by Marcella Alvarez
2020 Ember Chasm Review Fiction Contest
I am Dr. Frankenstein and She is my glorious, glorious monster. However, She has become wiley and uncontrollable. Yesterday I caught her trying to set fire to my black widow dress in the backyard over an empty steel trashcan. When our neighbors called the fire department, She flirted with the firefighters. She grabbed the hose and placed it between her thighs, waggling her tongue as she asked whether they might take a photo of her. When they refused, she threw the hose to the floor and sulked off, saying that she’d seen bigger ones in her time anyway.
The only reason you like that dress is because your ex said it looked sexy on you, She says, flipping the lighter.
She keeps trying to convince me that we are the same person, but I know it’s not true. She thinks our lives parallel one another. I think we’re inversely proportional. On a friday night I’m melancholy, cozied up with my tea, maybe plucking on my guitar. She’s dolled up wearing face glitter, ready to go out, pointing to a little baggy of white flour she likes to pretend is cocaine. Regardless, we are friends. During my breakup, she was there for me. I was so sad that every day I felt like human quicksand. She was the only one there to offer tissues to me during my most snot-ridden moments.
Come one, come all, to marvel the human faucet, She says, flipping the channel to a telenovela.
She became the balls-out-fungirl friend to distract me from thinking about him. Remember the $350 three-day music festival in North Carolina? Yep, you dragged me along, one selfie at a time. Indoor Rock climbing? The boulders sparkled neon bright under photo filters. Vacation to the Seychelles complete with #nevercomehome #sogreat #yay #lovemylife? She was there every step of the way posting and sharing. Her philosophical outlook can be summed up thus: If a tree falls in the forest and nobody instagrams it, did it really ever fall? Or: What is the sound of one hand snapping? She’s metaphysical like that.
Why yes, I’m very deep. Like the pools of Rainbow Falls hike when you passed out from dehydration in the grand canyon, like the underwater caverns lit up from plankton, like the feeling of men inside you.
She’s not the only one of her species. Her monster kingdom comes out in droves given the right circumstances. They especially love when She posts bikini photos. They deluge her with likes and comments and heart-eyes. This gives her strength. She feeds on this. I’ve witnessed how She pours all the clicks and emojis into a soup pot and ladles them into her fantastically large mouth. I’ve never met anyone with her gargantuan appetite.
I have to admit that I’ve had a lot of fun with her. Despite her spending my money, and growing like Attack of the 50-foot Woman, I was proud of the ache in my knuckles after an 5.8 climb. The image of spotted dartfish in coral still glitters in my head, as does my acid trip of people moving in sync to rhythm.
I am you and you are me and we are all just lacquered beasts on a merry-go-round. Isn’t it funny how they never bleed from the stab wounds of poles ripping through their torsos?
Then again, maybe all of our fun was a ruse because my breakup was, technically speaking, her fault.
Tell them the story, She hisses in my ear.
A few months before our two-year anniversary, I asked Alex to move in with me. After all, my rent was cheaper and closer to his work downtown. He nodded but said he’d think it over. Apparently I have blinders on like a fucking racehorse because I thought his silence was approval. A month later over a home-cooked dinner, I asked him about how we would address the three-month gap in our leases. He peered intensely at the rainbow of root vegetables on his plate. He scraped around quinoa. At two years we both had a lot to think about. We should spend some time thinking about our future. We might do well to spend a few weeks apart. Who was I to push against what is good for us? He went to the bathroom, and She-Monster slinked up to me. She shoved a “Is Your Relationship Doomed?” quiz down my bandeau bra.
I assumed we would move in together because this followed our status quo. Generally speaking, I had an idea, and Alex agreed with me. I would take initiative and he would follow suit without ever saying whether he really wanted to or not. Friday nights I asked if he wanted pepperoni or veggie, he agreed. I asked if he wanted to go to New Hampshire or the Vineyard for the weekend, he agreed. I asked if he wanted to meet up on
Fridays, go hiking, share a Netflix subscription, leave clothes over, meet my family, me meet his family – he always agreed. Always my idea with him following along like one of Snow White’s dwarves. Why should moving in together be any different?
