Inside Your Mind, Helena Pantsis
CW: gore, death, violence
Abbey pulled the sheets tight around the mattress. Not a crease marred the sleek flat plains of the freshly made bed. It was white, dry, folded deliberately so each corner tucked itself, smooth, over every rounded edge of bed. She drew back the curtains; light fell in beams, echoing against the crisp, kept starkness of the room. The room was clean, warm, was soft and delicate, was still. She brought the ice pick from the kitchen and hid it by the back of her bedside table, neatly concealed by the lamp and its lampshade, irregular and eccentric and too abstract for this bedroom, all white and proper and tidy. It was stark, in the way that empty elevators are, in the way that dreams are. Abbey sighed, a petite breath of contentment at the room's coming together.
She stood over the bed, the window casting long her shadow so it obscured the keen brightness of the freshly washed sheets; she brought her hands, clasped, to her face, so the shadow appeared to be sleeping. Abbey smiled, then leaned forth to smooth the pillows at the head of the bed once more. She felt the sun, and it warmed her back—the heat was contagious.
There was a mark on the wall. She couldn't remember if she'd seen it there before, if it had always been there. A misshapen black patch on the far side of the room, from chipped paint or grimy fingers. It seemed to move underneath her watch, so that she feared if she looked away she would forget how big it had grown. It hovered so unnaturally against the pearl white of the paint, which, in recent times, had started to fade.
“Are you hungry?”
Abbey's gaze reflexively broke from the mark. She tried to focus on her lover, but every time she broke her stare, her eyes would search for that grainy, far spot again. She wished she hadn't looked away.
The mark was about two centimetres big. She took note. Two centimetres. Her lover laughed from across the room. She always did that, took Abbey's inattentiveness and strangeness and made it beautiful, made it right. She laughed with love and nurturing and some hot softness, the same that comes with heavy blankets and fresh laundry on cold toe-chilling nights. She imbued the air with a lightness and a delight—it was the type of laugh that crinkled her eyes, scrunched her nose, and the type of laugh that made Abbey smile even when she didn't know what she was smiling about. Her face stretched open, wide and unnerving. Her mind swarmed. Would that two centimetres be the same as her two centimetres two minutes from now?
“Here, eat something.”
Her lover sat opposite her, sliding a bowl of steamed rice across the table. Abbey took a grain and rested it on the tip of her fork.
"Gotta go shopping soon, we don't have much to eat.”
Abbey nodded slowly, lifting the grain to her mouth, taking it between poised front teeth, and scanning the wall for the strange mark. Maybe it was a trick of the light, maybe it wasn’t there anymore - maybe it was never there at all. She pressed her teeth together so she felt the grain split, filling the cavities in her molars. Her lover spooned rice in mounds into her own mouth so she was rounded and pouting and full. Abbey found the spot on the wall again. It seemed real, and it seemed bigger now, or further down on the wall, or darker still than it was before. She wondered if it was an insect, or if her eyes were falling fool to sleepless nights and illusions of the mind.
“What is that?”
She pointed beyond her lover, who, looking up from her phone, turned to find the spot behind her. She stared for a moment, her eyes flicking up and down.
“There’s nothing there, hon.”
The mark had left the wall, had risen and now was buzzing around the two women.
“It’s a fly.” Abbey followed it with her finger. “It's moved. There it is.”
Her lover followed Abbey's finger around, but found nothing by its end.
“There’s nothing there, Abs.”
But it was right there, dirty and hovering, so close now the sound grated against her cautious jaw, it scraped the innermost cavern of her ear canal. Abbey dropped her pointing arm, slow and suspended as if at the will of a puppeteer's tall, fallen pulley, and the bug dropped with it, lowering and lingering nearer. Her lover tucked her head down, bringing spoonful after spoonful of rice into her mouth. The fly landed inside her ear, and began crawling, its sickly thin legs scurrying down the darkened passage to her brain. At once it was gone. Abbey could still hear its wings thrashing.
“Don’t you hear that?”
The buzzing diminuendoed in a fading haze of sound; trapped inside her lover’s skull, Abbey heard the buzzing of the fly muffled and resounding as if a hundred swarming bees were battering against each other, violent and restless and so vividly trapped in the husk of a steel trap bee box.
Abbey gazed, unmoving, at her lover, entranced by the endless droning, the dark humming, the relentless, tireless whirring coming from inside her head.
She closed her eyes. The buzzing stopped.
Abbey laid down her lover’s pyjamas over her pillow. They were satin, fleshy pink and soft to touch. Abbey liked the way they draped themselves over her lover’s sleek, plump figure; they hugged her shoulders and fell in careful waves that echoed with her movement, flowing free with her coming, and glistening light with her going. There was something so pleasant about the way the satin tantalised her when they touched; inviting in its delicateness yet impervious in its cold, flowery, whispering glow.
“These ones tonight.”
“Really? What’s the occasion?”
She laughed, so pretty, so free—it sounded like swarming flies. Abbey gritted her teeth.
“You look so nice in them.”
Her lover leaned in for a kiss, pressing lips to lips, dark lips to cracking, trying mouth, ripe lips to breaking, dusty skin. Abbey could taste the scum of it. Still she moved in again, love to love to love to love.
The radio was loud, was grey and verging on static, but Abbey turned it louder still, louder again.
“Abbey, turn it down. God, I can’t hear a fucking thing.”
She turned it louder, she could see the veins in her eyes. The lights on the road ahead were beginning to split. She rolled the window down, opening her mouth to taste the wind. It buffeted against her skin, refreshing as it beat over and over against the expanse of her tongue. Her lover turned the radio down.
“Jesus, Abs, I can’t drive like that.”
