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My mother will be late picking me up, today. I’m sitting at the art table while the others bring their toys to the play carpet.
“Philippa. We’re done with drawing for the day,” Miss Benson calls.
“My mom’s gonna be late,” I tell her.
“Okay, well… that doesn’t matter,” she says. “We stay at the carpet while we wait for our parents.”
I obey, but time passes. One by one, the other kids shed away like pieces of skin. The room is now raw and pulsing like an open cuticle.
Miss Benson makes a phone call, and then she turns to me.
“I’m going to wait here with you until your mom shows up,” she says. “You can finish your drawing, if you want.”
My mother appears sometime later, her bronze skin clouded over with red blotches. I run to her and hug her legs.
“I’m so, so sorry,” she gasps over to the teacher. “I really didn’t-”
“It’s okay,” Miss Benson says. “Philippa told me.”
“What do you mean?” At that, Mom’s voice wrenches. “My father just had a stroke…I had to rush him to the hospital.”
“Oh…” Miss Benson withers. “I’m so sorry. I must’ve misunderstood.”
I remember to hand my drawing to my mother.
“Thank you,” she murmurs.
“It’s not for you,” I say. “It says get well soon. For Grandpa.”
That night, my sister and I get to bed late. We can’t sleep because we can hear Mom in the other room, crying on the phone.
“Do you ever see things…?” Marion whispers in the dark. “Like, visions…?”
“You mean dreams?” I ask her.
“No,” she says. “I mean things that are gonna happen. In the future.”
“Oh. No,” I respond. “Do you?”
She shifts around, a little, and then she relaxes.
I realize, only later, how she must have interpreted my words; that she hadn’t been asking if I see things, as opposed to just knowing them.
I can hear our mother hushing her voice more harshly. She’s asking if she’s going insane—if she’d be crazy to suspect that I’ve been especially moody, this week, because I’ve been upset by my knowledge of grandpa’s stroke.
That’s when I learn to stop being honest—because I love my grandfather, and because I start to realize that other people might not have the same instincts that I do. If they don’t, then they won’t understand why I was stressed and crying for the stroke to just happen already.
I’m sitting near the back of the lecture hall, daydreamingly adding clothes to my cart as some people are still taking their seats. It’s the first day of Econ 109: my only early-morning class of the coming semester.
This is when I meet my husband.
I’d never been a serious dater in high school. If it weren’t for my affliction, I’d probably have liked to be—or maybe I’d have dated around a lot more than I did. Yet it was quite an enthusiasm killer, not sensing a future with anyone that I knew within those brick walls. It wasn’t that such a future wasn’t possible, exactly; it was just that having been intimate with many ultimate truths, I couldn’t help but crave a just as deeply known love.
Even if it’d start torturously.
Of my reputation at school, I was only somewhat aware; I learned things via small but vibrant bits of gossip, like tabloid clippings. These notes told me that while I wasn’t totally intimidating, I did seem aloof like I was above the world. I looked like I knew things.
At one of our last senior parties, Aaron Wells had admitted to me that he’d intended to ask me to one of the pep rallies. He said that he’d ambled over, in the hall, with all of the confidence of a popular teen boy whose friends are watching. He said that I’d put down my phone to look up at him, and that he’d been emasculated.
It wasn’t been disgust or rejection in my eyes, he explained: I’d simply looked like I just knew, as if it were a fact of nature beyond anyone’s control, that he wouldn’t ever have a chance.
He didn’t know how a single look had shaken him so roughly, he admitted after another swig of his drink. But he’d been sort of obsessed with me, ever since.
We had a friendly make-out session in the basement, and then we friendlily departed.
I’m still facing my screen, looking at another pair of boots that I can’t afford, when a Red Bull sweeps across the corner of my eye. I hear G-Eazy coming out of headphones and I realize, shakingly, that I’m going to be swept up in the disaster of a person sitting next to me.
He’s not quite what I expect when I look over at him. He looks like a clean-cut private school boy, hiding undercover in Beats headphones and a Trojans hoodie. His face is closed in, almost austere. He has an average build, dark brown hair, long lashes for a white boy. A new type for me.
I try not to stare. I look to the professor, who asks that we all stick to the same seat for the semester so that he may more easily recognize us. My desk neighbor gives me a polite smile, because we’ll be sitting together for twelve weeks, and I return it.
It feels kind of hot, being polite with him, knowing that he’s going to end up on top of me.
My need has already started to press down on my brain. It’s reduced it to ninth-grade-era instinct. I type ‘how to seduce’ into Google, and I receive, among others, the following suggestions:
how to seduce your co-worker (Scandalous.)
how to seduce your husband who is not interested (Sad.)
how to seduce your professor wikihow (Concerning. The ‘wikihow’ part, especially.)
I find nothing on the subject of how to seduce your desk neighbor in your first-year Economics course.
