Chapter II: Stitched Apart
Consciousness grabs me roughly by the scruff of my neck and drags me back to the waking world, kicking and screaming and mumbling curses under my breath the whole way. At first I don’t know where I am, only that I'm moving, slowly and that my tail is leaving a sticky red smear in its wake like a brush against an ugly canvas. It’s not until I hear the handle of the knife grinding against the ground that I realize Redheart is dragging me down the alleyway toward the street. The knife is still lodged in my back. The sound of it scraping along the cement mixes with Redheart’s grunting and panting, and together the noises wrap around each other and around the claustrophobic silence in the alleyway, strangling it. With the return of my senses comes the return of the pain. The living pain. The mean-faced, mocking pain. It squirms its way in through the hole in my gut, swimming against the tide of rushing blood. Squirming. Swimming. Filling me. Filling me to bursting and finding places to have its fun.
The alley is a hydra’s neck. It stretches endlessly. I watch Tracy’s hat shrink in the dim glow of the streetlight for thousands of years. Then the red stained ground falls out from underneath me and the brush stroke stops abruptly, leaving the ugly canvas looking unfinished. I hear the city laughing, having a go at me as Redheart lays my broken body across the backseat of a taxi carriage.
The city laughs. Has herself a chuckle. I haven’t earned her respect yet. She laughs. Hot. Haughty. I let her enjoy it. Let her have her fun.
Redheart lays me in the taxi, and the city laughs, and it feels like a swarm of butterflies have decided to make a home of my stomach. Stupid. The word runs laps around the inside of my skull. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. I trusted Redheart to keep this a secret. Me. Her. No one else. No one, I told her. Stupid.
I try to form the word in my mouth, but the task is beyond me. My lips part and the groan I've been holding down in my gut billows up instead. The pain. It's too much. The butterflies in my stomach have razor wings. They flutter. Tear away at my insides. I curl into a ball in the back seat, clutching my gut as if this will do anything to keep them from fluttering. My hind legs squirm absent my will. I can’t stop squirming. Squirming and groaning like a whore as I bleed to death in the backseat of a Manehattan taxi.
Redheart wastes no time once I'm in the taxi. She's seized by old instincts. Instincts sharpened by hardships endured long before we met. She begins assessing the damage while I begin dozing from blood loss. Seems like too much. More blood than anypony should be able to bleed. I doze. My eyes droop. Then shut.
My eyes shut and the noose slips easily around Daisy’s neck. Before I can make out its color, Redheart slaps me lightly on the cheek and my eyelids flutter open like startled moths.
“None of that now,” she says, her voice hard as her hooves go to work on my wounds. “Talk to me, Rose.”
“No, no, no, no, no!” I hear the taxi driver shout, her voice reaching me from someplace far, far away. That voice. I recognize it. Without looking up I know who it is. Stupid. The word does another lap inside my head.
I try to shout at Redheart. Reprimand her for her stupidity, but the sudden outburst racks my chest with coughs. Redheart shushes me with a stern look and places a sterner hoof over my mouth.
“None of that. Talk to me,” she says.
“Oh no. Celestia no, no, no,” whines the taxi driver. I swat Redheart’s hoof away from my mouth. The effort it takes is enormous.
“What are you doing here?” I manage between coughs.
“Don’t talk to her, talk to me,” says Redheart as she rummages through a bag at her hind hooves on the floor of the carriage. “Focus.”
“Oh Celestia, she’s bleeding all over my backseat.” The taxi driver keeps up her whining. “Crazy bitch is bleeding all over my backseat.”
“…Stomach…back,” I mumble. Redheart finds the knife in my back. The blade isn’t all that long, but after crashing into solid dumpster lid some of the handle has buried itself inside of me along with the full length of the blade. I don’t see if Redheart winces, but I hear her make the sort of sharp inhaling sound that usually accompanies a wince. She doesn’t pull the knife out. Instead she turns me over and focuses on the hole in my gut.
“Went right through the Kevlar huh? Cheap thing.” She pulls the vest off. Puts a wad of something in my hooves and tells me to press it against my stomach. I do as I’m told.
“Harder. Press harder,” she tells me. I press harder. Inky red life soaks the wad in my hooves. I groan. My legs squirm. Can’t stop squirming.
“I’m not doing this,” gasps the taxi driver. “Look at her. She’s bleeding all over my backseat. You didn’t tell me she’d be bleeding all over my backseat.”
