With hairy Springes we the Birds betray,
Slight Lines of Hair surprise the finny Prey.
The words left Charlie’s head the moment he awoke, vanishing alongside any trace of the dream from which he emerged, of which he would remember nothing. As though it never happened. The golden morning light poured in around the white curtains’ threadbare seams. The way it washed the square, white walls in its empty stillness reminded Charlie that he was, indeed, alone. The sun felt like a glittering spotlight, casting his modest studio apartment in the forefront of the moment, forcing its utter blankness upon him.
He slid his feet out from under the stiff top sheet and felt a sharp tightening atop the soft skin between his pinky and fourth toe on his right foot. A razor-thin sensation. It was light, no more painful than the dull brush of a fingertip against the flat edge of paper. The feeling was fleeting and he forgot it almost immediately as, one at a time, he placed his feet on the floor. Feeling the cold of the wood against the bottoms of first his left foot, then his right, he closed his eyes. He imagined he was sprouting roots from each pore. Rooting him in the simplicity of the moment. Here.
The apartment was still. Behind the darkness of his eyelids, he was weightless, expanding outward beyond his Bed-Stuy apartment, almost forgetting where he was. It was an odd feeling to feel so grounded and simultaneously transcendent of place. He hadn’t known (how could he?) what he would feel when she inevitably left, but he hadn’t expected this calm clarity. Maybe, he thought, I’ll start writing again.
Opening his eyes, he drank in the room. While he was alone, and the walls screamed in their blankness, the apartment did not feel quite empty. She’d taken the three magazine cover prints that had hung in the place above where the sofa had been. She’d taken that too. He grinned at the thought of those prints. He’d lived here, with her and those magazine prints, for two years, yet he couldn’t remember the name of the magazine. Had he never really even looked at them? He must have. He remembered vaguely what they looked like—abstract renditions of women’s bodies, broad strokes of black ink. The font was large, with swooping letters, glittering gold. A splash of red. Lips, maybe? He preferred the walls as they were now, and yet he worried that there was a faint outline marking where they had been. It wasn’t really there, but he could see it, like an afterimage on the backs of his eyelids.
Beneath where the prints had been and to the left under the window were stacks of books. All his books—some rented, some borrowed—all accumulated throughout his years of study. Everything was on the floor scattered amongst loose papers, miscellaneous hairs, and dust bunnies. There had never been enough space for his motley collection, so the displacement of the contents of the bookshelves that she took only added to the piles that had already been there, now spilling over and encroaching on the space where the couch once was. Countless Byronic and Romantic literary anthologies, stacks of publications on Mary Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft, Godwin’s Memoirs of the Author of Vindication on the Rights of Woman, critical works on Betty Frieden and Simone de Beauvoir. Bits and pieces of his dissertation threaded throughout. On a good day, he’d say, “this is my life’s work.” On a bad day, he’d say, “this will be my undoing.”
For a moment, he considered the closeness he felt to these posthumous texts. He felt that their authors were so much more alive than she had been. They filled the apartment in a way that she hadn’t and never could. He brushed his fingertips along the top of one of the dusty stacks and rubbed his fingers together, feeling the dead stuff there. Maybe that was the source of the room’s non-emptiness, the women within those weathered pages, under ink and bound, so very alive.
Two weeks before, at the dinner party at his advisor’s flat on the Upper West Side, he remembered her long, milky blonde hair that parted thickly like curtains at her bony edges. She had worn a jumpsuit of sorts. It was striped vertically, amber and deep lavender, and made her look lean, draping gracefully off of her limbs and neck, the narrowest parts of her, long and straight. He’d thought of tinsel on a Christmas tree. Before they’d left, he’d watched her step into it. First, her right foot, then her left. He’d said, grinning, “A onesie. Like a baby.” But she didn’t think it was funny. Toward the end, she had stopped laughing at his jokes almost altogether.
She’d been quiet, as she was at events like these with his NYU colleagues. She was usually shy in a new crowd, but if Derrida was mentioned, or Whitman or any of her favorites, she would glow impassioned, her eyes alight with the fire of sharp wit, her quick tongue armed with cutting remarks and soliloquy.
