It wasn’t the knife or the way she held it that scared me, it was years of experience and the absentminded way it undercut her words, waiving it limply along like a conductor‘s baton on a broken wrist. ‘Did you lie to me because you’re an asshole or because you thought you’d get away with it?’ Neither, I say. A bad answer for a worse question. She had me backed into an actual corner. ‘So, what, you just did it for fun?’ I felt the absurd teeth of semantics closing on me and nearly laughed myself to death.
James lay on his back, writhing, and wondered if life was hell. He had eaten part of a page of a Kafka novel and thought it might mean something. It did not. Expelling his supply of futility in parallel with his desperation, James writhed some more and snagged a mesothoracic leg on a linoleum knot, leaving it detached and autonomously alarmed at his side. He couldn’t feel its absence and was shocked at the hole that made. Midst thorax contractions came fatuous lucidity. I should have eaten Joyce, James thought, it might have changed something. It would not have.
‘Like eighty percent of what I say just comes out as ash and lands at my feet so you can kick it around and complain about choking on the dust.’ Sometimes while Jo yells I like to trace the path of my life. I picture little stones placed on a sea of fog and I tiptoe over them, making light little leaps where necessary and cooing at the ruined splendour lurking in the haze. Nothing we tell each other will build me a stable path. ‘Well fuck that,’ he says, ‘don’t light a fire and bitch about the heat.’
Are you seriously asking me if I’ve heard about god? Have you heard of the fucking internet, of art, of television, of books, of fucking humanity? People have been batting that shit over the net for as long as we’ve been scared of the dark. Yeah, I’ve heard about god, and his miraculous cuckold baby. If they have a plan for us all, for me, and it includes the devil and all that rapture battle crap, then it definitely includes me being miserable and screwing up and sinning like, well, every other damned human since the apple was bit.
The streetlights and stars swap their places like cards on a con-man’s table while the bitumen trickles up as hourglass sand back to black the sky. I turn to Damian, now no longer in existence, and say, Hey, did we really take that stuff or was it fake too? Damian nods slowly, the skin on his face sliding down with each bob, dropping the dermis into flaccid folds so that he looks like one of those gourmet wrinkle dogs. He barks through the flaps in his face. That’s what I thought, I say, and watch the world dissolve.
I never told you I was good, I guess that’s the difference between being a shitty person and a really shitty person. ‘Is that,’ Laura closes her eyes and does that cliché brow rub thing, ‘is that your excuse? I should’ve known you’d be a prick because you never promised to be nice?’ She grabs the nearest thing, a dollars worth of Ikea plate, and flings it past me to land on the couch with the apathetic thump of an empty threat. That was sorta shitty, I say. Sasha weighs another plate, ‘I never promised to have good aim.’
Waking might be the end of me. It’s the moment a balloon breaks, slowed to a handful of agonising frames. Stretched beyond the tenable, then shredded by tension, a normally elastic composure separates into disparate shards. If you pause in that moment you lose all catharsis, it becomes the overwhelming evisceration of one element over another, pressure versus restraint, but if you press forward you lose both forces. One freed by its molecules, one bound by them, equally stripped of purpose by form, one dissipates and the other dies. All of this happens before I even open my eyes.
It actively hurts to love you, I say, I wish it didn’t, but your presence has become the biggest part of my day. I feel like I’m throwing chunks of caring down a well, breaking off hulking parts of my compassion and trying to catch a ghost with the remains. I miss you and I love you and it hurts so much to feel those things in your shadow. I wish you still loved me, though I hope that you’re happy, I say, I hope that you’re having fun and living your best life. My phone says nothing back.
When I think about us I feel more isolated then ever. I see these two lone hands stretching into an abyss, trying of course to grasp each other, so far apart. Sometimes they cling to satellites, clutching until they crush their quarry into orbital debris. Most often they float alone, grazing their surfaces upon that vast satin blackness, reading braille whispers of liveable planets and binary systems that support each other until death, glorious love sick symbioses gasping un petit mort en supernova. When I think about us I think about the horizon and wonder what I’m not seeing.
Sitting some metres away, two table lengths, it’s barely even interesting that they didn’t notice me cutting. They were discussing football, the oval kind. I used a new craft knife, not knowing how much pressure would apply depth to its sharpness scared me. I have often been meek in this way, tender beginnings with irresolute ends. If they had noticed I would have stopped because of them instead of myself. Funny how cowardice has strains, they called it yellow, differing shades. I wanted to see red and couldn’t commit. They kept talking about football, it was barely even interesting.
I don’t scream and it only feels like everybody is staring at me. The rational part of my brain tries desperately to talk my id off a ledge, says there’s no such thing as spiders living under my skin, but I’m unsure how much I’m willing to trust me and have to check regularly. I don’t peel myself apart and scrub at the itch from beneath, I sit there and don’t. Everybody walks past me wrapped in comfortable realities. If I looked at the ragged stitches of my own I would scream, I don’t and nobody continues to look.
I cancelled my date with Ashleigh because I didn’t want to shower. The idea of putting effort into myself on behalf of another person seemed as repellent as the cavalcade of odours gentrifying my being. Easier to keep rotting awhile than resort to self-esteem. I texted to tell her I wouldn’t make it again, I’d had a mild emergency, some family trouble, a soft sell she returned by telling me to go fuck myself with firm creativity. I spent the night wallowing in the pit I’d dug, a bad choice made right, and never did have that shower.
The girl asks how old I think she is but that’s not what she means or it is and I’m just reading an under layer that’s asking how old I think she wants to look. It’s a brain trick people don’t know they’re using, maybe a brain tic I think I’m using, so I bet high, gambling on her lust for maturity. I shouldn’t be looking at the slow creep of red flush corrupting her décolletage. She’s beaming at me, ‘People always say I’m sophisticated,’ a real woman with too much sibilance, ‘but I won’t be nineteen for months.’
Carnival lights break the night open like geologists smashing geodes while fireworks scream against the skyline, exploding with purpose. I can feel the neon and sulphur settling on my skin, battling particles of deep-fry, grease, and humanity. Dana looks into my eyes and runs her hand down my flank, smiling from that hidden place she keeps. A streetlight corona blooms behind her back, shading her in an ikon’s light. Divine, a thin thread of fairy floss still clings to her lip, an innocent corner vestige of gossamer pink filament. I put my tongue there and feel its dissolution.
Jonah keeps a small part of a large fire in a jar on the dresser. He calls it his lust for life but that might be irony, like saying not owning a bed is the reason you get up every day. I’d be wrong to say I understood how the caged passion of a quelled man can fuel anything. I wonder how it keeps burning, if it feeds in the lonely hours. I asked him once, what it eats, and he said, ‘Questions like that,’ quick and cold. I watched the fire flicker and knew knowing no longer mattered.