Nothing Comes From Nothing

Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Gold
Sarah R. Clayville

Photo Credit: Alexa Clark/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Photo Credit: Alexa Clark/Flickr (CC-by-nc)

Never, for one moment of your life, lose sight of those you love. —Belinda Grayson, Life Coach and Survivor

Abby didn’t promise she would stay in the hotel room.

Rather she promised she would stay out of trouble, and as many television shows and statistics proved, trouble could just as easily be found beneath a hotel bed as it could in the lobby or the courtyard or anywhere else for that matter. Abby’s mother had raised her from a young age to be fearless and stubborn, a terrifying combination for a nine-year-old, but it was a function of their nomad lifestyles. Abby’s mother gave speeches to others about how to pull their lives together, and on the few occasions she had been permitted to listen to them, she had marveled at how hypocritical the entire venture sounded. Nothing about their lives felt much together at all.

The elevator ride downstairs was smoother than others that usually bounced or shimmied up and down the cables. It smelled like cigar smoke and Abby regretted the chalky odor that clung to her when she exited.

Her plan had first been to sneak in and listen to her mother talking to the audience. They would be mostly women, mostly single, and they would all share an envious countenance because her mother wore the fanciest clothes and hired a professional to do her hair and makeup just on these occasions. Often these stylists, out of pity or amusement, would turn to Abby, fluffing her hair, painting tiger stripes on her nails.

“Are you going to grow up to make people feel good about themselves, too?” They would chatter at her, snapping shots with their phones, posting them to social media just the way her mother did. And as soon as the cloud of women would head down to the conference hall Abby would scrub away the colors, give herself one of those looks in the mirror, and flip through the papers scattered across her mother’s bed. Fan letters. Messages of devotion.

They always got two twin beds in their hotel rooms. In fact once her mother had howled at a concierge because he’d given them a king and after her mother Belinda remembered that she was a public figure and couldn’t get away with yelling, she’d said simply that Abby couldn’t be her own woman in someone else’s bed.

Except Abby wasn’t a woman at all, she was a child. And she never promised she would stay in the room, just that she would be a good girl.

You can trick the world, you can trick a camera, but you can’t trick a mirror. —Belinda Grayson, Life Coach and Survivor

Downstairs in the hotel, the women worshiped Belinda.

They arrived to the presentation with her book under one arm and tissues tucked in their purses. It was a well-known fact that no one left without shedding either tears of joy or jealousy, frustration or frenzy. Belinda had dragged herself through hell and back and now could prove to the world of hurt women that survival was possible. Pretty, even.

“And tonight you will go home and know that the morning is a gift, that you are a gift, and that I am sending my good energy to each of you personally.” Belinda emphasized the right words, swallowed the weak ones, and stood poised to take over the world.

The crowd erupted with cheers. Belinda started rotating her wrist because she would need to sign each woman’s book, and not just a signature. There would be a note of wisdom, stolen from somewhere else because all of the good things had already been said by people much smarter, much more compassionate, than Belinda. But the notes were part of her brand. And her brand meant everything regardless of what sacrifices and truths had to be played with.

An electronic whine distracted her momentarily, and she buried her phone in the depths of her bag, because Gregory had been texting the entire evening. The messages had started lengthy and desperate, but the more she ignored him, the shorter the texts became until he simply said I’m packed. I’m gone. Belinda smiled, tilting her head to the left because it bred trust in people. She’d taken psychology classes at the local community college to understand how to worm her way into their brains and make them feel special. Loved. Unfortunately this unintentionally worked too well with men, none of whom understood that if she were to marry or publicly date someone, her image would shatter into a million little pieces worth nothing. And she’d been worth nothing to many: first her alcoholic neglectful parents, then her lascivious college professor, and finally a philandering husband.

Worth nothing. Belinda would never hear those words again, and slowly, as her fans flooded her with gifts and emails, the words faded and blurred.

“Could you make this copy out to my ex, Bucky.” The woman wore an oversized jumper and too much blush as if she were unbearably hot or itchy. Her hands smelled of juniper. “Tell him to fuck off. Fuck off Bucky. Love, Belinda.”

