“You have to integrate it.”
Noah Bloom went to biweekly therapy on Thursdays and sometimes Tuesdays when she didn’t have to take an extra shift at the bookstore. She was twenty-seven and interested in self-improvement, and the only thing she genuinely hated was boredom. The incidents that brought her to therapy were both intrinsic and extrinsic, a menagerie of traumas melded with preternatural melancholia, which was a nice way to say she was fucked in the brain.
At least, she thought, she was doing something about it. There were plenty of people out there who refused to look inward and allowed their personal problems to fester like an open sore. They were like frightened animals of sensitive spirits and a severe lack of self-awareness, snapping at anyone who dared to get too close. Noah sometimes snapped, but she was not an animal about it. Or she tried not to be.
Her therapist was Dr. Armstrong, a man in his late middle-ages. He had a head of ashen hair and a mustache so thick and black it seemed to not get the memo that his head had decided to grey. His mouth was wide and wet. The eyes behind a pair of round glasses were very shiny like black marbles and Noah had always thought had he been born a century earlier, he’d probably be an opium-addicted dandy, but as it was, it was 2023 and he was a therapist.
“There’s no going back from it, so you must integrate it,” said Dr. Armstrong, that red, wet mouth splitting like an overripe plum. “Make it a part of you.”
Make it a part of you.
This was the statement Noah carried with her as she vacated Dr. Armstrong’s office that evening, blinking up at the hazy Chicago mid-winter sky.
For the length of her life, ever since her first memory of consciousness, Noah had felt empty. It seized the pit of her belly like a black hole, a constant, all-consuming void. She had experimented with many “solutions” (read: vices) in an ultimately vain attempt to fill up this hole, including drink, drugs, food, and sex, eventually arriving on therapy at the age of twenty-six. Therapy was by far her most constructive and viable strategy but the void had not gone away. She’d started to fear it was a permanent feature.
When Noah zoned out while taking public transit or watching television, she would rest a hand on her lower stomach, palm down like she was cradling her own steaming guts. It was the spot where the emptiness lived. When she looked down and noticed her hand, she’d immediately imagine the pale and trembling fingers slip inside her belly, passing through the flesh with no resistance. She was a bottomless well, she was hungry, she begged for more. More, more, more. She would continue reaching inside the hole of herself until she was completely sucked in, swallowed up. Satisfied. On the L train once, a nosy stranger noticed her hands position and asked if she was pregnant. She had said yes.
She had told Dr. Armstrong about these thoughts she’d been having in their first session together, and he’d explained to her that this was a common reaction to the trauma she’d endured as a child, and that in order to eradicate this feeling, she must accept what has happened to her.
Make it a part of her.
She’d clearly not completed this neccessary integration, at least not to Dr Armstrong’s satisfaction, as he was still giving her this counsel a year later. He was arrogant and unyielding. She wasn’t sure why she kept seeing him. There was, she thought, something to be said about the concept of familiarity and how it made one complacent, willing to grow accustomed to just about anything. The idea of recounting, yet again, the worst instances of her life to a fresh – and potentially apathetic – face was harrowing enough to make her want to stay with Dr. Armstrong. It was quite possible that it was this same issue – this complacency – that perpetuated the cavernous emptiness within her, and prevented her from integrating. Although, on that latter point, she had quite thought she’d made some notable strides in recovering from and incorporating her emotional injury, but perhaps that was not the case. This realization made her feel like she was stuck and because she could not think of any workable methods of un-sticking herself, she went to a bar.
It was not a nice bar, but it wasn’t a total dive either. There was a bland sort of mediumness to it that disqueited Noah. She had picked it on a whim, and was now beginning to feel that she might’ve preferred something in either dramatic direction: too extravagant or overly shoddy.
She took to a stool at the bar. There was a man in the seat beside her, half his face cast in shadow. Noah ordered a whisky sour. This caught the man’s eye. “Unusual choice for a young lady.”
Her face contorted in displeasure. “Young lady? You barely look any older than me.”