He was Dopey, She-Monster says between bursts of bubble gum.
Leaving the dishes in the sink until morning, Alex and I had sex on my bedroom floor that night. I moaned his name when I came and he fell asleep as the big spoon, and said he loved me, which made me think that everything was under control.
How funny would it be if you got pregnant? She howls and rubs her fake-pregnancy belly which is actually a balloon. She then pushes one of her glitter nails under it, and it pops.
After that, Alex and I instituted a two week no-contact order, which seemed healthy. My friends said it was a great way to focus on self again and to get reprioritized. Gina regaled me with the story of how she and Emma went poly. They went on dates with other women even though they lived together. They showed me their coordinated schedule of who would have the living room on what night, so the other might mindfully stay away. They decided not to give in to jealousy and even had a threesome. After five months, they realized that dating was exhausting. Organizing it all took as much time as being together, and neither one of them felt like hiring a planner to organize their dates (which was discussed). Their wedding invitations featured them under a sunset with silver curlicue font that said, “I choose you, my darling.”
Team Rocket blasts off again! She says. It takes me a moment.
She-Monster, of course, always suspected the worst for this no-contact order between Alex and I. She pointed out how he had “liked” a series of photos of this girl Sheila whom he never “actually” had dated, as though “actually dating” someone is the only point at which men will talk about women they’ve slept with. Anything other than “actual” dating is greyzone territory where you’re just not supposed to care. Nobody wants to be labeled a snoop.
I’m not an idiot. When people say that sexual attraction is a spectrum, this applies to friends and exes too. Just because we had sex once after the cocktail reception doesn’t nullify our conversation about how Jackson Pollock’s paintings are a byproduct of toxic masculinity. Maybe I only friended you to see if you were single after meeting at karaoke and now your gym selfies pop up every few days. When we’re in relationships, people from our single lives still float around. What kind of psycho would want to cut out these experiences like a cancer? Big fucking deal.
Plot twist: Pollock is engaged to a man. Bench Press just got another new sleeve, She says giving the photo a heart.
Because of this, I never addressed Sheila with my ex, and I never asked why he liked her photos. I didn’t want to inevitably be told that I was making a big deal out of nothing. I didn’t want to seem hypocritical. She-Monster has been wrong before. For example: My sister once liked a meme of that racist frog pasted onto Kim Kardashian’s body. She-Monster had a temper tantrum and punched my pillows, screamed bloody murder, calling my sister an evil racist because she had seen the liked photo. When I asked my sister about it though, she seemed confused. We figured out that she accidentally clicked it while eating a bagel sandwich on the subway. She does loves her goddamn bagel sandwiches, so this makes sense.
Talk to the hand, She says and grabs my face.
However, even a shattered phone screen is right twice a day. She-monster’s suspicion of my Alex was correct. Over the week of our no-contact order he continued to like photos of Sheila. Some of the photos went back years – to when they weren’t actually dating. She-Monster stayed quiet, but laid out in front of me the evidence: how he’d gone out with Tom-O on a Tuesday and they formed a train of dancers, grinding their hips into one another as everyone chugged beers.
She-Monster went into investigative mode, piecing together who exactly was present at this club on this particular night, tracking everything in a large manila folder She called “The Ex Files.” I thought this was premature and hurtful, but it didn’t stop her.
dee dee dee dee dee dee da dee. She’s humming the theme song now. It’s remixed with Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”
At this point she grabs my computer and says that She can handle the narrative, that I will tell it wrong, that I always misquote her, that I don’t know what I am talking about, that I need to accept that She has my best interests in mind, that She knows me better than anyone.
She-Monster messaged Alex without my consent. She saw he’d gone skydiving and was having an amazing time. I think She became jealous. Sending a physical letter would have been faster because he didn’t respond for two fucking days. He was still gathering his thoughts, he said.
