Who’s a good dog? they ask like a slur, with so much spit the teeth shines, lurid and conjuring of unseen forces, deeply underground like subduction zone erupting, and yet the tone so high-pitched and haunted, it feels prescient of galactical event. They tell me once that their great great grandfather died vilely in the camps of what the British also incorrectly named the Mau Mau Uprising—incessant torture, rapes, starvation, castration—leaving them with PTSD in their DNA. When was I good? They say now in exhale of epiphany.
We can smell the Callery Pear, like cum, it’s what brought us here, wandering through the woods, our defects growing in the dark. Let’s run! they exclaim, but I refuse, we could so easily trip in these thickets, with my luck it would be fatal. What a morbid imagination, they exclaim, but I have said nothing, I am just hesitating to run, while they are picking up my thoughts like they do in bed or in the kitchen—they feel my coagulated thought taking form. It’s a dense energy, rueful and alive in itself, and they say they can see it, gaseous and deep pink. They tell me that if I don’t watch it, if I don’t work on detaching, it could result in death of the heart.
The sun, our first god, is setting, revealing the moon, who follows them, looking like a plasma ball, and all I hear is their heels snapping branches, dead leaves, the sprint becoming the trot of a tired horse, the breath heavy, rhythmic and ragged. I am following now just like the moon, a red shadow of radio waves. I am lithe as a fox, trying not to be surprised by my ease, by my grace, or distracted by the perfection of trees looking like stealth towers rather than the old souls they are, holding together what’s left of the earth. They stop us just short of a clearing; the plastic star’s temperamental rave light, hanging from their braid, flickers on. I look beyond the hypnotic sight of the bluing of their skin in this wet forest hue and spot the car wreckage, a monument heavy in decades of graffiti.
Chimera, they whisper. They call me that when they want more. Tell me here right now what you’re willing to sacrifice. I back up from them, trip on something, and fall on my ass. They are pushing luck, they are thinking we can make magic, when everyone knows there is always the blowback to consider. They are forgetting that I was an arsonist. They are forgetting that I’ve left others incinerated in their wake, and that asking me to sacrifice anything is like asking anyone highborn to give up privilege.
They give me their long soft hand, I take it. They pull me up from the ground, and I dust off. They put their lavender infinity scarf around both our necks in a chokehold. They kiss my lips, their eyelids fluttering, and we are still and calm for such a long time, I feel wide, and solid, and able to hold everything I see in front of me. They take my hand again, now leading me to the marsh, water I did not realize was here, just as the white house at the edge of the woods had disappeared in a way I thought I’d only imagined. At this point a pterodactyl could walk right past and it wouldn’t surprise me. The veil is so thin right now.
As we walk, I believe that reader of a reading I never asked for—it said I had once been one of the Shuar in the Amazon, that I was a large powerful man, a shaman who healed with snakes. This is what it feels like right now, holding their hand, as we squat near the edge of the marsh. Like I am that man. Like I am that woman. Like I am that Two-Spirit. They are quiet. But I can feel they are close to bringing up that trip to Barcelona, when they threatened me with an empty bottle. I could go there with them, cross that bridge, bite their ear all the way through, spit out the lobe, then call it a quarrel. If they bring it up like I think they will, like I know they will any minute, to get what they want, call me Chimera again, as they do, I will resist the theater, let them talk on, and on, like I am Charlie Brown hearing the voice of an adult as so much background noise.
They are still quiet where we sit on a large rock, they below me, on the slant of the slate, their hair in balls of fuzz, from when they pulled their sweater on and off and off and on. I focus on a snail shell, inordinately large, white and clean, the water pulsing from it like a heart. They are looking too, their shoes muddy, the brushed material of their pants seem made of flies.
I’m moving out, they say. I have heard that before and can wait it out. I actually already have a place. You did not notice the things I have already moved. I am sick of your jokes. You have never taken me seriously. I just look like the last one. A good dog. You can send your posse comitatus, and it won’t work. Your parents will take care of the rent until you pick up the next stray. I already asked you what you would give up for it to be anything close to fair, but you are a pig, and that is an insult to a pig.