Now that he was facing her, she could see the fullness of his features. They weren’t much to write home about – plain, unremarkable, a common-place sort of mediumness. That wasn’t to say he wasn’t handsome; he was, only that it was the kind of handsome that said nothing, had nothing to say. His was a face suffering from a severe lack of character.
“Sam,” he introduced, holding out his hand.
At first, Noah just looked down at it like it was some flacid deep sea cucumber. Then she noticed he had a perfectly round bruise on the palm, about the size of an eyeball.
“How did you get that?” She asked.
He inspected his own hand. “I fell.”
“It’s so round,” she said, “Kinda beautiful.”
Sam ordered a whisky sour so they could have something in common.
“How did you fall?”
Noah sipped her drink. “When you got that bruise. You said you fell.”
“Oh,” he said, growing a little sheepish, “It’s kind of dumb.”
Noah kept her eyes on him, and after dredging his glass, he began to tell the story. “I was out for a walk. My long-time girlfriend had just broken up with me out of the blue and I needed to clear my head. We’d been together for two years and were talking about moving in together, so like… it was a huge blow.” He eyes fell to the rough wood of the bar. “Anyway, I was walking down Hoyne avenue and passed this huge Victorian style home. Purple slating, a skinny window facing the street. Well.” He paused, as if he didn’t trust himself to tell the rest. Or perhaps he didn’t trust her to hear it.
She nodded, encouraging him.
“I looked up at the window and saw this woman standing there.”
“What was she like?”
“Sad,” he said, flatly. “Like, terribly sad. She had these big, haunting eyes and I…” he laughed. “Haunting. Yeah, uh. That’s kind of the overall theme here, if you catch where I’m going with this.”
Noah’s eyes widened. “Are you suggesting this woman was… what? A ghost?”
He shrugged, trying to appear casual but it was evident that the memory chilled him. “Maybe. I don’t know. When I looked at her, my chest felt tight. I felt so sad that I thought I might die.”
“Well, you’re girlfriend had just broken up with you,” Noah offered. “It makes sense that you’d be sad.”
“I know, I know. I thought the same thing when I mulled it over later, but I don’t think that’s it. Not all of it, anyway. But I couldn’t look away from her. She didn’t seem to notice me at first, those huge eyes were focused on something else across the street, but then,” he ordered another whisky sour and waited for it to arrive before continuing. He cleared his throat. “But then she looked at me. Dead on. And it felt like I’d been gutted with a… with a… ice pick,” he snapped his fingers at the perfect accuracy of this description. “I felt torn apart and chilled to the bone. And then I blinked and she was gone. I guess there was an uneven notch in the sidewalk or whatever, because my foot caught it and that’s how I fell.”
Noah smiled sympathetically. “You could’ve just told me you tripped.”
“I know. But I wanted to tell someone what I saw. Do you believe me?”
They went home together. He took her to his apartment on the other side of town, a narrow but beautiful brownstone that surely cost a fortune to inhabit. She had not pegged him as rich, and though money was of no interest to her, it did add some mystery to his otherwise bland aura.
She slipped out of her shoes in the foyer. The wood floor was cold under her stocking feet.
He set to work in the kitchen making them coffee while she paced the living room, reading the spines of the many books tucked in a tall wall-facing shelf. She was surprised to find that most of them were self-help books with titles like The Secrets of Happiness and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Dummies.
“Did you get into self-help before or after your ghostly encounter?” She asked when he returned with two piping cups.
“Oh, that,” he said, handing her one. She cradled it between her palms like something alive and precious. “No, I’ve always been interested in self-improvement.”
“Yeah, I see a therapist.”
He sat down on the brown leather sofa, and with the hand that wasn’t holding his cup (the one with the perfect bruise), he made a dismissive wave of his fingers. “Oh, I would never.”
“I think therapists are quacks.”
Noah’s brow furrowed. “Well, maybe some of them are quacks. But not all of them.”
“I don’t know,” he blew lightly on his coffee. Steam rolled off the top. “I just feel like they can’t do anything for me that I can’t do myself.”
“I don’t know about that,” she drank her coffee, the bitter heat coating her tongue. Though she wasn’t crazy about Dr. Armstrong, she wouldn’t go so far as to call him or his entire profession quakery.
