Late at Night, After He’s Fallen Asleep
K. C. Mead-Brewer
I’ve cleaved close to my lover in all the traditional ways: expensive rings, notarized certificates, pets, shared ER visits, piles of inside jokes. I touch his arm, his neck, his knee, silently reminding friends and waitresses that he’s mine and I’m his and we’re each other’s. We kiss whenever there’s confetti. We protect each other at holidays. We know each other’s shape in the dark as if we’d designed and cut them out ourselves.
But there are still things he doesn’t know about me. Like the worms. The ones moving just under my skin, whispering. And so, as an extra measure, late at night, after he’s fallen asleep, I snuggle in close to my lover and fart on him in bed.
* * *
The worms—it’s complicated. I don’t want to put that pressure on my lover, to become something he talks to his therapist about. But I feel them. The squirming, clammy draw of these things. The kind of feeling that makes you tear your fingernails. The kind that makes you send one too many text messages.
I feel it in the way my lover shyly mentions an interest in threesomes and the way part of me is interested too, even while I’m terrified by the thought of another person sneaking in and loosening my hold on him. Because what if he’s out alone one day and sees our third partner at the store as they both reach for the same bottle of hot sauce, and then they laugh and suddenly have a brand new inside joke about hot sauce that I have no part in?
He assures me that such things wouldn’t happen and, even if they did, it wouldn’t matter, because who could ever eclipse me in his heart?
I tell him I don’t know who, but I know I don’t want him sleeping with them.
He tells me I’m being ridiculous, blaming him for liking hot sauce and sleeping with people who aren’t even real.
I start crying because my feelings are hurt and I know I don’t need to be adding my shit to his plate, but then I’m also laughing because I know he’s right. I know he’s teasing me and teasing is a good sign. Teasing takes energy. Energy’s a good sign.
* * *
He used to sneak kitchen knives under his pillow as a kid. Like teeth for the tooth fairy, he said. He didn’t cut himself; it wasn’t like that. Not exactly. He wasn’t ready to die like his father did. Really, he just liked feeling the hard press of the metal beneath his head each night, knowing he might be useful, the man of the house, if there were ever a monster or a break-in or if all his dark feelings suddenly sprouted legs. And when he got hurt? Well, he figured he deserved it. He always figures he deserves it.
When we moved in together, I made a point of never keeping our knives hidden in a drawer, but out in a block on the counter.
I trust you, I told him, because I knew that would impress him. Because I knew I’d be the one to save him if things ever did go wrong. Because, deep down, I want him to stay with me more than I want him well.
* * *
Sometimes I know that the worst thing I can say to him is I love you. When I can see the dark thoughts creeping in around his eyes, using his eyelashes for camouflage, the words will just come out of me—I love you. This lets the dark thoughts know: She’s onto us. I’m onto you. And they become desperate. It gets worse. And I’ll keep saying it because I don’t know what else to do or to say, how else to defend myself: I love you, I love you, I love you, until each new declaration becomes just another cooing dove I’m handing him. Here, here’s a dove. You look like you could use a dove. Another dove. Another and another. Aren’t they beautiful? Aren’t they peaceful? Whimsical? Until we’re both nothing but a pile of bird shit.
* * *
I know he doesn’t always mean what he says. I know he still loves me even when he shouts and punches the door. I know he still loves me even when he resents me for trying to talk him down. Even when he feels guilty for resenting me. Even when he stares deep into the hole he’s made and whispers how he wants to disappear inside of it.
* * *
He listens when I complain about my period and tries to imagine what shedding part of his own insides might feel like. (I know which parts he’d choose.) He lets me watch as he pries up an ingrown nail from the flesh of his big toe, and when he says I’m gross for snapping photos with my phone, he says it lovingly. And when I apologize for having hairy legs in bed? He only cuddles in closer and tells me he doesn’t mind a little extra friction.
But even there, folded together like a warm pair of socks, I feel the worms writhing. They wriggle against my veins and draw me back to all those things I can’t give him. All the ways I’ll never be enough. The pills that make him thrash in his sleep and wake up terrified that men have broken into our apartment, right when there are no knives beneath the pillow. The day he told me he couldn’t stop the looping thought: I wish I were dead. I wish I were dead. I wish I were dead. Our friends who don’t understand why we keep cancelling on them last-minute. The day I shattered a wine glass just to see if he’d come check on me. The night when he looked straight through me as if I were nothing but rain and said, Don’t worry. My therapist says suicides tear families apart, and I would never do anything to hurt my family.
* * *
The worms are extra active at night, curling wetly around my bones. At night when it’s silent and I can almost hear them turning the dirt inside me, turning it and turning it, until I’m full of hot, composted breath. It rises up in a cramp against the walls of my body, like a hand nudging me, Let go. Let go. I turn in bed to make sure he’s fully asleep. My love? I whisper. My love? And when I’m certain, when everything is soft and dreaming, when I can’t hold it in any longer, I let go.
A warm, quiet, little fart aimed just at his thighs or hips. A warm, quiet little piece of me that’s relieving and fully digested. Something that might anchor us to where things are fed and cared for, processed and made useful. Something that’s uniquely me. Uniquely from me. Me, his lover, in gaseous form, spooling around his body to keep him safe and whole.
In sleep, he tightens his arms around me, calmed by this whispery, intimate thing I’ve given him. And then, for a little while, I’m not drawn anywhere at all. The blankets are warm. The doors are locked. My arm stretches out under my lover’s pillow, cradling his head, uncut.
K. C. Mead-Brewer is a writer and editor living in Baltimore, Maryland, with her husband and various small creatures. As an author and reader, she loves everything weird—science fiction, horror, magical realism, surrealism, all the good stuff that plays with reality. Her fiction appears in Carve Magazine, Cold Mountain Review, Fiction Southeast, Hobart, and elsewhere.
Illustrated by Alex Fukui.