She said she was afraid of commitment. I said I was, too. We played at sex, experimented with living together, even went so far as to window-shop for rings, but we knew it would never work out. The fear of transformation was too great. I worried I would turn vicious and petty, even abusive. “My father was an alcoholic,” I told her one day. She paused, set her glass down, and told me her mother had overdosed on oxycodone. We had that in common. “Did you withdraw from reality?” she said, and I admitted that I had. Childhood, to me, was a cocoon furnished with plastic soldiers and comic books, a place to hide until my wings grew in.
In the third year of our relationship, we held hands in public. The giddy relief I felt was tempered by something else, a physical sensation of skin cracking along my spine, hair pushing from my pores. I pulled back instinctively, and she did, too. We said nothing of that moment later as we lay in bed panting. She smoked a cigarette and watched the ceiling. Did the patterns embedded in that plaster impart momentum to her imagination? All I could see were swirls.
“I think we’re pretending,” I said one day. We sat on swings at the public park half a mile from her apartment. The seats were suspended by chains wrapped in plastic sheaths. I felt links within the folds of my fingers, but the smoothness overwhelmed. “I want something more.” She looked at me with steady eyes. Hair framed her face. “I don’t know if I’m that brave,” she said.
That night I dreamed our bodies pressed close as fire consumed my home. I traced the outlines of her with my fingers, the slant of her nose, the rounded hardness of shoulder drawing me down into the swirl of her body. All around us, possessions melted, a clock, a lamp, the television, everything pushed and pulled together into a tide of warm plastic. It rolled over us, surrounded us, solidified. Fear turned to panic, then calm acceptance. With only our exhalations to breathe, she finally gave up what she held most dear. “I love you,” she whispered. Her skin flaked to reveal an undercoat of red-brown fur, a snout, and pointed ears.
She licked my face.
Stephen V. Ramey’s short works have appeared in many places, most recently Every Day Fiction, Pure Slush‘s 2014 Project, and Chrome Baby. He lives in beautiful New Castle, Pennsylvania and edits the twitterzine trapeze. Find him at www.stephenvramey.com.