This wasn’t the first anti-dedication Belinda had been asked to do, because these women wanted to siphon off just an ounce of the strength she’d used to leave her own husband. The secret to it was that Belinda had no choice, she’d known that deep down either she would leave him or kill him, and she didn’t want to go to jail and wear an orange jumpsuit and eat mushy green beans. Instead she told him one night that he was the nothing—after he’d drunk himself into a stupor—and then she lied and told the world that night he beat her and threw her against a wall and told her he’d do the same to Abby and so with every ounce of courage she’d packed up her daughter and herself and run away to protect them both from the inevitable. Other women took her lead. They tumbled down the rabbit hole with her, even though her story was rife with half-truths, and husbands came home to empty beds.

If you retrace your steps, you’ll only get a front row seat to all of your mistakes. —Belinda Grayson, Life Coach and Survivor

The police officer was terrified for the mother.

“These don’t lead anywhere. They’re a threat!” Belinda held Abby’s shoulders firmly as the police ushered them away from the crowd huddling by the muddy footprints. Abby’s feet were notoriously bare.

“It’s a prank. I’ve seen similar before, and often someone is just being ugly. But how did they get your daughter’s shoes?”

The officer knelt down and studied Abby’s toes one by one, as if there was a shred of evidence woven between them. Belinda knelt right down with him and refused to stop her own interrogation.

“Talk to me, not her. She’s clearly traumatized. Speechless.”

Abby nodded three times in agreement with all of her mother’s statements, as she’d been taught.

“It doesn’t matter how he got her shoes. Look at them.”

The footprints were disturbing. The feet were facing the wrong way as if the legs had parted ways and tried to run away from one another. And the mud was a strange dark copper color that made the police officer’s stomach turn because he’d seen mud like this before. Mixed with blood. But it was his job to keep Belinda and her daughter calm and somehow sedate the crowd that fiercely protected the two. A number of them were on cell phones with friends or the press, and he knew that in a matter of minutes things would become more complicated than they needed to be.

Abby sat down on the floor, crossing her legs and inspecting her own feet. The police officer noticed small cuts on the base of her heels and immediately pulled gauze out of his jacket pocket. Even though Belinda was quickly typing on her phone, he knew full well if he approached without her consent she would eviscerate him.

“Ma’am, her feet are bleeding. I need to wrap them, or would you like to?” He held out the gauze as a peace treaty, relieved when she motioned for him to do the job himself. Now Belinda was on the phone with her manager, demanding a private investigator immediately.

“Abby,” the police officer tried, “you look pale. Are you hungry?”

“I’m thirsty.” She broke her silence. “My throat hurts, and I only drink ginger ale or water.”

Her demand amused him, an echo of her mother’s behavior except she didn’t know how to be nasty about it and instead presented her feet for him to wrap. He did it quickly and thought better of asking her more about her shoes because he recognized the exhaustion in her voice, and frankly he was exhausted just watching Belinda let alone living with her. He asked the concierge to bring ginger ale because it was more interesting than water and procured a private room for the two behind the kitchen.

The throng of women tried to follow, but at this point more police had arrived as well as the media and they managed to block one another respectively. “We are investigating,” the officer announced to the crowd. “And the little girl is safe. She was never abducted.”

Somehow his statement made the crowd angrier. They only wanted to hear about the star.

“Tell Belinda not to let anyone threaten her. We support her,” one fan chimed in as if she had a megaphone.

“Those footprints look like blood,” another noticed, and the police officer slammed the door behind him where Belinda stood by a low window counting the vans in the parking lot. Abby was shaking in her chair and still hadn’t put on the socks or anything else brought to her but carefully sipped the ginger ale and watched the officer with the clearest eyes he’d ever seen. He brought the can over to her cup to pour more in, and with her lips still wrapped around the straw, she whispered to him from the side of her mouth this isn’t the first time.

The police officer was terrified for the daughter.

The truth cannot be sacrificed or perverted. It will always claim what rightfully belongs to it. —Belinda Grayson, Life Coach and Survivor

Abby and her mother looked at one another, with foreign eyes.

“This is not the first time someone threatened to harm Abby, but it’s the first time anyone did it publicly, and so I am forced to address it publicly. This is no coincidence.” Belinda turned to the crowd and exhaled, ready to reap the rewards of her stunt.

