The first morning after, you stripped his bed and took the sheets home. Where you had been folded in on yourself there was the shape of something—a dahlia, maybe—in dark red. He held a hand around your neck and pushed your face towards it.
You called your mother to ask about cleaning stains. You asked if it ever smells like an acid rain to her.
If what smells like an acid rain?
Come visit soon, she says.
You would, but your mother lived a world away. She still prayed to the old god.
In the clinic you prayed on the exam table. You asked them to hold you down, to strap your legs in.
The nurse shook her head. No one’s forcing you to be here.
So you held your hands down beneath your back. When the metal dipped between your legs, you bucked your hips.
The old god, slouching in the corner of the room, looked away.
The nurse prescribed a pill that made your spleen ache and an ointment you were supposed to apply twice daily, insert and extract.
You couldn’t bring yourself to insert and extract.
She said you had to stop scratching. She traced the raised lines of your skin.
You screamed to the old god in your mind while she examined you. Do you want to tell my mother? Do you want to tell her what you saw?
When you brought his sheets back he said you’re okay.
See, when you were living in your mother’s house, she would wrap you up in bamboo sheets and blow on your forehead. She would wave her hands over you and promise to come back, just to be sure you were still there. She would use her finger to outline shapes against your shoulders, around your ears. She would take your hands against her lips, whispering into them, I’m gonna love you so much.
What was there to do? You knelt before him like your mother taught you, pressed your forehead to his knee. If you say something enough, it becomes the way it happened: I’m okay.
So you agreed to stop keeping track. One day you were at the top of his stairs and then found yourself at the bottom.
Be brave, he said, pouring tequila into your mouth and wiping your lips with the back of his hand.
You were always waiting for the door to burst open, for your mother to come tearing inside. You imagined her cradling you to her chest, expelling him from you. You imagined the old god stripping those sheets and burning them. Burning you clean.
You knew she wasn’t coming. Still.
There was a night later on when his hands held you down and he repeated, over and over, you’re fine. He cradled your feet, your waist, your legs, opening you.
He had you kneel in the tub while he scrubbed. Your head hit the wall after the first wave of water. The old god whispered it beside you: be brave, be brave, be brave.
The last night, when you wouldn’t stop bleeding, he took you to the hospital. The nurse made him stay in the waiting room and asked if you needed help.
What to say? This was a man who slept with a seven-inch hunting knife beside his bed. A man who had asked you not to make him do this.
They put sutures into your skin and plaster against your arm and called a taxi to take you home. He had left.
By that fall the rain made your collarbone ache where he chipped it. Your hand stroked the spot even while you slept.
When you slept.
You told yourself so much of this was normal: the screaming, the smell of blood. The way your stomach turned at the sound of your name.
You woke up shivering, sweating, whispering be brave. You recited it like a prayer in scalding showers, strangers’ beds, in the skin you used to live in.
When the old god came back to sit on your floor, you were trying to remember the smell of your mother’s kitchen, of anything clean.
You used to be a person, it said.
That’s when you decided. You tightened your muscles and pressed the button on your phone, one hand around your throat.
He was laughing into the receiver, saying how glad he was you called. He said he never felt like it was over. He said he’d be home soon.
And you took the train like a phantom limb: the platform to the steps, advancing on his door.
He threw you over his shoulder and carried you into a room you never left.
When he fell onto the bed, pulling you toward him, you tumbled away. Your hips snapped open, letting you fall through them and back onto your feet. He watched you move, laughing, for as long as it took you to reach the bedside table. He asked what you were doing.
You had a new god now, one sheathed in leather. A god made from seven inches of sharpened metal.
You moved quickly, taking his hips between your legs like he liked it. And you carved out his heart with your hands.
Later you peeled your clothes off. You kicked them aside. No one was watching. Even the new god had gone back to sleep, tucked away.
You called your mother again. Something happened, you said.
What is it? Are you okay?
Do you remember how afraid I used to be of the dark? Do you remember the monster under my bed?
What are you talking about? You were scaring her.
You looked back at the sheets, now a field of dahlias. You know the one I mean. That thing with teeth.
Lexi Schwartz is a writer and engineer based out of Boulder, Colorado. Her work has most recently won the Thompson Writing Award for graduate fiction through the Center of the American West, and has been published in The Thought Erotic and the Boulder Weekly.