I remember their hands. All of them. Every finger that has ever touched me. The way they navigated the peaks and valleys of my skin nomadic and wandering or rooted in obvious places. His fingers grabbed and scooped my skin like you would a pile of blankets: sloppily and fumbling. They weren’t rough but they weren’t soft either, they’re only description, much to my chagrin, was that they were nondescript. A ghost’s hands. And I guess it’s not wrong. My body is covered with the fingerprints of ghosts. Were they ever really there?
Flashes batter the backs of my eyes. A door with a mirror, yellow flowers on the wall, a blue shoe, a stuffed penguin missing an eye…yeah, they were really there.
Besides his disheveled technique for touch, he used too much tongue. And he stood in an awkward half-squat, half-bend in order to reach my face, which was about a head shorter than his. His apartment smelled of satisficement, the acceptance of the first option that comes along which fulfills a given need—almost never the optimal option, just the first you happened across. But then again, maybe it wasn’t the apartment that smelled that way.
It reminded me of an attic bedroom. You know the kind. The room that only became a room after a son or daughter bitched about having their own space. This one was awkwardly shaped with sloped ceilings and boxes of crap and bags of shit shoved into corners and beneath furniture. Complete with porthole window in what I generously assumed to be the living room. It was like a college dorm room that is always too small for all the shit you think you need. Then four years later when you graduate and enter the real world, you realize, in all actuality, it’s really just shit. That you don’t need at all.
Yeah, his apartment was a sty. But let’s be honest, I wasn’t there for the scenery.
“You’re so hot,” he said once he retracted his extendo-tongue from my mouth. His hands groped my flesh like he was trying to yank covers that had fallen over the edge of the bed, rough and desperate. His skin smelled of lust and fervor and his arm twisted around my waist where he tucked a few of his fingers into the waistband of my jeans. My leg muscles tightened.
“Shut up,” I said pushing his mouth from my ear. I removed his arm from around me and guided him over to the bed, a full-sized mattress with a blue plaid comforter and no headboard. He tried to crawl on top of me. But I didn’t want his body covering mine. This wasn’t about him.
It was never about them.
Instead, I rolled over on top of him and deftly removed his belt and jeans before I mounted him. Grinding my hips into his while he held the backs of my knees and bit his lip. He looked like an idiot but I was so close to coming that I didn’t care. I wasn’t looking at his face anyways. I was looking through his skylight.
It revealed a small section of black sky, empty even though it was well past midnight. It was ominous and uncomfortably hollow, I could have been looking in a mirror. And I didn’t expect anything different. The moon was somewhere else, away from me. Light usually is.
I could feel him squirm beneath me and I increased my pace a little, feeling the familiar heightening sensation building inside me. With my hands on his chest I was both pushing him as far away as possible while maintaining precious contact with the one part of him I still needed. Building higher, my body charging like medical paddles. Winding and winding and winding and wound and then…CLEAR! My electricity diffusing into the walls of the shitty apartment, the bed without a headboard, my lightning momentarily illuminating that dark and empty patch of sky. But only for a moment and then it returns to what it was. What it will always be here. Because there are no stars in the city—only a hungry darkness that consumes all it touches.
I saw a face in my dreams. A man. Not the one beside me. Someone familiar though. The flashes were brief. Bony fingers and dirty fingernails.
A door with a mirror, a blue shoe.
My skin crawled and I felt the muscles in my legs and abdomen tighten just as the guy next to me rolled over and put his arm around my waist. Wrong. It felt wrong. His bed felt like a bad memory. His hands felt like an old scab. I peeled his fingers from my body and slid from the sheets, cotton that had grown rough.
I always dreamt of that face when I was in bed with someone. I don’t know why but I do know why. I stood by the porthole window and breathed in the twilight air and as my lungs expanded the face fell away but the hands remained.
They always do.
Seared into my mind like a brand. But I was used to those memories so my muscles relaxed. The darkness was still there though; a sentinel standing in the corner of the room, a silent reminder, a subconscious awareness. Something I cannot lose despite how far I run.
Don’t wake up, I thought as I tiptoed around the side of the bed.
The cold air slid over my skin making goosebumps appear on my bare arms and legs. I stepped over pillows and clothes, passing the darkness in the corner that sat watching me with flat eyes. I looked at the sleeping figure beneath the plaid blanket I had just abandoned. He was lying on his stomach and I could see his back rise and fall in a steady rhythm. I didn’t bother wrapping my naked body in a sheet.
