See & be seen & be scene Kayla Miller
See & Be Seen & Be Scene Kayla Miller
In the Days Since I Fell Out of Love with You
On the first day, that first day I fell out of love with you, I bought a hedgehog. I brought it home, to the home we say we made, when really it was built in the 1940s by subdivision men. The hedgehog slept in my sweaty, cupped hands as I showed it to you, a whitish sea urchin far from home. Your nostrils lifted slightly at the sight, over-plucked eyebrows slightly furrowed. You could not see his face, you said. To be honest, I had not seen its face yet either. This armored bar of soap, a perfect small mound of sharpened ivory, had not uncurled since the pet guy’d handed it over. Its soft underneath heated my palm, too much change in one day to face.
The day before, I was still in love with you. The day before, we went to the grocery store to buy spinach and ricotta cheese. The day before, you held out your loose long skirt in your hands and asked me how you looked. The day before, when I was still in love with you, we stood next to each other in our bathroom, our arms rhythmic as we both brushed our teeth, and we were close together: I could hear the specific swishings of your toothbrush against your boxy white teeth, and saw the sky-colored toothpaste pool in the valleys of your mouth, and I could feel the static electricity in your hair as it lifted in its own feat of kinetic acrobatics, solitary motions, current emanating from these strands and into my skin. We were close and I could feel it. When you were done spitting and gurgling tap water and spitting again into the sink, it was my turn. I spat.
On the second day, the day after I first noticed the wrinkled puddles of lipstick congealing on your thin lips, I masturbated for the first time in months. I was in the bathroom and you were in the kitchen. You were cooking something or other for our dinner. I had been reading, propped against the headboard and husband pillow. I was reading your magazine, the one with the stories on sex and men’s secrets, the one housing women with wet tan skin and bright yellow swimsuits, advertisements for gum and medical procedures, the before and after pictures, the way those women’s bodies had been cut and rearranged and sewn up again, sexier and slimmer and curvier, adding and subtracting where necessary. I looked hard at those magazine women. To fuck, to want to fuck, to want to fuck yourself. I skirted to the bathroom, the sounds of hot oil splashing in cheap frying pans fainter behind the thick of the shut door. Afterwards, I washed my hands and sprayed the air freshener you insisted be kept on the back of the commode, knowing that you would walk in and smell it, smell my sex in the air and know. Then I walked to the kitchen, leaned against the counter. Can I help?, I asked.
Last Sunday, when I was still in love with you, we conducted a dinner. It was the kind of dinner you loved orchestrating, the kind where we invited our families. You wanted the in-laws, who both lived within ten miles of our home, to intermingle. You claimed you needed our families to love one another as much as we loved one another. Or, if nothing else, at least we could prove to each pair of in-laws that yes, the other pair exists, we weren’t concocting them. You put onyx under your eyes, something you hadn’t done in months. You laughed that night at
dinner, at your dad’s too-loud stories, at my own nervous jokes. After everyone left and the dishes were tended to and the food stored and we changed into our sleeping clothes, you did yoga on a mat on the living room floor, following along to some shit on TV.
On my third day of not loving you, I kissed another woman. I told you I had to go on a trip for my job, an overnight trip. Two drinks after arriving at the bar I went to instead of where I told you I’d be, I met one of those bar women. I told her about the hedgehog. It was my thing now, bringing up the hedgehog to potentials, showing them my cell phone pictures to prove it. Always with its back to the camera, always waddling away. I've always wanted a hedgehog, the bar women said; and, They're so cute! I enjoyed being found adorable by stranger women, and stranger women enjoyed being fucked by someone they thought sensitive enough to keep a hedgehog. So we walked to a hotel down the street, we got a room and we fucked in it. She didn’t want to smoke afterwards or lay limbs entwined, she just went to the bathroom for a long stretch of minutes, then said thanks and bye and left, careful not to let the door slam shut behind her.
