A Suburb of Monogamy
by Catherine Borders
A Suburb of Monogamy is about the invention, withdrawal, and body of a liaison. An existential tryst with survival and desperation at its core. A passionate love affair that succumbs to a pain that is not innocent, not victimless. A heroine’s shift in perspective, imploding in metaphor, a decade.
Painfully self-aware. Macabre. Beautiful. Confessional. Hot. One girl’s antidote to nihilism: her opera aria.
Nora is a neurotic teenager in the suburbs of Chicago. Under the crushing weight of Catholicism, she takes a lover, one she only loves in absence. She lives in the obsessive, annihilating shadows of complaint and reflection. He’s a noir fetish thrown at her feet, another void for her to grind against. When he’s gone, his ghost is voluptuous, all language and heat; such an exhausting illusion to maintain. Yet she can’t quit him, and for a while, that’s enough. Until it’s not.
Catherine Borders is the founder and executive editor of Omnia Vanitas Review. A Suburb of Monogamy is her first novel. Catherine is a nihilist for whom only art can fill the void. Omnia Vanitas Review is a space for her to disseminate the beauty of its powers. She lives in “Chicago” with her husband, daughter, and two very necessary cats.
A piano intermission. The notes strike the pavement like rain.
At 11pm the hydraulic doors sigh open. He’s already there, leaning in brown Doc Marten boots underneath the orange light from the heat lamp. Protected from the moon’s icy stare, his cheeks, his ears redden, he rubs his gloveless hands, the blood returns. Nora feels as if steam is visibly wafting off of her. For the last eight hours, five without sunlight, the overheated bus bounced along its complicated route, comingling the smells of outmoded machinery with sweaty flesh. Nora had clung to her puffy jacket, wrapping herself in a dizzying happiness of an imminent future, replaying the same CD’s, smiling at the memories, lost in her own frenetic obsession.
Once he sees her a familiar smile breaks from the left side of his mouth and moves across his face. This is the same smile he always gives at the beginning of their illicit encounters: indefinable, chimerical, ephemeral. A smile of pain and nostalgia. Of invention and loss. Of appreciation and love. A sort of sigh of release, then of awe. Nora adores this smile. She has contemplated it to the point of annihilation, to a moment beyond jouissance, beyond thought.
Between them is a gulf, a vertiginous, hypnotic, insoluble space.
She laughs in response, then runs toward him.
They kiss hello, like a normal couple, then he takes her bag and they walk seven blocks in subzero temperatures to his dormitory. Covered with only a thin layer of purple nylon, her thighs ache inside the arid heat. She has trouble walking up the stairs, but wouldn’t complain even if she were frostbitten, so much has she anticipated this night, or rather, the next fifteen hours before she has to return to the bus station at 2:30pm.
The doors open onto a hall of shirtless boys constructing a trapdoor involving a great deal of clear moving tape and a cup of ranch dressing. They’re laughing like fools at hypotheticals but one of them takes the time to compliment Nora’s legs, the others whistle. These are his friends, one of them is his roommate, who, apparently isn’t coming home tonight.
The door opens onto a space between adulthood and adolescence, a ten by twelve foot recycled room with a hollow door and a striped tie tied around the knob. And bunk beds, just like summer camp, except the counselor is a drunken RA with an undeclared major and mottled acne.
Opens onto black lights, Christmas lights, blue icicles with rubber cords, and emptied bottles of liquor lit up with electric water. Crisp posters for bands long since retired and John Belushi drinking a bottle of Jack Daniels. Plaid, flannel bed sheets, freshly washed. A marked calendar of naked women on cars, their asses shaped like hearts.
She puts her hand to her eyes and hisses. He plugs in the blue lights and flips off the oppressive fluorescent light. He flips another switch and the black lights come on as well. The highlighters float like science experiments in their rum and whiskey bottles. They glitter like trophies.
The door opens onto a lie, a compromise, an inauthentic prescription for teenage sex. Drunken fingers trembling in the dark, parting lips, forgotten names, his roommate pretends to be asleep, jacking off all the while.
The door opens onto a threadbare carpet and a room without a view. An air conditioner blocks the window, and a Bob Marley blanket blocks the air conditioner. The whites of Marley’s eyes glow blue and the smoke hangs in a fug. Every fiber of fabric smells like must and cigarettes. She finds this masculine.