Yet it’s not like I’m researching for anything but personal indulgence; I search for these scenarios just for the fantasy, to give me something to chew on. This is a psychic’s version of porn. In truth, I’m not the one meant to make the first move, because he’s going to ask me out after the tenth week of class. We will sleep together after our third date. I’ve never felt facts so specific and sharp.
And it’s become clear to me, by this point, why the universe implements into me a need for all of my predictions to come true: It’s essentially a way of keeping me from intervening. I can’t be allowed to obstruct the Correct Order of events, after all; so, no matter what I end up foreseeing, I’ll start begging for it with open arms. If I learn, today, that a nuclear holocaust will wipe out all of humanity tomorrow, I’ll ache with the ardor of an army wife for it to come and take me.
For the same reason, I know I mustn’t ever take initiative. If the Order is to be preserved, then nothing should ever happen too early, either. Of course, no one’s ever floated down from the sky to explain to me these ‘rules’—I’m not sure that anyone in the world shares my power—but these are more things that I utterly know. What I don’t know is what the consequences will be if I become disruptive; that’s likely because they’ll be terrible past even my comprehension.
I’ve been thankful, at least, that my moments of prophecy have tended to be rare and fairly mild. In my nineteen years of life, I’ve never had to agonize over any of them for too long.
I have a feeling, though, that this particularly sharp piece of knowledge might be stabbing just a little deeper into my brain.
We’re learning about micro vs. macro vs. global economics. My husband coughs, and I take the excuse to look over at him.
Later, while the professor is taking questions, he coughs another few times. I decide that it would be just a little too weird to look over again.
Lying in bed, feeling heavy, I can’t do my readings. I can’t write my lecture response.
He still hasn’t participated in class, and so I don’t know his name. My biggest fear is forgetting that we’re not married yet—calling him ‘dear’ if I ever want to ask for a pen.
And if I confess to Marion, or to anyone else, that I’ve been thinking a lot about a classmate, how should I refer to him? As my crush? That would be just laughable. Regular people stress over their crushes out of uncertainty: Does he like me, or does he like her? Will we end up together? My issue is the opposite. It’s the over-surety. This man and I must be together. We will be, with time.
Until we are, though, I’ll be sweating like a compulsive skin picker on the train.
As he approaches his seat, I hear in his headphones what sounds like a trap remix of… Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.
I’ve never so badly wanted to climb into a person’s mind.
I’m sitting at my computer, thinking of the advice once given to me about writing letters and not sending them. It was, at the time, a helpful tactic for dealing with pain; now, I’m using the same strategy to let out all of my love. I’m writing pages and pages that I’ll never get to share with him—and part of me only yearns to be wanted as deeply. I want him to crave me like do him, and because of who I am—not only because I’m a pretty girl. Yet that is only a personal desire and not something that could ever be real.
Most people, I’m sure, have experienced this very specific kind of heat between their legs. I may be the first to feel it in every pore.
I sense him shifting in his seat. I hear him type carefully, copying down the lecture slides.
My tongue pushes against the insides of my cheeks, like it does when I’m too hungry for my mouth to handle.
I’m lying in bed with two fingers in my mouth, pretending that they’re his. That they’re him. And craving, like this, something that I’ve never tasted, I begin to feel villainous. I’m obsessing over him so thoroughly and vividly that it seems it must be wrong. My obsession has texture.
Should one have consent to worship?
He leans back, stretches his arms behind his seat. He yawns a little, making his neck flex.
I turned down the invitation to the party tonight. I can’t handle, anymore, looking at all of the limp and boring kissing. And I especially hate the music. The music’s all the same: popular singers declaring their so-called desire, as if they know what desire really is. Only I, I think, understand what it is. Desire isn’t lust. It’s not just a feeling. True desire is the knowledge that the shape of the world is wrong, and it cannot ever be right until you fuck me.
I’m watching his hand move as he’s writing his midterm. I don’t consider that it could look like I’m cheating.
Marion is banging on my door, begging me to go out. To come out of my room, at least, and to explain to her why I’m crying.
I’m shaking under the covers, because I’ve fallen so far off the edge of what I let people see. I can’t tell her that he fills me constantly; that my knowledge is so deep; that on the physical level it feels as if I’m missing a limb.
I can’t say that sometimes, in class, I wish that he’d just reach over and take me. That I wonder, even, why he doesn’t. He must feel at least some sort of pull, have some sense that it would be a correct thing to do. The rest of the class would sense it, too. They wouldn’t put a stop to it.
My eyes tack onto the Red Bull that he places on his desk. I can feel his eyes on me as he sits.
“Yeah,” he chuckles. “Don’t judge.”
I look to his face. “Do you have one of those every day?” I finally ask. It’s the third sentence that I’ve ever spoken to him. (“Oh. Sorry,” were the first and second, after his scarf had gotten trapped under my chair.)
“Yeah. I mean, every morning,” he says.
His voice is utterly lustrous. His eyes are blue-ish and gray-ish, but not discernably one color or the next. It’s as if their true color doesn’t exist in our perceivable world. As if they somehow live beyond.
