"The honeymoon suite," said the clerk brightly, handing over the keys.
* * *
"Thank you," said Benven.
On the way to the room, Lasella followed him. This didn't feel right. In her imagination, they had walked hand in hand, smiling. But, for some reason, after barely six hours of married life, she had gotten into the habit of following him.
The honeymoon suite was cold. Benven nudged the airconditioning control. Making it, she saw, colder. They were alone, suddenly. He turned to her. His mouth had the most curious resemblance to a can opener, a resemblance she was incapable of explaining.
"Strip," he said.
The rental car probed the narrow road. Once they got stuck. He grunted, applying brute force. She gasped, unable to stay silent. The car thrust forward, bucked toward its conclusion, dribbled to a halt in a wet clearing dark with hairy shadows, loud with swamp insects.
* * *
"Out," he said.
The night was humid. A drop of sweat trickled into Lasella's ear. She flinched, disgusted. Sweating inside her ear! She had never heard of such a thing. Certainly had never expected it.
"This is where Sue lost her virginity," he said.
"Sue?" said Lasella.
"My first love," said Benven. "Now, out."
Standing in the dark, waiting for him to come for her, she found herself shaking. Trembling with adrenalin. A blurred sobbing sound was coming from her lips, uncontrollably.
"Hands behind your back," he said.
And they were, and were suddenly heavy, rigid, locked.
There were stones in the mud, and it was wetter than expected, and surprisingly cold.
"Doesn't look in very good condition," said the man with the yellow beard, who was comfortably seated on an oil drum, which looked robust enough to support him. "Where did you get her?"
* * *
"Where you get everything these days," said Benven. "The Internet, where else? Speaking of where where's the lawyer?"
"He'll be along," said the man with the yellow beard.
And he was, eventually.
"All ready," said the lawyer, pulling some paperwork out of his briefcase. "Sign here, little girl."
"She's not jailbait, you know," said Benven. "She's my lawful wedded wife."
"I'm very happy for you," said the lawyer, without any obvious display of emotion. "Sign, please. No? Is she right-handed? Okay, Chip, break one of her fingers. Left hand, please."
The man with the yellow beard lumbered to his feet. Hastily, Lasella signed.
"Okay," said the lawyer. "I'll get granny to witness this. Benven, can we leave her with Chip for a couple of hours? We need to talk about the fish farm."
"You cool with that?" said Chip.
"Yeah," said Benven. "Just don't pull her hair out, that's all. I want her to look good for when she meets my mother."
His mother? This was the first time that Lasella had heard of this planned meeting. For the first time in days, she allowed herself to hope.
When they were alone together, Chip and Lasella, Chip licked her cheek. Once, but slowly.
* * *
"Show me your fingernails," he said. "No, don't be like that. I'm not going to break anything. Show me what you've got."
Reluctantly, Lasella displayed her fingernails. There was dirt beneath each and every one of them. She was so ashamed. She had never had dirty fingernails before. Not in her entire life.
"Sit on the table," said Chip. "No, don't hide your fingernails. We're not finished yet. We. Are. Only. Just. At. The. Very. Beginning."
She sat, and he painted her fingernails blue, using not nailpolish but a little tin of touchup paint designed to adhere to metallic surfaces. As he painted her nails, one by one, Lasella cried. Big fat hot tears.
"Very nice," said Chip, the one truly contented man in the universe. "Very nice, and much nicer soon."
After they bought the wig, Benven drove to an estuary.
* * *
"This is where I came with Maybeline," said Benven.
"Maybeline?" said Lasella, who still occasionally asked questions, still hoping to understand.
"My second wife," said Benven. He paused, sighed. "This is where she lost her arm."
"To a shark?" said Lasella, eying the estuary.
"No," said Benven. "To a chainsaw."
Struggling badly on the crutches really, they were a very poor substitute for the missing foot she followed Benven down the slope.
The ground was soft, and yielded easily to Benven's spade. Not virgin soil, but old, tainted with secrets.
"You know what's down here?" said Benven.
She did not reply. The ability to speak was lost to her, missing along with her name.
"What's down here," said Benven, "is my mother."