Lana’s long hands droop between her knees.
Once, I called them ‘orangutan hands.’ Samantha hadn’t been conceived yet. Lana’s eyes were wide at first, then underlined by creases. She laughed and slapped my jaw.
She hasn’t laughed since I left. I haven’t stopped watching her, and I’ve watched for a smile. One of these days, our Sammy will tell that seven-ate-nine joke. She’s only five years old, I think. She won’t understand it, she’ll just hear it at school and know it’s funny. She’ll want to repeat it to her mother. Lana’s lips will stretch dutifully, and there will be a noise that will fool Sammy and that will be good enough.
Lana does this a lot. She takes Sammy to school and then she comes home and sits on the sofa, leaning forward slightly, her fingers pointing at the floor between her knees. I watch the clock’s hands—Lana’s face turns stupid after twenty minutes or so. The lids fall halfway across the orbs. The lips part. Sometimes, she snorts and startles herself out of falling asleep.
I used to watch her falling asleep. We never closed the curtains, and she was golden with streetlight. Her brows would crawl towards each other, twitching, and her mouth would sag. Then she would remind me of Melpomene, of the tragic mask. Was something in her past hurting her? Something she couldn’t tell me? Or was she looking to the future—to now?
But she could be happy also. We were cuddled up in bed, her thigh resting on mine. Her body was tense, tendons tight as guitar strings. I rubbed her shoulder. She took my hand away and held it, pressing. Then she said, ‘How would you feel about adding a third player?’ After loving her, my mind was as light and playful as a pink Post-it note, and what she wrote there could not be serious. I said something like, ‘As many as you want, baby.’ Her body relaxed then, becoming liquid, filling up the empty spaces between us.
Twenty minutes pass, but this time Lana’s eyes are alert. She leans back, her orangutan hands dragging across her legs, stroking them, from the knees to the hips. Her fingers press down, skin dimpling under thin black leggings. She says my name, looking down. ‘My poor boy,’ she says. Lana. I have no mouth, no lungs, no vocal chords. I cannot speak. But I try it again, reminding myself of those first few desperate weeks of shouting without sound into the faces of my loved ones. Lana.
A month—or was it two months?—after, Lana greeted me at the door in a sheer latex dress. She smiled with only the left side of her mouth, her head tilted. She hooked a long finger under my belt buckle and pulled me inside, slamming the door closed with a high-heeled foot. I watched her walk up the stairs, taking small, neat steps, and then I followed. She slipped into the bedroom and half-closed the door. I waited outside for a moment, watching the glow of candles on the dresser. Then I pushed the door open.
Lana’s hands move towards each other, from her hips to the soft, slack flesh of her inner thighs. Her index fingers hook, her thumbs create a triangle above her mons pubis. The middle fingers begin to slide up and down either side of her labia, contouring it, pushing out against the leggings. I want to close my eyes, but I have no eyes. I turn away, but she is there in front of me.
There must have been a hundred candles—maybe more. They had burned away most of the oxygen, replacing it with their many scents: lavender, blueberry muffin, rustic log cabin. Rose petals were scattered on the bed and the floor around it, and among these petals sat Lana, one leg crossed over the other. I jumped back, hiding behind the door, excitement extinguished. Can’t be, I thought. An illusion. Candlelight trick. Very stuffy in there. I stepped back into the bedroom, but she was still there. Her head was leaning on Lana’s latexed shoulder, her dreadlocks hanging nearly to the floor. Lana said, ‘Say hello to Iris.’
The middle fingers slow down and stop. Lana goes to the kitchen, pours a glass of water and drinks half. She kicks off her trainers, then takes off her leggings and throws them into the washing machine. Stop staring! is printed on the back of her pink briefs—I remember them from before. They’re starting to tear slightly at the sides. How long has it been?
Iris had pierced nipples.
‘She can just watch,’ Lana said, holding my hand. Iris nodded and smiled. I forced out another no.
‘No?’ Lana released me and crossed her arms. ‘I thought you wanted this. I know you’re nervous, so let’s just have Iris watch this time.’ Iris leaned forward.
‘I can join in at any point, if you change your mind.’ She sounded vaguely Scottish. I pressed the light switch, killing the allure of the candles. In electric light, the rose petals looked like shreds of blood-stained tissue.
‘I’m sorry, Iris,’ I said, ‘but you should get dressed and leave.’
Lana takes her laptop from underneath the coffee table and turns it on. She balances it on her naked lap, then places it on the table in front of her. Soft sounds emanate from the machine, so quiet that they could be coming from a hole in the ground. Inward breaths; muttering; something damp and viscous that makes me think of eating soup in a sauna. A white rectangle flickers in each of Lana’s eyes.
Iris left. She put on her clothes as casually as Lana would on a Sunday morning, and told us to give her a call when we were ready. Lana saw her off, apologizing in the doorway, while I slapped away the rose petals and reclined on the bed. When she returned to the bedroom, she was the tragic muse again. ‘I don’t understand,’ she said. Her show of hurt made my fingers twitch. ‘This kink of yours,’ I told her, ‘needs to be contained. No, it needs to be fixed. You need to see a psychiatrist, and you need to fix it.’ Lana pulled one dress strap off her shoulder and down her arm, stretching it, then did the same with the other. She rolled the latex down her body and sat at the foot of the bed to remove her shoes. ‘I don’t understand,’ she repeated, her back to me. ‘You were fine with this. You said, as many as you want.’ I searched the filing cabinets of my memory and found, after a few moments, the pink note with the silly message. ‘You weren’t serious. Oh my god, how in hell could I know you were serious?’
Lana’s hands rove around her thighs. The sounds from the laptop become louder, more distinct. Her right hand travels up; the fingers nuzzle the top of her briefs and slip under. I strain without brain or muscle to see what she is seeing. The room shifts until I am looking over her shoulder. The screen shows two men, verging on bodybuilders, one with long brown hair, the other bald. Lana is breathing as heavily as them. The room begins to lose its pigment, to erase itself. The walls go first, then the furthest objects. The eye of the storm tightens, taking everything but Lana away. In the distance, miles away, I notice a small shape, and I know that it is Sammy, in her school which no longer exists for me. Lana did not want children.
One day soon, Lana will meet a stranger who will take her, will take all of her, in exchange for all of himself. As much a parent to Sammy as I was, and a better lover to Lana, a truer friend. She will be happy then, and free, with him filling up most of her heart and me tucked away safely in one of its crevices—not because I deserve that haven, but because my death preceded that of her love for me and made it eternal.
I can’t see Sammy anymore, and Lana is evaporating, like fog on the bathroom mirror. I make a final wish: look at me, see me. But I was invisible, and now I do not exist.
Olga Kolesnikova (They/he/she)
Olga Kolesnikova is a UK-based writer of fiction and poetry. They studied Creative Writing at Kingston University London. Their debut poetry pamphlet, Chronicology, was published by Sampson Low in 2018. Their work has appeared in Luna Station Quarterly, Reliquiae, and Perverse. Find them on Twitter @Kolgasnikova.