UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
“I believed that I wanted to be a poet, but deep down I just wanted to be a poem” – Jaime Gil de Bieda
I tried to kiss the girl who was sleeping with my ex-lover. I wanted to become another person, to relieve myself of my burdensome body, the weight and the sharp serrated grief. I wanted reciprocal altruism and an
Call it a crumbled Camelot or a rotted fruit. There is no new way to describe betrayal, only new ways to pantomime it. The girl in front of me – my ex-lover’s lover (and how cruel for that awkward phrase to trip the tongue) – had been a friend of mine. We had laid together, a pair of fitted spoons, in my low wide bed with jeans and cable-knit sweaters on, swaddled firmly. We talked until the room pooled with the gray-blue light of dawn. She and I both had the habit of curling our fingers when we slept.
I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. She repeated this mantra until the binds that tethered words and meaning cracked like old leather. Was it meant for me, to me, or about me? My friend and ex-lover had started their affair two weeks before. Scar tissue had not yet laced my heart, my most needy muscle. She looked at me through her closed eyes. Her lips wandered away from her face and became an object of their own. I thought of a comet throttling into a black hole, and the numb absence of sound the explosion would create.J.E. Reich is a freelance writer and has recently completed her BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College in Boston. Forthcoming publications include "This Right Now is a Love Story" in plain china, the nationally-recognized anthology of the best undergraduate writing, judged by C. Michael Curtis, fiction editor for The Atlantic Monthly. Recent writing credits include short stories in Paradigm Journal, Blast Magazine, Zygote in my Coffee, the Emerson Review, and Frostwriting. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010 for her short story, "Badly" and in 2009 for an EVVY Award in "Outstanding Prose: Fiction" for her manuscript, “Days of Sound” and Other Stories. She is currently working on her first novel.
For a moment, I succeeded – I became my ex-lover. I felt pity for my former, other self and my skin fretted and buzzed with re-arranging atoms. I am only just a name. My name is just a word. And a word is only air.
The kiss was not well-executed. Our foreheads were interlocked, attempting to preclude the act. She was rubbing my temples, my shoulders, relaxing the malaise out of my muscles, working to my bone marrow. Why did I let her touch me, was I aroused by illogic? No. I wanted to be transcendent, cerebral. I wanted to be a poem.
I grazed her mouth. Our lips mismatched. My aim was off. Half of the kiss contained the upper-left quadrant. Meshed like tangled netting.
It wasn’t an objection made in anger, or offense. Perfunctory. There was no illusion of combining spheres. The kiss was coached to make a point, to complete a circuit. I don’t know how to hate anyone but myself, and I can only impart sadness through acts of love. She understood this, my implicit exploit. What I was trying to say. Never told a soul. And then I flew back into myself and begged her to forgive me for my mistranslation. She did. She couldn’t do anything else.
I read a story wherein an author compared the webs we twain with kisses – the large map we create through brief acts of desperation, revenge, melancholy, and fate – to a light grid. I wonder if, indeed, it is larger than that. Do history and providence hunch in the wings and wrap themselves in crushed velvet curtains? Perhaps it isn’t contained within the troposphere or the stratosphere. Nitrogen and oxygen and hydrogen cannot defenestrate the commotion we make with our dim attempts to touch something deeper than our skin, which even a deft surgeon with a scalpel cannot extract. A camera the size of a sperm seed, fed to an unsuspecting lover, could not excavate the life force in the human interior. So what do we do? What do we create with all of our rampant energy? What do we break?
I once kissed an actress, though I didn’t know she was one. Not at the time. I also didn’t know that the actress had been in real television shows, real plays. She was the kind of actress with a familiar face, whose name one could never quite recall. That changed, in later years. I found out from friends of mine who were friends with hers the names of these shows and these plays, and was shocked to realize I had seen her before, knew the hollows of her cheeks and the faint webbing of the lines on her lips. Her face, always the same, could easily become the face of a stranger. An entirely new acquaintance.
I didn’t know her for very long, but during the sporadic tangos we had – casual dates, moments in dark rooms – she confessed that she knew of me before I had known of her. A friend had coerced me to audition for a play, a small production. As a favor. I’m no good at acting, but she needed bodies, and I needed to something to get me out of the apartment. The audition was in a narrow conference room, and a panel of three auditioners had set up a video camera against a far wall, behind the middle judge’s head, angled so I wouldn’t necessarily see it, if I felt compelled to concentrate on my half-heartedly executed monologue. The tape, they explained, would later be used to make final verdicts on casting. After my forgettable delivery (or maybe memorable – I reminded myself that the camera was there and kept nervously glancing at it, as if it were a pretty girl at a party), I left the room and thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until nearly a year later when I kissed the actress that she revealed to me that she had directed that little show, and that she had known me from the casting sessions. She had sat in a dark little room and watched a projection of me speak words that were not my own. My face, on a screen.
I thought of us as two television sets, facing each other. Two interfaces, speaking. Not even our eyes are windows (or magnifying glasses, or perhaps microscopes) to what is caged within our curved ribs, tied with tendons and sinew. Even when a pair of lips pressed to their counterpoint try to link us, are we ever really touched?
I am not faultless. If I knew how to recite an “Our Father,” I could pave a road with those words to unfurl for a marathon runner. Sometimes we use bodies and pretend they’re marionettes. Automatons. You whisper into someone’s ear so they will place their hand on your chest, or that when they cradle you into the ebb of sleep they will purposely attempt to match their breathing to your own tempo. They will beseech their hearts to match the syncopations of your internal metronome, and you will pretend not to notice any mistranslations. You will discard these people like loose pennies. And then you will weep when someone does it to you.
We were sitting in a circle, legs crossed under us like crochet hatchings. I was with someone new. She was there among us, as well as a girl I was secretly sleeping with. My girlfriend didn’t know. No one blinked. And because we never learn, we were drinking. We poured the stuff down our throats and finished the merlot, moved onto a cheaper make. It was decided that we would play a game with the first empty bottle. Old kissing games. We spun the hallowed glass; whomever the bottleneck chose would kiss the spinner. There was laughter at our silly proclivities. A muted television had been turned on earlier. It was now abandoned, and the characters on the screen talked silently to no one. The actress was on there, famous now. She tried to speak to me, but I refused to listen. I refused to think of her name.
So we all sat, facing each other. My girlfriend spun the bottle. It caught the reflected light of the dimmed lamps and kept it inside of its belly. I thought of the golden bulbs of fireflies.
The bottle, of course, ebbed and stopped on my mistress (you could call her that, though it makes me cringe, makes me think of Madame Bovary and a lurid shade of pink). And how could it not? And another universe was born. I witnessed it myself.
I thought of mirrors kissing, because you could say they looked similar in a way, like cousins. Both of them with long hair like dandelion fuzz, pale eyes, and strangely square but feminine jaws. Fine, bird-like bones. They giggled before they kissed. And it happened, an echo of the future, preceding thousands of kisses that will one day too be histories, thousands of kisses one kiss could cause. A kiss to diverge parallel worlds. A hall of mirrors and mirrors and mirrors, panes like Scandinavian ice.
The actress absently looked on. One girl broke my heart, the other one I broke myself. Which is which? Does it matter?
And what if all of this never happened at all?
But now it has, it has, it has.
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