Your new apartment is in a quiet part of town.
Your first night, fall asleep beside your lover, heavy with boxes and tape.
Dream of stairways.
Wake when it is still dark. Fly up from your pillow.
The sound is a shatter.
Sends you to your feet.
Not sirens. Not music. Not a feast.
No tension, no release.
Flowers? Ravaged cells?
Stand cold and barely clothed, dark moon touching you through the window. Think of your new walls, their bare sockets aching for bulbs. Consider your every possession.
You will find the source of this sound. You will find it in the dark, this twofold motoring, insensible.
Grope through corners. Claw tape off cardboard box slits. Rip drawers off their tracks. Blood pouring down your hands, take apart that animal.
Your lover wakes, rubbing eyes, asks what is the matter.
“Don’t you hear that?” you say, pointing at the ceiling.
But your lover only shrugs.
This new apartment has the most incredible view. You are alone here. Blaming your phantom ears, your lover has left you.
But now, your new window wall. A hill humps down to Elliott Bay and you hear a lullaby as boats bob by and steamer ships trundle past.
So much else in the world to hold: the horizon line, the unending water.
But the next Sunday, you are hungry for love. Instead you go to the bodega down the street and buy cigarettes. See the voice and eyes and smile of the checkout person. Surprise yourself by suddenly and spontaneously writing down your address.
Smile at dusk through your open front door. Want those lips to be your lover. Why? You can’t say. These lips are no more special or particular than any others.
So why, three weeks later, are you eating rocky road ice cream with these lips, sharing with them a small bag of marijuana?
You do other things with your new friend, too: hang curtains, enact WiFi.
You listen to the radio, learn of deaths in innocent locations: roller rinks, amusement parks, movie halls. Historic public attacks of a previously unseen scope.
For the first time since you were very small, you feel scared.
Smell your lover’s neck with the radio still on.
“No safety in the world,” your lover whispers. “Tragedy like this makes me want to turn off the lights.”
So you do. But your heart is not in it. You keep thinking about the radio. Is this the end of the world? Could this actually be it?
Wake in the dead middle of the night to your lover’s eyes feeling like they’re on fire. Lead your lover to the tiny bathroom. Seat your lover on the toilet lid. Inspect your lover’s eye: red rims, goopy water, elementary school.
Drive your lover through the night to the emergency room. Hold your lover’s hand as a ravishing doctor heals the pink eye.
Grow closer to your lover in the weeks that follow. Make a copy of your house key. Slip it into your lover’s coat pocket as a surprise.
Open the front door after a cancelled flight to find your lover in bed with the doctor. Hyperventilate as the doctor fumbles for underwear. Watch: the doctor’s long, unblemished limbs snaking your sheets; your lover, hiding, clutching your gifted key.
Rub your eyes.
Listen to the doctor at the door, paused, hand on knob.
“It’s important you know the truth. Before I go, I need you to know the truth.” The doctor waves a hand at the tousled bed, your lover still hiding, now crying. “I need you to know none of this was intended.”
Stammer, “Then what? What, may I ask, was intended?”
The doctor opens a dark leather medicine bag, producing a small black item resembling a kitchen timer. The doctor presses a red button, taps a toe as an arrow on the meter’s face floats up.
Point at the rising arrow thing. Ask the doctor, “What does that mean?”
“Toxic levels,” the doctor frowns. “Pink eye forever.”
“It was the public attacks,” is your lover’s excuse for sleeping with the doctor. “The world turned so terrifying. I didn’t know myself, I didn’t know what was safe. A world of no right or wrong. I came to my senses, I did.”
Shrug. Feel vaguely ill.
You are not yourself. You are no longer in love with your lover. Still, want your lover around. Accept: this may be enough. That vital force of romance has curled up and died in you. No thought of resurrection. Not yet. It was the sight of your lover’s body, entwined with the doctor’s. Entwined with a body not yours.
In the weeks that follow, disillusionment is your primary emotion. Yet, keep your lover at your side. Invite your lover along to select a new apartment.
Distinguish your lover solely as a lover. Make that distinction matter. Fancy your lover a basic animal, nourishment, self-care.
Visualize your body being empty. Feed it your lover’s sex like water, sleep, milk.
“Take of my body,” you say, in bed beside your lover at night. “But not of my heart.” Flip off the lights.
