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Desiccation

Eve Henley--Rayve


I hold my hand up to the ceiling above me, watching the smoke trail its way outward through the edges of my fingertips. There was no one and nothing in this moment except the twinkle of the lights above me. 


One time, I had stood in the lighting aisle of Home Depot for an hour, watching the world around me blink on and off, each subtle click setting off a wave of emotion cresting just out of reach. I was on the precipice of some great and philosophical feeling. I just needed that push, that one more aching fall to grasp the thoughts that floated around me with infuriating unreliability.


Nowadays, I wish I could get it back, all the bursts of inspiration sewn into the seams of childhood. I take another puff from the joint, rolled up nicely in my roommate’s pink rolling paper. She said she put some other stuff in there, lavender and rosemary or something to make me feel calm. Remembering that is the only thing keeping me stuck to my own body right now. 


I try to pull myself back from the ceiling, dreading the pulsing sound that seems to be coming from the overhead lights. It hurts like this whenever I smoke, but I still do it anyway. I hope that maybe one day it’ll take me to where everyone else seems to go. 

Michaela smiles at her phone next to me, laughing out loud at what I only assume are texts from her friends. I appreciate her doing this, taking the time to smoke with me before she heads out. I’m kind of glad to get the room to myself for the night, have some space to breathe while I sink into the high. 


It feels nice in my body, like all my limbs are melting into one. This is how I imagine an octopus lives, with its brain spread out between all eight of its arms. I’m sure it chugs along the seafloor much the same way I move through the space of my own self: with reckless abandon and altogether too fast. 


I pass the joint over to Michaela, letting the world shift in and out of view.

“I think I’ll finish the rest of this later” she says, bouncing off the bed in that fluffy, light way of hers. 


I nod my response, a sudden cough rendering me unable to speak. 


“I’m not sure when I’ll be back, but I’ll try to sneak in quietly.” 


“Okay”


“You’re cool here, right?”


“Yeah”


“You sure?”


“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. Thanks for the smoke.” 


“No problem”


She pauses at the door to put her coat on.


“I’ll see you later, yeah?”


As soon as she leaves, I take stock of my body. Each limb wiggles correctly in response to my brain prompting it, which is always a good sign. My heart beats steadily faster though, and my breathing has switched to manual. 

I dim the lights strung up on the ceiling and focus on the waves rushing over my skin. I’m weary about putting on music, anything other than exactly perfect could set me off into a spiral I won’t escape from. As I stand up to grab a glass of water, I’m hit with the familiar regret of every Friday night. I have to ask myself, why do I smoke at all? For a moment, sitting on the bed with Michaela, everything seems to fall into place. We speak sparingly, but with only the sounds of subtle inhalations that stick in the air, there’s really no need to. 


Now, I’m sitting in a room that suddenly seems bigger without her presence. The walls pulse with the music down the hall, and in my current state I feel certain it’s the building asking me to breathe, so I do. I take a big gulp of air, then a big gulp of water, and repeat the process until my brain has been wiped clean of all impending panic. My heartbeat remains annoyingly fast though, and I feel like if I don’t keep moving, I’ll inevitably turn to stone. 

I start in slow circles around the room, as I always end up doing. Time seems to skip from one step to the next, and once more I have to tell myself that this is the fun of it, this is the part I’m supposed to enjoy. I always take one more hit when I shouldn’t, not wanting to let Michaela down each time she passes it back. 


“You’re having fun,” I want to say to myself, over and over until it really becomes true. I’ve been through it enough times to know that I’m not dying at least. It’s almost worse though, knowing it’s all in your own head. 


In the corner of the room, colors fluctuating around me, I spot an object holding its own against the tides of specs wiggling in my vision. It lies solid, a monolith creeping back against the encroaching brightness. I’m fascinated for hours, minutes, seconds maybe, before I make the move to see him up close. 


