I know you remember this.
I woke up on the raft. I’d been sick. I’d been sick for weeks. Everything before was a delirious nightmare. The murders. The container. You. It was all merged into one with her singing lullabies over the top. Her spoon-feeding me. Her weeping at night and stroking my face and telling me everything was going to be alright.
I felt better. I felt clearer. For the first time I felt I could control my body, my mind. The fog was lifted. And I realized I was starving. My stomach thrummed with pain. I realized I was naked, the violent sun raging down upon my burnt naked skin. I realized I was alone, the open ocean spreading blue round me, the open sky above.
I lay there, waiting to hear her voice, feel her touch.
There was a chill at my back. I thought it was shade, and I welcomed it. I pushed against it. I thought it was the raft’s wide golden lip, cooling me. But it wasn’t. It was her cold body, lying behind me, her naked skin up close to my naked back.
She was dead.
For most of that day, I screamed.
I tried to kill myself that night. I almost succeeded. Hobbling away from her cold body. Not looking. Crawling up the raft’s fat golden lip, looking into the black green water below. All the parts of my body cried out. All the parts of my brain wept for myself, and for her. I could scarcely make myself roll over the edge. I had to sweat against the price of her death, my muscles locked, my joints frozen and grating, my mind wailing for something other than this, so that I was slick and naked when I finally dropped into the cold water.
I fell through darkness. My eyes felt cool relief. I think I began to cry, my salt mixing with the salt of the ocean. That felt nice. My treacherous body sighed. My headache eased. I opened my mouth and tried to breathe the water.
It was too hard.
I tried again later, after weeping through the moonlight next to her. I managed to stand, matted rubber uneven beneath my feet, and I threw myself out and over. I belly-flopped. I tried to swim deep, so deep I couldn’t return. I swam hard. I felt my muscles stretching, straining. Bubbles gashed from my lips, but still I couldn’t breathe the water. I turned to look up and saw the dark shadow of the raft overhead. I guessed 10 meters, at best. I’d swum all I could and it was only 10 meters away.
I opened my mouth and I couldn’t make myself breathe. So I swallowed. I sucked it all in. I drank and I drank and I thought it might be enough if I could just drink enough. But it wasn’t, and soon I was back on the yellow raft, leaned over the golden lip, clutching the white plastic handles and vomiting blood and sea water back into the sea.
I went a little mad after that.
I watched the moon, and the moon watched me. I saw patterns in its face. I listened. I strained to hear. And the moon spoke to me. I saw its face smile and it spoke to me.
‘Don’t try to sleep,’ it said. ‘She’s beside you right now.’
‘Who?’ I’d ask.
‘It’s her,’ the moon would say, it’s face ballooning, spreading, grin warping and sick like a dead clown. ‘She’s lying there waiting for your touch.’
‘She’s dead,’ I’d say, and the moon would show its teeth. The moon would dance, whatever I said. The moon would hum the wedding march, and the funeral march, then turn somersaults.
‘Well what are you waiting for then?’ the moon would ask. ‘She won’t fight you.’
‘What do you mean?’ I’d ask.
‘Don’t be silly,’ the moon would say, ‘silly silly billy. She’s right there. She let him do it, didn’t she?’
And then she would wake up beside me and she would speak, and she would say ‘why didn’t you ever touch me?â€™ and sheâ€™d sing â€˜boys who like girls like their girls who like boys,’ and I’d just hold her, and shush her, and pretend not to notice the gossamer lines stretching down from the moon’s cloudy fingers, pulling her limbs to and fro, and I’d pretend not to notice her voice was none but the moon’s, squeaky and fake.
The sun rose and I found her dead. I spoke to her still. I ran my burnt fingers over her emaciated skin. She remained light. I turned red, my skin flaking and cracking open, oozing pus and blood. There were cracks on my dry lips and in my mouth and I felt my gums slowly shrinking. Kissing her side, her wan skin, I left kiss-marks in blood which I couldn’t wipe clean. I was too weak. I lay and I spoke to her and her dead eyes looked up at the sun and I dreamt she spoke back.
