by Alex Aro
She moved her lips so I couldn't kiss them and told me I didn't appreciate what they had to offer. I asked her where she had put them; she looked strange without a pair of lips on her face. She told me she had hidden them and wasn't going to put them back until I realized what I was missing.
"When you kiss me," she said, "your lips are always pulling away, pulling back. You should be pushing them in, pressing them into mine."
"How am I supposed to do that when you don't have lips anymore?"
"Figure it out."
When she left for work the next morning, I ripped through the apartment in a search for her lips. I pulled frantically at the clothes piling in the closet; I went through each cabinet, under each sink. I checked inside books and bottles, through each item in the fridge. I couldn't find her lips anywhere.
She came home and saw the mess and knew what I had done. "You're not going to find them," she said. She shook her head, disappointed. I sat on the couch looking at her, nothing to say, desperately wanting those thin pink strips of skin to adorn her face.
"And besides, what makes you think they are in the apartment?"
That thought had never crossed my mind. But where else would she have put them, in the desk at her office or somewhere in the car? Would she have put them somewhere in public, tucked beneath some random rock in the park or dangling from the limbs of a tree?
She could see the confused desperation leaking across my features and laughed like an animal before going into the bedroom. I got up and left. Outside, the couples of the city strolled about, hands and arms linked, and everywhere I looked I saw lips, lips, lips. Under neon signs and damp streetlights, I saw couples pursing their lips and touching their lips, moving their lips across body parts and kissing, kissing, kissing.
At the top of the highest hill in the city, I looked out at the shadows of the buildings, the lit windows staring straight into me rather than me staring into them. I lay down on my back, eyes to the stars and began kissing my hand so I wouldn't forget what kissing was like. It wasn't anywhere close to the same as kissing her.
I came home in the black of the early morning, and she was asleep. I stood at the foot of the bed for minutes or hours or years and stared as she lay in her sleeping state, content and relaxed, and in the darkness I couldn't tell that she no longer had lips, and for a little while I even forgot that fact entirely. I smiled as I undressed and slipped under the covers silently, trying my best not to wake her. That night I dreamt of a city where everyone's lips were three times the normal size so there were plenty of kisses to go around.
• • •
The next day her breasts were gone. She walked around the apartment topless just to prove to me that they truly were absent. There was nothing there at all; her chest was just flat and empty skin. There was no shape, no nipples.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"Oh, this?" she said. "Darling, I'm much more than this."
She moved her hands up and down her chest, teasing and taunting me. She looked even more bizarre with her combination of a lipless face and a breast-less body.
"Tits don't make the woman," she said as she slid a shirt over her head without putting a bra on first. "The woman makes the tits. Maybe you'll see that now?"
She blew me a kiss, though the true intentions were lost on me, before heading out the door for work. I was once again left alone to brood all over the apartment, to be haunted by the loss of her body parts.
• • •
There was a time when we were on and bright. When we would stroll through parks and lonely avenues, arms linked, hands held, laughter pouring from our lips. Last December, we secluded ourselves up in a motel room for three days and didn't look out the windows once. For three days, we left the world behind and created a new one within the confines of four walls and a bed. During the day, we lay in the bed and kept the television at a low hum, and we talked about everything there was to talk about. When the sun dipped we shut off the lights and explored each others' bodies. Her lips were full, her breasts ripe, her body curved into mine. The veiling darkness made us both seem all the more naked. At one point she wrestled me under the sheets, our bodies wet with kiss and sweat, and whispered in my ear, "baisez-moi." The sound of it shivered across my skin, though I did not know the meaning of what she said. That December was the warmest month of the whole year.
• • •
I waited around the apartment all day until night washed over and she still hadn't arrived home. I wondered what she could be doing. I pictured her at some grand party, dancing on top of tables; exposing her non breasts and making men want her all the more. Out the window, the city was so alive. The buildings breathed with light, and the streets celebrated with the noise of traffic and conversation. The apartment felt so empty, as though I was the only inhabitant on a distant planet and here, beyond the glass, was the discovery of a new galaxy teaming with energy and life. And somewhere out there, my fellow astronaut had abandoned the planet she had come from—or maybe the planet had abandoned her.
• • •
Her ass was the next to go. In the morning I looked up over the sheets with half opened eyes and saw her getting dressed. She caught my glance and pulled down her underwear to make
me aware. Her back went straight down to her legs. I closed my eyes and shook my head and could hear her chuckling to herself as she tossed her hair about in front of the mirror.
"That's right, no more ass."
I pulled the covers over my head and listened to her walk around the apartment as she opened cabinets and drawers in her routine before work. I refused to get out of bed until I heard the door close shut and the click of her heels on the sidewalk out front. Once I was assured she was gone, I quickly threw on some clothes and left for who knows where.