He was overturned, and his shell was crisp and shiny like a porcelain potato chip. I search for movement, my eyes glued to him like he was the last remaining anchor on earth. Each time I think I see a twitch of his legs, it turns out to be my own breath passing over his delicate form. 


I switch positions so that I’m lying in my stomach, my face inches from him. I mark each breath with the sound of cars passing by in the background, and soon fall into an easy meditation, his small form moving only with the delicate influence of my breathing. 


His eyes are glassy and blank, and I feel suddenly sad that they aren’t seeing me like I am him. It doesn’t feel fair for me to observe like this, it feels wrong that he is now only an object, that he has no choice but to be party to my own affected living. 


Watching him, hours pass. He keeps me company through the tidal waves of sensation that ebb and flow through me, unpredictable and overwhelming. I mark him as a point of observation and let the rest of the world move around him as an axis. It makes everything slower, less frantic. I’m able to take stock of my limbs without the thrilling fear of numbness, and my erratic heartbeat becomes nothing more than subtle drumming in the background. 


I hear Michaela come home, loudly throwing her things to the ground before moving herself into bed. Her door shuts surprisingly gently for how much movement she had been tossing about. I want to go to her, to tell her about him and show her the secret I’ve discovered, but something tugs at the edge of my stomach, anchoring me in place.


I don’t want to share him. I’m afraid if I do, he’ll be angry with me and revoke the calm, gentle place that he has provided. I don’t want Michaela seeing him in my room and throwing him away, so I gently inch him behind a storage box in my closet, letting him rest in the encompassing dark.


Going to class becomes increasingly difficult, knowing that he waits for me back home. I am inclined to skip it every morning, but Michaela always bursts through the door, dragging me out of bed to go eat breakfast and walk with her. I start locking my room at night, and in the mornings, she thankfully leaves me alone. The first few times, she knocked apprehensively, softly calling my name through the door. She’s since given up, too shy to confront me about it, and left me in peace. 


I’m inclined to fight it, to keep him away at least in the daylight hours. I go for long walks, circling the campus again and again. I try to cook all my dinners, to make it difficult for me to have a moment of rest before bedtime. I need my hands busy, otherwise he occupies my mind in a stupidly profound way. I have to hold him back with a brick wall every time I use the bathroom, and every time I look in the mirror.


He becomes a shadow, growing bit by bit, inch by inch, until he seems to engulf the whole of my apartment. I know that I should get rid of him, that I should toss him outside and let nature take its course, but my head burns in objection every time I think about it. I’m gripped with sudden panic picturing him exposed to the daylight, trampled by the random passerby. 


I can’t face him again yet, knowing that I’ve kept him at bay this long. I don’t want his glassy black eyes to bore through me, to expose all the tender yellow fat and broiling fluids that are devoutly hidden by the shell of my skin. Besides, I worry at the state I would find him in, festering for so long in the dark. It would feel blasphemous to see the melting of his body, to watch him stick to the carpet like nothing more than an errant stitch in an otherwise perfect tapestry. 


It’s better to throw myself against him, to feel the guilt of his disrespected form deep in my own stomach. Sometimes I find a stray tear leaking out of me at night, and I know it is from this place far inside myself where I recognize the loneliness. He is here, in this room with me, yet I am tortured by the absence of him. When I am crippled by the sharp pain of isolation, by the dire need for someone to care, I think back to him nestled in the corner of my room. I am not alone, not when he will always remain. 


I am haunted by nightmares. In them, he crawls to me, his blank form animated, and his jerky movements displaying outright anger. He wants me to follow him, and as soon as I step off the bed, I fall endlessly in the dark. In my heart I know that he is upset with me, that he is hurt by my lack of attention. I slam back into myself in the morning, sitting stick straight and gasping for air. The corner where he rests buzzes with emotion, and I swear I can feel it like a sensation on whatever part of my skin is facing him. 


