Somewhere in Ohio or Connecticut, a man lives in a very nice house. The house is in a nice neighborhood, and because that is what his family knows of human living, he has succeeded. The curtains hanging from the windows are red embroidered silk, which the man’s wife bought from a market in the city—quite inexpensively, she would add if you asked. He is a nice man, a doctor or a dentist. He keeps assorted snakes in assorted glass jars on the fireplace mantle. The snakes stumble legless and slide themselves jagged, green scales like lake-drowned emeralds pressing the glass. The snakes snarl and slither because that is what they know of reptile embodiment, and this means they are successful. For fun or out of boredom, the man drops furry white mice into the jars and watches as the snakes devour them. The mice are themselves until they are food. To the man and his snakes, this means they have succeeded. The mice are busy being mice until they are busy being food and they do not have time to learn how to be a thing with choices. The man’s wife sits in a different room in the same house, but not because it’s what she chooses. A talent for rot is not a choice. “Feeding time!” the man announces in the evening after dinner, and his four small children shriek with excitement and joy.
A man walks into a bar. He orders whiskey and tells the bartender he is an art collector. He orders soup and tells the waitress he is a huntsman. The roof above the bar shines like the glint of a knife, and the sky above the roof is black and dense as a knife’s hilt. The waitress and the bartender converse, but not about the man—about hands and their borders. The waitress has drawn a line in the dust and the bartender has drawn a line in the dust and neither are willing to tell the other what that line looks like, if it’s straight or jagged, if it can save anyone from anything at all. The man sits at the table and pretends to eat soup. He chomps and his teeth clatter the spoon. The waitress goes outside and pretends to smoke a cigarette. Her hair is messy in a beautiful way, as if she were on the set of a movie. There is dirt in her sandal. The man stands up and walks through the dusty parking lot to his car, feeling like he’s on a movie set. He gets into the car and starts the engine. He unzips his skin and is only himself.
Together and Alone are friends, and one of them has swallowed a bomb that could go off at any moment. Neither knows if the other is lying when they say they are not the one who has swallowed the bomb. The bomb could take the shape of anything: a pill, a breath of wind, the well-cooked flank of a fish carcass, the water-logged eye in the head of a fish carcass. Together’s hair was long last summer, and Alone’s was short, and now they have switched. Now it is winter, but it is still summer inside their bellies. A belly is a place where anything you swallow can become a bomb. Summer is a place where a bomb can forget what it is, meaning that it can find happiness. We are all just trying to find happiness. When Together and Alone take turns staring at their friend’s mouth while the other isn’t looking, it’s a search for evidence. When they’re heavy with the urge to sacrifice a finger, a hand to that mouth, to slip head-first down the other’s throat, it’s not the bomb they’re afraid of.
Erin Slaughter is editor and co-founder of literary journal The Hunger, and the author of two poetry chapbooks: GIRLFIRE (dancing girl press, 2018) and Elegy for the Body (Slash Pine Press, 2017). You can find her writing in Prairie Schooner, Passages North, F(r)iction, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere. Originally from north Texas, she is pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at Florida State University. Her first full-length poetry collection is forthcoming from New Rivers Press in 2019.