He knew he needed help. His obsession was unhealthy. Or was it a compulsion? It didn’t matter. Either way, self hatred filled his soul…
He was going to stop, though. This time He wouldn’t give in. He turned on the TV, needing the distraction. He paced the living room. He sat on his hands. In desperation, he called his therapist and left a message.
“Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” What if she didn’t call back today? He couldn’t control the compulsion. His fingers twitched. His face itched. “Fuck it! Fucking… Fuck it.”
The acne was his plague. It made him a pariah and yet, it was somehow his salvation. He made his way to the mirror, unable to hold back any longer.
He stared in the mirror. The scabs and pus filled pestules which covered his face, quivered slightly in anticipation. He found the right one. It was angry, huge… aching to be popped…
Pinching the base it gave a satisfying pop, squirting it’s oily goodness into the mirror. He scooped it up with his expert fingers, sucking them greedily. He was slightly mollified but not yet finished.
Searching his face again he found the scab he had picked at all through the night. It had grown to a satisfying lump. It was just the thing. He ripped it from his face and placed it on his tongue savoring the metallic taste as it dissolved.
He returned to the living room, satieted for the time being, although his fingers continued to pick at his face. The phone rang. “Dr. Wells? Hi. Yeah. I did it again. I tried to stop but I couldn’t…”
Originally published for Instagram’s Cringeworthy Writing Challenge July 2019 Day 6 “scab”
I have what I like to call The Quirky Aunt Theory. And by quirky I mean either good quirky or bad quirky. It doesn’t matter which but I have yet to meet anyone who has any aunts at all who doesn’t have at least one they would consider to be a bit off the wall in some way. My favorite Quirky Aunt was Aunt Lila.
Aunt Lila was strange in a cool, mysterious sort of way. She would show up out of the blue with her suitcases and settle in. You never knew how long Lila would stay. One night, five, fifty… I think her record was 3 months. She appeared wearing her signature yellow scarf regardless of the weather and the same two suitcases no matter the length of the visit. She would stand on the front stoop, smiling sheepishly when my father would ask the inevitable question with a touch of exasperation, answering, “I’m here. What does it matter the length of time?”
As I grew to understand Aunt Lila, it became clear she herself had no idea and furthermore did not have the ability to measure time in this way. I often wondered how she managed to keep a job when she couldn’t keep track of time.
In truth, she was a successful and much sought after Theoretical Physicist. I was never sure what that meant but she once told me she spent her day thinking and writing her thoughts out in extensive math problems. She also said her ideas were often wrong, which made me wonder why she was so successful but, as she explained, people were interested in her wrong theories.I didn’t have a complete understanding of what she was saying but nodded in agreement while she spoke. I always believed her.
She seemed to travel around a lot for work, disappearing for months at a time and reemerging at intervals confused as to why we were worried about her. At first when it happened my mother spent weeks making frantic phone calls to Aunt Lila’s associates but eventually she learned to accept Aunt Lila’s disappearances and subsequent reappearances and everyone seemed to stop noticing she was gone. Aunt Lila, for her part, didn’t mean to worry us she could not understand why she needed to remember to call us went she was to be away for a while. Her brain didn’t work that way at all.
It was all good for me though, because the way her brain did work was wonderful and mysterious and I loved to spend time with her as she explained complex theories of things I would never understand and could barely imagine. I spent half of my childhood obsessed with parallel worlds, imagining alternate versions of myself living out the consequences of different choices made at various junctures in time. I longed to know all the possible outcomes of every choice, to see through the veil that clouded the passage between universes.
“You know, Lisa, that the multiverse theory has a self-contained paradox, right?” Aunt Lila asked, unpacking her two suitcases which contained surprisingly little clothing. She always talked to me like this, like I was a colleague or a friend, an adult certainly, who already understood words like “paradox”. I didn’t though. I usually had no idea what she was talking about.
“What’s a paradox?” I asked, inspecting a strange looking metal gadget she had pulled from her suitcase and thrown carelessly on the bed.
“A paradox is something which contradicts itself. For instance, if you were to travel back in time and kill your great, great grandfather then you couldn’t have existed to kill him in the first place,” she said, inexplicably pulling a painting of a tropical beach out of one of the suitcases.
“But, Aunt Lila, I wouldn’t do that.”
“Well, I know you wouldn’t, but if you did, it would be a paradox. The same is true of Multiverse Theory which posits that there are an infinite number of universes based on every possible outcome making every possibility not only probable but absolutely true. Everything you could possibly imagine would be true somewhere in some universe. However, if that were true there would be a universe somewhere that could not support multiverses and that’s the paradox. Because how can both things be true?”