She was sad.
She said ‘what about our love?’
And I wept for our love.
She said ‘what about our future? Will there be no future for us now?’
And I wept dry tears, for I had nothing left to weep. So I heaved, and I sobbed, and my shoulders buckled and humped, and my eyes itched, all for our sacrifices and our lost future. Her dead eyes gazing up at me, lying there with her breasts wilting in the heat against her sunken chest like sullen dead fish.
There were voices. They called to me. I listened to them. Her parents. My parents. Friends. All of them. They chattered in too-low voices and they talked about me. They muttered. They sang. They sang in rhapsodies of angels. They chorused and they harmonized. They sang melodies I couldn’t quite recognize, they muttered words I couldn’t quite hear.
‘Hungry, isn’t he?’ they whispered, and I’d wheel around, looking for them, and the faint singing would start again.
‘He looks hungry,’ they’d whisper, and I’d try to leap up, leaving bloody smears from my cracked and weltered skin on the bright yellow of the raft, and I’d try to hunt them down, and each time I’d collapse, end up balled at her side, holding some part of her, needing her, kissing her skin furiously.
‘He’s lonely,’ they whispered.
‘He’s hungry,’ they whispered.
‘He’s cold,’ they whispered.
‘He’s hungry,’ they whispered.
And I heard but I ignored them and clung on to her leg. I looked at her foot. I kissed her foot.
‘Looks like he’s taken a fancy to her foot, there,’ they whispered.
‘I should mind that, if I were you,’ they whispered.
‘Hungry, isn’t he?’ they whispered.
And I kissed her all over, and it was only when it became dark and the voices fell away and I hadn’t really eaten anything for 2 weeks that I first lifted her dead foot to my face, and put her cold toe into my mouth.
We grew up together. She and I. We played together. We ate together. We were neighbors. Her family was poor, just like mine. We ran wild through the streets of our town on the outskirts of the city, panting dusty in each other’s huts, begging an apple or avocado, second children in each other’s homes. We were like brother and sister. We went to school together. And we grew apart. I passed every test, she didn’t. I tutored her but it didn’t help. She cried over her books and she gave up. Always I went back to help her, but she ran away. I couldn’t find her. So I studied alone. She dropped out of school and got a job in a coffee shop. She avoided me. She lived next door but she avoided me. I went all the way. I got a job at the University and went to night classes. I studied science. I got a first degree. My parents paid everything they had to give me that.
We hadn’t talked for a long time when she finally came to see me. It was soon after graduation. She walked through my parent’s meager home and she sat on my bed and she started to cry, and she couldn’t stop.
She told me she hated this place. She told me she was dying here. She told me she’d started taking drugs. It had been good at first, she’d said. He’d been nice, and it made the bad times go away. He was sweet, she said. He was kind. He even bought her flowers once. And he always gave her the drugs. They made her feel better. They made her feel important, and loved. She knew he’d started to sell her, when she was high, to his friends, on the street, but she didn’t remember much more than that. She still felt his love, and the touch of other men that was his love too. I saw the bruises on her face. I saw the track marks on her calves. I hadn’t even known.
I said I would kill him, and she said don’t. She said he would kill me first, or his friends would kill me afterwards. He had many friends, and they were worse than him, she said. She begged me to stay. She promised to leave and never see me again, never show me the mess of her life again, if I’d just forget she’d said anything. She swore she’d rather die than see me hurt, rather go back to him than see my dreams crushed.
I ignored her. I couldn’t listen. I left her behind, on her knees, begging me not to go, and I went for him anyway. I took a baseball bat and a knife. I found his apartment. Bigger than my parent’s hovel. Richer. Rich off her skin, off her flesh. But he wasn’t there. I broke in. I sat in his chair and I drank his whiskey and I waited. He came back with 2 women late in the morning. The sun was rising outside. I stood up. He didn’t see me, he was drunk. I beat him in the groin with the bat, then I stabbed him in the neck. The girls either side of him shrieked, supporting his weight for a moment before he slid free and dropped to the ground. There was no sound.
I went home, and I slept.