Two weeks ago, when I was still in love with you, we went to a spa together. I had never been. I need the heat, you said, and you didn’t want to go alone. The things I have done for you, you said. Now do something for me. First a massage, the shortest one because you were cheap, and you mostly just wanted to sit in the steam room, which was free, and soak in the showers with the nice jets, which were free, and use up all their free cotton swabs and shampoos and
conditioners. They had spray deodorant in tall cans that made sharp sounds against the locker room’s granite countertops, and even though I remembered you telling me you hated spray deodorant, I smelt it coming from your stained armpits as you left the locker room, the hinged door swinging steady behind you. I was sure you’d preened, you’d pushed mouthwash, free mouthwash, around and around in the puffed-out hollows of your cheeks, squeaking between the bookshelves of your teeth. You have always had terrible acne on your arms; ever since you were eleven years old you’ve had it, big whiteheads that you pressed between your pointed fingernails, leaving giant red splotches across your upper arms, behind your elbows, on the plains of your shoulders.
On my fourth day of not loving you, you did my laundry, and folded it. Thank you, I said. I wanted to tell you not to touch my clothes. You made a dinner I told you I loved. This was not entirely true, but it was one of your better dinners, and sometimes that’s enough. You put some of your candles on the table, three of them in a row, lit. You were smiling and rubbing your hands on my neck and I was smiling and saying mmm. That fourth night sleeping beside you without loving you, the hedgehog couldn’t sleep either. I didn’t know whether hedgehogs were nocturnal or not when I bought it. I still don’t. This one is.
Last month, when I was still in love with you, you wore lingerie under your clothes all day. It was our anniversary, and you looked around online and shopped for months beforehand, trying on countless garments, examining yourself for hours in dressing room reflections, for me. You wore false eyelashes,
something you’d never done, and appeared at my office wearing heels and business slacks. You kneeled before me, crouched under my desk, and even though you didn’t let me hold your hair and conduct your bobbing head, I came quick. Afterwards, I watched you readjust your blazer with only half-interest. You winked at me. You were so proud of yourself, I could tell. You magicianed a compact out of the mouth of your purse and reapplied salmon-colored lipstick. When you left, I checked the weather. The groundhog saw his shadow, still six more weeks ‘til spring. We had two inches of snow, its white blankness, somber.
On my fifth day of not loving you, I made a sandwich of your leftovers. A petty sleight, surely, but mean-hearted. You saved some something for yourself, on a plate with transparent wrap pulled tight over its edges. I smeared your something on two slices of bread that morning while you stirred too many spoonfuls of sugar into your coffee. I took lunch early that day because I knew you’d call around one. I wanted to be digesting your food by then, mastication completed and irreversible. You did call. I feigned innocence, not knowing what it was, that it wasn’t meant for me, and that yes, sorry honey, I’d already eaten it. You hung up angry. Two hours later, I called you back. Please don’t forget to feed the hedgehog, I said.
Back in April, when I was still in love with you, you asked about my previous lovers. You didn’t ask how their skin felt against mine, but instead asked how we had loved, how we had spent our mornings and our evenings, what we would say to each other in bed as our feet danced, and how we fucked and did I
think of her when she was not with me? What did I do, did I think of other women or did I think only of her? And now?, you asked. Same question, you said. You hated all women I had loved, because I had loved them. You confessed over overpriced coffee that you dragged your house key down my previous lover’s driver-side door. You confessed flippantly, laughing because it was back in college and things don’t matter when it wasn’t a love of your own, when it wasn’t now. When we left the coffee shop, you had already forgotten the blip in our conversation. Intent on whatever was coming next, you opened the glass door; I watched your scarf balloon behind you in the wind.
Six days after I fell out of love with you, we decided to go to bed early. Call it a night, you said. We lay down and left our bedside lamps on and turned the ceiling light out. I typed on my laptop while you read a magazine. Our bedside lamps: giant ancient things that towered beside us, with thick fabric wrapped in huge cylinders around the bulbs, sitting atop bulky stone bases. They made the whole room seem orangey and filtered and glowing. Soon after we lay down, you got up to take a shit. You went to the bathroom and left the door to our orange room open and took a shit. I played with the computer on my lap (the blups and gurgles of shit hitting water.)
