Tarnish by April Grant


If you’re surprised that I should speak to you, your astonishment pales in comparison to mine when I first became part of this sculpture (“Forest of the Suicides,” bronze, Morelli workshop) on which in this moment you are pissing. Nothing had gone well for me that night, and I’d wandered from the merriment of the house to the cool darkness, among the statues, with the beloved trying to draw me back inside. I lacked the courage to hold her and kiss her, so I poured out my failings on objects around me. The beloved said, “Look, it’s you!” and pointed at a naked sinner struggling through the roots with hair disheveled, mouth gaping in horror, and arms spread. I said I would greet myself with tenderness, and held the face of the sinner while kissing him and thrusting my tongue between his parted lips. I am still able to remember the beloved pleading with me to stop.

The statue of the sinner tore himself free from the sculptural group, with his empty back showing. His lips moved against mine, cold, then warm, and he took me by the waist with an irresistible grip, spun me around and pressed me into the hollow where he had lain. I was insulted he had not passively accepted my kiss. Then, I wasn’t anything. From that time I began to observe. You should understand this is not suffering. The capacity for that went away. I don’t often feel or think, though of course in this moment I am thinking a great deal, in a jolt up your prick. Sympathy between minds would seem to be conducted by bodily fluids, though this is conjecture as I was not a learned man. I haven’t felt or needed anything for some time, except for your wave of astonishment which is resounding in me, and one other point a few minutes after my loss, when the beloved had ceased to cry out and struggle with her understanding.

My clothes had not gone with me into the bronze – an aesthetic decision (on whose part?), since a youth in the dress of the present day would have been questionable among naked writhing sinners. The garments were scattered across the flagstones, and the interloper was pulling them on as fast as he could. He made a poor job of it, perhaps from want of practice; it took several tries to get the shirt over his head. I had the leisure to notice that the hollow of his back had healed. He increasingly resembled me. There was my scar on his left elbow; freckles blossomed on his arms in a pattern identical to mine.

My arms were spread, my person bent back against the bronze roots of the tree so that my ribs stood out a little way. The beloved laid her rosy face against my breast and clung to me as if she could follow me out of life. She tried to grasp my hands, but all my body was now part of the sculpture, roots and sinners and cliff face. Nonetheless she pressed her arms along the outer surface of my own, embracing me as well as she could, and cried so hard that it hurt her. Her tears joined her to me in a wet place under her cheekbone, and I felt everything she did: fear, confusion, and loss, terrible understanding that I was gone. She did not know what a gift she was giving me. It is necessary that you realize I had hardly given her anything in the way of looks, words, or company, and I wasn’t worth tears. Yet I drank it, and we grieved together. I have lived in that memory ever since. Her sorrow is voluptuous, no matter how often I return to it.

The interloper drew her away, saying, “What’s this folly? I’m here!” She had a smear of tarnish on her face from me, and he wiped it with his sleeve. He had become the image of me. There was the narrow face, the over-long curling hair, the gangling legs. He had managed to put on my clothes, all but the garters. One of his stockings hung down, but he tried to take the beloved into his arms. She remained silent and did not return the embrace. He offered a deal of talk to explain away what she had seen. As soon as he held her at arms’ length to look her in the eye, she walked away, still weeping, with no acceptance of his pretense. I remained unmoved. He followed, protesting, and got no answer. They passed from my awareness in separate directions.

The elements have flowed over me since then. At first I had a bright place on my breast, where the beloved touched me, but it has blossomed with tarnish. Stop making promises. There will be no vengeance passed to you; I will not drag you in to fill my place. For one thing, I don’t know how. For another, you’d need to touch me for that to happen. The interloper must have been watching for a chance all through his time in the statue. All I can do is give you the truth thus far. With the last drop of the strength of mind I’ve sucked from you, I will request one thing. If the beloved is alive in your lifetime, tell her I regret I did not treasure her as she deserved. In fact I have no capacity to regret, but she might like to hear it nonetheless.


April has had short fiction published in Fireside Magazine (“The Finger,” May 2018), and poetry published in Mythic Delirium, Strange Horizons, Kaleidotrope, Mirror Dance, and The Literary Hatchet, and in the anthology The Moment of Change (ed. R.M. Lemberg). 

Published 8/12/21

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