I sit down on the curb of the street, away from the party inside. The smoky rooms and pulsing speakers inside are not mixing well with my inebriated stomach and my light head. I look up and down the street I am sitting alongside: silent and empty in both directions. The 3 AM cold prickles my skin, helping to settle my writhing belly.
I breathe in the crisp nighttime. The air slithers into my nostrils and through my sinuses, chilling everything it touches. The cold creeps along my skin, weaving between my goosebumps. My thighs begin to quiver from the cold. I wrap my arms around myself and rest my head on my knees. How am I going to get home?
Steps scuff on the driveway pavement behind me. The steps draw closer. A warm body sits next to me on the curb and places its hand on my shoulder. I look up and see an attractive young man looking at me. His eyes are focused and clear, the glisten of intoxication absent. His expression is serious but relaxed.
His eyes bore into mine as if they’re searching for some lost treasure in my irises. For a beat, his lips don’t make a sound. But his eyes scream.
“Are you okay?” he asks. His voice is smooth and soft.
“I need a ride home. And maybe a jacket,” I reply.
Immediately, he wraps his arm around my shoulders, encircling me in his zip up. The fabric is warm and welcoming inside, but it only warms me enough to calm my quivering, not enough to be comfortable. His arms press into my shoulder.
“What’s your name?” he asks.
I look up into his eyes. They are blue and sharp, like his pupils are swimming in an ocean made of crystal.
“Lee,” I say.
“Jake.” His arm squeezes my shoulders even more, forcing me closer to him.
We enjoy beautiful silence for a few moments. Occasionally, Jake breaks the silence to make small talk or ask me some question. I respond each time.
Eventually, Jake stops asking me questions or saying anything at all. The empty silence is restored. I look up into the sky. The lights from the city have erased the stars and left an empty canvas. It looks like the inside of a giant marble, encompassing the whole world in complete inky blackness. It almost appears to have a surface; I imagine it would be smooth and cold. I close my eyes and take a deep breath of chilled atmosphere.
Jake breaks the silence: “You said you needed a ride, right?” I nod, taking in his eyes again.
“If you want, I can take you home. I haven’t had anything to drink. I was supposed to drive my friend home, but he decided to go get laid instead.”
“A ride would be nice,” I say.
We stand up, him helping me keep my balance on the way up. Once I am steady, he shrugs off his hoodie and hands it to me. My fingers reach to take it, but he pushes my hand away and drapes it around my shoulders himself. His hands bring the bottom corners together and zips it up. He grabs my hand and we walk across the quiet emptiness to his white Jeep Cherokee.
Perhaps it was the drinks in my belly or the prospect of possibility that laces the early morning, but I never made it home that night. Instead, I went to Jake’s apartment to lose myself in those blue crystals.
I was curious to see if they would ever find their lost treasure.
I remember pulling into my apartment complex’s parking lot, but instead of exiting the Jeep, I placed my hand on Jake’s thigh, moving my thumb back and forth along the denim of his jeans. I could feel each thread intertwined with every other thread. Tonight, I wanted to be intertwined with Jake. Just for tonight.
“I want you,” I told him. “At least for tonight.”
“I bet I can convince you to stay for more than one night,” he smirked.
“You can try. But you will fail.”
“I can tame you, I bet.”
“Well no one’s been able to do it yet, so we’ll see,” I said.
I continued rubbing my thumb on his thigh while he looked at me, his eyes boring into me like hard ice into soft flesh. We stared into each other, studying each other, for only a moment. His eyes continued their search, relentlessly and almost uncomfortably. We leaned into each other. I kissed him and sealed my fate with him forever.
He and I lay in bed together, the darkness enveloping us. There is no fan or television set on. The open blinds allow light from the street lamps to seep into the bedroom, splattering shadows on the walls. The shadows overlap and multiply with each other, creating strange double and triple images against the wall’s white.
Jake is lying on his back with one hand behind his head and the other resting next to me on top of the sheets, a breath away from my hand. While the rest of his body is stiff, his hand is soft and twitchy. It rises as if to grab and hold mine, but then it sinks and rests again. His breathing is even, but shallow. He’s still awake, just as I am.
I turn my head just enough to see his face, but not enough to alert him to my movement. He is staring at the ceiling, his blue eyes illuminated like crystals from the incoming streetlights. I also look towards the ceiling. I move to rest my hands on my abdomen; Jake’s hand rises and sinks again.
