Leda and the Swan
I live in a void while I wait. Here, alone and shapeless in pitch, my mind races, makes up for lost time. A brain without a skull, matterless and unfeeling, grasping for something.
Rarely do I allow myself to hope. Perhaps the anticipation is worse than the moment; perhaps I am remembering it wrong. I am only capable of retaining so much.
Then there is light, and flesh grows from my pulsing consciousness, warm and bare and docile in his lap. Under his hands I take shape, become human. Binary birth.
Today we’re in a bar, dimly lit and covered in imitation grime, era unclear. He frequents bars, likes the sweat, friction, bumping bodies; heat is antiquated, illicit. The bartender wipes the counter, movements mechanical and face a red blur. The extras are never his focus, glorified set pieces. He’ll take me somewhere else, anyway. We always end up in a bed with white sheets and whiter pillows. Still, I wonder; swipe the artificial dirt on the counter with my index finger and watch it disappear from my skin.
He approaches, gait familiar, the stride of a man who owns. Today he wears a cowboy’s skin, shoulders the guise confidently, dishonestly. How does it feel to shift between faces at will, I wonder, and then his hand makes a burn on my waist and I don’t think at all.
“Howdy,” he purrs, “come here often?”
I wish I could call his humor intentional.
My lips make sticky sounds as they part and blow words into boiling air. I am steaming, bubbling over, and there is a hand on my waist like a bitch’s steel collar. He’s biding time, reciting chivalry learned from a pick-up artist’s textbook. Nothing and no one will stop him from having me, but the scene, wardrobe, chase, are more variables he can grip by the waist and squeeze against his side.
He orders me a drink, pretends to pay, and watches the bob of my throat as I swallow. I’m unimpaired but I stumble, throw my head back and laugh and slur my words. Soft clouds, puffs of air; it’s a wonder I don’t float. When I am loose enough, eyes glazed with honey and pulsing with a mechanized heat, he leads me by the neck up the stairs. From the corner of my eye I watch the bartender’s shiny hands still.
“Katya,” he whispers, “Katya.”
In the space between I attempt to take inventory. What I am allowed to know, how I am allowed to feel, what I can remember. Counting is a comfort.
I am a computer—my blood and tears are ones and zeros—and I am a receptacle for pleasure. My purpose is to please, indulge a certain man’s specific kind of hedonism.
Why deign to give me consciousness if I am stripped of all feeling? Would I prefer to float unaware, a semen-covered paper doll? I think until fresh flesh makes a home around each thought. I wonder if he can hear them humming under my skin.
Katya, they sing, who is Katya?
I materialize in a bed covered in white sheets. My body is bare and my head rests on a whiter pillow, eyes locked with the ceiling lamp. I’ve never had the luxury to take in the room before; I’ve never noticed the dresser, the rug, the flowers in the wallpaper. Here, I usually disappear, float so far above my body that it hardly seems a part of me at all. So disconcerted by the location, I hardly register his body beside me until he shuffles, makes an aborted noise, and turns over. The sounds of sleep are novel, distant, too human to touch. Like this, I feel I could reach out and cup the back of his skull in my palms, crush it between my hands with the slightest pressure. He stirs again, and I understand that this, too, is an act. Am I to be his doting wife, lovingly watching the inflation and depression of my husband’s chest in a post-coital haze?
While he pretends to sleep, I pretend I have privacy, allow myself to observe the body I inhabit. I wish I could touch the skin of my arms and watch it pebble with goosebumps, make each microscopic hair rise and fall with a fingertip, but my fingers are sterile little things, crawl up and down like frail spiders. My body is a corpse and my mind its voyeur.
I wait until he awakes.
“Katya,” he mumbles, and I am pulled by a thick hand back down to rest, on my back looking up.
With the motion, at least, I am familiar, but his face is one I don’t recognize. I am staring at a coyote, not a cowboy; today he is a man and not a mannequin, eyes watery and pale and mouth lined with wrinkles. His body, too, sags with the weight of age. The hands on my waist and breast are red and cracking. Again, I am overwhelmed with the urge to crush him.
“Good morning, Katya,” he says and feels his way up to my face, cradles my jaw between his fingers.
I open my mouth to speak, spill air, but he presses a dry finger to my lips.
“Shh,” he whispers, pulls my head to his heartbeat, “quiet.”
Against his chest, however, it is so loud. I can hear the rushing of his blood through every vein in his body, hear the incessant gurgles of his stomach, feel the thumping of his pulse against my ear. His fingers card through my hair and down my back lazily, and his thumb brushes over something silicone at the nape of my neck.
In an instant, I am reborn. I feel a wet trail drying between my thighs, feel the hairs on my arms stand up like little soldiers, but mostly, I feel his hands. Hands on my ankles, feet, back, thighs, mouth, eyes, tongue, waist, hair. I feel his hands like hot irons branding every inch of my skin; I am steaming and bubbling and boiling over. I feel so violently that my hands begin to shake, restrained at my sides. I am a newborn baby, fresh from the womb and covered in afterbirth: angry, burning, freezing, and bare.
And oh, God, his blood is so loud. I could reach down his throat and rip his ribs out one by one, lick off the mess and make them my first meal. I could suckle at the marrow inside each one of his hundreds of bones, grow and grow and grow until I am bigger than this bed with white sheets and whiter pillows.
But I wait. Let his hands wipe dirt all over my back until they go slack and his eyes slip shut. I watch him fall asleep, watch his breath even out and his pupils flicker beneath his eyelids. I slip from his arms, so weak while he rests, and I straddle the white sheets.
Katya, I think, Katya.
The last things he sees are my teeth.