All Stories, General Fiction

Gabby Gets Some Colour in His Cheeks by Antony Osgood

He knew he’d reached middle age when his legs defied him each morning and when an afternoon snooze became a requisite for a good day.

Gabby abases himself before post-lunch Sabbath dreams. But when he wakes he thinks he is beside himself, caught off-kilter, unbaked, unfinished. It’s like someone’s drawn his outline and not coloured him in.

As he snuggled down, he placed beside him his edges. He’d set them on his bedside table, there with his phone. As he flicked off the lamp, let afternoon dullness occupy the room, he knew his boundaries would be there for the collecting when he woke. Just there his edges were, the very shape of him. Gabby remembers settling himself beneath his goose-down quilt, recollects nestling deep, colonising many white pillows, wearing them as headphones. Now he feels there are no boundaries differentiating sleep from waking.

Maybe he’s still dreaming. (He has long been aware of waking as a different person entirely. It began as a fear, became a different species: evolution inevitable given time.) His edges have gone AWOL, made a bid for freedom, escaped conscription, leaving him unending, oozing into strange poses. He’s lost his shape, has Gabby. He’s not sure what’s sleep or solid.

He wakes, perhaps he woke, perhaps not, face down in white softness, knowing his imaginary beloved’s strong radiating knees and stalwart hands to be on either side of him. She is leaning above him, as if interrupted in performing seventy-five press-ups upon him. (Gabby imagines one hundred and seventy-fivepress-upswouldn’t raise a sweat, for the woman he has not spoken to is fine-fettled as the Andes, mighty and wide as Lake Maracaibo.) She has insinuated herself into him.

Rousing thus, edgeless, with her performing press-ups on his back, well, it is amazing how mundane the miraculous can seem. There’s not a day goes by when she’s not occupying his thoughts. She will not be denied. This waking (or not) beneath her is a future echo.

They’re doomed to touch.

He cannot bring himself to turn to face her. Partly for fear she’ll dissipate, partly from worry she’ll hand him his well-worn edges before evaporating.

He feels her hair upon his shoulders, the whispering caress of her body. She traces his boundless flesh, dips towards him, breasts lightly touching his prairie-wide back. She denotes his shoulders with kisses, measures the geography of him with her body, causing the hairs on his legs to stand stiff. He feels her breasts rub against his back, warm his shoulders with yielding heat. Her rowing-like consumption begins. Her mouth disseminates blessings. Nipples touch the nap of his neck. Gabby’s body moves with hers, they become one fluid thing. He’s a graceful mote of eternity, careful, endless. She is hungry, liquid, infinite.

It doesn’t matter that once he had edges, was able to say where he began and the world ended. He is unable to distinguish he from her, his heat from her touch, her tomorrow from his yesterday. He is a garment cut by her.

Feeling her belly on his back, her groin grinding against his rump, he tenses when she bites his neck and feeds. He takes her mound between his buttocks, wishes never to release her. By osmosis she drip-feeds him. He raises himself to meet her. Gabby’s eyes are full of light, his ears brim-full of noise, and his nose burdened with her weightless scent.

The nameless woman is teasing out his angel wings.

She is a sopher recording his hidden verse. She’s wisdom and benediction, perfect as herself, a pulse of light and throb of blood. She is Deborah beneath the green palm in beige Ephraim singing of earthquakes and white donkeys. She becomes Huldah setting out the future in jewelled light. Now unsung Miriam leading them both from the sun-scorched desert toward the blue of life-giving springs. She is the Shekhinah, the sefirah, bathing him in moon shadow, shattering him in order to repurpose him. She throws him through a diamond rain on Neptune. Her lips bath his flesh with burning gold. Her tongue laps at him until bright carnations bloom redly behind his eyes. His body is nothing but a breathless bulb awaiting her spring.

And he is a slow season turning on a cusp on a gush on a south-facing glee. His hands become hers, her eyes he sees through, and he’s granted visions. His is her gaze staring him down, she fills his dark spaces with glowing, he is found empty and lost. She is the trough between heartbeats. Her dry throat is yellow with obscene, holy klezmer. Their hearts perform Mesolithic dances in the ancient Kalahari, movements old as the Nubian hills inscribed with hieroglyphics. They are empty ochre rooms overlooking the Adriatic visited by the raw life of toddlers high on sugar.

His tears are cinnamon. They litter his face, alone and empty, wakeful, as usual himself, bounded by bed and body. He can a man such as he expect such boundless love?

Though he reaches across the canyon between pillow and the condensation window, though he opens heavy curtains, looks down upon a high street not heaven, though he turns off his alarm, rises from the clod of a bed, from the grit of pillows, from the sheets of dust, knowing intimately the hoary thoughts of gasping Lazarus dug free and turned out from his foxhole womb and abandoned to a rocky afternoon, not a little resentful at rebirth, he is still him, yet not.

He turns his head toward the sun of dreams. He’s supine, warm. Here’s a pulse of dream remain, a final drip of heaven, bold with high summer meadows crowned with white flowers speckled by gold. He stares about a welcoming valley full of blue gleaming beetles. Soaring green song birds chase lace-wings, moths swarm butter blooms. His eyes kaleidoscope the world entire.

But he’s grasped his edges now – fastened himself to them (they’d fallen to the floor during his snooze) – and he’s up and off and robot-like to bathroom. Flush, hands and face and teeth, unthinking, as the creases of himself unfold reluctantly. Where tight-eyed he tremors, shakes against the mirror’s light and he lets the day percolate into him redly, until with resignation he dares open one eye, there to face himself.

Only he is not able to identify himself.

A visitor smiles in ironic imitation.

Raising a hand to his face his fingers trace his familiar muscles beneath a stranger’s face, and he fancies this is what waking after a face transplant must be like. His chest, which should be all thunder, he assumes, glows in relief.

His joy at what he’s lost and found is boundless.

Antony Osgood


4 thoughts on “Gabby Gets Some Colour in His Cheeks by Antony Osgood”

  1. Hi Anthony,
    So many images and so lyrical.
    Each sentence is something to be considered or just savoured.
    This is a beautiful piece of writing.
    All the very best my fine friend.


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