At night, the Axeman comes. He enters her apartment silently, and stands over her bed, watching her sleep. He listens to her snores, her whimpers and her sighs. When she gets up in the middle of the night to pee, he follows behind her and from the darkened hallway watches as she pulls her lacy white panties down around her ankles. Her head rests against the wall, her eyes closed. He hears the stream of pee hit the toilet water. She finishes and pulls up her panties, flashing a patch of curly brown hair. She retreats to her room, leaving behind the smell of her skin.
The girl has certain habits the Axeman can depend on. For instance, she picks her nose when she’s on the phone. She smells her socks after she takes them off. She prefers her toast burnt and her coffee lukewarm. And she doesn’t think too much of the cat she calls Nasty. In the morning, when Nasty is finished licking his privates, he circles the girl’s ankles, meowing to indicate hunger. His girl looks down at the cat, gives it a shove with her toe, and continues drinking her coffee.
To combat boredom while she’s at work, the Axeman rifles through her drawers and cabinets and closets. He finds: a stash of condoms, two missing from the box of twelve and thong underwear with the store tags still attached. Buried under a mountain of novelty socks are bottles and bottles of medications with name like Lexapro, Zoloft, Effexor and Xanax. He takes the time to smell her clothing. There is no trace of her, only the sweetness of fabric softener.
At six in the evening, the girl returns home from work as the twilight fades. The jagged, skinny limbs of the trees sway in the evening breeze.
The Axeman watches from the closet as the girl eats dinner in her room – a chicken enchilada and a Coors Light. Her throat moves with each gulp of beer and her jaw works non-stop until the plate is clean. She eats on the edge of her bed. Crumbs drop down her shirt and land on the carpet. Her toes curl around the tufts of bluish yarn.
After the girl finishes her dinner, she cries. His girl sobs on the bed, grabbing fistfuls of the bedspread. When she is finished, she wipes at her face with the back of her hand and lies back on the bed. They both fall asleep soon after, the Axeman snoozing with his head tilted back and his mouth open, a shirtsleeve tickling his nose.
The next day his girl doesn’t go to work. He hears her in the hallway as she leaves a message for her colleagues citing a “stomach bug.” A few minutes later the toilet flushes, and she dives back into bed. She lies around in her underwear for the rest of the day.
To keep himself occupied, the Axeman explores his surroundings, sniffs her clothes and checks the pockets for change. He comes up with $5.73. He finds two dented cigarettes at the bottom of an old leather purse and puts them in his pocket.
The bed springs pop and through a crack in the door, the Axeman sees that the girl is now awake. She sits up in bed, her dark hair sliding forward to cover the right side of her face. The sobbing starts. She goes on sniffling and sucking air and making pitiful little hiccupping sounds for about twenty minutes. His knees ache with the weight of kneeling among her shoes. The Axeman slides off his boot, gropes for one of her high heels. He stuffs his foot inside, and fumbles with the strap, tightens the strap until it pinches his skin.
In the afternoon, she takes a bath and stands in front of the mirror soaking wet, inspecting her body. Her eyes get red and her face breaks out into hives; he expects her to cry again, but instead she puts on her clothes and falls back into bed. For the rest of the afternoon it’s boring soap operas and female talk shows. He watches glimpses of the drama through a sliver in the closet door.
He wakes up before she does. The room is dark. The sounds of his girl’s snores tell him she’s not going to wake up any time soon. The Axeman decides to stretch his legs.
The Axeman tiptoes down the hallway to his girl’s living room. It’s small and surprisingly tidy, decorated in reds and blacks. Several pictures are on display. On top of her TV is one of her with a pretty girl wearing a Happy Birthday tiara. There’s another on the end table of his girl with an older lady – her mother perhaps – they have similar noses and share the same prominent jaw line. On the fridge, there are more pictures of his girl with various people in bathing suits and dresses and men wearing shirts and ties. Any of these men could be responsible for making his girl cry. Women cry over men all the time. The Axeman has made many woman cry, but for a very different reason.
A roach is flipped on its back near the front door. It twitches, the tiny legs working overtime. The Axeman steps on it to put it out of his misery, and moves down the hall to return to his place.
In the morning, the Axeman hears his girl on the phone. She’s calling out of work again, telling her colleagues that she has not yet recovered from her stomach bug and that she was up all last night vomiting. He heard no vomiting, only sounds of his girl crying several times in the middle of the night. The Axeman saw her restless legs pounding the mattress, sliding back and forth as if carving out a hole in the fabric for her limbs to lie indefinitely.
The girl doesn’t get out of bed for the rest of the morning. Around noon, she makes herself a sandwich. He hears her bare feet slap against the hardwood floor.
As the girl shoves food into her mouth, crumbs and saliva fly everywhere. Next, she eats an entire pint of ice cream, a few dozen cookies and some chocolate from a dented heart-shaped box.
The next day is exactly like the day before: his girl calls out of work a third time, saying that her stomach virus has turned into an appendix “thing” and that the doctors are advising her to steer clear of all human contact. This time after she hangs up, she hurls the phone against the wall where it explodes into three large chunks of plastic. She does not move from her bed until the sky grows dark.
The Axeman has to do something about his girl. She’s on her way down the fucking black hole of despair. She’s going to ruin her entire life. While she’s in the bathroom, he paces her room with his axe over his shoulder. Should he do what he has to do? Should he finish her off once and for all? She’s pretty much given up on life. What’s the harm in chopping her into little pieces? What can he possibly do for her anyway? It’s not like he can help her get her life back on track. It’s not like he can sweep her off her feet and marry her and have babies with her and love her until they both die of cancer or old age or both.
Maybe if he chopped her up into pieces, she’d thank him for it. Maybe she’d look up at him with tears of joy and say to him thank you, kind sir, I think I love you and he would say I’ve loved you for some time now, sweet young lady and this was the only thing I could think to do to ease your pain. He would bury pieces of her in a marked grave, made especially for her, and he would carry her picture with him always. He would be her axe-wielding savior.
The Axeman kicks open the bathroom door. She’s been in there for quite a while, and now he knows why. His girl lies in the bathtub, her wrists split wide open, blood draining from her body, the bathwater tinted a devastating red. The Axeman touches her soft skin for the first time. She’s cold and damp. He kisses her wounds, says his final goodnight, and raises his axe above his head. His first strike gets her in the shoulder, right above her heart.
JC Miller lives in Philadelphia, PA and is currently an MFA Fiction writing student at Rosemont College. Her fiction has appeared online in Void Magazine, Pens on Fire and is forthcoming in The Written Word. She loves Philadelphia, but nothing exciting ever happens here.