It sneaks up on me and taps me on the shoulder. “Hey” it says, a smile of slightly crooked teeth. That four thousand dollar smile, the twinkling brown eyes gazing at me with intent. I realise I know who this is.
I glance over “Oh, Hi” I respond with a resigned sigh. “Soooooooo…. you’re back?” I ask. Nervously my right arm crosses over my torso and itches the spot right above my elbow. I glance down to the floor, one of my toes starts trying to rub a hole into the dirt path.
She giggles softly and nods, “I think so. I figured I was past due for a visit. It seems like things are going well” A pause with pursed lips. “At least that is what you told yourself anyway” it says. It looks kind of like me, it has a stronger voice than I do. It looks around, up at the clear blue sky ablaze in the morning sun, then back to the other version of me that is slowly getting more uncomfortable, fidgeting. It dips its head to the side, her eyebrows furrow slightly, a roll of her eyes. “Dude, it’s me. We’ve gone through this, like, a gazillion times.” She touches my right shoulder and forces me to look her in the eye. “You should be used to me by now, showing up right as you start getting things right.” A crooked smile.
Looking down, I turn my gaze inward. I feel my ribs crack open, the sound like dry twigs snapping over a bent knee. The sound echoing in the empty woods surrounding us. The insides of my body become exposed, everything starts to shift and move as my body unfolds itself. My pink lungs stuck to the inner lining of my rib cage, slowly expanding and compressing with each breath. The lower portion of my torso unfurls like a chair, abdominal muscles and intestines acting as a seat. I can see my kidneys pressed up against my back muscles. My heart follows a portion of my ribs and hides behind them. “Funny,” I think to myself, “I look so healthy on the inside” I take a seat on this chair made of my own body, I hear the squish of blood and organs under me. I look up at the other version of myself. A breeze shifts through the trees and I shiver in discomfort, silently wishing for a sweater “I kind of hoped that I had more time.” I mumble.
She snorts “For what? To get better at something? That’s laughable. Look around you. Stop being such a fool. Look at your friend over there, life is really taking off for her, her family adores her, her business is oozing success, her kids aren’t fucked up. She’s not fucked up. Not like you. She looks down at you, you’re the lesson to everyone, you’re that story she tells to all her friends & colleagues. You’re her fucked up loser friend who lost her whole life. She’s published her work in magazines and spreads he success everywhere she goes. She’s positive and people are drawn to her. She’s a magnet for smart, talented and driven people. You’re dead weight. Holding her down. Holding her back. She’ll tire of how pathetic you are soon enough.”
She grabs both my shoulders, peers at me with furrowed brows & an intent stare”Now look at your other friend over there, he didn’t quit that race. He’s doing what you were doing last year, going to the gym every day, biking every day. He’s doing what you were starting to do and then quit. He’s making good choices. He always has. He’s younger than you, smarter than you, has a better education, he didn’t get laid off, he’s had one job, one career path and he made it to the upper echelon of the company. He made so much money he doesn’t even have to think about getting a job right now. He’s doing what you wanted to do. He took every wish you had, every want and desire lives it out, and tells you about it. He reminds you every day, of your failure, of your pain, of your toxicity, of your sheer laziness. He’s going to finish something huge and amazing, and you aren’t even going to start. You’re going to watch him succeed all over again. You’re a shitty friend and a goddamn loser.”
My cheeks are burning hot, I feel mucus running down my nostrils rapidly I bring my wrist up to wipe away the gooey clear liquid before it drips from my nose. My eyes are saturated with tears, I feel them overflow & slide down my cheek. The heat of embarrassment coursing through me. My heart rate quickens. I push myself further back in my seat, starting to disappear inside the body. She steps closer toward me and I shrink away in fear of her.
“Oh sweetie” She croons, her lips are swollen slightly, in that state where one wants to lean down and plunk a juicy kiss. Her gaze has softened. She gives me a warm hug & steps back. I glare at her. She’s wearing my favourite plaid shirt, I can see the swell of her tits against her low cut black shirt, the crescent moon swaying as she bends towards me. Bitch, I think. She smiles in response. “You know this is for your own good. I’m here to protect you and keep you safe. Look at what happens when you’re left alone for too long. You dabble in daydreams, you start eating and you stop taking care of yourself. I mean, look at this!” She grabs the roll of flesh on her mid-section in emphasis. “I’m the one that has to take care of you. I have to start putting you back together, do you realise how much work I have to do to get this thing off us?” She lets the flesh go, her arm dropping to her side. She looks off into the forest, & runs a hand through her hair, brushing it over to one side. She looks back at me with a sigh “You are frustrating to live with. Sometimes I wish I could keep you trapped inside here permanently.” Gesturing with both hands to her sternum. “You’re an escape artist I’ll give you that much.” A pause “You think could actually make something out of yourself & be successful at something? Look at all the stories you’ve told yourself. You’re delusional. You can’t be trusted. Hell, I don’t trust you. And I’m you. What does that say?” She’s glaring down at me now. “You’re a liar. A convincing one. A dangerous one.” She reaches out with both hands as if to strangle me. I jump down off my human perch. She turns as she follows me. My shape has changed. I’ve turned into a black shadow. I crouch in the dirt. I feel the dead leaves under my fingers. I look back up at her, eyes wide and pleading. I am afraid.
“I’m right. I am right about you and all that you are. This is why you need listen to me. This is why I keep you locked away. You’re a goddamn nuisance when you get out.” She crouches like when she is speaking to a small child. That soft smile falls across her face. She reaches a hand out, the palm up in invitation. I want to dart into the bushes, hide so she will never find me to put me back in the prison but I know she is right. I tentatively step onto her hand and curl up inside her palm. Her fingers curl up to cup my tiny form. She turns back to the human cavity, she coaxes my heart out of hiding, she rubs it gently. I watch her fingertips trace the scorch marks, the brands, the scar tissue, the patchwork that looks like a 4-year-olds first sewing project, all the damage I have done. She touches them all tenderly. I see tears fall as she kisses it, the left ventricle shivers under her lips. With her index finger she discovers what she was looking for, she opens up the large hole in my heart muscle. The hand I am resting in moves toward the opening. I look up at her. “I’ll keep you safe. I promise.” She whispers.
I step inside the heart & turn. I watch her as she pulls my abdomen and lower torso into place. Both her hands clasp the splayed sides of my rib cage and presses them together like a wardrobe, I hear them creak & groan as if in protest then a muffled click as my bones set back in place. I don’t want to miss a moment, kicking with one foot I push off and up. I feel myself rush through the aortic valve, my shadowed form disperses into a million little molecules filling all corners of my body. I push my consciousness up to my eyeballs so I can watch her. She steps around the body, inspecting it from all angles making sure the body has sealed itself properly. She’s in front of me. She smiles. I watch her step toward me and disappear, I feel the body shift as she moves in. I feel her lungs fill with the morning scents, I can smell the river, the coolness of the air. I feel her blink the eyes open. I feel her pushing me back down inside the rib cage. I listen to the thud of her steps as she begins to walk, the soft giggle escaping her lips. In resignation, I slip back down to the heart and curl up in the right atrium. I wrap myself in a blanket of blood, I realise I am exhausted. I roll over onto my side. The steady drum of the heart lulls me to sleep, as I drift, I wish for dreams.