I can breathe through Meredith’s nostrils but it takes some doing. We share a throat, more or less but taking in air when she sleeps on her back, with my face squashed into her pillow saps all my strength, energy and will. I bite the inside of my cheeks, which sends pain signals to her brain. How or why this works, I do not know. But it does. I bite my cheeks, she screams, grabs at our shared head, flops around until I stop biting my inner cheek. Good morning, Meredith.
Up she sits, groggy, clutching at her face. I draw in great gasps of air. My anger sizzles and dances in that bulge that houses my brain. I do not share her brain, after all. I have my own. “Whahappened. Oooh, sorry. I.” Meredith stands up, her hair obscuring my very blurry vision. I am over twenty years old, my eyes never that strong to begin with. I smack my lips, reminding her I will not address her until I have my sips of ice water. Three cubes, the pale blue glass, a straw. She does no serve my needs right away. Off she wanders into the bathroom, to void herself, to clean her filthy teeth, to examine her face with the saddest mope of an expression. I know this expression, though I peer at the wall above the toilet. The muscles beneath her skin and fat in that face form the familiar lines. Her emotions creep into me, sadness, guilt, rage. She hates me but I am useful to her. I am not to be scraped off the back of her skull. She tried, when she was younger. But the doctor did not see me. I can hide myself from other humans. I can retreat, turn into folds and strange little bumps on the back of Meredith’s head when need be. Like an octopus, I can disguise myself to blend with the local surroundings. But even now, she is yet rebellious. It worries me.
And when we reach the tiny kitchen, she starts her coffee before, finally, serving me. The clickety of the ice cubes, the gurgle of tap water over them, the pale blue glass the same eye color as so many of my heroes. I feed her stories, she pays her bills. Unlike other parasites, I make sure my host is fed and has a roof over her head. It makes no sense to torture her into homelessness. For either one of us. I’d like to torture her with destitution but I, also, would be destitute. I have become too comfortable with creature comforts.
“Here you go, Gladys,” Meredith places the glass and straw just so, then straddles the chair so she can lean backwards, lowering my face toward that straw. I used to mourn my lack of a body but I am a practical being. I suck in the iced water, and it drains down the tiny hole of my throat into her throat, going down and down into her repulsed belly. Really, she needs to be punished. A real punishment she will remember. So she won’t casually flip over onto her back at night. Or maybe she did it deliberately. “Are we working today? I’m late getting this last one in. The Duke’s Bargain. We got the title. So the rest?”
“Not so fast,” I say. She shudders all over at my voice so close to her ear. I can speak. I have vocal chords that mingle with hers. My voice vibrates in her ear canals and in her throat. She never seems to get used to that sensation. “I almost suffocated this morning.”
“But you didn’t.” She shifts and squirms, making it difficult to draw in that needed iced moisture. I have the same needs as a houseplant. Water me, give me a bit of sun and heat. “We’re working today?”
“You almost killed me, Mare,” I clear my throat, several times, which reverberates in her throat cords. Up she sits; she places herself correctly in the chair, to sip at her black coffee. “I think you need to remember not to do that. A physical reminder.” I have tiny fangs for teeth, I do not have her set of human teeth. But whatever my ancestors were, that left me these chompers, also decided it best to become a parasite that can share a stomach. I am sure that evolutionary road was very long, twisted and barred with rockslides a lot, but here I am. I am fed when Meredith feeds. I can bite and chew and swallow. I do not need to. But I can. “I want a finger.”
She laughs a bit, that hopeless chuckle she had developed the last five or six years when she could no longer fight the reality of her and I being one uneasy mash of entities.
“How can I work without fingers?”
“I didn’t say all your fingers, rebel bunny,” I give my own sweet delightsome tinkle of a laugh, an echo of the wind chimes she has hanging by her apartment door. “Just one. But it has to be a finger you use all the time. To remind you NOT TO FUCKING TRY AND KILL ME IN YOUR SLEEP.” I pant a bit, my anger surprising even me. Because it’s mostly fear. “I apologize for cursing. That was unladylike.” I do not like the mouthfeel of curse words. Hard harsh primitive formings of teeth, tongue and air. But oh, sometimes so oddly satisfying to let them loose to ravish as they wanted to.
“Quite all right, Gladys. No one can hear you but me. I am not giving you a finger. I’ll remember to sleep on my side or my back.” The same claim, the same promise she’d sleep on her side or stomach.