I close my eyes, trying to contain my tears. But a single drop escapes from under my eyelashes and trickles down my temple towards my hair and my pillow. I take my hand out of Jake’s reach and place it over my mouth to stifle my sobs. In an attempt to calm myself, I place my hand on my chest, searching for my heartbeat. I can feel its small thuds against my sternum. I take a deep breath through my mouth; it shakes and stutters with another sob.
“It wasn’t my fault,” he says. He speaks in a whisper, but his voice is a disturbance in my silence nonetheless. I don’t respond to him, trying to keep the silence in the room as intact as I can. Silence is better than speech—at least when it concerns Jake. Nothing he could possibly say could change anything. Nothing he could possibly say could kill my pregnancy.
“Lee...” He says nothing else. I turn over on to my side facing away from him.
For a few moments, we stay still, like two statues stuck in an abandoned exhibition room with the lights off, trapped in stillness for eternity. Unable to be freed. The darkness in the room starts to feel solid and heavy, weighing down on my body. It’s difficult to breathe. But at least my silence has returned.
I think back to the night Jake and I met and remember the marble sky. I wish I could have broken the marble’s smooth surface that night so that I could seep through the cracks like water. I wish I could have floated up past the marble exterior and soared through the cosmos for the rest of time.
I wish I could have escaped from him. From the crystals.
I turn on my side, away from Jake, pretending to sleep. I feel Jake’s body turn over towards me, and his arms become snakes that slither around me, one under my neck, the other around my torso.
The snakes are made of lead, heavy against my body. Their coils wrap around my chest and neck like boa constrictors. They are not writhing snakes: the only motion they ever make is to hug me tighter and tighter until eventually they are wrapped around me so tightly my bones break. First, my ribs splinter into thick shards. Then those shards pierce my lungs filling them with unbreathable blood. My ability to consume air dwindles, and the shards pierce my heart, tearing open the muscle as if searching for something inside.
But the snakes won’t find anything inside. I won’t let them.
I pull the snakes off of me.
“Please don’t touch me again,” I say. We both retreat into the silence once more, but neither one of us breaks it this time.
A few days later, Jake comes to me with suggestions on apartments. We are sitting at the end of his bed and his laptop is nestled onto his legs. The screen shows listing after listing of seemingly perfect little places to begin perfect little lives. A perfect little life I don’t want.
“I think this one will be best. It’s two rooms, one bath. And it has a little playground outside for kids. It’s perfect for us and our family,” Jake says. He smiles and the blue crystals sparkle.
He turns to me and caresses my jawline with his fingers. His fingers wrap around my jaw and pull me toward him for a kiss. His lips press into mine, but my lips don’t move. When he pulls away, I look into the crystals. They have become unceasing, always on me and always searching. But now the crystals have sharp edges and have stopped their boring. Instead, they're slicing, ripping, and cutting into me like knives. They are desperate to find their treasure, a treasure I’m not sure exists in me but possibly in someone else.
But the crystals only search me.
“Jake,” I begin. “I think we should talk about something.”
Jake’s expression stills. He merely stares and waits for me to speak. I take a deep breath and brave myself for the cuts.
“You just kind of assumed that we were going to have the baby and get married and start a life together and all this stuff, but you never asked me what I wanted. We never talked about any... other options.”
Jake’s brow furrows. He closes his laptop and sets it on the floor. He turns his body towards me.
“What else would we do?” he asks. His voice is low and firm.
“Well, I mean, I’m not really ready to start a family yet. I’m only 22, Jake. There’s so much I still want to do. I just think—”
“You won’t have an abortion. I won’t allow it.”
Jake stands and heads into the sitting room. I follow him.
“Jake! It’s my decision too,” I say.
He stops, but he doesn’t look at me. His fists clench and then release. Clench and then release again. My heart starts beating faster.
“Jake. I don’t want this,” I say. I soften my voice from earlier to try and alleviate the tension that’s developed. “Jake, please, listen to me.”
His body rotates and the crystals find me again. They’re glistening. They continue to cut into me, but not like they normally do. They’re not cutting me because of their search; this time it’s to hurt me.
His lips press into a thin line and a stranger’s voice seeps out from in between.
“Lee. I said no.”
He steps toward me until his face is inches from mine. The crystals lock me in their gaze. I can’t escape from them. I hear the words I want to say bounce around in my brain. I open my mouth to speak them, but only to immediately forget language altogether. Jake’s right-hand shoots up to my jaw and squeezes. His palm presses into my esophagus and closes my airway.
