Shakespeares Landlord


Chapter One

For all my fellow inmates in Doctor Than's House of Pain: especially Martha, John, and Wayne

Chapter One

I gathered myself, my bare feet gripping the wooden floor, my thigh muscles braced for the attack. I stepped forward on the ball of my left foot, pivoting as I moved, and my right leg swung up, bent at the knee. My foot lashed out, returned instantly. The black Everlast punching bag rocked on its chain.

My right foot touched down, and I pivoted lightly on the ball of that foot, my body oriented this time facing the bag. My left leg came forward to deliver a longer, harder, thrusting mae geri. I continued the kicking, the pivoting, alternating the side kicks with the front kicks, practicing my weaker back kicks, my breathing growing deeper but never losing its rhythm - exploding out with the kick, coming in deep with the retraction.

The bag danced on the end of its chain, swinging back and forth, requiring more and more concentration on my part to plant the next kick accurately. I was tiring.

Finally, I lashed out with my stronger right leg, using all my power, dodged the backswing, and struck seiken, my hand in a smooth line with my arm, my knuckles driving into the bag.

I had finished my exercise. Automatically, I bowed, as I would have if I'd had a live sparring partner, and shook my head in disgust at my own foolishness. I reached for the towel hanging on its appointed hook by the doorknob. As I patted my face, I wondered whether my workout had been enough; if I took a shower now and got in bed, would I sleep? It was worth a try.

I washed my hair, soaped and rinsed, and was out within five minutes. After I dried myself, I put mousse on my hair and stood before the mirror to fluff it out with my fingers and a pick; I had tucked the towel around me so I couldn't see my chest in the mirror.

My hair is short and light blond now. One of my few extravagances is getting it colored, permed, and cut at Terra Ann's, the fanciest hairdressing salon in Shakespeare. Some of my employers get their hair done there; they never know quite what to say when they see me.

Most bodybuilders consider a deep tan part of their regimen, but I'm pale. The scarring doesn't stand out so much that way. But I do get rid of excess hair; I pluck every stray eyebrow, and my legs and armpits are shaved smooth as a baby's bottom.

Once upon a time, years ago, I thought I was pretty. My sister, Varena, and I had the usual rivalry going, and I remember deciding my eyes were bigger and a lighter blue than hers, my nose was straighter and thinner, and my lips were fuller. Her chin was better - neat and determined. Mine is round. I haven't seen Varena in three years now. Probably she is the pretty one. Though my face hasn't changed, my mind has. The workings of the mind look out through the face and alter it.

Sometimes, some mornings - the ones after the really bad nights - I look in the mirror and do not recognize the woman I see there.

This was going to be one of those really bad nights (though I had no idea how bad it was going to get). But I could tell there was no point in going to bed. My feet itched to be moving.

I dressed again, throwing my sweaty workout clothes into the hamper and pulling on blue jeans and a T-shirt, tucking in the T-shirt and pulling a belt through the belt loops. My hair was only a little damp; the blow-dryer finished the job. I pulled on a dark windbreaker.

Front door, back door, kitchen door? Some nights it takes me a while to decide.

The back. Though I keep my doors greased so they swing back and forth almost noiselessly, the back door is the quietest.

The back door is directly opposite the front door, making my house a shotgun house; from my back door, I can look down the hall and through the living room, which occupies the width of the front of the house, to check to make sure the dead bolt is shot.

It was, of course; I am not one to neglect security. I locked the back door as I left, using another key to turn the dead bolt from the outside. I pushed the