By Sarah Catherine Golden.
P awoke in a gradual way to see that the sun had wrapped its bladed fingers around the frayed edges of her red curtains. An unintentional sigh pushed its way from her chest as she pulled the fabric away from the glass. “Behold the perverse diorama that is the world daylit.” The sky was a repellent blue, the kind that others would comment on using endearing and appreciative adjectives, the kind that failed to lend itself to her perpetual desire to remain within walls and ceilings, and the trees appeared to be receding into the dirt. “I would regard plants with more esteem if they proved to be a silent army of misanthropic cavaliers.”
The clouds — pompous in the flawless ease — froze for a moment to cast mocking glances her way, then continued their collective lumber across the artificial-looking backdrop. “What a nice day.” Her taste buds sang of ashtrays, but her forearm twitched with the thought of propelling a toothbrush around her stinking mouth, and so she avoided the bathroom entirely. The walls of her stomach clasped and unclasped each other like the hands of a recent widow, animated by worry and vacancy. There had been no food in the house for days; the cabinets hung empty with heavy hearts.
Her phantoms followed her on her walk to the grocery store, ever eager to pinch at the backs of her knees and speak pointless common phrases. Some of them had lately begun to shed their malignancy, and simply floated alongside her like shadows that had discarded their dependence on light. The others were insatiable alchemists, able to change the flat, expired music curling through the store into a sharp, cramping sensation in her belly, or to transform excerpts from strangers’ conversations into a palpable desire to claw at the throats of the speakers. P was convinced that it was their presence — rather than her own waning form — that had been recognized by the electric door that had begged her into the fluorescent glare of the store.
The shelves were laden with colored boxes screaming promises and elbowing one another out of her field of vision. “Swallow the glory of a world in which the inanimate are in a constant chaos of competition.” It was not long before the sensation consumed her, the one that slept when she was alone, yet sprung — dizzy and with eyes blazing — from her depths as soon as the blurred forms of other humans trickled into her plane of sight. First a quickening of the heart, then an urge to swoon, not unlike a southern belle into the arms of a misogynistic, muscle-shaped suitor. Her extremities were both numb and tingling, a curious pairing. The package of sensations rendered her incapable of remembering why she had come in the first place. “An arbitrary purchase will justify my raison d’être.” After sliding her feet across the greasy linoleum for some minutes, P chose a sponge to accompany her on the walk home. “Godliness.” She approached and then eschewed the Self-Checkout, unable to decide if it made her feel empowered or exploited; her inability to distinguish made her itchy.
The checkout girl — whose vacuous gaze had traced P’s path to the counter — was a nervous, pimpled caricature of a person. She mumbled a string of words as she passed the sponge over the scanner, but they sounded as though they were being sieved through a thick wall or had been steeped in some sort of opaque liquid. P knew that they would have been comparably meaningless had they been decipherable, and shook her head without meaning to. “She has never had a penis inside of her, save, perhaps, for the one that spurted the very seed that made her.” P felt for a moment on the verge of bright, terrible laughter. Being in the presence of people who seemed utterly revolted to be squirming around in the own skin somehow put P at ease, lessened the wheezy burden thrashing beneath her breastplate.
She walked out of the store, leaving both the sponge — gleaming in its superfluous plastic sheath — and a crumpled dollar next to the register on the small shelf used for check writing. She tried to inhale deeply so as to then exhale some of the fetid squeeze that had seized her lungs in the store, but her breath caught in her throat and she coughed. “It’s going to be dark soon. I can taste it.” She shoved the flaky skin of her hands into her pockets and walked home to draw the curtains.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sarah Catherine Golden is a writer and artist who splits her time between Virginia, Vermont and the Yucatan Peninsula.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, December 13th, 2009.