Excerpt

Animals Eat Each Other

Elle Nash

April 19, 2018 
The following is from Elle Nash's debut novel, Animals Eat Each Other. A young woman enters an open relationship with Matt, a Satanist tattoo artist, and his girlfriend Frances. She finds herself completely taken over by the new romance, even adopting a new name: Lilith. Elle Nash is the founding editor of With Craft Magazine and a fiction editor at Hobart Pulp. Her writing has appeared in Volume 1 Brooklyn, The Fanzine, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

Solve et Coagula

A week after the Wal-Mart incident, we were all hanging out at their apartment in the evening. Frankie was making dinner, the baby was napping. Matt and I sat on the couch, alone for the first time. Most of my time had either been spent with both of them together, or with Frankie alone. This was the unspoken arrangement of the relationship. I did not know how I should act with just Matt. He wanted to discuss the details of Manson’s book with me, of which I had already read about half.

“Manson is a Satanist,” he said.

“What does that even mean?”

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I had never met any Satanists, though I had been accused of being one in high school many times. I didn’t even know much about Christianity, despite the religious nature of our town. But Matt called himself a Satanist, too. He had also suggested I get the Satanic Bible. He said something about religion being an opiate, how everyone in Colorado Springs was just following rules for the sake of following them, and how Satanism was somehow an answer to break free from these constraints.

“It’s an antidote,” Matt said. “A rejection of the puritanical world that is always pulling you outside of yourself and asking you to serve others shamefully. Always asking you to turn the other cheek.”

Frankie clinked dishes in the kitchen, but she couldn’t see us. I found it hard to concentrate on what Matt was saying because I was focused so much on the novelty of our privacy. I inched closer to him, but it felt wrong somehow. Although Frankie and I were allowed to spend time together, it seemed like she might be upset by Matt and I being close.

“Would you prefer serving shamelessly?” I asked.

“Maybe if you did,” he said.

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He grabbed his own copy of the Satanic Bible from a bookshelf and I noticed words tattooed on the sides of his forearms, but couldn’t catch what they said.

“Do you know what the Baphomet is?” he asked. I shook my head. He pointed to the image on the cover of the book. It was glossy black and in the middle was a red pink pentagram with the tip of the star pointing down, towards the earth. In the star was the image of a goat head.

“Inscribed on his arms are the words solve and coagula,” Matt said. He raised his arms up into prayer hands so I could read his own forearms, where the same words were tattooed. “It means to dissolve and come together.”

 

I had never met any Satanists, though I had been accused of being one in high school many times.”

 

I thought about it for a second. I thought about blood, and bodies and blood, and how the coming together of different meats and textures created a human body and then a human brain. How the leap from primordial soup was a kind of coagulation, reaching down deep back to spores and algae. It was a summoning, life was a kind of summoning. Sex was a kind of summoning too, a coagulation of fluids from two people to create another tiny person sometimes, the way that my parents had created me and so on. I thought about the word dissolve and how bodies decayed all of the time, the way that my father’s liver had decayed and then killed him, and how my mother’s body was slowly dying now, and how I might also be decaying and in this process every pill or drink I took was a kind of tiny death. I thought about how entropy seemed to be the natural state of the universe. How everything was coming apart, all of the time, while also desperately trying to stay together.

“That’s basically every force in life,” I said.

“The Baphomet scares people because of that,” he said. “Everyone has this demi urge to destroy and to create.” He moved his face closer to mine. His eyes got really serious and he talked in a low voice. “The darkness inside of them that wants to destroy, to do the bad thing, that wants to serve themselves over others. Everyone has it.”

“Is that why I’m here?” I asked. “Are you serving yourself?”

“What I’m telling you is that wanting to serve yourself isn’t a bad thing,” he said. “Frances was feeling isolated being a new mom. But it’s also a way for all of us to push our boundaries a little, don’t you think?” he added.

I wondered if Frankie had decided for them that she needed companionship, and why that companionship had to include sex. At the same time, I had never been very close with any girls in my life unless I was also trying to sleep with them. It was less a tendency to sexualize every relationship and more that straight women did not understand me. I naturally disconnected from them. I wondered if this was because sex, that coagula, was the real undercurrent of life. Maybe I had to be sexually attracted to someone to see spending time with them as worth any effort. Or maybe I craved a tenderness that could only be traded through opening up and sacrificing the vulnerability of my body to another human being. A kind of closeness that I could get from only one other place, a place that disappeared the day my mother became a widow and retreated into herself.

I often felt my presence on earth served as a daily reminder to my mother that the man she loved so dearly was dead.

Matt sat so that our legs were touching on the couch. Frankie continued to clean in the kitchen. She might walk in and end this short moment we had. His face was so close to mine. The heat of his breath emanated between us.

“That’s how black magic scares people,” he said. “When people who don’t understand it come into contact with the things that allow you to communicate with that dark part of yourself, it puts a fear in them. A holy fear. Why do you think Christians fear it so much?”

“I don’t know,” I said. I thought back to the times I went to church, which was not that often. “Do they?”

“Because they are lying to themselves!” Matt said. “That’s all god is anyway, a lie you tell yourself that you’re good and wholesome. Everyone is bad. Everyone. And the world is so fucked up because people aren’t willing to accept that being bad is a natural thing humans do. They are all just playing a game, lying to each other constantly until they die, because they are afraid.”

I was less interested in the religious aspect of his motivations and more interested in this dark space inside of him that assumed the worst in everyone. Was I bad, too? I wondered what he thought of my motivations to be here, and of his own motivations, if he was the one who wanted to open their relationship first or Frankie.

