He is shaking. His skin is sticky and pale like the underside of a frog. I feel nothing. I move my hand, try pry it between us. I want to touch myself, but a cramp has started between my fingers and my wrist. I think this is a waste of time. Then, he goes deeper. Something inside me feels jagged. I see curves of red flesh behind my eyes. It’s a dull pain, a building pain and I think if I’d have just touched myself I’d have forgotten it. When he stabs me again, it bursts, wells up, floods over. I put my hands on his shoulders and I push.
“Too much,” I tell him. “Pain.”
A year ago, he’d have sat deflated at the end of the bed with the condom sagging between his legs. We would have began a dance, in which he would not touch me for a period greater than a month. He had a way of shifting blame to me in an insidious, self effacing way. He would tell me he didn’t want to hurt me and I would smart and I would cry and I would tell him I didn’t care.
Now he shuffles up the bed on his knees. He treads on my hair and I cry out, but he doesn’t say anything. We shuffle. We adjust. He comes on my chest and I try hard to not look bored. I try to look pretty. I push up my tits and make sustained eye contact, make myself useful. He stumbles away after a while. He comes back with toilet roll, cleans his mess off my skin.
When I hear the shower running, I feel like I can breathe. My eyes are too wet. I think about anal. I think I could persuade myself to enjoy it, but there’s always blood on the toilet paper. I start to touch myself and I think about girls. I think about soft things, pink things. Queer representation. I don’t feel like me. I feel greasy from the lube. I smell like chemicals and strawberries. I’m hollowed out. The pain is building again, so I stop. It’s dull. It’s annoying. I feel old, used up, but I’m young. I’m much younger than him.
Some people tell me I am brave. Others look at me as if they wish they could tell me I was less of a woman. There are many people who try, but never in so many words. I see it in the rounding of their eyes, the way they nod about IVF, as though it is the only thing that matters. They’re making advances they say. Someone’s someone’s mother managed, so you should keep trying. I tell them I don’t want to. I don’t want to try. I don’t need that. I’m fine. I don’t want a baby. I want the blood to stop. I want the pain to go away. I need to feel my age. I need to feel twenty five, all powerful in the knowledge I could walk into a bar and take five guys at once. I think I could have once, before my womb caught up with me. I was fat then and my face looked different. I used to hide myself away and have my boyfriends blindfold me so I wouldn’t have to look at myself. What a waste.
I hear him humming in the shower and I feel bitter. I feel metallic and strange. I want to cry. He’ll be in a good mood now. He won’t complain about the smell on my fingers, the smell of my body. Sometimes he makes me feel less of a woman, but never about babies. He tells me about the women he’s loved before me. He’s lived with women. He knows all about women. They were never disgusting. They never made smells. They never didn’t brush their hair, their teeth. He shakes when he tells me these things. His features become very small and his face very large. I scroll through forums as he speaks because if I look at his face I might cry and he doesn’t deserve that. I am normal, I’ll say. I’m doing the best I can.
I lie on my belly and I think about men and I think I might hate them. I think about girls. I think things could be better. I think about the dream I had. It was no one in particular, but my body reacted like I was young again. I try to remember if he ever made me feel like that.
When I was seventeen, I was invited to a party. I went shopping with a friend I always found pretty. She had freckles and a mouth like a fruit. We sucked our bodies into tight black dresses. We wobbled in high shoes we’d never had the occasion to wear. She called me into her cubicle. Her dress was stuck on her shoulders. She was wearing a greyed bra with soft cups. Her body was yellow and doughy under the strip lights and curiously thin. I laughed too loudly. I freed her quickly, too much eye contact, like I was trying to prove a point. I thought about her for a year after, no matter who I was with.
I roll onto my back, feeling gnawed upon. I’ll never know if things could be better. There was only one other. I think I loved her, even if she never let me kiss her. She would undress in front of me. She would tell me she loved me. She would talk about a future. She took me to dinner with her parents and introduced me as a friend. The waitress brought the wrong food. I wanted to cry. On the way home, we held hands. It went on and on for months. I always left her feeling frantic, telling myself I didn’t need labels. I needed her to tell me she loved me. When I was home I would close my door and I would masturbate. I didn’t need porn. I just thought about her and her orange hair, her greasy skin and bloodless lips. Sometimes I look her up on the internet. There are barriers in place. We are not friends. She is doing well now. She looks the same. I can never decide if she’s ugly. Her face has the effect of peeling away, of being layered from the globe of her nose. Look too long and you’re in love. You feel her in your chest and carry her behind your eyes.
I carried her for a long time, much longer than she carried the thought of me. Even after I packed my things into black bags. Even after the bags were in the back of my dad’s car and I couldn’t tell him why any of my famed uni friends didn’t say goodbye, I carried her. I still hate her.
The water has stopped and I am sick with hate. Hate for her, hate for everyone. I am ballooned with pain and I think I must have brought this on myself. I think I am not a good person. Nothing will ever be different. I hear his footsteps and I wipe my eyes. It has been years.
He puts his wet head around the door and he smiles like a Labrador. I love him. I don’t know why. I brace myself, because I know he will comment about the semen on my chest and I close my eyes because the pain has risen. I can feel it somewhere above my throat now. I don’t want to take pills. I want to go to sleep, because I might wake up and I might feel better again. He is making a puddle on the carpet. I open one eye and I look at him smiling.
“Brew?” He says and I nod against the pillows.
Katie Ellen Lamb