Pochard thinks his eyes buckle with the sight of scratches in the wall like bent nails. Bent nails covering the floor like broken fingers. What Pochard needs is a dead pulse. What Pochard says sounds the right way.
Pochard waits, with a camera hung round his neck, can feel the hard streaks on the side of his face left behind by a slap left on his face. He can feel the spin and drag of being watched. What he wanted was the shame of alarms sounding, the orgasm of suggestion. Pochard wanted to feel trapped, like the tight water of a still lake. He wanted to feel pulled firm, like the snap of a snake skin belt. Instead, he felt full of half-light and the patience of waiting for the right time to speak up.
“Tell me later,” his lover would say, “shallow and easy.” But he knew he had been let go when he came upon the simple scene he did. He felt dented. In this small house, that crouched on a block of mansions, he felt like his life had been sold out from under him. His mind was loose with mothers and thieves, either offering useless advice or clearing him out.
He could think of only his lover’s knobby teeth, shining broad through her smile now. He thought of children and powder kegs. He was hungry, but steered and muttered that feeling away.
He thought of when they’d met—in the church hall, of the way her hips had hauled and bossed their way over to him, of how they mixed their glances, of how the Savior careened and sloped in his mind, trying to get him back on track. He had breathed in the scent of her and thought of burning candles and handfuls of pennies. He repeated her unusual name in his head: Grebe, Grebe, Grebe.
On the way home he avoided cracks in the sidewalk like he believed again. He was thirty-eight, and he’d almost given up. He thought of her fluid wrists, which as they talked, had curled like ribbon against scissor blades. His face, he was sure, had crawled with surprise as her eyes imploded into their sockets each time she blinked.
Once they had each other, they left the rest behind. They made a ritual of each other. Grebe proved difficult early on and Pochard reveled in it: she lied and cried and he had dreams of Lady Macbeth. He tried to tune her out. He left sticks inside her mouth as placeholders, spread roads out across her body, eyed the trails of gathering tattoos like a a shimmering gas leak and when that wasn’t enough, they found new habits.
Pochard watched the thick slide of tar through grebe and was nauseously conscious of her ruin. He smelled the mesquite cling to her. He gave up his back pockets to her to try and help. He watched her roll into rooms like a truck without brakes. He italicized himself to fit into this new lifestyle; he pulled himself sideways. He dropped a mess of postcards across the country, trying to make sure someone else always knew where to find him, if he needed looking for.
He scrubbed her stains and nudity and filth. He fell into and crawled out of that space between too many times to keep blaming her for it. He made temples and rubbed sharp corners round.
But still he wanted her fist in his mouth. He wanted to feel the cotton of her skin magnet to him with sweat. He wanted to taste the metal of her blood and feel the gold flecks of her eyes shine all fake on him. He wanted one more dark summer. He wanted to feel one more wall close in.
Now, he wondered at how clocks must have pocketed the time away, at how he’d never learned his lesson, at how the fear boated through the murk of him, rocking and sinful. The windows bundled the light in, and though everything was in plain view, he recognized nothing. He thought of the Black Death: tumors the size of apples growing on people’s necks, cocking their heads in the opposite direction. He went to the bedroom, kneeled on the mattress, rubbed his face in wet that smelled foreign and familiar at once. His face sticking to the sheet, he imagined what it would be like to discard the body of a person you love in the street, to try to outrun their disease. There were tiny electric motors in him telling the truth, but he ignored them.
Jac Jemc lives in Chicago. Her chapbook, This Stranger She’d Invited In, is due out from Greying Ghost Press early next year and her first novel, My Only Wife, is forthcoming from Dzanc Books in 2012. She blogs regularly at jacjemcwordpress.com..