You’ll see, She says smugly, while downing a pint of cheesecake ice cream.
On Halloween my friends dragged me to a bar crawl. I had some black cat ears lying around and it was easy enough to contour my face, draw a nose and whiskers and pin a tail behind me. My friends informed me I wasn’t going to win most original costume. I informed them that Sexy Cat was a classic, and my costume was pastiche and subtly sophisticated because it was in dialogue with all the other ways female creativity in the public sphere is still bounded by constraints of male desire.
All about that tits and ass, She says, taking a drag of a clove cigarette.
The bar was handing out licorice shots. Prince Charming asked me if I wanted a drink and when I said no he handed me one anyway. The year before, Alex and I had dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. I was the wolf. Alex would pick me up, saying that we had changed the story to be “Little Bad Wolf and Big Riding Hood.” As a fellow fairy-tale staple, I wondered if Prince Charming was all that different from Alex. I downed the shot.
She-Monster sidled up to me. She had an entire bottle of pumpkin spice liquor in hand and when I tried to tell her to slow down She flicked my tail. She reminded me that, as a monster, this was her day and She could do what She wanted.
You’re the one who decided to call me a monster, She says. No take backs.
She smiles and I see her teeth drip. She grabs my phone from my pocket and scrolls to my boyfriend’s profile page. He posted a photo. My Alex is with Sheila. His hand clings to Sheila’s bare waist, pinching her. Sheila looks at him with fuck-me-doe-eyes. See, She-Monster hisses. See. Look. I’m right.
She-Monster howls in laughter. Of all the literally billions of flora and fauna and punny or sexy things Sheila might have chosen to be on Halloween, she chose to dress as a black cat. Her bralette and her threaded-thigh-booty-shorts show off her beautiful caramel skin. Fuck her, She-Monster says. Fuck her, I say. Fuck the fact that I see this, fuck my She-Monster for allowing it, fuck the others who’ve seen it, fuck Alex. I grew dizzy.
When I was eight years old my father hid money from my mother, and when she found out she broke the framed glass containing their wedding invitations. My father punched a black hole in the drywall that we later covered up with a Monet poster. That night, I found my mother crying on our flower-patterned toilet seat. She wore a threadbare grey dress that she purchased when she forgot to bring pajamas for my grandmother’s funeral. She was too sad to ask me for a hug.
However, life goes on: the next day we had an appointment at the mall for holiday photos. “Happy Holidays, From Our Family to Yours” pictures were sent out with red ribbons in December. The photo still rests on the bookshelf, growing dust. Everyone who passes by it comments on how great we look.
Yes, yes, yes, exactly. Fuck them all. Time for revenge. Time to pull away the curtain. Look at me go. Look what I write:
“Guess you can pick which pussy you want tonight, asshole. Two years down the drain. Go fuck yourself, asshole” kissfacekissfaceheart. The attention from infantryman vibrate under my fingertips. If I had my way, we would suck your flesh from a straw. Everyone exists between extremities, but we accentuate it in a way you’re not brave enough to. We are more beautiful than you. We are angrier than you. We are funnier and more entertaining than you, more horrific than you. You are bland in your ways, boring in your gut. With a single press I make heads turn and hearts stop.
The volley of responses that She-Monster craved from her “pick your pussy” post didn’t happen like a flash flood; it was more like a leak in a damn; before you know it you are on your roof wondering how the water got so high. Maybe that’s indicative of how She and I have always been. Over the next few days, Sheila’s friends tagged her, and defended her. One of my ex’s cousins decided to talk about capitalism. Another person linked it to a meme of two cats fighting. Why would I attack another girl for what she wore? Wasn’t I a feminist?
I wanted to delete it, but it was up for so long that I was positive someone would have taken a screenshot. Nothing that has been on the internet ever dies. My She-Monster ground her teeth in delight. Every time a person responded with an angry emoji the circle of her mouth grew wider. She unhinged her jaw and a python-tongue darted from her mouth. When my ex commented that I “was always the jealous type” She made a whooshing noise and slurped it down. When a friend warned him that I was a psycho, She grew the incisors of a female angler fish. I looked at my reflection in the mirror and realized that my own eyes had also grown bloodshot.I couldn’t take this. I would not let her become me.