Redheart ignores her. Focuses on me. “That’s too hard. Not too hard,” she says as she wraps my wounded foreleg in the same stuff I'm pressing against my stomach. “Better. That’s better.”
Then she adds, “Dee why aren’t we moving?” as if she has only just noticed we are still sitting on the curb at the end of the Hydra’s open mouth. I look out the window of the cab but in the dim streetlight I can no longer see Tracy’s hat.
“No. I don’t need this. Not in my cab. Get her out of my cab.”
“Don’t back out on me Dee,” says Redheart. She finishes with my foreleg, then rummages through the bag at her hind hooves.
I groan. My legs squirm.
“Get her out of my cab.”
Redheart finds what she is looking for.
“Seriously Redheart, get her out of my cab, now.”
She holds up a needle and thread, and I grimace at the thought of what’s coming next. The number of frenzied butterflies in my stomach doubles. Then triples.
“What am I gonna tell my boss, Redheart!” shouts the taxi driver.
“Shut the hay up, Dee!” Redheart shouts back. She pulls a bottle of something from the bag at her hooves. A tall crystalline glass bottle full of clear liquid. “Why aren’t we moving?” she adds after removing the bottle’s lid.
“There’s blood all over the backseat of my taxi, Redheart! What the hay am I going to tell my boss?” Suddenly I realize that the cab driver is right. There is blood all over her backseat. All over Redheart too. All of it mine. Hard to believe all of it is mine. Seems like too much. I must be close. I'm dying. I’m dying and the realization makes my hooves tremble so hard I can barely keep the blood soaked wad pressed to my stomach.
“Celestia damn it, Dee! Shut the hay up and get moving.” Redheart’s voice sounds far away. Her face blurs. Splits. Suddenly there are two Redhearts. Then three. The three of them notice I’ve started trembling and place their hooves over mine. “None of that now,” they coo in unison, as though I am their child and they have woken in the night to find me crying in my crib. Six tiny moonlight oceans look down at me. Then the disorienting sensation fooling around in the back my skull accidently nudges the wrong switch, and my brain stops working. It flickers like an old light fixture hanging from the ceiling of subway tunnel.
I see static. No. I don’t see static. I feel static. I feel it. Actually I’m not even all that sure I feel it but somehow I know it’s there, and I know it’s the reason my senses have suddenly gone cloudy. There's white noise in my nostrils. Paste in my ears. Ice in my mouth. Haze in my limbs. My legs are still squirming, except now it feels like they're paddling through water. Everything slows down. Calms down. The colors go dull. My blood isn't as red as it should be, and Redheart's eyes aren't blue enough, and her hair isn’t pink enough, and her coat isn't white enough. Everything dims. The whole world sighs with content and a strange, almost dangerous sort of peace washes over me.
Then some angry god spits liquid fire into the hole in my gut, and a hundred sights crawl down my throat, and a thousand sounds jab me in the eyes, and a million tastes lick my ears---and the whole blotchy, chaotic eddy of confused sensations jump up to bludgeon my body to mush.
I'm struck with the sudden realization that I've been holding my breath. I try to exhale but there’s no air in my chest to push out; and when my lungs involuntarily try to drink all the oxygen in the carriage in one long, powerful sniff, my whole body spasms. The flavors and the paste dislodge from my ears, and I hear Redheart and the taxi driver cussing at each other.
Then Celestia or Luna or some other rambunctious deity gives the world a playful spin, and the colors pop and time picks back up, and the dangerous peace chokes on a mouthful of harsh reality and dies. Things finally start making sense again. I’m ice cold. Naked in a blizzard cold and there is hardly any feeling left in my extremities. Must have slipped into shock from loss of blood. Must be close now. I'm freezing. Trembling. Squirming. Can't stop squirming. Must be close.
The angry god spits more liquid fire, except it’s not fire; it’s only alcohol poured from the clear glass bottle in Redheart’s hooves. Only alcohol. An improvised disinfectant. The sting of it splashing against my open wound is intense. I’m grateful for it. Right now it's the only thing I can feel at all.
"No. No I’m not doing this,” gasps the taxi driver. Her voice sounds so far off now I’m sure I’m only imagining it. Then she turns her head to look at us and becomes as real as the carriage she isn’t pulling. Her eyes are an intense electric blue. Her mane is blond and cream, and it's cut short, and she is wearing a hat that resembles the one that saved my life earlier tonight.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not doing this.” I recognize the voice. Her name is Yoosee Dee. She is an earth pony: a paparazzo by trade who supplements her income by working as a taxi driver in downtown Manehattan. I have known Yoosee Dee for almost as long as I have known Redheart, though I see much less of her. I like exactly nothing about her. Her cutie mark is a golden bit sign. I try not to draw conclusions about ponies based on their cutie marks alone, but a bit sign on the flank says a lot about one’s character. She and Redheart have been friends for a long time. Redheart seems to trust her. Why, I do not know.