The sleeping figure made a snorting noise and I turned to look mid-step as his head flipped from one side to the other and he audibly swallowed. But then the steady rise and fall of his breathing resumed and I exhaled a breath of relief, quietly gathering my clothes from the floor before slipping silently out of the bedroom and into the bathroom across the hall.
It’s amazing how suddenly graceful you become when you’re trying to escape. Your body becomes uncharacteristically balanced; your fingers, deft; your feet, nimble and swift. Mornings like these I think of acrobats, and how it must be to live with that sort of grace. How it must be to live with any grace at all.
Cirque de Soleil.
I flipped the switch and immediately closed my eyes as a cascade of light raped my pupils. The brightness was disorienting but it only took a second or two for my eyes to adjust.
My mouth still tasted like alcohol, I could smell it escaping through my pores, and despite my best efforts at relaxing my face, my eyes remained in a hungover squint staring back at me from the cold glass. I cracked the door slightly and peered into the bedroom at the unmoving figure, leaving it open to be able to hear any signs of consciousness, any indication of coherence. Nothing. The darkness in the corner patient, waiting for me, while he lied motionless on the bed. He reminded me of a sleeping walrus. Or a hippo or a whale—some type of large, useless animal. Well, maybe not useless. I used him.
The dark figure in the corner stood statuesque, a gargoyle that watched him while I grabbed the toothbrush and toothpaste that sat on the edge of the sink and turned the faucet to a dull trickle. Soon the taste of tequila was replaced by peppermint and the dissatisfaction of having to use his toothbrush. Afterwards, I turned off the faucet and looked in the mirror, wiping the stars from my eyes as I put my clothes back on.
It’s just another day. He’s just another guy.
I snuck into the hallway, the dark figure right on my heels, closing the door gently behind me. Where he was shrouded in the corners of the apartment, the dark figure is easily discernible in the incandescent hallway lighting. A black, disfigured countenance with dark wings and leathery flesh, claws that could rip the heart from a sequoia, teeth that could shred steel—my darkness, my demon, invisible to everyone but me.
He was ugly…but that’s a given and pocked with insecurities, impaled with brute pride. His ears were riddled with holes, mutilated in a way that distorted his hearing, an ear for only the bad. His eyes had a membranous skin over them, like an amphibian; a clouded view of the world. And he had a strong stomach and a tongue that could tear through lies, tasting only the bitter truth. He was all of my vice. My sin and carnality. A monster I have been forced to walk with.
A sigh escaped my lips as I inhaled the freedom that greeted me outside his apartment.
A loud noise like a storm siren startled me from my contentment and I quickly clutched my bag to my chest trying to stifle the sound as I half-ran away from his apartment door and to the elevator down the hall. When I reached the chariot of my departure I dropped my shoes and started digging through my bag for the device that almost spoiled my clean getaway.
Missed call: Jamie.
I touched her name on the screen and put the phone to my ear, after only a few rings I heard a concerned voice on the other end.
“Talon?” Jamie said. “Are you alive? Where are you?”
“Jesus, Jamie,” I said into the mouthpiece. “Volume, please.”
“Sorry,” she said bringing her tone down to a lower decibel. “I walked into your room this morning and you weren’t there. I was worried.”
“Fair enough,” I said balancing on one foot as I put my shoes on in the elevator, holding the phone between my ear and shoulder. “I’m on my way home now.”
“Where are you?”
“I left with the guy from the bar,” I said walking out of the elevator once I reached the lobby. The man behind the lobby desk gave me a nod and I vaguely remembered having a conversation with him last night when my hookup and I stumbled in at like 3:00AM. He gave me a once over, assessing last night’s outfit and my inability to not squint. I wish I had some sunglasses. I rolled my eyes, knowing full well he was branding me as a “walk-of-shame.” My demon scoffs.
Shame doesn’t live here.
“Which one?” Jamie probed on the other end of the phone.
“The one I left with,” I said. “Listen, I’ll tell you about it when I get back. See you at home, Jamie.”
“Alright, be careful, Talon.”
“Always am,” I said. I hung up the phone with my roommate and stepped out into the October chill.
The sounds of Chicago assaulted my ears and the smells of coffee and Lake Michigan wafted into my nose. Taxis whizzed by along with cars driven by businessmen and women on their way to work. It was early, not quite 7:00AM, but there were still a substantial amount of people on the streets, they passed me silently as I walked to the Belmont L station.
