by Kelly Miller
I’m masturbating across the hall from her dying.
I’ve just finished giving her a bed bath. With that crazy half-detachment required when someone you love has stopped being that person. And has become instead this sickness. A moany dissolving body to be turned and agitated and tended.
She can’t take soap or touch. I squeezed water from a soft cloth. Warm water between lower lips that lovers have parted with tongues.
That feels good, she whispered.
I’m not thinking of this as I touch myself.
The life force in me growing, ticking and tormenting as hers fades.
Earlier her fingers purple. And bone-arms splayed at impossible angles.
Do you see me? she whispered. Her hand floating toward her cheek.
I see you, I said.
She asked again, You see me?
Yes, you are right here. I took her hand.
A queasy half-grin and then, she said, I thought I’d be gone by now.
Hearts. The goddamn things are resilient. Beating well past the point of service.
I’m pressing hard against the side of my hand.
Antlers against tree bark exposing new growth. The rhythmic writhing of a snake skinning itself across rock.
Excitement beneath despair. Nauseating. This goose flesh of anticipation impossible to pray or rub away.
I’ve been dreading, dodging her death like an assassin’s bullet for days. Caught in the crosshairs, barely breathing. Denying and bargaining for us both.
Months earlier. When the big bed was new. Tired from tugging it to the perfect spot, we sprawled across it hip to hip. This bed she declared was large enough for all her loves. Plenty of room to read and eat, cuddle and…nothing ruled out.
For a while she’d put down sex. Hoping to find some relief in spirituality. But now she said she was surrendered to whatever showed up. There was hope even for me. Though she’d never been with a woman. For her, sex had always been about the fulfillment of penis against cervix.
I love you so much, she assured, twisting to kiss the corner of my mouth. She was open to the possibility. But when I rested my hand across her belly she jumped up to sweep the floor.
I am like the girl masturbating in the movie Mulholland Drive. That scene she always hated. Where the blonde has been sexually rejected by the brunette. And how it’s not the violence of the blonde’s hand thrusting against her own crotch, striving to make something happen, that’s so hard to watch.
It’s her face. Wretched with pain and straining for release.
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