“Don’t you back out on me Dee,” says Redheart as she cradles my head in her forelegs. “You promised. Now get going.”
“I’m gonna lose my job over this for sure.”
“I’ll think of something.”
“I need this job. I’m gonna lose it for sure. Shit. I’m gonna lose it for sure.”
“Dee, please. I’ll think of something but right now we need to go.”
“Shit. I’m gonna go to jail. I’m gonna lose this job and go to jail for sure.”
“Dee, please!” Redheart pleads. For me, she isn't above begging. Her mother should have named her Bleeding Heart. “She’s dying. Please.”
Dee hesitates. Turns away. Turns back. She fixes her intense electric blue eyes on me, and in them I see something that is almost sympathy but not quite.
And then we are moving.
“Thank you, Dee,” says Redheart. Dee says nothing in return. She pulls away from the curb. Dee is strong. Most cabbies work in pairs but Dee insists on hauling her carriage and its passengers on her own. That way she doesn't have to split her tips with anypony. She has a golden bit sign for a cutie mark. I try not to draw conclusions about ponies based solely on their cutie marks, but ponies like Yoosee Dee make it hard not to.
I try to nestle deeper into Redhearts embrace. I’m freezing. Shaking myself into quiet oblivion. I try to nestle deeper. Try to feel her warmth against my fur but it’s no good. The world is fleeing from me. Melting into a blurry mess.
“Drink this,” I think I hear Redheart say as she tilts my head back and pours the contents of the glass bottle down my throat. “This is going to hurt.” That I'm sure I hear. I hear it right before Redheart stuffs the blood stained wad between my teeth and tells me to bite down. Then she goes to work with the needle and thread.
Redheart was born an earth pony but tonight she stitches me up like a unicorn, as if by magic. Most doctors are unicorns because their magic is better suited for intricate procedures. Hooves do not provide the dexterity needed for stitching. That Redheart can sew a wound with her mouth is testament to her skill.
I bite down on the blood soaked wad, but it offers little support. I bite through the gauze. Feel my teeth come together. I groan. Squirm. Grit my teeth. Shut my eyes.
I shut my eyes and the noose slips easily around Daisy’s neck. She is lying on her stomach and the noose slips easily around her neck, as if it were made just for her. It is the color of sand and the contrast it creates against Daisy’s velveteen purple coat is striking. The life is draining out of her eyes. There is a hoof on her back, and the noose tightens -- and this is all Redheart allows me to see. She knows about my waking nightmare. About the terror and shame that hide behind my eyelids.
She slaps my cheek lightly. “None of that,” she coos. I open my eyes. Find the hole in my stomach stitched closed. “A little longer. Just hold on, okay.” She presses her forehead against mine before kissing it. Her lips are warm. I'm freezing but thankfully Redheart's lips are warm. She kisses me. Whether she kisses me with a mother’s love or a partner’s, I don't know, though I like to imagine it is both.
Then she turns me over, pulls the knife out of my back and does the same, working her own kind of magic with the needle and thread. If I cried out as she removed the knife, I didn’t hear it. I do hear the sound of Dee’s thundering hooves as she races down a poorly maintained street under the vigilant gaze of Luna's full moon. I whisper a prayer of thanks to Luna. It's a small prayer but I think she hears it
Dee's carriage creaks to a halt beside the curb outside of Redheart’s building. Redheart and Dee help me out of the backseat. I’m still too weak to walk on my own, and Redheart lives on the fourth floor, and there isn’t a working elevator in the whole building. The going is rough. The two of them half carry, half drag me up the stairs, and Dee complains about getting blood on her, and she asks Redheart what we'll do if we're spotted, and she asks what will be done about her cab. Her job.
Redheart ignores her. The going is rough and Dee's whining only makes it rougher, but we make it. We leave blood all over the steps, but we make it. Our trail is obvious. Doesn’t matter, though. Redheart lives too deep in the projects to worry about law enforcement poking around her building. The blood will go ignored. Happenings this far downtown always do.
Redheart unlocks the door to her apartment and leads me inside while Dee runs back downstairs to fetch my gear and Redheart’s supply bag.