“So what of it,” he said. “Are you afraid?”

The whisper sent an electric pulse through my body, raising all the hair on my skin. My mouth went dry and hands felt numb. I thought about the way Frankie pulled me through the apartment for the first time, how her eyes watched every movement I made. I wondered if she was also as nervous but had sequestered the feeling within herself. It couldn’t have been that. The authority with which she wanted me to do things, and how I followed. The way she gleaned pleasure from my embarrassment. She really did enjoy my presence, so long as I did what she said. I feared her authority in some way, how sure she was of herself. It felt natural. Maybe this was a test.

That was the fear I had. I didn’t know if it was holy.

 

From Feathers

Frankie had been calling me Lilith since the first night I came over and she took all my clothes off, since the night that Matt grabbed the words hopeless and romantic on the backs of my thighs with his thick hands. She said it when she tied me up, whispered it to Matt when she told him what to do. Like a pet name, as though this were part of what being loved felt like.

I was a pet though. It is important to remember that. What it means to be chosen first is different—to be under the arms of someone, close to the ribs. Right up next to the chest, but not in the heart. Lilith, a pet who isn’t from the body of man. Every time she said it, I believed it a little bit more. I started to be it, started to be Lilith, whoever she was. Something about me slipped away, a letting go. Lilith. Each moment the name left her mouth I liked to imagine that I was someone or something else, a hard candy softening my edges against each curl of her tongue. I imagined myself disappearing granule by granule into the pores of her body. Whenever she tied me up and watched as Matt entered me, she watched as though I were a flower, something delicate to be seen and smelled and caressed, and every time he entered me I didn’t need to see myself in the reflection of his eyes. I could only see him and Frankie, myself an object to bring them pleasure. Benign neglect, how peonies thrive.

 

Maybe she saw that I could get too close to Matt, too close to her family. I could get too close and that was why she named me like that. Lilith.”

 

Frankie was in charge. She dreamt up the world and the world complied. I liked it. She put her hands out and we gave her what she wanted. Frankie was the center of the mandala, turning us around her. She was always holding my hand, not letting me go anywhere but where she approved. Letting me let go a little more each time, into a new me. Frankie named me Lilith not because it was who she wanted me to be. She named me Lilith because it was what I wanted to become. I wanted to know what it would be like to carry a bad habit all the way through.

I think Frankie knew it would happen, that my presence would somehow disrupt the daily harmony of their lives in a way that was out of her control. She may not have known when it would happen, but she knew that it could.

*

Matt and Frankie took me on a ride up to Gold Camp Road in Matt’s brand new Chevy Malibu. We stopped at a gas station beforehand and grabbed snacks, bottles of diet Mountain Dew and ropes of beef jerky. I got the ranch kind of sunflower seeds even though, after a few dozen, the ranch dust flavor started to taste like vomit. I would eat them until the tip of my tongue split with tiny blisters.

Matt loved his Malibu. Slate gray, leather interior, always vacuumed clean unlike my own trashy car. I found the cars of men to be fascinating. There was so little else they seemed to consume in this world in comparison to women—I collected clothes in big heaps and then grew tired of them, but hung on to them as sort of prize. The same with makeup, some of which I’d had since I was nine years old, some I inherited from my mother, makeup kids with bright pink blushes so old the powders became rocks, hardened with talc. Cars were utilitarian but also revealed something about the person with the keys. How deep and low the engine growled, how nice the rims looked, how smooth the gears shifted from third to fourth or fifth. The Malibu was a subtle expression of Matt’s personality I came to admire, and by extension Frankie’s, since she, too, was associated with the car. We rode around, listening to Marilyn Manson on repeat.

Frankie flipped around from the front seat and said, “Do you like this song, Lilith?” playing “MObscene.” She pressed a button to skip to the next track, “Fight Song.” She asked over and over again, “Do you like this song, Lilith?” and sang all the words. She turned on the dome light, making the dark outside impossible to see, flipping around to me every time she asked a question, so she could look me in the eyes. I felt the aesthetic of the word each time it left her lips, imagined the supple ways her tongue touched the roof of her mouth or the top of her perfect white teeth: Lilith. How much it carried while being so effortless.

I practiced my trick again, the third eye spot. Frankie said the name at the end of every sentence: Lilith, Lilith, Lilith. I felt like a foreign reactionary playing spy. I wondered if she’d heard Matt and I talking about Satanism that night in the living room, if I had overstepped. Maybe she saw that I could get too close to Matt, too close to her family. I could get too close and that was why she named me like that. Lilith. A girl invited from the dirt of Frankie’s private Eden, Frankie whose life was so entwined with Matt’s that she came from the bent rib of her lover. Perhaps Frankie was not devoured by the man of her life the way my mother was; it was that she came from him, saw herself as part of him, was so sturdy in his skeletal embrace that she, at first, saw no threat in opening their tannic hearts to me. Lilith was a separate being. That was what Frankie wanted: to close me out. The sinews of their courtship threaded so tightly together that I was merely present to play harp on the tendons of their singular body.

I didn’t know all the words to the songs, and tried to play along as best I could. Every time she flipped around, all hair and eyes, fingers gripped to her seat, I’d force a smile. I’d crinkle my eyes, squint them just a bit to make it seem real, and put sunflower seeds in my mouth, wishing they were Percoset.

__________________________________

From Animals Eat Each Other. Used with permission of Dzanc. Copyright © 2018 by Elle Nash.




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