To say he was a cruel man, well, that would be an understatement. He was an evil man, manipulative and violent to the one who had naively given him her heart. Perhaps, it would be best to say that he had stolen her heart, taken it by blunt force, infecting what never should have been his—her heart. His temper was endless and she had the scars to prove it. Always breaking her down and then building her back up only to break her again. Incentivizing her with love and intimidating her into selflessly loving him back. Like him, the cycle was endlessly cruel.
His name was Anthony Mathes. He didn’t have a middle name nor did he have much of a reputable family history but it did not matter because he could invent a lie to make it truth to the rest of the world. To Anthony Mathes, he was not Anthony Mathes but instead Antonio Matador after his great-great-great-grandfather whom had sailed the seven seas many some moons ago from the distant Iberian Peninsula, or at least that’s what he would tell everyone. Antonio was a handsome man, a man of about thirty with the jealous and petty mindset of a child no older than the age of eight. To the outside world he appeared to be a valorous and selfless man but in the pit of his stomach he knew he was nothing but a self-conscious coward who preyed and fed on the love of the weak.
She was weak. Her name was Angela Ella Francis, after no one but her absent-headed mother’s obsession with the church and fairytales. She was a girl trying to be a woman. Yes, even still at the ripe old age of twenty-five-years old she was still just a girl. Raised in a household by some man who was not her biological father’s interpretation of God. She was all but beaten with the bible. With the perfect curation of her stepfather’s biblical wrath and her mother’s delusional bedtime stories, Angela was bamboozled with naivety. She was destined to be a victim.
Angela really was just a girl lost in the romance of a world that was no longer romantic. And that is exactly how Antonio won her over, you see? It was just a few years ago that he had said some sad quixotic words to her in that muggy dive bar just a ways down Tree Lane through his drunken haze. He reminded her of her late mother’s stories of men fighting for the love of a fairy princess. He was nothing close to Prince Charming but when you are a girl from a small town who has never been outside of state lines, any man who talks of taking you to the sea that you have always longed to see, will be a prince to you.
“You’ve never been to the Pacific?” he said with a sparkle in his empty ocean blue eyes. “My great-great-great-grandfather sailed the seven seas some many moons ago from the distant Iberian Peninsula.”
She smiled at his enchanting family history, not that she knew where or what the Iberian Peninsula was.
“If you’d have me, I’d love to take you some day…to the sea that is,” he seduced as the foam of a freshly poured pint kissed his upper lip.
It was there, that moment that she blindly sold herself to the monster that he would soon become. On that very moment on a Tuesday evening in her bar, her bar that she had worked at since she was seventeen-years-old, that she allowed herself to be seduced by this complete stranger. She had not of clue of Antonio’s past nor did she care the slightest bit of his present. How was she to know that his father was a haggard drunk and that he was soon to become one himself and that his whore of a mother had flown from the nest at the first chance she had gotten and that his version of love was the kind in which he controlled everything? Even if Angela had known all of these things, who was she to judge? She had never known her real father and the one who was perhaps a poorer substitution for his absence, had also been a man of cruel love. A man who sold the word of God door-to-door to strangers and then forced that same benevolent word of God down his sick wife’s throat and let his poor stepdaughter witness his misogynistic words against her mother—her bearer of light. No, he never struck her mother because she was far too sick at this point in her life nor had he laid a finger on Angela but sometimes words cut deeper than the blade of a dull kitchen knife, for they go straight to the heart.
As Antonio’s trodden words slipped from his mouth and dripped into her heart, Angela imagined her forever life with this man. A man she barely knew and would never really know. Love, she thought, I am in love. That is all her lonely soul could fester up. Easy it was to sell herself so short—she had seen her mother do it for nearly the whole of her life. Her late mother— God rest her soul—had filled her head with nothing but fantasies to mask her denial of a wasted life.
Poor Angela, she never stood a chance against a soul so deeply damaged like Antonio’s. All she knew of the world was what her mother’s bedtime stories had taught her, the fantasies to escape her realities. These stories, she thought, they are my story. See, she really could not fathom that the world was an imperfect place, because to her, everything was a fairytale despite her less than perfect upbringing. Angela had inherited more than her mother’s golden hair and honey-colored eyes, her mother had passed down to her the most despicable of all characteristics—Denial.
That night at the bar, the very night that they had met, Antonio sat on his wobbly, four-legged wooden stead across the splintering wood of the bar top from the fair bar-maiden that was Angela. His hair dark, his eyes light and his words warm. He was exactly the way she had pictured her noble prince to be, or at least that was the way some fairytale somewhere had described some prince or other. Undoubtedly, he was charming, telling her of his adventures across the country from coast to coast with his band. How they would make it big any day now and how he without a doubt carried the weight of the band on his shoulders. He was the lead everything. Lead guitarist and vocals, it was a three man band but a one man show according to Antonio. Angela was in awe, she had never in her life met someone so…awe-inspiring. As Antonio droned on about his impending fame, Angela’s senses slipped her and she fell into a fairyland. Sometimes her fantasies were almost hallucinatory, truly breaking her from reality.
