My therapist watches me carefully, waiting for me to have an epiphany or blame my mother, while continuing to move a pen between each finger on his left hand. I tense and my teeth gnaw at the inside of my cheeks. Years of education have taught him that silence pays just as much as actual words do, so he can afford to wait.
I push my palms against my closed eyelids and feel heat. I ask him if he likes his job. After a short pause he nods and begins to form a sentence about his passion for encouraging others to find solace. I want to laugh but I don’t, because it isn’t funny.
“Tell me more about Lila,” he says in a slow, practiced way.
Her name makes me wince. I notice that when he speaks to me, he softens his eyes as if he’s afraid that looking at me too directly will cause me to shatter. I have to shut my eyes.
We were supposed to do it together. That’s what she said. She said it would be romantic that way. My stomach tightened when I asked her if she was scared and she said of course she wasn’t. She asked me how I wanted to do it. I told her I wasn’t sure and she suggested that we do it in the bath because water is cleansing. She said it was the only way. I watched her wide eyes flicker around my face as she spoke. She said something about holy water and laughed. I laughed too, even though I hadn’t truly heard her. She said we should do it tomorrow because tonight she wanted to paint her nails. I nodded because that seemed reasonable.
“What do you want to know about her?” I ask the therapist with an even voice.
The corners of his eyes crease as he considers my question. The room is vapid and gloomy. I guess that’s normal. I look at the carpet and imagine each thread weaving together like her hair. It used to brush against my face when we stood closely, the wind picking up each strand and guiding them in my direction. I run a trembling hand down the back of my neck. She had a beautiful neck. The therapist watches me.
“Do you miss her?” he asks me suddenly.
“Of course I miss her,” I say shifting uncomfortably.
I can’t tell if I’m being convincing. My head begins to throb rhythmically, the beat reverberating off of my temples like heavy drops of water on a sidewalk. I cover my face with my hands.
Lila had matchstick eyes. Her name danced like a knife on my tongue. It bled. It bled crimson for her and I gagged. We lay together on a dirty mattress in the corner. Lila quivered beside me like a hummingbird. Her very existence consumed me. She wouldn’t let me touch her for very long. She was pure, uncorrupted, and devastatingly wholesome. She wore her innocence like a sheer veil that gently whispered against her pale nipples. I cringed at the thought of never touching my lips to her milky skin.
We never went too far. Whenever my anxious tongue would meet hers, becoming deliciously tangled and wet, she would clasp my wrists, a dim flame blowing out coldly in her eyes.
“Wait,” she would sigh, her glossy mouth making a childish pout.
I would wait. I would wait with my sharp inhales, my stomach heaving in desperation.
“It’s just so important,” she would say, letting go of my wrists and pulling me close. Her round, full breasts pressed against me with agonizing pressure.
I nodded. “Of course. Of course, I understand,” I would say calmly.
I would shut my eyes tightly, my hand skimming over the clasp of her bra while I rubbed her back. I imagined it disappearing beneath my palm, her bare shoulders exposed, the curve of her breast cupped in my hand. I allowed the thought to wash over me like acid rain.
I clear my throat awkwardly and I sit up straighter in the cushy armchair. I look over at the highly esteemed therapist, waiting for him to fix me. Last night my brother said therapy would fix me. He told me this in a crowded bar over heavily salted peanuts and pretzels.
I didn’t have a response so he repeated it, “Things happen. Women mess with our heads all the time. Fuck, that’s what they’re made to do,” he shrugged his shoulders and took a sip of foamy beer. “She always seemed a bit off if you ask me,” he continued to speak after letting out a low whistle, “Therapy will fix you, baby brother. After all, isn’t that the fucking point?” He tilted his head slightly and his eyes seemed far away.
I did that to him. I did that to everyone. Except for my mother. My mother didn’t look at me anymore.
The therapist crosses his right ankle over his left knee and asks, “Why do you think she killed herself?”
She dripped all day and night. The Sistine Chapel soaked in paint thinner. Lila dripped, dripped, dripped. There was a bad taste in my mouth. I ran my raw tongue over my teeth. My fingernails picked out pieces of Lila. She was stuck between my teeth. She was part of me.
I thought of her constantly. In the shower I imagined she was the water against my skin, each drop would kiss and bite me softly before swirling down the drain. Together we were sweaty palms, and batting eyelashes, buttermilk skin, and panting breath. She wrapped herself around me like a rain soaked cloak and I would drown, drown ever so slowly within her. I gasped for air and found none. I reveled in my choking and spread my arms wider and wider to greet death with an embrace.
“I just want to keep this part of myself,” she spoke the words slowly as she paced the room with wide eyes and shaking hands, “The world is sick. It’s full of desolation and death. There is no decency. Nothing is sacred.”
I watched her, forcing my body to be still even though I felt it resist me.
She knelt in front of me. “I love you. I’ll love you forever. That’s the beauty of it all,” she laughed lightly and put a piece of her hair in her mouth, sucking it thoughtfully.
I shift my arms around being careful not to cross them and make direct eye contact with the therapist. “I guess she was unhappy,” I say and remove a piece of lint from my pants.
