The tiny white pill tugs at my willpower. Knows the ripe and tender spot, the toothed indents where it has lodged so many times before. Beneath the overhang of illusions, in the wet and reeking hollows, where the light of reason fears to go.
“Sleep,” it says. “Sleep and ache no more.”
An irresistible invitation to a temporary reprieve from the mindless task of watching the sinkhole of want gape wider.
* * *
This little scar, here, above my eye, where my mother threw a silver-backed hairbrush at me. Here, under my chin, where she lobbed the crystal ashtray. I can’t quit smoking, as if, after it bit into my skin and dropped into my lap, I was destined to have need of it forever. She threw it and it struck and stuck. A sickly gift. I’m an emphysemic optimist; for me, the ashtray’s always half full.
Here, on the bony ridge of my shin, is the faint puckered shine of where I fell through a rusted sewer grating on a humid summer afternoon. It bled so much. Turned my white sock and my canvas sneaker red. My nanny and her cousin washed it off in a public toilet. The carmine spatters and the pink-lemonade tinged water against the gleaming white of the porcelain. As they rinsed the blood away, I caught a glimpse of the pale bone beneath. That’s when I knew that we are all Halloween skeletons, costumed in meat, masquerading as humans. It’s been hard to take my flesh seriously ever since.
Oh, it calls. My flesh calls to me as yours does. I have eyes. I see, I hear, I smell, I touch and want. But maybe that early peek at what was inside cured me of a need to listen. Maybe I learned too early how not to be a baby, how to identify sensation – pleasure or pain – and move on.
It only mattered it if had meaning. When the sun burned my skin, When I paddled frantically, unable to claw my way to the surface and I took that first big breath of salt water and it seared my lungs. When the doorjamb ate my fingers, when my skull met concrete, when the balled fist sank into my soft middle, when my jaw relinquished its spare teeth, when no one checked to see whether the anesthetic worked and they cut anyway.
I speak the language of my flesh fluently. But mostly, it just talks a lot of wordless shit. How ironic then, that I would stumble across the only man in the world who speaks, not to my flesh, but to my bones, and not be able to have him.
The one who would speak sense to every flash of pain, to every tremor of pleasure. To the breeze on my skin and the heat between my thighs. All those meanings. So many meanings.
* * *
No. That’s a lie. That’s a big fat lie.
I depend on him to stay always just beyond my reach. Safe and snug in the quantum spin of his permanent reluctance. I have found the perfect place to sit and smoke and wait for something that will never happen.
This is no mistake. This is, no matter how much I may bask in the poignant role of the exile, a deliberate choice.
If tomorrow the gates to all that I desire were flung open, I would not step through. If he relented and let me in, what would happen to my flesh, my bones, and me?
He knows too much of me. He knows the magic words. He would mutter the incantation and I would shed my skin. My bones would turn to pale grit and crumble. I would cease to be.
Cease to be. There’s an allure to that. Incineration. True, I know that nothing ever truly ends, it only changes form. But what form would I be? I can’t contemplate the possible abominations I could be, with him.
* * *
Here, there is always the option of provisional peace. If some people measure their lives in steps, some in empty glasses, some in small victories, I can measure mine in the gaps between sleep.
The little white pill calls to my bones. “You are tired of wanting. Of rubbing together to make fire that gives no heat. Sick of the taste of your own marrow. Come, sleep.”