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Bougainvillaea

Haidee Kruger

I
I am here, because even if he was my ninth man, he was the first to fuck me like I was really there. I am here because he digs into my flesh, unavoidable like a stone in a shoe. I am here because with him I am container and contained. I am here because with him I can be meat and word.

I am here, for this. So I think.

He warned me that it might not be enough. He spoke about the way roads melt in the heat, about the sullen, mute plain, about the unexpected sinkholes. He spoke about the dust sucking up time.

I smiled and thought about his cock.

I brought a rain-water tank, for the risk of rain; a clock, with teeth to trap time. I brought my collection of crimplene dresses in pink and red and turquoise as antidote to the bleached air. I brought enough disposable razors, because he likes me shaven but slightly stubbly. I brought a fan. I brought as many words as I could, carefully wrapped in novels, e-mails, magazines, cookbooks, newspaper clippings, dictionaries.

When we first arrived it was night. The plain looked like a puddle of milk; the sky was filled with the whites of eyes. The house was an inkblot against the shadow of the mountain behind it. We left everything in the car. We went inside and fucked on the wooden floor while the sky watched through the window. I got splinters in my knees, but liked the way the pale light spilled over our skin.

In the morning we drank hot black coffee. I purposely angled my cup just enough to ensure a stain on the sheet. I spent a long time looking at the mark, trying to find the shape of him inside of me inside this place inside it. But I couldn't quite fix its contours - the bare margins of the bed kept crowding into my field of vision.

Outside the landscape folded and unfolded without sound.

We talked some, but the words seemed to be tugged out through the open windows, into the thirsty space outside.

"Do you like it?"
"I like you."
"Here?"
"Yes. Here."
"..."

The rest disappeared into a sudden draught coming up through the floorboards, like the soil exhaling. My skin stood on end. My mouth echoed like an empty reservoir. He put his tongue in it to make it better.

He fills me up. He does.

II
At night he goes out and cuts holes in trees so that the telephone wires can go through them. If he didn't, municipal workers in orange overalls would come and chop down the trees. It's lonely work; quiet, obsessive. But he likes it. He likes the idea of making holes in things as a way of keeping them whole. When we talk he carefully orchestrates his words around the gaps, like a funeral director fussing about the way the flower arrangements are placed around the grave. When we fuck he plays me like a game of pool.

Every morning, when he comes home, he first sharpens his tools: saws, shears, axes. He does it in a closed room, shuttered against the chronic glare, while I watch. I like the blades, the serrations, the edges in his hands. I like how they move. I think about how they eat into wood. I think about how they eat into skin. I think about wood and skin and blades, until they become something else, something that makes my insides contract. Afterwards we take off our clothes, watching ourselves in the reflection of the polished metal lying on the floor.

We sleep most of the day, while outside the light throws itself against the walls of the house.

III
At night, when he is away, I play scrabble. I play against myself; I change the rules as I please. The object of the game is to find the word that is him.

e r s v e
sever eve verse veers serve

l w o s e v
vowels sew love solve vow wolves

r s e n e p t
serpent enters rents present tense trees repents

I keep the best ones to show him when he gets home. I put them in his hands. They are currency, exchange. I watch him sharpening his tools in a dark room.

IV
I'm not sure when it started happening. Things started disappearing. Things stopped growing back. It was like everything was involuntarily in love with absence, like everything gravitated towards the blankness of the landscape outside.

My books started to shed. The first time I noticed it was when I looked up the spelling of bouillabaisse in the dictionary, and saw that there was a word missing, between bouffant and bough. I cross-checked in all my other dictionaries, but everywhere was just a neat white hole in exactly the same place. I tried to forget about it, but it kept happening, more and more often. I would open a book, and a few words would just be gone. I spent nights fixing the broken lines of type, but the fractures grew faster than I could mix up mortar.

My body became smoother, softer. My pubic hair no longer grew back after I had shaved it. My legs stayed glabrous, unmarked. I didn't have to cut my nails. The sensation of fading followed me through the house like a powdery trail. On photographs I looked pale and muffled, disappearing into the background. One day, looking at myself in the mirror I thought I was looking through an open window.

We didn't talk about it much. There was too much whistling space around. But I did start writing on him while he was sleeping - random amulet strings of words winding around his legs and stomach and back:

minstrel ignite gossip
flash diptych of
parasol peppermint fricative
graze somnambulism alkanet
paradox do rhizoid
wince future concertina
equator marshmallow neither
okra cynic borax
unpossessed trap mantissa
jinx naked synchronise
cellulose in levitate

When he woke, always, his skin had already faded back to white, like the endpapers of a book.

He sharpened his tools more meticulously. He went out earlier and earlier, barely waiting for dusk. I imagined him spacing the branches around the holes more carefully. At home, I worked harder at shoring up letters around the echoing blanks.

Then one night the box was empty.
The next morning he wasn't there.

V
I am here, for this, I thought.

I watched and waited. The landscape slowly swallowed the house, like a boa constrictor digesting a rat. The walls tilted inwards. I pushed back. I built struts and trusses. I barricaded myself against the saline, leaching soil.

I watched and waited. But the first morning I woke up with salt between my teeth and the wind like a blade in my neck, I left.

I did not look back.

VI
I live in the mountain. I am a blank page between its covers. Even if you squint, you will see no difference between me and it. My skin flakes like shale. I collect dust under my tongue. The soles of my feet have the brittleness of scorched paper.

I am here, for this:

I close my eyes and wait for it to come. From between the stones and shrubs, it swells. It rises up through my legs, through my cunt, through my stomach, into my chest, out of my mouth and ears and eyes and hands.

I spell it out in stones against my flank for you to see.

Today's word is bougainvillaea.