And as your lover takes of your body, feel no pleasure in your heart.
Tell your lover goodnight. Sense your lover’s frown through the dark.
Wake to what feels like your lover’s eyelashes blinking across your cheeks. Grope the black, midnight air for your lover’s hand. But find only your lover’s blank form, motionless in sleep.
Slap the fluttering wisps on your face, laughing without wanting to, at the wisps that are so ticklish. Realize they may be insect wings. Feel for any sign of life as you realize there is nothing.
Then what is this flapping on your cheek? Lift your hands to your face. Claw at your own skin. Don’t break it, though. Does this thing bite? Anticipate a pinch, so you won’t be surprised if it comes.
But what happens if, by anticipating the bite, you’re willing one in?
Fly up from bed. Wake your lover with overhead lights.
Float to the mirror.
Look at your lover—groggy but awake—behind you. Your lover is hugging your torso, cheek to your back. Your lover moves to stand beside you. In the mirror, you are two times the size of your lover; in comparison to your lover, your shoulders are hulking.
The sight of your own strength, and you almost forget the fluttering feeling on your cheeks. Briefly, consider taking your lover in your arms.
Get close to the mirror instead. Pull at the skin of your face. Invite your lover in.
“Don’t you see it? Don’t you see what’s crawling across my face?”
“I see nothing,” your lover says. “I’m searching, but I see nothing. Here.” Your lover lifts a hand. “Let me touch.”
As your lover’s hands move slowly across your face—gingerly, respectfully—feel tender and tentative. Covet this lack of expectations.
But after covering every inch of your cheeks three times, your lover stops searching.
“Nothing,” your lover says. “Just skin.”
The unsettling feeling on your face stops whenever you leave your apartment. Find a new apartment. From the open second story window, look down at the street level hair salon. Faintly smell its aroma at day’s end, a sumptuous chemical blend.
In this new apartment, your lover sleeps better, breathes softly through the night.
You don’t sleep very well, though; you really haven’t since the ravishing doctor.
Note your lover’s deeper snores. Do not mind. Continue to see your lover only as your lover. Distance yourself from your lover’s human qualities. Do not love your lover. Beside you, rumbling the nighttime air, your lover simply is.
Dive happily into the rhythm of your lover’s snores; see them as outside your lover.
Fall into a heavy sleep.
Wake to your lover shaking you in the middle of the night.
“That smell,” your lover says. “What is that smell?”
Sniff the air: nothing unusual.
Sit up in bed.
Light a cigarette, a newly rediscovered comfort. Let it dip from the side of your mouth. Say soothing things to your lover; turn your lover around.
Brush your lover’s hair as the smoke from your mouth disrupts all smells.
A restaurant moves in to replace the salon. At night, the smells intoxicate you awake from dreams.
These decadent scents inspire your lover, who takes to laboring long hours over meals. But when it is time to eat, though you delight in the extravagant flavors, your lover takes very little, pushing food around the plate.
In the middle of the night, stand half-naked in the triangle of light from the refrigerator, eating your lover’s share.
The next morning, open your eyes to a beetle inching along your bright white pillowcase. Feel something caught in the back of your throat. Hack one time. Watch a beetle fly out. Watch it land on the white mountain of your lover’s back, shrouded in down.
Hover on your knees in the center of the bed, your gaze flying back and forth between both beetles.
No one moves.
The beetle perching on your lover rises slowly in the air. It jumps down to the carpet, scurries up the baseboard of your wall, discovers some hole in the wood, vanishes.
The other beetle lifts confidently from your pillow, flies directly to the crack below your window, and soars outside.
Proceed through the usual movements of your day. Tell your lover nothing of the beetles.
Wake the next morning to another beetle on your pillow. At first, believe it to be one of the beetles from the day before. Quickly discover you are wrong.
Note the difference in this beetle: the hard shell of its back shimmers with an aquatic tinge; tiny, sophisticated horns spike off its head.
As the beetle approaches your cheek, do not move.
When the beetle is a mere five inches from your face, notice something strange.
The beetle is getting larger. It is growing, accumulating, becoming vertiginous and massive. Within seconds, the beetle is so big you cannot see where you end and it begins. Six legs, massive as tree stumps, about to burst the walls of this apartment…
August Evans arrived in Seattle in August 2014, after living in Chicago for a good while. Feel free to find more of her here: augustevans.com.