The apartment is small. Redheart flicks a switch on the wall and the room glows with a dim light.
The apartment is small. So small you can see all of it from the door. The old hardwood floor creaks under our hooves as Redheart guides me to her bed. Lays me down gently. Takes off my boots. Fluffs a pillow and rests my head on it. The mattress is old. Stiff. Softer than the one that waits for me back home but that isn’t saying much. The mattress is stiff, but I’m grateful for it just the same.
Yoosee Dee comes back up with my gear and Redheart’s supply bag. They stand at the door and discuss something in hushed voices. I can’t hear what they’re saying but the conversation makes both of them frown. Then Dee stomps her hoof loudly and glares a hole through Redheart’s skull. For a moment it looks as though they are about to start fighting right there in the doorway. I sit up. Watch them closely. Redheart is brave but she isn't the spry young filly she was in her youth and Dee is strong. Much younger and much, much stronger. She’d trample Redheart easily.
I sit up. Watch them closely. Read them. Everything hurts. I can hardly move but I force myself to sit up. Whether my body wants to cooperate or not matters little, because if Dee so much as breaths too heavily in Redheart’s direction, I will get out of this bed, and I will break her bucking neck.
For one long uncomfortable moment the three of us are on edge, and I feel my hooves begin to tremble with rage at the thought of Redheart being harmed. A million ugly thoughts crawl into the back of my head and take root, while something that must be my own heart thumps lividly against the inside of my chest.
I see red.
Then Redheart walks across the room. The distance is short. She walks across the room and opens one of the drawers on a dresser against the wall. From the drawer she produces a small sack of coins. The coins jingle as she riffles through them for a moment.
“Is this all of it?” Dee asks anxiously.
“It’s all I have,” answers Redheart.
Dee opens the sack and riffles through it herself. “It’s not even half of what we agreed.”
“It’s all I have.”
Dee grumbles under her breath. Turns to leave. Stops. Her intense electric blue eyes meet Redheart’s, then they fall on me where I lie on the bed. She regards the two of us with a look that is almost sympathy, but not quite, before suddenly shoving the bag of coins back into Redheart’s forelegs.
Dee gives back Redheart’s sack of bits, and gives me exactly one thing to like about her.
“Thank you, Dee,” says Redheart. Dee says nothing in return. And then she is gone.
From where I lie on Redheart’s sad, stiff bed I watch her make her way from the door over to what is supposed to be a kitchen. She turns on the stove. It's in such bad shape she seems surprised to see it light. Then she makes her way to the sink. Turns on the water. Splashes her face. Twists the handle as far as it will go, so that the water splashes violently when it reaches the sink. She does this, I assume, hoping that the sound of the rushing water will drown out the pitiful choking, gasping, gurgling noises that escape her as she vomits into the sink. I hear her. I see her too, even in the dim light. She has likely been holding in that little episode since she found me lying in the alley. Held it in and now she tries to hide it. She doesn’t want me to see her in her moment of weakness. Afraid to be vulnerable around me. Thinks she needs to put on a brave face for me. For me. The filly who chases criminals across rooftops in combat boots and a Kevlar vest. She has to be brave because I’m the weak one. The coward. The thought makes me smile. I can’t help but smile at how broken we are.
She sniffs and sobs for a few more minutes at the sink. Then I watch as she produces a knife from one the drawers underneath the kitchen counter. She holds the blade over the open flame on the stove. I’m exhausted. I want very much to sleep. I’m even willing to brave the projector in my head if it means finally getting some rest, but there is still one more thing that Redheart must do before all of my pieces are back in place.
She heats the blade until it glows a dull cherry red in the dim light. Turns off the stove and leaves it there to cool a bit while she walks to the bathroom. I must look like an idiot smiling in the dim light, because when Redheart makes her way back to the bed with a towel, she gives me a confused look.
“What’re you smiling at?” she asks as she twists the towel in her hooves.
“Us,” I say plainly, still smiling.
“Drink,” she says, ignoring me, offering me more of the bitter liquor to help numb the pain. I take a long swig and hope that it will be enough.
“Now bite down on this.” I can tell she’s trying hard to keep any emotion from showing in her face. I know the only emotion she’s feeling right now is dread, and she doesn’t want me to see it and be afraid. Does she think I am a child? Or maybe she does it to protect herself. I smile at her. Then I open my mouth wide, and Redheart stuffs the twisted up thing between my teeth, gagging me as gently as you can gag somepony. She leaves my side. Returns with the cherry-red knife glowing in her mouth---and suddenly I can’t find anything to smile about.
