Felicia C. Sullivan
There was no shade, only sun
He whispers syllables into your hair. We take a home in the country under a curtain of snow. Everyone tells you that you are breakable. Diagnosis: Borderline. In response, you hoard glue, duct tape, sewing and First Aid kits. You are multitudes when you need to be singular; you exist in the space between now and before. The future is a suburb, a steady metronome of dinner parties where nobody eats (I have that allergy; I’m not eating anything red at the moment; I’m in that new anti-butter group, etc.) and toes tightened under sheets. You look up and see cracks in the ceiling instead of the sky plagued with dark matter, and wonder if there is a difference between the two. Often you have nightmares of standing in front of parked cars. You are promised betterment. Maybe you live in a foreign country now? You can’t tell with all the snow. Your neck is swollen. You have problems swallowing. This is a phase, this man tells you. You feel time moving beneath you. Has it been months, years? Pull through it, friends write on postcards with no return address. You wake to find he’s bound your ankles in ropes. In case of a seizure, he says in a way that’s not reassuring but tries to be. He smells like castor oil, sometimes honey. Often, both.
You will get better.
Where do you get the honey? Placing capsules on your tongue, he says, you’re talking in your sleep again. But I’m awake, you say. He pours water into your mouth, closes it. You’re asleep, he assures you. Goodnight, sweet girl.
You weren’t always with him. Once you had another. The other man bit your ear and liked it when you let your hair grow wild, everywhere. You were his forest, all tangled trees and veins on leaves. He liked penetrating the dense and impenetrable. The other man liked when you screamed. The man here, standing over you right now, prefers silence. To prove it, he stuffs wads of tissue in your mouth whenever hunters or hikers pass by. You don’t particularly like the taste of paper but you get used to it. He reminds you of your father, who did these sorts of things to you, too. You think about your mother, who once told you she was going to take a trip and she would come back for you, but she never did.
One day you see the other man’s picture in the paper. This was before the snow, before the country. Do you have a passport? Did he pack it? You don’t remember getting here, only that you woke, arrived. Parts of the man were spread across the highway. A tragedy, the writer lamented. Even, says the man sitting in a chair in front of your bed. He spends his days asleep and when he wakes he asks you, over and over, if you love him. When did you stop loving him? Did you love him when you were with the other man? Do you miss the other man? Do you think of him? Through all the questions you find it odd that you can’t remember having a face. Even, he says. Even. Sometimes you think he’s saying evil, but you can’t be sure because the snow drifts and the fires he sometimes lights makes it hard to hear.
He likes wild turkey—the drink and the animal—and sometimes he leaves you for a day while he drives through the wilderness to procure both. You are in the bed, roped in, snug as a bug in a rug, and outside you see the blue peaks of mountains and the blanket of snow sweeping in and this puts you to thinking about sugar, and how long has it been since you had a treat, something sweet? Multitudes. When you were small you remember doors bolted shut. You see a door close in front of your mother’s small, tired face and you and your father locked in on the other side. Come closer, he said, unfurling a bag of suckers on his lap. Back then you got really good at losing time, blacking yourself out. At your wedding, your father hugs the man who likes his turkeys and tells him: take good care of my girl.
You wonder if men make manuals and pass them around. How to take care of the girls, how to feed them, how to discipline them when they’ve done a bad, made a wrong. It’s been hours and you are alone and your stomach makes the noises you’ve grown accustomed to hearing and you say, hush and quiet, but you can’t hear yourself make sounds. Maybe in the game of Even, the man you married took away those things too.
One day you go blind in your left eye. The man who you assume is your husband tells you that you don’t need an eye anyway, and there isn’t much here by way of scenery. In the cabin the man who looks like your husband sometimes drags your dresses along the floor, the pretty ones, and reminds you that there are no parties here. The room smells of cedar and bleach and the tall glass of water in the hand you can no longer feel is cloudy. You are lambent, you are gold, you are sun, and you say, I love you sweet boy until you lose the sound of your voice.
You don’t notice your expanding waist, belly growing, until it does. You jut your chin out to the boulder beneath the sheet. What’s that? He says, a reminder. Sometimes you wake and feel altered; he’s stealing your biology. You remember failing chemistry and how your father made you eat all the sweets from his lap, and the place in between, until the periodic table burst from memory.
You remember a book you read about a mother who fed her children arsenic because she had mistaken them for mice. The children died and the mother buried them under a mulberry tree and then hung herself. You imagine her hair and blue-bruised neck and you thought it was so terribly pretty. The man, who you think you’re married to, tells you arsenic originated from the Greek, arsen. Lying with strong men, he laughs. You lied and here you lie. The water you drink is sweet, metallic, and he blames it on the pipes, the drains. He tells you not to worry, he’s only giving you a little bit of the medicine, just enough to see how you feel. He points to the boulder beneath your skin and says, even. How do you feel?
Sometimes you get sick and this angers him, the fact that you’ve ruined the bed. Rarely does he untie you and when he does you can’t remember walking. How did you get to the bathroom? There are other rooms? Is that the door leading to the car leading to the road leading to home leading to the sky that is filled with dark matter? What’s the difference between there and here? Men occupy both places with candy in their lap.
When the boulder fades from view you are so sad. You feel nothing but you remember a foot. You felt a kick.
We will pull ourselves through this, says the man you suspect you’re married to. He folds his hands in his lap and drinks a glass filled with wild turkey—the drink, not the bird. He tells you that you were once wild, unable to be domesticated like small cats, but you’re getting better. He can tell. He can see it. You adhere to his supplications. You have to know, he says, that this is killing him. He is hurting too. You nod and ask him where are your feet? You distinctly remember feet and the fact that you had two of them, and now they are gone. He sighs. The thing about sacrifice—he begins. Love is always just beyond our sacrifice.
When you are small you remember waking in a boat and your mother putting her hand over your face. You are running, you will flee, and go to another country. You are outside of Amityville, on the edge of the Long Island Sound, and your mother seems to believe that this is the right course of action. She once lived with a family in the woods and she was known as #60, and if #60 escaped from the Prophet, your mother says, we can leave your father. She’s been planning this for months! She left a note for your father and a slice of cake that had the taste of copper coins. But men in a boat brought you back because what woman rides the Sound with a child in a dingy? There’s something not right with that kind of woman. Men delivered us back to father, no return address, and your father alternates between vomiting on the floor and punching your mother in the face. Your mother takes it until the day she no longer does and goes out to the Sound on her own and lies there. You remember that day and how you had to scrub the floor of memory. The next time she leaves it’s for good and you are alone in your house with your father and his good riddance, and you are the queen in his kingdom until he passes you over to another.
The man who is not your husband glides your body gently on a lake. Standing in the snow, he waves. He’s done playing house. You are missing, in parts. There are no arms to flail. You float until you no longer float and the sky is beautiful and grey and masculine and arsenic and you wonder if this is the sky your mother saw too.
Felicia C. Sullivan is the author of the memoir, The Sky Isn't Visible from Here (Algonquin/Harper Perrenial, 2008) and the novel, Follow Me Into the Dark (Feminist Press, 2017). Born and raised in New York City, she now resides in Los Angeles.