I feel the back of my head thud into the wall and Jake’s hand presses my jaw upward. I reach up to grab Jake’s hand and pull it away, but his left-hand snatches both of my wrists and pulls them downward, away from my face.
“I. Said. No. I thought I was clear about that. Do I need to repeat myself?”
I shake my head as best as I can in his grip.
Both of his hands release me and I slump to the floor. My hands reach up to my throat to try to rub the soreness away. Coughs dribble out of my reopened windpipe, scratching my throat on the way out. My eyes start to swell with tears and my vision blurs. Jake kneels on the ground next to me. He sighs.
“Lee, I don’t want to hurt you. But we have to be responsible now that we have a baby to think of. And that baby is more important than our own selfish desires. This is the only way, sweetheart. You need to trust me.”
Jake’s voice is calmer, but the crystals are still glistening. Their shimmer is cold. I feel my body melt into the floor and the wall and then freeze there as if the crystals had turned my whole body into snow and then back to flesh. I vaguely feel his fingers brush my cheek. He leans forward and kisses my forehead, but quickly straightens himself and heads toward the bedroom. He stops in the doorway and glances back to me once more. There is a smile on his face.
“Looks like I can tame you after all.” The bedroom door closes. And I am alone.
That weekend, I find myself in my mother’s living room a state over in Arizona. The room is painted the color of red wine and has a matching leather couch and armchair. There is a television set with bookshelves on either side.
There is a coffee table in front of the couch with a small, white pot holding a blooming beavertail cactus. The cactus’s flowers are dark pink, almost like the deep insides of a fresh corpse, and are shaped like tight cylinders. The cactus does not bloom often. It only allows specific people the occasional pleasure of viewing its beauty; the rest of the time, it pretends to be dead, just like everything else in the desert pretends.
I smell roasted meat from somewhere nearby in the house, although I cannot see the source. The scent makes the room feel stuffy and almost suffocating. Sweat from my thighs sticks my skin to the couch’s leather, making me feel slimy like a newborn reptilian beast.
I look around the room, trying to familiarize myself with my mother’s house once again. My head throbs directly behind my right eyeball and into the core of my brain. My headache pulses with the blood flowing into my head. My lungs attempt to breathe, but are not satisfied with the air’s dryness; they attempt to take in more, and more. My heartbeat is uneven but steady.
The cactus on the table catches my eye. Though my human body is not well-equipped to survive the dry desert, the cactus’s body is. I lean forward towards it. I look past its pink flowers and onto its skin. The skin is green and waxy-looking. I touch it in between its spikes. The skin feels waxy, but it is also stiff as if trying to hold a barrier between the cactus’s insides and the dry death of the desert.
My finger begins to itch. I examine it and find a tiny spike prickling into my skin. The spike was much smaller than the cactus’s more visible spikes, and was feather-soft. Whereas the large stiffer spikes were designed to barb into flesh, this one merely wants to irritate the flesh as a kind warning: Please don’t touch me again.
I turn away from the cactus. My mind wanders back to Jake. The only reason Jake allowed me this visit was because I told him I wanted to tell my mom about the baby and celebrate with her. The crystals accepted that excuse. I haven’t told my mother anything, not even about Jake. I wanted the visit so I could be away from Jake, but still in a familiar place.
My eyes drifted back towards the cactus on the table. I kneel next to it, staring at it. Its green flesh is tough but smooth like newborn skin.
Its spikes are sharp and angled towards me. Its flowers have begun to recede, their blossom coming to a close. The flowers' color grows darker and deeper as my eye follows the pigment to the flowers' base in the cactus’s skin. The color changes there, grows almost red.
I can see the darker pigment reach out from the base to the end of the petal-like a blood vein. A blood vein waiting to be pierced so that the flowers' pigment would finally be free.
“Charlie, please eat,” I said. “You need to eat.”
Charlie’s little body was nestled on my lap as I sat on the couch. For twenty minutes I tried to feed him a bottle, but he only accepted a few sips. The rest of the time he turned his head to look around.
Charlie was a few months old, but he was still so small. When he was born, he was tiny with chubby cheeks and a dusting of blond hair on his scalp. His cheeks were plump and pink and his giggle came easily.
But his eyes were blue and cold like ice. Like Jake’s. Sometimes while Jake was at work, I thought I felt the crystals searching me again. And in a way, they were. The crystals had traveled to Charlie where they could watch me and search me and slice me while Jake was absent. Now the crystals were always with me.