But slowly, Charlie had watched that fire, the one that had caught his heart, that had once burned every ounce of loneliness away and left him deeply, desperately in love with her, ebb. He remembered that night in San Francisco. They’d flown to California for the weekend to celebrate the approval of his dissertation proposal and joined their old college friends for dinner at their favorite Burmese restaurant. He remembered Josh muttering something critical and reductive of performance art and her tossing her napkin on the table and whipping her head around to face him. He didn’t remember exactly what was said, but it was something along the lines of, “Josh, just a fleeting moment of eye contact with Marina Abramovich would grant me more emotional and intellectual content than a lifetime of conversation with you.”
His friends had laughed profusely, Josh glowing beet red, but laughing despite himself. On the Uber back to their hotel, Charlie placed his hand on her thigh and his lips on her throat. “You were so hot tonight.” It was a stupid thing to say, and he knew it.
She lifted her hand and placed it on his, stopping it. “What part?” she’d asked.
He’d hesitated, not expecting conversation. Usually, she’d just lean into his hands, her lips meeting his. He tried to stifle the feeling of annoyance.
“Well, I think everyone was impressed with your conversation. Nate even mentioned it.”
She sighed. Paused. Finally, “My ‘conversation?’” a glimmer of laughter behind her voice. She placed a pregnant pause between the two words, a pause that made him sure she was mocking him. She pushed his hand away. “I’m tired, Charlie.”
Charlie stood in the shower and felt the dull, miscellaneous patter of the water on his head. Still cold. The water usually took about five minutes to warm, and he didn’t have that kind of time this morning, not if he was going to make his meeting with his advisor. He felt a sudden tightness between his pinky and fourth toe on his right foot. A hair. He bent down to take a closer look, his eyes falling over his pale, goosefleshed skin on his way down. Crouching, he ran his fingers across his toes, feeling for the hair. He traced every shallow rut of his skin, his own coarse hairs on each toe between the knuckles, and the soft skin webbed in between. There was no trace of the hair, so he stood back up, letting the droplets trickle down his face. He wiggled his toes once more to make sure it had floated down the drain. He felt a slight, thin restraint across his big toe, on the hard skin before the start of the nail, just below the cuticle. He shivered in the cold water. Hadn’t it been five minutes yet? He bent back down to grab the hair, running his fingers blindly across his big toe once more. He couldn’t feel it.
Standing, he reached up and turned the showerhead to face the wall, dipping down to take a look at his foot. He couldn’t see anything. He stood and re-directed the cold water back onto his face, opening his mouth, letting it wash over his skin, carrying what it found down the drain. His own hair was thick, brown, and relatively short. Hers had been light, thin, and long. The rogue hair he’d felt between his toes had to be hers. Wiggling each toe, he felt it still. He cut the water. He’d wipe his foot with the towel as he got out; that would take care of it. Then he’d clean the shower later, then vacuum the rest of the apartment.
Quickly, Charlie dressed, grabbed a banana, and hurried out the door and down the four flights of stairs of his pre-war building. The man in the faded overalls who sat outside the front door of his apartment was there, as usual, sitting in his folding chair and feeding the pigeons.
“Where is your beautiful lady?” he called as Charlie hurried by. The man grinned, surrounded by white splattered pavement and ugly rat birds. Charlie hated pigeons. He shouldered his backpack in response and carried on toward the A train.
The mezzanine buzzed with bodies, flies, and the hot stench of stale air. As he stood waiting for the train (delayed by ten minutes), a woman caught his eye. It was her hair—it looked like hers. The way it shone even in the dirty light of the subway tunnel and cascaded down her back. But the woman wore flat shoes. It couldn’t be her. She didn’t wear shoes like that anymore. Hers were always thick-soled or high-heeled. Besides, she was gone now, and even if she was in the city, she certainly wouldn’t be at the subway station near his (her old) apartment. He realized that he was staring and that the woman had noticed because suddenly she was giving him the finger. He cleared his throat and looked away, embarrassed. When the train arrived, she pointedly sat on the opposite end as he did, and he buried his nose in his copy of Letters Written in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.
“Charlie, I’m going to need you to run that by me again.” McGregor was staring down his long, Roman nose over the tops of his ovular reading spectacles.
“I’m saying that I want more time to explore violence. Within Wollstonecraft’s oeuvre. For my dissertation.”
