Love Spell/On the other end of the phone

"The Three Graces" by Claude Mellan

Helen looked away for a moment and they were all gone. It’s not like a dream. They are just absent and she can’t even feel anything about it, except disgust for them having been considered at all. In the same way any artist looks at uncompleted screen printings, halted because the tea kettle whistled or the rotary phone on the wall rang with that distinctive trill. Play any movie trying to act like they are from the 80s. And because the groundhog failed to see his shadow he was killed on a Monday by a man named George Motch.

Suddenly Helen’s phone was in her hand. And the screen was open, a mine shaft in a teen television series where the plot revolves around absent parents. And Susan is so terrifyingly wholesome so Helen can’t even imagine what she’d look like fucking. So Helen calls her, so Susan answers, so there they are connected by the cord that draws them together at the opposing ends of the cans. Listening. On mute Susan listens to her and Helen gives her all the ways to make her skin shine, a glisten on the edge of a sharp piece of metal, jutting off of a building, somewhere downtown at night, where the street lamps are reflecting each other, or rather refracting into words that already left the party, sliced by a dulled out steak knife from a wooden block on the counter.

Each time Susan passes the paper over her skin the ink slides just a bit further away from her. And that’s okay. Helen is still talking. And Susan is still so far away that their houses could be the scaffolded rooms of a play. Nothing existing outside those doors besides someone in black wearing a headset and whispering nervously into a near empty box. So many things have changed and all of them need to find an outlet to head down the watershed, trickling into a brook, a stream, a river and out to the bay while wailing out the words of the albums they heard along the way. Woozy almost at this point, they burn it all out, Helen from her floor, wooden and golden, a late summer sun kissing the sides of her knees, but without warmth except her own. Helen wished she could have swallowed the ashes and taken it all back. To grip tightly to it, the same phone that she woke up to, still waiting, in her hand the way she had left it, the night before.

Insert: Thinking about the conference Helen attended. The one where the speaker explained that the pleasure one derives from holding their shit in their bowels is the same as those who can’t let go, always chasing control and and the need to collect every little thing, keeping it becomes the same as appreciating it. As loving it.

Write a list of your fears.

Write all the things that are holding you back.

Write what you want.

The lord’s prayer is so soothing. It’s just one more thing to say like Helen’s high school alma mater. But the words themselves are so many inner tunes over her shoulder. Susan taught it to her on some other night that wasn’t this one, but some night that hasn’t happened yet, on one of those Susan taught her the lord’s prayer over and over again until she could contain her insides between the wall and the fire escape again. This time without a skylight which she had discovered were too bright these days, no matter how she used to love the way they would wake her up. But Susan, she was on her floor as well, behind a glass bowl to gather the ashes, burnt out to a crisp, it’s not over now, but those are. Those are over and over and over the hill in the snow since for some reason Susan gathered it to herself this year and instead Helen was left with all the cold but none of the joy.

Insert: Remembering the man who strangled Susan during sex and all the ways that the marks of his teeth would have looked better if it was a stick and poke from a needle dipped in a plastic cup.

Insert: A glass elephant.

The next time they repeat this, instead, Susan rubs the ashes over herself. Helen is pressing them into her inner thighs as though it now carries the energy from the walk she habitually traces. The tree is green at the top of the hill and she spent her time walking up there to count the butterflies and build them with any colors that take the first seats in the front row, since so few people choose those seats anyway, especially at comedy shows where Helen would much rather sit in the back and diagram their sentences as though it matters which adverbs they use. Helen remembered, once starting an essay at her parents house but it ended up driving back down to Hereford. Which she heard is pronounced hair-ferd. But here they were. Neither of those places now and she is leaning out the widow tossing the ashes into the sea while the city glow interrupts the rats scrabbling across the backyard with such delicacy they turn into glass figurines tucked into repurposed jewelry boxes filled with dark green ribbon. Susan is so absent in her silence. Telling Helen only later she had hung up.