The Courtly Lover
Tom says you asked him, instead of me, dear Susan. And it’s a good thing. Tom says if you’d asked me, I’d grow faint and feverish. Tom says I’d bury my face in the folds of your gown. His laugh. A forceful spout. A hollow thing. I hear him laughing. Over lunch you asked him. Tom is a sensible man. He was eating peanut butter and jelly. He swallowed before answering. He said, “Let me think about it.”
And you, equally sensible Susan, said, “That sounds reasonable.”
I, on the other hand, am unreasonable. My legs are two dildos, my body is a water balloon, and my sickness dribbles. Yesterday, a school bus struck me and I burst, Susan. My entrails spattered the visage of so many toddlers, and the toddlers shrieked with glee as if I were a hydrant or confetti popper. Needless to say I stuffed my entrails in my coat and hobbled home.
On Market Street, I saw you and Tom in a courtyard, sharing a coke.
Tom told you, “It won’t change anything.”
“No,” you assured him, “nothing will change.”
“Well,” Tom said and he lightly touched your knee, “if it won’t change anything, then how reasonable is doing it?”
“Perhaps it will change things,” you said. You closed your lips around a straw and gently, ever so gently, sipped your soda. “A ship in port is safe,” you said.
“But,” Tom said and raised one finger to your lips, “that’s not what ships are built for.”
Susan, I am nothing like a ship. I am ground beef and my casing has been damaged unspeakably. I have an infection. My entrails are wincing in this heat.
Defeated, I drop my bowels at the entrance and fall vanquished to the floor. Crying, my dear, is not a sprinkling of tears, but a moan that shakes the maggots from my innards. And like something fished up from a pool of waste, a drowned louse flung against the kitchen sink, lungs flayed and stinking, ventilating like a nursling, I commence the dishes.
On Saturday, I called Tom to see if you’d mentioned me. That’s when Tom likened my person to an unviable fetus.
“Susan is not a uterus,” said Tom. “She will not bring you to term. She is clothed in strength and dignity. She laughs without fear of the future. Her emotional spectrum has vacancies. Our objective is to fill them.”
I said, “I don’t believe you.” I said, “Susan wants to grind her spectrum and its moderate pleasures into the bleeding eye-socket of a forsaken god. Isn’t that what everybody wants?”
“No,” Tom told me. “Susan and I want to stop waiting for the storm to pass, and dance in the rain.”
Under duress, I succumb, Susan, to dry skin. It peels and scales and emits a pungent odor. It’s not uncommon for the slain to imagine they’re still living, likewise with my dermis, my fallen rind. Not uncommon for the chip off the old block, my prodigal pelt, to slink across the phone pad and come trembling back to dear old dad. I was reaching for the hatchet, when Tom assured me that out of our greatest rejection comes our greatest—. And I smashed it.
Susan, I’d be an animal, but the animals are all exhausted now, bushed by so much blood-gorged air, simply spent. My legs are puddles of vomit and my arms are two piñatas. I’m calling from a payphone because you can’t turn back the clock, Susan, but you can wipe it up again. My head! My head is a meatloaf sack, pink slime. So, tired the puke-smeared asphalt is an extension of myself. I’m calling from a payphone. You seemed calm and then you raised your glass. Your hands shook. Coke stained your blouse. Mistakes are proof you’re trying, Susan. You had been so tender in the courtyard. I had not known you could be so tender, Susan. A smile is the prettiest thing you wear. My hands? My hands are spaghetti strainers, clogged with chicken skin. I must hold all these things with me. Susan, the world has taken great liberties.
Jessica Alexander is a candidate for the PhD in creative writing at the University of Utah. Her work has appeared in The Collagist, Fence, Denver Quarterly, PANK, and DIAGRAM, among other places. She is currently a fiction editor at Quarterly West.