“Yes, I think there are many directions you could go with that.” McGregor leaned back in his chair. He was a large man with a burly mustache and tousled and thinning mousy hair. He looked like a cowboy pretending to be a professor, with his tweed suit and round readers. It was for this reason Charlie and Nate called him the Sheriff. “I’ve gotta be honest, Charlie. What concerns me is that you have about a hundred and twenty pages there,” he motioned to a stack to his left, near his neatly patched elbow, “about solitude in Letters from Sweden—specifically feminine solitude as it is sought—as a revolutionary act.” He frowned. “I’m having trouble seeing the connection to...violence? I think, at this stage in your post-graduate career, you should really be narrowing your focus. I would have a very different attitude about all of this if we were here twelve months ago, Charlie, but it’s nearly January, and you have a defense coming up that I expect you to be prepared for.”
“I know, I know that. But I can’t stop thinking about The Wrongs of Woman. In Letters, Wollstonecraft paints this image for the reader of an interior pilgrimage, an excavation of herself that offers the reader a glimpse into her own creative process.” Charlie noticed McGregor’s mustache twitch. “It’s more than that, of course, but through this healing journey, the reader begins to understand solitude as necessary for creativity. ‘In solitude, the imagination bodies forth its conceptions unrestrained, and stops enraptured to adore the beings of its own creation.’ It’s beautiful. It’s this creativity that’s the source of power.”
“Yes, but get to the…”
“I’m saying, what about the other side of solitude?”
McGregor narrowed his eyes.
“In Wrongs of Woman, Maria, the protagonist, is raped by her husband and placed in an asylum. The dimly lit, crumbling corridors in which she is trapped—in solitude—are visualizations of the prison that solitude can become, right?” Charlie pulled a stack of papers from his backpack and read from the top page. “‘Abodes of horror have frequently been described, and castles, filled with spectres and chimeras, conjured up by the magic spell of genius to harrow the soul, and absorb the wondering mind. But, formed of such stuff as dreams are made of, what were they to the mansion of despair, in one corner of which Maria sat, endeavoring to recall her scattered thoughts!’”
“Okay, I think I see where you’re going with this, Charlie. But how does this tie in with your argumentative thesis?”
Charlie, barely hearing McGregor as he tore through the pages in his lap, continued to read from another page, “‘To be cut off from human converse, now I had been taught to relish it, was to wander a ghost among the living.’ How can solitude—in some cases—be the origin of creativity, the catalyst for ‘moments of bliss,’ and a powerful revolutionary force, but then in others be the opposite—a loss of life that renders one ‘a ghost among the living?’ It’s not as simple as timing or moderation, I don’t think. It comes down to agency, doesn’t it? In Letters, Mary chooses her solitude. She willingly takes the path of self-discovery. In Wrongs, Maria is forced into it. Of course, the rape is violent, by definition—it’s a physical manifestation of that force, of the lack of consent, lack of physical control. But there’s the added dimension of her inability to prosecute her rapist husband. She was stripped of agency because of her utter lack of rights. She was forced into solitude and it’s ultimately a death sentence. Whether it be physically through rape or politically through a lack of rights, the stripping of agency is brutally violent in nature. Hell, Wollstonecraft never finished the book, and it’s no wonder. Where could she have taken that plot? Maria was stuck. In solitude. Forever. It’s like she was preserved in that unpublished manuscript, powerless. And it makes sense! Isolation is how those in power have kept others out of power since the beginning of time.”
McGregor leaned back in his chair and took a deep breath. “Alright. I agree there’s a moving binary at play here. But I think it’s been done before. Rape as a stripping of agency—not exactly groundbreaking. That being said, if you dig a little deeper, you might be able to get to something I haven’t heard before. If you want to bring these ideas into your dissertation…” he stopped for a moment, looking off to the side above Charlie’s head. “No, wait, let me re-phrase. If you can send me a coherent draft with this piece worked in by next Friday, I’ll read it. But you’ve gotta prove to me that you can pull this off.” He leaned back and rubbed the right side of his temple. “I think you should take a page from Wollstonecraft’s Letters and focus on excavating. I want depth at this stage, Charlie, understand? Go deeper—don’t cast a wider net. You’ll just get yourself tangled. I’d hate to see you strangle the life out of poor Mary and her work in the process.”
