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Story by Celeste Sea (Read author interview) October 18, 2021

Art by Paul Bilger

Content Warning: Cutting/Bloodplay

We’d swapped spit at the New Brunswick stop. Right outside the station. It was my first time in New Jersey, the first time I’d traveled alone. I’d told my parents that you were picking me up, but you were too busy, let’s just meet at the station babe. You’d said this to me — no, texted this to me in that slick way where it felt logical. Natural. Of course you were busy. Of course it made sense for me to board the outbound train. To rip through New York City’s plastic embrace. To wade into the New Jersey green.

Your hands were empty, sweating with July heat when I walked right up into your arms. We’d kissed then, with you cupping my back in a way that made me feel good. Like I was older than I was. Our saliva pearled onto my blouse the way that the A/C coolant had several hours prior: summer’s hot leak into spring’s rotten mouth.

I was twenty. Or maybe I was twenty-one. Anyways, I was old enough.

You said you liked my skirt, then cupped my ass through it as you walked us to your car. You smiled wolfishly. You were very much looking forward to showing me your sublet for the summer. You were taking physics at the nearby university. Or maybe calculus. Whatever it was, it had you texting me about the universe nightly — had you weaving in some new turn of phrase into the filthy messages we sent each other. Like, you just couldn’t wait to fuck until our atoms are vibrating. Like the beginning of the universe. We’re fucking stardust, love. Isn’t that fucking gorgeous? You always typed out ‘fucking’ like that. Fucking, with the ‘g.’

Your bedroom was neat. You didn’t have cash for an air conditioner because you’d spent it all on rent, but you still bragged about how much you’d made selling glowsticks over the Fourth. We’d laughed about it the day before I came: it’s ironic, isn’t it, you’d messaged me, celebrating the birth of our country with something made in China. Then you’d showed off your white-accented Chinese by trying to fit your mouth around our word for stars. Sing-sing, you’d said in your two-second voice message and it was funny because no matter how hard you tried you couldn’t nail the tone. I deleted your voice message once I arrived. You didn’t like sentimentality, and I was trying to rid myself of it too.

Still, we spent the afternoon fucking as if it meant something. I wanted it to mean something, and I think you did too, or at least your roommates did, because the walls were very thin. You kept calling me things like love and babe and honey, and we went at it for two rounds, then once more. We only stopped because the heat got to be too much. It pulled us together for longer than you liked, until our love came away gritty. Fuck, you said, during one of our breaks. You fished out your Reds, lighting one, and I watched it cannibalize itself between your fingers.

What we did that night was why I was visiting. We’d been talking about it for weeks. Hurtling towards it. Wouldn’t it be hot? I’d ask, and you’d respond floridly: You’d be so hot, like center-of-the-Earth-hot. Like beginning-of-the-world-hot. I’d wondered whether you were serious because once you’d even said, like the Big Bang. I’d imagined you snickering as you typed that one out. I didn’t have a chance to respond because then you hit me with your next message: you’d aced your midterm.

So, midnight. Or probably after. You made us take shots from a brown bottle. It’s my grand-uncle’s moonshine, you said, hushed, but looking back you’d probably stolen it from your mom. It worked though; I was already woozy from the heat but the alcohol shrouded me in a second skin, in something fearless. I nipped at the seam of your lips. Now, I said, let’s do it.

We had a box cutter, gauze, and a plan. One cut each, along the side, just to see. Just to peer inside each other’s bodies. Feel the hot-hot blood. The flesh. Wouldn’t it be hot? It’d be so hot.

You sliced me open first. I didn’t feel it, not right away. You were too tentative, so I cupped my hand over yours, leaving space for the heat to slither between my palm and your knuckles, already tendon-yellow. We sliced like this: slowly-slowly-slowly. There was no sound until you said fuck. You said it again: Fucking hell, and all I could hear was the ‘g.’ Fuck, you said once more. The cut was so deep we could see the meat of me, and I thought, maybe. Maybe if I breathed hard enough, we’d hear a rib crack or something. I thought of my insides, then looked — actually looked — and it was just as I imagined. Dark and gleaming and yawning, like the General Gao’s we’d had for dinner. Or the origins of the universe. I could feel it coiled wetly inside me.

Cutting you was different. Like slicing through magic. Adam, I said, and you gasped. Afterwards, you were quiet. Still. Your eyes were pigeon-dumb, and I wanted to chase you across the surface of your brain. Where did you go? I wanted to be a part of you and so I rocked my hips against yours. We went at it raw and then we shared a cigarette and dug our fingers into our wounds and smeared our blood across the wall as if it were bird shit. For good luck, I joked, and you were already thumbing my nipples.

I don’t remember much after that. Just your soft breath. You wanted us to fall asleep to Carl Sagan — your idea of romance — but I lay awake, listening.

Sing-sing, the birds sang. They had the tone right, and the stars sang back.

About the Author

Celeste Sea lives in Washington, D.C. She is knee-deep in student loans and her living room smells like turpentine. Her work has appeared in Sine Theta Magazine and is forthcoming in Maudlin House. Sometimes she’s on Twitter at @celestish_.

About the Artist

Paul Bilger’s photography has appeared at Qarrtsiluni, Brevity, and Kompresja. His work has also been featured on music releases by Dead Voices on Air and Autistici. When not taking pictures, he is a lecturer in philosophy and film theory at Chatham University. He is the art director at SmokeLong Quarterly. 

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Three

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