She had brought a chair up next to the podium, and Abby crossed her legs and hugged her knees tightly with bare feet still wrapped in the officer’s gauze, staying within arm’s reach of her mother. The little girl caught sight of herself on a shining tray tipped over at the end of one of the banquet tables and locked eyes with herself, counting silently in her head and forgetting the way the shoes had been pried from her feet.

“I had planned on waiting and announcing this at the gala, but I’ve just accepted a television offer, one that will allow me to spread my message globally. It is something I wanted since I was a little girl. Even though some might be… embarrassed at what I have to say. So much so that they thought threatening Abby would silence me.” Belinda also noticed her smile in the tray that had captivated Abby and couldn’t help admiring the red lips. The curved shoulders. Belinda dominated the room. She didn’t need to demand obedience. It was served to her freely.

The audience refused to stop cheering, despite the media frantically waving their hands to get Belinda to acknowledge them and answer questions. It was the remedy to all the ugly voices in her head, and she knew what she’d done, what had been required to do to get her there was all worth it. Borrowing Abby’s shoes and traipsing back behind the hotel through the mud where one of the stable horses had just given birth. Carefully coating them with a layer of the dirt and waiting until there was a lull in the lobby and the cameras craned their crooked necks away from the poster advertising Belinda’s latest engagement. It all delivered the perfect forum. Everyone in the room would be hinged on who was threatening Abby. The mystery would launch her show perfectly, and all Belinda had to do was keep up the ruse.

“I’m setting us up for the rest of our lives,” she’d whispered to her daughter just before bed, filling Abby’s head with hopes for the future rather than any happiness of the present. “But if you tell, if you let anyone know, someone will come take you away and then we’d both be wrecked. Abby, we are a team.”

Once the reporters were able to make headway through the applause, one man asked Belinda what she thought the footprints meant. Belinda’s heart started vibrating in her chest because she had known this question would be asked. Everything had been orchestrated flawlessly.

“You know, some with darker minds might conclude a darker meaning, but what I see are two paths, going forward or sliding back, and I…” Belinda moved to the grand doors nearby. “I am moving forward, and the truth will be told. All of our truths will be told.”

The officer frowned in the audience, noticing a piece of gauze had loosened and Abby draped it back and forth across the floor. The stains of blood actually looked pretty to her, scarlet butterflies tattooed along her feet, and she suddenly appreciated her mother’s instructions to keep her feet bare even though the air stung the unintentional cuts the glass she’d dropped in the room had carved into her skin. The room was fascinated with Belinda’s show, and the officer secretly moved to Abby’s side and curled the white bandage over her foot.

“Honey, your mom wants me to take you to get your feet washed up before they start taking pictures. You know how important those pictures are, don’t you?”

Abby nodded and liked the way the officer smiled right at her, never looking above or away.

“Mom told me how important it is to do what she asks, for both of us. Or else…” Abby’s voice trailed off, and the officer lifted her to her feet and slipped out the back exit with her to his car which wasn’t a police car at all, and once she sat down next to him in the passenger seat, a seat she was never allowed to sit in with her mother, she pulled the mirror down to smile and make monster faces.

“Abby,” the man said, unbuttoning his old Halloween costume and settling into the grey T-shirt he wore underneath, “what was the or else?”

Abby folded her hands in her lap and played with the frayed ends of her shirt. She trusted the man who had bandaged her feet and listened to every single word she’d said as if all of it was important.

“Or else I’d be taken away.”

The man reached into his glove compartment and handed her a bag of Goldfish and jelly beans because he wasn’t used to children and didn’t exactly know what she might like, but the combination made her smile and so content she didn’t bother asking why they were driving away from the hotel. It had almost been too easy for the man to take Abby with him even though his plan had initially been to confront Belinda and accuse her of the lies she spread, of the parents who weren’t actually alcoholics but just dismissive or the ex-husband who had been so dismissive she’d had an affair with a man she didn’t remember. The Goldfish and jelly beans were meant to be a gift, not a lure.