What happens feels like slow motion. Like I’m a worn-out old man, pushed up against the fence. Their mouth is still moving, a black hole shooting blobs of bubbles at me. I shove them to the ground. It’s no bad fall from this rock, it couldn’t be, but the polyphony in my ears is deafening. Shadows are passing between us. Hot glaring in the eyes. Someone’s got a flashlight in our faces.
“Is she hurting you?” it says.
“No, we’re fine here,” I hear myself say, incredulous that I hadn’t heard him creep up on us.
He keeps the flashlight in their face, not mine—he, the asshole, who thinks he is my savior. They are still on the ground, bending the air with fury.
“I’m fine,” I repeat, flipping him off. I hold out my other hand down to them, and they slap it away, still looking up at he with the dead eyes and flashlight.
“Leave us alone here,” I say to him now with threat.
He shakes his head at me, like I’m some disgusting mess. He can fuck himself.
They are up on two feet now. They look at me, the plastic star in their hair flickering like a small bolt of lightning. They straighten the infinity scarf, dust themselves off, the pants still alive with flies, they don’t seem to take their eyes off me. It’s long enough for the ground to spring flowers. Then they walk away. Light is all around them.
None of this is really my fault. They were interrupted by their mother’s death— every mention of mine, alive and well, opens the bruise. Could they know all of the things I love about them? Their architectonic drawings tacked all over the walls, their appreciation like mine of ten-dollar words, their goofy foot skate style, how they love to do standing spoon in the kitchen, their penetrative moon eyes of some medieval black saint, their wild hair in balls or braids, their scratchy voice after bouts of giggles, their pink bud lips, their taste like squashed persimmon.
Even if no one can see it, my great great grandmother was Ainu, oppressed in Japan. They never give me credit for being more than one thing, they look instead at me, sometimes, as if I were society itself. That is a lot of weight. I should feel lighter without them. I am the narrator, aren’t I? This is my story, not theirs. They are living to polarize.
The neighbors said I can swim in their pool any time I want, even if it’s late. I must submerge. The gate is locked but an easy climb. The moonlight is sparkling in the water. I strip off my clothes and dive in. The cold is shocking. God, I didn’t know how tired I am. I don’t know how long I’ve been walking, and why every part of my body hurts. Aches. I don’t know whose fucking dog that is that keeps on barking.
It looks like blood in the water. Is it my period? Is it theirs? Am I having an acid flashback? Is this even the neighbor’s place? This water is so thick with slime.
They were furious with me that time I told them to stop being black. We were at what they consider a nice restaurant, I wanted to get up to see the full pink moon from the patio, but the bill wasn’t paid. They refused to leave the table before the bill was paid. What I meant was, stop worrying about etiquette, stop caring what people think, stop being so fucking obedient. They were enraged. What I really meant was, change expectations. Stop walking around in so much fear. Fear begets nothing other than more fear.
They called me an insipid spoiled white girl. The oldest bones are maybe Ardi’s, or still Lucy’s, mother of Africa, mother of us all. I can say whatever I want to them, coming from the same origins. I don’t care that they cleaned out the apartment of all of their things.
When did they even have the time to do it? Don’t they know it feels as if I am gone from my very own body? This is why I am confused as to whether I am them, or they are me.
Lisa Teasley, a native of Los Angeles and graduate of UCLA, is the author of the novels Dive and Heat Signature, and the award-winning story collection, Glow in the Dark, published by Bloomsbury. Teasley’s essays, stories and poems have been much anthologized; she has taught writing in institutions such as UCLA, UC Riverside, and Cal Arts, and has led writing workshops around the world. Teasley is also the writer and presenter of the BBC television documentary “High School Prom,” and is senior fiction editor at Los Angeles Review of Books. A visual artist as well, her last solo painting retrospective was at the Marie Baldwin Gallery, spring 2019. She was a member of the former art collective, the Yams, who debuted their film at the 2014 Whitney Biennial.
Alexandra Leinweber is a multi-disciplinary artist and award-winning filmmaker based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work explores our relationship to a changing environment and the peculiarities of modern femininity. She holds a BA in Journalism from Temple University and found her way into film through photojournalism in South America, before pursuing an MFA in Directing from Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema. Her current venture, Wild Jelly Live, explores the future of cinema in a post-pandemic world.