Redheart mounts me. She was born an earth pony but tonight she will attempt a procedure usually only performed by unicorns. The bullet that hit my foreleg went clean through but the one in my gut is still there.
I feel the heat radiating from the knife as it hovers inches above my abdomen. Redheart waits for me to nod. To let her know I’m ready. She looks down at me and there is so much love in her eyes it makes my heart ache. Her mother should have named her Bleeding Heart.
I nod and the searing knife mauls me. I wail into the towel. It is the worst pain I have ever felt, and I feel it with every fiber of my being. The living pain. The real burning, mocking, hateful, spiteful pain.
The searing knife mauls me, and I wail, and Redheart has not even begun digging the bullet out. She has only broken the stitches. I try not to thrash. Try to stay still. Thrashing will only make things harder for Redheart, so I try to lie still as the blade plunges deep into my hide and my teeth deep into the twisted towel.
I try not to thrash. My head spins. I close my eyes.
I close my eyes and the noose slips easily around Daisy’s neck.
It's all happening at once.
The noose slips easily around Daisy’s neck and the searing knife plunges into my flesh.
The noose tightens. It is the color of sand and the contrast it creates against Daisy’s velveteen purple coat is striking.
The blade plunges. It is a dull cherry-red in the dim light---similar to the rose colored mane on my head for which I am named---and it complements my own milky cream coat very well.
The noose tightens around my stomach. There is a hoof on my chest and the noose tightens around my stomach.
The blade plunges into Daisy’s neck. Her blood is a dull cherry-red in the dim light---similar to the rose colored mane on my head for which I am named.
No. This is wrong.
The hoof on my chest is the same cherry-red as the blade. Or is it pink? And the mouth holding the knife doesn’t have a face. No eyes. No nose. No ears. Only a mouth. Only a long narrow slit cut into a stark white void.
The blade plunges into Daisy’s neck, and she bleeds, and her blood is a dull cherry-red in the dim, dim light. It stains the lips of the faceless mouth.
The noose tightens around my stomach, and I feel the razor-winged butterflies squeeze themselves out through the hole in my gut.
No, no. This isn’t right.
I feel the butterflies squeezing their way out, razor wings shredding my insides as they flutter like mad. Before they are ringed out completely, the faceless mouth turns toward me and smiles. Or does it frown?
No. No. No!
The face turns to me and smiles or frowns, and if I do not open my eyes soon, Lily will die next.
Then the mouth spits out the blade and calls my name.
“Rose!” I hear Redheart shouting my name and it takes me a few seconds to realize I am awake, sitting up in her bed. Redheart is beside me. There’s something small, metal, blood-specked, and pulverized sitting on the night stand beside the bed. For a moment I don’t know where I am. Then it comes back. All of it. All at once. Chasing. Fleeing. The stallion with the tiger’s voice and the one whose haunches and hindquarters curve like mare’s. Falling: all corners and rough edges the whole way down. The hole in my gut. Tracy’s hat. The blood soaked backseat. All of it.
Redheart is sitting up on the bed beside me. I look for the hole in my gut but find it mended. Find all my pieces back in place.
“You were having a nightmare,” she says, trying very hard to keep from crying. “You passed out while I was digging the slug out of you.” She gestures toward the little metal thing on the nightstand. Then she lays me down on the bed. “You should get some rest,” she tells me. “It’s been a long night.” She’s right. It has.
She lays me down on the bed. Presses her forehead against mine and then kisses it before pulling a blanket over me. It and the bed are bloodstained, but Redheart is too tired to bother cleaning up. She pulls a blanket over me then gets up and goes to sleep on the couch. I want to tell her to stay in the bed with me but don’t. She gets up. Flicks the light switch off. Lies down on the couch. I want call her back to bed but don’t. I try but the words are sitting at the bottom of my stomach, comfortable right where they are.
I want to call to her. Words fail me. I don’t. Instead I find myself feeling around in the dark for the little hunk of lead on the nightstand. When I find it, I hold it up between my hooves. Wanting to look at it. To see it. I can't. It's too dark.
I hold the little hunk of lead in my hooves, pressing it to my chest longingly.
"A little closer and you would've had me, you little bastard," I whisper to the small inanimate thing. "A little closer and I would've been free of my fear and my shame and my nightmares. Just a little closer."
I tuck the little bastard under my pillow for safekeeping. Then I close my eyes and let the nightmares take me.