I don’t have many people in this world. Michaela is gracious to me, kind enough to try and include me in whatever it is that she does, but I don’t really have anyone who is mine. I have craved companionship for so long, something which solidifies my existence, the fact that I am important to someone other than myself. He is important to me, no matter how much I try to deny it, and I suppose that in a way I am the only person in the world that is essential to him. Without me, Michaela would have thrown him out days ago. Without me, there’d be no one in this world to mourn him, to think of him and acknowledge his presence.


I start to smile as I walk around, moving through my days. I smile because I have a secret, a companion, someone that is wholly mine. I am the only person in this world who is thinking about him, who knows him to exist. My world has brightened. In line at the coffee shop, I nod my head to strangers, I say please and thank you everywhere I go. I engage with people on the street, complimenting their clothes or hair or attitude, and I make a game of avoiding the cracks on the sidewalk. I look into the eyes of every person I pass, because I want them to look back at me. I want them to look and wonder “what is it that has her so happy, so alive?’  I want them to feel incredibly empty knowing that they’ll never get an answer.


One night, while I am trying to fall asleep, it is suddenly excruciating that he is so far from me. The darkness of my room engulfs me, squeezing my chest so that I can’t get in a single breath. I see eyes in the shadows. I see figures in the corner. Every time I close my eyes, I am fearful that a hand will reach out from the ceiling and tear me limb from limb. The world is too big, the possibilities of life too endless. I burrow further under the covers, seeking to hide myself away in a cocoon, but I soon come to dread the light of morning. Each day will be endless, each morning filled with leering possibilities and directions up until the very moment my treacherous body finally declares “enough!” and I am left to rot somewhere on the forest floor. 


I am frantic for a way to end this, to step outside of the cycles of life which squeeze and constrict and shove us all into neat square packaging. I think of death, of the quiet it would bring, but then I wonder if it would be all that different. I would escape into something which could be altogether worse. I want to blink away, to creep into oblivion and leave no corpse behind.


He tugs at the strands in my mind, stronger and stronger until I can ignore him no more. He will save me, I’m certain of it. I jump out of bed, moving suddenly and with purpose so as to distract the monsters around me. Turning on the light, the room is bathed in sickly yellow, and I tilt my head up in disgust. 


I approach my closet, my limbs moving of their own accord. The closer I step towards him, the quieter the world becomes, until it is just a dull background droning, barely the size of a fly. Reaching for the box, I slowly push it away. I notice a subtle fear for what state I will find him in. What if his body has become bloated and distorted? What if fluid leaks from his pores and fastens him to the spot? I push these things aside, knowing that the completion of my task is all that will take away this horrid stalemate, this intricate existence. 


Gazing on his form for the first time in nearly two months, I’m relieved to find that he is largely unchanged. His big eyes bulge out at me, glossy and clean just like when I’d seen him last. I might be imagining it, but I think that maybe his shine, his ruddy brown color has dulled a bit. Here he sat, largely ignored, unappreciated, and yet he managed to keep himself intact. I can’t help but wonder if he did this for me, knowing that one day I would come back for him. 


I cradle his small body in the palms of my hands, shaking with the effort of being gentle. I take my time walking back over to my bed, appreciating the smooth feel of him against my skin, the cool touch of him finally dampening the raging heat inside of me. My lungs feel clearer, and my limbs mold back into the control of my mind. 


I sit on my bed with him for a while, listening to the sounds of the night. Time has been suspended, the world itself stopped turning so that I could cradle him to me and cry, uninterrupted, at the desperate relief he has brought. I lay down at my side, ready to close my eyes and rest knowing that he is near, that he is beside me. 


I can’t seem to drift off though, concern for him growing once again. I’m afraid I’ll crush him in my sleep, that in the morning I’ll have to peel him from my chest like an old scab. I am delighted, for a moment, to imagine him melting into me through my skin, and I shiver with the pleasure of it. 