The next day, she came, and with my parents, told me their plan to get us out of the country.
I kissed the toe. I licked the toe. I sucked the toe. I bit the toe.
I vomited, but nothing came up.
I spat out her dry blood. I looked over at her slack face in the moonlight and I said my apologies. She woke up and looked at me then, her face writhing in ecstasy.
‘It’s OK,’ she panted, ‘I liked it. Do it again.’
I could see the moon’s strings tugging at her dead flesh. I could see it’s hooks in her skull, sunk deep into her navel, pressed between her knees and up inside her body. But I didn’t care. The moon sang and danced and played its dirges and marches, and all the while I crept closer, and my stomach settled, and I lifted up her foot again.
‘Oh touch me, touch me!’ wailed the shrill moon, her mouth wagging in time, her eyes rolling in their sockets, and as I raised the dead meat to my lips she wailed and cried out and thrust her flopping hands between her legs and touched herself and her body bucked and she moaned ‘oh do it again, do it again.’
I touched the foot to my lips.
‘Aaaahhh,’ she moaned.
“How about this then?” I asked, and crunched down on the toe. The skin split slowly, the nail buckling beneath my incisors, dry blood trickling into my mouth and dribbling down my chin, and I laughed, and I howled up at the moon “You like that?â€, screaming around the toe and laughing and hiccuping as the blood flowed over my darting tongue, “do you like that?!”
‘Hungry isn’t he?’ whispered the voices.
‘Give it to me!’ she cried, ‘I love it, give it to me!’
I ate most of her foot that night.
I woke the next morning beneath her. Her body pulled over me like a blanket, shielding me from the roaring sun. Her foot was at my head, bright pink and flayed of flesh, bone peeking through chunks of yellowing meat. I threw her from me, I almost vomited, and I cried. Tears fell from my eyes. There were no tears before, I realized. These were her tears. I hated myself, and stood to throw myself from the raft. I could stand. I couldn’t stand before. I was stronger.
I dived. I swam as deep as I could. The sea hummed and went black. I passed out.
I came to spluttering at the surface and crawled back into the raft. I faced away from her, and I began to think I might survive. That was the worst thought of them all. That I might survive.
My parents had been out all night making arrangements. My father had a friend who knew a man who worked in the embassy. She’d told them what I’d done. I don’t know now if they were proud, or angry, or disappointed. I woke the next morning in the back of a rusted pickup, heading for the sea. She was sitting next to me. That must have been the first time we kissed.
Later, she explained what was happening. We were leaving the country. We had to. We had to have a future. With the last of our parentsâ€™ money, they were sending us away. To America. We would be shipped in a bulk goods container on a slow freight liner up the coast. It would take 2 weeks. It hadn’t come cheap, and there were risks. But if we made it, we could start a new life. Get jobs. Maybe even, in time, use my degree towards real work.
She cried in my arms.
At the docks we walked down alleyways dark even in the day, and we found the rooms of the shipping agent. My father had gone to a friend, who knew a friend, who knew a friend that worked at the embassy, and he told them what to do. We knocked on the door, we went in. The room was squalid and stank of marijuana and urine. A sweaty man wearing a stained wife-beater vest rose from the couch to meet us, holding out his hand.
“Welcome,” he said. We shook. He knelt and kissed her hand. She giggled. “The ladies love me,” he said, grinning at me. He sat with us, gave us coffee, and explained what would happen. Today hole up in his offices. Tonight, board the container in the dry-dock. Tomorrow the crane would lift us clear and deposit us on the freighter. There would be food and water on board, he promised. He’d be sailing with us, on the ship, but he wouldn’t be able to check us. He was just a sea hand without access to the cargo. He wouldn’t be able to come by. But at the far end he’d be there to open us up, put us on a raft, and call the boys at the other end to come collect us. Smuggling us through the docks was impossible, he said. This was the only way.
We nodded. We were scared. We were away from our home, away from our parents, and terrified.
She went to the bathroom. He winked at me. “She your girlfriend?” he asked.
“She’s got a great set of assets.”
