A Few Short Words

Dense Not Thick


one hundred words


In bed with my stuck headed ways, thinking about lie and lay, ley line, lain, lei, lion and lying, dying linguistic miseries over and again. I want silence, stillness, but there’s still no release when these troupes of tropes traipse for days in lackadaisical ways through the malaise of my brain. Like, why is and y in Spanish when et is and in Latin too. Do you see? ¿no o si? Maybe it’s just me, or the inner eye that’s seen too much. I guess oui?  Maybe we’ll never know, or maybe I need to give me a rest.


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.


I don’t really want to die but I have to listen to me think it. Wicks calls them intrusive thoughts, fancying up that my subconscious wants me dead. I doubt he knows what he’s talking about, though I like having someone be critical of me and it often sounds right. I’m sure he looks this shit up. I picture him sitting in an old leather armchair, trawling back-issue psych journals with a neon yellow marker. I once heard him say egregious in conversation, like he was eating the page right out of oxfords. Neither of us say suicidal.


I need you to hate me, I tell her. I don’t know why. I doubt it matters. I just, I’m not comfortable with love, it feels untenable, slippery. Hatred you can hold. You can mould. It’s elemental, material. I can be shaped from hatred. Love is like air with the oxygen sucked out, only atoms apart from suffocation. I love you though, now that I’ve made it sound hollow. So, maybe it’s an acceptance thing. Maybe I can’t accept other people’s feelings. I believe they’re real, only, there’s always going to be that distance, the unimpeachable distance of individuality.


Fiona looks at me with such a mixture of fealty and hope, I’m struck by how incompletely humane I am, how artificial. Stagehands use gel sheets on concert lights for visual effect, in this vein I colour my thoughts, sliding the idea of appropriate emotion in place. There’s too much calculation in it for me to call it genuine, and the knowing of it only shapes the disconnect. Fiona smiles and I slide something warm in place, tuning my face to match. It’s enough for her to see the performance, but I’ll always know how the production was staged.


Immediately, I felt bad for yelling, the sound still sharp in my throat, but I knew once the anger arrived it wouldn’t leave until it was fed. I would have to hurt her, tear out little pieces with my words in the way that only lovers can. It was that or face myself. Later, I would be forced to recount and recoil in disgust, not by her, not by my love and her passive stoicism, but by the showreel of failures I unspool in the night. A too familiar scene, another sizzling nail in the coffin I was building.


Waning crescents in tiny constellations dug into my skin, zodiacal passions. I ply my nails into their lines, seeking to reignite the pleasure that had lain beside them in the pain. In their incitement; the smell of gin, cool and sharp; loss and comfort; dark witticisms in chastising British lilt; soft violence willingly perpetrated; a deposed star fallen into my arms. How she would look beyond my grasp and say, ‘I want you,’ painting herself on the horizon. When I calculate the lights from heaven, most of them are dead, all that I can ever love are their ghosts.


Blood bubbles and lymph dried like sap on my skin, an amber hue patchwork of dermal scaffolding. I run a fingernail around their peripheries, testing for pain and pliancy. Janey squirms matronly and bites her tongue, tired of issuing the same chastisement. It doesn’t matter, I tell her, but stop myself anyway. Nothing is silent between us, only unspoken, the sounds of the world vying in competitive susurrus, complimentary static. We each embrace our sketchy peace, retreating into stillness with armfuls of its comfort in mind. This time when the itch grows back, I will do nothing, for her.

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