THINK THE DOORBELL RANG and I wonder how long ago that was and how long I’ve been awake. Days? Weeks? Minutes? Did I just wake up? I turn on the light next to my bed, sit up, and rub the sleep—no, not sleep—the nothing out of my eyes. I do it like a habit, like it helps, like I remember what sleep felt like, what being anything but tired felt like. Still fully dressed on top of my bedding, I grab my gun off the nightstand and walk downstairs.
The doorbell rings again, if it wasn’t real before it is now. All the lights off, I pretend I see out the peephole. It’s either very late or very early and there’s someone there, a shadow, but who and why? Feeling like Jack Nicholson, I jerk open the door pointing my gun through at the visitor, and there she stands with a suitcase in hand, a blue sundress hanging from her narrow shoulders, and a smile draped across her lips with that sickle moon scar in the left corner because her father was a right-handed temperamental alcoholic. Her right eye still doesn’t open all the way. I’m left-handed.
‘Can I come in?’
Six months ago, she nearly killed me or I almost killed myself or tried to kill both of us—maybe ten months ago. Probably a year.
My head becomes a civil war, one-half love and one half-cruel. I look at her face and want to bite her neck and rip out her throat, kiss her lips and hold her, whisper in her ear and say everything’s all right, grill her heart and feed it to dogs, put a bullet in her skull while her severed hands wrap around my still beating heart: I want her to love me, to be able to love.
She stares back at me still waiting for a reply. I can’t control my mouth, my expression—scowling or smiling—impossible for me to tell.
‘Gonna let me in?’
‘You need to call someone?’
She glides past me to the kitchen and I wonder when the phone bill was paid last. ‘Do you still keep vodka in the freezer?’ The scent of lily fills the hallway.
‘How did you get here?’ The sound of cabinets opening and closing reaches me. No car in the driveway or on the street, close the door and walk towards the kitchen, ‘I don’t see your car.’
‘The dishwasher! You made a new hiding spot. Clever.’ She holds a half liter of Philip’s and two coffee cups. ‘You know, you don’t have any glasses. What happened to all the glasses we used to have?’ She sets down the cups and fills them with ice and vodka.
I put the gun down on the counter and take the cup she hands me. ‘I don’t drink anymore.’
‘Then why only half a bottle?’
I sip at the vodka—insect repellent—cringing, flies fall from the sky and deathcurl on the floor like sullied snowflakes.
‘Not my fault you buy shit.’ She stirs with her finger and our eyes meet. ‘Were you gonna shoot me or something?’ She raises an eyebrow to the gun.
‘Thought you were Faye Dunaway.’ I drink from the cup again and it’s water.
‘I missed you.’
I woke up with a gun on my chin. My gun shoved under my jaw; my eyes traced it to her hand and then her face—rabid blood hungry eyes, dark tangled schizophrenic hair, and a mouth like the Hindenburg in flames—she straddled my stomach holding me tight between her legs, ready to paint the wall with fragments of skull and mind. ‘Who is she?’
‘Don’t fucking lie to me. Who the fuck is she?’
My mouth opened and she pistolwhipped me and it filled with blood. ‘How old is she? Sixteen? Can she even drive?’
I swallowed blood. ‘Jesus,’
‘Shut up! Do you fuck me and think of her? Her big porno tits.’
I try to sit up and she pushes my face down into the pillow, pressing the gun to my forehead.
‘Doe she have a disposable tan? Biodegradable hands? Blonde bottled hair?’
‘Listen to me, she’s no one, just a friend, it’s not like that, she’s nothing.’
‘Why does she call you here? Do you fuck her baby cunt in our bed?’
‘Jesus, she’s older than you’
‘Shutthefuckup! Think I won’t kill you?’
‘There is no one else, just you, only you and me; calm down, I would never, could never cheat on you.’ I brought my hand to the barrel of the gun.
She pulled back the hammer and shoved the barrel hard into my neck, her hand steady, unshaking, purposeful. ‘I can smell her! I taste her every time you speak. I hear her inflated asslips in your mouth. Your teenage whore and your pedophile lies.’
‘Stop it, there’s no one else.’ I bring my hand and rest it on hers. ‘I love you. There’s no one else, no other girl, she’s nothing, barely even a friend, just some one I know; I could never imagine anyone else, only you.’
She relaxed her hand, her razoredge body softened, the gun removed from my face; her eyes vaccinated, safe, a kitten. ‘Promise me you’ll never touch another girl as long as you live.’
