It is something that you notice very suddenly. You are standing in the checkout line holding a sack of limes and you realize that the cashier is your boyfriend. He wears a wig that is long and chestnut-colored and has a slight wave to it. This hair is nothing like your boyfriend’s hair. It could be your imagination, but it seems your boyfriend, wearing a bald cap, is also bagging your groceries, making a face at your unripe bananas.
It’s possible that you are just having a bad afternoon, except all week you don’t run into anyone who isn’t your boyfriend. Your boyfriend in dreadlocks hands you your cup of coffee. Your boyfriend in an undershirt jogs through the park while your boyfriend in an extremely fancy car cuts you off in traffic. You go to the gym and your boyfriend sits at the front desk when you check in, your boyfriend hands you a towel, your boyfriend has already worked up a sweat by the time you make it to the weight room. You are at a club late one night and you have unprotected sex in the bathroom with your boyfriend, who is on his break from dancing on a glowing platform.
You go to your therapist, who is also your boyfriend, and you feel uncomfortable telling him about your feelings. “Let’s say I am your boyfriend,” your boyfriend says, being your therapist, with glasses and unflattering lipstick. “What is it you feel like you couldn’t tell me?”
In your hands, you hold a magazine that you carried with you from the waiting room. You couldn’t put it down. You twist it nervously, bending the pages into a semipermanent tube. Your boyfriend is on the cover, wearing a well-tailored suit and grinning. You can’t shake the feeling that this is your real boyfriend, and find you can’t look him in the eye.
Put a Ring on It
You buy your boyfriend a ring, a simple affair, plain silver band. On the inside is engraved “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” You’ve been getting all the right signals from him for a while. One morning, you wake up and he has surrounded your bed with a circle of salt. He seems alarmed when you cross it, easily, to kiss him good morning.
Later, as he waves a burning hank of sage in your face, you are thinking about the ring, which is folded inside a pair of underwear in your dresser. “I’ve been thinking lately it might be time to talk about a long-term commitment,” you say out loud. He chants back in Latin, his voice low and sonorous, something Deo, protego something, omnis immundus spiritus.
“Come to bed,” you say to him.
“Adjuramus te,” he says.
The ring seems like an impulse buy, and you’re a little concerned that maybe you aren’t ready. But you’ve come to appreciate the little things he does for you. Most nights, you come home from work to a black goat, throat slit, its blood pooled in a wide, silver bowl beside your bed. He plants a circle of vervain around the house you share. He carves runes into the lintels of the French doors.
You wait for exactly the right moment to take the ring out of your underwear drawer. The lighting is perfect; your boyfriend has filled the room with candles, and two priests are holding hands and chanting. The air shimmers with heat and the chanting has a dulling effect on the senses. Your boyfriend holds a silver dagger shaped like a cross and an ornate chalice filled with water.
“Will you marry me?” you ask.
He splashes you in the face with the water and presses the blade flat against your cheek hard enough that two thin lines of blood appear. His hand grips your neck below the jaw, holding your face still as he draws the knife down your cheekbone.
“You know,” you say, “this only works if you believe in it.”
Your boyfriend is leasing space inside your body. The rent you charge is reasonable, a steal really, but since you’re in a relationship, you decide you’re not going to push it by asking for what living space in your veins and between your organs is really worth. Your boyfriend comes and goes as he pleases through a slit in your back, parallel to your spine.
Sometimes during the day you feel a kind of heat on the inside of your skin, and you know that he’s sitting or laying there, right inside your body, and you touch or stroke the spot to let him know you know he’s there. He’s very considerate, keeps the volume down on his television, makes sure everything is clean and well maintained. You’ve been breathing a little bit better lately, your heartbeat less erratic, and you know your boyfriend has been lovingly scrubbing your lungs and arteries, polishing each surface clean and gleaming, like he has removed decades of soot from a dirty window.
When you ask him to meet you for dates, he emerges from the slit parallel to your spine and he is covered in your blood and the other viscous fluids of your body. His hair is matted to his head and his hand is too slippery to hold. He shivers a little bit when he’s with you, like being outside your body brings on a chill, and you take pride in this evidence of the heat of your viscera.
When your boyfriend starts to cancel dates with you, or doesn’t show up when you’ve made plans, you are worried. Any number of things might have happened, like he has found someone else, or he has taken ill, or he fell down in the tub. You know from the warmth and pressure building along your tibia that he is still inside you. When you call him on the phone to ask why you haven’t seen him very much lately, he says that he sees you all the time. In fact, he says he sees the parts of you that you can’t see, and from the inside, with the light shining through your skin, your body is a cathedral.
You don’t have much to say to that; you find a needle and thread and sew yourself shut.
Zachary Doss is the fiction editor of Banango Street. His writing has appeared in, or is forthcoming from, Fairy Tale Review, DIAGRAM, Caketrain, Paper Darts, and others. He can be found online at zacharydoss.com, and on Twitter @thisyearsboy.