Last year, when I was still in love with you, before our trip to Belgium where we feasted on waffles and stayed in bed for endless days, I slept with another woman. My first infidelity, a woman I had courted for months, a woman I flew to Belgium separately. On the same plane as you and I, sitting four rows to
the front and across the aisle, where I could see the dull reflection of the plane’s artificial light scatter across the back of her hair. She stayed in the same expansive hotel as us, in one of the highest suites, where I’d sneak off to meet her in the mornings, in the evenings, when you where taking your baths and spending your days walking the streets or sleeping. The days I spent with you found my lover alone in Belgium, sampling breakfast fingerlings and drinking coffee and snapping photographs. She showed me these photographs later, and in them I admired the way the light glowed round the edges of her, and the smoothness of her arms, soft and perfect, arms that felt new underneath the pads of my fingers, arms that I would wind my fingernails down, and if I felt her flesh rise, I’d rub the goosebumps out, a canvas now erased and perfect.
When a week had passed since I’d loved you, I came home to an empty house. Your things were gone. My things were gone. You took the couch and left the love seat. A big square of dust where the television had been, but you left my laptop. The hedgehog’s curled body squabbled and rolled about underfoot, and I remember thinking that I was happy you hadn’t taken it, too. You cleaned out the closet, something I’d asked you to do for months. You took your overflowing shoe container, an ugly plastic box capped with a blue lid. You took your sweaters, hundreds of them hung from thin wiry hangers. You took your jewelry container, another cheap plastic set of drawers that was colored neon green, something you’d gotten from the clearance section of the home supply store, something you’d purchased for its utility. You took your ten almost-empty perfume bottles,
one your sister had given you when you were only sixteen. You left the bed, but took the bedside lamps. You took the dishes but left our coffee mugs.
We were in love when we first toured this house. We found it in one of those thick free books of real estate, and you called to make the appointment with the guy because I’d always hated talking on the phone. We were giddy over it, thrilled with every choice between sofa upholsteries, recliners versus rocking chairs. It had taken some convincing, but I’d talked you into saying yes to a backyard hammock, something you thought tacky, and you pretended to be disinterested while I slammed its stakes into the ground. Sometimes during those warm nights, I’d walk to that corner of the yard in the dark, and close my eyes, enjoying the weightlessness of the hammock’s cradle. And some, some fewer nights, I’d hear some soft few noises in the dark, and see you tiptoeing through the buzzing night, on your way to the hammock, to rest with me.
And even then, yes we were in love even then, that first night you came home, the night you came home from work all quiet-like, and you asked me at dinner, as I chewed snow peas and you crafted dykes in mashed potatoes, that night you asked me real low, was it true? What they said, was it true? And I looked at you, and I knew what you knew. I remembered how beautiful you looked the first time I fucked you, and my dick twitched, remembering that first hot touch in you, and remembering how your breath met my ear, your wet mouth singing breath rhythms to me as I fucked you.
And I looked at you, and I said yes, it’s true. And in the days after you fell out of love with me, I was loving you.
Deer & Other Myth
Lynn Brainard had been filming everything since she was twelve. Her uncle, the bachelor who kept secret videos of the kids on the block - playing in their yards, crouched in sandboxes and legs flailed, mid-swing - he had an old camcorder he wasn’t using anymore. He gave it to her, offhand-like, and it was a clunker, really. A giant mass of a thing, a gray plastic box with bug-eyed flashbulbs and flapping straps. Lynn loved the way her hands slid into the camera’s hand-straps, loved the weight of it on her shoulders, loved the excited tingly feeling she got knowing that the tape was rolling, instant by instant, film toiling and tossed about inside the boxed plastic. Funny, he had really just given it to her ‘cause it was cheaper, you know, than actually having to go out and buy his twelve-year-old niece a birthday gift. Really, what the fuck do you get a twelve-year-old girl? Fuck. But Lynn got addicted quick. It was 1982, her tits were growing, and their small Hialeah, Florida home was bright. Summer was in its thickest months, the stretching days hot and shining, like living on a star. If they were a star, then their subdivision, with its rows of homes identical in their green interior carpeting and vinyl sidings and smoothed driveways, was the expanding nebulous Milky Way, a concocted blur of heat and light. Lynn liked it that way, liked riding down the street on her slightly too-small bike, her uncle’s used camcorder propped on her shoulder, silently documenting the rows and rows of ticking houses, replications with variety only in color and landscaping.