I need him somewhere I can see him, somewhere I can gaze at him night and day. My eyes drift to the nightstand beside me, and I decide that this is where I can keep him, his own private pedestal. I gently set him down on the wooden surface after clearing away everything else, sending it all to the floor with a long sweep of my hand. It feels wrong to place him here with his legs still curled up into the air, his back exposed to the cold hardwood, while I rest easily in the softness of my bed. Instead, I place him atop an old scarf I saw hanging up on the living room coat rack. 


Still, his positioning feels blasphemous. Instead, I place him so that his legs are folded underneath him, and his head is facing me. He balances there nicely, and I feel tears creep into the corners of my eyes. He is regal, dignified, and wholly untouched. There is a sense that the largeness of the world rests entirely on his shoulders, and I am relieved that he can bear the weight of it in my place. 


Every night I wait fearfully for the reliable melting of his body. I say goodnight to his watchful gaze, and ask him pleadingly to stay as he is, to not leave me here all alone. Weeks pass however, and he remains pristine, already all dried up. There is no liquid to leak from his pores, no bubbling of his little limbs, and no desecration of his tiny, perfect face. 


Each day, I spend my hours safe under his glassy eyes. I feel him speaking to me, in some unfathomable way, and I’m content to lay there forever and listen. I get up only for my most basic needs, fearing being separated from him for more than a moment. It’s dangerous out there, away from his protection, and I feel the same terrible largeness of things begin to creep in around me every time I dare to wander away from him. 


When I come back, he seems to scold me for leaving. He knows it’s not safe out there, and he does his best to save me while he can. My nights are dreamless, he graciously provides me with the oblivion I crave, and each day I wake engulfed in the safety of his watchful eyes. 


I am out, one day, horrible outside. I needed groceries, I had finally run out of the snacks I keep under my bed, which I had been subsisting on for weeks. I thought that I might ignore the pangs of hunger, but after a few days, the pain in my stomach became too great for me to fall asleep. I had to leave him, to go out where anyone could reach me, where anything could sink itself below my skin and tear me apart from the inside out. 


While out on my journey, a glinting gold catches my eye. A penny, pristine and new, is directly in my path. Its color reminds me of him, and I am hit with the sudden and debilitating ache of loss. I need to get back to him, I need to get home quickly, the world is already infecting me again. There is a pause, however, in my panic, and I realize that this penny was no coincidence. It’s perfect, far more perfect than a penny on the street has any right to be. It reminds me of his perfection, of his overwhelming beauty. I must pay tribute, I think, I must let him know how much he means. 


I pick up the penny and make my way back, also collecting fallen flower petals and small metal trinkets along the way. Once I’m home, I place them in a circle around him, holy relics so that he may pass his time in pleasure. He glows slightly, or so I think, becoming instantly shinier, and his eyes look at me with joyous gratitude. I want this for him, I want this for him all the time. If I must sacrifice, if I must brave the cold outside, I will do so in devotion. 


I collect every shiny thing I see, I pick fresh flowers of only the brightest colors, and fill a thimble with red wine for him every night. I sneak into Michaela’s room one day and steal her bright silver necklace for him, knowing that she is not nearly as worthy to possess it. I see Michaela less and less each day, always seeming to miss her when I finally wander out of my room. A few weeks ago, she slipped a note under my door. In it, she asked if I was okay, she said she was here for me if I needed anything and that she wanted to help. I burned it on my windowsill and used the ash to line the borders of my nightstand. 


She hasn’t slipped notes to me since, nor have I seen her in days. I feel increasingly sorry for her, for the way she moves through the world so oblivious. I wouldn’t dare to share him with her, knowing deep in my bones that he is mine and mine alone, but I do want something more for her. I ask him in my nightly prayers to save her the way he’s saved me, to send her a token of her own, a god she can see and feel with her own two hands. 


