Excerpt from Michael Wehunt’s story “Onanon,” forthcoming in Shadows & Tall Trees.
You lay in the dark and heard the wet parting of my mouth. Warmth dripped onto your face from above the bed, where I clung in a corner of the room.
You closed your eyes against the scuttle of fingernails across the ceiling. When I was gone the room hung in quiet. You threw the sheets away from yourself and went to the window and twisted the blinds open. Below, figures on all fours skulked behind parked cars. Another watched you among the low bones of dogwood trees. The line of them stretching to the right, their petals gone.
In the fog of your breath you wrote MOTHER on the glass. You wrote DRONNING, and I had never filled your heart more.
He’d never thought Meli was the girl’s name, even when she murmured it against his neck the night they’d met at a reading in September. She was the earthy type he’d pick out of a room first, twenty-ish, hovering at the fringe of the bookstore. Milk skin with grease spot freckles, high rounded cheekbones and dense black hair. A girl who wore scarves in late summer, more like a Jennifer or a Karen, something that buried the truth of her under a soft screen.
Afterward she’d quoted one of Adam’s old stories and complimented the rhythm of his sentences. They both agreed he was better than the guy they’d listened to. Her praise and the way her body moved and he was half in love. In bed she asked a lot of questions about his childhood and he gave answers that even he thought were foggy. She was insatiable and let him do everything but stick his tongue in her mouth.
He’d woken alone in the early morning and found the sheets speckled with flowers of her blood.
Though Meli had softly demurred when he asked about her own work, she left a manuscript beside his laptop. A surreal story about a woman who believes she has become a great queen and explains her new status to her son. It was titled “Amanda,” the same as his mother and his stalled novel. From the first sentence the hours fell away and a vague despair built up around him.
Her prose read like it burned in her blood and spattered out of her. But she also wrote as if she had the time to pick up every seashell on some prehistoric beach, examine the sound inside each one until she found that inimitable tone.
He spent the day curled up staring at those twenty-nine pages, flipping back and forth to find so many passages beating with raw life. He felt sick with envy of a gift that was lifetimes beyond his own.
A few nights ago they’d run into each other—or she’d found him—at a release party for a poetry chapbook. Incestuous little circles of writers. They steeped themselves in drink and weed. Same as before, she wouldn’t talk about her work, and sometime in the night she left him. He woke tangled in sheets sprinkled with more bloodstains and heavy with her scent. A new manuscript lay on the floor beside the bed. It was titled “Dronning,” with the byline “from a novel by Adam Storen.”
His head throbbed at the seams. He wadded the bedding up into the trash chute. Dripped whiskey in his coffee and crawled back onto the stripped mattress with the story.
It was more scene than plot, twelve hundred words that cut off with a face in the window of a mountain cabin. The strange and singing prose was still there but had diminished over some dark threshold. The words felt ill, somehow, concerned as they were with some implied creature on the periphery of the page.
Yet something in the writing opened its jaws and he could almost hear them creak as he placed his head inside.