The days were long. Lynn liked to lay out on the home’s soft green carpet, alone in the living room, her mother waitressing and her father long dead. She’d set that camcorder down in the corner of the room, then lay there in a patch of sunlight from the window, recording the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed and watched dust dance in the hot sun. She’d raise her arms in the air, moving slowly, swimming through the heat of the room. Later, she’d watch these tapes, her ghost tapes, ‘cause she’d swear she could see ghosts moving in and out of the frames, behind the fuzz of the camcorder’s poor picture. Lynn liked the way she looked on the tapes she played back to herself, watching them on the square screen of the camcorder, smelly headphones clutched ‘bout her small ears. She liked the way her reddish hair glowed in the fluorescent light of her bedroom, the way the old thing couldn’t detect the freckles on her face if she stood back far enough or in the right light, and how in the playbacks her cheeks just looked kind of fuzzed over and smooth and grown-up. She liked her face better without the freckles; she’d decided that years ago. Ghost tapes, Lynn thought, are the best to watch. Ghost tapes were the ones with the sunlight bleaching her face, her tits unmistakably there, smudges of white entering and exiting at random, floating softly above Lynn’s extended fingers. Lynn was twelve and couldn’t wait for lots of things: sex, summer jobs, boys and backseats. Hours spent in this way, transfixed by her image and imaginings of teenagehood, were reminiscent of life as a house cat, thick and groggy and hard to remember, time spent baked and forgotten. Lynn pressed the camcorder’s small play button afterwards, seated on the edge of her bed, eyes attuned to the viewfinder, toes long and sticky in the heat, headphones bulbous.
Lynn lived most summer days like this, early hours enchanted by the ghosts of the house’s light particles, later hours riding her bike, exploring the backyard, reading. But always: the flashing red REC in the corner of the frame. Always: the camera rolling, the director shouting “Action, action!” without flinching, spittle flecked on thin lips. When Lynn’s mother came home after work and Jazzercise, her kid brother Caleb cradling in freckled arms, Lynn turned the camera’s lens towards these new subjects. At first, Terri Brainard was a smiling figure in the playbacks, and Lynn would scour her mother’s face for her own future image. Lynn’s gaze was unrelenting in judging this future; her eyes scanned her mother’s body fully, lingering more than momentarily over the full curve of breast inside buttoned chest. Terri grew suspicious, and tired, and tiring of Lynn and her camera and her flash, resenting the constant mechanic whir of the camcorder forever propped on Lynn’s wiry frame. After weeks of filming, and Lynn asking for more money in allowance for tapes, and the growing plastic bins filled with videos, evidence against Lynn’s hobby mounted. Terri didn’t like it anymore. She was a waitress, not Marilyn Monroe, for Christ’s sake. What was with this kid? Lynn had always been good, easy to take care of and get along with, not a whiner, not much of a talker, not a bitch. This camcorder shit had changed her; Lynn’d become a fixture, a permanent statue in the corner of every room, moving amongst aquiline bodies lithely, zooming in and out with precision and timing impeccable. And what did Terri want, really? For Lynn to just be fuckin’ normal. She worked for shit at a diner frequented by shitty tippers, and Terri just needed Lynn to be normal, because Terri knew that her own normalcy depended on it.
