A Night of Candor and Violence

A Night of Candor and Violence

Jun 05, 2024

Trigger warnings: implied rape, domestic violence, queerphobia, sexism, explicit body horror.

“Oh. Corinne. My goodness, you came. I hadn’t expected to see you here.”

There is no excitement in my aunt’s voice, but still I smile, demurely bowing my head. She turns away, muttering something to my uncle, appraising me, smirking. I sit and, with feigned confidence, laugh along. Feigned because I know what she is saying. She’s been saying it for years, at first with concern, now with insouciance. At first in gentle whispers, now a pantomime for all to see.

She never leaves the house.

She can’t keep a man.

She never does anything at all.

The house lights dim; darkness crushes the velvet seats and rusts the gallery’s gilded filigree to ruin. A hush falls on the crowd as the heavy curtains rise, a single spotlight highlighting its actor. “Yes, well,” I whisper, crunching around the words with ground-down teeth, an ache in the apples of my cheeks, “tonight was very important for Toby. I should love to watch his debut.”

I bore holes into the faint silhouette of the woman seated in front of me, her meek little giggle driving a nail of fury through my head as her slick-haired companion guffaws at his own joke. As though he were capable of wit, cretin that he seems. He fiddles with his bowtie and I silently wish he would choke himself.

I pull at my gloves, hoping the cool silk will ease the itch clawing into my flesh. Hoping my skin won’t slip free, a wet lining for my garments.


I puttered about the kitchen, gathering biscuits and scones, making a fresh pot of tea as my brother’s laughter wafted down the hall. His friends joined him in the liveliness, and I ached to know what I was missing. But he had asked for treats, and mine were his favorite.

I stacked the plates and food on a tray—the ceramic scraped against itself and my teeth mirrored its wail—and carried it through to the sitting room, my hands shaking only when I approached my brother’s dearest friend.

Elsie, with her wild curls always corralled into a bun, strays still slipping free here and there. Elsie with her smile always ready on her lips, ready to jump at any opportunity to indulge in her joie de vivre with scarlet-painted whimsy. Elsie, with her voice smooth as honey and spiced with smoke. How I dreamt of tasting it.

She poured herself a cup of tea as I served the others.

“May I have a little lemon in mine, please, Corinne?” Andrew, Elsie’s beau, asked.

“Oh, mine too,” Toby added.

I obliged, retrieving a halved lemon and squeezing it over their porcelain.

Elsie waved me over when I was done. As always, she stood at the center of the group, at my brother’s right hand, at the center of it all. She was the eye of the storm, the quiet amid dangers and unknowns and unknowables, and I was drawn to her as readily as a blade of grass to a twister.

I stood by her as she entertained the boys with stories of false debauchery—Elsie was the most respectable girl in our circles, this was known—but their falsehood did nothing to detract from her performances. She was enthralling, and I, a thrall.

“Isn’t that right, Rinny?” She elbowed me playfully, grinning.

I came back to the moment with no recollection of what she’d said. “W-what?” I sputtered, a few drops of tea spilling from my lips in place of a quip I desperately wished to make.

Elsie laughed and leaned close. “Rinny Rin Rin, dribbling tea on her chinny chin chin.” She snatched at someone’s kerchief—whose, I can’t say, so hypnotized was I by her nearing lips. With gentleness I only dreamt of, she cleaned the warm liquid from my skin and looked into me. I saw myself, scared and flustered, reflected in her dark eyes, a lump of unvoiced desire trembling at the mercy of another’s inamorata.

I set down my cup and pushed past her, escaping to the kitchen where nobody would follow, my heart pounding desperately despite my blood pulsing to somewhere I didn’t dare acknowledge.

Only someone did follow.

“Are you alright, darling?” came her husky voice, sending fog through my mind.

The warmth of her concern burned in my cheeks, and something in me threatened to crack from the heat. Something I’d walled away, that pushed against my will whenever she was near. I faced her. “Yes, thank you, I’m fine,” I said with a tremor in my throat. She didn’t believe me, I could tell from the subtle arch of her brow.

