Wednesday, March 21, 2012

9 Days of Madness Presents: Love Makes You Real by Marissa Giambelluca

Marissa Giambelluca is a new name to me, but one I hope to hear a lot more of very soon.

Her story, presented here today, approaches the theme in a completely different way than I could have expected when I put the topic out into the field. There's something very subtle at play in her words that makes this story crackle with a life of its own. The reality, I think, will creep up on you as you read, and perhaps for a little while after. It is, in its own right, truly "unsettling".

Please welcome Marissa, and her story, Love Makes You Real.

~~ 9DOM ~~

Love Makes You Real

The body wasn’t as bloody as Charlotte pictured a dead body to be. It was bloody, just not as bloody. There were two irregularly shaped holes in the flesh, dark openings that could only result from a gunshot. The body’s pale skin would have been more shocking if the winter weather hadn’t caused everyone else to look the same.

Charlotte was leaving the drugstore when it happened. She usually went to pick up the morning after pill, or the “fix-it” pill as her now ex-boyfriend, Steven, deemed it. He refused to use a condom because they made him “feel nothing” and she never got birth control because it gave her headaches and made her breasts tender. So she walked to the drug store each time and bought Plan B. The pharmacist knew her well. His slight smile was meant to comfort her but she knew it was concealing great judgments.  This time he said “Good luck” as he handed her the pharmacy bag and Charlotte wondered what good luck consisted of in her situation.

She stepped out into the harsh early morning sun, and gasped as she nearly crushed the body’s fingers under her foot. She had seen a dead body once before this at her aunt’s funeral when she was a teenager. She and her father were the only family members who went: her aunt’s alcoholism and gambling burned all of her bridges. Her father warned,

“Don’t you ever end up like her” with the faint smell of whisky on his breath and she was afraid.

She had never seen a body in the middle of the sidewalk before, though. Charlotte turned to leave but her eyes stayed fixed on the body. The girl seemed to be around the same age as Charlotte, which sent a rapid shiver down her spine. The front pocket was vibrating as a cell phone fought for freedom, hitting the cement with a light thud.

Without thinking, Charlotte reached down. She watched the phone jerk in her cradled palms, like the worms she used to dig up when she was little. She would watch them writhe in pain as she cut them in half with a stick. Her curiosity got the best of her.


“Tracy honey, I got anxious waiting, I’m down the block so don’t leave.” She sounded like every word was using her last breath.

A shrieking “Oh my God” exploded behind Charlotte and she knew instantly that someone was finally having a normal reaction to a corpse on the sidewalk. She didn’t turn; she kept walking.

After Charlotte was far enough away to take deeper breaths, an elderly woman shuffled past with an expressionless face. The woman walked to the forming crowd and Charlotte could see her staring down at the body for a few moments. The lady turned quickly and shuffled back towards Charlotte and her mouth seemed to be moving as if she were talking to herself.

When the old lady got close enough to Charlotte she eyed the pharmacy bag and laughed to herself.

“Tracy I almost walked right past you. Did you find the vitamins you were looking for?” Charlotte felt the woman grab onto her arm. At a loss for words, she just smiled and contemplated ways to let this woman know she had the wrong girl.

The lady began walking and describing the dinner she was going to make for New Years in a couple of days. Meanwhile Charlotte only half listened, overcome by feelings of responsibility for this woman’s future heartache. Once they neared a small home Charlotte stopped short of the front porch.

Charlotte tried to think of a way to say things as delicately as possible, like when she tried to explain to her mother that she had no choice but to go back to the institution. Even at that young age Charlotte could see her real mother, the compassionate and thoughtful mother she knew, slipping away. The manic symptoms of her mother’s disorders grew more and more unbearable. Charlotte remembered crying as she hugged her mother goodbye and watched her father drive her back for the last time. That was over a decade ago though.

“I’m sorry, but don’t you see that I am not Tracy?” The old lady stopped and studied Charlottes eyes as if she thought the answers to her questions would be behind them.
“Could you help me up these stairs?  You know they always give me some trouble.” The old lady began to lift her foot sluggishly as though it weighed a ton.

“You know you’re very silly. Not my Tracy? Well, I don’t get the joke. It’s not very funny.”

“I’m sorry ma’am. I just wanted to make sure you-“

“THIS ISN’T FUNNY TRACY SO STOP IT!” The old woman began to cough, as Charlotte stood frozen in place. After a moment Charlotte helped the lady into her home.
The house gave off an instant feeling of comfort for Charlotte. The pink fuzzy carpeting found its way between Charlotte’s toes and the off-white walls held framed pictures of John F. Kennedy, Elvis, and Pope John Paul II.