Terri had her own thing going, a man with hair on his chest and who made more than she did waitressin’ and was generous. A man with a dick that stood up and worked on command, and who didn’t mind that she had two kids, too. Was it so wrong, really, to just want her kid to be normal so she could bring her man home, and fuck him in her own bed? Though Lynn didn’t know the extent of her mother’s thoughts, she did know that her mother was smiling more, and laughed easier, and that meant softer times, less walking on glass. Lynn could breathe like air was unlimited on days when her mother came home smiling like that, and Lynn liked it, and Lynn didn’t think much of it, except that it was nice to have her mother like this, while her brother was still a gurgling pillow that didn’t exist much outside of the occasional coo. Nice to have her, her happy mother. Lynn knew this time of peace was rare for Terri, and so she submerged herself in it. The thin balance of her mother’s happiness wasn’t enough, though, to stop Lynn’s camera from rolling. With the Hialeah summer coming to a close, it had been nearly half a year since Lynn’s uncle gave her that old video recorder. Her mother, Terri Brainard, wondered how long she was supposed to humor this. Memories are great, but this? Terri wasn’t so sure, but didn’t know what to say ‘cause things could be delicate with her almost-teenaged daughter, good as she may be. Still, Lynn’s REC light forever blinked, tape kept ticking away, hours of footage of Lynn and her ghosts, bike rides through the neighborhood, Terri coming home with baby boy clutched to her side. At first, Terri would open the door with a benign smile in Lynn and the lens’s direction, but in more recent
weeks the crack of the door would peal back to reveal a frowning mother, her smile pulled up short at the corners and lips forced downward, pursed in distaste. One morning, Terri left Lynn a scrawled note asking her to dust and fold some clothes before Terri got home from her shift. Lynn thought it unusual; normally, Terri asked little of her disconnected daughter, who was mild-humored in her self-absorption, absentmindedly focusing only on her own interiorities, her thoughts more engaging, more precious, than any. That hot Hialeah summer, Lynn’s time had usually been her own. The note was a slight tipping in the scales of power, reminding Lynn of the precarious state of her freedom: it took notes merely to knock her back into place. Too big for her britches— an expression Lynn’d heard adults use before, a while back. She always thought they were callin’ her fat. But Lynn did as her mother’s note requested, and dusted the electric static sitting atop the television screen and the tiny corners of picture frames and bookshelves. She folded her mother’s clothes and her own and the few small pieces of her brother’s, his tiny socks and miniature collared shirts. She sensed that there was Something to Look Nice For, so Lynn spent the last half hour before the end of Terri’s shift in the bathroom, scrubbing her face with her mother’s beauty bar and smearing lotion into its light lines. She propped her camera on the bathroom counter, pointed towards the mirror, and whispered in her sexiest voice as she dressed. Lynn watched her reflection boldly in the glass, and suspected she had a womanly glow about her, something that rolled off the blonde hairs of her face and smoothed out her freckled features. She squeezed the
beginnings of her tits, and sucked air down deep into her lungs. She winked for the camera.
Terri Brainard’s boyfriend wore plaid, and called himself Derek, and called Lynn’s baby brother “little man,” and called Lynn “Lynn.” He was a hunter himself, he said that first night at dinner, when Terri brought him home to a surprised but red-light-blinking Lynn. She opened the door when Terri and Derek were ascending the porch stairs, still looking intently at each another and laughing quietly and talking low. She opened the door, her stance akilter to compensate for the weight of the enormous camcorder. Her mother’s perfume drifted away from Lynn in all directions, and Lynn’s cheeks glowed Terri’s hue. Derek’s hand was giant holding Lynn’s as they shook hello, and Terri eyed his hand on her daughter’s with a kind of reluctant suspicion that belied any real doubt. He was a Good Man, rare in these parts, and there wasn’t much that would come between Terri and that. At dinner that night, Terri served Derek two portions of chicken breast and Lynn picked at her green beans. Derek asked Lynn, “Have you ever tried deer meat?” Lynn’s nose wrinkled behind the gentle buzz of the recording device in front of her face, disgust and obvious contempt for Derek’s hillbilly question quickly crossing her face. She replied that she hadn’t, and Derek launched into a “well, you should try it, you’re missing out, you! I know too many folks like you and your mom here, just eatin’ chicken breast every night, baked and plain and dry. I’ve had just about everything, myself--quail, duck, goose, wild boar, snake, goat--but my favorite’s deer. I just love the taste of it.”
Terri wanted to change the subject. If Terri were being honest with herself, hearing Derek talk about his hunting exploits--the quiet mornings spent in dusky forest light, the absolute silence of the trees ruptured for one slash of a second, the bullet ending the life of another living creature so quickly and coolly and expertly--made the sex between her legs hot. Terri Brainard’s husband had been a calculated sort of man, not the type to make much ruckus, even during a fuck. Terri suspected Derek wasn’t that type. Instead though, Lynn did Terri’s dirty work, and shoved topics onward. Lynn said she preferred chicken, Terri’s chicken, the lemon pepper chicken Lynn loved for its blandness, how it tasted like nothing in her mouth, with her nothingmashed potatoes and her nothing-green beans: unseasoned, unsalted. Derek, unsatisfied with his portion, said to no one in particular, and with a clear edge to his voice, “No wonder you women all look like birds in this family, you eat like goddamn finches.” Terri and Lynn made eye contact then with the one free eye Lynn had, and Lynn wished for wings to fly from her mother and this tree of a man. After eating most of Terri’s instant banana pudding, Derek left the table without an “excuse me,” but with promises that he’d “be back later this week, I’m going to bring something for you two lovebirds, see you in a few days.” Dinner was on a Friday. Derek came back ‘round that Sunday.