Charlie shuffled his papers and slid them back into his backpack, frowning. While he often described himself as “excited” to others in moments of opportunity like this one, it was not something he was good at externalizing.
“There’s a responsibility you have, in this work that you’re doing, Charlie. Don’t forget that.”
Charlie stood and left the office, saying nothing, and McGregor leaned back in his chair and gruffly called to the student waiting in the hall, “Next.”
“Charlie, are you bleeding, man?”
Charlie had been deep in a writing trance at his favorite table in the library—the one in the nook by the medieval history section next to the window overlooking the arboretum—for hours. He glanced up and, seeing Nate looking downward, followed his gaze to his own toes, protruding from his sandy Yucatans. His pinky, fourth, and big toe were crusted and brown—the two in between pale and unsplattered. He frowned, bent down, and rubbed at the stuff on the side of his big toe with his thumb. It flaked off like paint. “I don’t remember hurting it.”
Nate sat at the chair next to him. “How was your meeting with the Sheriff?”
“It was good. I think I’m really onto something here, man. I’ve hit this stride, and I’ve been writing all afternoon.”
“My dude! The Sheriff is on board?”
Charlie grinned. “He said he’ll read my next draft.”
Nate laughed lazily and shook his head. “God, man, fuck. He hasn’t read a draft from me in like, months.”
“Nate, dude, you haven’t turned in a draft in months.”
Nate snorted with guilty laugher and swung his backpack over his shoulder as he walked away. “Guess I gotta start sucking his dick like you do.”
“Or you could, you know, write.”
Charlie is surrounded by darkness, but he feels her touch on his inner thigh. It’s light, like the stroke of a feather, and slowly moving upward. He knows it is her because of the smell. Floral, but in a lavender way. Earthy-floral. Girly, soft, clean. It is her shampoo, he thinks, that makes her smell this way. It’s always strongest when she gets out of the shower. Right now, it encompasses his senses. The smell of her and the feeling, underneath him, as the bed softly supports every part of his back. He reaches up to stroke her hair, to take in the smell, to melt into it, to dissipate and expand, to be completely consumed by the moment, to exist simultaneously everywhere outside of her (in the unseen cracks of the walls) and only inside her (in the corners of her atoms). As his own hand moves against the golden strands, he feels her touch, her soft hand, move between his legs. He takes a handful of hair and slowly closes his fingers. An impulsive response to a pang of desire. His eyes are open, he can see the glint of gold, but beyond that, darkness. Just the knowledge that she is above him, by the piece of her he holds in his hand, by her scent, and by the feel of her palm and sweet fingertips down between his legs, gripping him firmly, her flesh slowly moving his, as he runs his fingers through her hair, slowly, slowly, until everything quickens.
It's a sensation he can’t quite comprehend, but he suddenly feels sure: it’s all a circle as he leans into the feel of her. He knows the piece of her he has in his hand, and the piece of him in hers, it is not enough. He grabs where he knows she is, floating in the air above him, and reaches to pull her down on top of him. His fingers rush through the air, missing skin, touching only the softness of her hair—floating, suspended, and moving, as if in water. He relaxes back for a moment, feeling the intimate motion of her hand on him, back and forth, succumbing for a moment to the waves of pleasure, sending ripples up his spine.
Needing more, he swings his arms upward again, hoping to catch her body, to pin her down, to be entirely inside of her. He misses again, feeling nothing but the wisps of her hair, thick and elusive. Where is she? He feels frustration rising in his throat. He lets go of her locks and grasps desperately above him, grabbing at the sea of hair. He opens his eyes wider, willing his pupils to expand, to see the glow of her skin in the dark. Instead, he feels the teasing tickle of each hair as it alights his flesh, now prickling with goosebumps.
He lashes out again, a little desperately, a little violently, trying to feel for her. It seems like she’s everywhere. He feels nothing but her hairs, which are beginning to feel less like one soft mass and more like thousands of strands of sharp razor wire. He’s sitting up now, and he reaches to put his hand over hers. He wants to follow the map of her body up her arm to her shoulder to her face, to something familiar and structured. Something sitting next to him, rooted to the bed, like him. He places his hand over his erection and feels a wave of cold dread. Under the soft of his fingertips, he feels not her hand, but her hair, wrapped perfectly, neatly around him, extending straight out from between his legs like a spool of golden thread.
