by Kirsty Logan
Her room smells of candlewax and strangers' skin. She has a pale face, expressionless, like a painted icon, though her underwear is the colour of overripe fruit. When I lean in and kiss her, I expect her lips to be polished wood.
'Am I the first?' I ask. 'Today, I mean.'
'If you like,' she replies, mouth pouting to emphasise the middle word. It's still early; dusk retreats behind the blinds, the last orange licks of sun painting the walls. They're cluttered, damp, busy with faces.
'I don't know the names of the saints,' I say.
She shrugs. 'Misspent youth. I wasted all my time in cataloguing sacrifice, and this was the obvious conclusion. But you can learn.'
I peel off my coat, bag, shoes; go to unzip my skirt but then pretend I'm just smoothing it down. The buttons on my shirt seem too small, apt to slip, and I hope I'll be able to handle them when the time comes. It's only when I go to hang my coat that I see the pile of cloth on the chair: enough to cover both of us head to toe, all of it coloured the blue of the virgin's robes.
She shifts over on the bed, leaving a space my exact size. I lie beside her and look at the way her skin shows through the lace. She rests a cigarette on her lower lip, but doesn't light it.
'So you'll show me?' I ask.
I can feel her gaze on me. It's heavy, warm. I shift my legs to get a more flattering angle.
She sighs so heavily I wonder if she's trying to empty her lungs ready for her cigarette.
'Oh,' she says, dragging out the sound so that it seems to contain a dozen words. Soon I know they will start to arrive: clients, johns, customers, whatever. An endless parade, carefully timed so that they never meet. Just so she doesn't think I'm hopeless, I run my fingertip along her neck: a raised white scar, soft as fog, the width of a match.
'My father,' she says. 'He was hit by lightning.'
'Like, as a punishment?'
She thumbs a lighter to flame, lights the cigarette, and passes it to me. 'He was on the roof. The television aerial had fallen in the storm. One leg on either side, no proper grip on the shingles. You know how it goes.'
'Is that why? Because of your father, and now they want to save you?'
She takes the cigarette from my lips, inhales, then puts it back with a kiss.
'Who cares why? There is no why. There is only doing.'
'And you'll show me?' I say. 'You'll let me do it too?'
We finish the cigarette, and then she makes love to me as if she's giving worship. With her body on me, in me, a part of me. This is how we are saved.
Afterwards, when night has inked the room, she lights a hundred candles and dresses me in blue. Underneath the robes I am naked as a saint, blessed by her touch. I cross her with kisses: nipple to nipple, throat to belly. She puts on her own robes.
'We are Magdalena,' she says, and opens the door.
by Sarah Marcus
It is autumn. When they wake up in the morning, they are quiet. The air is still and she feels heavy, but also restless. They sit up in bed and look at one another. “The difference between you and me,” she says, “is that, if something were bothering you, whether or not I felt responsible for your feelings, I would ask you what I could do to make things better. That’s what you do when you love someone. I want you to be happy because I love you and it hurts me when you are hurting. Does that mean anything to you?”
“I can’t do this anymore,” he says.
“Do what? Fight?”
“Are you leaving me?”
“Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.”
“Think about what you’re doing. Talk to me.”
“Come on, don’t be like this,” he says.
“No. We live here. This is our home.”
He sits on the edge of the bed with his hands over his mouth. He silently gathers some belongings.
“Think this through,” she pleads. “If you do this, it can’t be undone. This is it.” He nods and tells her that his friends will be over in a few days to move his things out.
She feels herself growing dizzy. She can no longer tell where she is exactly, if they are still in the bedroom or in the kitchen. She wonders if she is screaming or crying. Who is screaming and who is crying? She thinks about the distinction between doing and feeling. She follows him from room to room.
She climbs on top of him and he removes her. “Stay,” she says, “please stay.” “Please, what can I do?” He is quite. “I can change,” as the words come out of her mouth she knows that something is desperately wrong with her. She thinks about changing. She wonders what she means. She thinks about the last few months, what control looks like, escalating night terrors, the way he’s turned into something else.
He begins to pack a suitcase. Each item that he packs, she takes out of the suitcase and puts on her lap. “Haven’t I taken care of you?” she asks. She is watching herself behave like a child; she is oddly unable to stop it. It continues in this manner and she thinks this must be like dying. In her dizziness, she decides to detain him in a classified location and plans to use coercive management techniques to acquire love, but mostly information.
She begins with starvation. In the beginning, she feeds him once a day. Then, every other day. Then, when she feels like it. She is amazed at how long the human body can survive without food. She learns the exact amount of water he needs to retain consciousness. She notices that he needs much more water than he needs food. His hunger often causes him to cry. Inanition begins: she wonders what it looks like when his organs are shutting down. Some things were more obvious than others. He thins quickly and his skin took on a yellowish tint. “Yes, catabolysis,” she thinks. He used to tell her about how the body eats itself: first the fat, then the muscle. She is surprised at the accuracy of his description of a prisoner’s decline. Daily, he grows more lethargic and apathetic. His skin is cracked and she can see that it’s becoming painful for him to swallow. She imagines that his stomach is atrophying because he has stopped asking for water. She wants him to die of heart failure. She wants to watch his heart give up. “Immurement,” she remembers.