Elsie moved closer and rested a hand on my shoulder, squeezing it gently, the way she always did, all through our lives, whenever I was upset. “Rinny, are you alright?” she asked quietly.

Perhaps it was the perpetual affection—the compassion I’d known and grown to love, and grew within—that cracked the dam within me and pushed my body forward, into hers, into her lips. I closed my eyes against the knowledge that the risk I took could never outweigh the damage it could wreak. Maybe if I didn’t watch myself do it, it wouldn’t frighten me.

“Elsie! What in the world are you doing?”

A snap of her name and she pulled away with my breath caught in her throat, turning to the door where Andrew stood with anger painted into his features like cheap carmine powders. He glared at her, shocked and betrayed, and paid me no mind, as though I was invisible to his ire. It was me, I wanted to say, but fear speared my tongue to my mouth.

One word from me and the word would be out. I would be out.

Of a home, a family.

Of options.

Elsie glanced at me and shook her head almost imperceptibly before turning back to her suitor and filling her voice with gaiety. “I was just having a little fun, Andrew, don’t worry. She’s not going to tell anyone.” She looped her arm with his, ignoring the stiffness in his body.

He inhaled sharply and I felt his anger stew. Through gritted teeth, he finally addressed me. “Corinne, would you mind if I steal her away for a moment?”

Again, Elsie gestured almost imperceptibly, nodding, and smiled at me.

I heard myself speak as though in the distance, a voice disembodied, a body abandoned. A skin sloughed of spirit, unspoiled flesh peppered with regret. “N-no, of course not.”


During the intermission, I make for the bar, desperate for something to soothe the perforations I imagine forming where my silk dress pulls out my follicles. Something sweet like honey, and deep as smoke.


The grin paints itself before I turn, Melpomene parading as Thalia twirling under the sickly yellow lights. I fill my voice with empty gaiety, a weak imitation of an unforgotten talent. “Good evening,” I say to the new tuxedo filled turgid with an old family friend.

He appraises me too. “Well. Aren’t you looking lovely?”

I hear it. I hear the meaning, the jab, the unspoken but deafening criticism in the stilted words. I’ve been hearing it for years, whenever guests visit the home and I get caught between my chambers and the kitchen or, less often, the washroom.

Aren’t you looking lovely for a recluse? For a failed, free-loading dilettante?

My smile almost falls but I conceal the lapse by patting at a crease in the skirts of my dress, picking at a stray speck of lint. My lips split again, dragged apart by the hooks of instilled civility. I taste rust in my words but swallow down the wad. “A young lady must look her best in polite company.”

“Yes,” he says. He pauses for just too long. “Indeed.”


The hour was late when our doorbell rang.

My parents were out celebrating with Toby, no doubt indulging him in frivolities for his birthday. That suited me fine; I’d feigned sickness and asked to stay behind so as not to ruin his celebrations with my despondence. If you’re sure, darling. Don’t forget to clean up before you settle down to rest. Try to have some soup, won’t you?

I answered the door and found Andrew on our stoop, melancholy dripping from him, heavier than the rain soaking his coat.

“She’s done this before,” he said weakly.

My heart skipped a beat, though I couldn’t tell if it did so with jealousy or with hope.

I let him in but said nothing as I helped him out of his coat leaden with water, and hung it by the kitchen door where it could drip dry. I set about making tea and slicing a lemon, and offered him leftover biscuits.

He shook his head. “I’m sorry. It’s late, I shouldn’t be here. Please forget I said anything.”

“Wait,” the jealousy said.

“Don’t go yet,” the hope added.


“What do you have that’s sweet?” I ask the barman.

“We have a lovely cherry liqueur,” he says, pouring a glass of something dark for another audience member.

I grimace at the thought and try again. “What do you have that’s sweet and smoky?”

He smiles and nods at his customer, handing over the tumbler steeping its elixir before moving closer to me. He wipes his hands on a pristine rag, leaning on the glass counter and whispering, “Cherry liqueur and a cigarette.”

