Plugs

It’s been hard on my relationships. We kiss at the door, and his hands move down my sides, cup the back of my head, his hips fit against mine and I have to push him back, and tell him “I’m sorry. I really can’t.” And then I go upstairs, all by myself, the way I do every night.

Every night, I set a half-full glass of water on my bedstand. I turn the covers down, and smooth the sheets. I brush my hair out, and when I lay back against the pillow, I have to tell you I think about the picture it makes. Do the dead think I look like Sleeping Beauty, with my curls spread around my face, tumbling over the duvet, spilling across my pillowcase?

My pillowcase is cool against the back of my neck, and I close my eyes. Do the dead think about anything? I have to think they do, or else why would they demand this of me, the ritual every night, the darkened room and my hand, palm up, laid across the bed. My fingers relaxed, not trembling at all at the thought of cold hands touching me. Or maybe they are dumb creatures of habit, maybe they run along the rails I lay down for them.

I lay down for them every night, spread my hair across the pillow, and close my eyes in the dark room. I never try to look. I try not to think about what might be brushing against the curtains, rifling through my dresser drawers, standing over me and watching me with dead eyes. I hold my hand steadily and still, and I breathe evenly, slowly.

Slowly the pressure fills up the room and then my fingers curl around what they have left for me. They have given me a button, a length of twine, a bobby pin. A child’s impossibly tiny sock, a curl of hair tied with a ribbon, a piece of quartz, the delicate, paper-thin gear from the guts of a pocket watch.

Watch me line these pieces up along my dresser in the morning, rearranging them. I don’t know what they mean. I don’t know why they are, but they are, and I do. Every night, every morning. These tiny things fill up my life; these ghosts fill up my room, my head. The cupped palm of my hand.

Hey Marty,

This is kind of crazy, but I think the new tenants in 3C are mad scientists. I can’t prove it, but I’ve made a list of things that I have noticed lately. Tell me what you think.

  • I bumped into Velma (that’s the wife) in the hall. She complimented me on my sense of decoration. They have never been inside my apartment.
  • Ben, the husband, wears goggles all the time.
  • I never hear them having sex.
  • There is now a giant robot head stuck in the stairwell between the second and third floor. No idea where that came from.
  • Their mailbox is always full of Sharper Image catalogs. And nothing else.
  • Their cat shoots laser beams out of its eyes.  I saw it kill a pigeon on the fire escape while I was having a smoke.
  • They drive a zeppelin. It’s moored to the top of the building. Is that even legal?

Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but the last couple in 3C turned out to worship some kind of giant squid. It took forever to mop up the slime after they skipped town.

–Hank

Dana Yamamoto was the worst martial artist in school. When she first stepped on the mat, Mirabelle Hayes jeered, “Are you dead?”

Dana didn’t challenge her to a duel. She just blushed and hunched.

“She means you’ve got your gi on backwards,” Samantha MacKinnon said.  “Left side over right. You put the right side over the left on a dead person.”

Nobody told her that at least one girl a year stepped on the mat dressed as a dead person.

She drove her sparring partners wild, the way her hands shook like the Mars lander.

The day she tore her gi pants for the sixth time, Hepplewater Sensei followed her into the dressing room. She settled across from Dana, who sat mending the gusset with Mars lander hands.

“Must be hard, being the daughter of a general,” said Sensei.

“Yes, Sensei.”

“She expects a great deal of you, I imagine.”

“Yes, Sensei.”

“And what do you want?”

Dana looked up.

“I w-want to be the best student in the school,” she blurted out. “And,” she added, shocking herself further, “I want to th-throw Mirabelle Hayes all the way across the mat.”

“Hurt her, you mean?” Sensei Hepplewater asked.

“No. Just throw her.”

Sensei nodded. Dana thought to herself, this is where Sensei decides to train me in secret, or gives me a magic black belt. Or sends me on a quest to a distant mountain, so I come back able to fight off six attackers and fly over the roofs. She waited.

“You can be the best student in the school, though what that means may change for you. And you can throw Hayes all the way across without hurting her. But you must do one thing.”

“What?” Dana’s hands shook even more than usual.

“Keep training.”

Hepplewater Sensei left the dressing room. Dana stitched and cried, and left an hour later. She lay awake all night thinking and crying, so that the next day she arrived so tired that she broke her wrist taking falls, and had to sit on the bench for three months.

“Do I have to watch class every day, Sensei?” she pleaded.

“Yes,” replied Hepplewater Sensei.

She sat and watched, every day. When she returned to the mat, she threw Samantha MacKinnon halfway across it.

“Your hands don’t shake anymore,” accused Mirabelle Hayes as she came in for the attack.

“Th-they don’t,” agreed Dana.

Our food arrived quickly. My wife, still not quite well, had only ordered bread and water. For me, the waiter presented a plate of spaghetti with fish in a creamy sauce.

I twisted a mouthful onto my fork and, on eating it–saw a woman, pale hair falling waist-long down a tall figure, standing atop a cliff with a fair-haired man. They argued. The river rushed past below them, frothed white by rocks. The woman shouted of secret wives and lies, and threatened exposure.

The man pushed– tasted something good, I think, but barely remembered it after the strength of the hallucination. Trying to ignore the residual unsettled feeling, I ate a chunk of carp.
–and she fell, screaming. Cold struck her hard, so hard, or was that the rock? Flailing in the water, light and dark playing havoc in her eyes, her mind, and pain spreading from her chest. Water against her.
Water wrote eddies of curiosity across her skin as the pain slipped away. A whisper in her ear. A greeting.
The water is home now and the rock your seat, said the river. Sing for me, maiden, sing sweet songs, sing to fill me–

“Rob, are you all right?”
I realised it was Susan talking. “I… don’t know. I think I might have your flu.”
Concern coloured her voice. “You should try to eat a bit more. Then we’ll go back to the hotel.”
Nodding, I ate more of the pasta.
–A song on a stormy evening. A small fishing boat tossed by waves, fighting the white.
The teenaged boy paused in his terror-screams. The song laced his ears, stirred thoughts of home, bed, love.
He felt nothing as the rocks sliced his boat to pieces, as the river tongued him downwards. As the maiden wept.–

“We should go,” Susan said, and called for the bill.
Several minutes later we left. I stumbled into the street, as if feverous. The husband’s face lodged in my mind. And I thought of the woman, trapped in the river.
“Tomorrow,” I said, “we need to visit the Rhine.”

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