“No, that’s just not good enough. This is the fifth time, Mare. I’m starting to think you’re trying to smother me,” I put it out there, keeping my pleasant whisper of a voice very low and calming. “Put your right index finger into my mouth. Before you spend the next few days in agony. Perhaps weeks or even years. If you’re not working, you can’t pay those bills. And oh dear, homeless at your age? My my!”
“I am not giving you a finger,” Meredith poured her cold cup of coffee into the sink, poured another, stood sipping it, staring out her single kitchen window, to the brick wall of the other apartment building. Without warning, she marched into the tiny bedroom, lay on the bed, pressed my face as hard as she could into the limp crater where her head had been just a while ago. I tried to breathe through my own small airway but could not draw anything resembling air. I let myself attempt to use Meredith’s nostrils and mouth, those openings that allowed her to breathe, to keep living. I concentrated everything I had on the long, slow process of diverting that air into my own gasping tiny slit of a throat. I bit the inside of my cheeks, she screamed, but pressed down that much harder. It was either smother, but turn her brain into white and gray jelly, or work on breathing, breathing, breathing. I could not do both. Life or revenge. I chose, of course, life. Revenge would have to wait.
After what seemed days, but was perhaps half an hour or a bit longer, Meredith sat up. Her hand felt along my carefully kept still face. I even let my lips be flappy and slack. But the harpy, the savage slut, the slithering Daughter of Eve herself, went to the bathroom. She filled the big bathtub with water hot enough to turn her skin quite red in seconds. I had to gulp in air without giving myself away, but I did it. I pursed my lips,
drew in that sweet invisible nectar, then braced myself as she stripped off her robe and nightgown, placed herself on her back, with the back of her head, and all that was me, under the water. Her hair floated and tickled my skin. I fixed everything I had on diverting air from her throat and nostrils to my own throat, my lips firmly closed against drowning, my impulse to try and breathe through my nose fought against at all costs. I am not amphibious or aquatic in any way. All my will and desire to punish Meredith for this outrage kept me drawing in the air she breathed as she floated in that tub, the grip of her fingers keeping her in place. My bleary eyes saw only the white porcelain of the bottom of the tub. Her hair became a gray-brown tangle of seaweeds, tubweeds. I watched them wave and float, wave and float, as I exhausted myself concentrating on using her breaths, not my own. The hot water grew cool, then clammy but she remained where she was. But oh, at last, she sat up, sobbing a bit, her hand slapping against my slack face as I drew in little sips of air through my own throat opening, as the ache in my own brain lessened a bit, as my eyes tried to stay open. I wanted to sleep. As I slept so often when she went out, hidden beneath her cap or headscarf.
Her finger probed at my mouth. I bit at it. She howled, as I swallowed down chunks of her own flesh, which she would digest and poop out. If I let her live. “Let’s get to work,” I said, as she screeched, wrapped her right hand in her pink thrift store bath towel. “The Duke’s Bargain. He finds a half-drowned woman. With seaweed her only clothing. Shall we commence, Meredith?”
I look at myself peeking through her wet hair, the mirror no longer steamed, the bathtub waters still and tranquil. My face has a misshapen hexagonal beauty. My eyes
turn colors from dark brown to honey-green, but now seem rather black. I have a shred of her flesh yet in my front fanged teeth. My grayish tongue loosens that shred, it goes downward into Meredith. Until then, I did not know I could be hungry. I have such games to play with her now. Such games.
Meredith smashes the back of her head against the wall, smashing my face, all of me, as well. She yells and gibbers. I allow this for a moment or two as she seems to need it so, then send her to the floor with some well-timed cheek biting. She lays there, her savaged hand outstretched toward the toilet, blood yet trickling from my damage to her finger.
“The Duke’s Bargain. Does he have blue eyes?”
“Not this time. He’s a fallen angel, and his eyes are deepest, rarest, ungiving black. Black as the pits of hell.” I lay it on thick, I note my tiny blob of a nose might be broken from her agitations. I taste my own blood, which tastes of ice cubes. It’s the only taste I know, except the taste of Meredith’s blood and flesh. “Love triumphant. Every time, Mare.”
“Every time,” she yet lay there, hand outstretched. She turns her sagging, ugly face into her arm, weeping for no reason at all. I experience the pull and jerk of her muscles as she weeps. My black eyes note she needs to mop the bathroom floor. I watch a spider stop to regard me before it scuttles off. I keep breathing through the wet snarl of Meredith’s hair.