“So, are you beyond coffee, at this point?” I ask him.
“Uh, no,” he says. “I just don’t want to get addicted to caffeine.”
My chest goes tippy.
“…What do you think is in Red Bull?” I ask.
At that, his face starts tipping over, too. “…Sugar?”
I’d never thought I’d fall for a total dumbass—but he still makes it endearing.
I dream that we’re walking through a bright and fragrant meadow. It’s rampant with flora, and squirrels, and birds, but my love and I seem to be the only people around—and possibly the only people on earth.
He brings me over to a soft patch, under some trees, and he places me down as calculatedly as one does a picnic.
While it’s common misunderstanding that Eve pressured Adam to eat the apple—Adam was there, too, when the serpent spoke—I still know that I will endure the worst fate out of the both of us. Because in the image in which I am Eve, and my body is the apple, his tongue may be the one doing the sinning—but mine is definitely the serpent, urging him on.
And though common knowledge includes the doom that was imposed upon Adam and Eve, not as many know about the punishment of Satan after The Fall.
My love enters with a coffee cup in hand. I smirk up at him, and then he places it on my desk.
“Last week I looked up what energy drinks do to your body, and I think I need to stay off caffeine completely for the next… long time,” he explains. “This is a thank you for saving me from dying before age twenty.”
I’m watching him take off his coat. “You’re not going to die before age twenty,” I mumble.
“Not anymore, thanks to you.”
I smile and I look down to my hands, rubbing them together. Once I look back at my desk, I notice what’s printed on the cup: Girl who likes to wear double braids.
“Is that… what you told the barista?” I laugh, and I hope that it disguises my blushing.
“I didn’t know your name,” he chuckles. It sounds like he’s sort of blushing, too.
The moment distills. I look over at him, feel holy water on my tongue.
“I’m Philippa,” I tell him.
“Philippa?” he repeats.
I know he’s only checking the pronunciation, but he makes my name sound sexier than I ever thought it could. For some reason, it’s even nicer with the question mark behind it. And I begin to think about how visually, question marks look like exclamation points, but first they curl: like fingers. They make our sentences curve upwards, like hips.
His un-surety about my name is so exciting, I think, because it’s like I’m standing on the edge of something. Soon, my name will become one of the surest words of his life.
“I’m Rewan,” he tells me, after I nod.
“Rewan,” I repeat. It’s pulpy in my mouth.
I’ll call Rewan anything that he wants, no matter how perverted. Even if the word is so taboo that it’s never been spoken before. Even if a single, breathy utterance of it is enough to rip through the earth and kill us all—enacting carnal carnage.
I receive yet another e-mail letting me know that I’m failing a course.
Rewan isn’t here, and so I look over the photos that he has publicly available on Facebook. I click my pen with my other hand, don’t notice until the end of class that there’s ink all over my sleeve.
I write a story about a girl whose family removes her clitoris when she is born and sews up her lips so that they’ll fuse together. It will prevent her from sinning, they explain, once she’s sort of old enough to understand. Once she reaches puberty, she will be given pills to prevent menstrual bleeding and at her wedding, they tell her, her husband will be symbolically handed a large seam ripper.
When he first lays her down and cuts her open, it will be her duty to make him finish before she bleeds to death, they say. If she dies before he can stitch her back up, that will mean that she was enjoying herself too much.
The girl lives through her teens pinching down on her curiosities toward the boys and the girls at school, but this only stimulates them further.
She periodically wakes in the night, sticky with sweat like the lust that just won’t go away.
Then, when she’s seventeen and her mind has finally caved in on itself. She checks that her parents are still at work and she steals a steak knife out from the kitchen.
Her father finds her dead, later that evening, in a bed that looks like a crime scene. She is the criminal with blood on her hand.
I don’t post the piece in the Creative Writing 100 forum. I feel my peers might unanimously call up the mental institution the moment that I do—yet I can’t write anything else. I watch the weekly deadline pass through my wetting eyes.
I know that my obsession with Rewan might be mere delusion. Deep disorder. I’ve probably been hallucinating every single instance of my ‘psychic ability,' and he probably has a girlfriend or a different type. Yet if I tell anyone about what I’m experiencing, they will definitely try to get it to stop, and Rewan’s the only reason that I now get up to go to class. He’s the only thing keeping me interested in life; I will, I think, go even crazier without a second narrative always playing in my head. I’ll die without this stimulant, now that I’ve tasted it.
I’d rather life be fiery on my tongue than completely bland, when everything comes down to it. I’d rather feel a constant pinching than let my arm fall asleep.
“You’re not bringing me a coffee every class,” I say, when he places another cup in front of me.
“Why not?” he asks.
“Because…” I feel like I’m stuck in drywall. “It’s too much.”
He sits down. “Uh…well, if you want to pay me back,” he tells me, and he pulls his laptop out from his bag, “Maybe you can tell me what the hell this PPC assignment is about.”