Sometimes when she feels especially angry, she binds his limbs and makes him watch porn. He swells, painfully, and she laughs. She is amazed at the male body’s endurance. She tells him that he is a pain slut and asks him if he likes watching prostitutes.
Exploitation of Wounds
Everyday she reminds him how his father left him as a child. She carefully recalls the abuse, the molestation, how he has always been unable to please anyone. She reads from his journal, the one she found while packing. She thinks that he must have been about 15 when he wrote it. It recalls several teenage heartbreaks. She talks about the girl that he dated, when he was in his early 20’s, who killed herself.
She tells him, exactly what he had told her, in graphic detail, about watching his best friend die in the war. How he stood there helpless and useless. How he used to wake up sobbing in the middle of the night. She repeats his stories. She tells him that she’s memorized every detail, how she dreamt about it for months after he described his duties as a soldier in charge of interrogation, extreme stress techniques, he called it.
She lists all the things he did wrong in bed. In uncomfortable detail, she recalls every awkward or poor sexual performance. She reminds him how he had forced himself on her when he had first gotten back from the war. She tells him that she’s had bigger and better and how he had never made her orgasm. She points out that he will never have the opportunity to make that up or to start over with someone else.
She’s set aside one box that she’s packed for defacement. This box contains various sentimental objects from childhood. She destroys them in front of him. This activity, in particular, brings her pleasure. She likes monopolizing his perception—recreating his past. He is crumbled clay. He is mud.
She moves their old bed to where she keeps him. She doesn’t wash their sheets after the incident. This is for two reasons. She believes that the bed and everything in it is toxic and also, she is unable to let go. She has not cleaned since before she put him there. She thinks of him as a mangy animal. She lets the bug infestations fester. He used to not believe that bed bugs existed; he thought they were a tall tale made up to scare small children. Now, as she examines the bites on his arms and legs, she remembers when he used to talk about the war, how the bed bugs were even in the hospitals. How the patients couldn’t sleep. How the bugs were carried from home to home, across borders. His smell is putrid, worse than ever in August. Sometimes she lets him wear clothes, she likes fostering this false hope. She likes his face when she takes the clothes away again.
Makes Victim Dependent on Interrogator
She forces him to talk to his mother on the phone, to reassure her that’s he okay, and no, he won’t be able to see her this week either. She watches him always.
She packed, by herself, all of his belongings into boxes. She doesn’t allow him to access them. Sometimes, during the times that she lets him sleep, she unpacks a box and holds his things. They smell like how he used to smell before. They feel like him. They feel like love. Sometimes this feels good to her and then she knows that unpacking the box was a mistake. Memories are a mistake.
She makes him watch her throw out his mail. He is not allowed to watch television or read news. She takes or flushes his medications.
Weakens Mental and Physical Ability to Resist
It is summer again; the air is oppressive and inescapable. Sometimes she thinks she hears his car door slamming. The quiet fills her and she feels herself spilling over into the humid night. Sometimes she is sticky with regret. She thinks back to autumn. Looking out the window, watching squirrels with packed cheeks furiously digging. She also forgets where she left what and whom she told. She was so certain then, that they would survive the winter. She thought they had stored enough energy, had enough fat reserves, and floating devices, and canned foods, and flashlights. Her last day bleeds into the next.
She never lets him sleep for very long, only a few hours here and there. She has grown more sadistic. She keeps him in prolonged constraint. She thinks they are called stress positions and she makes them as humiliating as possible. Sometimes she slowly cuts him. The cuts are shallow, yet painful. She breaks light bulbs and uses the glass. She doesn’t keep sharp objects around, just in case. She wonders if he’s dying yet, she burns him with cigarettes.
Sometimes she remembers the apartment still filled with their things: books, furniture, promises. The objects are too heavy to move. Sometimes she hides them, sometimes she gives them back to him, sometimes she throws them away. She discards the memory, she removes it from her being. She doesn’t think of the apartment or the joy that was once witnessed there. She doesn’t recognize the anger or the lies.
Reduces Prisoner to 'Animal Level' Concerns
He is in complete solitude now. She
tells him that his futile suicide attempts are manipulative
self-injurious behaviors. He no longer speaks and rarely makes
noises. He is starving. He is decaying. He is defeated. She thinks
of all the ways to kill someone: disembowelment, crucifixion,
impalement, decapitation, burning.
At the end, she offers him an apology which is forced and insincere. She stops unpacking his suitcase.
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