My girlfriend’s been soliciting money for sexual encounters with older men. Her friend showed me the messages: Hi, Robert – how can we please you? This friend was to possibly join the venture; that’s what she wanted anyway, but friend thought I was an alright guy, wanted to reduce the harm, felt that I deserved better. We’ve been basically living together – me and my girlfriend. Her parents are not aware. They think I’m just a friend. She says that she likes having me as her own, as her secret. This is not what I’ve ever wanted, and it’s not what I want now.
Art predates death; art predates taxes.
There is the image: the floral robe – blue, cotton, sheer – open; the hand – callous, wrinkled, jaundiced – grazing stomach – gripping into soft breast; the exhalation – repossessing youth, the desire beyond circumstance, earned and via currency; the inhalation – to leave the house, to close the mouth, to lie – with someone else; the room – white, standard, sterile – the television atop the dresser, the desk in the corner, the bed made up in the middle – without character, but of course, there it is – without window, or maybe it is closed; there is no future here – not for me.
I am absent, yet I am. I cannot step away. She says she wants to speak to me in person. She’s at her parent’s house, says that she can’t speak on the phone; she has anxiety, selective mutism. We’re texting. She says to take my time and that she understands and that she’s sorry.
I eat and am eaten by images: spiders, tapeworms, impotence. I press my thumb into the photograph. I’m trying to move forward. The story is told. There is the representation. I can’t move; I’m paralyzed; I’m waiting. For the thumb to press into the green heart beneath my photograph, for someone, everyone, to swipe right – this is all I want. I don’t want to talk to them; I just want to feel that my alienated form is enough and that it is craved – like hers.
There is the body: a fixation on the role – the starving artist, the authentic, the tortured – to eat, to fuck, to control; to sleep – spiders beneath the mattress waiting for the open orifice; to shit – tapeworms waiting their opportunity; I’m just a normal person, but we all know this to be bullshit; I’m winking – but of course, the façade; everybody’s normal – baseline; the food – I’m infected, violated; the sex – don’t fucking touch me – or my body; this skin is filth; strip me clean.
Painting didn’t garner enough attention. I shifted roles – the musician – the sound image. I made you feel – the party, the moment, to live – but that attention, it served to gain others – to pay attention to me was to be in turn paid attention – you feel it, you dance, you emote – so real, so desirable. I crave the undesirable, the lonely, the undivided. I shifted roles – the writer – the authentic, the tortured – alone, the mystique.
There is the text: I stepped away, but so many times I didn’t; waiting her side nearly a half day in the ER as she awaited admittance to the mental health unit – Forensic Files on the television, hospital chicken strips and Sprite in the styrofoam, billiards on the smartphones; the nurse rolled her away; they made me turn and exit; I walked home; I let her parents know; they thanked me for the update, for being with her; I still have the texts; I was excited to be introduced, to move forward, to consolidate; I could see our future, a future, the future – my future.
I don’t want to speak in person. I want her to message me naked photographs – her body for mine. I want her to want to do this, to need to do this, to do this without me having to ask her to do this. No – not now – not after; I want the photographs from before. I want to hear from her. This person’s out of control. I can’t anymore; I’m powerless. I’m sorry I’m not attracted to you. It’s your reflection I want. It’s all I can see.
Art is essentially vapid.
The floor dematerializes. I reach for the chair; there is no chair. My neck springs back, as do my eyes – the breath, vacuum sealed – fingers claw at the screen – nails – ghosts screech around the corner; there is no more, no eye – Want me! – and always – Look! – I am nothing of any-ness.
Henry Knollenberg is a writer of fiction. He is an MFA candidate at the University of Kentucky, where he studies experience. He lives in Lexington with his dog, Lucky.