For hours, Antonio’s voice sang about him but Angela never heard his out of tune song. She only saw the fantasies that clouded her head, the things that she so badly wished to be true. To her, he sang of possibility. She imagined herself backstage at his show, dressed in a metallic sequence dress that would have otherwise been too much for her to afford had he not made it big. She was shining, beaming really. She looked like a queen, her hair ravishedly raptured in rock’n roll, her dress capturing the glinting stage lights and her heart perfectly synchronized with the strumming strings of his singing guitar. Just a hundred feet away from her onstage was her Prince Charming. Antonio making the crowd weak in the knees. He would hum the chorus and the crowd in harmonious harmony would sing the lyrics back to him. His lyrics sang of a hard love, a love that made a person grow up…that is, if they could get past it.
Antonio grabbed her hand, calling her back to the reality of the emptying bar in the middle of that ho-bunk town in the middle of nowhere. Jostled by his touch, she smirked. Her hand felt like it was on fire. The excitement of his touch spread like disease from her beer-soaked hand, up her frail right arm, across her clavicle plunging diagonally into her unprepared heart. The moment his plaguing touch found its way into her heart was the moment that she was infected with the naivety of a first love. An endangering selflessness now ate its way through her body. He’s the one, she thought. Silly girl, with the graze of a hand Antonio could have had her sign her soul away to the Devil. He was the Devil. He knew exactly what he was doing when his bewitching words belched from his gob into her ear, “When can I see you again?” Not wanting her to leave the bar, he latched onto her hand like a leech, nearly causing her heart to pound out of her chest.
Angela stood speechless. Never had a man shown so much interest in her. She wondered what it was that he saw in her because it was the world that she had seen in him as he straddled that rattly bar stool with his life story spewing from his chapped lips. How was she supposed to answer him? She had never been asked a question like that. Should she have told him that in those few hours in the bar that she thought she had fallen in love with him? That he was the answer to her prayers? That he was her Prince Charming? But instead of saying any of those sickeningly romantic things, she just shrugged.
He chuckled a half maniacal, half heart-warming chuckle and asked, “How about Thursday?”
Her cheeks turned as red as the jar of maraschino cherries that sat just behind her left shoulder next to the bottle of Jack that Boris Higgins had nearly drank dry.
“Where can I pick you up?” he asked sensing her shyness.
And for the first time in hours, Angela strung together a complete sentence, “I live in the apartment above the bar.”
They both laughed, he at the simplicity in the location and she because he.
Thursday came and as promised, Antonio arrived at her apartment at half past six. With a bouquet of daisies that he had obviously picked himself off of the side of the road and the oozing smell of his cheap cologne, he knocked on her door. Angela had been ready for hours, barely sleeping a wink the night before. The infinite sheep she counted whilst tucked away in her bug-ridden bed had kept her up with all of their baa-ing as they jumped overhead. She had asked them to leave her be, but they had no interest in entertaining themselves with someone else’s overcrowded head. So it was through the night and into the morning that she was serenaded with the baa-ing of a herd of magical jumping sheep that only she could see and when she lost count, they would make her start again. And again. And again.
Her head really was overcrowded, she had never been on a date before and a man as handsome and as smart as Antonio must have been on many, she thought. A bundle of nerves she was as she pried her nearly unhinged front door open. There he was, in all of his shapeshifting glory—tonight he would be a dreamweaver, a gentleman and a prince but months later he would be a dream-killer, a drunk, and a philanderer. Antonio whistled some cliche whistle at the sight of Angela.
She was a vision wearing her late mother’s dress—the one that she had always thought of as a little girl to befit a princess.
“One day when you are big and grown, you can have this very dress, my little princess,” her mother would say as she swayed about the room flicking her hands through the sides of the storm-cloud-colored dress to make the wind catch and the tiny train that followed flutter in the draft of her step.
That was a better time, a time before her mother had become too sick to walk, before her stepfather had run away from them, before Angela had been forced to grow up into her mother’s sole caretaker. Angela would sit on the edge of the bed watching completely mute as her mother danced about the fading room of their dilapidated apartment, humming some long forgotten song. Her mother was never as beautiful as she was in that dress. Long flowing motions, the dress would dance, engulfing its wearer in the calm calamity of its celestial sea. The dress was ethereal, something a fairy godmother would grant a girl to make her into the princess that she had always deserved to be. Bibbidi-bobbidi-boo.