A snort escapes me and he laughs, a sound much like a fireplace of spent, crackling embers; it warms me.

Someone clears their throat. “Excuse me, miss, I’d like a drink too. Would you mind?”

The last word spills disdain on the counter and I leave with a rouged cleft and not another word.


We spent the evening talking about Elsie and her stories. I learned they were not all fabrications, and she had indeed enjoyed illicit moments with other girls, but I didn’t share Andrew’s disdain for it. I couldn’t. But neither did I confess to pulling out this last straw of his. I felt little guilt at unmaking their bond, even as he rubbed his hands over his face and wept at our kitchen table. He had been in our home many times, I had known him since I could barely pronounce his name, but never had I seen him distraught, and never had I expected to be ambivalent to his aching.

He vented at length, expulsing his contempt like a chimney swept after years of clogging, his rancid emotions polluting my lungs. I choked it down politely. He told me he may as well have swallowed poison each time she had tasted a woman’s lips, and I wondered if she had only tasted their mouths.

I flushed at the thought and wished Andrew would take his leave. I needed to run a bath, to soak, to retrace my stolen moment with my fingers.

“I’m sorry, Corinne,” he muttered.

I jolted free of my fantasy. “For what?”

“She should never have put you in that position. It was thoughtless. What if it had been your parents who caught her?” He sighed, exasperated, concern furrowed into his brow. He looked at me with dark eyes, strands of damp blond lingering across them. “It could have ruined you.”

His sincerity made me pause and I watched him quietly as he stoked the fire.

“I should go, it’s late, but I hate the thought of leaving you alone here.”

I grinned. “I’ve spent many nights alone here. Please don’t worry yourself over nothing.”

He nodded and stood, walking to the kitchen and donning his still-soaking coat. “I’ll leave through here, there’s no sense flooding your hallway again.”

Chuckling, I wrapped a few biscuits in cloth and pushed them into his arms. “Nothing a mop couldn’t fix.”

Andrew opened the door and hesitated at a blinding flash of lightning. “Would…would you mind if I stay for a moment? Just until the rain eases.” His eyes darted away, as though what he asked of me was too much.

I smiled through my exhaustion, gritting my teeth as my jaw cracked with thunder. Though I wanted desperately to ready myself for bed, I didn’t have the heart to throw him out on the street in a storm. “No, of course not. Would you like some more tea?”

“You’re too kind, Corinne. You’re so very good,” he said as he left the biscuits on the counter and removed his coat before returning to the settee and warming himself by the fire.

I followed him through. “Don’t be silly, it’s no trouble.”


It was a night of candor and violence that I had not welcomed, but the hour was late and I had opened the door.


The curtains rise again and cart in act two, where my brother is set to make his debut. My aunt is hypnotized by the performance, weak to its ostentation. Perhaps I would be too if not for the cloying scent of sweetened lemons that cuts through my other senses.

Roiling from a dermal memory, I sit up straight and glance around in the glittering dark. The velvet of my seat scrapes and burns what little skin my dress exposes, like the brocade of a settee put to improper use by a dying fire. My heart is pounding loudly in my temples, alarms and doorbells ringing over the actor belting something on-stage.

“Will you settle down?” my aunt spits. “You’re spinning like a top.”

“I’m sorry, it’s just—”

The silhouette before me turns and shushes me, and I melt back into my seat, smiling an apology that tears at the sinews of my cheeks. I feel the meat of my mouth slop onto my tongue but I chew the mass in silence, conscious of the wet sounds I try not to make.


“Back so soon?” the barman jests.

I offer him the pearls of my propriety, a feat easier now than any other time this night. “I still need a drink, after all.”

“I have many a draft,” he says, gesturing broadly at the gilded shelves bearing a kaleidoscope of vices, “but you don’t seem keen on cherries. What about a gin and tonic? It’s a classic, it’s uncomplicated, it’s clean.”

“Why not? Tonight seems the night to try new things.”

