Like Light (Jayne Marshall)

(Edited by Laura McPhee-Browne)

My head is full of metaphors for him. His proximity pulls down hard on my stomach, the solid ground spins beneath me, a face travels slowly towards my own, as if from somewhere very far away. It’s true, in a sense. Nine months it took to arrive at this moment, whilst something grew and grew, unseen and asymptomatic, until eventually it became unmistakable, like a polyp, or worse: like love.

The soft feel of his face against my own…I’m a passionate woman, said Dolores Haze to Humbert Humbert, ridiculous in her seduction and in that moment perversely unsexy. A reminder of Kundera’s mind/body dichotomy: the intelligible lie and the unintelligible truth.

To choose to live above or below the neck. Pick a side and stay on it. Do so for as long as you can, until the inevitable unrest bubbles up, and one side can’t help but colonise the other. The driving forces are usually appetites, also ailments, or invasion by other people; mothers, lovers, surgeons, and artists.

When Nabokov was writing The Gift he was tortured by a psoriasis so bad he later admitted to Véra that he had contemplated suicide. The Gift is now considered a masterpiece. John Updike thought of his own psoriasis as a heaven-sent curse, and when it abated, a salvation. Physical evidence of God’s love.

As a child, messing around with my sister in our living room, I fell off a sofa and sustained a carpet burn which stayed on my shoulder for weeks. Not so many years later I had a love bite in exactly the same place, courtesy of my first boyfriend.

Now I’m imagining all the other mouths this tongue has been in. A hideous chorus line of them. It makes me want to sob. His tongue belongs to my tongue.

Recently I went to get a contraceptive device removed, and the doctor, instead of taking something away, found something extra. He discovered a tumour and maybe some cancerous cells as well. My nan, even far into her 80s, still saw her 16 year old self in the mirror. My beautiful body, she would say to her reflection. It seemed I had been neglecting my own.

The kissing stops. We are just looking at each other, stilled by something for a long moment. Animals sensing prey. After the doctor gave his verdict I went on to spend a lot of time with my legs spread high in the air, and had a lot of conversations with faces—like the one looking straight at me now—that peeped up at me from between my knees.

It should have felt intrusive and dehumanising to be judged and analysed in that way, but really it didn’t feel any different to a one night stand. At least they wanted to make me better, instead of all the unknowable ways in which I was making myself worse.

The kissing resumes as suddenly as it stopped. I’m pressed into the wall. Everything in the world is now either hard or soft. Slowly, slowly, sex has become more precious. I use it less like a currency now.

A few Christmases ago I cracked a tooth eating un-popped popcorn. The fluffiness of the popcorn was tricky; once in my mouth it shape-shifted into something hard and dangerous. Months later the foamy spit-up in the sink after teeth brushing revealed a solid interloper: a little bit of me, a shard of molar. I tried to ignore this absence for as long as possible. If I didn’t acknowledge it, then it wouldn’t, and would never, not be there. But it couldn’t, in the end, be willed into existence and I was forced to face up to the rot.

His hands are moving out of the tangle they have made of my hair, down my back, and around. The perfectly sanitary dental nurse was horrified. I confessed that it had been nine years since I last saw a dentist. She stared at me hard: ‘Well, at the very least you are going to need a good clean’.

Do you smoke? / No / Drink red wine? / Sometimes / Black coffee? / Yes. All one and the same: what is wrong with you? / Excuse me? / Why did you let yourself get into such a mess? / I don’t know.

They laid me out for an hour and forty five minutes. Two faces stared down into the cavern of my mouth, right into My Beautiful Body. I was just a mouth, only teeth and gums. Unbearably intimate: the reverse of the gynecologist.

In the end, they had to remove the tooth. I felt my body resisting the pull of the dentist’s pliers, no no no no no. I quietly spoke to it. Don’t worry, it is for the best, let it go peacefully. I found the expelled tooth very beautiful. I slept with it in my hand, carried it around with me for days afterwards, like a strange child. When the police want to identify a body that no longer bears any resemblance to its previous owner, they use dental records.

This man, he is brand new. He didn’t exist nine months ago. His bulk was unknown to me then. But now, now the entire universe is constructed of nine words, a fragment of a song that loops in my head as he puts the key in the lock: Lord above me, make him, make him love me.

As I recovered from the battering my body had taken, I thought about my life. In Spanish, when you give birth, you say that you give light. What was the quality of my light, what light did I now give?

As he undresses us I pre-feel it all, all over again. There is just one thought left in my head now. Only: let us be celebrated.

Jayne Marshall
decided to trade her grey, rainy hometown in the UK for sunny Madrid. Since then her creative life has opened wide and now her time is almost fully spent reading and writing. She has started sharing her work in publications like Brittle Star MagazineLitro and Pikara Magazine, and will soon expand her horizons further with a Masters in Creative Writing at Oxford University (without leaving the Spanish cañas and tapas).