“Hunny why don’t you put your stuff in your room and get washed for lunch.”
Charlotte felt like she had already gone too far by entering this lady’s house. “Oh, I don’t think I can stay that long-“

“Where could you possibly be going?”

Charlotte ran her fingers along the walls while glancing down at her toes. She knew she couldn’t stay but she didn’t want to leave this woman alone.
“Maybe I could call a relative or a friend you haven’t seen in a while to come have dinner with you?” The old lady lowered her head and stared at her fingers for a few moments. Charlotte realized that there were no relatives and she had just made the old woman feel worse. The old woman turned and walked into the kitchen.

It took Charlotte a long time to step into the bedroom. She felt uneasy invading this girl’s space. She saw in the closet that layers of colorful clothes sat in a pile on the floor, leaving the rack of hangers empty. She wondered what kind of person would leave their room in such a mess until a pang of shame made her stop, her father told her to never disrespect the deceased. She turned toward the dresser and opened a cigar box that held jewelry. She took out a ring that caught her eye and put it on. She had no idea what kind of person Tracy was, besides her lack of cleanliness, but Charlotte still envied her. Charlotte imagined the old lady bringing home these pieces of jewelry, each time with a different story behind how it made her think of Tracy.

“Tracy, I know sometimes I can be a handful,” The old lady was standing in the doorway, “but we’re family. All we’ve got is each other. I love you.”

Charlotte tried to think of one good reason why she couldn’t stay. Why couldn’t she stay exactly? Nothing came to mind. Charlotte had never known the kind of love that the woman was describing, but she was convinced now that she was worthy of it.

They spent the rest of the day watching television and when her grandmother fell asleep Tracy crept into the bedroom. The first thing that caught her eye was the pile of clothes that was still plaguing her closet floor. Her grandmother had been nagging her to hang them up for days now but she hadn’t found enough time to dedicate to the task yet. She glanced at a picture taped on the wall of her and her grandma sitting on a bench holding ice cream cones. Tracy recalled how the ice cream felt as it dripped off the cone and slid down her fingers. She laughed when she remembered that grandma’s entire scoop had fallen off moments after the picture was taken. She was always the clumsy one.
Early that morning Tracy was awoken with a wave of nausea. She ran to the bathroom and as she was throwing up her grandma brought in a cool rag and held it to her head. “There, there. Let it all come out” she said soothingly. Tracy appreciated how her grandma always helped her when she was sick.

As Tracy rinsed her mouth she heard her grandma call from the hallway, “I was thinking . . .would you like to do something different for New Years? I mean we could go out to eat or order in or-“

“Don’t be silly Grammy,” she called back “you know your cooking is my favorite part of the New Year.” Tracy loved the idea of the New Year and how it promised an opportunity to start over. She grabbed for her purse and pulled out the pharmacy bag. She started to take out the pregnancy test though she already knew. She couldn't wait for the child to meet her family.

~~ 9DOM ~~

Marissa Giambelluca graduated from Emerson College with a double B.A in Writing, Literature & Publishing and Theatre Studies: Management. Though she grew up in New York, she currently resides in the wonderfully upscale Allston, Massachusetts. She spends her time reading whatever she can get her hands on, experimenting with her writing, and eating way too much frozen fruit. 


  1. Superbly written. It is very unsettling indeed. I read it earlier this morning, walked away, and have been thinking about it ever since. Nicely done.

  2. Split personalities...that is unsettling, how the girl and grandma can cut their realities distinctly in two, toss one aside, and resume with a new person that they've invented. Actually, I think baby will fit right in, and that's unsettling too.
    Great work, Marissa.

  3. I got this eerie prickle down the nape of my neck when the pharmacist said, "Good luck!" like there was for more to it than what was implied. And boy was there. As Erin points out, this story has a maximum psychological twist. What is unsettling to me is the rebirth of personalities and the warped perceptions, so sad. What is her true reality and what is merely her perception? I guess in the end, like for all of us, our perceptions is our reality. Great story!

    ps. I recently watched Carpenter's "The Ward". It reminds me of this story.

  4. A disturbing tale indeed Marissa. For some reason it made me think of a chameleon.Very thought provoking read.

  5. Love makes you real, be it a person or something in your head. So long as you feel it, it doesn't matter. Your world is what you make of it, even if that world isn't quite real.

    Now I want to hear what happens when the baby comes!

  6. Where this story got me was the slow assimilation of new memories from Tracy's life. The shift is sudden, but doesn't feel "fake", and THAT is what made this so disturbing to me. From that point on this just made my skin prickle.