“The one that’s due tomorrow?” I ask, with slight horror, even though I’m in no place to judge.
He looks up at me accordingly.
“Is it week nine, already?”
I get an e-mail from Rewan at around 10 P.M. Over a playful back-and-forth, I offer my advice for the first couple drafts of his assignment. I’m, for the most part, correcting his spelling.
I’m gathering my things at the end of class. I’m making sure to do it slowly.
“Philippa?” he asks, a precise needle hitting the vein of my desire.
I look at him. My fingertips curl atop the desk.
“I thought maybe I could take you for coffee, today, outside of the context of talking about capitalism.”
“We’ll still be participating in capitalism,” I joke.
“Oh,” he chuckles. “Dang it.”
“You’re also funny for thinking I’d ever stop talking about it.”
“We can talk about whatever you want,” he says—and his face is serious now.
Maybe I’m not so crazy.
I made sure, over the weekend, that my first-date outfit was clean and ironed. I get changed when I return home: I’d chosen a long-sleeved dress and tights combo. I look very cute and also very modest; I’m modest enough that Rewan won’t notice that my clothes have changed, and I’m modest enough that I won’t be suggesting anything at all.
My face and hair (in my short French braids, wouldn’t you know?) only need touch-ups because I made myself perfect before class. I don’t have any more to attend today, but Rewan’s busy until four.
I sit, and I write a story about a normal girl from a normal family who looks at someone on the first day of class and immediately develops an obsession with his spleen. She cannot understand the compulsion—but she can’t concentrate on anything else when she’s near him, either. The presence of his spleen is just so loud and so obvious, at all times, that she feels as if it’s calling to her. Often, she has to hide away into the bathroom to let out her tears, because she just needs to see it. She needs to worship it—properly. One night, when she decides that she can no longer handle the anguish, she follows him home from class with a knife and she…
I stop the story there. My obsession with his outer organ already seems much more demoniac.
When I see a text from an unknown number (Outside! –R), I hurry down the stairs. Marion is at the living room window.
“That’s for you?” she asks, squinting.
“I have a date,” I say.
Though she’s always been good at hiding her feelings, I can tell she’s thinking about how yesterday, I was barely leaving my room.
“You know this person well?” she only asks.
“Yup,” I say, and I go to the door. It’s not a lie—not really.
“Text me,” she says.
I understand her concern about my getting into a car with somebody new. I also understood Rewan’s surprise when I was comfortable, right away, with giving him both my number and my address. I realize I must be the only woman in history to trust her first date, one hundred percent.
It’s an odd joy. Yet, in a backwards way, it also makes me feel incredibly vulnerable. It’s like I’m a French tulip at her ripest. At her most pickable. And she’s begging to be picked, even though she’s a delicacy and the signs across the gardens warn him Do Not Touch.
“I thought that was you, at first, staring at me there,” he grins when I open the passenger door.
“Oh my god, no,” I chuckle, and I sit down next to him. “That would be so… creepy…”
“Who is that?” he asks. “Your housemate?”
“Ah. Is that why you’re off campus?”
“Yeah. Sorry it was a bit far,” I say. I notice him check my seatbelt before he presses on the gas, and my heart fills with cotton candy. “She’s lived here the last couple of years, and one of her housemates graduated college when I finished high school last year, so she was like, just take her spot. It’s cheaper than the dorms.”
“And now she’s protective of you, like all big sisters are,” he laughs.
“Much more so.”
At the café, I’m first to grab the little menu card off of the table; I find an appealing hot chocolate, then try to hand the card over to Rewan.
“Why don’t you read it to me?” he smiles, taking off his coat. He’s wearing a short-sleeved button-down. “Since I don’t know how to read, and all.”
My mouth plunges. “I… didn’t say that,” I protest.
“No. You only suggested I take a Duolingo class to brush up on my English.”
I feel myself blushing. I’d slipped up: I’d gotten too comfortable, and I’d tried to joke beyond our current boundaries.
“I’m sorry…” I murmur, my eyes retreating to the table, “It was really a joke…”
He laughs with the cadence of a honeybird taking flight.
“It’s okay,” he tells me. “I know I’m not the best… speller. I haven’t read a whole lot, in life.”
I try not to say anything more, but my lips purse involuntarily and I ask, “Why not?”
I remember next that he could have a learning disability. I start expecting to have a tender moment with him in which he confesses that he does, but he only shrugs.
“I dunno. I have trouble sticking with that kinda stuff,” he admits. “My attention span isn’t the best. And it’s been a while since I’ve found a good book I could really sink my teeth into.”
I nod, and I tell myself again not to be judgmental. I’ve been taking myself so seriously, lately: thinking myself a more-tortured-but-less-talented Sylvia Plath.
But then, Rewan cracks a silly joke, and I find myself with a few hours wherein I don’t have to feel so grave.
