The Hand of Zeus

Posted on: April 23, 2015

The universe is still on his ceiling.

Some of the stars we can see, anyway. Many have fallen to earth over the past few months, leaving miniature stalactites of old blu-tack. It took her days straddling the duvet with a raspberry tongue poking out the side of her mouth, twisting each constellation into place. He lies in bed for hours, planting memories in each little piece of cheap plastic.

‘You’ll slip a disc or something. You’ve been in that position for hours. It can’t be good for your spine.’

Maps are getting crushed under her bare feet, The Big Dipper winks between her toes. He imagines her striding across space in her sandals, kicking up galaxies like road dust.

‘Evie, Do you think I have a brain tumour?’

She drops a glo-star and it vanishes into the sheets. He found it again later, a long time afterwards. It must have been launched into private flight over the room during giggly love-making; a solitary comet skittering over dust balls in the carpet.

‘I’ve always known there’s something wrong with it.’

He feels his hair between his fingers. He hasn’t washed it for a couple of days. Hasn’t really washed at all, only reapplying cucumber-fresh stick over armpit hair stiff with yesterday’s cucumber-fresh. ‘I think I might be getting seizures, or something.’

She turns then; the glimmer of regular white teeth. He catches a flicker of distaste as she watches him paw through his hair. His stomach twists, a small, secret part of his body folding in on itself. It’s stuffy in here; the sun boils little patches of threadbare floor. Melchior lies in a boneless feline heap in one of these solar flares, dust motes glittering around him.

‘I don’t know what happens exactly. It’s like a shivering in my head, like my brain has stuttered.'

He doesn’t tell her about the rollercoaster heart, or vertigo, or breaths wrenching themselves out of him like fists full of hot glass.

‘How long does it last?’

‘Not sure, a few minutes?’

Her eyebrows quirk upwards. He knows from experience that this isn't surprise; that she is turning new information around so she can see it from all angles. He wonders if it’s something to do with being a sculptor.

‘That sounds like an aura.’

‘An aura? I thought that was spiritual?’

‘Well, yeah, but it’s an epilepsy thing, too.’ She turns a star over and over in her long fingers.

‘You can’t just suddenly get epilepsy, though, can you?’

‘I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. Why don’t you go to a doctor?’

‘I don’t like them.’

‘You’re a hypochondriac, Frankie. You love doctors.’ She feeds a long, silky strand of hair into her mouth. ‘I feel sorry for them, though. They probably turn the lights off and get under the desk when they hear you coming.'

‘It’s not hypochondria if there’s something wrong with you.’

‘There never is anything wrong with you!’ She flicks her eyes over him again, taking in the stains he knows are under the armpits of his tank top, jeans freckled with grease, the dirty soles of his feet. Beside the bed, one of her empty pots of face cream is filling up with cigarette ends. Her face closes like a door. The sun streams through her red cotton top, turning her torso into a glowing ruby.

He puts this memory in Capricorn:

When he was painting, she would often come up behind him and watch the great sweeps of cerulean and lemon yellow rasping over the canvas until he had created another sky-scape, roiling clouds shadowed with the threat of summer thunder. He can feel her eyelashes flickering against his cheek.

‘It’s lovely.’

His wrist aches, the tendons are lines of fire. He smells clay on her fingers as she strokes his neck. He wants to reach up and fold her hand in his, streaked with barley and sky.

‘How was the shrink?’

‘Okay.’ He hates the way he sounds; like a sullen child, but he can’t push the words past his lips. ‘Evie, I’m getting this all wrong, I’m getting everything wrong and I can’t stop. The doctor said those things were panic attacks.'

She has made a new bracelet of tiny old keys collected from flea markets and vintage shops. He hears them jingle as she runs a hand over his shoulder, smoothing his shirt. The phone rings, and soon her laughter comes from another room, strangely distant as though the house is haunted and he is hearing a ghost laughing. The scrape of an opening window and his brain is suddenly soaked in honeysuckle.

This memory in Aldebaran. Io. Cassiopeia.

When the breeze shifts he hears the jangle of empty hangers from the wardrobe. Naked steel skeletons stripped of their cotton gypsy skins. He exhales a fine stream of bitter smoke, watching it drift across their little miniature universe. Sometimes it obscures the smallest stars, amorphous billowing Nebulae.

Arcturus. Andromeda. Bellatrix.

Fragile chips of white china are spilled across the floor like milk teeth, and she cried because she really loved that set; the one with delicate blue violets around the rim.

Scorpio. Sirius. Aquarius.

The Water-Bearer is an actually an Air sign, Evie tells him. Her fingers stroke the tablecloth repetitively. A lot of people make that mistake, she says, but Aquarians tend towards the intellectual. Her earrings flash like tiny blue fish when she throws back her head to laugh.

He knows it’s a dream, some warped land between consciousness and annihilation. He’s pressed into underwater weightlessness, and he reaches out and grabs Evie’s hand because she is suspended beside him; hair unfurling like a bolt of silk. He feels his legs move in the sheets as he begins to kick upwards, and he knows that he’s sad, that he’s torn apart by sadness, but he tugs her heavy body towards the surface; the water around them turning green and clear and luminous, rising slowly towards the infinite mirror of the sky.

Written by: Natty Mancini
Photograph by: Rob Gregory

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