I had no idea what she meant so I nodded thoughtfully and said, “Okay, Aunt Lila. Can we go for ice cream now?”
“I did promise, didn’t I?” she answered loftily, wrapping her scarf around her neck in spite of the warm weather.
“I’m going to choose vanilla but also there’s another me choosing chocolate so I don’t have to miss out,” I said happily.
Aunt Lila sighed. “Yes, I suppose that might be true.”
Mymother said Aunt Lila had always been different even when they were children. “She always had her head in the clouds and we never knew what she was talking about. Still don’t.” She would laugh. “Lisa, you have to watch out for your aunt when you go out, okay? Remind her to bring you back home on time. I’m trusting you to go out with her, not the other way around. Understand?”
“I know, Mom. I’ll make sure.” And I did. I always had to tell her when it was time to leave the museum or park or beach… wherever we had ventured on a given day. Aunt Lila never argued or seemed at all fussed. She transitioned nicely from one thing to the other, following along compliantly.
She was like that, never seeming concerned about where she was or when to eat or what to do next. I was never sure how Aunt Lila managed to get along when she wasn’t with us. I had a theory that she disappeared into another universe with another us and probably barely noticed because that seemed like exactly the sort of thing she would do. The thing was when she was gone we could never reach her. Aunt Lila was in our lives on her terms and only her terms.
As I grew into my teenage years, I began to notice something curious. When Aunt Lila wasn’t around, no one mentioned her. I mean, I did, at first but then, after a while, I didn’t either. Our lives went on like no one was missing. I would only remember her absence when Aunt Lila would show up with her suitcases, yellow scarf thrown carelessly around her neck.
“Aunt Lila, where have you been? You never say what you are doing.”
“Well, I was working of course,” she answered, looking at me intently, “I’m getting closer to a Master Theory. Tell me, Lisa, what did we do last time I was here?”
“I… I don’t remember. When were you here last?” I faltered.
“Exactly,” she said mysteriously. She stood up and began packing her suitcase.
“Wait. Where are you going? You just got here.”
“Did I?” she asked, packing quickly. “Don’t worry. You won’t mind in a moment.”
“Lisa, who are you talking to?” My mother stood in the guest room doorway looking bemused.
“Oh. Um. Was I talking? I must have been talking to myself.” I answered.
“Well, we’re supposed to be getting things together for the yard sale. There’s not much time before the move.”
“Oh. Okay. Yeah. I’ll come help you. Sorry. I can’t remember why I came in here.”
“What’s that painting you found? I don’t remember having that.”
I looked at the bed where there was indeed a portrait of a dreamy young woman, wearing a strangely familiar yellow scarf that seemed out of place in the tropical setting. “It’s Aunt Lila.” I said dreamily.
“Sorry, no. I don’t know why I said that. Do we have to sell it? I kinda want to keep it.”
“Yeah, okay but come help please? Your father is at his wits end.”
“Okay. Let me hang it up. I’ll be right there.”
*A note to the reader: I discovered this fully written on my hard drive and decided to publish it. I have no idea where it came from but as I sit here contemplating I can look across my living room at a painting of a young woman in a tropical setting wearing a yellow scarf. I’ve had it forever and have an inexplicable affection for it. Now I’m wondering what it all means so I’m keeping my eye out for the mysterious Aunt Lila. Let me know if you see her anywhere.
The sun hung low in the sky, painting the clouds with its golden hues. He wasn’t facing it but he could see it reflected in her eyes… Eyes he had looked into for the past fifty years… Eyes who still captured his heart, even after three kids, eight grandkids and two great grandkids. The highs and lows of fifty years together had only made their love more solid. Their bond was woven through time, through heartache and grief, through triumph and loss, through their hearts and souls.
“You’re missing this beautiful sunset, Love. Turn around. Its captivating.”
The library, once her sanctuary had become her prison in ways she could not understand. She used to revel in the musty scent of old books, never quite free of dust. Her heart would race to find a rare gem in a forgotten stack and the weight of the silence would settle around her, like a warm blanket on a cool day.
She couldn’t smell the distinct library spell. The books no longer made her heart beat, and the silence… It was the worst thing of all.
She didn’t understand what had changed. Time passed in an endless, unmeasurable secession of days and nights, lost in the longing for what once was. Her nostalgia was her tether, her reason for being, her inescapable cage.
Her body long since cold, her personage long forgotten, she clung desperately to her one and only love.
Originally published for Instagram’s Romance Writer Challenge July 2019, Ravishing the Romance Day 7 “In the Library”