He’s sleeping so soundly, his gentle face so close to your open eyes that you have a perfect view of his only physical imperfection: his nostrils are of quite different sizes. You remember the first time you noticed it, an evening when he threw his head back and laughed at one of your jokes. He was, in fact, human and you soon grew to love the lopsided nostrils almost more than all the elegant rest of him. The more he loved you the more your jokes pleased him. He spent hours on end with his head back laughing and his nose grew ever dearer.
You are not an especially funny person. Must have been love, no?
Four years on, this evening, with his head perfectly level, he claimed you destroy everything and every relationship around you and that your corrosive sadness is more than he can bear. Your own nostrils began a hesitant dance, the right one twitching twice, the left once, right, right, left, over and over. It is your only known remedy against tears, your face muscles seemingly incapable of simultaneously making your nose twitch and squeezing out tears. Tonight’s nose dance was short, a twenty second prelude to tears. His only reaction to your crying was to bang open the windows, get into bed and fall instantly, rather post-coitally, asleep. Not knowing what else to do, needing to understand him, you got as close as you could to him and have remained awake now in bed for three hours and thirty-nine minutes. It is a quarter past three in the morning at the end of August, the fourth or fifth day into a heat wave and most people would probably avoid full body contact with anyone, let alone with a man who has just made it clear that he wants to end all contact. You switched the light back on about an hour ago to watch your relationship turn yellow and rubbery like mayonnaise left out in the sun. You’re the kind of person who likes the taste of rancid food. He is not.
He’s sleeping so sweetly now that it’s hard to believe the argument that erupted between you earlier. He detonated enough explosions in the relationship that you now feel like a living model of one of those bombed out houses in London during the blitz. He ripped the very façade off you and then examined disdainfully each wall-papered room of you, each bit of furniture or cherished trinket of you, shaking in the aftershock.
And now he’s out like a light, smiling as he dreams. Pristine. Inviolable. At peace. But empowered somehow, even when he’s defenseless in sleep. If only you could join him. You close your eyes for five seconds and try. Enough time for a mosquito to fly into the room and cogently assess the human hierarchy.
You. Always you. And you wouldn’t want it otherwise. If it landed on him and you slapped at the bug and missed… Insects always find you attractive, but tonight you will the mosquito onto your arms, your cheeks, the lids of your eyes. Let him continue sleeping so you can continue to watch him sleep. You slap repeatedly at the bug, always missing it. It drones away each time, provoking more and more violent slaps on your part. You’re only hurting yourself.
He said that at one point.
He also asked, do you need to be with me, or do you want to be with me?
You are not good at riddles and he’d become quite a sphinx over the past few months.
You’d thought it through a bit, knowing defeat was cheering you on in the wings. Was it not possible both to need and to want to be with him? Of course it wouldn’t be. There was always a wrong and a right for him and you had the gift for being wrong.
I want to be with you.
His eyes lit up. For an instant you thought you might have been right. Then somehow you knew enough to shrivel into yourself and wait for the attack.
It was apparently better, more mature, more self-actualized, more authentic, more generous and loving to need to be with him than to want to be with him. You soon lost track of his reasons for why this was true and just accepted that you had failed to know how to love.
Scratching at a bite on your shoulder you gaze at him. His unsheeted body is luminous with sweat, as if he’s just emerged from a phosphorescent sea. You notice the absence of raised welts on his body as you itch at a large one forming under your chin. He breathes deeply, regularly, through his irregular nostrils. The larger one flares out like a trumpet, as if it were trying to take in extra air for the smaller, runtish one.
Your breathing is a shallow pant, breathing in and in and in, forgetting the exhale. Both his tranquility and the mosquito’s buzz are working at you like a whisk in egg whites. You’re frothy, but you’re empty.
The mosquito moves faster and faster following unpredictable trajectories. Gymnastic maneuvers that take it from ankle to ear to armpit while you applaud yourself in a riff of double-handed slaps. In defense you raise the sheet up to cover as much biteable flesh as possible, taking one final glimpse at him before you enshroud yourself completely. You’re finally leaving him. Leaving him alone, open to attack. You feel guilty, but strong.
Except that the mosquito has followed you under the sheets, not understanding that you meant to offer it his succulent blood. Frenzied by containment, both you and the bug escalate activity. You are losing the fight, as you lost the previous battle with him and are thinking of just giving in, accepting yourself as the perfect prey for man and insect. Instead of a final slap, you lower your right hand to your sternum, gently, and feel a slight movement under your palm, like a flick of the tongue on skin. The mosquito is held in by your hand, caught in the hollow between your breasts.
You sit up in bed, pull down the sheet with your left hand and arc out the palm of your right hand to give the insect space to breathe. Improvising, you position your left hand near your heart, wait a beat, then slide the hand, thumbside in, to follow the contour of your sternum. You have the mosquito now, trapped in the sphere of your hands. You are armed for once in your life.
He is still peacefully asleep, stretched out on his left side, hands cradling his beloved face. You lean in towards him and position your hands, and the mosquito contained in them, as close to his cheek as you can. His beard has grown incrementally since the argument and you want to run the pad of a fingertip along the raspy skin. You refrain. The mosquito buzzes hungrily. Swiftly you slide your left hand out so that the insect is cupped against his cheek by your right hand. Still trapped, the mosquito seems to sense the change, the choice to be made. It stops buzzing. You wait, biting your unkissed lips.