By Nikolas Reda-Castelao
Gabe thought it was a very strange thing to be proud of himself, that he told this woman how he felt. His body certainly didn’t agree, the way it vacuumed every nanogram of his physical state into a singularity set to explode. The spot between his shoulder blades, the Bermuda Triangle of sensation, collapsed into his chest and his arms contorted to catch it on the other side. His walk staggered as his heart wolfed all the blood from his legs. His teeth gleamed stupidly in the darkness of the midday rain, howling with laughter at him and cutting the oneply skin he had. His jaws hurt so much to fight such gravity. To keep sane, he turned on his music and listened to a soul song, to remember what one sounded like.
He would listen to this song for the next two months, almost nonstop. When he stopped listening to it, the entire three months he was seeing this woman was such a machine gun fire of ejaculate neurons that he had a romantic fissure in his hippocampus.
It echoed in his draining head when he returned home. Sonic waves of her apologies ricocheted off the walls and struck him down in a blaze of stupid sappy infatuation. He looked in the mirror, at the swollen face in it, and it was like a giant bug slid down his throat. His forehead quivered and his eyes misted and his lips, bereft of its dreams, pleaded with him, “It’s ok. You did what you couldn’t do and you should be so proud of yourself. Did you really expect things to go the way you romanticized them to?”
The second time they got coffee and her words warmed his brittle soul, there was a moment when their eyes caught. He caught her deep cocoa aphrodisiac in his eyes, and they fixed on each other. His heart exploded in a trillion year expansion. Biochemistry made 969 Chernobyls in his head. This headache would never go away, and his heart would never piece itself together again, but the cosmic residue warmed his entirety. Was this the feeling that had been rumored to him? Was this
Losing his mind, Gabe scattered to pick up the volumes of word they spoke to each other all over the floor. He fell to his knees and roared at them, at these words to please come back to him. He was hung by her every word. His throat had been plundered for all its craft and all he was left was a belligerent flurry of fists against the wall. It soothed him when his fingers formed a firing squad and launched fusillades on his temples and cheeks.
It soothed him that time, when they got late lunch steak, when her ankle, a nimbus to his body, made glissandos up and down his legs. He felt it sort of inappropriate. His body was not accustomed to the skin of a woman, to her touch. His skin revolted in a theocratic fervor. His face continued a charade that any of this at all felt safe or normal. His smile belied a heart so violent that it held reactionary and radical revolutions both at once. His mind fought back Lust and Romance, the devil and the false idol. He let her talk about Brazilian politics while he did his best to not melt into a terrible sweat.
Lowering his head, he turned on the chastising shower. The hot water singed his body and he let it exorcise him. In absolute darkness, he stared. He was Lady He couldn’t cry, not yet. He hooked his
￼jaws to racks and crushed them together, crushing like boulders. Every muscle spasmed and then dissipated in the heat. He left the shower, a swollen and tattering flesh. The steam, the kind that fogged coffeeshop windows on rainy days and the kind that swallowed his neurons like tadpoles, followed him. He put on old clothes and stared at the cane he used for those three months he was in physical therapy. He used that cane to walk up to her and compliment her on her project that day. He wanted, for the longest time, to compliment her on Her.
His anger returned to him. His forehead quaked and his eyes dripped and his lips pleaded, trembling, “Please, don’t go berserk. Please don’t” he snatched the cane and crashed it against the refrigerator, plastic shattering wood. Splinters scattered. He struck again. “Fucking shit!” he roared with the debris of each strike, of each attempt to break this weakness. God left his mouth in whimpers. He should feel proud of himself because now he could use his hand. When they left the coffee shop that second time and it began raining, she pastured him under her umbrella and they drifted into each other, shoulders the distance of neurons. He looked at her hand, small and large enough for an entire revolution. His hands trembled at the mere thought. In the small world created by the lining of the umbrella was the entirety of his ambitions ; this was declared in the way a voice used to defaming great minds trembled and became its own at the mention of her name, the way it escaped the absolute monarchy of his reason and smiled at her presence. The rest of the world could drown for all he cared.
But he didn’t touch her.
His heart whispered to him carnal things: feeling the soft humanity of her hand, or the gentle ambrosia of her lips on his, or the paganism of her hips, things he had never known. He waited and fought for these things, and here they were, just across the endless chasm of his shame. If only he had known the name of this abyss.
All he knew was the beast Failure, inscribed on his forehead as he pounded it against the refrigerator. He collapsed onto contrition and with the penultimate strength in his wrath, he clutched the cane and exploded it on the refrigerator. The head severed and flew across the room. The other carried his body to the floor, where he stayed.
He listened to the song as he lay there. Now, he cried. Of this, he wasn’t proud of.