I drank my tea. I should have taken us out of there right then, but I couldn’t think straight. I just nodded, mumbled something.
“2 weeks alone together in that container,” he said, grinning. “I wonder, what you gonna do to kill the time?”
I just shrugged.
She came back. “There’s blankets in the container too,” he said, “so you two can be comfortable.” He winked at me again.
That night we boarded the container. Found the food supplies he’d spoken of, and tucked ourselves into the blankets for the night. The next day a crane latched on, men walking over the container’s roof, and we were swung out over the sea. We could watch through tiny bolt holes around the rivets. The container settled on the deck with a loud clunk, and after that, a few hours, the ship set sail. We were going to America.
The sun was killing me.
I swam under the boat but was soon exhausted. I was burning. My skin ripped and squealed under the sun’s rage. I screamed but only whispers emerged. I languished and cried and hid beneath her body, holding her tight, looking away from her ravaged foot.
At sunset, the pinks and oranges setting so beautiful and blurry all around me, dashing sprinkles of light from the waves like candy floss, I leant over the foot again.
‘From the navel!’ cried the rising moon, ‘that’s probably for the best!’
I took the foot in my hand, teeth-marks worn into it like old tire treads in the dirt, and snapped off a bone. It cracked so loud I dropped it. Brown mush oozed from the end onto the greying raft. The moon looked down.
‘Mmmm,’ it breathed, ‘do that again.’
I took the bone, the end sharp and splintered, and I pressed it into the lank skin of her navel.
Cutting her skin was hard. The edge of the bone wore away or snapped. Each time I plucked a fresh one from her foot, soon slurping at the brown goo from inside, each time thinking there’d soon be none left, no more to cut with.
Digging my fingernails beneath her skin I wept. Pulling it free, inch by inch, sounded like stitches unravelling, popping free. The raft swam slick with blood. I found myself licking it from my palms. Licking it from the yellow of the raft.
‘Oh god,’ gasped the moon, ‘I love it.’
I sweated over her skin. I stood and rolled and wrestled with her skin. I rested my foot firmly on her spine and hauled on her skin. It tore from her abdomen leaving nuggets of scone-like muscle stringing from its wake. It swelled free of her breasts and gobbets of jellied yellow fat breathed for the first time the ocean air. I swallowed them whole. I found myself scraping my teeth along the inside of the skin, sucking up the juice. I tugged harder and her spine broke. Her head swung round to stare at me on the moon’s silver strings and her mouth wagged and the moon said ‘don’t you want to eat my other parts too?’
I ignored it. I braced my feet and I tore the skin free. My feet meshed deep into her red muscles, curling around her ribcage and still pulling. I felt her ribs popping beneath my toes. I watched her heart and lungs press up and peek through their bars in her ribcage.
By dark her skin was free. It sogged in my hands. I shrugged it on over my own and felt the blood and fat soothe my cracked, peeling, burnt flesh, and I lay down next to her remains. I kissed her face, as I twisted her guts free with my hand and fed myself. I kissed her dried face bloody and I fell asleep as she whispered lullabies in my ear.
It was fun.
There was plenty of food, the blankets were warm, fresh sea air blew through the cracks. We lay around all day and ate and talked. We made lists of things we would do in America. What was the first thing we’d eat. What was the first movie we’d see. What was the first National Park we’d visit. Where we wanted to live. How many kids we’d have.
We didn’t have sex. I don’t know why. It just seemed better to wait. But we lay together, my arm curled around her, and we talked in whispers as the rivet holes rained in slim sun beams, tracing lines across the floor by which we could tell the time. We built our dreams for the future together. We giggled and whispered and it was the best time.
Then the food ran out. There were 10 boxes stacked at the back of the container, where the blankets had been. The first contained chocolate bars, bread, tins of tomatoes, vegetables, and beans. We didn’t check the others until we’d wolfed down the first in a few happy days. But they were empty. 9 empty boxes.
It wasn’t fun anymore.
We talked about banging on the box walls. We talked about it being an accident. We didn’t know. We weren’t sure. We became afraid. Had he given us 9 empty boxes by accident? On purpose? We didn’t know.