Abbey could hear the buzzing again; she pulled her head in, turning to stare into the side of her lover’s head, watching the hole of her ear—she could’ve sworn she saw the flicker of movement, the circling of insects in an endless hurricane consuming her lover’s mind. She turned the music up again.
“Stop, I'm serious.”
This time Abbey turned it up even louder, so it pounded in the backs of her eyes. She opened her mouth wide, splitting her lips from their corners, singing in tones unhinged, drowning in the depths of the music from the speakers, and creating sounds of her own in an effort to cut through the impenetrable turret of noise, forming air bubbles in the current. The music and her singing collided in a jarring violence, clawing and scratching and promising blood. The car began to swerve.
“Abbey! Fuck, Abbey!”
Her lover bent the car abruptly to the side of the road, a barrage of blaring horns and curses ensuing. The engine was turned off, and the radio with it.
“What the fuck's gotten into you?”
Abbey could hear the buzzing again. She wrapped her arms around herself, pinching the soft of her flesh.
The pair lay, one drifting to sleep, the other awaiting lover's sleep. It became difficult to differentiate the gentle hum of her lover’s snoring from the constant buzzing emitting itself from the inside of her skull. Abbey raised her arms above her head, drawing her fingers out and tracing figure eights in a repetitive, calming pattern. She imagined at the tips of her fingers were insects, dancing and singing in tune to the buzzing from her lover’s crown. The blankets lay coldly over them, warming with the pulsing hot blood which swarmed their bodies and begged for release. Abbey could feel them squirming. She counted the minutes, ticking with the clock in her mind. These sheets were clean, too clean. They would dirty soon. It’s always easier to make something dirty which is too clean. If the weather was good she could dry it by the balcony. If not, she could use the dryer. She considered this, her fingers unceasing in their movement, but rather speeding up.
A heavy snore came from her lover. There it was. She had drifted to sleep.
The champagne in her hand fizzed. Abbey stood by the bar, leaning forlornly, rubbing her finger around the glass’s rim. She stared at her lover across the yard, standing amongst a group of others, laughing that wind-chime laugh and laying her hand by the inside of her arm. They were having fun. Abbey took a swig of her drink, then grabbed another.
“Hey! Abbey, it’s good to see you.” A man in a burgundy suit approached her.
She couldn’t remember his name. He began to speak of work and the time that had passed and the age they used to be. Abbey was civil, but unengaged. She stared over his shoulder, eyes washing over her lover and her captivating smile. The man continued to talk, ignorant of Abbey’s disinterest.
“Uh huh,” she interjected every so often, “yeah, really?”
She did not want to be here. She did not know these people. She knew them, but she did not know them. And more importantly, they didn’t know her. Or her. And despite the endless chatter, and the droning of the burgundy man, the buzzing lingered. Every time her lover opened her mouth, a great ball of static rose into the air, floating above the well-dressed crowd and swarming in a black mass blocking the light of the sky. She was possessed, she decided, by the foul, tainted stain of the insect in her skull. That wasn’t her, standing and laughing with strange friends.
Abbey put her glass upon the bar. Her lover didn’t look up, entranced by the conversation she remained entrenched in. The burgundy man continued to talk. His words began to blur. Abbey began to wipe her arm across the bar top, soaking up the spilled drinks and appetiser crumbs with the flat of her skin.
“You don’t need to clean that, someone’ll get to it.”
But Abbey wasn’t thinking of the crumbs on her arm, or the impending someone arriving to clean, she merely scrubbed to be rid of the filth hanging over her.
With the pick in hand she moved forward, roughly, violently, forcefully piercing the sharp tooth into her lover’s forehead. She tilted the metal skewer upwards as to pry the skull forward and in two. Blood began to gush from her lover’s head, her eyes opening to streams of red, and her mouth too; gaped open in a reflexive state of shock, her face wakened as if to scream, but all that once filled her mind now overflowed to fill the hollow of her mouth. She began to choke, hacking clots and moving to rise, but Abbey held her down so harshly, so coarsely, cracking, with vigour, and pulling her lover’s face from her brain. Despite her flailing limbs, she was no longer aware, convulsing from having choked on this, her final cup of wine, the shaking halted with a quick slice to her brainstem, severing the link which bound mind to spine. Abbey held her head in her hands, gently, cupping tenderly, wholly, carefully. The buzzing stopped. Tears began to form in her eyes, running thin and quick over her cheeks. She smiled, laughing softly. Abbey closed her eyes. The silence was bliss.
The night blanketed the city, and Abbey stretched an arm over her lover's shoulders. The stars and planes and satellites lit the dark abyss hanging over them, like diamonds strung across netting and fireflies lingering just out of reach. Her lover lay her head against Abbey. The two women sat there, holding each other to combat the cold, neither one wanting to move.
“This is perfect.” Her lover sighed.
And it was. A mosquito landed on the edge of the balcony, catching Abbey's eye, and staining the varnished wood and the night's flawless view. Abbey kicked her foot out towards it. Her lover laughed.
“What are you doing?”
The bug didn't move, standing still by the open air. Abbey nudged her head in its general direction. What a small, annoying, filthy, useless creature. She kicked again.
“Trying to get rid of that mosquito.”
Her lover gave that laugh once more, leaning forward to catch a glimpse.
Abbey tore her eyes from the insect, shaking her head like an etcher sketcher as if to erase it from her mind.
“Never mind,” she said, “let's just be here, you and me.”
Helena Pantsis (she/they) is a poet and writer from Naarm, Australia. A full-time student of psychology and creative writing, Helena uses her knowledge of the human psyche to capture the real and the raw in her poetry and fiction. More of her work can be found at hlnpnts.com.