When Lynn woke Sunday morning, it was to the sounds of Derek’s deep voice in the belly of her home. She passed her mother and Derek at the kitchen table, coffee cups semi-filled and untouched in front of them, Derek talking
excitedly and waving his arms, Terri blinking slowly, a sheen of perspiration spotlighting her. Lynn heard Derek say, “It’s free, I’m giving it to you, it’ll freeze and last for months, that’s good meat there.” Terri didn’t meet Lynn's, or the camera’s, gaze as Lynn passed into the next room, walking instinctively towards Derek’s pickup parked out front. Lynn thought she heard Derek say, in a lower voice, something about “she won’t know the difference,” and “she’ll just think it’s beef. Just say it’s beef, Terri.” Through the slightly-altered view of her camera lens, Lynn thought the world looked better: a brighter place, a nicer place, a place you’d want to be instead of the place you’re at. She was more interested in life as caught on film than as lived, and in the months she had the camera, she grew accustomed to its weight; her body now welcomed the familiarity of its plastic edges. As Lynn walked out the front door of her home and rounded on Derek’s slanted red pickup truck, the camera seemed a light thing, an airy thing. At first, the dead deer askew in the truck bed looked like a lump of brown blankets, and Lynn blinked behind the viewfinder. A large buck, Lynn knew from its giant antlers, tangled tumbleweeds floating above the animal. The buck’s head was cocked at an off slant. An oblongish slab of white-pink deer tongue lolled out of a black, open mouth. His legs crisscrossed at all angles like the disheveled stick limbs of snowmen. The deer was limp and dead as dead gets in the back of Derek’s pickup.
Lynn recorded this with a distant despair, a recognition of loss permeating the moment; though not entirely sure what was lost, Lynn felt this all the same. A theft. When as much tape as she could spare was spent on the dead deer, Lynn tore herself away from the animal. She gathered last glimpses of the dead thing like gold in river water before pulling the front door closed. She heard Derek and Terri discussing the best recipes for barbecued deer. That night, after Terri collected the dishes and scrubbed them clean, Derek said he’d “be right back” and whisked out the front door. Terri said something small like “Just like that” and looked at the ground. Lynn zoomed her camera lens out the front window facing the driveway, focusing intently on the lifeless lump in the back of the truck. Derek trotted lightly towards the bottom of her mother’s driveway, where a second white pickup truck waited at the curb, the driver leaning pot-bellied on its side. Derek slapped hands with the man, and they both moved to stand over the empty deer, arms crossed over their chests against the small chill of evening. Together they leaned down and groped at the animal, Derek at the head and the stranger at the rear. The two men heaved the deer on top of their shoulders, halfway stooped under its weight. Panning her camera across the front yard to follow their trek, Lynn recorded the men rounding the corner of the house, headed towards the carport. Lynn moved as the men did. Before they relinquished their burden to the oil-stained carport floor, Lynn was there, sitting in the doorframe of her mother’s home, flashbulbs poised and recording light blinking. Seeing her, Derek smiled into the camera, bent over the deer, pulled its head up to face the ceiling, and slit
its throat. The red of its blood looked bright under the carport’s fluorescents, brighter still in Lynn’s viewfinder, and her mind immediately set to staging, vying for the best shot for her playbacks. The men strung the deer up by its two hind legs. Lynn was impressed that the men’s ropes and knots were enough to support the deer’s bloated, dead weight. Outside, it seemed insignificant, small in death; in her mother’s carport, with its low ceilings and thick cement poles and dim lighting, the deer looked giant and swollen, the body engorged after life fled. Lynn’s tape rolled. Derek sliced a thick gash down the deer’s center, letting its insides hang and trail open like mean red snakes. Lynn felt invisible now, hidden behind the objectness of her camera, no longer a living thing watching