He shrugged as if to say, let’s agree to disagree. Noah was not prepared to drop the subject. She sat beside him on the sofa, curling her legs beneath her.
“My therapist always tells me that I have to integrate my past trauma. That I can’t erase it so I ought to make it a part of me in a positive way.”
“Don’t you think that’s just common sense?” He asked.
“No,” she said, “Not to me. I haven’t been able to figure out how to do it properly.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” he said and placed his cup on the nearby table. He removed hers from her hands with an assumed familiarity that surprised her.
“I wasn’t finished.”
“I can make more later.” He set her cup out of the way.
He leaned in and kissed her. A hand – the one with the perfect bruise – snuck up under her blouse and cupped her breast. His lips traveled down her neck, working at a particular spot at the nape for a tiringly long time. He pushed her back onto the couch, hovering over her, mouth still attached to her throat. She stared blankly up at the ceiling.
“I just feel so empty all the time,” she said.
He tweaked her nipple. “Let me fill you.”
He led her to the darkened bedroom and laid her out on his unmade bed. He undressed. She made no moves to do the same, watching him with half-lidded eyes. He seemed to find this arousing, perhaps because he thought she was finding it arousing, and made a slow show of removing each article. His body was as unremarkable as his face. Again, it was a perfectly formed mass of skin. Everything was where it ought to be, and it was apparent by the definition in his biceps and abdominal muscles that he frequented the gym. And yet, Noah was bored by the sight. The emptiness grew within her.
He crawled on top of her and resumed kissing her. His hand snuck between them and undid the snap of her jeans with adept precision, pulled down the zipper. His lips and tongue worked their wet way to her collarbone. With the top of his head so near her nose, she inhaled his scent, a fusion of coffee grounds, whisky, and a whisper of shampoo. One of her own hands – a pale but steadfast thing – slipped between their warming bodies and rested on her lower stomach. The emptiness was calling attention to itself in that moment in a very pronounced way, making itself known when it was usually content to exist as it was with little fanfare. It twisted and seized. It begged to be filled.
Let me fill you, he had said. Let me fill you. Integrate it. Make it a part of you. Men had said a number of things to her today that seemingly amounted to the same thing. Maybe they all knew something she didn’t. Probably not.
Noah grabbed his hand and brought it up to her face, inspecting it in the shadowy light. The bruise looked back at her. It was remarkable indeed, a perfect eyeball shape, and not purple or green at all like a typical bruise – but black. Pure black, like the absence of color. It was the most endearing thing about him, and it would soon be healed, gone.
She kissed it and then put one of his fingers – long but unremarkable – in her mouth. And she did not realize what she had done until he screamed and she tasted iron. He reeled back and fell to the floor with a thump. He sobbed and clutched his hand to his chest. Blood gushed in a sputtering arc from a jagged knuckle.
His detached pointer finger poked at the plush of her inner cheek. She gnawed on the flesh like a chicken wing and spat out the bones. The emptiness was decreasing, she noted, it was becoming sated. Becoming. She slid from the bed and crawled on top of him, lips finding his neck. Teeth found his throat. She bit down.
She let him fill her.
When Noah was a child, she was always hungry. Her mother could never quite grasp that a girl of nine – one with such a rawboned frame – could eat so much. It was also quite the burden on their humble family, because if Noah ate too much that meant there wouldn’t be enough for her older brother John or for Ma or Pa, but John was the primary concern.
But John loved Noah (certainly more than their own parents did), and he’d buy her sweets with his allowence or let her have the rest of his mashed potatoes during dinner, despite the fact that Pa always told him he ought to eat every last morsel if he was going to bulk up and get that football scholarship and then – as if it was a thing divined by the Fates – go on to be drafted into the NFL.
Noah loved John. Her older brother made growing up in their small farming town in Nebraska a great deal of fun, even though by most kid’s standards, it was pretty Podunk.
One time John had told her that he loved her way more than other brothers loved their sisters, and when she’d asked him what he meant, he told her that he loved her double as much: like a lover and a sister. She didn’t understand – at least, not right away – and didn’t dare ask him to spell it out. She didn’t want John thinking she was too young and stupid to hang out with him.