Jumping up in horror, he screams in pain as the hairs tighten between his legs around him. He stops moving, and the thread around him holds—he kneels, frozen. He trembles as he feels the hair descend on him like a cloud of insects, wrapping its tendrils around his limbs, slowly, sharply cutting his elbows, his knees, his fingers. His arms are extended out from his sides, aching from the soft scratches, getting sharper all the time. He is crying now, paralyzed as the hairs make their way around his head, covering his eyes and ears, making their way into his mouth and down his throat.
It was 4:53 a.m. when Charlie opened his eyes, awakening to the sound of his own sobs. His hands were at his mouth, where he had been pawing at his lips. He was drenched in sweat and still shaking. He shot his hand between his legs and felt to make sure everything was normal. The terror clung to him. He placed his feet on the floor to try to ground himself. You’re okay, Charlie.
He walked to the bathroom to wash his face—there wasn’t a chance he’d get back to sleep. He’d try to use this as an opportunity to get some early morning writing done. His feet padded coldly against the linoleum, and he switched on the bathroom light. Rubbing his eyes, he walked to the sink and stared at his pallid, drenched face in the dim yellow light. He noticed something red on his neck and leaned forward, running his fingers across his Adam’s apple. He froze. There were scratches, little ones, littering the surface of his skin. He looked down and saw that they ran across his neck, his chest, his arms, his legs. He frantically checked himself all over. They were so small, nearly imperceptible. They didn’t hurt, but he could feel them with his fingers—little horizontal red slivers.
“Charlie!” she’d screamed. He heard her drop her things by the door. “Holy shit. Charlie.”
He had heard her enter the apartment, but he’d been immersed in his work. It took a moment for him to surface and become aware of his surroundings. He looked up when she turned the corner. She looked windblown, red-cheeked with a letter in her hand. Her hair was swept up in a bun with loose strands framing her flushed cheeks. She smelled like the cold fall air outside. She was beaming. “I got in.”
Charlie leaned back in his chair, trying to shift his concentration from his studies of the past to the present moment. “Got in?”
“Yes!” Her face fell a little. “To the Fashion Institute of Technology. Holy shit. This is...” She crumpled, falling to the couch. “This is everything I’ve been working towards.”
“Oh my god, wow! That’s, that’s amazing!” Charlie stood and reached toward her, pulling her up from the couch and into an embrace. “Baby, that’s incredible!”
She kissed him back and shook her head. “I just. I can’t believe it. This is…THE top school. This was my first choice. I can’t believe it.”
“So you’re going to accept the offer, you think?”
She pulled away slightly and frowned, staring at him for a long moment. “Seriously, Charlie?”
“What? I just mean, I just was wondering if you’d decided that fashion is really what you want. If it’s really what you’re passionate about.”
She studied him for a moment. “Okay.” She rolled her eyes. “Look, I’m going to go call my parents and tell them the good news.”
“Hey, wait, can we talk about this?”
“Honestly, Charlie, I don’t really want to have this conversation right now. This is like, the most exciting news I’ve gotten in probably my entire life. And you’re just going to make me feel like shit about it.”
“Baby, that’s not...”
“No, please. Don’t ‘baby’ me right now. I don’t feel like defending my career choices to you today. And you know what? I shouldn’t have to! I love literature. I’ll pillow-talk with you about Elizabeth Barrett Browning until the cows come home. But I’m passionate about art. About design. About fashion. And you know what else?” She held up the letter in her hand. “I’m good at it! I got into the top fashion design school in the world.”
“Yes, and that’s wonderful!” He paused. Almost despite himself, he continued, a little more quickly, a little more quietly, “I’m just worried that you’ll regret this decision like fifteen years from now.”
“It’s just, you are so brilliant. You had your thesis published! And you have so much potential…”
“Are you fucking kidding me? I’m not wasting my potential going to fashion school, Charlie. Your own mother is an artist! A successful one! She’s had an incredible career!”
“Yes, but that’s different.”
Her eyes narrowed. “There it is. Okay, spell it out for me. What’s different.”
“Well, she’s a realist painter.”
She shook her head and placed her hands at her temples. “So you think fashion isn’t art?”
