Love Triptych

Love Triptych

Panel One

We removed our heads to achieve a new level of intimacy. I read about it in the magazines, and I thought we should try.

“Be gentle,” I said with a weak laugh.

I was nervous, heart racing, eyes fluttering and taking it all in as he slid my head from my neck. I saw the world from strange new angles: flashes of the ceiling, then his face, then the lower half of his body, then the random pennies and dust balls beneath his couch.

I looked up at both of us from my head’s new place on the floor, the grain of the wooden floor pressing up into the bare veins of my neck.

A body can control itself without a head and mine did. I slid his head off of his neck and sat it next to mine.

Our two heads stared deep into each other’s eyes. Next to us, our headless bodies sat together with their legs crossed. It looked almost civil. The magazine had said this would happen.

“This is different, right? We’re trying something new,” I said.

The scene made me feel as if we were two teenagers who had not yet kissed, alone in an afternoon.

“It’s kind of sexy, I guess,” he said.

I wanted to touch his hand with mine, but that would have been too tender. A slow, sad song began to play in the background. Had it always been playing? It was our song. Was it?

Our headless bodies sat up and moved toward each other. When our bodies were close together, there was a shift in the air. Our hearts emerged up from the raw ends of our throats. The round shapes of our hearts peeked out of the holes like big, red pearls. I felt shot through with arrows. In the distance, I could hear the sound of rushing water.

Our headless bodies moved closer. Ever so slowly, our headless throats found each other and our exposed hearts touched, throbbing against each other for five long pulses.

Light shot all through my limbs and separated head. The world was suddenly a clear morning. All fog had dissipated and there we were, him and I, standing on mountain near a stream, which rushed loud and clean as our love.

 

Panel Two

Once two people are in love, it is time to go on vacation. I had also read about this in the magazines. I took him on a long boat ride to the black island, which was my favorite place.

“You’re going to love it there,” I said before we left, one Sunday morning, in bed. “It looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before in your life.”

He nodded into his pillow and said nothing. It was his way of being playful. I found it very handsome and endearing.

As the captain navigated the vessel closer to the island, a few features became clearer: The island was covered in old lava, which coated everything beautiful. The grass, the rivers, the trees, the sand - everything was coated beneath the bright blue sky.

He could see it for himself now, and he was not impressed. I have a sense for this sort of thing and I monitored his waves of disappointment as if I were a scientific apparatus.

“What the hell is this?” he asked. “Who would want to come to a place like this?.”

I believed there was beauty in all things, even the ugly. The utter gorgeousness of the whole awful world was always shooting through my chest. I had seen dead flowers and the bottoms of a dead man’s feet and found both as picturesque as a waterfall or a scenic canyon.

“Can’t you see?” I asked. “It’s gorgeous.”

This wasn’t the first time we both went silent. It had become a new pattern in recent weeks. Our spark was dulling. I could feel him retreating into his chest, but I had read in magazines that a vacation is a way to fight back against the impending onslaught of a breakup.

“Let me show you the mouth of the volcano,” I said finally. “You’ll understand then.”

“Fine.”

I was desperate to save it all somehow. The problem with the mouth of the volcano was that it spewed only more of the tar, which had a stench. It piled up on itself as it cooled, repeating itself, making strange shapes and masses which continued to double and triple around us as we watched.

“What the fuck, Sarah?” he said. “This isn’t sexy. This isn’t a vacation. A vacation has a cabana and a beach.”

The slick sound of lava piling and cooling made a sad, low buzz. It sounded as if the earth was regurgitating itself slowly from its own heat. I thought the sound was quite nice. If you closed your eyes, it was similar to the sound of the sunset, the sound of the weight of the sun dropping below the line of the earth.

“There’s something beautiful about this,” I said. “This is how life is, don’t you see? And isn’t that sexy?”

I was crying again, the sound was so large and beautiful. It filled my ears like a thrum of bees. He turned and stepped away without even kissing my forehead like they do in movies.

I stayed a while with that sound and the dusk. When I got back to the boat, the captain explained my man was long gone. I was learning more about love with each passing moment.


Panel Three

Panel three began with a trickle of blood. Us women have all known it.

“I have very slow sperm,” he said. “The sperm are almost dead.”

Recently, he had been reviewing the legs of other women when we were in public, their fleshy stalks, their ankles and knees. I was in a constant fluctuation of jealousy: I went too weak to walk over it, then so strong I could smash every window in our apartment.

Also as a result of the jealousy, I began to put a calculated effort into my appearance. I bleached my mustache and teeth, I plucked my chin, I took vitamins, I put the blue wax on my body, went hairless. I even loosened some very strict rules regarding contraception which was meant to increase the intimacy between us.

“You’re an animal lately,” he noted.

When he was inside of me, it was as if I were full again. I couldn’t think of anything else. It was the only way to be sure he was mine, even for a few moments. I wanted his child or an earthquake to bind us together. As a result of these efforts at beauty and this insecurity, I was constantly sliding myself onto his lap in a rubbing style of friction that often led to sex of some sort.

“Something is wrong with me,” I said weeks later. “I don’t feel well.”

I stepped into our bathroom and realized the blood between my legs. I didn’t want to bother him with all of that, I knew how sensitive our time together was now. I slipped out of my clothes and out of the bathroom, then out the back door, leaving a drop or two of blood on the floor as I left.

The woods behind his house smelled of animal musks. I went dizzy from the blood loss, I wasn’t in my body any more, I was floating above the scene. It was cold, I did feel that, the prickle of it across my skin.

Beneath my feet, the leaves and twigs made a terror soundtrack. All of the goodness in the world evaporated. Deep in the woods, I lay my body on a pile of dead leaves in the center of a ring of trees. The musk was much thicker. I could taste fur in my throat.

I lost the cells of us quietly, wrenching. I loved him so much I began to weep. The dark purple blood and clot covered the insides of my thighs, then soaked down into the leaves. I knew things would never be right again.

When I got back into the house, I showered then dressed. I sat next to him on the couch. The television blared a program. At the commercial break, he pressed his dry lips against my cheek. Life continued on that way for some time after.




Sarah Rose Etter is the author of a novel,  The Book of X  (forthcoming from Two Dollar Radio), and a short fiction collection, Tongue Party (Caketrain Press). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cut, Electric Literature, VICE, Guernica, Philadelphia Weekly, and more. She is the recipient of writing residencies at the Disquiet International Program in Portugal, and the Gullkistan Creative Program in Iceland. She earned her B.A. in English from Penn State University and her MFA in Fiction from Rosemont College. She currently lives in San Francisco.

Sarah Rose Etter is the author of a novel, The Book of X (forthcoming from Two Dollar Radio), and a short fiction collection, Tongue Party (Caketrain Press). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Cut, Electric Literature, VICE, Guernica, Philadelphia Weekly, and more. She is the recipient of writing residencies at the Disquiet International Program in Portugal, and the Gullkistan Creative Program in Iceland. She earned her B.A. in English from Penn State University and her MFA in Fiction from Rosemont College. She currently lives in San Francisco.


Four Poems

Four Poems

My first inclination is, I love you

My first inclination is, I love you