The Life Sense

Originally Published @ Crab Fat Literary Magazine Issue 3

I work as a greeter in a specialty fragrance store on Seeker Street. That’s how I know his chest is covered in cologne from the Kerrigan Green line. I remember my lines, even now; especially now, as my nose is buried into his spicy-sweet neck hairs.

“If you want a smell that is refreshing and supple, with just a hint of spice; you want Kerrigan Green’s new cologne, sir. Would you like to test it out on one of our recycled testing strips?”

I remember the reactions. Usually, the once interested customer would say no. I blame this on my lack-luster salesman skills and the hawkish eyes of the store owner, Mr. Thornton, who would follow me around the store shamelessly, intimidating me around every corner. Now that I look back on it, I think I was partly intimidated by Mr. Thornton because he reminded me of the priests at my old, Catholic school. He was a constant watcher, in the same way I imagine God would be. “His eye is on the sparrow…”

There were rare occasions when I would make a sale to an awkward man just getting off work around two pm on a Wednesday afternoon in a slightly disheveled suit. He would buy the cologne hoping, I was sure, that the label would prove correct; that he would indeed become “more seductive and enrapturing to the opposite sex.” These customers would request brown paper bags instead of the plastic, multicolored satchels usually given to unashamed female customers.

As the figure towered over me, I wondered, did I send him home with a brown paper bag- The man who was now on top of me, the one whose chest was leaking Kerrigan Green? I wondered how it was possible, how he could smell both spicy and sweet. How he could almost smell like memories. I wonder if anyone can have as many memories as I have. I have memories like wildfire, the kind that sound like flying saucers thrown at brick walls, exploding like the experiment-filled bottles in my sophomore chemistry class. As Kerrigan Green pummels me below my waist, it is as if my senses are heightened, and time is quickly slowing down. I can hear a lost dog barking in the distance, his guttural sounds coming to me in the pungent breeze, entering my ears a second too late. Quickly, I can tell that something is wrong. My limbs refuse to move.

I once watched a movie on television where these aliens held a woman completely immobile in strong, elastic goo. The kind of goo that surrounds me now, permeating my flesh almost painfully. I want to shout “It’s okay. I’m basically dead. You don’t have to be so rough with me.” But, my throat won’t work. Actually, I’m sure it no longer exists at all—like the rest of me at this moment, at most moments.

Sometimes I feel like a creature deformed. Though people call me pretty, I say thank you and mechanically slap their shoulder, in a way that I hope is authentic. Later, I will whisper “If they only knew” in the darkness of my room, while trying to block out the steadily rising voices of my parents next door…or will I try to block out the silence of the house which gathers around me like a tornado wind, filled with nothing but wind, but deadly all the same. I’m not sure if it is the imagined wind or if it is my will, but the feeling is beginning to crawl back into my body. Though my mind is quickly going blank, I try to scream with my fingers.

But, why do I have the urge to scream? I wanted this. I wanted Kerrigan Green all over me. That’s why I dressed like this, leaving the house only after curling my hair in big wavy loops, after smearing mascara and lip gloss all over my face, after walking self-consciously down the street trying to simultaneously pull my tube top up and keep my skirt down. I wanted this. That’s why I walked on this lone road so late at night, not particularly headed anywhere, just strolling in a bad neighborhood looking at the stars.

I realize, he isn’t to blame. Sincerely and truly, it’s me. I have always felt like this. I open my mouth to tell him so, but I choke on the air; the mixture of spice and grime close my throat making me unable to see, unable to hear, unable to taste, unable to smell- What is the last one? Fuck. In second grade, we went over the senses. There were five, not six like the movie said. The nun called me up in class and when I forgot the last sense she slapped my hand with the ruler to remind me. “Do you feel that?” she asked. I could barely see over her round stomach covered in deep, black-blue cloth. I nodded my head; not bothering to mention it wasn’t true.

I have always had a problem with feeling, since I was young. It seemed whenever I did it, my eyes would fill with shame or my hands would ball so hard it hurt or an uncomfortable feeling would rise in my stomach which was sinful, my parents informed me. “Please say something,” the oncefrustrated social worker said, divided from me by her big, brown desk. When I tried to speak my throat closed up. I blame it on myself and the heavy air.

Tonight, it is the heavy body. My mouth can barely curve itself into a whimper. I am in an alleyway with a man on top of me; does he know he pounds at a vessel? Does he know he pounds at flesh? Beat. Kerrigan Green stops mid-pump as I am mid-thought. He looks down at me, as if realizing I am there. A deep slant of shadow cuts across his face, making him appear like a crescent moon. He looks slightly familiar, and I feel as though I have passed him in a grocery store, or seen him jogging by my apartment- some type of Joe Schmoe. Some type of Regular Bob. Perhaps he was even one of the customers, a member of the brown paper bag brigade.

As I stare up at him, his face slowly morphed into an expression of uncomfortable softness. He realized quickly how strange the facial expression was and I nearly laughed; he was like a monkey coming to the slow, inevitable realization of humanity. Kerrigan Green closed my legs then, slowly and painfully, like roller coaster handle bars, not even bothering to finish the ride. The air changed as he stood up, towering over me still half shadow- half man, unreal. His left knee bent, first in my direction, then in the other, the bustle of the street. He ran, limping on one leg, I noticed. I thought of Pinocchio realizing he was a real boy. I expected him to click his heels together. Why didn’t he click his heels together?


With each step toward the noise of the streets, the alley seemed to get brighter. I wasn’t sure if it was the streetlights or if it was my mind playing tricks on me. Either way, I wanted to impress the light. I thought of the Little Drummer Boy. My mother used to play it when we were growing up. Not just around the holidays, but every day. “I have no gifts to bring. No gifts to give a king.” Why did you sing of inadequacy, Mother? I imagined my throat as a boa constrictor forcing up its food; an offering to the light, in the hopes that it would stay. I felt it rise, crawling out from the deepest recesses of myself like a thousand ants burning and pressing through my lips, though I tried, for some strange reason, to keep them down. I tried to keep them down…but a piece of me begged to bring them up. A little girl cried and this time, I couldn’t leave her be. I screamed, it seemed, for the very first time. No, it wasn’t perfect. It was a little too high pitched, a lot too fearful and though I wished I could make it last forever, it only lasted a moment. But, little girl, it was mine. It was ours, even. I stood up on my own two feet, struggling to stand firm on the slippery concrete. I headed towards the bustling lights. Voices surrounded me speaking of seemingly mundane things- Chinese takeout, low test scores. As I walked out of the alley, I couldn’t understand why my pants were unzipped, why my belt stayed firm around my waist- how everything was just the perfect amount of fucked up.


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