fiction, grief, short fiction, Uncategorized

Exposure

 

My life was bare walls, no surprises in the laundry hamper, the disappointed relief when you watch porn in the standard browser without worrying if anyone else will check. The sharp relief and then the slow entropic ebb of disappointment afterwards. I’d let go of salon visits and gym sessions without care for the impact.

 

My phone rang.

‘Please don’t hang up.’

‘What reason is there to talk to you?’ I said.

Rage was pointless. She deployed her final tactic and my dull tone masked the contempt.

She breathed in. I remembered the sounds when we made love, all the neglected nerve endings stirred into life by my touch. Now it tasted of dust and raw meat.

My affair left me with a concrete block of guilt which sat on my chest with each breath. My anger towards her was a hammer swung into it.

 

‘I don’t know.’ she said.

 

We did things with one another we had never dared ask our partners. 

‘You are fucking dead.’ I said.

There was a choked whisper.

‘Why are you being like this?’ she said.

She came to the house whilst I was out. I imagined her, flushed with righteous indignation, telling my wife every detail of our relationship. On the drive home, I wondered if there were tears, but that’s something I chose for easing my feelings. Tossing a little compassion in her direction to mitigate my guilt is a child’s motif but panic shaves a good few years off your faculties.

Begging is distasteful when you’re an adult. It is worse when it fails to make anything better. No one showed up to make my case for me, how the comfort becomes ennui. You’re supposed to forget how they fucked you when you were an exciting proposition to them and accept tired, half hearted intercourse where they use your tongue or fingers as a sleeping pill.  The grey miasmal guilt became useful as I navigated the remains of my life.

 

Irritation choked my libido as I looked at myself in the mirror. Sallow and unshaven, dark smudges of fatigue jammed into the skin under my eyes.

 

She told me I was beautiful once. No one had done that before. The memory stung and I shoved it away.

 

‘Are you always this fucking stupid?’ I said.

 

Sobbing.  

 

‘Do you feel better for what you’ve done?’ I said.

 

My faded, ugly face forced itself into a mask of contempt. It fitted so well.

 

‘No.’ she said.

 

Her voice was small and soft.

 

‘Does it help you sleep at night? Hurting my wife and kids for something I did?’

 

She wept, but I felt nothing. It was a glass being dropped in an adjacent room for the impact it had on my emotions.

 

‘Never call me again. You’re fucking dead.’ I said.

 

I measured the time in cups of coffee and cigarettes. Blue afternoons nestling a sick misery alternating with harsh, sobbing conversations hearing my family spit their bile and pain at me.

 

I never thought about involving her family. We made our choices. We blocked one another on social media but I still nursed revenge fantasies but they all felt so small after what she had done. She knew where I was weakest and stuck the knife in where it would bleed the most.

 

Love does that better than anything. We open ourselves up to one another and alternate between ignored or derided so we go back to hiding within our lives but it doesn’t fucking stop the pressure, the skin hunger which requires novelty like a vampire needs blood. When she emailed me, Nostalgia made me weak and she promised it wouldn’t get aggressive.

 

She came with a bottle. Red wine, which she knew I liked.

 

A peace offering. It was difficult to hold in the anger so I drank the wine and walked the tightrope between civil and honest.

 

A wave of dizziness washed over me in tidal brushes of blackness. I tried to laugh but the muscles in my face didn’t move. I had forgotten about her work in the pharmacy. She was always industrious, a way to compensate for the lack of belief in her intelligence and with each sip she watched me succumb..

 

I tried to stand up but my legs went out from under me. She got out a second bottle from her handbag and straddled me as I laid there on the floor. I wondered why she was wearing gloves.

 

My face burned where the liquid splashed down. She aimed for my mouth but I turned my head and she caught my right cheek, burning it away to the bone. It stunk of sweet pork and the bitter chemical bouquet of the acid.

 

She stepped backwards, slipped on the laminate flooring and caught her head on the back of the dining room table, under the chin which snapped her neck before she laid there. I tried to scream but my tongue melted and I was choking on the sludgy remains, feeling the lights go out in my brain due to lack of oxygen and shock trauma.

 

My flatmate found me and called an ambulance. Quilted grafts rebuilt my cheek and tongue, but I had false teeth and it was afterwards, I decided dating wasn’t in my future.

 

It made the papers and the internet. People knew me on sight, and the reconstructed cheek was a mark of Cain, a scarlet A and it inspired equal parts disgust and pity. Children cried when they saw me and their parents pulled them away, scowling and muttering under their breath as they shot me with withering looks.

 

I had a room in a small flat and I spent the time writing.

 

The horror of the story made media rights profitable. An act of literary purging brought my family to a place where they could forgive but not forget. The money was welcome, but I had no use for it, not with the sense of place my disfigurement provided me with.

 

There was love for myself, a reason to be alone and a relinquishment of the burden of performance. I received offers, but they faded in time. My gratitude lent a clarity which allowed me to make one final decision regarding my life.

 

I dedicated the book to my children. I’d arranged my affairs, given them and my former wife control over the media rights. I finished the last draft and sent it to the publisher. There were pills and good brandy, a fat joint of a good, powerful weed which made swallowing the pills a slow and delicate affair.

There were good moments, slow and replayed from different angles.

 

The first date with my wife. Her face flushed with excitement, the awful shirt I wore, a boy pretending to be a man.

Children. The exhausted delirium of imposing order on beautiful bundles of chaos.

Her face, when we met for the first time. Being seen and wanting it, despite knowing it was destructive.

Single moments, alone when the light would look a particular way, and there was quiet.

My children’s future was secured and it felt like a good point to stop pretending I had a life beyond being a horrible warning.

 

Letting go was like taking off a tight pair of shoes after a long walk.

 

The light faded, and I went along with it.

 

She told me I was beautiful once.

 

In dying, I felt it.

 

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