He drops me back off at my house at around eight. I go to the stairs, ache upwards. I enter my room wondering why what is ‘bare-bones’ by definition cannot be ‘flowery’—because I’m pretty sure that my bones are made, at this point, of all the flowery adjectives that I’m thinking about Rewan. If it were up to me, really, all ‘stripped down’ writing would be without conjunction or preposition: no more fences keeping the sexier words apart.
I sit on the edge of my bed. I breathe hot air for about an hour.
I return to my desk thinking of more wordplay: about the fact that in French, the sender of a written correspondence is called the destinateur. The reader—the receiver—is the destinataire. These words, like all others, have their roots and relatives: destination. Destiny.
I hit the send button before I realize that I have Rewan’s number now, too. But writing to his school e-mail felt so much more fitting. If I’m going to do something wrong, then of course I’m going to lean all up against it.
something to sink your teeth into
would it be too much
if a different part of me’s been asking for you
she’s in a rush
i need your hands, somehow everywhere at once
at my fingertips
and my face
my mind you’ve already turned me inside out and licked me
you’ve bit me
so, once i’m spread out wide and high
dismember me and make me into wine
Has anyone asked for a second date like that? Probably not.
…Does it count as the second date, technically, if he shows back up at your door on the same night as the first?
I’d lost my eagerness the moment after I’d hit that send. I’d curled up at the corner of my bed, wondering why I had to be this crazy on top of all of my regular crazy. I had been waiting for ten weeks, teeth clenched, for our first date; I’d only have to have waited a couple more. Only two more dates before we’d have slept together. What the hell was wrong with me?
Would the universe break into pieces and come whizzing at me, now that I had chipped at it?
Anxious that my poetry might even be bad enough to reverse fate completely, I’d stumbled over to Marion’s room.
“Do you have any weed?” I’d asked her.
“Oh, my god,” she’d said.
Once I was somewhat calmer, I decided that if Rewan didn’t respond to my e-mail within two more hours, I’d claim that I accidentally sent him my writing assignment. No: my friend’s writing assignment. He’d pretend to believe me, and we’d be able to act as if things weren’t completely uncomfortable.
Rewan never did respond to my e-mail—but I never sent him that excuse, either.
His stare is supple when I open the door. I smell lingering weed, and I know it isn’t me because I had a gummy edible.
“Did you drive high?” I murmur, concerned.
“I walked,” he says.
We go to my bed as if we’re ready to be buried together, like this. And if it would give us total privacy, for just a few hours, we’d be very happy to be buried alive.
Even if fucking makes us use up our oxygen ten times quicker. Even if I die with splinters in my knees.
I grab at him; we kiss for a while, and then my tights rip open like a brutal orgasm. We laugh together as he helps me to pull them off, and then I flip myself above him.
I will stay here, for the rest of the night, showing him everything that I left out of my message to him. I’ll hear biblical prosody in all of his breathing. His hands will touch my thighs, and they’ll feel the sacred home I’ve built for him—the sanctum into which my body transforms every time that he enters my mind.
High art / high sex.
When I wake the next morning, my muscles are so relaxed that I realize just how clamped they’d been, before. Now, they’re only being squeezed by the arms of the boy beside me.
I think about the way that his hands were shaking when I closed my bedroom door. I think about how they calmed when they touched my skin. About how everything calmed when they touched my skin. My throat lets out a lush noise of relief.
Rewan, still asleep and not realizing that he’s doing it, makes the same noise back at me.
By the time that I take him downstairs, our index fingers intertwined, my housemate Hailey is in the kitchen.
“Oh, hey,” she says. “How’s it going?” She lets out an awkward laugh, but the tone is not, It’s obvious you guys had sex last night. It’s, rather, This strange man has caught me in my pajamas and with milk at the corners of my mouth.
She stands up, bowl in hand, and she starts back toward her room. Moments later, I receive a text: who’s this?? ;)))))))))))
I’m loving her, in my mind, for not acting as Marion would. My sister, though she won’t admit it, hates to see me exercising any freedom without her. I always had more than she did back home: because I was the younger sibling, and because our mother was a little afraid of me.
You slept with him after the first date?, she would have written me.
Oh, no. Don’t worry, I would have replied. This is a completely different guy.
I go to the fridge. I offer Rewan a coffee and some toast, and then we sit together at the table.
You offered him coffee with more pause than you did your own body, Marion would say.
Okay, maybe now she’s just in my head.
Sitting down is like starting an official meeting about what I did last night, and I suddenly have trouble looking at Rewan’s face. I stare, instead, at a naked piece of toast.
“So…” he laughs.
“Uh…” I respond. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Anything you wanna say?” he asks. The question is surprising.
“I want to ask if you think I’m crazy,” I admit, my mind teetering.
“Why? Because of… how you…”
“Well…” I hear him shift in his seat. “I did definitely think it was a little crazy, at first. The way it was written was kind of… uh, scary.”
Being inside of my head has been scary, Rewan, I can only think. It’s a haunted house, up here.