She loved these pants. I wore them the night we went to that Thai place. She said khakis were comforting in their sterility. I didn’t understand what she meant by that and remained silent as I watched her gloved hands smooth faint wrinkles out of her skirt. When I got back to my apartment, I folded the khakis and put them in the very back of my closet.
“Do you think she was unhappy with you,” he asks me pointedly, “or was she always a bit of a sad girl?”
When he said the word “sad” his tongue seemed to linger on the roof of his mouth as if he just had a spoonful of peanut butter.
“Li-” I stop short. I haven’t said her name out loud since it happened. “No,” I wonder if I should be crying and blink several times, “I don’t know.”
“Are you thirsty?” the therapist asks while he rises and crosses the room to pour a glass of water.
When he returns to his chair his hand extends to give me the water, which has started to form tiny buds of condensation. I am still as I watch the little drops of water slowly slide down the side of the glass. Realizing that I’m not going to take the glass from him, he places it on the coffee table between us and sighs.
“Have you been eating?”
“When I’m hungry.”
“Your mother said you withdrew from school.”
“That isn’t a question. I’m not sure how you want me to respond.”
The therapist takes a drink from his mug while he mulls this over.
It was cold when I met her. I remember that she wasn’t wearing a coat. I saw her outside of the library. Little cotton balls of warm air left her mouth every time she laughed, and I wanted to run over to catch each one before they disappeared forever. I never stopped feeling this way. Even years later, standing in the snowy abyss that was to be expected in our town, I would watch over her protectively as each breath would leave her parted lips. I wanted to be near her, always nearby, just in case one of those clouds of air needed capturing.
Her amethyst lipstick was caked on her face, flecks of smudged purple on her teeth. I watched Lila gnaw at the skin around her fingernails. She spit her nails onto the soiled floor. When I walked, they pierced my feet. Her breath filled the pit of room. I inhaled harshly. Every sound that escaped her throat echoed through my flesh. She watched me through her eyelashes, while I willed myself not to weep.
I wanted to drink her. We would sit on the couch, kissing slowly but swiftly, touching, gentle explorations with shaking hands, and nervous laughs. She made me feel dehydrated. I wanted to pour her down my throat, to lick the sweat that formed on her clavicle. I knew my lips would be forever parched until I let her wash over me. I wanted to swim within her, sink beneath her skin, always gasping for more of her.
She wouldn’t let me.
“Stop,” she would pant. She smoothed her hair back and shifted away from me.
I would stop.
“It’s just too much. We can’t lose control like this,” she said while anxiously looking around the room, tugging her shirt back over her head.
I sat back, a cruel mix of frustration and torture swarming through my every thought.
She exhaled, “I think it’s time, you know? I know I’m in love with you. I just know it. So, I think it’s finally time. It will all be worth it when it’s over. You’ll thank me.”
I watched her as her hands danced around her face, her words flowing from her mouth without a pause.
I had to interrupt her, “Lila,” she kept talking, growing increasingly animated. “Lila,” I repeated with gentle force. She stopped talking and moving, looking over at me as if she hadn’t seen me at all until that very moment.
“I’m not sure about this.” I try to choose my words carefully, watching the lines on her face warp.
Her face crumpled painfully, “You’re not sure about me, you mean?”
“I just don’t want to make any rash decisions. I’m not sure this is what I want.”
“I’m not what you want?”
“I want to live, Lila. Don’t you want that, too?”
“I can’t believe you’re doing this to me. I thought you understood.” She spoke with rushing words, her eyes searching my face frantically. “This isn’t living. We can’t really live until we die. We’re too good for this world. Haven’t you been watching the new? Something horrible goes on every minute of the day.” She ran her hands through her hair anxiously. “This is how it has to be,” she licked her lips, “I know you can’t fully imagine it right now but just trust me, it will be such an out of body experience.” Her tone grew increasingly desperate. “I need you to do this for me.”
I brushed the hair out of her face, nodding as she continued to speak. I tried to hide the pity I felt slowly forming on my face and hoped she didn’t notice.
“How did you feel when you found her in the bathtub?” He is writing in his notebook now.
I look past him at his filing cabinets. I imagine they are filled to the brim with notes on other people he needs to fix. It should be brighter in here, shouldn’t it? I notice the curtains are drawn shut and all the light in the room is dependent on two struggling lamps.
“Do you want me to say something profound?” I test him warily and he responds quickly, “Only if it felt profound.”
I stare at him, “It felt like I was the water and she was the drain.”
He is silent for a moment while he takes a few notes. I have the sudden urge to scream or laugh or weep but instead I sit very still.
Lila danced on the balcony ledge. She let her legs do the work. I watched as they swayed and quivered. As if she was a ballerina, balancing on a branch of ice. The hourglass was on its side. In its stillness, I breathed in her scent. Her voice ripped my body down the middle like a shard of glass. I dangled like a puppet for my muse, Lila. She flossed her teeth with the strings and cried when my body grew limp.
I had decided on sleeping pills. She was near the bathtub testing the hot water with her foot as I surveyed the bottle I was holding. Pills seemed less… final. I asked her how many I should take. She waved her hand in the air and said I should probably take all of them. I felt my chest constrict. She settled into the bathtub and watched me, steam dancing around her shoulders.
