It’s no longer just the two of us. A third party watches our every move. At first, we laughed and played and danced, interrupting only to kiss, but now, with this new being, I hesitate, steal glances at it instead of him, and he’s pushed out of my thoughts in favor of this monster.
Two or three months after the beginning of our relationship, I felt bloated with thoughts and emotions and shook with nervousness every time I thought of him. He had a solution: he said those three words. And then I echoed him and my balloon of a body deflated. It was the first time I had ever said that to a man. We smiled and hugged and kissed. But this happiness was short-lived, because when we parted, there it was: Love.
It looked like a ghoul, skin green and pox-ridden, eyes staring blankly, and after we first said those words to each other no matter where we went, no matter what we did, as long as we were together, there it was.
I’m not sure if he ever saw it. He never reacted to the monster, never cringed, never drew away from its heavy breathing. And so I never asked him. How could I open up to him about it? Had any of my family ever experienced this thing? My mother, father, sister, uncle…uncle…
Sometimes he’d ask what was wrong. I had started trembling or frowning without realizing it while staring at the ghoul. I always shook my head and said something about work being stressful. A few activities helped me get my mind off it, like when we went ice skating or hiking, but these were temporary fixes. At the end, the puke green face staring at me was still there. And, no matter what we were doing, if he said those three words, there it was.
One night, trying to get to sleep, I began crying.
“What’s wrong?” He asked.
Love had been floating high above me, staring. “My uncle,” I said. “He was diagnosed with cancer.” It was true, he was in the hospital. I had gotten the call the week before. And I hadn’t told him yet—the right time just hadn’t come around. But I said I had heard today.
“That’s awful. Are you okay?”
I was okay. My uncle had babysat me a lot as a kid, but now I barely kept up with him. I wasn’t happy about it, I wasn’t sad, I just was.
Even though he had a presentation the next day, he stayed up with me, comforting me until I calmed down. Whenever he did something nice like that, I wanted to reward him, sometimes with a nice meal, usually with sex. So the next night, I offered myself to him. We did it our normal way, missionary without much movement from me; he didn’t like it when I did that, but at this point it was habit: during my first sexual experiences the guy had wanted me just to lie there.
As he pumped, Love floated by, looking more decrepit than ever. Its puke-emerald face was thinner, and sores had opened along its cheeks and arms. It issued a slight moan like a zombie.
A few days later my father called. The cancer was terminal. I told my father I was sorry and a few days later told him. He asked if I wanted to take a plane to see my uncle. I said we weren’t that close and I had a lot on my plate at work.
I could picture my uncle wasting away. His body becoming frailer, lying in the white hospital bed. He asked me about my uncle but all I gave him were vague answers.
It is no longer just the two of us. He came to me, told me he’s sorry this had to come at a time like this, what with my uncle, but he can’t do it. He wanted in but I won’t let him in, he said. I couldn’t believe it. I started to cry. I smashed a plate. He said he was sorry and then left. But Love remains. And it is just the two of us.
Its skin looks worse than ever, more mire than membrane, and his lips have decayed to the point where his always visible teeth suggest a smile.
The phone rings. My uncle has died. The funeral is at such and such a date. I say I will come but I don’t book anything.
The next few days I sit in a chair and stare at the ceiling. Love still watches me from a corner. Finally I get up, go to the phone, and call him. No answer; I leave a message. I’m ready to tell him. My uncle once gave me the advice to keep quiet, and thus far that’s what I’ve done, but I’m ready to open up to him. Will he call back?
I go to the mirror and practice what I will say. Or try to practice. My lips move, nothing comes out. Love still watches me. I try again. And again. No voice issues out. I cough, try again. Love still watches me. Its skin is so decayed, various cuts have formed and appendages look ready to fall off. But its body does not crack open.