All I could notice on everyone I passed were the very body parts missing from her. In the coffee shop, young girls with young lips blew on their lattes until the temperature was bearable. I watched a group of three, chatting and giggling, watched how their lips moved with their words and gestures, how they parted so slightly to let out that filtered burst of air into their porcelain cups. My eyes moved as I traced the shapes of their bodies under their clothes and tried to pinpoint the exact moment where things began to spiral out of control. How did we end up in such a place where she felt the need to remove the most beautiful parts of her body?
• • •
We only went to the beach when the skies were gray because no one else did. We put down towels and lay down and stared at each other. We said nothing, but that void of silence spoke volumes. With each blink we ripped away the layers of our lives, the dilemmas that plagued us, the haunt of the everyday, until we were at our purest forms and instincts guided and connected us on that long stretch of sand. I felt like as long as we had these sands under gray skies, we could solve anything.
The summer season, which only ended a few months ago, seemed to stretch for miles. There was always more time, more adventure to be found, and more moments that rippled through us to the core of our hearts. We rose with the early sun and exhausted ourselves until its very last rays, on beaches and lakes, atop mountains and hills, through long winding streets and under the shadows of skyscrapers, love abounded in our travels. Still, as I thought, I couldn't find that one moment where everything shifted for the worse. There was only a fine line that distinguished the past from the present. I can only remember back then and right now, whatever laid in between was lost in the far-off seas of my mind, and I sat marooned on a lonely island without a raft.
• • •
I didn't see her for the next three days. She was home at times, I saw evidence of it, dishes moved from the table to the sink, new envelopes opened and left astray, windows I had left open suddenly closed, but she could only have been there when I was asleep because I never left the apartment.
On the fourth day, I awoke and immediately her absence was still heavily present. I stumbled into the kitchen and saw a glass bowl on the table with what I thought at first had two marbles in it. The glass bowl wasn't there before I went to bed, further evidence of her coming and going while I slept. What was inside the bowl weren't marbles, but her eyes. Her beautiful viridian eyes, sitting idly at the glass bottom like some surreal display. I touched them once, felt their squishiness, and retreated to the living room in fear I might somehow blind her by pressing them too hard.
• • •
The first time I told her I loved her she said nothing in return, though I could tell in her face that she wanted to. We sat in a theater, the credits rolling on the screen, all the seats emptied except ours. She was babbling about the movie and the infidelity of the characters, about her lack of faith in the future of our culture as a whole, when I turned to her and said it simply.
She stopped talking mid-sentence, stopped moving her body entirely, and stared straight ahead at the screen as the names whisked by faster than she could read. We walked home that night in silence, but she held my hand to let me know she was still there. I waited three days for a reply. It came during a botched dinner. I'd burnt the chicken, and we both attempted to eat the blackened meat, forcing smiles at one another, when she shoved her plate off the table, climbed on top, and crawled over to me. She shoved my plate aside as well and pasted her lips to mine. She pulled away slightly for a soft moment and whispered delicately into my ear the words I'd waited to hear back at the theater.
• • •
I finally saw her one evening when she burst through the door in a hurry. She saw me sitting on the couch and stopped. "Oh," she said. "I didn't think you would be here."
"Where would I be?" I asked.
"I don't know, not here."
"I've been waiting for you."
Then I noticed it. Now her arm was missing. She was deteriorating at a rapid pace. Rather than hide her fingers and then her hand, she had taken it all off at once. Her whole left arm and hand, the one I had always held, gone. She didn't make a comment on it, instead strode past me into the bedroom.
There was the noise of the closet door opening, objects inside being rumbled about, clothes being strewn aside, the door closing again. I heard her sighing and grunting and when she came back into the living room her other arm was gone.
"Did you just leave your right arm in the closet?" I asked.
"Well where is it?"
"I wish you would just see it," she said.
I barely saw her leave, she walked out the door so fast. I tried again to think of those moments lost in the void, the moments between then and now, the wires that connected us between the joyous and passionate heartbeats we once felt and the cold and isolated moments we now shared. I could vaguely recall fights where we said things we didn't truly mean, but somewhere inside, I had begun to tug my heart away from hers. I could hear insults that stabbed and maimed us, and kisses and pathetic apologies trying to bandage up the wounds. I could slightly see her across that ocean, that void of memories between us, waves crashing onto our shores, her island eroding and moving further away from mine.