He apologizes for his roommate’s mess. She takes off her wet boots and cracks her toes. This is the farthest she’s ever been from home without a chaperone. She lights a cigarette in triumph then unscrews a bulb, but the strand remains intact.
“They don’t make them that way anymore,” he says.
She looks at his teeth. “What?”
“When you unscrew one bulb the whole string doesn’t go out anymore.”
She doesn’t want to look at him, at his blue teeth.
A second passes. She taps her cigarette again then hits a top button on the ashtray to make all the ash go away, into the hidden chamber below.
“How was your ride?”
She sucks her cigarette, pays a great deal of attention to its neon tip, the way the paper crackles and disappears.
The door opens onto inquietude, vulnerability masquerading as ineptitude. She crosses her legs then takes an orange out of her bag.
“You look,” he stammers, playing with the zipper on his hoodie, “gorgeous.”
“Thanks,” she says, sitting seiza-style, dropping the orange from one hand into the other. Like she’s playing Catch with herself.
Feigned nonchalance, indifference, all desire is moved to the orange she undresses, inserting her nail into its navel, deep enough to get just under its skin, where the juice seeps, stings her cuticles. She pushes forth, raking, peeling, shrinking, stripping, ripping, tearing, licking, suckling the sweet, sticky orange water dripping off her hands, running down her forearms.
The orange opens, the pulp radiates unnaturally, as if the fruit was covered with a spider’s web. Through this silly lighting, Nora hunts for the authentic, some symbol of Jake as she knows him, as she lusts for him. She locates a tattered quilt folded in the corner with a stuffed elephant, Frumpy, or Frumps, depending on his mood, sitting, slumped on top. Her shoulders slacken. She relaxes.
He relaxes too then puts on some music. And shuts off the black lights.
“Thanks,” she says.
He looks at her, stops fidgeting, holds still like a silvery note piercing her body, entrancing, beguiling, seducing, digesting, moving from her head down her throat, quickening her heart, the note repeats, flushes her face, flashes behind her eyes, looking back at him, with love, in love, with him, with this moment, this space, where everything melts into a pile of fresh orange skin curled into a spiral, spiraling out, ensnaring their bodies, and still, the note repeats, holds. Undress me. Open me.
The origin of all creation.
A sheet of paper. A blank computer screen.
The reflection of all visible light.
White salt. White T-shirts. White tea. Fresh white lilies, fresh white snow. A glass of white milk. A mountain of glass. Cocaine cut across a mirror. An Ibuprofen, crushed into powder.
White so pure, a child outlines it in blue. So cold, it’s hot to the touch.
This too, too sullied flesh.
A chunk of white floating in the ocean.
Alone, isolated, melting, merging.
A cold marriage bed, until now.
An arrhythmia of hormones, cardiac confessions on the tip of the iceberg, melting with the floe, into one another, in the moment, impatient for osmosis, to become one, to exchange fluids, to gush, to flow.
The orchestra isn’t visible.
Piano, electric organ, bass, synthesizer, piccolo, soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor sax, French horn, viola, cello.
They climb the rungs on the ladder one by one, their feet slapping, tapping, like notes striking the pavement.
Like an ice floe, the top bunk floats on the ocean of space, a pool of unmitigated abyss, the void of a thousand beloveds drowning, dying, digested, the paranoid sea of reasons that prevented this moment, the thalassic expectations leading up to it. The same sea that can give birth to another Nora at anytime. A sea that they don’t have to deal with as long as they’re in this bed, on this mattress, floating toward each other and away from all else. The same sea that sloshes as a mirror.
Pelagic: This is exactly what I want, no strings attached, a prophylactic, a numbing palliative, an addictive narcotic, to be your mistress, your secret other, inoculating my heart, precluding love, with you, with anyone else. Unfiltered jouissance, pure fun, all the time.
Demersal: I love you.
She feels his absence in his touch. This excites her.
A cold marriage bed, until now.
A bed of down and cotton. A bed of past lovers and both of their parents.
A bed of ice floating on, above, away from a sea of words and pretext. The sea of past lovers and parents.
She exhales a curl of smoke off a rolled tongue, filling the room with hot, tangible breath. Spiraling out of control, an arrhythmia of hormones, cardiac confessions on the tip of his dick, going with the floe, impatient for meiosis, to become one with the ocean of space, to exchange fluids.
“Is this really happening?”
