Trigger warnings for disordered eating, self-harm, abusive relationships.
My girl saw nothing of her lover but what she wanted seen. Love like that is an ideal camouflage, such that a monster cannot see herself for what she is, as caught up in the moment as her prey. The best deceit is wholly believed by the deceiver.
She woke at 4 am frequently, extricating her legs from Elise’s, looking down on her girlfriend’s prone body with something between possessiveness and contempt. She often thought to herself, in those moments, that she was the only thing in the world keeping the girl alive. If Elise had ever woken during those moments, both of them would have mistaken that look for love.
Perhaps Elise would murmur with a slight, sleepy quirk, a little “Vela, stay.” The nurse’s mouth would also turn up, perhaps teasing in theory, but so spiteful I could have drunk her like a fine merlot.
“One of us has to pay the rent.”
At first, their evenings were all tenderness. Elise would even cook, though the smell often turned her stomach. She’d spend hours in the bath, preparing herself. Vela wanted her, cherished her. She needed to prove herself worthy.
Vela thought so too. If her new worshipper’s intensity did not increase with every supplication, she needed a reason. Was Elise lazy? Was she broken? Was she talking to her ex again?
Elise denied it with her tears and with her words and with her body. It was only Vela. Could only ever be Vela. Vela found her, Vela saved her, she couldn’t live without Vela.
“You’d better remember that,” the nurse said, kissing down her convex of a stomach before scowling at her unruly mound. “God, can’t you at least wax? I’m tired of this.” She tugged at the dark, curling hair sheltering Elise’s clit, so hard my girl gasped.
Elise went out the next day, and when she came back she was hairless from the neck down. I could taste her experience — professional women, crisp and uncomforting, had done the work. She might have enjoyed the pain, in another context, but not from a stranger. Not when she just wanted to be held.
I was surprised Vela hadn’t wanted to do it herself. When she returned from work, her hands roamed my girl, sculpted and pale, a prize to be handled. Elise vanished into thinghood.
That night, she dreamed that all her hair grew back, and kept growing, until she was covered. Her arm, her knees, her back, her stomach. Her hair grew so long that Vela couldn’t find her. When the nurse got near, screaming her frustration, she choked on Elise’s thick, dark hair. Blinded and confused, Vela reared back in disgust.
In the quiet of the dark room, I curled around my girl’s heart and smiled.
She woke shaking, telling Vela it was a nightmare. The nurse comforted her as if she were a child, her voice achingly patronizing. Elise fell into the sugar-coated words, pulling from my influence.
By morning, the nurse was surly, blaming Elise for her lack of sleep, although I was the one who’d growled at her all through the night, long after her trembling girlfriend fell asleep. She snapped at my girl to help her make breakfast, overwhelmed by her lack of sleep. Her thoughts were clear to me — blame falling on the delicate woman beside her, who would never be good enough or strong enough for her.
Still, she wanted Elise. She’d shaped her so beautifully, but there was more work to be done. My girl’s hands trembled as she cut the soft, crusty bread.
“Goddammit, Elise,” the nurse snapped, grabbing at the knife just as my girl jumped, startled at the sound.
The knife sliced open Vela’s reaching hand, the sound visibly red in the dim kitchen. Elise’s eyes widened, her mouth stammering out an apology disconnected from her mind. That was filled only with the sound of her hammering heart.
Vela grabbed the knife with her uncut left hand, making an uncoordinated slashing motion toward my girl, who thought to herself that Vela seemed possessed.
As if I’d ever inhabit such a vessel. No, as Elise let out a mental cry for anything to help her, I slid into her body, grabbing the knife with my own strength. It cut into Elise’s hand, but Vela’s eyes widened when I squeezed the knife, and it clattered to the kitchen floor, bent.
Who was the demon now? I didn’t pause to gloat as I would have in any other case, but moved Elise’s feet to the bathroom. She locked the door herself, crying as she held her cut hand.
It took Vela mere minutes to rally. “Sweetheart, I’m so sorry,” her voice came from the other side of the door. She was calm and comforting as ever, totally in control. “I’m so tired, and I meant it as a joke, but I lost control for just a second. I’ll call off work and we can talk about it.”
Elise shook her head, still sniffling. “Go to work,” she said, voice trembling.
“I think we should talk about this now,” the nurse answered, sweet but assertive.
“Go to work,” I growled from Elise’s throat.
Vela stepped back from the door. I like to think that she recognized my voice. Finally, I smelled fear on her.
My girl calmed as the nurse left, closing the front door quietly. She loosened her grip on her hand, and under my suggestion, found her way into the shower. The water slicked her fear away as she relaxed into its ministrations, blood dripping from her hand.
“You need to leave,” I spelled in rivulets running red into the drain.
I know, she thought.
“I don’t know how,” she said.
Together, I whispered directly into her brain. All alone, together.
She bundled herself in a long sweater dress, her hand wrapped in gauze. A woman at the hardware store told her how to install new locks in detail, then slipped her a card for a woman’s shelter, along with her own cell number.
“In case you have any questions.”
We went home. Elise packed up Vela’s many territory markers, putting them in a box outside her newly impenetrable door. By the time Vela came back, pounding on the door and demanding to talk to her, Elise was deep into a dream of a dark forest, branches curling around her, protecting her from all other harm.
Three long, red marks appeared on her arm. Even in her sleep, she smiled, her fingers tracing the interruption of her bare, already stubbling skin. The wild woman in her dream felt the sting from a branch, protective and embracing. The trees, she thought, have eyes, and claws. They are all energy.
Already, hair was growing over the marks I’d left her. That, too, was me. She grew warmer by the second, wrapped in herself, and me. She didn’t know how to live in the wilderness yet, but as her hair grew, I would teach her, teach her everything she needed to live without shame or order.
After all, what is a demon, but an angel broken free?