“Hey, that’s not what I said.”
“It’s what you meant.”
“No, it’s not!”
“I know that’s what you think, Charlie, you’ve basically said it in so many words. You secretly hoped I wouldn’t get in! You don’t respect my career or, more importantly, my ability to make my own decisions. You’ve been throwing Ph.D. programs at me more often than dinner ideas, and you won’t drop the idea of me jumping onto your program…”
“You’d be so good, though.”
“Don’t try to turn all of this gross degradation into a twisted compliment so I have to feel guilty about being mad at you! You want me to play second fiddle to you in your world of academia, and it’s not going to happen. I need my own life, Charlie. I need my own world. I can’t just live in yours.”
Charlie’s face suddenly flushed with a sickly heat. “Okay. Well, there are far fewer Kardashians in my world. But sure, you’re the intellectual, picking the path of the ‘artist.’”
She picked up her bag, letter still in hand, and stormed toward the door. “Fuck you, Charlie.”
It is the stripping of agency, Charlie wrote. That is the mark of difference between a solitude that leads to a deep excavation of the creativity of the soul, or one that leads to a hindrance, an impenetrable obstruction in the flow of creative making.
He was in the library. It had taken him twenty minutes to come up with that sentence. He had a meeting with the Sheriff soon, but he felt ill, so he thought he might not go. His stomach ached. He was cold but sweaty. He started to pack up his things.
“Charlie?” He looked up. It was Nate. “Hey man, what’s going on? I didn’t see you at the Hall earlier. I thought we had plans to work together. You look like shit, man.”
“Do I have agency?” Charlie asked.
Nate frowned and sat down. “Yes. You piece of shit. You are a free-thinking, breathing, modern human. Not to mention you are at a top-tier school getting a Ph.D. And you’re a straight, cis, white man. You have literally every privilege that a person can be afforded in life. You can do whatever you want and probably get away with it. If anyone has agency, you have agency. Obviously. You dumb bitch.”
Charlie did not laugh.
“What is going on, man? Is this about—”
“No! Okay? No, this is not about her.”
Nate threw his hands up. “Okay! Sure, very convincing response! Your agitation at my asking in no way implies that I was right!” He picked up his backpack. “Seriously, dude. You’ll move on. It’s just a girl.”
“It’s not about the breakup, Nate. I need to work, okay?” Charlie grabbed his things and hurried to the Sheriff’s office.
The Sheriff was in a meeting with another student, but Charlie burst through the door anyway. “McGregor?”
He looked up from the student across from his desk. “Charlie? Can you wait a moment? I’m in the middle of a conversa—”
“I can’t make our meeting today. I’m sick.”
McGregor’s eyes glinted. No one missed a meeting with the Sheriff. “Ok, Charlie.” He turned back to the student across from him, with no further acknowledgment of the disheveled graduate student at his door. “Sorry, we were interrupted, Gabe. Please continue.”
Charlie stumbled out of the library, onto the sidewalk, and into the subway station. He scratched at his arms. The little cuts had begun to itch, and he wanted to be alone.
Back at his apartment, Charlie shivered. He opened his laptop to write, his apartment golden in the dying light of the day. The walls, now, seemed more full of specters than blankness. He was suddenly aware of the materials of things. The stuff it all was made of. He felt a rage toward anything woven, consisting of threads. She’d taken the couch (thank god), but he was wary of the curtains, the sheets. Anything that could unravel. His hand raised to his own short, brown hair. He winced at its gentle sharpness.
He sat on the cold wood floor and grabbed the nearest book, when suddenly he felt a tickle on the top part of his forearm, under the soft cotton of his sleeve, rustling here and there, tracing his radius. It was a disruption in his arm hair, a small feeling like an itch, but different. Uncomfortable. Somewhere under his sleeve, he felt the long, thin, milky golden hair brush slightly against him, but only when he moved just so. His vision blurred as though obscured by the overwhelming sense of dread. The horror that caused his breath to catch, the landscape of his flesh to ripple as his own hairs stood on end.
