If you opened Pandora’s box just the littlest bit, I imagine it would sound like one of Jonah’s sighs. When he squeezes my hand gently and lets one escape, like demon vapours, I don’t say anything, but squeeze back and wait. ‘Sometimes I worry about breathing spider eggs in by accident,’ he says. ‘What if they hatched in my lungs and I didn’t realise.’ Jo doesn’t need placation, he just needs to be heard, to be witnessed. I fasten my fingers through his and look forward. You’d know, I say, you would know if something was wrong with you.
I watch the amputee kid playing soccer with his folks for like an hour, something about his happiness heckling my wellbeing. He’s got one of those shiny carbon fiber looking prosthetics, like a real athlete. Running around and giggling and celebrating, they all look so well adjusted. Kid can’t even be ten, got his whole life ahead of him and he’s already grappled with horror most people never contemplate. Everything must be easier from there, like growing flowers in manure, beauty born from shit. I envy his tragedy, the worst of my life will always be waiting for me.
I found her vibrator when I was putting the laundry away, tucked in a sock amongst the innocent pairs. Sadly, we had less sex per year than anniversaries total, and the gap only ever got bigger. Its presence inflamed something seething beneath my skin. Why would she need it if she didn’t need me? Passively furious, I stapled the sock shut. Maybe I thought it would lead to resolution or a healthy conversation. Probably I just wanted leverage for my anger. Wrapped up in myself, I waited to explode. It never occurred to me that she had other avenues.
It was his favourite armchair, the one he’d inherited from his dad, but when he came home from work it was different. The upholstery was wrong. He asked his wife about it, she said it had always been that way. He wasn’t convinced, though, and dug out some old photos from the study, but she was right. Slowly things began to change, furniture, knick knacks, colours and shapes, basic things, one at a time. He came down to breakfast one day and sombrely watched his wife cooking pancakes. Almost to himself, he asked, ‘Have you always been a blonde?’
I am not ok. I don’t know if I ever have been, which means when people ask me how I am, I have to say I’m ok, because not being that way is normal for me and that needs to be alright. On a good day I am nominally as normal as anyone. On a bad day I believe I don’t deserve to be here, though even that is tricky since I hurt myself by thinking in that direction anyway. These things are hard to talk about because they’re socially irrelevant and personally isolating, but I guess that’s ok.
Julie has a tendency to talk past me and her punctuation comes out in diffuse appointment. ‘You don’t take the pills,’ she says. They make me feel like a wrong-thing, I tell her. She doesn’t say anything in an expository way, compelling explanation. Sometimes you burn your tongue and can’t taste anything. If your tastebuds don’t work, flavour has no value. Eventually you only eat because it sustains you, but there’s no pleasure in it, and you think, why should I eat at all? Her face contracts into an exclamatory moue, a useless apostrophe. ‘Your appetite is miserable.’
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.