Joyland

New York |

Bedroom Talk

by Jenessa Abrams

edited by Michelle Lyn King

I know a guy who’s going to kill another guy when he’s ready to die.

I used to fuck him. He used to fuck me. I used to love him. I used to think the way I felt about him was love. That’s what he told me. I believed him because no one told me differently.

Without alternatives, we accept things.

This plan sums him up perfectly:

One night, after he came on my stomach, he said: When the pain of living becomes worse than the pain of dying, I’m going to off myself. Well, not by myself, with Steven. We’re going to off each other. We’re going to go into the woods and point guns at each other’s temples.

You’re not even going to kill yourself?

He rolled to the other side of the bed.

I did not move because the fluid on my skin was hardening. I did not want to wash my sheets again.

That is so like you. You can’t even keep an abstract promise that’s unlikely to necessitate actual follow-through. What happens if you mess up?

He propped a pillow against the bedframe.

Why do you assume I’ll mess up?

I kept my eyes on the ceiling.

I’m not assuming, I’m just saying this plan has faults. Like: what happens if the timing is off and you don’t kill Steven or Steven doesn’t kill you and then you’re just standing there, in the middle of the woods and you’ve just killed him; then you’re a murder. You would have to live in that moment and then you would have to live in another moment where you also decide to kill yourself. Then, you are a suicidal murder. Who would want that?

I turned my head.

He covered his face with his hands.

You don’t understand.

You’ve lived your whole life never even stealing a candy bar, not even as a kid, you told me you didn’t even skip school. Now your plan is to end your life by killing someone, someone who you don’t even know that well?

My plan is to leave this world the same way I came into it. Steven and I share that value. We’re going to leave no remains; our bodies will be used by nature, we’ll be totally and completely absorbed into the Earth.

So you’ll be naked? You’re going to kill another guy buck-naked? Let me tell you what’s going to happen: You’re going to get an erection, that happens sometimes when men try to kill themselves, then you’re going to get self-conscious about getting an erection and then you’re going to die a homophobe. Why would you do that? What’s the point? I know you: You’re going to be standing there thinking of all the ways you need to tell Steven: Look, I’m not interested in you, but there’s nothing wrong with being interested in you, I’m just not. And then you’ll be dead.

You don’t get it. We’re not going to die naked. We’ll be clothed. Then after, bears will come and use our clothes for shelter.

You think bears are going to carefully disrobe your dead body? Maybe they’ll use your limbs to decorate their dens. And what about the guns? Do those disintegrate too?

Why do you do this? Why do you just assume I’m going to fuck everything up?

Your plan is to die a murder and then to leave two guns and two bodies in the woods. Do you know who goes into the woods? Besides serial killers who probably have their own guns, or their own plans to snap little girl’s necks after they rape them: Children go into the woods. You’re going to leave two guns for some kid to pick up when he goes fishing with his father.

I stretched my arm across the mattress. The man did not move.

I knew he was no longer listening. I also knew he was stubborn enough to go through with this plan simply because I had questioned it. This was what made us so great: Consistency. There were no surprises. He could fall in love with anything; I could pull and pull and pull at a thread until I undid even the strongest certainty.

After he fell asleep, all I could think about was the woods. I kept seeing them. I kept seeing him and Steven dead. I kept thinking about the kid that would find them.

I was sure that kid would be fishing with his father for the first time. I was also sure it would be for the last time. Not even because of the bodies. Because the father would think he was being an actual father by bringing his son out to the lake, only to discover that what he actually loved about fishing was being alone. What he loved was thinking about the woman who served him coffee with the thick hot pink lipstick whose fingernails were long and always painted. Then the father would think about lifting the woman onto a counter, think about her green apron, think about loosening the strings, about those tall boots that cinched at her thighs, which he could only see when she went into the kitchen to check on the status of someone else’s fries.

That is why the father loved fishing, but he would have trouble thinking about that woman when his son was asking so many questions, questions about how the father learned to fish and whether or not he was doing it wrong. The father would think: It is not that complicated. You stand there, you put the rod in the water and you wait for a bite and usually you don’t get a bite, you just get time to think about things that are difficult, things you can’t think about when you’re home, things you are too ashamed to admit you want.

There is an entire sport for staring at water and using the time to face emotions that scare the shit out of people, all the while keeping in mind, the goal of killing an animal. During that time, people are reminded that they are human, that they will die some day and that so will all of the people they love. Maybe they are also reminded that life isn’t what they thought it was. Or, if they are like that man and Steven, they will spend the time preplanning their murder-suicide. They will think about their values. They will not think about their people. They will think: There are things more important than people.

In my bed, the man was still sleeping.

Then a thought occurred to me: There is another kind of kid who goes into the woods. That kind of kid is the kind who will have just worked up the courage to ask out the girl from down the street. He will want to try to hold her hand so he can feel what it feels like to hold someone’s hand, to feel connected to someone, to touch a girl without needing to touch her breasts; to touch her in a small way that is intimate. That kid will probably also want to touch the girl’s breasts, but, given the chance, he might surprise himself with how whole he can feel just by wrapping his sweaty fingers around hers.

But, what happens if the girl doesn’t show up? Maybe the girl doesn’t show up because her dad is doing things dads aren’t supposed to do to their daughters. Then that boy will be alone in the woods, he will be alone and he will be waiting and he will be scared and he might not be ready to think about the things people think about when they go in there. And then he will find the gun. He will find not just one gun, but two guns, and two dead men.

The boy will be standing there, wreaking in a combination of smells, starting with his father’s after-shave, because the boy wouldn’t have been able to find cologne, but also, because he would’ve had to do the dishes, the boy will smell like soap, he will smell like citrus. Then, being horribly embarrassed that the girl from down the street will think he is wearing women’s perfume, the boy will have also gone under the sink and rubbed Clorox on his chin. This will not be a good idea, but the boy will not have anyone to stop him.

While he waits, the boy will miss the girl and will feel stupid and will feel alone and then maybe he will start to think about her, about her breasts, and then the boy, finding himself alone in the woods, might start to jerk off. But when he is just about to come, maybe he will realize that the pile in the leaves that he thought was damp wood, is actually a rotting human; two rotting humans, and then he will see the guns. In that moment, in spite of himself, the boy will still come. Then he will think: I could never love anyone.

Next to me, the man snored while I wondered how he was able to see only as far as he wanted. Why to him, killing meant more than loving. Why, for instance, the man couldn’t give himself to me. What had stopped him? I knew that he was in love with me. Or that he thought he was in love with me. Or that he felt about me, the way he felt about most new things: excited and naïve. I would have taken him. Because I believed I loved him. Because I do not believe in fantasies. I would have killed him if only he had asked me.

I hope that he and Steven practice synchronicity. Dying is easy. Staying in rhythm with someone who is not you isn’t.