Rachel pops out of her seat like a jack in the box and strides towards the door. All I want is to eat cookies in your company, I tell her, be sweet, like. She keeps walking. I can’t see her eyes but I imagine them rolling. ‘You know,’ she says, ‘it wouldn’t hurt you to be a little more masculine.’ I’m pretty sure she means less nice in a considerate way. I say, I can change, and she pauses in the doorway. It could be muffins. ‘It could be dicks,’ she says, and leaves me alone with her hatred.
I look beyond the balcony to the storm clouds floating harmlessly over the horizon and think about cutting myself. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ Sarah says, ‘we choose our leaders and we should pay them accordingly — in money and respect.’ The group moves its head discordantly, nods and shakes and partly gaping mouths full with words there’s no room to utter, opinions stuck between their teeth. I think, someone says, but Sarah shushes sharply so the statement sits stillborn on the floor. ‘You don’t know, though,’ she says, ‘because you don’t listen.’ I look to the storm, longing for a change.
Cynicism and Hope were entwined. They’d just made love. Cynicism lay a hand upon Hope’s breastplate, feeling the delicate web of nerve and bone that cage a heart. Each placid thump sent a wave of terrifying euphoria up Cynicism’s arm, pumping not blood but life through strange osmotic channels. I don’t want to hurt you, Cynicism said. Hope lay a hand to Cynicism’s cheek, grounding a circuit that fed warmth and light to each of them. ‘You could never hurt me,’ Hope said, ‘even with pain.’ They saw each other as though seeing themselves and said, ‘I need you.’
At some point in the night she finds a frown and pulls it over her face. It doesn’t sit right in sleep. Lain like that, with her arms above her head and her breasts exposed in Venus pose, the scowl seems a Janus dream. There are lies the mind won’t tell the body, they simmer in subconscious and tic away. Her expression is a pocket of this fight, gloriously honest and more marvellous for its telling presence than the supine splendour of her body and its beauty rendered limp. How I long to kiss her there, beyond the veil.
I press on the bruise, trying to make hurt again. I do it all the time, worry at old wounds in an effort to evocate their peaks. Nothing’s ever the same though, not even pain. I feel like an artist rendering ruins in digital 3D, disastrously flat extrapolations despite the ability. I could fill a gallery with these abstractions, obtruded into seperate wings with woeful didactics strung as diegeses for each — heartbreak half-formed; scars smoothed over time; anguish in relief; negative space — all would be incompetent. The pains of expression are so acute I’m desperate to sketch them.
She catches my smile upon her face and lets it melt without movement. ‘You make me sad,’ she says. ‘Not for you but because of you.’ She takes me into her eyes and blinks slowly. ‘Your misery is contagious,’ she says, shuttered. ‘It’s an infection.’ We breathe in turns and the air grows thick and warm. ‘It will kill love,’ she says. ‘It will spread its tendrils into my affection and strangle it dead.’ I will find a cure, I tell her, I can be well. ‘I know that’s true,’ she says, ‘but I’m not sure that you do.’
Smiling like someone successfully baking cakes, Dr. Bronte says, ‘You should be relieved, it’s so rare to see such clear diagnoses.’ Neither psychosis nor neuroses, it doesn’t feel clear. Borderline, split like a blackjack bet — two suits, same value, no clear winner. Where does that leave me? ‘We can treat it, of course. Though, I worry they won’t take you since you aren’t hurting yourself.’ I think she means physically. I finger my scars. Should I restart? Would that help me get help? ‘Don’t act rashly now.’ But that’s my problem, impulse control and the point where logic lies.
I put the cask on the counter and the clerk says nothing. I’m making punch, my anxiety says, sangria. The clerk doesn’t care, simply pronounces the price while I collate the cost. I offer thanks and get paid with a nod that haunts me out the door, down the street, and into my first glass. I can hear the ice cracking against the suburban stillness. My thirst never makes a sound. By my last I’m no longer dry and ready to drown. I nod at the walls. It’s a punch, I tell them, but you can’t see the bruise.
The cold realities have started seeping in and scare me more than the nightmares ever did. I see her now, looking sometimes at the mask hung in the closet and wondering if she didn’t like me better that way. ‘Do you have to be sad?’ Syllables soft and sharp. ‘Can’t you just… can’t you be happy?’ I tell her it’s not about joy or despair but honesty measured empirically, I won’t hide anymore. We go to sleep with the monster under the bed half discussed and wake in fragmentation. I tell her I’m trying and she nods, ‘I know.’
I’m not cold until she goes, then my heart slows, the blood I’d grown used to gushing pumps a flaccid pace. I leave the lights out and wrap the dark around my skin in honorific absence, telling the night that light has left with her. Outside, the clouds muster, obscuring the stars and severing our celestial connection. Muddied by the river’s black eddy, the city’s busy sheen gloats with life. The wind whips past me on its way to the horizon and leaves me frigid in its passing. I’m not cold until she goes, then I burn with longing.
I woke up moaning in despair, separated from you by inches, infinite neurons, and the wilds of sleep. I’d dreamt I was a cuckoo’s cuckold. Another shape moved in my place to drink my fill of you. I begged, pleaded, and performed the menial while your love for me evaporated. ‘Don’t do this,’ you said, regret and contempt so vivid and visceral it tore the dreams from my head. Brutally aware of mixed realities, I lay in the dark listening to the night birds sing the world awake, weeping for myself and a life that is and never was.
Everybody always asks after Arris. Not a soul seems to go unimpressed in her presence. Even my parents call to ask after her now, saying, so charming—what an absolute pleasure. They all think she’s the best thing about me. It makes me want to want to argue sometimes but they’re probably right, and honestly, what a delight to be on this side of that. Knowing their subject objectifies me is a solipsistic bliss. Still, as much as I love her love, I do find I side with the world, it’s in my devotion to her that I’m happiest.
I wish I could sketch but my hands are mere dullards when put to test. Her visage begs for capture, not in facsimile or rendered pixel, but in seasoned illustration, fine dripping watercolour and thick oils sensually applied. I want to tear charcoal from the earth’s ash and smear it over canvas busts built in her image. Ten thousand hours per honed craft could never account for the sheer art of her existence. I want to dedicate myself to learning expression, pure, masterful, and crafted, focused on the labour of acknowledging that her crystalline beauty is irreplicable and unique.
I can’t even remember my order, just her smooth black contour semi-crouched in the brazier lit courtyard and the mallow whites of her eyes attacking a wall of soft chocolate pupils. She could have said, I’ll kill the animal myself, bared teeth and claw, smiling panther wild in the urban jungle. I would have said, yes, certainly, animal cowed and agape. Either way, what’s on my plate is far beyond me and her only a glance away, eager, fleet, and sharp. My throat becomes horse and she’s there with canines and water, enamel begging lamb to the slaughter.