And Abby and the man looked at one another, with the same eyes, and he believed that if he retraced his steps far enough he’d find a way to keep his daughter and expose Belinda’s mistakes to the world.

pencilSarahSaysWrite. Email: sarah.clayville[at]


Sarah Clayville

Pedestal Sink
Photo Credit: Boyd/rb3wreath

You will never hear this message. This message is for me. I’ll erase it before you listen, slip my finger along the blinking red button and leave you snoring in your bed. Nothing ever wakes you. Not the monstrosity of a garbage truck rumbling down our alley. Not the clatter of dishes when my hands are unsteady from the latest miracle drug the doctor you recommended prescribes for me. I used to think these drugs were meant to make my body whole again. Instead they’re there to make me forget what I’m missing.

My voice echoes in our bathroom from where I’m calling, crouched between the sink and the wall. It sounds like there are ten of me, so you might think that I’m at a nightclub or more likely surrounded by the women from the support group who sit on ratty sofas and advise me to leave you between uttering words like barren and infertile. You sleep through everything, and now you’re sleeping through my exit strategy.

You only wake for silence. The absence of a baby’s cry, the silence of my womb no more capable of speaking up to you than I am. The toilet is running. You ought to fix that before the next woman falls for you and finds herself trapped in this rigid apartment packed wall to wall with expectations and not an inch of sympathy when life doesn’t act politely with its legs neatly crossed at the ankles. Life is messy, and the next woman here may not be so patient with things that don’t work.

I don’t care if you miss me or forget me or torch our collective belongings in a bonfire in the barbecue pit just to prove that something can be born from the disaster of us. But I do need to say two very tiny essential words and at least let the machine hear their rhythm.

I tried.

I tried with syringes, charms, test tubes, red wine, white wine, midwives, nearly upside-down sex, pills, potions, embracing God, cursing God, herbs, yoga, lunar cycles, thongs, granny panties, acupuncture, jealousy, humility, hunger…

I tried.

You slept through it all, and now I’ll fix the toilet before I leave you. I’ll reach my hand in the tank of cool, surprisingly clean water and fidget with the dangling rubber loop until it catches and the toilet is silenced from its restless growl. I am fully capable of doing things, of making them right.

See? There is no reason for you to hear this message. Nothing is broken anymore.


Sarah Clayville’s fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review, StoryChord, Central PA Magazine, and Toasted Cheese. She is a high school teacher, mother of two adorable offspring, and she tends to write about characters in crisis just as they’re finding their ways. She is currently at work on a young adult novel as well as a collection of short fiction entitled Women in Jeopardy. Email: sarah.clayville[at]

Safety Measures

Sarah Clayville

Finished Carport to Garage Conversion, VA, MD
Photo Credit: Summit Design Remodeling

Maya refused to set foot inside the house.

“You’re being ridiculous, Ed cajoled, stroking the back of his wife’s hand as they sat in the driveway by the For Sale sign, the blue SUV idling. “It’s ideal.”

“It’s staring us right in the face,” she said, her voice rising with each syllable. “No garage.” Her eyes stayed transfixed on the small white structure ahead, a renovated carport.

“Well, I should at least let the Realtor know we’re passing on the walk-through.”

Ed gently shut the auto’s door so Maya didn’t think he was cross with her. It was far too great a risk to take. Maya, after all, was his angel. He’d be a maniac to disrupt their ideal balance of a relationship.

“One minute, love,” Ed called from the front door of the sprawling ranch house, but Maya was preoccupied picking at spots of nail polish on her cuticles. Maya defined herself by her sparkling, perfectly-maintained ruby nails. She often clicked them together, and hearing the sound made Ed feel like he was home.

The front door, newly painted Belgian beige (a favorite of Ed’s) was adorned with streamers. The color of Deb the Realtor’s business cards cleverly cut into the shapes of starter homes. And magnets, she had magnets, one posted on Maya and Ed’s apartment fridge. Deb the Realtor promised dream houses but had yet to find one for Maya minus a garage.

“Ed, you made it,” Deb drawled, aggressively grabbing his shoulders and leaving a small cherry blotch on his cheek, one he immediately erased with his palm. Maya pretended to never be jealous, but he knew, or at least imagined, better.

“Deb,” he half-spoke, half-sighed. “We told you no garage. Maya had a bad experience with a garage. It’s a deal breaker. You wouldn’t understand.”

