ONE FINDS ONESELF FALLEN
It is a religious sentiment.
Hans and I sit. We sit beside the sanatorium amidst wild grasses and lilacs. I am feverish and inspired by natural environments. I tell him that. He calls himself a quaking aspen. One’s body betrays one’s feelings, I tell him, but not mine. My faith in father had been shaken. Once, my body was a palace of unnatural growth and extravagant hate. But that’s no longer the case. Father cringed away. Now someone will stab father in Marseilles and someone will stab father in Paris, I tell Hans.
The nurses stride across the lawns. They stomp flowers into mulch. Ashes to ashes, says Hans. The nurses swing their fists—those forcible bitches—like buckets, and fork their bulk into my eyes! When father is murdered, I will inherit my body—this unity of limbs and senses. I can tell Hans anything! A woman’s organ is a hardship, as well as an embarrassment! I am really opening up to him. I am touching his penis. They pull me away from the gates where we meet among the lilacs and wild grasses. Hans fingers the flowers. He plucks the lilacs. Too often the unexpected gift of flowers can cause more pain than pleasure, I whisper. He arranges them in my bodice. When my body is my own, I promise to shield it with chiffon and fragile evening slippers! And with this the nurses drag me, gasping and shivering, into the sanatorium. Father said that I signed up for it. Indeed, it is a hardship. But the Lord’s will be done! His cold shaft hast spewed snows upon those mountains, dews upon those grasses. His musk is in this morning and His winter will soon smother us!
Because I lie like a bundle of bowels on the divan—or a broken egg or a rooster’s slit neck—I invite Hans to bed me. Because of the discordant shrieks he provoked in the wardrobe. Because one cuts the rooster’s throat. My mind is split and my dazzled skull a dreadful color. The host has shut us in the spare room. Hans jiggles the knob. He says locked. I invite illness—I tell him—I ride horses dangerously—to impress him. Hans throws his shoulder into the door, jiggles the knob. I have lost the secret of myself. I have buried it in someone else. He defiles the keyway with his nail file. I must garner his consideration! I slam my head in the wardrobe.
Oh! I cry out. I collapse.
He claps my face to his chest. There now, he says. I want to screw my madness into him, to shit my death down his gentle throat. Love is truly a gust of godliness! Then August ends and on comes September!
In January, we take our wedding journey to Venice. We take Frances, Gertrude, and Olivia with us. Who, I wonder, are these women? We are seated in the boudoir. Gertrude gathers Hans in one arm. She folds him over her knee. She strikes his thighs repeatedly. On the sideboard, a bowl of cherries stew. Above the divan, a painting of cherubs. Olivia is spitting cherry pits into my reticule. Who, I ask Hans, are these women? Hans rises and takes me by the hand, he answers in all modesty, with great sincerity, and most naively. Dearest angel, he tells me, nobody is here, but you and me. I am sorry to say he is sobbing, bitterly. Love has made us a social catastrophe.
At Barton we are left to entertain each other. Old sex bag, I am, bumping my slice of leg, my horse conch, my Hans. I crush my ear to him and hear myself. Unfruitful perplexity! His body! His beauty consists of a lack of natural heaviness. A fact, which evinces his frivolity of limbs. He jumps out the window. The theatre of all my actions has fallen in the Grand Canal! Hans! I cry, were you lonely? I have lived the secret wrong and still I live it badly, leaning over the balcony, I cry again to him: your death is not mine!
Dress anyway you like. The morning is mild, overcast and I am alone with my strength. Guests are allowed to find their own places. I am wearing an afternoon dress. I thought I'd wear that off-the-shoulder print. My hostess spent the morning gathering branches of forsythia and banking them in great sprays. They were enormously effective in the grey, white, and yellow rooms.
The notion of suicide occurred to me. Then in came a generous young man bearing an armful of red gladiolas. There isn't a vase bigger than a milk bottle, I shrieked. Like this, Hans, it was a religious sentiment that made me skewer your squirming effigy into a future with me. Nothing could be less welcome. Where on earth shall I put them?
Jessica Alexander studies at the University of Utah. Her fiction has appeared in such places as Fence, Denver Quarterly, and DIAGRAM. She is currently a fiction editor at Quarterly West.