They lay together, staring at the ceiling, enveloped in post-coital blankness. Dylan’s hand spread the channel of her hip, fingertips upon the interstice of pelvis and thigh, sublimated by the geometry. They’re like ley lines, he thought and began picturing a tiny cabal of druids praying upon her pubic mound. She showed no sign of deeper reflection, yet her voice came to him as though peering from a pit. ‘Would you pay me for sex?’ Tiny druids, now with abaci, calculated the value of their surveyance. Rhetorically so, he said, you should have asked for cash up front.
The fish was static, suspended just above the rocks, not dead but still. Dana knelt beside the tank with her arms crossed and her head laid on top. When she asked me what was wrong I told her about blood and the cold, trying my best to make it easy without being simple. ‘They should make fish blankets,’ she said. I had to agree, though I suggested a poncho might be better. Dana giggled at that and looked at me with beautiful scorn, shaking her head. ‘You’re silly, Dad. He’s Siamese not Mexican.’ She’s already smarter than I am.
After I switch off the television Sarah looks at me with the same expression as the screen, as though she too were waiting for input. Outside, a drainpipe leaks, a liquid plinking, suburban shishi-odoshi. The house settles. Tell me something about myself, I say. Her cheeks are flush with life, sakura pink. Her eyes are green and deep, verdantly afield. ‘Sometimes you aren’t here,’ she says, ‘When you come back you bring nothingness with you. I think you are cultivating absences.’ The stars are dead, I tell her, we cannot make more, but nothing is perfect for creation.
I listen to their conversations. It’s unclear but I strain, catching intellectual snippets cutting through the boards. ‘For every man,’ she says, ‘there exists a bait which he cannot resist swallowing.’ She is always right. He is never deterred. ‘Ever since Eve bit the apple, no snare has been laid that didn’t have the reek of honey pot hanging over.’ When it is peaceful I am their paper, taking their words indelibly upon myself. When it is rough I am punctuated, exclamations and unclaimed questions. I long to be the ink, the words themselves, thrown freely but never discarded.
The thing just stands there, skin like broken charcoal, jagged shades of black that distort the night around it. Lovecraft’s HB pencil shavings coalesced. Hulking and sunken, broad, brute shoulders and lank limbs. I step to the patio door and press myself into the space before the glass, unwilling to connect with it. Though I have no need, I tell the thing I want to go outside. It backs away and doesn’t breathe. I wish it would. Breathing means living, living means death, death means hope. I watch through the dark half of my reflection, wishing it were real.
It’s a dangerous thing to ask a woman for the truth, their barbs are shaped differently than those of men and have a tendency towards the infected prickling of a forgotten splinter. ‘You are too nice,’ she said. I doubted it with the severity of a lifetime’s intimacy, but she continued explaining in her oddly erotic, stiff Scandinavian diction. ‘You are very small and too gentle, I think. Too kind, also? Usually I like a man who is strong, but this was interesting for me tonight, to try what is not normal.’ I’ve since grown to love their lies.
There wasn’t enough of them left for the ground, so they weren’t put in graves, just commemorative boxes bricked in a wall, memories with matching plaques. What remained didn’t need two spaces, two names would’ve been enough, would have been right. Both of them had burnt together, blended by the fire, their love sealed in death. It should have been romantic. Separating them had felt disrespectful, desecrating the wishes of the deceased, yet it was done, the living’s behest sifted into equal piles of mourning and distributed. Though, who could ever be certain how much of them was them.
I say friend and she hears lover. I no longer own the meaning of my words. She gets to make them what she wants. The truth grows from there. A strawberry seed blooms into a citric orchard. Bitter fruit harvested for desire. ‘What do you want?’ She asks me for fertiliser, to tend her. Our foundations are corrupted, bitter to the bedrock, all that comes from it are twisted thickets with thorny convoluted trappings. ‘What do you really want?’ Endemic rot grafted through translation. I wanted only to put down roots, let nature take its course. ‘Is it me?’
It comes on strong. Hope sucks out of the room and takes my breath with it. My mind becomes a physical pain, a weighted thing that transcends its dimensions, drawing away into a black chasm that is the absolute of all things and the absence of anything. I lie on the floor, gasping and panting, sodden with sweat and tears and salt and surrounded by the absolute knowledge that the only way to feel ok is for me to die. Every time, I don’t die. But I could. I want to. I’m not sure how that makes me feel.
The ward my sister gets her treatments in smells like disinfectant and waning hope. I used to walk the grounds while I waited, but it made me feel guilty smoking cigarettes and being healthy. Sometimes I’d walk to the valley and hang out with the Cabaret girls. The first time I went, there was a girl named Simba doing her routine to that Elton John song from the Lion King. I thought it was really depressing back then, now I think it’s kind of empowering. If I really tried to, I’m sure I could find it depressing again soon.
The horrors follow me to bed, their call becomes inescapable and loops inside me like an empty chant. Wind in the darkness. I press myself against the crags of my partner’s sedation and look for comfort, digging at her rocky stillness. Mountain dwellers carve their homes out of the inhospitable. They find their peace in equalling adversity. You can’t be mad at nature. It is inscrutable. I apply myself again to the cold rigidity and say this into her hair. You are inscrutable. I love her for having no blame in this and fall asleep thinking of the knife.
I was wearing underpants, she was wearing a singlet. She pressed her buttocks against my crotch. I wrapped my arm across her breast. It didn’t occur to either of us to be aroused. ‘Remember when we were in love?’ She said. I nod into the scruff of her neck and make a sound. It’s enough. She laughs, light and sharp. ‘It’s like a fantasy now. Sickening, don’t you think?’ I can’t breathe. If I open my mouth I will choke on her Rapunzel fantasy. ‘We never would have lasted. I mean, we didn’t did we.’ I feel so tired.
There’s one shot in the Parisian metro where she’s trying not to smile. It’s silent beauty composed through bearing and spoken by the eye, known but not tamed, lucid but aloof, like a corset on a cloud. Only, that doesn’t sell the elegance of the moment. She looks at me through time and space and all of the humanities. She sees a world where I am nothing and I am everything. I am always present in each of my absences, an unseen object become subject. There’s one inescapable moment where I look and long. In it, I am there.
I watch until she sees me, then lean into her space. Seems like dancing, I tell her. Looking out but not quite up, she leers through her bangs like a stakeout cliche. Finally weary, she acknowledges me, occupant with reticence. ‘Sorry?’ Don’t be, I say, smoothing the bar with my hands. ‘I don’t understand.’ But she looks too bored to be confused. It was like you were dancing, before, when you serve. ‘It’s a mechanical proposition,’ she says. ‘Any elegance is only a product of efficiency.’ When she takes me home, I know it’s not personal. I don’t care.
Often, when I’m home alone, I’ll go to the kitchen and take a knife from the block, the big one that looks like it was descended from Viking stock. I’ll take it to the bathroom, remove my clothes, and sit with it in the shower basin. Cross-legged with the flat upon my thigh, I use the nails of my free hand to map prospective incisions. I stay this way until I feel guilty for having wasted everybody’s time, time I should have spent on them. It doesn’t matter what I want, they still need so much from me.