It started a week later.
He came into her room late one night, which in itself wasn’t an unusual occurrence; sometimes they’d stay up late reading Goosebumps by the narrow beam of a flashlight. It would usually give her nightmares, but she found the series of dark tales to be thrilling. But this time, John did not come bearing books or flashlight.
He roused her from a dream; his boyishly handsome face swelling into view like a photograph in a dark room. He was smiling.
“What is it, Johnny?” Noah asked, rubbing the sleep from her eyes with a balled little fist.
“I’ve come up with a new game for us to play,” he told her, sounding excited. “Lay back down.”
He explained the rules of the game to her in plain English. She was to stay perfectly still and perfectly quiet, and if she did a really good job, she would be rewarded with salt water taffy. Noah was intent to show John that she could play his grown-up games. She laid back and was so still even when it was challenging, even when she wanted to bolt up or scream or ask him to stop. She squeezed her eyes shut and thought of chewy taffy and Saturday morning cartoons. Her Minnie Mouse clock said that only ten minutes had passed but it had felt like hours and hours.
“You were so good,” he said, ruffling her hair and kissing her forehead. He slipped a hand into the pocket of his pajama pants and procured three pieces of neon yellow banana taffy. “You’re such a good little girl, No-No.”
It went on like this for the next three months. Every night he would slip into her bedroom like a phantom, and they’d play the game. And then, to reward her for her good behavior, he would shower her in whatever candies he’d bought at the convenience store across the street from his – and later, her – high school. Taffy, chocolates, mints, Little Debbie’s cakes, lollipops with tacky tootsie rolls in the middle.
Noah drew deep into herself with every nightly visit, though her parents didn’t notice or didn’t care. She stopped eating so much, which pleasued Ma and her faux-leather pocketbook. Noah never refused John’s treats, but she began to hide them. They no longer tasted sweet, and in fact, when she tried to eat one, it seemed to burn her tongue. Most of the candies ended up in the rickety doll house she claimed she was much too old to play with but in actuality the idea of ‘playing house’ as she knew it was much too painful.
It was a somber day for the entire Bloom family when John graduated. He’d achieved that football scholarship just like their Pa had wanted and was going to the big state university. Noah was eleven. Though she didn’t allow it to surface, somewhere deep inside she was glad that John was going. She was glad that it was all coming to an end. But it wasn’t the end.
When John returned for winter break, he appeared in her bedroom late in the evening just like he used to do. It was Christmas eve.
“I’m too old to play that game now,” Noah said, trying to sound resolute and grown-up.
“I see,” said John, feigning disappointment. His thick brows dipped, and she hated seeing him like this, hated it so much that she almost gave in, but then he snapped his fingers. “I’ve got it. A new game. But it might be too mature for you… I learned it in college.”
Noah crumpled her sheets in her hands. “What is it?”
“Do you remember when I told you that I loved you twice as much?”
“Well, let me show you what I mean.”
And he showed her. It was painful and humiliating, but it was John. It was John and he loved her and she loved him. Even he could sense that he’d perhaps taken things too far, and after the deed was done, he laid beside her in bed and held her all night as she silently wept. She wept like an adult.
“You’re a woman now, No-No,” he said it like it was something to be proud of. He pet her hair.
If this is what it felt like to be a woman, Noah thought, I want no part of it. Being a woman was nothing but pain.
John went back to school and Noah tried to forget, but it was particularly hard because her body began acting strange. She started throwing up most mornings, which kept her home from school. It got bad enough that she called Johnny.
“Something’s really wrong,” she said, her voice quiet and quivering over the line.
“I’m coming. I’ll be there tonight.”
Noah was overjoyed when he arrived, and so were their parents. They delighted in a surprise visit from their most beloved, most accomplished, most wanted child. Ma had said it was such a bore around here without him. But he told them that he was here for little Noah, and that made her feel special. He said that he wanted to take her on a trip, wanted to show her his school’s big and beautiful campus. They’d only be gone for a couple of days. Ma and Pa acceded.
