Melanie Rae Thon

May 14, 2018 
"Lover" is a story by Melanie Rae Thon from the latest issue of AGNI. Melanie Rae Thon is the author of The Voice of the River and In This Light: New and Selected Stories. In 1996, she was included in Granta's "Best of the Young American Novelists" issue.

Dark in the dark, you come as stones striking glass. The girl you want to wake is awake. I am afraid for you. Barking dogs leap hard against their chains, choke on their collars. She lives at the back of the house, two small rooms, one stacked on top of the other. The landlord roams free, thirteen rooms, all to himself tonight. He could be anywhere: safe in the damp disarray of his bed, headphones on, singing sweet and low with Leonard Cohen, drinking himself to bliss, or miming in his frenzied way the fingering of strings, the swoop of Yo-Yo Ma’s bow. He’s free: no one can stop him from dancing down the slippery stairs. I’ve seen him naked, brilliantly exposed, chilled in the green glow of the refrigerator. The mongrel dogs howl, whelmed with the strange smells of this night, lilies gone wild in the yard, their scent swirling up with yours, the curious dogs hungry for a taste, someone new to love, your hot blood, something new to know. The landlord must hear them too, and maybe now he’s holding his breath in the study, ear pressed flat to the wall, plaster so old and cracked he could punch his fist straight through it.The girl is afraid. Any moment he might burst into her room, grab to save, or seize and throttle her. Any moment he might call the police or unchain the white dog with golden eyes, the quick blue-eyed dog, stiff black hair thick as a wolf’s. She is afraid of you, the sound of your voice, brittle glass, sharp stone, but she slips down the steep stairs, slides the bolt free, opens the door to the breath of the night. The impossible heat surges and swells. Only the fierce dogs who love to lick her hands, who so often leap to lick her face, could save her now. You shove her hard against the stairs and in one graceful spin, turn to close, to lock, to seal shut with scalding skin the only door. She is crawling now, keening, a high feral sound. The dogs strain and hurt. The heat of her clots your throat. You grip one thin leg, afraid of the marks you will leave, the girl’s skin dangerously pale, so easily bruised, easily torn—afraid of her tiny bones, too close to the surface of the skin, as easily snapped as the bones of birds. You pull, lift her onto your lap, breathe dirt and ash, copper, salt: let all she is fill every cell. She’s blood in the brain, waves of blood breaking hard on fragile walls. You share one throbbing, syncopated pulse. Veins swell in the liver and the bowel. You know every quantum possibility of the body, yours and hers, impossible to separate now, a murmuration of birds, tens of thousands, the thunderous sound of wings, a dark storm moving through you. I am afraid. I have seen birds falling from the sky, lightning-struck or stunned by sound. All these years and even now I am afraid for the choking dogs, though they must be long dead, burned and buried as ash between roots of the sycamore in the landlord’s yard. He might be dead too for all I know. Softly you say the words the girl will never forget: I hate you so much my organs are quivering. It’s true: she feels them: hearts, spleens, lungs fluttering. Your four kidneys flare red, hot with infection, and the girl remembers bacteria spilling into blood, a blur of nights and days, chills so violent I swear to you and God she felt her bones breaking. I almost died. I did die. So she’s told you. Years before this night on the stairs, but now, again, she believes the fever, your swollen hearts, tremors in the brain, her hot blood roaring in your thighs, the trembling leaves will kill her. She will never find words to explain why she goes up the stairs, why without protest or regret she lets you follow. Naked on the bed, you say: I couldn’t hate you this way if I didn’t love you. The words mean no more or less than any other words in the damp bedroom where blood surges dark through your lungs, where your hands burn scars into your skins, where a small fan beats hot air down your throats, where your bodies break into particles too small to see, where she who in the blaze of day, in swirling snow and obliterating heat, has said again and again no, never, please, where she who can no longer think or speak lets you enter every particle and pore and again and all night and please, never, no, and now, even now, who can believe the heat, the illuminated wings of birds, warblers in flight, dogs safe and quiet in the landlord’s house, buried and alive, again, and now, all these years, and who can explain orange lilies, leaves flaming green, the fractured day, the impossible light of morning?


From AGNI 87. Used with permission of ANGNI. Copyright © 2018 by Melanie Rae Thon.

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