Cohabiting

by Trahearne Falvey 

Our existence with the bugs was not understood by family members, but it gathered its own logic as the days chugged on. They crawled at night from books and behind pictures, and hid themselves impeccably in the daytime. Though they left marks on the skins of our guests, our guests returned, having left their blood. At times, we could even enjoy the knowledge of crushing them, our bodies so much larger than theirs and heavy with sleep. We considered naming them.

One night, however, a guest arrived who was different from the others. He lay like an elephant seal, wreathed in a fug of grass-smoke, and left cartons of banana milkshake to go sour. Always, we could hear the beeps and crashes of his video game humming through the damp walls. He read Husserl, did not shower, and, just once, was caught for shoplifting flowers. We hosted him because we loved him, or were supposed to, or because he had nowhere else to go.

As the bugs multiplied in the warm veins of our mattresses, our peace unraveled. We began to toss our limbs around deep into the night while the ceilings above us moved. We would wake weak with hunger, white as dawn, then spend hours vacuuming walls. We sent hysterical emails. We scratched all the time. Our sheets, which had been Twombly canvases, smears and splotches on white, became almost Rothkos, saturated and overwhelming, and it was difficult to discern whether the red that pooled and bloomed was our blood or theirs, if there was a difference at all. The red would not wash out, became brown and purple, cooked into the cotton, and when we hung the sheets over the curtain rails to dry, the rooms flooded with a dreadful glow.

There were men who left bombs on our carpet and told us to vacate, but when we returned, nothing had happened. There were men, speaking only through actions, who told us we were going mad.

As they grew fat from the iron in our blood, the bugs’ appetite became insatiable. They balanced on the rims of wine glasses and drank the dark liquid, they tore holes from the loaves of bread in cupboards. We found them in the refrigerator among the oranges and milk, swarming around the shrink-wrapping of a pair of pork chops, increasing in number until it seemed as though every surface of the house was only a shining, moving black. Our emails became incoherent, all in capitals, drenched in the details from our fitful, sweaty dreams and terrors. Our skins peeled from the scratching.

One night, we dragged our bodies from our beds to the kitchen and whispered our fears while the video game pulsed its noises from the other room. Had we noticed, we asked, that our guest’s books did not send tables scuttling on opening? Or that his skin was spotted only with milk-induced acne? And was it possible to make out an almost perfect circle of clear, light space around him, absorbed in his flickering game? The bugs, we agreed, could not make their home in the creases of the sofa where he slept, and it had made them crazy. If he would only leave, we said. But we loved him, or were supposed to, and, besides, he had nowhere else to leave his body.

Our resentment grew until it filled the flat and cast a shadow over our guest’s screen. He paused his game, brought us all into the circle to listen. He would change, was changing: he had taken out the recycling, had washed his hair, had been wired money by his father. It was a good sofa, he said, a place to sleep. When he said the word “sleep,” we became aware of a hunger that had sunk into our bones, and we shook together, gathering heat. We could see the bugs beyond the circle twist their heads towards us, perching on the tip of their leaf-shaped bodies and glinting rust-coloured in the light from the television monitor. Too many to name. Some strange intelligence, hovering in the air between antennae. They were interested in our anger, wanted blood that warmed and moved. No, we said, No, and we found the strength between us to push our guest from the circle. They swarmed into his absence, embraced our bodies, and all light went dark.

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