could only follow.
Andrew F. Sullivan is from Oshawa, Ontario. He is the author of the novel WASTE (Dzanc Books) and the short story collection All We Want is Everything (ARP Books). http://www.
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