I kneel down every night and weep in my hands before him. I tell him the troubles of my day, the world which aches and groans around me. I disclose the odd rhythm of my beating heart, desperate for his dark eyes to see the pain, and wash me free from it. I wake up, and search for gifts that would become him. Before I eat, I make sure to leave crumbs for him, to show him that I will always put him first. 


It’s always easiest, I find, to breathe when I’m lying beside him. I feel no ache, no pains anywhere in my body as long as I am existing with fervor next to him. I am calm, I feel no cold or sorrow, no fear, or disastrous machinations. As long as he is within sight, my existence is meaningful, my fear inconsequential and unfounded. I am finally a thing which knows its purpose, I am finally a person who is loved unconditionally. 


Days pass, many days, before I feel the first rumblings of unease. He does not speak to me anymore in that mysterious way of his, the nightmares find their way back in the dead of night. I look at him, and he feels miles away from me. When I leave the apartment, he no longer follows in my heart, I can’t picture him sitting on my nightstand, the image unclear. He is a blur when I’m not around, as if I hadn’t memorized every line and crevice of his small body. 


Rather than fearful, I begin to feel dull. I’m hopelessly gray, all emotions leaking out from me rather than rushing forth like the wind. I’m not content to lay beside him anymore, it does nothing but remind me of how things once were. I am sleeping all hours of the day, trying to escape the painful numbness of my body. The loneliness isn’t sharp and stinging like it once was, now it is a gentle nudge, an old ache that I will never get rid of. Somehow, this is worse. I wake up each hour and find that for the first few moments, I cannot feel a single thing. 


I don’t bring him gifts anymore, I don’t move myself more than an inch from my bed. There is the constant thought in my mind, the resounding why. I am no longer a living thing, I am just a body functioning the way a body must, but I am entirely empty beneath my skin. 


He had tethered me, had winded his way around me like a guiding rope deep down in the darkness of the ocean. Now, for some reason, he has let me go. I wonder, was I not enough? I want more than anything to feel him like I once did, to be engulfed in the warmth and clarity of his love and attention. He seemed to taunt me now, still perfectly preserved on my nightstand. If anything, all that has happened is that he’s shriveled slightly, retreated into himself, and shrunk within the confines of himself. Still, I am grateful that he stubbornly refuses to decompose. I don’t think I could handle losing him so irrefutably. 


A possibility starts to dance around the edges of my mind, never still enough for me to examine it fully. He is still intact for a reason, he is still there, physically laid before me and unwilling to change. I remember the fantasy I had, before placing him on my nightstand. I remember the rippling pleasure at the thought of him sinking into my skin, becoming a part of me, becoming one with me in a way that no one could deny.


Slowly, the possibility grows. Each day I look at him, and it buzzes even closer to the front of my skull. I want him to be with me in a way that seems impossible, I want him to be a part of me in a way that nature does not allow. 


I think of eating him, of absorbing him into me that way. For a while, it seemed promising, but then I realize I would only retain part of him, the rest cycling through me like every other food I’ve ever eaten. Still though, it seems to be the only way. 

It’s hard though, each time I try, I can’t bring myself to do it. I don’t want to feel his body crushed beneath my teeth, but he is far too big for me to swallow whole. I think about him melting in my stomach acids, melting in the very way I’ve been dreading for all this time. I raise him to my mouth, and look into his large, little eyes. “This is the only way,” I try to tell him, but I’m always hit with a sick feeling that he doesn’t think so too. 


I start to starve myself, to relive the aching hunger. I hope that eventually, I’ll be hungry enough to do it. My weakness betrays me though, no matter how hungry I get the thought of swallowing him still brings bile up my throat. 

In desperation, I think I might smoke him, or roll him into a fine powder to suck up through my nose. I remember that first night I encountered him, when in my desperate high, he was the only thing able to bring me back into myself. It feels wrong then, to turn him into such a common thing. Besides, the mechanics don’t seem entirely possible. 


