ISSUE 4 · SPRING 2010
Attraction and Attrition
I remember how her body would search for my body. It was drawn to me across a crowded room the first time we met. It would brush against me or bump me softly when we walked side by side. On the couch watching a movie or on the floor with a puzzle spread out before us, it found a way to come into contact with me, as if it coveted the physical space my body inhabited.
Even in sleep, her body would continue to seek me. I would roll away from her and she would follow, draping an arm over my chest and mumbling incoherently. I noticed that her breathing would change to synchronize with mine. As time passed, I made a game of it, breathing slowly or quickly to see what effect my altered respiration would have. Slow breathing changed little, but if I breathed too rapidly she would wake up whimpering with confusion, and I would hold her close and let our sides rise and fall together until she grew still.
Her heart, as well, began to take its rhythm from my own. Sometimes while she slept, I would lean over and place my ear between her breasts while pressing a hand to my chest to feel my heartbeat. Always the cadence was the same. I tensed my muscles and thought restless thoughts, but nothing I did could separate the rhythm of my heart from hers.
Months passed, a year, two years. I stopped paying attention to the small details of her nearness. The first time I noticed that she did not throw an arm over me when I rolled away from her in bed was surely not the first time she had failed to do so. The realization jolted me fully awake. I sat up and looked at her, a half shadow in the darkened room. I saw then that her left arm, which had always wrapped around me, was gone. The sleeve of her nightshirt lay flat and empty by her shoulder. I pressed the cloth with a finger. Thinking her arm might be tucked in her shirt, I felt along her side. She groaned and rolled away from me. I clutched the blankets to my chest and lay still, afraid to move.
In the morning, she opened her eyes and stretched both arms above her head. I pulled her toward me and kissed her, wondering what madness had come over me in the night. Throughout the day, however, she never touched me with her left arm. When I reached over and squeezed it at the dinner table, she smiled uncomfortably and looked away. That night, again, I found myself prodding an empty shirt sleeve and burrowing under the covers with fear.
The next week, her right leg vanished. In the daylight it appeared solid and perfectly formed, but at night where it should have been there was only flattened bedding. When we walked together, I noticed that she only brushed against me with her left leg. If I walked to her right, she might reach out and touch the back of my neck with her hand, but her lower body stayed on its own path.
Her right arm was next to go, and then her left leg. In the morning, I would pull her to me violently, running my hands along the length of her body. She would free herself from my grip with an impatient sigh.
One night looking down at her sleeping form, I realized that I was lying in bed next to a grotesque, limbless torso. In a panic, I began to shake her. She didn’t wake, and though my breathing was fast and rattled, hers came slowly and evenly. I stripped the sheet away and pressed my hand to her chest. I pulled her shirt up to her neck and lowered my ear between her breasts. Her skin was warm against my face. I held my breath and listened for her heartbeat. There was none. I realized then that it had been some time since I’d last heard it beat.
Robert Hinderliter lives in Corvallis, Oregon, and his previous work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pear Noir!, Annalemma, Menda City Review, Fractured West, BULL: Men’s Fiction, and on McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He works with international students at Oregon State University.