His brow quirks but he doesn’t pry as he makes my drink before the rest of the audience filters into the room. The glass, already dewing with condensation, is before me in short order. “I took the liberty of adding a little flavor. Something to—if I may be so bold—liven up your night.”

I narrow my eyes at the drink.

He chuckles. “Just flavors, no extra alcohol.”

Satisfied with his earnestness, I take a sip and drop the glass the moment lemon touches my tongue. A layer of my nerves burns in its acid, pooling in the corners of my mouth as I hesitate to swallow, yet I resist the urge to spit it out.

“Are you alright?” the barman asks, snatching at his rag and cleaning up the spill. His eyes are full of concern and confusion.

I flex my tongue—my overworked muscle—and choke down the citrus. Bile rises to meet it. “Yes, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I say as I stumble back to my seat, failing to ignore the whispers of drunkard, layabout, leech, and the strips of skin that slip away beneath my feet.


“Andrew told me what you did,” Toby whispered in the kitchen, sneaking up behind me and stealing grapes from Father’s breakfast plate.

I froze as I grabbed the kettle. “What?”

Toby eyed me and took the kettle from my grasp. “Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about, Rinny. It was only last week.” 

My tongue swelled with fear and blocked any sound from escaping my throat.

After a moment, my brother prompted me. “My birthday?”

Cold fear swept through me and I had a mind to put my bare hands on the kettle to feel anything but. “I-I-I—No, I didn’t—”

He laughed as he poured four cups of tea. He turned to me and smiled, kissing the top of my head, his stubble grazing my skin. “It’s okay, you know. I’m happy for you.”

I hesitated, confused. “Are…you?”

With barely any effort, he hopped onto the counter and sat smirking at me. “I won’t lie, I was surprised he ended things with Elsie, but I’m glad he found comfort with you. He’s a good man, and you’re a good girl.”

Found. Comfort.

“Oh,” I said, and added a spritz of lemon to his tea.


Elsie stopped visiting after that day.

Toby said she went holidaying on the coast but something in his tone told me she wouldn’t be returning. I tried not to crack under that unspoken revelation, and the guilt I hadn’t felt with Andrew’s grief finally flooded me. I excused myself and drowned my tears in the bath.

It didn’t take long for the rumors to begin.

Pitiful glances were thrown to me at every opportunity, wilted roses on a stage, and the murmurs floated in my wake no matter where I went. Whatever tale had been spun, and by whomever’s lips, it was that I was a victim and Elsie a heathen. A narrative I was too scared and heartbroken to correct. My mouth now existed to grin and laugh and bury the truth under my tongue.

The story continued and wound around itself and me, a bodice pulled tight. I could hardly breathe, I had no space in my lungs for truth-telling, and my ribs folded inwards under the weight of the lie. But it shaped me into something desirable.

It brought Andrew back to my door time and again.


“What a perfect pair,” was something I heard often, as though I was the final puzzle piece to Andrew’s image, or perhaps he was the missing one for mine. Not that a girl of sixteen had any business worrying about an image. Nonetheless, I heard it often and each time injected acerbity into the cells of my cheeks, freezing them in a perfect arc, balling them into targets for lips, or fingers, or fists.

It never truly mattered that below my surface lingered a quiet, roiling anguish. Self-inflicted, I told myself. I had accepted his proposal, after all, even though we—he?—had stained the navy brocade in the sitting room with crimson. Even though he had stained the pallor of my body with blue.

I grew talented in the art of performance, a fine actress in my own right; I could have contended with Toby, his little sister a prodigy formed, not born.

Had I known how Andrew would be, I would never have opened the door.

But I had, and those were the consequences of my choices. He had taken me—for a fool and a bride—and I, coward that I was, continued stitching on my perfectly-crafted costume each morning, slipping out of myself each night, waiting for the next stain to seep into silk so I could excuse myself and escape to the washroom until dawn.

