JUSTIN LAWRENCE DAUGHERTY
Claire’s lover’s hand leaves behind traces of mud on her inner thigh. Her body is sloughing off sections of vine and flytrap leaves and tree bark. What she is becoming, Claire thinks, has been hard on their sex life. Claire is uncomfortable with this spontaneous evolution everyone but her seems to be experiencing. Claire asks, “What if I never get a chance?” Her lover opens her mouth. There is an explosion of butterflies. Her hand moves across the topography of Claire’s body, leaves traces of earth.
Claire meets her father for lunch. They sit outside so he has room to spread out. His curved tusks and mammoth body make it hard for a room to contain him. He asks Claire about her dissertation, about her girlfriend. He is growing in real time. She brushes aside wooly fur from his eyes so she can see his glacial irises. She asks how he’s feeling. She means his remission, the drugs. “Better than I’ve ever felt,” he says. “You’ll find your way soon enough,” he says. To what, Claire doesn’t know.
Claire asks her lover to pick up after herself. “There are mounds of bird bones and kudzu all over the house,” she says. She hears her lover respond, but can’t find her through the foliage. The house is green and lush and enclosing. Claire chokes on the pollen her lover’s breath leaves behind. She gathers up armfuls of all that her lover has left behind. She deposits the armfuls in lawn bags, leaves them on the curbside. She returns after an hour, wonders which bag contains her lover’s reading voice, which holds the particular way she drags her nails down Claire’s spine. She opens the bags, runs her hands through the muck hoping to find her.
Claire searches her body for any trace of a new galaxy forming in her flesh. She presses at her ribs, hoping they are softening and hollowing. Out the window, in the neighbors’ backyard, a whole family is evolving into machines. They speak through the wires in their brains. Claire bakes a pie and asks her reappeared lover to join her. They greet the neighbors, offer up the rhubarb pie. The children start to climb the tree of Claire’s girlfriend. The father tells them to be respectful and her girlfriend says they are fine. Claire gets drunk and kisses the father in the kitchen. “I was only hoping to change,” she says. The father returns to the party. Claire presses her hand against the wall, hopes to phase through the wall and fall through the basement and the earth and out into space.
Claire’s house is crumbling around her girlfriend’s immensity. It is a jungle and a desert and Claire can’t find her bed. The neighbor kids are building a treehouse in the girlfriend’s branches. You’re an ecological disaster, Claire thinks. She picks a peach from the tree of her, takes a bite. “This isn’t so great,” she says.
Claire joins a support group for those left behind, those who are still the people they were before. At the first meeting, Claire lists all of the things that are special about her. She tells them she’s biked across the country. She makes a mean eggplant parmesan. She is a very generous lover. The group all nods and smiles and Claire thinks only about what all of them are missing.
Claire’s girlfriend is an ecosystem. She is connected and harmonious. Claire tells her girlfriend she is leaving, holds her suitcase in front of her as proof. “I’ve found something better,” she says. The cardinals and sparrows and owls all start singing from her girlfriends’ limbs. “You’re not even listening,” Claire says. She walks through the crumbling door. “I need something more,” she says. She drives for a week, hoping to burst into the light of a binary star. She calls her sponsor, asks if she’s changed, if anyone has. Everyone is dealing in their own way, the sponsor tells her. She enters new towns and new motels. She becomes part of the scenery. She reaches the west coast and turns back around. She returns to the towns she’s visited and in each one enters the same diners and the same motel rooms.
In each place, she examines her skin, listens to her cells. She watches for any new seedling or starburst. She waits for a tidal disruption to rip open inside her, waits to be swallowed and emerged on the other side.