“But I couldn’t stop re-reading it,” he admits, his voice cuddling up to me. “I realized that… something about it really touched me. Just because it was so different.”
I stare, asking for more.
“I don’t wanna be complaining about our generation, or whatever,” he says—chewing, a bit, on the words—“But nowadays, it seems like everyone our age is in competition for who can care the least. I guess…having a crush on someone was always considered shameful, but.. I don’t know. It’s like we’re all numbing ourselves with the need to impress everyone. Like, if you break up with someone who was your best friend for years, you’re suddenly liking tweets to try to seem like you never cared in the first place. But here you were, being so vulnerable and intense about a guy you had been on one date with, and I thought: Is that so crazy? Shouldn’t feeling like this for an almost-stranger be considered, like, a miracle?”
My chest is doing aerial silk, because I completely agree with him. I’ve been thinking myself, these past few months, an enamored Anaïs Nin—of him both my Henry and my June. That’s only to say that I wish we all spoke to each other in such an honest, pulsing way.
“Just the fact that you decided to say, screw it, and risk so much by sending me that poem,” Rewan continues, “I just thought… this girl’s so confident and passionate.”
My chest tingles. My lips bloom outward, feel fuller.
“So, what?” I tease. “You figured that I’d be a passionate lover?”
He throws his head back and laughs. “It’s not just that,” he says.
“You came to my house to fuck me solely for wholesome reasons then,” I nod. “Not one part was motivated by horniness.”
“I don’t know if I’d call it horniness,” he admits. His eyes move around my face, and I can see his mind going to the stars. “It was just how you expressed this kind of intensity that…I realized that probably no one else would want me the same way. Ever. And, so, I kind of…”
“I didn’t know if I could ever think about sex again, without thinking of you,” he admits.
I smile sweetly.
“But…I was thinking about it,” I speak again, putting my hands together in my lap, “If our roles had been reversed… wouldn’t it have been considered harassment?” I imagine what that poem might have looked like: blushing penis reference, and all.
“You think you were harassing me?” he asks, squinting.
“I don’t know.”
“But it wasn’t actually explicit,” he says. “It was…artful. Like a nude portrait.”
“An emotional nude.”
He smiles, flutters his lashes, looks to the window. “Hey. Do people call things they write their pieces….” he asks, next, “Because…they’re putting out pieces of their soul?”
“Pieces of writing.”
“What about a musical piece?”
“Also a piece of writing. And music. They’re pieces of work.”
“I guess I’m being kind of a piece of work, right now.”
I’m grinning for the first time in months. “No. I really appreciate that you think about things like this, Rewan,” I admit. “I’m really feeling a lot of passion from you, too. It’s refreshing.”
He smiles like I’ve told him he’s the prettiest boy alive. He slides his fingers in-between mine, and I feel reached more deeply than even last night.
“So, what about you then?” he teases. “What would you have said, if I’d responded not so well?”
I’m embarrassed by what my back-up plan had been. “Oh, sorry, I meant to send this to our prof,” I joke.
And Rewan lets out a twinkling white laugh. The beautiful vibrations almost knock me from my seat.
The Pinch, of course, has still been alive and kicking; it didn’t simply get up and leave after he and I slept together. I was probably only so initially focused on that, I think, because it was the first big thing that was set to happen between us. The moment our sex took its final exhale, however, I could already feel myself growing a different desire: a new and thick need for Rewan to fall in love with me.
As he’s laughing and staring down at me, I can once again feel the pain starting to fade.
Satan’s next appearance before God, after The Fall, is in the Book of Job. He approaches the Lord himself, this time, and he suggests that they test a loyal and sinless worshipper. By way of mental torture, the devil proposes, He will be able to evaluate whether His most dedicated follower can be led to denounce Him. The cruel, Old Testament God agrees to the experiment; Satan inflicts cosmic scourge after cosmic scourge upon the innocent Job, to Job’s grand but human confusion.
When I read this story, I see myself in the punished person, but also still in the figure of Satan.
Being in love, I think, is similar to having a housemate—except the shared space is the inside of your own head. You’ll still have a room to yourself, of course, but your love will notice every crumb left in the kitchen. Sometimes, even a closed door won’t keep out their music. I know, with this idea, that I make it sound as though I feel overcrowded by Rewan—but the truth is the opposite. Over the years, I’ve only wanted less privacy than I’ve had. I’ve wished, ever since the first time that I unclasped my bra for him, that I could give him more.
I want to be known as much as I know.
To this day, my husband still believes me a very open, very vulnerable person; yet anyone can be open about their feelings and their sexuality. Those things exist on a chemical and bodily level, at least in part. True vulnerability, I think, is opening doors that your lover didn’t know could exist.
If I tried insisting on the truth, though, Rewan wouldn’t even believe in my sanity. Even if he didn’t send me off to an institution, the distance between us would inevitably spread; so, throughout my life, I’ve only ever fully confided in Google. I’ve been searching, at every impulse, for evidence of any other psychics. All I’ve ever found are ‘professionals’; ‘I see dead people’ types; probable phonies. I turn my nose up at these women, and yet I also envy them. Because even if they’re frauds, and even if they’re scammers, at least they are believed.
