This story was published in the 6th edition of Saraba Magazine, which came out this month. However, due to technical issues, they have yet to put the issue on their website. So, I've put it here. It's not speculative fiction, but tell me what you think:
When you look at me and quickly look away, I notice. My mind immediately goes down that well-worn path of self-loathing. I think: “You can’t stand to look at me – this ugly creature like a great squat toad hulking beside you.” I can’t help it. In a quicksilver burst, think it before I even realize it.
It is worse when you smile, because all I can see is canned politeness, as if you bumped into a bag lady on the subway and you’re sorry for the inconvenience.
And when I speak, your eyes wander off. Your speech falters and I am left talking to myself as if at a sad puppet theatre where all the guests have left, but I have to finish the show.
Perhaps you think I deceived you. When we met that summer at your parent’s anniversary party in Michigan, I must have seemed like something liquid and exotic. Perhaps seeing me with your brother, the family rebel, with my tattoos, piercings and fondness for heavy eyeliner you thought me dangerous somehow. What you could not know is that he liberated me.
I was an art student at a privileged school I am too ashamed to name; he was the pizza guy who always had a smile for me. He was so different from all the soft milk-fed boys I’d grown up with. He expected nothing from me and I bloomed under his care. But it was brief summer romance and by the time we took that summer trip to meet your family, it was already a cool bank of dying embers, quickly turning to ash.
You’ve told me that you were drawn to the way I spent all my time with the old folks. That you loved the way I charmed your grandmother and made your dour aunts smile. But I think you were just restless. You had the spectre of layoffs looming over you and needed something to distract you. You saw me as some kind of heady drug promising adventure and life.
I should have known by your touch. You never reach for my hand in the company of others. You don’t brush the hair from my face or reach out to wipe away a stray bit of food or lint. You never touch me when you’re sober.
I am not dangerous or exotic or liberating. I am fragile. A weak, empty thing too easily broken to suit the men I love. I require more care than they are willing – or able – to give.
Now, I have become a burden to you. I am one more responsibility you must fulfil among the endless chores in your life. And I don’t know where to go from here. I know you will not give me what I need; I am a phase whose time has passed. Yet, I cannot stop hoping. Every time I cook a meal for you or clean your apartment, even when I give myself to you, I hope. Perhaps this is the act that will turn your gaze towards me.
Because a part of me lives and dies for your regard. When you whisper to me in the darkness it is prayer, your touch is benediction and when you are inside me it is salvation. This isn’t what you wanted, I know. You wanted someone to idolize, a goddess far above you at whose feet you could worship and when you discovered the truth, you lacked the courage to turn me away.
So here we are: a frozen tableau of unhappiness in a small breakfast place; our meals half-eaten. I stare at you through the dark curtain of my hair, my hands clasped nervously under the table and you look away. Idly playing with your coffee cup, you wonder where the check is.