Revive Me. Kill Me More.

Jennifer Wortman

One night, while my daughters slept, I decided that if my husband wouldn’t return from the dead, I’d go to him. Not all the way. But I could pretend. I gathered tips from the Internet: position the body unnaturally to distinguish death from sleep; take a deep breath and keep the next breaths shallow; visualize a happy place to form a tranquil demeanor.

Despite my best efforts, though, the deader I tried to be, the more alive I felt, keen to my pulse, my pumping lungs, my buzzing brain. My mind drifted to my neighbor. Thoughts of him were high on the list of things I wanted to avoid by playing dead, but there were his gridiron abs quivering beneath my mouth, the dark trail of hairs leading down, down, down.

The visions of him wouldn’t leave, so I made them work for me. I imagined lying on his bed in a broken-doll twist. I tinged myself the sidewalk grey my husband had turned when he died; I went still as concrete. Then I watched my neighbor examine my deadness, my dulled breasts, my icy cunt. He plowed into the thing I’d become, each mad thrust an attempt to what — Revive me? Kill me more? While fantasy me remained unmoved, I crawled my hand between my legs. My neighbor thrashed against fantasy me in miserable bliss and I came. Then I found myself crying, wanting to die for real.

I’d taken to hugging myself. When my girls hugged me, I felt it so deeply it burned like a numb foot waking and I almost couldn’t bear it. But I still needed that touch, couldn’t get enough of it. I curled on my side, toward where my husband once slept, crossing my arms across my chest, clutching my shoulders. It felt less like an embrace than an attempt to contain a mess before it spread.

For optimal deadness, I realized, I needed an audience. I went through the motions of what passed these days for grooming myself, said a prayer for my girls’ safety (oddly, I heard my husband’s voice arguing, as it often had: “They’ll be fine”), and slipped out the door.

My neighbor greeted my arrival, as usual, with an air of jaded surprise: at this point, he always knew I’d show up, but he didn’t know when. He wanted me there, badly, but wanting me hurt him. Which drew me to him, as wanting him hurt me.

I presented my plan. He shook his head. “You don’t even have to pretend I’m dead,” I said. “Just pretend to pretend.” As I made my case, the velocity of his head shakes increased to wet-dog speed. “You always want to do nice things for me,” I said. “Here’s your chance.”

I told him I’d do whatever he wanted in exchange. He could tie and gag me, hit me, make my ass bleed. Piss on me! Take a shit! I didn’t care.

“What I want,” he said, “is for you to stop talking like this. Please.”

“Then let me play dead,” I offered. “Instant silence.”

“No way I’m doing that,” he bellowed, his head jumping forward. This was a man I’d never seen raise his voice, even when his girls had their food fights or fist fights during their weekend stays. My husband had also rarely raised his voice. Whether I’d wanted to or not, I’d grown accustomed to gentleness, and my neighbor’s yelling stung. I left him there and he followed me outside. “Hey,” he called. “Don’t be like that.” Stupid man. It was like telling a tree not to photosynthesize sunlight or drop its leaves. Even I couldn’t tell myself what to do.

Oh, the weight of it all. I collapsed in the cool grass of my front yard and imagined I’d sunk in snow, agitating my arms as if I could cut wings in the ground, or better yet, fly away. How alive and impotent I was. Above me glittered a stretch of stars, those fingers of light from the dead reaching down, their touch imperceptible yet always there.

Then overhead, a shadow, a true-blue hand. Reaching for me! He’d returned, my husband. I’d found the magic key to him.

“I’ll do it,” said my neighbor. “Okay?”

“It’s you,” I said.

“Who else?”

Who else. So I let his arm be the rope that hitched me up. I let him lead me through his door and lay me down like the wreck I was. I commanded my eyes to glaze, my flesh to turn, my breath to hide. I tried to go to a happy place, but all I could see was my neighbor’s sadness, a sadness I’d helped make. And now the man above me was someone else: his gaze vacant, his jaw stiff, his labors a stone bearing down on me.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Hush,” he growled. “You’re dead, remember?”

“I remember,” I said, and tried, once more, to die.


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