If I were dedicated, I could probably let Rewan know when I feel my next Pinch, and we could together watch my prediction become truth. But even if he didn’t dismiss my proof as coincidence, I’m too afraid that the inclusion of another person would affect the Correct Order of events. And I’ve already had a pit of discomfort, low in my stomach, ever since the first time that he kissed me goodbye.
(It probably hadn’t helped that, after our first breakfast together, I’d told myself that we’d technically just had our third date, and I’d fucked him again.)
Often, I wish that I had a different ability. Any other torment. Telekinesis, for example, could be easily seen and easily proven. Telepathy would allow me to feel a full connection to another person.
One afternoon, when the kids are tucked away for a nap, I write a short story about two men in bed, together, in a cheap Parisian hotel. They’re performing separate sex acts on another, third man—and in a curious, one-off instance of psychic telepathy, the actions of one man start causing the other to see happy, hopeful visions of his future (et vice versa).
The noises of pleasure from the blessed pair become so intense, at that point, that the self-esteem of their touched but untouched partner rises to practically the same level.
I want to be known as much as I know, I’m telling myself as I’m trying to fall asleep, my fists clenched around the duvet. It’s been the plea of my life.
I seem to get a response, after all of this time, when I stop knowing anyone at all.
Rewan and I take our children to the pumpkin patch, just before dinnertime. As we’re standing under the wobbling tarp, watching them run in the mucky grass, I feel the first tipping within the inside of my mind.
I look up and at him, again. I look over his reddening nose and cheeks, his delicate neck.
I don’t recognize him, either.
It happens, again, in bed; I’m perfectly hot and succulent up until the moment that I’m not, and he’s a stranger above me.
He stops when he notices my panic, tells me that I look like I just saw a ghost.
“You alive there, Lippa?” my husband asks, running his hand through the back of my hair; he’s joking, but the words have hard outlines. I realize he’s been speaking for several minutes, now.
Already, I’m completely different and completely indifferent.
I take a moment to remember his name.
I write a story about a woman who grows up checking that the oven is off, and that the back door is locked, and that the stove is off, and that the oven is off, and that the stove is off, and that the back door is locked, and that the hair straightener upstairs is unplugged, and that the hair straightener upstairs is unplugged, and that the hair straightener upstairs is unplugged, and that the back door is locked, and that the front door is locked, and that the front door is locked, and that the hair straightener upstairs is unplugged, and that the front door is locked, and that the front door is locked.
One night—a couple of nights after the end of a camping trip with her children—she ends up alone, cold, in the woods, running. She’s searching, making sure that she didn’t leave anyone behind.
“How many children do I have?”, she keeps on crying to herself.
She can’t ever be sure.
Sitting at the dinner table, I wonder if this is my punishment.
I know, logically, that these are my two kids in the bath, together. I understand, in theory, that these are their faces.
As I pick the shampoo bottle off the edge of the tub, I think of the women who’ve been in the news for abruptly and inexplicably drowning their children.
Since I’ve started experiencing this—this, what I’ve named The Schism—I’ve speculated that it’s been the sentence for my bad behavior at nineteen. I’ve thought that perhaps because I rushed into things with my husband, it’s been decided that I shouldn’t enjoy my life with him.
Now, though, that I’m finding myself distant from my coworkers—and from the rest of my family, too—I’m finding that theory just a little too straightforward. A little too self-centered, even.
Though raised Christian, I’ve never wholly given in to the idea of a God. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt the presence of a vindictive power. I’ve realized that I’ve only been able to feel, or only ever been sure about, an Order. An Order, by nature, doesn’t have the cognitive ability to be spiteful; it only insists on being correct. It won’t purposefully punish, but it’ll get itself back on track like a tree grows around or through.
I’ve become convinced that defying the Order created a domino chain, all of those years ago, that has now veered too far from the planned route. I’m certain that I’ve been feeling that distance. This feeling is so different, too, than the one that I’ve known throughout my life—because I haven’t come to realize that I’m supposed to die at some point, soon. Rather, I know that I should already be dead.
Sometime, recently, my husband was supposed to kill me in a tragic accident. I’m not sure how sleeping with me could have led him to avoid such a thing, but I suppose that life is strange, that way. Do I call it the honeybird effect?
What matters is that I can no longer feel present in the world because I shouldn’t be here. I don’t feel anything for anyone, anymore, because I’ve overstayed all of my relationships. And my unknowing of people seems so appropriate for this new knowing, which for the first time is so backwards. My knowledge of the proper past is a new type of discomfort: it’s noticing an old person’s inverted eyelid, begging myself not to reach toward it.
I think of the ‘freaks’ from the viral talk show clips: the ones mocked by the world for voluntarily removing one or more of their healthy limbs. I think back to their shared justifications for the twisted choice: the deep feeling they all expressed that the limbs, in question, simply did not belong. I think I’ve come to understand those people, on a larger scale.