a once-living thing ripped to shreds in death, but a plastic chunk of recording space, forgotten almost straightaway after setting it down. Eventually, the two men hacked the deer until it was nothing but picked over bones, ribs cast open in wide grins of parallel pain, arms waiting for a hug that won't come. Antlers with jagged edges were sawed from the deer’s skull for their beauty. They stripped the hide from the meat, then the meat from the bone, cutting it into manageable square chunks of deer. Lynn imagined herself a documentary filmmaker, having a love affair with the subject of her biography-the slightly insane but sexually explosive artist who works with dead animals. He kills, not for sport, but for art. She watched the men through the somewhat brighter world of her camera lens, seeing not mangled deer and scatterings of limbs, but the life she and her famous but deranged artist-lover would share: the thread count of the bed sheets, the stuffy feel of the sofa, the curried smell of the
kitchen. The weight of his body on hers. Lynn watched the men package the buck, wrapped in white butcher paper and tied round with twine. Together they put the packages, Lynn lost count after six, into Terri’s standalone freezer. Derek wiped smears of blood into the cracked lines of his old, old blue jeans afterwards, when the job was done and there was nothing left of the deer besides its blood staining the concrete and its body preserved in the freezer. The girl zoomed in on Derek’s nail beds, almost black round the edges, dirty from the deer.
Though Terri made her stop her filming once school started, and Derek stopped comin’ round a few weeks after the slaughter, Lynn counted down the days ‘til the summer of her thirteenth year like a dead-playing possum. She didn’t think about the deer anymore. Lynn and Terri eventually consumed its threaded and cooked muscles entirely, so Lynn didn’t think about the deer because she didn’t have to; she no longer saw it on her dinner plate at night, or listened to her mother say, with conviction, that they were having burgers for supper. There was a tint to the meat Lynn didn’t recognize, a texture slightly different from ground beef. She checked the garbage, to make sure, and found them: the white butcher paper, the twine. Sticky red clung to the paper in clumps, turning Lynn’s stomach. Well, no more. This new summer, Lynn waitressed like her mother, though she didn't like to think of it like that, at the best breakfast place in Hialeah, no less--fancier than Terri’s diner. Lynn liked to think of filmin’ as her thing, the thing she had on the side, outside of her Hialeah middle school and her
summer job. So she kept her uncle’s camcorder hidden from her mother’s eye, stashed under her bed and used only in her room, on bike rides to work, on her break at the restaurant.
There was a man burning. That much, Lynn knew for sure. But really, beyond that, anything coulda been anything. Lynn watched the man burning in front of her, a gigantic ball of incredible heat, burning her chest and scorching the tips of her hair, the man not screaming but his face open, the blaze melting his features, burning him and he wasn’t screaming, Lynn knew he wasn’t screaming ‘cause she didn’t hear anything, didn’t even hear the normal raging-flame-sounds that raging flames make. Purple tinged tips hazed the entire scene, and Lynn was sure this wasn’t real life, couldn’t be real life, impossible that this moment existed. But in this moment, Lynn had never felt more awake, more open to existence, unmistakably alive. She watched with her eyes. The man shrunk in front of her, a vanishing idol, a sacrifice to a burningman god, the kind that revels in fire and the gnashing of teeth. Lynn stood several feet away and eyed the man burning, silent and still. There were tall flames, taller than the girl’s frame. Despite the height of the flames, it was undeniable: the man was not seared, not cooked meat, not turning to ash. Hell, the fire didn’t even smoke. It just burned him up, scorching and hot and roaring, but not makin’ smoke or sound like fire should. Hands gripped tight on the thin cords of her apron, Lynn observed the man undoubtedly shrinking before her. He grew several inches shorter, his spine kind of curling in on itself like a crustacean.