They departed that night. Noah watched as the stars and the few streetlamps that dotted the side of the roads blurred together as they raced by in his car. Squinting her eyes, nearly shut but not all the way, made it look like the stars were dancing.
She touched her stomach, the area right below her navel.
Noah had thought they would be going to the hospital but they ended up at an apartment building near his campus where a boy – apparently a year older than John and a close confidante of his – ushered them in all hush-hush. She watched as John and his friend talked to each other in low but urgent voices, and finally, the friend turned to her with an overly large smile. His cheeks still retained the baby fat of youth.
“He’s going to make you all better,” John explained in a soothing voice. He might’ve said the young man’s name but Noah no longer remembered it. “He’s studying to become a doctor.”
The almost doctor gave her a glass of water and a white pill barely any bigger than her pinky naill. He instructed her to swallow it. She did. He led her to a bedroom where she laid down on a bed that had been clumsily fitted with a plastic sheet, and even as her eyelids grew heavy and she bobbed in and out of consciousness, she remembered the way the crinkled plastic felt against the back of her neck. Her legs dangled off the edge of the bed, knees scraped and knobby.
She was in pain when she awoke, groggy and misty-eyed, many hours later, but John’s cheery face and sweetly spoken words assured her that everything was okay. That she was okay. And she chose to believe him. He hugged her, and she could feel his moist breath on her skin.
“This is our secret, okay, No-No?” He said, and she noticed he was crying. “This is just between us. Promise me it’s just between us.”
She kept that promise – to not tell Ma or Pa or anybody what happened or what he did – for a long time, all the way through high school. She was in her senior year and considering college in an abstract sort of way, but because of her subpar grades, it seemed unlikely that she would be accepted anywhere. Although she did not find school challenging, Noah realized by her sophomore year that studying and homework was an onerous task and all meaningless. It bored her. It failed to fill the void. And every night, when she laid down to sleep in her childhood bed, her chest tightened, the emptiness within her growing in scale and demand.
John never touched her again after that night at the almost-doctor’s apartment. She presumed that he in his infinite elder brother wisdom had realized that what he’d done had towed the line, even though it had been an alleged act of love, the likes of which no brother and sister ever ought to indulge in. It wasn’t until much later that Noah realized this.
On the day of her eighteenth birthday, Noah broke her promise. She told Ma about John. She told her everything from beginning to end, recounting each incident with a forced degree of restrain and tonal distance that made the whole thing semi-tolerable to speak on. With every passing word, she watched as Ma’s face pinched with anger – righteous anger – the wrinkles on forehead becoming more pronounced. But when she finished speaking, Noah realized that this anger was not directed towards John, but at her.
Ma got real close to her then, grabbing the collar of her t-shirt and huffing sour air down her neck. There was something animal about it, like a dog who was so scared it made it angry. It made it snap. “You are not to breathe a word of this to anyone, you understand me?” She said. “Not a word. You take this to your grave.”
With wordless acceptance that this was the way it was going to be, Noah ascended the stairs and packed up her scant things in a duffle bag. She caught a Greyhound bus and left it behind.
It only seemed fitting that her journey back to Nebraska should be done by bus. She didn’t plan to stay in her home state for very long, packing only a pair of boots (which she wore on her feet), one wool pajama set, and three days worth of cold-weather daywear. After this whole sordid nonsense was resolved, she might even book a flight home. A red-eye. Noah had never been on a plane before.
The emptiness inside had lessened for the first time thanks to Sam and his perfect bruise. She was incredibly appreciative of him and what he had done for her, for what he had given her. He had become a part of her now and that was no small thing. She carried him with her, and she intended to make that mean something.
Noah knew what had to be done – what would fill her once and for all – and that was the true gift of Sam’s sacrifice, as though eating his supple flesh had provided her with divine coherence. All along, it had been there, right in front of her eyes. Dr. Armstrong had been telling her precisely what she needed to do, but she had failed to recognize it.
It wasn’t difficult to determine where he lived. She only needed to Google his university to make the connection, and then the path unraveled before her in hyperlinks and social media. She was not shocked to find that his NFL aspirations had been abandoned following a disappointing collegiate season spent on the bench.