He came that night. We were asleep. He woke us up, cold blast of air from the open container entrance. He came over to us, whispering to stay calm. The next thing I knew, his hand had lifted over my head, a dark shadow in his grip, and my head was bouncing off the floor and everything was going black.
In the morning I tried to vomit but couldn’t. I pulled her skin free from my shoulders, the dried fat crackling and popping loose, and I threw it into the ocean. It floated just out of reach. I dived until my lungs burst but I couldn’t breathe the water. I couldn’t forget.
I lay unconscious until nightfall. She was silent. I swam out to the skin and retrieved it, wore it. I looked down at her and wanted to scream but I couldn’t. Instead I took her to the sea and I washed the smeared blood from her face. I felt such a love for her then, and I thanked her, and I begged her forgiveness.
I felt the moon watching me but I didn’t care. Before I slept I ate. Guilty and with soft, careful hands. I left her face. I left her heart and the remnants of her breasts. I took only the meat, the muscle and the flesh. And then I slept.
I woke with light in my eyes. Lancing pain in my head. My fingers came back stained with blood. I moved, my whole body ached. My head swam and colors ran across my vision.
He’d hit me.
I staggered to my feet. I scarcely even needed to look to know she was gone.
He’d taken her.
The blankets were gone. The boxes of food were gone. I was alone, in a metal cell, and he had her. The rage I felt could not be contained. I screamed. I hammered on the walls. I threw boxes everywhere, but they were all empty. All empty boxes. I punched and kicked the walls until I broke a toe and my knuckles were bruised and bloody. I screamed until I had no more voice, then I collapsed, and cried.
And nobody came.
Nobody came for me. Nobody helped me. She was with him, and there was nothing I could do. I vomited. Again and again. I couldn’t stop it. Soon the container stank, and I gagged. I gagged at the sight of it. And I waited.
There was no food. There was no water. And she was gone.
I couldn’t sleep. I raged against the walls, and I wept. I imagined all the things he could be doing. I tried not to but they kept coming back. Her in his room. The door locked. Her mouth gagged with tape. Her legs tied down, her arms spread-eagled. I saw his fingers tracing up her body. I saw his dirty stained shirt slipping off his swarthy pock-marked skin. I saw him kissing her thighs. I saw him kissing up the length of her. I saw her screaming and screaming into the tape, and making no sound. I saw her bucking and fighting at first. I saw her lying there, making no motions, surrendered. I saw her not moving. I saw her lank and her eyes as if dead. I saw him pushing his lips in her face, pushing himself inside her. He winked at me. He winked at me and touched her.
Soon I had no energy for screaming. I had no energy for battering the walls. I had no tears remaining. I had only pain. I lay in a ball, frozen through the nights, shivering, the life draining from me in an agony of impotence. I could do nothing. I had nothing. There was nothing I could do.
I dreamt of a fresh start. I dreamt of our perfect life in America. I dreamt of picket fences and wide grassy lawns. I dreamt of children playing and running through the dust, eating apples and avocados in each other’s houses, growing up into happiness together. And every time I woke to the cold reality of my cell, and the knowledge of what he might be doing to my love at that exact moment.
I believe I was close to delirium when he came back. It must have been a week or more. He threw open the door, and she hung there from his arm. I could barely see, my eyes were dried up and misty. The light blinded me. I was delirious. I couldn’t speak. His words echoed down to me as if through water.
“God that stinks,” he said, holding his nose. “Did you puke? Jesus.”
I felt him picking me up. I must have weighed nothing. I wanted to kill him, but I could do nothing. I was worse than a child in his arms. I was a baby.
“Sheâ€™s a lovely girl,” he said. I could just make it out. “Real sweet. Know what she kept saying? ‘Don’t hurt him,'” he said, mimicking her voice, high and whiny, “‘don’t hurt him, don’t hurt him’. Pathetic.â€
I tried to punch him but he waved the weak fist away.
“Come on now,” he said, “it’s not like she’s not used to it, is it? Junkie like that, where’s the harm?”
He slapped my face, and I passed out for a time.