I struggled to tear my phone away from her talons. The moment I took hold of it, I slammed it hard on the floor. The screen splintered. A fracture ran up the side like a spider web. She licked her paw. She disappeared.
Audrey Hepburn and a Unicorn entered the bathroom. When they saw my phone, they grew sympathetic and offered to take photos, so that I could have something to show I celebrated Halloween. I suspected they were her spies, and politely refused.
As I hailed a cab to get home, shame crawled up my back. I had created her. If She was twisted, it was only in my likeness.
You have to remember: her body is just an illusion. She doesn’t really ‘do’ the time-space continuum, so if She disappears for a while it’s hard to trace when She’d be back, if ever.
The comments got deleted. The next day Alex came over with his heart pumping between his palms. He wept on my couch. I rested my neck on his shoulders. We talked about what we loved about one another. He said he would miss sleeping in with me and drinking mimosas in mugs. I told him it didn’t have to be this way. He agreed (as usual). He brushed locks of my hair behind my ear. He whispered “maybe” to me, which was not a yes or a no. He told me we could still be friends. After he left I stared at the door for five minutes. He wanted out.
I tried to get over him in the usual ways: not letting myself be alone, making out with strangers, Hallmark movies, etc. On his birthday up popped the photos of the surprise party I’d thrown him the previous year. Scrolling through photos of a piñata and homemade tres leches cake, I lost it. I grasped my pillow between my fists and cried torrents, letting myself bubble over.
You know that wasn’t me, right? She said, suddenly appearing at the foot of my bed. I had absolutely no control over those photos, or the fact that they showed up today, just so we’re clear.
I threw my pillow at her, even though I was glad to see her. She reached around my neck to hug me. She whispered that it was alright to feel bad. For over twenty minutes She rocked me back and forth, offering me tissues and touching my hair, like a friend.
Then, a flash. She waved something back a forth. Squinting between tears I saw that it was a physical polaroid picture – lord only knows where She obtained a camera. It became clear that the picture was me, black eyeliner trailing down my face like a raccoon, blush perversely mixed in with green eye shadow, mascara dotting strange areas of my forehead. I told her it was mean to take a photo of me. She tacked the photo on my forehead and asked me if this was what I wanted of myself. She asked me whether I was proud of this person in the photo. I said that I was in pain. She put her lips to my ear and whispered,
What is outside parallels the inside. Fake it until you make it.
Then She planted a giant kiss on my cheek leaving large cherry-red lipstick mark. While I scrubbed off the matte color, She stole my credit card. First, She booked the music festival. While we waited in the rain for our nine-dollar wine coolers at the festival, we met the Girls Climb Club. After the festival, She booked the trip to Seychelles, clapping her hands in delight at the idea of beach photos. I warned her: She would only be able to come if She promised not to try and eat me. She offered me a pinky swear.
I don’t think She’ll try to attack me again any time soon, but it’s definitely something I have to manage. It’s just part of having her in my life – nothing comes without work, as my mother says. Other monsters and humans have been questioning her honesty of late, so it’s made her more humble.
She’s a weirdo, just like me. A friend like any other. I guess that’s enough to take comfort in.
Marcella Alvarez has had fiction appear in Weave Magazine and The Adirondack Review. Her nonfiction has been featured in Strike! Magazine, and she co-authored a book chapter “New Media and Advocacy” in the text Understanding Nonviolence edited by Maia Carter Hallward and Julie M. Norman. Her family hails from Quebradillas, Puerto Rico and Dallas, Texas but she grew up on a farm in New Mexico. She currently works and lives in Boston, MA with her beautiful and ornery cat, Dardanelle.
Check out our interview with Marcella Alvarez by clicking here.