My body is wrong; it should no longer exist; it’s a tumor on the skin of the earth.
I decide I need to plant the idea in my husband’s head, too. Though I can’t ask him to kill me, outright, I have to try something.
“Please, you have to make me die in some sort of accident,” I whisper in his ear, once I’m sure that he’s asleep. “You have to make some sort of mistake.”
I’m watching, again, as he gets ready for bed; my mind is swelling like inner folds with my need to die.
I’m thinking about how his smoky gray eyes used to start a fire in me and that now, all that I see is ash. I’ve already lived an entire death in his eyes.
“You don’t have to do it all the way, at first,” I whisper, in the dark, later that night. “We can practice a bit, at first, so you can get more comfortable.”
I feel like I’m asking him to play out a dark rape fantasy.
After that, I go to the living room with my phone, and I decide to try one last thing. But the autosuggestions are the world’s most pathetic poem:
how to get your husband to stop drinking
how to get your husband to give you attention
how to get your husband to respect you
My next search is for places to buy a gun. I hit enter on that one.
In the moments before I hide the gun under the bed, I sit inspecting the room whose details look all new.
There are baby socks hanging on the wall. I’d gifted him those, one Christmas many years ago, when he’d said he wanted ‘anything but socks’. Right. It was how I’d told him that I was pregnant, the first time.
On the nightstand, there’s a photo of the two of us—several years prior—bundled up at the winter fair in Vermont. He’s grinning, with one arm around me, the other holding up a mini-hockey trophy. My smile’s more demure.
“Will you marry me?” he’d asked me, later that same night.
“Of course I will,” I’d replied.
Next to the photo, there’s a framed card from our Economics professor: he’d congratulated us on our engagement, had joked that he was now a matchmaker beyond writing recommendation letters.
I think, the gun going slipperier in my fingers, of events from my life much before then.
When you’re trying to convince someone to stop raping you, time might become a little different inside of your head. It might take on a supple quality; it might stretch and rip.
You might feel very stuck in the present, and it might be because you don’t have the language, yet, to competently argue that no, you don’t actually want this. That you’re sorry, and that you’ve learned your lesson about sitting on laps.
Subsequently, you might grow up to be obsessed with language. You may, very well, start to chase after it—after the best of it—in less-than-conscious attempts to catalog your truest intentions. It might become your outlet for many perturbations disguised as passions: your personally-sealed evidence that you don’t fully want what the Order insists that you want. That all you’ve ever wanted, truly, was choice.
I’ve just sent a note to my husband’s work e-mail, and it explains everything. Everything: even my fiendish obsession with my Economics 109 neighbor. I’ve decided that this will keep me from chickening out.
I don’t have much time, now, before he gets to work and he opens his inbox. I have less time before Marion sees my e-mail to her, apologizing for the fact that we never properly spoke about what Dad’s friend did to us. About the fact that I grew up with an ability while she didn’t.
Once I’ve checked to see that the kids have made the bus, I go into the bedroom and I take the gun out from under the bed. I lie down with it in hand.
“Fuck you”, I whisper, though I’m not sure to whom. Does this seem like it’s going to be an accident? It certainly won’t be, but I won’t suffer the consequences.
I lift the gun to my head, and the air clings to my skin.
For the first time since before I can remember, time is completely still.
Then, in the moment before the bullet hits my brain, everything flips. More than I ever have, I understand my fate in vivid and shining detail:
Rewan will see my message, and he’ll call an ambulance to our home. The paramedics will find me, in the room, bleeding with the fury of a body that’s alive but unhappy about it. I’ll be rushed into surgery, and the doctor will open me up, and he will be dumbstruck.
I will have no exit wound—but there will be no bullet inside of my brain, either. Instead, my surgeon will come across an unrelated hole: a blacker-than-black circle that’ll appear to have eaten the bullet up and away.
If I were to have seen the portal, I’d have probably understood what it was, but the operating team will not. Looking into it will even give the surgeon such a full and unearthly chill that he’ll decide it should be plugged immediately. He’ll look through his materials, and he’ll grab the first workable stopper he can find: a wad of the plastic cling wrap he usually favors for burn dressings.
In my hospital bed I’ll struggle with movement on my left side, with spatial perception, with speaking and understanding most words. The doctors will explain that with much rehabilitative therapy, I might return to a nearly regular life with him and with Jace and Arianna.
Rewan will sob and he’ll clasp my hands, repeating to me that I’m perfect—that my life is all that matters to him. I’ll feel accepted, and I’ll cry, too, because I’ll feel cured in the most important way.
Soon, though, another feeling will earth itself inside of me. A new obsession will quickly begin to tingle.
I’ll be found dead one morning, about a week later, a blood trail leading to the kitchen corner to which I’d crawled. I’ll have suffocated from covering myself, totally, in saran wrap.