I came to lying in the raft. All I could see was blue. His face hung over me.
“I will kill you,” I mumbled.
“What?” he said, laughing. “You? Right. Yeah. I’ll just wait for that while you’re floating round on your raft with your little junkie whore, shall I? Jesus. Some people have got no gratitude.”
Then he cut us loose. Alone. She lay next to me. We didn’t speak. She held me, and together, we shivered through the night.
I was delirious after that. I couldn’t clear my mind. The sun nearly killed me. But I remember, she was there beside me. I remember her singing me lullabies, and feeding me. I remember her stroking the skin of my forehead. I remember her kissing my lips. I remember her stripping our clothes to make my bandages, to bind the pressure sores I’d gained from lying in one place for too long. I remember her weeping over me. She didn’t tell me what happened. She didn’t need to. I knew. I was too weak to talk, but I knew. I wanted to hold her, to weep too, but I couldn’t even talk.
I didn’t know she wasn’t feeding herself. I didn’t know she used the last of the paltry supplies you’d disposed of us with to bring me back to life. I didn’t know. The first thing I knew, I woke feeling better, and she was lying dead and cold by my side.
I woke stronger than before. I looked to the sun, rising to my right, and I knew what to do. I dropped into the water. Her skin kept me warm. And I swam. I pulled the raft, stroke by stroke, towards the sun. Towards America.
By day I swam. By day I saw ships everywhere. Sailing through the clouds overhead, majestic castles of ships with gunwhales and turrets and masts and rigging. I saw submarines surfacing beneath us, yellow and decked in party posters, announcing our welcome return. I saw great ocean liners steaming up alongside, the smiling people swarming the decks waving down at us, hoisting a rescue package and a box of chocolates down.
But no ships came.
By night I ate. I ate my way up her thighs. I ate her intestines. I ate the contents of her stomach. I ate her liver and her pancreas and her bile duct. I threw nothing away. I ate her delicate white fingers and I picked her bones clean. I ate her hair. I ate her eyes, and her nose, and her lips. I started to eat her skin off my back. I ate, then I slept.
And by day I swam.
Time passed, and I swam.
Seeing land did not make me feel happy. I swam on.
I dragged her bones onto the beach with me. I crawled through thick forest with her. I climbed with her to the top of a cliff, where I watched the waves beating down on the rocks below. I pounded her bones to dust, and I ate it all.
We would never be apart again.
I lived off bananas and coconuts and river water. I trapped and skinned and ate forest animals. It was easy. I waited until I was strong again. It was months. And in all that time, I never thought. My mind was a blank. I woke, I ate, and I slept.
One year ago I came to Los Angeles. I got a job in the docks and I worked hard. I earned trust. I asked discreet questions. I found out about the trade in illegal immigrants. I found the right places to go. The right people to ask. A friend of a friend of a friend. And I found the ship. And I found the transit company.
And I found you.
I went to your home. You’re married. You have 3 children. They are beautiful, all girls. I watched them. They went to the park with their mother and I watched them playing on the swings. I approached them and they smiled. I sat down and asked them about their father. They said you were nice, you worked on the ocean. I told them you were a murderer and a rapist who killed my beloved. They cried then. I told their mother.
I will come for you soon.
You might apologize. But I won’t listen. You might beg. But I won’t stop.
Do you know what happiness you stole from me?
You can apologize as I grind off your toes, and your fingers, but I wonâ€™t listen. You can apologize as I flay the raw flesh from your bones, as I pluck out your eyes, grate your ears and your nose to shreds, but I wonâ€™t listen. You can apologize as I strip your body of skin, muscle, sinew, layer by layer and inch by inch until you are nothing but a babbling red freak, but I wonâ€™t listen. You can apologize and scream and weep as I take everything you have, but none of it will make me stop.
It took my beloved weeks to die, as she fed me and ravaged her own body. It will take longer for you to die. I promise. I will take you apart piece by piece, and no-one will come for you. You will scream, but no-one will save you. There is only pain left for you now.
I’m standing right in front of you.
You can see all MJG’s stories here:[album id=6 template=compact]