Debbie leaned to the right and caught a glimpse of Maya out of the expansive bay window in the living room. Twenty-eight panes of glass, all displaying Maya’s obvious displeasure.

“Ed. Let’s be realistic,” she said. Her voice rolled along slowly, deep and comforting. Ed noticed her bare nails cut short, just grazing the tips of her finger tops. Otherwise it appeared makeup was everywhere, including the edges of her bleach-stained teeth.

“No nice houses are without a garage. It’s like a cake with no icing. Now, who’d order that?” As she spoke, she navigated Ed through the living room into a spacious dining room the color of the sea. A pewter chandelier hung in the center, begging a dark mahogany table to feed people beneath. Ed lost sight of the bay window, drawn in by Deb’s enthusiasm and the lingering promise of the magnet.

“This will sell the house,” Deb motioned to the basement door. “You’d be a fool not to see this.”

In an instant Deb vanished through a small oak door at the end of the kitchen. Ed loved to cook and couldn’t ignore the brass pot rack hanging from the ceiling. Or the magnetic knife rack. He imagined his modest set liberated from the standard wood block at home. The knife tips were actually bent and chipped from overuse. He’d be forced to buy new ones if they bought this house.

“Come on, slow poke,” Deb hollered, her voice echoing up through various grates in the house.

Ed’s pocket vibrated. He knew Maya was calling him or texting. She must have finished her nails and wanted to leave. Deb’s voice beckoned, and Ed silenced the phone.

“Unreal.” Ed braced himself against a shaky wooden rail leading him down the narrow stairway. “Unreal.”

Deb stood in the middle of a master game room. She rested her curved hips against a professional pool table, the felt freshly edged. The corners, smooth carved wood, held playful indents. Dozens of professionals or giddy amateurs had left their marks. Deb’s shoes, black slip-away pumps, rested at the entrance to the basement. Her toes, long and wispy like a baby’s fingers, dug into the deep blue carpet. Ed remembered this sort of shag from his grandfather’s study. No one should ever wear shoes on it, and he found himself slipping off his own loafers, a bit ashamed of the hole in his left heel.

“There’s more.” Deb had mastered the art of buyer seduction. Ed let his phone continue to vibrate and followed her deeper into the basement. “The owner left it all. He’s moved past it. Three kids. A partnership. Now tell me you and Maya couldn’t start the most fun life here.”

Ed coveted the pool table, more so than the house. The basement room painted a fantasy.

“The garage is a deal breaker.” He fiddled with his wedding ring and ignored the other gaming tables. The dartboard and the strange door at the end of the basement.

“Bomb shelter,” Deb whispered before Ed could voice more concerns or tell the siren Realtor that his wife had seen her brother hanging in a garage, surrounded by poisonous fumes, two methods to guarantee one distinct outcome.

“A bomb shelter. Can I see it?” Ed felt eleven again, clothed in sneakers and sloppy jeans, sipping beer in a neighbor’s mother’s walk-in closet. “Is it safe?”

“Are you kidding?” Deb winked, a spider set of eyelashes fanning themselves. “Take a look.”

She flipped a switch along a concrete wall and Ed crept inside, unsure what a proper bomb shelter ought to look like. He felt transported to the fifties, faced with a barebones wooden bed with rope supports, a tiny metal stool and mystery canisters lining the wall.

“Now you could turn this into a wine cellar. Or a pot den,” Deb attempted to joke. “This space is reserved for good times. The whole basement is, really. Ed, when’s the last time you had fun?”

“Can I have a minute alone?” Ed tried to remain loyal to the cause, the mission.

“Sure, hon.”

Ed texted Maya.

This is our dream house, he wrote. I am claiming it for us. In the cool bomb shelter he radiated authority.

He knelt down and sat on the bed, pretending there were imaginary enemies outside, not his wife.

“I’d buy this house for my husband, if I had one,” Deb hollered from the rest of the basement. Ed heard a beer bottle uncap, and he stayed hidden in the shelter, waiting for a return text. He felt firmly trapped between Deb’s rabid yes and Maya’s equally potent no.

In one final act of desperation, he shot off a text.

We’ll rip down the garage. It’s gone.