He now coached the varsity high school football team – the same high school they had both attended. He’d never left Nebraska. He’d returned to their small farming town. After searching him up on Facebook, she discovered that he had a wife – baby blonde, cinched waist in high-waisted capris, blinding white veneers. And two kids. Tow-headed daughters, both under ten.
She parked her rental car in the back near the well-manicured football field and the swimming pool where the water polo team practiced in the spring. There was one truck remaining in the lot and instinctually she knew it had to be his. It was nine PM.
It was strange and alienating to be back at her old school after all these years, but the strangeness only fueled her forward. She recalled, quite helplessly, how burdensome it had been to keep her and John’s terrible secret; it had made her gloomy and reserved, prevented her from participating in the sort of things her classmates had delighted in with youthful abandon: awkward first romances, sleepovers with friends, prom and pinned corsages. Everything she was owed as a teenager – as a young girl – had been taken from her. A parasite had been implanted in her belly at age nine, and it ate her right up, devoured her from the inside out. And she had been expected to just go on living like that, like she didn’t have these missing parts, these gaping holes.
It was evening and snow was falling in limp flakes. It was a lark that he should be at the school at all, at this hour on a Friday, but she knew John. After all this time, she knew her big brother.
It was miraculous that the building should be unlocked, as if someone had known she was coming. It didn’t take her long to traverse the narrow halls lined with high school sport awards in glass trophy cases and bright-colored flyers advertising an upcoming pep rally, and come upon his office. It was the only room with the lights on, glowing warm and amber through the thin slats of the closed Venetian blinds. A brass nameplate was nailed to the door. Coach John Bloom.
She knocked, heard a dampened ‘come in!’ When she entered, he did not gaze up right away – how strange, she would think later. How trusting of him. But that was her John – hunched over his desk and writing something on a yellow legal pad. He still looked like the John she remembered, give or take a decade. His face had thinned out and so did his hair, but the eyes were the same – that puppy-dog brown that struck a chord in her heart and made her want to hug him and apologize (for what? She had no idea). But her face hardened. So did her purpose.
“What can I do for -” he went silent when he saw her. And then in a quiet voice that regressed him in age: “No-No?” He had risen to his feet.
“What are you -” he floundered, looking ill. “God, how long has it been?”
“A long time.”
“Wow,” he scrubbed a hand over his face. “How have you been?”
She shouldered off her coat and let it fall to an animal-hide heap on the cheap carpet. “Okay.”
He approached her, taking small steps like he wasn’t sure what the proper protocol was for a situation like this. And then he wrapped his arms around her, a hug that was awkward and unreciprocated. He pulled away. Cleared his throat.
“So, uh… what brings you back to Nebraska?” He asked. “I take it you must’ve heard about Pa. Well, maybe you hadn’t. Nobody knew how to get a hold of you.”
Noah knew nothing about Pa, but her purpose was singular and she could not be diverted by the fate of a man who had never wanted her, never loved her.
“I wanted to see you,” said Noah.
This made John smile. It favorably altered his appearance and brought back memories of that first night, the night when everything started and her girlhood ended. He now had lines around his eyes that he didn’t have before, but the smile was still the same.
For a long moment, neither of them said anything. They just looked at each other, as if instructions on how to rekindle this relationship might appear on her face – at least, this is what she presumed he must be thinking. His eyes scanned her features.
“How long are you going to be in town?” He asked at last. “You should come over for a late dinner. I’ll call my wife and see if -”
“No, that’s okay,” said Noah. “I’m not going to be here for long.”
He deflated at this. “Oh. Okay. That’s unfortunate.”
Another silence passed between them, and it was evident that John was growing more uncomfortable.
“I’m trying to become a better person,” said Noah, “I’m trying to move on with my life.”
John blinked at her, opened his mouth to say something, closed it.
“But it’s hard, you know, because of what happened.”
John winced. “You haven’t…?”
“Told anyone?” She finished. “No, not anyone that matters.”
“But I’ve felt so empty,” Noah went on. She was remarkably composed. “Inside. I’ve never been able to figure out how to be whole again.”
