Emma Cohen | Fiction

BY CANDLELIGHT

Alex leaves my apartment and I have never heard the door close more clearly. I think this every time I hear it close. It may as well have a sound button, like those birthday cards that yell catchphrases or music when you open them. The sound button may as well say, “Bye Alice, see ya never!” as Alex walks out the door. I hear it shut after they leave, after I watch them walk out, a slip of denim around the ankle followed by a dirty boot.

Earlier tonight, I watched them get out of bed. I watched them look at me, lying there in a t-shirt. Alex pulled a shirt on over their head and I said no and pulled it back off. They said, “C’mon I have to!” Then I took their hands in my hands. Their hands were bigger. They were the opposite of clammy—they were like warm butter on toast. I put them on my sides, pulling their arms and torso with them by default. I put their hands on my hips and pulled their chin in and kissed their mouth but they wouldn’t open their lips, which flooded me with a liquid sadness. They would only kiss me then with a closed mouth and then they removed their hands from my hips and patted my shoulder.

“I have to go, love,” they said.

“Why do you have to go? It’s so cold out there. You’ll turn into an abominable snowman and then I will never be able to be naked around you again,” I said, “’cause you’ll give me hypothermia.”

Alex just laughed.

“I told Erin and Jacob I’d meet them on Saint Laurent. You met them at the house show last month, remember?”

I did remember. How easily the three of them could exist together, knowing important things about each other that I didn’t know. Like: Hey guys did you know Tom’s band is playing the next one of these? And: oh god Jacob ordered a Jack and coke, who’s carrying him home tonight! Wink, laugh.

“Will you come over after?” I said to Alex.

“We’ll see how late I am.”

Then Alex left.

*

The apartment to myself once again, I walk aimlessly in circles. I can’t tell whether my limbs are tired or full of energy. I can’t tell whether I have cabin fever, or want to hibernate. I open a window and a gush of winter air comes into the room. I stick my head out the apartment window and am satisfied by the way the wind hits my face and makes me feel like I am participating in some way.

I pull my head back into the apartment. It’s a nice apartment. I appreciate it for the way it exists around my body, and the way it pads the chaos of the city. When I moved into the apartment it was all bare walls and wood flooring, completely empty. The first time Alex and I hung out was in a discounted furniture store in the West Island. It wasn’t a date, exactly. We’d met the year before in a sociology class I was taking to fulfill my credits to graduate. We knew each other well enough that we felt the pressure to not ignore each other on public transit. We began talking on the metro.

“Are you still in school?” Alex asked me.

“For one more year,” I replied, “Then I’m done.”

“Will you move away or stay in Montreal?” they asked.

“That depends on whether or not I’m happy in a year.”

Alex volunteered to come furniture shopping; for moral support, they said. They knew, they said, how tedious it could be. I was attracted to Alex initially because they are the kind of person that decides. The kind of person that has a favourite restaurant, that has a regular bar, which makes me trust them completely. They have signatures: drink to order is a whiskey sour, dish to cook for friends is eggplant parmesan. People ask them for recommendations. Alex never has to worry about filling their time. Their days unfold like blossoms naturally as the hours pass, and they find themselves surrounded by friends, acquaintances, with little to no effort.

That day we took a couch back to my apartment and made out on it for an hour. Then Alex had to leave because they had dinner plans at the new Italian restaurant that a friend of a friend worked at. They didn’t invite me to come, but before they left, they took a fork from my kitchen and pushed it against the kitchen countertop until it bent, forming a little coiled circle. “For you,” they said, slipping the now-ring onto my finger. Then they kissed each of my knuckles, then my palm, then walked to the door. It was the most romantic act of our contemporary era, I felt. I haven’t taken the ring off since, a binding contract—to what? Insignificant. As they walked down the hallway, I called after them and said, “Want to bring me the leftovers?”