And there was one night, I could see the details of it now coming to the surface, when we made passionless love, like it was a uniform we wore, and she looked at me afterwards, her breasts still moving fast with her breathing, strangely and intently. I stared back at her but could not meet her eyes fully. They were invading, peering into me, and I wasn't in the mood to be so open. I looked around her eyes, at her nose, her mouth, and she took her hand and moved my face until her eyes met mine and she stared right through me, saw me more naked than I was there lying beside her, beyond my flesh. "I love you," she said. And this time, it was an utter reversal of the theater, her mouth spoke and mine was silent. She laid out her heart on the bed, let its beat ripple across the sheets, made it pound into my ears, and I could not find the right words to return. She stroked my hand, her fingers soft and inviting, her eyes still piercing, anticipation swelling for my mouth to open, my voice to speak, and my heart to flutter out of my chest and join hers on the bed between us. I muttered the words and turned over to face the other side of the bed. I wanted to believe what I said, I wanted to fully mean it but somehow I couldn't. I had started tugging away my heart with each increasing fight, each violent outburst. Here was the moment I had seamlessly forgotten, perhaps purposely, where our love took a separate path. I questioned if I could ever fully love at all. A moment I now, upon looking back, wish I could have ended differently, displaying my affection adamantly, curling her into my arms, locking lips and singing love so loudly we'd paint midnight a new shade.
• • •
I remained in the apartment, not wanting to go out and see happy couples, smiling teeth and kissing cheeks. I kept replaying all the lost moments in my head, the places where we turned all wrong, where I turned wrong. There was still love in my heart, I could hear it and feel it, like the last drops of liquid swooshing around in a bottle, enough to satisfy your thirst. I wanted to erase the bad, to set us back on the right path, to kiss and understand why, to hand my heart over willingly and with a purpose. I phoned a florist and had him deliver roses to the door and then I waited for her to come home. I did not see her for another four days. I forgot water and the roses wilted, the petals sailing down to the floor like a slow suicide. She was in and out the door again, muttering something about the roses, she had no arms and one leg and I tried to find some sort of words to throw at her before the door slammed. I reached down into my heart for something, my anxious chest tightened but my lips kept shut. I heard her one-legged footstep on the sidewalk outside, walking to wherever it was she going and dreamt of a time when those legs walked to me and her lips were on her face and we kissed and kissed until our vision was so black we swore we were blind.
• • •
I slept off hours until I couldn't tell time. At some point the phone rang, and I picked it up.
"You should have found them by now." It was her.
"You weren't even looking. My lips, my arms, you could have put me back together goddamnit!"
"I tried already. I don't know where the hell you put them, really, please…"
"You know what I have now? I have all these boys bringing them back to me. I was in the park and all these boys were holding my body parts, trying to put them back on me, wanting to love me."
I pulled the phone away from my ear for a moment, picturing boys holding her in pieces, kisses on their minds, eyeing her. My stomach punched itself, sickness shifted in my veins.
"I wanted…oh, never mind," she said and hung up.
I couldn't keep the images of other boys out of my head, watching them scramble to gather her arms and legs, kissing them tenderly, handing them to her with utter adoration, eyes twinkling with romantic intent. I wanted to smash them all, snatch her arms and legs, gather up her lips and put them back myself, bow down on one knee and confess my love, shout it so loud the city would shudder under the weight of my words. I wanted to kiss those lips and push in, push in so deep we'd frolic in her throat and soak up the heat inside each other's bodies. I wanted her skin and arms, her legs wrapped around me, our nakedness apparent and our body parts intact. I wanted her sex and lust, the silent moments and loud conversations, the moods and tones, the ambiance that she carried like an extra appendage.
• • •
There is a crash of glass, and I'm awake. I rustle around in the sheets for a minute, trying to find myself fully, untangle my legs and swing out of bed. There's music blaring from the living room, and I can hear lots of voices shouting and laughing, male voices.
I open the door and there is a crowd of boys around the coffee table, downing alcohol and praising the air. There is movement on the table. I can hear her footsteps but she is nowhere to be seen. They are screaming for more, stroking her ghostly legs as they dance, her invisible dress parachuting out and giving them a show.
I start to shout, but the boys don't acknowledge me. I run to the stereo and unplug it, but the music still pours out of the speakers, bouncing bass and hot rhythms, and I know she is dancing, painting the room with her elegance. She is smiles and bulging cheek bones, she is sweating happiness, all attention on her, hearts beaming.
And then I can see her, pieces of her appearing, her arm flails in the air, her other arm grabs at her hair, sexually pulling. Her legs bob to the music, stomping across the table, accepting the caresses of the drunken boys. Her lips are full and pursed, kissing apparitions, her eyes awake and open to the world around her, the party of life, a city offering its arms.
Then there she is in full, moving her dress in all directions, teasing the boys, torturing me, and I'm the one fading. We are trading full flesh for unobservable wounds. There's a flash, and I see our time together condensed into minutes, her birthday celebrated in laser lights, her hips swinging in a yellow dress, our hands clasped under streetlights, kisses under the shade of trees in parks, a fabulous kite swaying in the breeze, candid conversations under the covers, the language of our bodies, the flight of our hearts, and the darkness around it.
With nothing left, I make a dash for the window, and, distracted by the music and her radiance, no one looks over as the glass shatters. As I fall, I can feel my skin fading into bone, fading into nothing, and all around me the windows of the city stare and hold their breath, waiting for the last whisper of a lover and his empty heart.
Copyright © 2013 by Alex Aro