The brisk air of morning stimulated my senses as flashes of the previous night started to replay in my head. I remembered being at the bar with Jamie and her boyfriend, Andrew, but after the fourth shot of tequila everything goes fuzzy and all I remembered was latching onto…
Oh shit. What was his name? I think it started with a…D? David? Daniel? Dimwit, a raspy voice at my side suggested. I was powerless against the involuntary smile that cracked my face in half as I walked, my demon mirroring my expression. Then I heard my phone ping.
Derek: Where’d you go?
Derek. That was his name.
Me: Did you put your number in my phone?
I pressed send but I already knew the answer. Why was he even awake? I guess my getaway wasn’t as clean as I’d hoped. Thanks, Jamie.
Derek: Yes :)
Derek: Where’d you go?
Derek: Oh, cool. Well we should hangout again sometime.
Me: We can play it by ear.
Derek: Ok, cool. Have a good day. :)
The northbound train arrived at the platform and I stepped into the moderately crowded car, sitting in one of the seats reserved for the disabled and elderly since they were unoccupied—since they were usually unoccupied. When I sat down, I deleted Derek’s number from my phone, my demon nodding in approval.
The city zoomed by the windows of the train. I could see buildings and people and traffic. And each stop brought new waves of commuters. My hand gripped the handrail and my body swayed and leaned with the motion of the train like when you’re in the backseat of a car driving through long country roads. That is, if the long country roads were a raised transit platform operated by conductors with a serious misunderstanding of the term “smooth sailing.” A few people talked to each other but most of them were quiet like me.
When we got to the Addison stop, a couple with arms draped all over each other sauntered onto the train, oblivious to the world around them, wrapped up only in each other; the rest of us on the train not even registering in their consciousness, like they had just stepped into a black hole where there was only them. I hated them immediately. I had a strong dislike for couples—two idiots deluding themselves into thinking that monogamy is natural and that love is a self-perpetuating motion device. People are savages. Selfish and self-serving. Couples are a social construct. In reality, all you really have are lovers. That’s all. Any naïve formation of monogamous ideals or some metaphorical melding into a singular “couple” is bullshit. You are two people, two people who sleep together. Perhaps you like sleeping together better than sleeping with other people and that’s why you do it exclusively, but sooner or later you’ll find someone who you like to sleep with more. And so the cycle continues.
I caught my reflection in the elasti-glass of the train window, my eyes on the couple but not seeing them. Instead I saw myself, the disgust in my eyes, and the glimmer of something that used to register as pain but now lies worn and beaten in the recesses of my mind. Silent.
But silence is too fragile to remain unbroken.
Soon I’m not seeing my reflection. I see a door with a mirror, a blue shoe, and yellow flowers painted on the wall—but the images won’t solidify, remaining fuzzy and indistinct. Then I see my mom primping and getting all gussied up to go out with some guy. I see her bringing him home to meet my baby sister, Zoey, and I. I see him whispering to a darkness that stands by his side and I see my mom blind to it. I see her heart breaking. I see her pain. And I hate it. That pain haunts my childhood. It’s an undeserving pain, a pain that is hard for a child to accept on the face of their heroes. But I also see her blind to mine, a secret I’ll never share. The only thing I can’t see clearly is his face, stomped out by the feet of too many men walking out on my mother—a blurred assemblage of features, an Everyman. Leaving a trail of crumpled second, third, and fourth chances in their wake. And now I find myself whispering to a similar darkness.
The first time I met my demon I was four. My room was pastel blue and there were yellow flowers painted on my wall. It was dark and the man was my babysitter. He was supposed to be my babysitter.
I looked at the couple on the train again. The way he stood behind her and grabbed the handrail on either side of her waist, like she was going to tumble away. The way she leaned into him as if she couldn’t stand on her own two feet without him there to steady her.
I don’t trust that kind of complacency. I don’t trust much of anything.
When the CTA conductor announced the arrival at my stop, I stepped off onto the platform and a gust of wind blew my hair into my face. Through the streaky bits of black, I could see the honey-glow of morning light on the concrete. I walked north and the characteristic orange beacons of parking tickets stuck on cars lined the curb. Cars that hadn’t been moved according to posted times. Those posted times might as well be written in Ancient Gaelic for all their helpfulness. To me, they seemed to be specifically created to punish residents who fail to grasp that every third Wednesday of an even numbered month from 7AM-9AM while the moon is waning, the streets need to be cleaned. And if you failed to decipher that babble, well lucky you, you get to pay $60 to the city of Chicago.
I could hear the sound of paws behind the door of my apartment as I pulled the keys out of my bag and no sooner than the door was cracked was I almost knocked back by the force of my dog jumping up and trying to lick my face.