*

And now, Alex is gone again. I check my watch, realize I’m not wearing one, check my phone. It reads 9:45pm. It’s not too late in the night, but it’s late enough that if I went and did anything now, I wouldn’t be back till very late. I feel too lethargic for that. I’m fated to spend the evening like a butterfly in amber.

Next door I can hear the neighbours growling at each other. The growls could mean anything. No matter the mood, it seems, they are always growling. It could be growls of a fight, frustration that Mr. Growler had picked up the wrong kind of coffee yet again. As if he didn’t even know that Mrs. Growler liked to grind the beans herself. It was late enough that they could also be sexual growls. I’m jealous, imagining Mr. and Mrs. Growler tearing at each other’s flesh.

I try to bring up memories of me and Alex to quell the desperation that I feel, but I can’t find anything in my archives that feels precise enough. It frustrates me, that my own mind can’t properly produce the feeling of Alex’s shoulders cupped beneath my hands, their face to my chest. Can’t conjure their lips on my neck, or fingers, not even one. I am reduced to my circumstance, my immediate vicinity. I stride to the kitchen to pour myself a glass of wine. I hope that the wine hasn’t gone bad by now.

I see another glass on the kitchen table, and remember that Alex and I already drank wine earlier. We drank it with dinner. Leftover steaks Alex managed to convince their boss at the restaurant to give them. Alex has that kind of charm that would convince a restaurant manager to give them free steaks for no reason. It’s not that they’re conceited, exactly, but a cousin of that. They’re aware of their divine effect on others, and let’s just say they don’t intentionally hold back on it.

*

The glass of wine leftover from dinner that night has a chip off the rim that Alex cut their lip on. Their lip only bled a little bit, and I offered to mop it up with my tongue. “Oh my god,” Alex said, “that’s gross!” But since then the blood has grown, the cells have multiplied. The cup is brimming with blood. It looks warm. I pick up the blood cup, dipping my tongue in. I’m just checking the temperature. It tastes nice, it tastes of Alex. I take a sip, just to see what it was like. It’s thicker than I expected, if I’d ever expected to drink blood. It’s thicker than the wine. It has a taste that I can’t quite name, but maybe like cough syrup filtered through rose petals. I drink it all.

I put down the cup and wipe my mouth. I go to sit on the couch on which Alex and I first kissed. That is the name of the couch. All my objects have specific linkage to moments, that’s what populates my apartment. I don’t have roommates, but I do have memories. They hover hazily above each object, company that never left. Collected pebbles and stones on the window-sill from the beaches of kid summers past. Grandmother vases. Thin slips of cookie fortunes, their shells shucked and uneaten in the trash. Candles, varying in amounts of pooled wax at their bottoms. I move to light a few, in order to contradict the great big purple of a winter night outside. The scene reminds me of church, and perhaps I inadvertently want to summon the holiness that I don’t believe in. Summon something before the hours ahead of me without person or plan swallow me up.

*

I haven’t prayed in years, since high school when I prayed for a date to prom. When I used to pray I could feel a presence hanging above me, a great translucent presence high above, gooey, like a puddle of jello. I decide to try it out again. I put my hands together, like so. I think that maybe I should call upon someone precise. Is God precise? Perhaps Aphrodite, goddess of love. The blood that gushes around in my stomach enriches my longing. I feel a twinge of sacrifice.

“Aphrodite,” I say tentatively, hands together, butt on couch, feet planted on the wood floor, “Just give me a sign on how to make it stop. I don’t want to do the longing anymore.”

I wait. Was that the right thing to say? I don’t really believe in what I’m doing, but I still feel the pressure to get it right, dabbling with the sacred. I keep my eyes closed and hands pressed together for a few minutes.

I remain like that for so long that I can hardly remember what sight feels like when I feel a presence next to me. It frightens me so much that I cannot open my eyes. The presence feels like the outside of a person, unfilled with guts and bodily squish. The presence moves closer to me on the couch, which I can feel divot from the weight. There’s a warmth that appears on my back in the shape of a hand. Another pool of warmth on my thigh, skin on fabric. Slowly, yet less fearfully after the touch, I open my eyes. The presence is Alex. Of course.