He watched her intently. She paced the office like a caged tiger.
“But I guess you wouldn’t understand that.”
“That’s not true,” said John, going white as a ghost. “That’s not true. I’ve been… inconsolable. Ever since that day. I’ve just kept it,” he brought a closed fist to his chest, the knuckles chapped and red, “locked up. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t affected me.”
Noah’s own hands tightened into balls. “Then why’d you do it?”
“Why,” Noah said, slowly, each word controlled, “did you fuck me?”
“I didn’t… I don’t think that I…” He stammered. “No-No, I don’t think this is the right time for this conversation. Maybe we can set aside some time in the future to-”
Noah slammed a fist down on his desk, rattling its contents and stunning John into silence. “I loved you,” she said in a hard, mournful voice. “I loved you so much.”
John’s eyes welled up with tears. He made to approach her, reached a hand out to brush her cheek, but she dodged his touch.
“No.” Noah thundered. The void within her roared with the booming ferocity of a churning sea in a hurricane, and it rang in her ears so loud that it was almost hard to hear. “But now I know what I need to do. I need to integrate it. Make it a part of me.”
He stared at her, red-eyed and uncomprehending, tears spilling down his cheeks.
“I was just a girl,” said Noah. “I was your little sister. And you emptied me out and fucked me over. You crawled in my bed and left me with this big hole. I never asked to be born. I never asked to be a part of this family. You were supposed to protect me, and instead you pretended to love me and then hallowed me the fuck out.”
“Why are you here?” He sounded afraid. Perhaps it was due to the increasing violence in the tone of her voice, or because she had picked up the scissors from his desk.
“To integrate,” she said and stabbed him in the juglar. It was another lesson – another wonderful gift – she had picked up from Sam: best to getting the killing out of the way lest he squirm and shout and make the next part (the most important part) more laborious than it needed to be.
John pawed at the scissors lodged deeply in his throat, blood pouring through his fingers and down his arm. He fell to his knees on the carpet, blood pooling around him. He made strangled gurgling sounds but didn’t scream, didn’t try to reach for his phone and call for help. He just continued to look up at her in wide-eyed horror. She looked back.
She waited until the light was just about to leave his eyes, the moment before he would blink out of earthly existence, to lift his arm to her mouth and bite down. He wheezed. She wanted him to know precisely what was going to happen before he was gone forever.
He died. She integrated. And when thick strips of her brother’s flesh were caught between her teeth and his blood reddened her hungry mouth, she paused and took stock. A hand rested on her lower stomach. The room was quiet, and she noticed a peculiar feeling within, an alien feeling – wholeness.
“Frankly, I’m impressed,” said Dr. Armstrong, tapping the back of his pen against his notepad in a steady beat, “that you’ve made a stark improvement in such a short amount of time. In fact, you’ve shown more improvement in the past week alone than I’ve seen from you in a year.”
Noah had to keep from beaming – it felt improper to be so smug, so proud, in therapy, but perhaps therapy was the last true place where such a thing was tolerable.
“I finally got it,” said Noah. “It all clicked into place. Everything you’ve been saying about accepting the past, and making it a part of me -”
“ – in a positive way.”
“Right. Of course. About accepting the past and making it a part of me in a positive way. I didn’t get it before but now I do.” Her eyes shined. “There was this hunger in me – I think it’s been there my whole life. I think I might’ve even been born with some kind of congenital case of shit luck. And I was getting ready to accept that this was just how life was going to be for me. But it isn’t. It doesn’t have to be like that.”
He nodded, thick, black mustache twitching like a harry maggot on his upper lip.
“It never had to be that way at all.”
Dr. Armstrong clicked his pen shut in a very pronounced and elaborate way, the signal that they were nearing the end of their session. “So how are you feeling now? All of this considered? Do you feel like you’ve taken the inescabability of your past and transmuted it into something positive?”
“Yes,” said Noah. “For the first time in my life, I’m finally satisfied.”
Lexie Garcia is a writer, horror movie devotee, and lover of the color pink. She is currently based in Florida but is liable to wander.