“Down, Chance,” I said pushing the large husky back onto all fours and stepping into the apartment. “Down, boy. I know, I know,” I said maneuvering my way around a wagging tail and spring-loaded feet. “I know, Chance. Give me a minute.” I set my bag down and kicked off my shoes. “Jamie?” I called.
“You’re home,” she said in a motherly tone. She appeared around the corner. She was in the kitchen. Her hands encased in yellow rubber gloves and I heard water running in the sink.
“I said I was on my way,” I shook my head at her. Only she would get up at the asscrack of dawn to A. Check that I was home and B. Do the dishes. Jamie was moderately neurotic like that. In some (read: most) ways she was my polar opposite. She let things bother her, festering and fermenting until she is literally choking on the problems she force-feeds herself. Jamie’s neuroticism might stem from some inconsistency between her and her parents when she was a baby or something. Considering her strict upbringing, I don’t find it too far-fetched of a hypothesis.
I, on the other hand, was numb to most things. Not a lot could get to me. I wouldn’t let them get to me. Because they can only pull the trigger if you hand them the gun. And this world is full of trigger-happy bastards. So I kept mine strapped to my side. The power to destroy me will always be mine and mine alone.
But I guess you could use the same logic to explain my anesthetized outlook—upbringing. My mom raised my sister and I alone. She was always working two and three jobs to try and make ends meet for us. Her strength was our family’s mascot. But my childhood was a string of daycares, neighbors, and babysitters, a perpetually changing landscape, the only constants being Zoey and I. We lived our early years in front of a green screen—a pseudo-background that never quite looked real. Mother was more transience than permanence, more concept than reality. Eventually you stop resisting the change and learn to ride the waves. Anyways, that’s probably why Jamie and I get along the way we do. Her neurotic personality evened out my indifference. “Has Chance been outside yet?”
“I tried but the stubborn brat wouldn’t leave your bed,” she said walking back in the kitchen to finish the dishes.
There was a DVD case sitting on the dining room table—The Matrix—my favorite movie. She and Andrew must have watched it after getting home last night. I picked it up and put it back beneath our modest entertainment center and looked over at Chance sitting contentedly by the door. His tongue was hanging out of his mouth, tail curled around his body, patient yet impatient with a look in his eyes that said, “I’m ready now.”
“Of course you wouldn’t,” I said exasperated but I grabbed his leash and stepped into some slip-ons anyways.
After Chance’s bladder was drained I began to tend to my own needs, the first of which being a shower. I walked into my bathroom and shed my twice-worn clothes and turned on the water and soon pore-opening steam filled the room.
I never turned on the vent. I liked the asphyxiating heat, how it made life a little blurry, how it made you breathe a little deeper.
Water quickly condensed over the mirror and I wiped my hand over the glass revealing a slice of my face, which still bore remnants of Thursday night makeup and one night stand sex hair. I knew it was me but it was never me.
I ran my fingers through my short, straight hair, dark and cut into an inverted bob that framed my oval face. It was a blackish-blue color and contrasted with my pale skin. I had a small but pointy nose and high cheekbones, and through the streaks of slept-in makeup you could see faint freckles on my cheeks. There was a small silver hoop in my nose. My eyes were gray like storm clouds, lost and searching.
I stepped beneath the warm water of the shower, washing away all traces of Derek. Deleting his presence like I deleted his number. Exorcising him from my body—a temple I all too often neglect.
Chance was lying on my bed when I walked out, a cloud of rosemary-soaked steam pouring out behind me. I could hear Jamie out in the kitchen still. Probably making breakfast or something now that the dishes were clean. I closed the door and dried myself off before letting the dampened towel fall to the hardwood floor. I looked over at Chance, his head resting on his paws, and wondered as I often did what he was thinking. Some people feel weird being naked in front of their pets. I always found that to be the dumbest kind of modesty. Then again, I didn’t really have a problem being naked anyways. Naked is easy. What you see is what you get. Clothes are the liars—enhancing or concealing the truth beneath fabric.
I’m always surprised that bats don’t fly out of my closet when I open the door. There was not a lot of color in there. In fact, the majority of my wardrobe was black or charcoal gray. With the exception of jeans, which then includes colors of dark navy or indigo. Jamie thinks I wear too much black. I told her I’d stop wearing black when they invented a darker color.
There’s no forethought behind that fact. No statements I’m trying to make. Black just fits me best. The thought reminded me of something a Japanese fashion designer once said. He said, “Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy—but mysterious. But above all black says this: I don’t bother you—don’t bother me.”