The boy turns on the radio, and my teeth ache from how hard they are ground against the others. This stirring—this lit-wick sensation underneath the heart, between the lungs, brushing against the soft flesh of unprotected organs—has been building all day. I run my tongue over the inside of my cheek, bite lightly, imagine something nibbling on my liver, smooth, but porous inside like a damp beehive. Streetlights race by in a dizzying game of red rover, they seem to sway back and forth after a while.
‘Can you make your pupils relax?’ I ask the boy.
He downshifts for a roundabout we clear on two wheels, shooting me a glance that I don’t miss. ‘No. How do you do it?’
‘Nevermind.’ You either can or you can’t, I want to say, but nothing else comes out. I let my eyes un-focus again, the sensation a fingertip brushing over fine hair, how a ghost might touch you. A dull throb warms me: my jeans are tight, seam rubbing against me in a way I like. I shift my weight with every corner, playing but not really playing with myself. Traitorous bodies are like this: I’d think up something basic like fucking a ghost and she’d get hungry. Took too much effort to be disgusted. As long as you don’t act on the really fucked up stuff, you’re still alright. I focus, feel my pupils collide as tendrils of tissue flex, tighten, close the spaces between fibres. I look at the boy and take in his dark hair, pale eyes, big hands. Goosebumps lathe my skin, prickling me like a cat licking. I hate how pale he looks compared to me, how pink his lips are. Mucous membranes, I think, and shudder. Too slick, too pink, too soft.
The boy picks up on something in the car and puts his hand on my thigh, pinkie grazing the inner surface. I moan but he can’t tell it’s from relief. This is what I need; someone else touching me. I’m sick of my own skin. I want the anticipation, the unknown, and the one-sided nerves. Another throb pulses and I roll my hips toward his fingertip. The rest of me doesn’t matter. When he touches me, body and brain knit together; she and I are one.
A song I hate comes on. I push his hand away. ‘Fuck is this?’
The hollow feeling expands and contracts with my breaths, something running sharp fingernails inside my lungs. He doesn’t know what I’m talking about. He’s never known. I flick through radio jockeys spewing bullshit. Between the hissing half-stations, I hear the same chorus, the same refrain, again and again; punctuating every beat until I want to rip the radio out of the car with my fingernails, pry it from the metal casing using my teeth if I have to, fling the box from the car onto one of the half-a-million-dollar houses we roar by. I punch the power button instead. My flesh settles. I put his hand back on my thigh.
‘Jesus. Could just Bluetooth what you want.’
We are at the lake. Not a real lake, this one was dug by men and giant yellow machinery carving out the ground, a gouged wound, but too neat, too clean. I think of coagulation, of a bloody dome before it dries to a scab. But it isn’t perfect; the blue-green algae has spread and now we pass signs warning us not to drink the water. This calms me. How long before the algae grew into it, making it authentic? I don’t know; it has been here for years. Perfect on the surface, toxic below.
I lead, he follows. The boy follows close behind me and I feel fingertips questing under the hem of my shirt. He traces patterns on my back when I stop and stare at the lake, the night-time air, a breath held in, afraid. I remember our first date; watching cartoons and drawing on skin, his fingertips worrying over the same piece, the finest sandpaper rubbing away parts of me until the flesh was blushing and sensitive like a burn. I didn’t stop him then. I don’t stop him now.
Rich houses nestle between reeds on all banks except this side, the one with the car park, but they sit slumbering in darkness. The rich go to bed early. The breeze doesn’t touch the water as air should. It gestures, slips towards the other banks but isn’t enough to stir the surface. The midnight water lies flat. Here, when the moon is out, I can see into another place like this one, with the same clouds, the same moon but everything is upside down. Drugged, drunk, the first time I had seen its mirage I’d fallen to my knees, gripping fistfuls of grass, trying to stop myself falling into a bottomless sky. I’d laughed, relieved that there was something else here besides the same song, the same conversations, over and over until I could finally just turn up my heated blanket and die the same death. Not magic, nothing that obscure, but doubt: unexplainable things. I’d broken my own fucking heart when I touched water, not glass, and ripples shattered the other sky.
Tonight, I see whispers licking at the edges of the water—a breeze—and the mirror is living. The boy steers me away. He takes me to a gazebo painted white and standing out ghoulishly against the weeds, sits on the wood-panelled floor, and pulls me down on top of him, my back to his chest. His hands are large, this is why I like him, and sit over my belly. They hold me firm. He knows I hate this, he knows a lot. We used to date before he left me for some online girl. But she’s gone and they’re done and it’s Valentine’s Day. I need something to get the taste of today out of my mouth and when I called him he was free. Anti-Valentine’s Day. A day for fucking exes in duck-shit-stained gazebos.