Madly, he stood, ripping off his sweater, reaching his hand up his sleeve, trying to grasp at the loose hair. The tightness of his cuffs stopped him, and he fretfully undid his buttons, his fingers trembling. He only undid the top half—so slowed was he by his shaky dexterity—and pulled the rest of it over his head, upsetting his glasses, which he then unsteadily adjusted back over his nose. He looked seriously at his forearm. He couldn’t see anything. He moved his arm, bending it back and forth at the elbow. There it was. The feel of the rustle. He looked closely but saw nothing.
“Relax, Charlie,” he said to himself. He picked up Letters, trying to ignore the tickling sensation on his arm. He figured if he sat still enough, he would feel nothing. But the more he concentrated on sitting still, on keeping his spine straight and unmoving, the more he thought he saw something out of the corner of his eye, near the window.
Don’t look, he thought. But his eyes traced the ghastly walls, moving from the unread page in front of him to the spot mid-way up the wall where her pictures used to hang. A spot where, in the recess of his periphery, he could see a golden pigeon perched comfortably on the sill on the inside of his window screen.
He turned to face it, and the bird moved its head slowly, tipping it downward, bearing its yellow irises into Charlie, peeking over its white-striped beak.
Slight Lines of Hair surprise the finny Prey...
He felt a movement on his arm. Had he twitched? He hadn’t stopped staring at the bird. How could it be her hair? He had cleaned the place top to bottom, how could there be any left? Where were they coming from?
“Leave me alone!” he screamed. The bird tilted its head, its cold, beady eyes bearing endless witness to his pain.
He felt a rustle on his ankle and closed his eyes. There it was: a movement among his leg hairs. A tightening on his skin. Then his elbow. His knee. Lower back. Up his spine. He closed his eyes tighter, holding as still as possible. Whispers of the feeling scurried across his pores like spiders, swimming through the coarse hairs on his legs, arms, chest. He heard the coursing flood of blood in his ears. He could almost smell her damp, earthy-floral scent. Slowly, he felt a tightening simultaneously at the base of his throat and back of his neck. His eyes sprung open.
“Stop!” he cried, clawing madly at his skin, plucking at his own hairs painfully. “Stop! You bitch! Stop!”
He writhed on the wood floor in a fury of sobs, scratching, clawing, feeling more and more restrained, his legs stuck stiffly together, bound by the invisible threads. Nearly blind with panic, he tried to crawl his way toward his study corner, where he knew he had left a pair of kitchen shears. He placed his hands on the floor in front of him and hoisted himself forward. One. He did it again. Two. Just one more pull, and he’d be within reach of the shears. He reached forward with his left arm when suddenly, as easy and effortlessly as if he were a limp marionette, it snapped backward, the invisible thread impressing itself halfway between his elbow and wrist, binding it to his back. Charlie cried out in pain.
Facedown, he thrashed under the snaking of the threads, tightening around him, crushing the life out of him. He pulled his right hand—still free—out in front of him and lifted his head, a string of snot and saliva trailing his lip. He gripped the floor, attempting to pull himself forward, and slipped. He tried again. He placed his hand on the ground, well ahead of him, and pulled. As if in slow-motion, he dragged his heavy body forward, reached up, and felt his fingers close around the shears on the desk above him. He gripped them tightly, and yet watched as they clattered to the ground next to him, just barely missing the tip of his nose.
For a moment, Charlie did not feel the tightening. He felt almost suspended in air—his heart seemed to stop. He lifted his right hand to his eyes and peered closely at the tip of his index finger, which suddenly itched terribly. As he brought it to his eye, the first thing he noticed was that it glistened with a wet coat of blood. He rubbed his index finger and thumb together, a feeling that was strange, different, slippery. With the blood rubbed away, he peered at it again and noticed that it was flat and soft looking as if buffed of all irregularities. Smooth as glass. He opened his hand and saw that his entire palm and all five fingers were devoid of ridges or indents. Utterly flat.
He then felt the itching on his pinky fingertip and turned his attention to this, the smallest of his fingers. He turned his head and vomited. When he turned back, he saw again what had overwhelmed his senses, the horror that made him wretch. The last remaining ridge of his fingerprint was lifting slowly off of his smooth skin, transitioning into a threadlike matter once it hit the air and left the surface of his body. As the golden threads, the unraveling parts of him took flight and twisted around the rest of him, they were visible only in a glimmer as they caught the light of the golden hour that streamed, beautifully, in through the window where the pigeon still sat, looking onward.