In July this year, I spent a month working on my novel, Treading Air, at Obras Art Residency in Portugal. While I was there, I dreamt of a man holding an apple. On a walk to a Neolithic burial site, we saw a sheep in distress. In my room at the residency, the two visions spun together into a mircofiction:
laire works as an accountant for men who carry guns. She knows they import them for a shooting range. Doesn’t ask more questions. All their meetings happen in the back of their car, with a man on either side of her. She enters everything the man steering says into an Excel spreadsheet on a laptop balanced on her knees. Today, the man on her right bites an apple. He holds the apple between thumb and forefinger, makes eye contact, doesn’t smile.
She finds herself in bed with him, he on one end, sitting up against the pillows and she at the other end, watching him finish the apple. He says, ‘Stop looking at me.’
She sees the scars, a crochet across his jaw. She shivers, crawls up to him over the bed, licks his face along the network. He doesn’t respond.
‘Can you feel anything?’
He looks out the window, slides his fingers over the skin of the apple, still unbroken. She thinks he’ll push her away. He sits with his legs out and the apple between his thighs.
‘All the whores do that,’ he says. She feels winded, sits back on her ankles.
‘How’d it happen?’ she asks.
‘Car crash.’ He spins the apple with the forefinger of the other hand.
‘No excuse for being an arsehole,’ she says.
He blinks at her, registering the hit, puts his hand on the back of her head and pulls her face to his. She lets him because that’s how she rolls these days. She’s stopped worrying about what her mum would think.
He puts one hand flat on each breast; his mouth on hers makes the apex of a triangle. She learnt to look for shapes when she dated a conspiracy theorist. Can’t get back out of the habit. The triangle with an eye is the illuminati, intersecting triangles the masons. The boyfriend distrusted them both. He would tell her now not to trust this bloke. But she already knows that, doesn’t need the universe to manifest sacred geometry to warn her.
‘Be rough,’ she says. He puts his hand around her throat, and bites her chin. She digs her fingernails into his forearms—she’s fascinated by the upper arms of men, the shoulders. He holds his as though hurting. He pulls her legs out from under her, presses his body down on top of hers. The weight is good; she can strain against it but won’t move him. His cock pokes blindly at her labia for a moment and slides in.
Under the weight of his body, she feels the breath go out of her. She’d seen a sheep once in the same state, on her parent’s farm—a pregnant ewe turned over on her side, the weight of the lamb inside her pushing on her lungs, suffocating her. Her mum had told her this could happen, and what to do. Claire ran to the sheep, slid her hands under her body, dug her fingers into her fleece, pressed her cheek into the ewe’s neck. She smelt the sharp scene of dirt and dry grass, the ewe’s odour. Righted her. The ewe wobbled away, legs shaking, upended herself again, belly up, legs out wide and stiff, her heavy belly weighing down on her. But she got her breath, turned herself on her side, got first her backside in the air and knelt on her forelegs, pushing herself upright. She’d stood, twisting her head around, searching for the others that had left her behind.
The man on top of Claire pistons away, but she can’t feel him anymore. Her vision speckles. She wonders why he doesn’t notice. She is the one who lay herself down, like that ewe maybe, who’d rested in the grass and couldn’t get back up again. She wonders why she could help that poor sheep rise up but not herself, her back pressed against the bed, the springs dipping. She brings her hand up. The fingers feel like weights on the end of her wrist, unbalancing her. She touches his arm. He lifts off. She sucks in air. The hotel’s white ceiling comes back into focus.
She wonders if, in her half-unconsciousness, she misunderstood the image that had appeared before her—she isn’t trapped belly up, encumbered by the weight of her own biology, but right where she wants to be, on the very edge of falling, an observer of patterns of numbers lined up, rising and falling, of shapes manifested in her life. She’s up and breathing, searching for something invisible to everyone else.