I can see fish eyes from where we sit, his hands undoing my jeans while I sigh and study the floating corpses. Moonlight gives them moisture, makes them shine, makes them easier to count. One, two, three-four-five, once I caught a fish alive. But not here. Even the birds left them alone now; they knew better than to touch bodies bloated with rot.
‘Ads should use kid songs,’ I tell the fish.
The boy grunts into my hair, probably agreeing.
‘Like that ad about coughing. No one knew what to say when someone coughed. Then the ad came out, and now people say the product when you cough. Free advertising.’
His fingers move into me and I rock on his hand. She is me now. We both like how he touches us. His hand moves slower, and I clench around him. I feel the ridges of callouses on sensitive nerve endings and imagine I can map his fingerprint.
‘Isn’t that what they do? We were missing something and now we have something. Isn’t that their whole job?’
The boy ignores me, puts me onto my knees, facing me away from him, pulling down my pants. I hear him fumble with the condom so I don’t turn and hit him. A passing family of ducks, woken by intruders, comes close, studying us for food. White eyes gleam in the dark.
After a minute or two, they paddle away. Keep still, I tell myself, focus, come back to me, to him. I dig fingertips into the slats, splinters biting me. Use the sting to crawl back into me. Be here.
The boy is shoving now, laying me flat on the wooden slats, and then he is pushing into me. She’s—I’m—not ready, not yet, but I want this. Unready flesh waking, stretching fibres and yawning muscles, undulating to fit. He doesn’t wait. He speeds up, pulling away further, leaning into me harder each time.
I tear at an iron nail that’s half out of its hole, release it, throw it into the water, watch the ripples. They die and the surface turns back to almost glass, almost a mirror, and I can see myself falling into this other sky. But then the boy is cumming and our rhythm is gone and I am pushing back against him, angry, not done. He turns me over, buries his face in my cunt and I feel like I am being eaten alive. I’m in love with his teeth. I push him closer, hiding his smile until he bites me and this is it, this is what we need. The quaking starts and I’m fluttering around the tip of his tongue, staring at what I think is the real sky past the roof and gripping his hair until I can feel the roots rip from their pores and he is bitching, curse words deliciously shaped into me, and then I’m pulling my own hair.
When I’m done he helps me back into my pants and I wipe myself off his now-red lips before kissing him. I taste our salt on his too-plump mouth; I bite his lip. He grunts and pulls away, bringing me with him.
We are almost to the car when my feet won’t work and I’m looking back at the water, at the pinprick of light invading the mirror. Mirror. Something burns a line—a scar bisecting the black—in the ink of the night sky. Another launch by NASA, in preparation. I watch the burning point lift from the horizon, escaping us, arcing and climbing farther than I can see. Someone once told me their name meant ‘need another seven astronauts’ and I believed them. I imagine a star where the spot is swallowed by night. Good luck, break a leg, au revoir. The boy is beside me again and I can smell his breath. Something heavy colours it and I throb again, hungry, sore and swollen. He scrawls designs—signatures—on my arm now, his fingers are tacky. They stick lightly, stuttering over pores and skittering over fine hairs. The patterns he draws are languid, sated.
A Moorhen screams over the lake, stretched and thin over the water, and the ducks call back, insistent, their sound Velcro tearing. The shadow of one, the gesture of another, dive and come back up, beads of water trapping moonlight, dull sunlight, into diamonds in the ‘v’ where dark wings meet.
‘Ducks never get wet,’ I tell the boy, but he turns from me and starts walking back to the car. The duck shadow dives again and this time I hold my breath, feel my heartbeat slow. I breathe when the duck resurfaces, its white-lipped beak cutting the mirror, a knife-tip.
The boy calls for me but I’m already running, jumping, landing in the water with a splash, diving deep. Thick algae slide past my skin, catching around my throat. The water is still going; it is deep, deeper than I thought. When I finally reach the lakebed my lungs are burning, pushing against my ribcage, insistent. My fingers catch, stumbling over rocks and branches and something smooth that darts away. I can feel the muted splashing—the boy is coming for me—when I finally feel a sharp bite in my palm. I grab and kick, lungs jettisoning rancid air to trail behind me like a comet tail. I suck in the instant my nose breaks the surface. Lungs spasm, shudder. The boy is yelling, he is furious, and I am smiling when I crawl out of the water and brandish my nail like a sword. He curses me out and jerks me to my feet; hurting my wrist but I don’t look at him. I watch the water calm until it’s almost a mirror again. Until it forgets I ever existed.
'Shatter Me' was inspired by Tygum Lagoon one cloudless night. Christie Fogarty is a current PhD candidate at Griffith University.