*

But I told you that the romance isn’t the kind of romance I expected to have. You may think it foolish of me to go along with it, but truthfully I can’t help it. It is Alex, and it isn’t. Of course it isn’t, the gods (or Gods?) don’t grant things that straightforwardly, can you imagine? We just go around praying and our lovers appear in our arms instantaneously? No, this isn’t Alex at all, quite. It’s an enunciated outside, the inside fleshy and filled, but messily, as if by a child. I have conjured Alex, but of course I cannot conjure the real version. But either way, my desire for them has been blown on and I am drawn to them, like an unspiced meal to an herb garden.

*

And so it starts. We migrate from the living room to my bedroom and afterwards we are so melted that our bodies slide over each other smoothly and softly until we fall asleep. Having another body here is comforting. The next the morning I wake up before them and I don’t check my phone, and my door stays locked. I make breakfast for us. I chop almonds into yogurt and we drink coffee and read. After reading we look into each other’s eyes. Saccharine minutes, hours passing without our knowledge. Inevitably our hands start to find our bodies magnetic, and all we see are sheets and ceiling.

It’s only that afternoon that I realize that the whole time this Alex has been here, they have not spoken. Once I realize that, I feel horrified. I feel betrayed, and spooked, like recalling an interaction with someone who was later found out to be a murderer. The verisimilitude of our temporary cohabitation has cracked. I realize I haven’t said any words myself since my prayer. All that’s existed are bodies, and suddenly this Alex, this apparition, feels alien. That afternoon we are in bed, naked except for pairs of underwear.

“Do you realize we haven’t said two words to each other since you’ve been here?” I say to them. They shrug.

“You don’t think that’s odd?” I continue, “We used to have so much to talk about.”

Alex remains indifferent, reading. I get up and put on a shirt and a pair of jeans.

“We should go to the movies. Let’s get out of the apartment,” but Alex just stares at me, doe-eyed. They pull me back towards the bed and kiss my stomach.

“Or we could go get dinner somewhere?” I say, untangling their arms from my torso, “Or we could go get a drink, or we could go out dancing. Or we could go—”

My mouth becomes unable to say more words, occupied with another set of lips and another tongue. I pull away.

“Stop it. Come on, let’s do something.”

Alex says nothing and goes back to reading on the bed. I can’t believe it. I can’t stand to be inside any longer. My body has begun to feel like old oatmeal, my head stale. I need the outside world to encroach upon me, I need to be acted upon externally.

“I’m going to go out,” I say. Predictably, I get no response. “Alex?”

*

I walk out of the bedroom, then out of the apartment. I keep checking behind me down the hallway to see if Alex will follow me out, lock the door, then take my arm and tell me what movie they’ve been dying to see, but of course that doesn’t happen.

When I get home later that night, I expect Alex to be asleep. On the metro home I picture them curled up in my bed, face slack like a child, skin smoothed in slumber. But when I get home, Alex isn’t in my bed. Alex isn’t anywhere.

I guess my time is up. I sit down on the couch. I survey my apartment slowly. My phone is on the coffee table, still off. My apartment has become a disaster. I suppose with another body in here, dwelling, I didn’t see the detritus we left everywhere. An empty milk carton, books sprawled open face-down, burnt matches, tangled sweaters. A hurricane of my objects, and now me, the only one to be held responsible. The only thing left of Alex is the heavy weight on my finger. The fork ring, curved around my finger like it has been for so long. I take the fork ring off and I swallow it. After all, before Alex bent it, before I even knew Alex, it was my fork. It is my fork. If anyone will swallow it, it will be me.

Emma Cohen is a writer living between Montreal and Toronto. Her writing has appeared in The Void Magazine, Sophomore Magazine, Metatron’s OMEGA, and Constellation Mag. She is also the editor of art and lit magazine Plasma Dolphin. Find her online @emm_cohen

2018-11-03T01:20:33+00:00