Karin Slaughter

Skin Privilege

For Susan


What had they given her? What had the needle brought into her veins? She could barely keep her eyes open, but her ears were working almost too well. Under a sharp, piercing ring, she could hear a skip in the car's engine, the thump-thump as the tires rolled over uneven terrain. The man sitting beside her in the backseat spoke softly, almost like a lullaby you would sing to a child. There was something calming about his tone, and she found her head dropping down as he talked, only to jerk back up at Lena 's curt, cutting responses.

Her shoulders ached from stretching her hands behind her back. Or maybe they didn't ache. Maybe she just thought they should, so her brain sent the message that they did. The ache was dull, a thud that throbbed along with her beating heart. She tried to focus on other things, like the conversation going on around her or where Lena was driving the car. Instead, she found herself spiraling back into her body, cocooning into every new sensation like a newborn rolling into a blanket.

The back of her legs were stinging from the leather, though she did not know why. It was cool out. There was a chill on the back of her neck. She remembered sitting in her father's Chevette on a long trip to Florida. There was no air-conditioning and it was the middle of August. All four windows were rolled down, but nothing would cut the heat. The radio crackled. There was no music, no station they could all agree on. In the front seat, her parents argued over the route, the cost of gas, whether or not they were speeding. Outside of Opelika, her mother told her father to pull over at the general store so they could buy frozen Cokes and orange crackers. They all winced as they moved to get out of the car, the skin on the back of their arms and legs sticking to the seats as if the heat had cooked their bodies to the vinyl.

She felt the car lurch as Lena put the gear into park. The engine was still humming, the soft purr vibrating in her ears.

There was someone else – not in the car, but in the distance. They were on the football field. She recognized the scoreboard, big letters screaming 'GO MUSTANGS!'

Lena had turned around, was watching both of them. Beside her, the man shifted. He tucked the gun into the waistband of his jeans. He was wearing a ski mask, the kind you saw in horror films, where only the eyes and mouth were revealed. That was enough, though. She knew him, could almost say his name if her mouth would only move to let her.

The man said something about being thirsty, and Lena passed him a large Styrofoam cup. The white of the cup was intense, almost blinding. Out of nowhere, she felt a thirst in her throat like never before. The suggestion of water was enough to bring tears to her eyes.

Lena was looking at her, trying to say something without using her voice.

Suddenly, the man slid across the backseat, moved close enough so that she could feel the heat off his body, smell the subtle musk of his aftershave. She felt his hand go around the back of her neck, resting lightly on the nape. His fingers were soft, gentle. She concentrated on his voice, knew that what was being said was important, that she had to listen.

'You gonna leave?' the man asked Lena. 'Or do you want to stay put and hear what I have to say?'

Lena had turned away from them, maybe had her hand on the door handle. She turned back now, saying, 'Tell me.'

'If I had wanted to kill you,' he began, 'you would already be dead. You know that.'


'Your friend here…' He said something else, but his words were jumbled together so that by the time they reached her ears, they meant nothing. She could only look at Lena and judge from the other woman's reaction what her own should be.

Fear. She should be afraid.

'Don't hurt her,' Lena begged. 'She's got children. Her husband-'

'Yeah, it's sad. But you make your choices.'

'You call that a choice?' Lena snapped. There was more, but all that came across was terror. The exchange continued, then she felt a sudden chill come over her. A familiar odor filled the car - heavy, pungent. She knew what it was. She'd smelled it before but her mind could not tell her when or where.

The door opened. The man slid out of the car and stood there, looking at her. He did not look sad or upset. He looked resigned. She had seen that look before. She knew him – knew the cold eyes behind the mask, the wet lips. She had known him all of her life.

What was the smell? She should remember this smell.

He murmured a few words. Something flashed in his hand – a silver cigarette lighter.

She understood now. Panic sent a flood of adrenaline to her brain, cutting through the fog, slashing right to her heart.

Lighter fluid. The cup had contained lighter fluid. He had poured it all over her body. She was soaked – dripping in it.

'No!' Lena screamed, lunging, fingers splayed.

The lighter dropped onto her lap, the flame igniting the liquid, the liquid burning her clothes. There was a horrible keening – it was coming from her own throat as she sat helplessly watching the flames lick up her body. Her arms jerked up, her toes and feet curled in like a baby's. She thought again of that long-ago trip to Florida, the exhausting heat, the sharp, unbearable rip of pain as her flesh cooked to the seat.



Sara Linton looked at her watch. The Seiko had been a gift from her grandmother on the day Sara graduated from high school. On Granny Em's own graduation day, she had been four months from marriage, a year and a half from bearing the first of her six children and thirty-eight years from losing her husband to cancer. Higher education was something Emma's father had seen as a waste of time and money, especially for a woman. Emma had not argued – she was raised during a time when children did not think to disagree with their parents – though she made sure that all four of her surviving children attended college.

Вы читаете Skin Privilege
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату