I see things I shouldn’t be able to see. I’ll be shopping for groceries and round the end of the snack food aisle when it will suddenly hit me. The edges of the world go all blurry. One time, my mother was there, shuffling around in her night dress and slippers. I found her examining a soup label under the fluorescent lights, six years after she died.
“What are you doing here, mom?” I asked.
She startled when she saw me. She looked panicked. Out of nowhere, she took a swing at me. I only just barely flinched out of her way. I grabbed her by the wrist and whispered, “What the fuck are you trying to hit me for?” I looked around to make sure nobody was seeing this. Her eyes were so big. I almost couldn’t remember them, but here they were. She stared at me like I was a ghost. “What the fuck, mommy?” I said. “What are you doing?”
I shouldn’t be telling you this because I’m not crazy.
Sometimes I can tell when someone is bad. I can see things. The bad ones are jagged around the edges like animals. When I’m leaving my building through the back alley and there’s a cat in the garbage, he will hiss at me and it’s like he’s made up of needles and points. Bad people are that same way. I follow them into their houses, watch them while they unbutton their pants in front of the television.
At night, I go through the wall of my bedroom and into my neighbors’ apartment. I don’t want to be there, but I can’t stay away. A man and his pretty Russian wife live next to me. I see them all the time and she never speaks to me. They keep a bowl of wooden fruit on their nightstand. He ties her by her wrists and ankles and does things to her. He puts tape on her mouth and she cries. I don’t want to watch them, but I can’t look away.
In the morning, I want to grab her hands. I want to lead her away, into my own bedroom, maybe. I want to touch her pretty brown hair, feel how heavy it is in my palms. Going away from myself used to keep me from knowing things. It used to keep me from getting rubbed raw.
I was engaged once. I only agreed to marry him because he kept me inside of myself. In bed, his weight and fervor were so painful and obvious, I couldn’t walk up the wall and out onto the ledge of the tiny window near the ceiling. I couldn’t jump down onto the passing cars outside. I never saw people who were dead, and the Russian girl next door smiled at us when we left in the evenings for dinner.
He was heavy in a great many ways. The things he said were weighted with syllables; he took all day to read the paper and said things like “indeterminable.” I didn’t love him at all.
I hated his maleness, the way his fingers of his flattened hand could reach all the way from my ribcage to my thigh. He held me in place that way, talked to me about recovery and survival. I was a good girl, he said into my ear. So good. “Inside we’re all children,” he said. “That’s why we get scared by things like death.”
He was scared of a lot of things, like being without me. I grew so worried about living out my entire life inside of my body that I bloodied the tips of my fingers trying to turn the lock on the window. I stood on a chair and there were sentences inside of my head, things he said when we made love. “We will be just like this, joined like this, for all of eternity.”
I was slippery all over, fresh from the shower. My fingers kept sliding. The window hadn’t been open since the spring. “What are you doing?” he asked, appearing in the doorway.
My towel had slipped. There was a trickle of blood pooling in the bend of my arm. I stared through him, through everything. I tried to make it all go soft. I tried not to feel my torn nail, how I had pierced the tip of my finger straight through to the bone.
I couldn’t see anything with him. I would have fit through that window.
One night, I was awakened in the middle of the night by yelling. I heard her begging through the wall in her beautiful, plodding accent. “I’ll do anything,” she said. “Please, I’ll do anything.”
Just like that, I was floating through space and time, clawing my way through the drywall for her. I placed myself between them. I covered her body with mine, felt her heat and filled up all the soft pink places inside her. I stopped up her mouth with my hair, shoveling heaping handfuls of it against her tongue. “Please,” I said as he spit on me, forced my legs apart instead of hers, “please, I’ll do anything.”
It’s not that I wanted anybody to hurt me. I just couldn’t bear coffee in the morning, wearing my own clothes. We were getting ready for work. My fiancé was a librarian. He poured boiling water over my oatmeal, told me I was beautiful. He glanced at me over the top of the paper and his eyelashes were so long. I wanted the kitchen to disappear right out from under me. My skin was unbearably tight.
“Can I see the coupons?” I said, and my voice came out sounding foreign. I tried again. “Are there any good ones?”
“Why are you talking like that?” he asked.
“I want you to hurt me,” I said.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
I knew I would regret it. I knew he could never be what I needed.
“I want you to tape my arms behind my back and bloody my nose,” I said. “I want you to smash my face against the floor.”
We were both embarrassed.
I went away, down the hallway and onto the street. He was talking to me, but all I could hear were horns and the sounds of shuffling feet. I went to a graveyard and felt the headstones. I traced the names of the dead with my fingertips, with the tip of my tongue. It was a lovely day in May. There were birds in all the trees.
“I love you,” he said, and I came back to the table. He was holding his head in his hands. I thought to myself that if he started weeping I would be stuck here forever.
For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Bran mac Feabhail challenged me with "What do you see when you look outside of yourself?" and I challenged Jen O. with "I'm starving".