I put my hands on her waist and she took off her nightgown; her breasts, small on her chest, invited me in. This is Not for You, tattooed and centered just below her clavicle, winked at me. We kissed, her tongue still held rage, quick and hot in my mouth, a wandering star, tasting the blood she drew—biting my lower lip, she broke skin and sucked at it, my blood in her mouth—I climbed inside her. Heavy breathing, slow, on top of me, she clawed my chest leaving white lines and devoured my neck, the feeling of bruising and tearing shot through me, blood stuck to my neck. I reached under my pillow and pulled out my butterfly knife and rolled on top of her and continued, harder. Her face beautifully pained below me, I flipped the knife open—her eyes, palegrey and spacious holding the blade—we slowed—the taste of blood, my blood, fresh in our mouths—I brought the knife to her right eye and traced her fine eyebrow, grazing the knife edge down the cheek like caressing a newborn, stopping at her neck; I brought the knife to the center point of her clavicle where it meets the breastbone, her body tensed but unflinching, filled with trust. Her eyes never left mine, full of self-affliction and hope. The knife kissed her tattoo. I lifted the knife and pressed the point down on her breastbone and underlined This is Not for You, the skin fissured behind the blade, an initially invisible white line widening, filling with blood and spilling over the edge. Her eyes, trusting, without fear, and full of something I thought was love but was more like redemption, salvation. Her breath steady, body quaking, I began again, faster, harder, our breath heaving and gasping in unison, falling into oblivion; I licked the blood from her chest and kissed her mouth.
‘I love you.’
‘Don’t come inside me.’
We sit across the room from each other; she on a broken black futon I think is mine and me on a lawn chair I stole. The lights off and I’m not sure if the power’s been cut or not.
She sips on her second drink. ‘You lose it or something?’
‘Nothing to lose.’
‘All your windows are blacked out and your mailbox is stuffed full.’
‘Do you want to call someone, a friend?’
‘Do you even have a phone?’
The more I think of it the less likely it seems. I might have thrown it away—
‘You look like a holocaust victim.’
—threw all of it away, the phone, the computer, the TV, the clocks; I boarded the windows and locked the doors after she left, spent nights prowling the city, sleeping under bridges, or trying to, stopped eating or sleeping—vodka, vicodin, cocaine, meth, anything, everything—
‘It smells like decay in here. What have you been doing all this time?’
—thinking about killing you, killing me, the neighbors, their dog. ‘Knitting blankets.’
My mind’s a hollow cave. Not sure how long I’ve been inside, what day it is, what month it is, where I work, if I work, why she left me, why she’s here, what the sun felt like, what the moon looked like. ‘Still not eating?’
‘I thought you liked me like this.’
‘You’re like a skeleton, a disaster.’
‘Better than a concentration camp survivor.’ She takes a big gulp and sniffles.
‘Still coke?’ I pull out a cigarette and light it.
‘High right now?’
‘Coming down. Give me one of those?’ She points at my cigarettes.
I throw her the pack and lighter.
She takes out a cigarette and smells it, long inhale, like she needs it, like oxygen. ‘Cowboy killers. John Wayne would be proud.’
‘That’s the important thing.’
Her lips creep into a crooked smile, a smile defaced by my hands, engrained in my retinas, painted on my eyelids, haunting my dreams, taunting my sleepless nights. ‘I haven’t smoked in seven months.’
‘Habits are like promises; they’re better when they’re broken.’
A quiet laugh—barely audible, like a kitten, like her edge is gone, like she’s sane now—not the crow cackle I remember chasing me high on amphetamines down halls holding knives. ‘Don’t you smile anymore?’ She lights her cigarette and holds it angled up between her index and middle finger—very Audrey Hepburn.
‘Why’re you here?’
Her smile fades and she gives me disbelief like she never left, like I’m hurting her, like she loved me. She exhales loudly, a façade of frustration. ‘Do you even remember why I left?’
Her second abortion happened a few days earlier. I think it was her second, maybe her first, the other could’ve been a miscarriage, or maybe this one was the miscarriage, maybe her first miscarriage after two abortions or second abortion after an abortion and a miscarriage—a mass of cells died inside her again, half of them from me, that much I knew.
We sat across one another for breakfast, the silence heavy and absolutionless. My mind clouded with resentment and affection. She sat there not eating.
‘You should eat.’
She pushed her eggs and bacon round her plate, listless and forlorn.
‘Yeah.’ I ate our breakfast and moved next to her. She sidled into me and I placed my hand heavy on the nape of her neck, holding back the urge to crush her windpipe. ‘You look beautiful.’
She watched me with wide hazegrey eyes. ‘My womb’s a tomb.’
The colors in the room rotted and everything fell to shadows and nightmares. Our child filled the cracks in my mind, locked in her torturous uterus, hung ambilically, gasping for sunlight and a mother’s touch, a father’s patience. She clung to me and I held her with a mind full of dreamrot, gasoline drowning my lungs, carwrecks and mushroom clouds. No matter how many loverhymes we spoke, I knew she murdered a part of me, a part unborn. Her tears smelled of stillborn cries—I’d never see my child running with laughter echoing through the hall—her heaving gasps sounded like enflamed memories—never run my hand through curly hair while reading Dr. Seuss—my senses sepulchralled around her and I knew we’d kill one another, a violent suicide pact.
And I felt then, her eyes on mine—drowning in hate, fear, death—that we fit: she was the Jekyll to my Hyde, the tumor to my disease. She was my funeral romance, my suicide Eurydice that I’d never lead back from the hell we built. I sang to her, to guide her back; I held her, trying to carry her through hellfire and nightmares to salvation, to something like love.
‘You sing off key.’
Her third drink builds silence in this house we once called a home but feels now like a mausoleum—empty and dark and stale and lonely—for memories I can’t remember. The smoke sits heavy in the air, swirling from my cigarette and from her nostrils as she drinks and watches me. Vodka sits in my mouth and the flies fall from the sky into my head filling with noise, a buzzing silence. We watch each other like intimate strangers, not sure if we should fuck or fight.
The smell of lilies invades the room.
‘Does your plumbing work?’
‘I really look that bad?’
‘Just making sure.’ She walks out the room towards the bathroom, cigarette and drink still in hand; her hips swing the way they always did—sexy and elegant despite her wolfheart. She doesn’t close the door and I hear her on the toilet, no modesty. The flush and cough trace their way back to where I sit; she returns without the cigarette and a full drink. I light another Marlboro trying to blot out the smell of funeral flowers.
She stood naked in the doorway while I lay curled up in the bed—the blanket twisted around me—holding my knife and gun like crucifixes warding off vampires.
Heard it muffled underwater.
‘There’s nothing there. Just me.’
My head filled with bees, white noise. I pulled back the blanket and threw the knife at her. She dodged, it bounced off the wall above her, and clanged on the floor; she appeared, a face of concern, unsurprised, knowing. She crawled to the bed and stood at the end, pulling the blanket off me, exposing me like a nerve.
I pressed the muzzle to her heart like she was an intruder, her face a vampire—dangerous—ready to eat my heart and drink my soul. She spread her arms out at her side—surrender—scars built by my hands raised on her stomach and chest, her lips crooked, her right eye half opened—never properly healed—her face unafraid, hopeful, full of sorrow.
‘What do you want?’
She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around me and put her head against me and kissed my neck. I pushed her at arms length and inspected her, saw a stranger grown familiar, transformed into the girl who could save me. My head cleared, paranoia gone: her image—no longer monsters—back to everything I knew, everything I needed, something like love.
‘I can’t do this anymore.’
‘I need you.’ I pulled her close to me and we fell into our bed.
‘I can’t watch you kill yourself. Kill me. I can’t do this anymore.’
‘Don’t—I’ll die without you.’
‘You’ll die with me.’
I kissed her frantically on her neck, her face, her hands, her stomach, hoping, praying to make her stay, anything but leave. ‘It doesn’t have to be like this, we need each other, I’m nothing without you.’
‘We’re nothing together.’ The smell of lily fled through the window.
I kissed her mouth for the last time, looked in her eyes—desperation, loss, pain, a deep enduring sadness—Ophelia jumping out of windows in expensive clothes—a good bye.
‘I need to leave.’
‘You can’t stay here.’
She stands facing me and drains her cup. Her face soft, eyebrows angled up, on the verge of tears. She walks towards me and kneels down and drops the cup and grabs me by the wrist, my left hand—the hand that feeds pain—and presses her face down into my palm—soft and warm, her eyes closed and wet—velvet envelopes my mind, the buzz dies and violins whisper far away, from another time—I bring my other hand below her chin and raise her head up; her eyes open, irises a greyfog, her chin shipwrecking. I pull her to me, set on my lap and grab a hold of her; she buries her face on my chest and I kiss the top of her head.
All the thoughts of her and me and us tying to kill one another, drown each other’s pain, cure our neurosis, our paranoia, the addictions, the self-destruction, mutilation, self-loathing, the crucifixions—searching for a replacement, for god, for Jesus, for deliverance, salvation, redemption, meaning, for love or something like it—I think of her hands—small, tender razoredges—and mine—course, manufacturing pain, building heartache, promising creation through destruction but feeding only loss.
We rise; I grab the lawn chair, walk to the window and throw it through, glass shatters—muffled, far away, the sound turned low—the sunrise pours through, breathes hope inside; my retinas from dimes to pins, her hand in mine, tight, while the future comes through—we see it, hear it, feel it—something we need, want, have always looked for under brokenhearts and behind heartattacks, something just like, but not quite love.
by Maryam Mir