The girl in the mirror and I became close. She was beautiful. Not for any natural allure—I had always been ordinary—but for the skill she had developed with deft fingers and a defter tongue. She could suture sapphic truths under layers of spousal devotion deemed worthy of acceptance, and I never challenged her reign. I let her carry on because I knew if I took her place, I would fall apart at the seams, the moist stuffing of my husk splattering the feet of my betters. No, I never intervened. Not even when the meat of her cheeks grew gaunt and taut, and the capillaries burst from the strain.

No matter, she would say as she hid wounds with cotton and pigment.


“Perhaps you shouldn’t be here,” my aunt hisses before the curtains rise for the last time.

I still my hands as I fuss over my skirts. I eye her and look away, certain my grin no longer hides my truths. “It’s Toby’s special night.”

“Yes, it is, yet you keep making a right show of yourself. You’re creating a bigger spectacle than he.”

The house lights dim, finally.

“Perhaps you’d be behaving better if you’d managed to keep Andrew around. Goodness, you used to be such a good girl.”

Something inside me falls away.

My brother is on the stage but I can’t hear him. I can barely see him. My mind teeters on the brink, lemon staining my nerves and trailing acid down my throat, into my bones. It stings at the shredded meat of my cheeks, at my gums, inflamed from years of gritting. I can smell it, and I hear its bitterness in the murmurs of the crowd. It lingers in the darkness, where rumors and gossip wait to ruin me the way I was ruined on a night of twisters and rain, the last time I tasted honey and smoke.

In the controlled chaos of the theater, I am almost sure I am standing on a trap door. Will my world give way to a dark underbelly, where spiders and sandbags and undesirables are home, and polite society will have no need of me until they want their next thrill? Will I be trapped in the moldering dank away from humanity?

Will I mind?

Velvet no longer chafes at me.

Why are my legs weak?

Why are they wet?

Something knocks into my hip and though it is soft, I grimace in pain and bite back a cry so I don’t disturb the audience. A bruise will form, this I know, but I will hide it as I always do. With cloth and smiles and powders.

I trip on the hem of my dress. In the low light, I cannot tell why my gait feels broken. Silk no longer flays my flesh and I feel almost free.

“Would you mind—” someone snaps under a violin screech.

The music swells at the play’s climax, a crescendo of discordant words that tumble from cymbals and flutes and instruments I could never name, shaped like my aunt’s mouth, like the punters’, like his.

Would you mind?

Would you mind?

Would you—

The crack of my jaw hides beneath a thundering drum as my brother twirls upon the stage, a whirlwind of charmeuse and greasepaint and expectations that weighed nothing on his spine. His voice carries words that do not speak to him, for him, that he belts with abandon because his tongue is not tethered to the pleasure of others. He is free to please them of his own volition.

I smile wider, my mandible pulled from me by envy. It clatters to the carpet in a silent thud as I try to mutter apologies to the crowd. My tongue hangs loosely from my skull, saliva trickling down my neck, briefly cooling my skin before growing slick and tacky. I wipe at it with my gloved hands but they, too, are wet. In the cavernous hall where shadows churn against stage lights, pinpricks of darker fluids stain through silk and I know my skin has finally abandoned me. No more will my puppet flesh play tricks for me.

Eyes glisten in the dark as they turn away from my brother and land on me, widening in horror, dilating in darkness, in disdain. They blink confusion, derision, and their mouths open wide to react, though not as wide as mine.

“Miss, please, you’re ruining the show!”

I shed my lifetime of masking and performances, and slip from my skin. It pools, wetness soaking the carpeted aisle, a slick line of shine left to guide their judgments up my legs, where their violence can mingle with my red. A viscous jumble of tissue tumbles out of me and bursts beneath my stride. The vitriolic stench of pretense and waste flushes the citrus from my nostrils and I almost thank my bowels for expelling themselves.

Gasps escape the maws of people nearby, and I hear their grunts of disgust as bile rushes out of my bisected head, bringing with it what little food I’d managed to swallow in the previous days. Mush floats in the fluid and I gag on myself.

“Control yourself, madame!”

My spine snaps and I stumble into the mess, unable to bear my grins any longer.

Enjoy this post?

Buy Damon Barret Roe a coffee

More from Damon Barret Roe