Every label has been scratched into an indecipherable state, a side effect maybe. I rattle a few to check for volume and put them back on the counter, satisfied but unsettled. ‘What’s going on, man?’ Mikey refills his tumbler with straight Sailor Jerry and shrugs himself into it. I was going to have a nap, he says, mouth moist and lax. ‘You must be pretty fucking tired.’ I rinse a glass in the sink and take it over to the couch where he’s still holding the bottle, clink my glass against it suggestively, and wait for him to share.
I was born underground. Every day I dig up to street level and pretend I’m not filthy. Most people don’t look or do but don’t see. It’s fine, I tell the curious few, and pluck at my skin like an orchestral string. I can witness safely for a while but over time I will always ferment. What present sweetness I carry turns sickly and certainly heralds some odorous signal of abandon. A thing the lizard brain knows. Isolation is a protectorate and I often carry some with me. Though it bears a fascistic weight, it never fails to comfort.
Sonja tisks singularly and nods at the clock, it’s not overly loud but its tock’s stick out in the hush. ‘How do you stand it,’ she says, ‘I won’t even wear a watch.’ I offer to let her smash it, but she doesn’t engage in destruction and won’t even decline. ‘It’s so present,’ she says, ‘don’t you ever feel as though it’s counting you down?’ I tell her time doesn’t know me well enough for it to be personal and offer to smash it for her. ‘Relentless,’ she says, ‘little deaths that reek of precognition.’ The sound of inevitability.
Except for some loose ends stuffed in a duffel and buckled in back, most of the boy’s bits are locked in the boot. It’s too early for them to smell but the air is thick with unpleasantness anyway. I roll down my window and let the wind render my face, feeling for my self in the spaces it’s not. It moves fast enough to call it coursing but lacks abrasive impact, in fact it’s almost soft, it doesn’t press upon me but moves with chilling grace. I wish I could be part of it and flow with unimpeded purpose.
I reach out to run my hand through her hair and then don’t. Her silence feels thin but it stretches into the horizon. You’re really pretty, I tell her. She looks at me with the small joyous creases around her eyes and smiles in the other direction. Do you want to go somewhere, I ask, get naked and just hold each other for a while? ‘I would,’ she says, but it sounds incomplete. I don’t know how to finish her sentence. I reach out and don’t stroke her hair again. My hands feel cold and pointless in my lap.
I fall in love while they’re only sketches, when the most beautiful strokes are broad and the highlights are all that define the shape. I don’t like the detail that accrues over time, grime on a child’s toy, taking a film of filth from every surface it contacts. It’s funny how the finer points congeal. Alone, every line is exquisite, but the things you love can run together and form an ugly shape, a thousand shimmering ballbearings fused into an unpleasant ingot. I prefer to deal in vagaries now, glancing just long enough to draw the sun from memory.
The sun rises from the ocean in the place where I was raised. Here it is swallowed by the sea. At times I will stand in the sand, watching threads of light fall under the waves, and think about consumption. I’m terrified of evenings. It isn’t the darkness, I know that nothing lurks there and it’s the absences that truly worry me. I imagine the opportunities of each day being chewed up and replaced with a void like Langolier excrement. I feel left behind every time night falls, knowing one day I’ll run out of chances for another tomorrow.
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?’