Nothing is as important as the immediacy of this arousal. But the moment of collision cannot be seen. It’s too fast. Too urgent. Too ethereal. Irreal. The material of dreams, an admixture of liquid and gas, condensing into a drop dripping off the tip of an icicle. Nora reaches out, into the impossible ether, to touch beyond the tease of a drizzle. Her hands fall through the hazy outlines of unearthly desire, wet with amnestic disappointment, playing in a loop, dizzying, intoxicating, trembling. Nora the nymph. Maybe he takes her in his arms, or when her lips press against his she trembles, or maybe she jumps him and pushes him back down to the floor, or he scoops her up, carries her, weaves her legs through the ladder. Their whole bodies sighing, sweating, turning into fog turning into mist. Pounding. Faster. Harder. Closer. “Fuck me.”
Preferring illusion to all else. Even to him. (The more you think of something the more it disappears.) Nora abandons herself so fully, so wholly, that something happens, something begins. Jake brushes the hair out of her bourbon eyes and becomes sentimental, and, as if being sentimental weren’t crime enough, he says to her, “You are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen.” But this love is an intrusion. It’s an unwelcome betrayal and has no place in this pelagic fantasy, this fantasy of fantasy, this immortal moment isolated from the ocean. An island of moment. Not of this world. Outside of time. Amoral. Immoral. An island of immortality. An Olympus of down and cotton. Blue stalactites dripping off the wall. Islands of blue glowing, blue tears leaking blue out of the corners of her bourbon eyes, his blue eyes. Disillusion. Dissolution. Discontinuity. Between them is a gulf, a vertiginous, hypnotic, insoluble space. One island to another. Fusion would be fatal. But nonetheless. Impatient for meiosis. Mitosis, masquerading as meiosis. Bodies open out to an illusion of continuity, suppressed repression, an uneasiness, the nausea associated with the disassociation of identity. The illusion of individuality. The ebb and flow of waves surging into one another. Flesh made up of eyes. Eyes made up of fingertips. Exposed nerves, quivering at the thought. Her very bones are lucent. He attaches himself, gnaws at the marrow. The blood, the ichor coalesce in a flow of renewal. Her skin covers him, grows over him, absorbs him. The sacrifice. He ties her to the tracks. She rides his cock, her body ripping itself apart, another self rises from within—a glowing amalgamated self—exposing the truth to a disfigurement, a decay, a love. She must separate passion from banality, now from before, metaphor from desire, lust from love, beauty from bromide. She glows.
Yelling, floating, hallucinating. Her body, buxom and defiant, hoisted and proud, burst into a million multi-colored, metamorphosing images of wavy lines and brilliant visions. This is my body, it shall be given up for you. She cries, claws at the ceiling. Jake takes, she gives her will, her reason, her imagination, her memories, then her voice. Disembodied, she convulses, levitates, explodes in the white heat of harmonious honeyed agony, a pain of pure happiness. An hysterical paroxysm. Oscillating back and forth between the terrible fiery glow of submission, complete impuissance, black unconsciousness, and a spell of strangulation, of fire, needles, lacerations intermitted by an ecstatic flight into space. Shaking her soul from her throat, he drives his long golden spear into her chest, her geist, a beastly fire glows from its tip. As he thrusts the passion into her heart, he pierces her entrails, her essence, her very will to live, disintegrating her ego, her sense of anything. Except pain. And love. As he pulls out, Nora’s body, her viscera, her honey, her soul comes out with it. She moans. She wails. She tells him that she couldn’t be any happier.
Until they repeat themselves, twice, to the point of beautiful exhaustion.
He sleeps with his penis tucked in between his legs. Everything else is oblivion.
A fiction of presence. Holding hands in this gray, foreign land. Obscured by fog and dirty snow. Waiting curbside for the bus. She moves to the bridge, the river. Frozen into sharp angles. Thick, blurry, turbid angles. Green, gray, blue angles. The river reminds her of his eyes. He kicks a flattened can of soda toward her. She kicks it back. The banality is painful. The bus arrives, the doors sigh open. They hug. Tell me you love me. They kiss. They peel apart. They wave. A different kind of happiness washes over her. Contentment. Quondam, quixotic minutes. She writes. Refuses to become anxious, to worry about destiny. Quixotic moments. Relived. Rewritten. In taxing detail. Her sternum tingles, expands. She strokes her inner thighs, twirls her hair. Records. Repeats. Melts into languor.