I want to bleed with him, to spend every second in that delicate space which opened only at his side. I want him to permeate every cell in my body, to touch each strand of DNA and wrap himself around every inch of my bloodstream. Again, the possibility begins to shimmer through me with the sudden crash of a memory. 


When I was seven years old, a thorn broke in my finger. The opening was too small to dig it out myself, and it had bent at an angle so that it seemed impossible to retrieve. The doctor said it would need surgery to remove it, but that was a last resort. It was rather harmless, and most of it, he said, would just absorb into my body. Today, it’s much smaller than it was when I was a child, having leaked into the rest of me, but a solid bit still remains, something I can feel just below the surface to remind me that it’s there. 


I know, suddenly and with complete conviction, that this is the only option. I resolve to cast the weakness away, all of the tedious thinking which only prolongs this stilted living. In a trance, senses muted with the sudden closeness of the possibility, I collect my supplies. 


Laying them out on the floor of my room, I retrieve him from his perch on the altar. His little body screams at me with delight, with pride. I have done it; I have finally understood how he means to save me. 


Tweezers in hand, I delicately remove a single of his tiny legs from beneath him, before returning him back to my nightstand, where he will be able to watch. I inspect the small splinter in the harsh light of my lamp, wanting a good look at it so that I might be able to recall its majesty from beneath my skin. I am giddy, absolutely afloat with excitement, but I try my best to calm the shaking of my hands long enough to retrieve the razor from Michaela’s pencil sharpener. 


I guide it so that the flesh of my own leg screams open. The incision is small, but the bleeding seems to fountain for an eternity. Worrying that I will lose my resolve, I grip the tweezers tight in one sweaty hand, and part my flesh with the other. Suddenly though, clarity befalls me. I stare at the tiny leg I hold before me and know that it is not enough. My mind aches with dissatisfaction, and my veins boil in a speedy, delirious anger. 


This is not enough; this is not nearly enough. Through my tears, I meet his gaze glaring at me from across the room. Disapproving, disappointing, I’m not what he had hoped I would be. I grab the razor, slicing furiously at myself, going deeper than I had meant to. I will not remain like this. I will be saved.


I’m hit with a demanding bout of nausea, my vision spinning out of control. Fearful that I’ll soon black out, I begin to crawl towards him, my shaking arms almost collapsing. Bile marks the path behind me, spewing from my lips with each jerky movement. I don’t want to be weak like this, and the anger keeps me moving forward. 


The whole time, he watches from his perch, eager to see if I will fail, or if I will be worthy of the gift he is offering. I reach the nightstand at last and rest my head against its drawers for a moment, trying to keep myself awake. My arms are incredibly heavy, and the effort it takes to reach up and grab him is the most grueling I’ve ever experienced. My eyes are blurred with tears, fearful of the control I seem to be losing over my own body. 


Once he is in my fist, nearly crushed by the effort it took to grasp him, I resolve I will not be gentle. I have to be brave, to be frenzied in a way that makes me strong. I let out a scream from deep in my chest, shocking my limbs back into motion, staving off the darkness at the edges of my vision. 


He will fit, I will make him fit. There is a terrible squelching sound as I stick my hand deep into the cut, tearing the flesh as if it is not my very own. There is no rhyme or reason, at this point I am past a plan, I am past the need for logical steps or orderly thinking. I am Dr. Frankenstein, kneeling beneath a church altar. I am a mask of a human, a rumble in the stomach of the Earth. I am nothing but pain and anger as I rip through my leg, feeling agony so acute, that I am no longer confined as human. I am an animal as I accept him inside myself, shoving him deep down, so deep I hope to hit bone. 


The rushing in my head is a roaring tsunami, and in each moment, I forget more of who I am. With each tear, each new spurt of warm liquid from the wide-open hole in myself, I am released into that oblivion, I am closer to that echoing god. Once he is nestled as far into the flesh as I can take, I lay myself back against the sturdy nightstand, and I let him burn within me. 

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