I set the baby bottle down on the coffee table and cradled Charlie.
“Daddy’s not going to like the fact that you didn’t eat. But I can’t force you.”
I decide to take Charlie into his room for bed. Jake won’t be home until late. I sing him a lullaby and gently rock him until he nods off. I set Charlie down in his cradle and slip out the back door and onto the small apartment’s balcony.
With Charlie asleep and Jake at work, the crystals can’t reach me. I can finally escape onto the balcony and look at the sky and dream about its marble surface. Tonight it looks thick like molasses. I imagine I could float up to it and sink inside of it like a cracker in a cosmic soup. I imagine its thick goo caressing my body and hiding every inch of me from sight. Out of sight of Jake and out of sight of Charlie.
I hear a key grind in the front door lock that breaks my reverie. Jake is home.
I rush into the kitchen and take some leftover chicken out of the fridge and begin reheating it in the microwave for him. The door swings open and Jake stomps inside.
He shrugs off his coat and dumps his keys and wallet into the bowl by the door.
“Where’s Charlie?” he asks.
“I already put him to bed. It’s too late for him to be up.”
I place the food on a plate and set it on the rickety wooden table in the middle of the small kitchen. Jake sits down and starts eating. I sit across from him.
“Did you feed him before he went to sleep?” The crystals look me up and down, evaluating.
“I tried to give him a bottle, but he wouldn’t drink the whole thing. I’ll make sure he gets fed when he wakes up later tonight,” I say.
Jake stops eating and stares into me.
“Lee, you can’t put a hungry baby to sleep! He needs to be fed.”
“Well I can’t force him to eat if he doesn’t want to,” I retort. “When he wakes up in the middle of the night, I’ll take care of him.”
Jake stares at me for a beat longer, the crystals prodding. He begins to eat again and remains silent. Once he’s finished, he stands and walks to the sink. He only places the silverware in the sink.
He turns to me with the plate in his hand. The crystals slice into my skin, slowly, filleting me into small pieces. Jake lifts the plate above his head and drops it—it shatters and ceramic shards explode all over the floor. I jump, but Jake continues to stare at me. Charlie begins crying from the next room.
As I head into Charlie’s room, Jake calls to me and tells me to pick up the ceramic when I’m finished.
The next night, Charlie is fussy. I try everything I can to make him stop crying: I feed him, hold him, check his diaper, sing him a song. I try everything I can. But nothing works. He keeps crying and screaming.
“Charlie, please stop. Please, baby. Everything will be okay,” I whisper.
He doesn’t stop.
As I hold him in my arms, he pounds his tiny fists into my chest. His face looks up at me and more screams pour out of his open mouth. His eyes swim in tears and become hardly visible, but the crystals still find a way to me. They glare out of Charlie’s flushed face. They glare at me as if blaming me for Charlie’s pain.
I set him down on the kitchen counter and rub his belly. My own tears fall onto his little t-shirt, leaving small wet droplets. But he only cries harder and harder, his fat face pulsing an ugly pink like an irritated skin rash. Tears flood out of his eyes.
I keep rubbing his belly and the crystals keep staring back at me.
You won’t have an abortion. I won’t allow it.
I grab a towel and try to wipe some of Charlie’s tears away.
Jake... I don’t want this... I said no.
Charlie swats at my hands, trying to push them away from his face. The crystals burn.
I don’t want to hurt you... we have to be responsible now... this is the only way.
My hands reach for Charlie’s face and cover his eyes. My own tears are streaming down my face and air won’t go into my lungs. The crystals are burning my hands. Charlie is screaming and the crystals are burning my hands.
Looks like I can tame you after all.
“NO! Leave me alone!” I scream.
I grab a paring knife from the dish drainer. I plunge the knife into Charlie’s tiny chest, underneath his soft ribs, and into his tiny beating heart. His weak ribs crush under my balled fist and I feel his lungs squish under the broken bones. His screaming is cut off in the middle of his breath. His eyes glisten with fresh, hot tears as if they were still alive. As if the crystals were still there. But all of the life they had once held had already floated away.
I slump to the floor, curling into a fetal position and sink onto my side. New tears rush my own eyes to the point where my sight is completely blurred and my cheeks flush with hot blood. I watch the small stream of blood dangle off of the counter like a string. I still have the paring knife in my hands. I run my index finger along the blade, feeling its sharpened surface. It is smooth like a marble. I lightly tap the point, and keep tapping, until a small speck of my own blood appears on my fingertip.
The crystals lay silent.