I poured the bottle into my mouth and allowed myself to swallow several but kept a majority of the round blue pills under my tongue. My throat felt narrow. A cup of milk was on the sink. I took a few gulps. I read you’re supposed to do that.
She smiled at me faintly. As I climbed into the bathtub with her, wincing when the warmth of my back collided with the coldness of the shower tiles, I quietly spit a few of the pills into a towel, pretending to wipe the sweat from my face. I wondered how many I had swallowed and tried to conceal my panic. She shifted in the tub, her hands reaching behind her to turn off the water, and said she would wait until I felt tired.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked her quietly.
“Very much so,” her voice seemed different, as if she were speaking through white noise.
I wanted to shake her violently. “I’ll love you even if we don’t do this,” I said, still wondering if any of this was actually real, if she would truly follow through. Surely she would come to some grand realization and leap from the tub, reaching down to pull me out with her.
“There is nothing here for us,” she smiled at me, slowly cupping water in her hands over and over.
“Did you hear me?” He pulls me from my thoughts and takes a sip from his mug.
“What was that?”
“Are you sleeping through the night?” he asks.
The mug is narrow and tall and doesn’t seem like it would hold very much liquid. I try to think of my sleeping patterns. I haven’t slept in four days.
“I guess I could be sleeping better,” I say.
He takes a few notes, “Are you having dreams?”
“No, not really,” I say and hug myself. I shiver and pull my sweater sleeves over my hands. “Can we talk about something else?” I ask him even though I know the answer.
He smiles faintly, “We’re almost out of time. Are you sure you don’t want to tell me a bit more about your last night with Lila?”
I cringe and look at the burgundy carpet. I feel sweat developing on my forehead.
“I don’t know what you want me to say. It was a Thursday. She said she was going to read in the bath,” and in that moment I almost believe my lie.
The bathtub was overflowing onto the crusted tiles. Lila’s India Ink hair was drowning in the drain. I carefully wiggled my numb fingers. The water rippled gently. My limbs were tangled with hers. The water was diluted with her blood. It was clear and pink and red all at once. Through partially opened eyes, I could see her crying. I remained still and wondered if this was death. The glare from the blade caught my eye. I squinted at it because my eyes wouldn’t open any wider. Her dress was stuck to her skin. She was blurry. I watched her put her arms under the water. Her lips were moving. I tried to listen. I wanted to hold her. Blinking seemed too daunting. I wanted to taste her again. My stomach churned painfully. I closed my eyes.
We are silent for a while. “I think that’s enough for today,” the therapist says as he leans forward. “I know this isn’t easy,” he says clasping his hands together, “I think a prescription would help you sleep and allow you to think more clearly.”
“I don’t want pills,” I say with more force than intended.
He nods and I begin to stand. He shakes my hand and asks me speak with the receptionist before I leave. He tells me that we’re making progress together. I am silent as I leave the room. I don’t stop to speak to the receptionist. When I enter my car I put my fist into my mouth and scream.
Darkness turned into light. The sun spat bleach into my eyes. When I reached for Lila the sun scalded me. Mud ran off of my body like confessions to a priest. I had been digging a hole for my heart but the wood splintered and the shovel snapped in half. Pieces of wood were stuck into my palm. Lila’s heart was beating next to mine. It made my ears throb. I covered them with my hands. She slapped my face and clawed at me while I dreamt.
My shivering woke me up. She looked blue. I wanted to touch her but instead I stood quickly, her body swaying as the water stirred. My mouth was dry. I stepped onto the bathroom rug, wrapped a towel around myself, and slowly faced her again. My movement had made the pink water slide down the side of the tub. She looked different. She looked the same. I felt shame devour me as I slowly sank to my knees. I would never have her. She left me. Vomit snaked up my throat and I wrapped myself around the toilet as the fluid forcefully escaped my mouth and nose.
With burning eyes, I crawled over to the bathtub and touched her cheek with my fingertips. My deafening sobs slowly turned into silent shivering. I stared at her for longer than I should have. I wanted to pull her from the water and dry her off. She would be safe again. She would forgive me for letting this happen. She would hold me against her beautiful chest, my eyes blinking calmly as it rose and fell steadily. I clenched my jaw as I backed away from her limp body. I wanted to wake up but I wasn’t asleep.
Her saliva, her lips – she hummed Egyptian spells to me. My hands vibrated against my ears. She spun slowly, her painful smile causing a glare against my eyes. I shielded them and ran to her, my legs quivering as the skin melted off the bone. Her warmth, it liquefied every part of me. We danced together in the kitchen while the sun kissed the moon. She turned on the oven and we watched the cockroaches dissolve the walls.
Cindy Withjack is a senior English major with a minor in writing. She is a member of Sigma Tau Delta and the Humanities Club. Her work has been published in The Wildwood Journal, The Fourth Estate, The Best of College Photography, TheBurg, and The Huffington Post. She served on the poetry, nonfiction, and visual arts boards for this issue, and she was a copy editor.