He was a regular customer, like anyone else, Lynn said later, speaking aloud to her camcorder propped on her nightstand, getting an upward shot of her face that made her look angelic in a way she liked on the playbacks. Heavenly. He walked in and sat at the counter of the breakfast joint. He had been alone, and quiet, sure, but lots of men are like that in early mornings; Lynn had heard Terri say as much about the truckers and pit-stoppers who frequented her diner. The earth asks for quiet in the early mornings, when the sun’s yet to give up its hiding and the dew still sits thick and cold on the blades of grass in our clipped lawns. The earth asks for quiet and we listen, so Lynn wasn’t surprised that this man, who ordered coffee and a biscuit like any other man, was quiet. He said please and thank you, so Lynn didn’t think much more of him, ‘cause he kept his eyes on his food, and Lynn had learned to just let a man eat. When the man’s face began to redden, thirteen-year-old Lynn assumed he had rosacea, or acne, or something. His skin turned a crisp, bright red, looking like a deep sunburn, the kind that you know’ll blister the next day. His blue eyes began to look cracked, like the vampiric pink eyes of white rats. The whites were overrun with sharp blood vessels, and he began to quiver and shake slightly, reached out a red hand for the glass of water Lynn’d poured him with his cup of coffee. When his skin met the sweating glass an audible ssssss escaped, and steam rose from the point of contact with a loud hiss, and the ice tinkled and rattled when he lifted it towards his face in shaking hands, his mouth gaped open and shut, snapping closed and then open again like a fish, and by the time he splashed the water onto his outstretched tongue it was boiling in the glass.
Lynn panicked. She had been workin’ alone, doing the basics of running the restaurant in summer’s early hours, and not thinking about the tapes of dead deer under her bed at home, never thinking about them because that’s not what she did, she just documented and moved along, pieces of history she couldn’t let slip into nonexistence. She was alone with the man now. And at first Lynn wasn’t sure she had even seen it, but of course it caught and spread and soon she was sure. A spark. On one of the man’s blonde arm hairs, bright white against the deep burn of his skin, suddenly a flame just ignited. It wasn’t there, and then it was. Things picked up pace from there. The flame licked up the side of the man’s body, running up his edges, chasing after some invisible force, creating a halo around him. The water glass dropped and shattered. Broken shining gems surrounded the man’s alight toes, burning through his boots. This was when he got silent, got all clammed up and quiet, but Lynn thought his eyes looked scared. He stopped moving, like he couldn’t, just sat there watching the fire expand with sad eyes, afraid eyes. Lynn backed away from the growing heat in front of her, and she thought of telephones, and she thought of ambulances, and she thought of her camcorder. Lynn ducked into the back rooms of the kitchen, leaving the burning man to burn alone. She ran as fast as she could in her waitressin’ heels, then just kicked them off, trusting her sweeping job, which she knew was good. Wasn’t no glass on the floor back here, so she just ran barefoot, straight to her locker, thankful she always kept it unlocked. She ran back into the kitchen with the camcorder propped against the curve of her shoulder to find the man fully
engulfed in fire, the finer details of him obscured. His face was open and afraid and clearly hurting behind the heat. Lynn saw him lose inches more and more quickly, curling about himself and becoming less and less recognizably human. Understandably, Lynn compared her life to a movie. Why wouldn’t she? She had watched enough of them, made enough raw footage. She found them beautiful, and complete, and whole: fully-formed narratives. When reality didn’t live up, Lynn was disappointed. She expected life to meet the standards of what film convinced her was meaningful. But this was no movie. This was no movie, and Lynn knew she was no character; there would be no epiphanies, no happy endings. No moment of clarity. There was no musical score to crescendo in time with her unsteady heart. As the not-man became less and less, Lynn snatched the viewfinder open on the camcorder, pressed the power button with thumbs overzealous in their anticipation. She saw the flames burn hot through the camera lens, purple tints to their edges, this man self-combusting before her. She blinked at the beeping message on the screen, the flashing that said “no battery.”
In moments, the flames subside. In moments, the flames subside and leave Lynn with her plastic box of a camcorder, and a pile of ash in place of a customer. In moments, inside the pile of ash, Lynn finds a skinless pink worm, an embryonic curly tissue, a small life growing amidst the gray.
FIVE QUARTERLY | Brooklyn, NY Copyright 2014 by Kayla Miller Published by Five Quarterly Cover photo by Ian Sautner Design by Josh Collin, Elina Hoffmann, Sheila Vazir, Mollie Wohlforth fivequarterly.org
Published on Jun 6, 2014