Seconds later, both the basement dwellers heard the doorbell followed by several insistent barrages of knocks at the front door. Ed stayed frozen in the shelter. Deb slipped on her shoes and traipsed upstairs, greeting his wife with the same dogged enthusiasm she’d met all interested parties. Ed felt the old wooden bed creak beneath him as he shifted while the two pairs of footsteps danced above him, one set decidedly Maya. She walked heavily, in a determined fashion because she always knew exactly where she was going. Ed tended to shuffle, never quickly enough to keep up with her pace.

“Ed,” her voice ricocheted off of every object in the basement. “Ed, where are you?”

He paused, quickly glancing around, memorizing the details in case he wasn’t allowed back. There were several nails driven into the concrete. Someone had either hung pictures and taken them away or intended to make the space home.

“What are you doing in here by yourself?” Maya refused to sit on the old bed. “I can certainly see why you want the house.”

“It’s not just the basement. The price. The location. We’ve been looking for seven months. Isn’t there any way you’d consider?” Ed wanted to win this. He’d settled in his mind on the house.

“You know how I feel. You’re being insensitive.” Maya backed out of the bomb shelter, reluctantly followed by Ed.

“It was horrid, the man hanging there, purple as a blueberry and all that car exhaust. I’m lucky I didn’t die just opening the door,” she lamented.

He worried that the fumes had deteriorated her sense of joy. “Honey, I understand.” Ed didn’t, though. “But there’s more than one way to suffocate a person.”

It was the boldest statement he’d made in their relationship, and as soon as the words sputtered out, Ed missed the safety of the shelter. To imply that she was smothering him couldn’t be a bigger bomb.

Maya paused, the ruby nails frozen at her chest, roughly located above her heart.

“Let’s get it,” she broke the silence with a surprise. “If you mean it about the wrecking crew and the garage.”

“Of course I meant it. We’ll have them here the day we close.” Ed lunged at her, forgetting Deb standing at the foot of the stairs. “Thank you for compromising.” Stiff in his arms, Ed assumed it was rough if not painful for Maya to come to terms with her fear and surrender her exception. Over the next several weeks he found himself holding her more often, working to release the stiffness from her limbs. She packed the apartment silently most nights, letting Ed decide which items should be grouped together. He didn’t understand Maya’s change in demeanor but appreciated it. For the first time in years, he wasn’t holding on to her by a thread.

“I’ll meet you there,” Ed told her closing day.

“With the crew?” she asked expectantly.

“With the crew,” he assured her, brushing her ear with his lips as he headed to work, elated. Ed had visited the house a few times, lingering in the basement where he envisioned future gatherings with friends, playful nights with his wife, even tournaments with his children. The four boys he confidently saw in his future. The house had given Ed this, a taste of certainty. He’d even hung in the bomb shelter a small photo from the cruise he and Maya took to the Bahamas despite his interest in Alaska and chillier environments.

As luck would have it work was ravenous on closing day. Ungrateful clients ate up three-and-a-half hours of his time. Although the paperwork had already been signed he missed the satisfaction of the crew gutting the garage for Maya. A null gift, a gift removing something amused Ed.

We’ll start without you, Maya texted. Big exclamation points. An upbeat tone if tones could be expressed on a digital screen.

Ed cruised down 11-15 towards the new home, at least new to them. Apartment living had been too tight and now both of them could spread out. He pulled up at sunset, confused that he couldn’t see it through what still remained a solid, sturdy garage. There was, in fact, a dumpster full of debris. A gnawing barb rumbled around in his stomach as he left his car. Blue. Blue hair spiked up from over the edge of the dumpster. Blue shag carpet to be more precise. Ed staggered, reaching out to the edge of the dumpster where there stood a piece of knotted wood, a corner to a pool table ripped off of its body. The rest of the basement was in the dumpster, too. Even the bomb shelter bed, an antique in its own right, lay mangled. And on top, like a nasty bow, sat the small framed picture once hanging.

“Imagine that,” Ed mentioned to no one in particular as Maya flipped on the lights inside his once dream house.

She had actually listened to him for the first time in their relationship. After all, there certainly was more than one way to suffocate a man.


Sarah Clayville’s work has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Small Spiral Notebook, and Moondance. She is currently an English teacher, mother, and at odd hours of the morning or late at night, a writer. Email: sarah.clayville[at]