There’s a black hole inside me.
Yesterday Oklahoma disappeared. The dry dusty fields stuck in my throat for a moment, my jaw unhinging and elongating to accommodate that wide rectangle of land. Part of Texas came with it. Lake Meredith and the Canadian River came last and cooled my sunburnt throat, as the salt skated on swollen blisters. Pain needles arced through me.
Dr. C. crosses his legs and gazes at me through square spectacles. He is handsome, and around my father’s age. Someone must have done their research.
“Kaylie,” he says. “How are you feeling?”
“Not so hot,” I tell him.
My throat is lined with thick burns. Oklahoma doesn’t go down easy in the middle of August. Some of them have popped and maybe I’m going mad, but I think I can hear screaming in the liquid spatter before the black hole sucks it down.
“Did you sleep?”
Swollen fat with despair, I did not.
“You look tired,” he says.
I am tired.
My name is Kaylie Kristal Collins, and I am eating the world.
“Is there anything you’d like to talk about, Kaylie?”
Dr. C. never wears anything protective like the others. It’s like we could be at a regular shrink appointment, the way he sits in his chair, yellow legal pad on his lap, his hand on his chin with one finger extended up his cheek. Another time, another world, different circumstances, I’d ache for him across the room.
But the leather restraints keep me immobile. They, the ones in suits and breathers, release me one limb at a time and perform a series of bends and massages. They apologize through their masks.
Everyone’s always so fucking sorry.
They muzzled me for a while, but then the black hole just pulled harder and people were carved into pieces being sucked in. It was inhumane to see them splintered apart, how worlds split around the gaps and slithered inside me.
“No,” I say. I have a lot to say but it all means nothing, when I can’t understand it myself.
“Can you tell me how it started?”
How it started? Me, or the hole?
I was an accident. My mother had actually shown up to her appointment at the clinic to have me sucked out, the reverse of what I do now, but changed her mind at the last moment. Cold feet or something. I like that better than what Nana, Daddy’s mom, said. She pressed her lips together and shook her head when Margaret’s name came up. No, she said, she knew she couldn’t keep her hooks in Brad if she got rid of it.
It, meaning me. The unwanted.
The hole started as a hollow place inside me.
“You know how you maybe don’t eat a day or two?” I ask Dr. C. “How maybe you’re just too sad or broke as shit to get a meal in? And then all of a sudden, you’re like wow, my stomach’s eating my backbone, I’m fucking starving to death here, but even then, no matter how much you eat, there’s this spot you just can’t get to? You can pile all this food on top of it, but underneath you’re still so fucking hungry?”
Dr. C. shifts. “Why wouldn’t you eat for two days, Kaylie?” he asks.
Of course, he doesn’t understand. People like him don’t.
No one does.
I turn away from him. I don’t tell him the rest, that there was this big hollow ache inside me that had nothing to do with food. I was hungry all the time, but nothing could fill me up. Not sex or books or movies or booze. Not even dope.
“I don’t want to talk anymore,” I say, and close my eyes.
The ache is back. I’m being eaten alive inside.
Am I the black hole, or is the black hole me?
It started with Dodge City, Kansas. At a little bar where they played ear-breaking country music and men tracked shit all over the floor. I opened my mouth to take a drink, because that’s all I was good at, drinking and waking up not knowing where I was, sometimes not who I was. And then the bar disappeared right down my throat, this whole big place just compressed into a wind whistling down my throat.
I closed my mouth, and I ran.
They came anyway.
“How are you?” Dr. C. asks, again.
Nothing, not even a pair of latex gloves, separates us. He has hair on the back of his hands. He has a sunspot on his wrist. His pants are too short and his pale leg shows above his black socks.
I ache inside.
“Kaylie, can we talk about your scars?”
Scars define you. Anyone who says they don’t is lying.
Maybe not all scars. Maybe only scars you give yourself. First with a sliced-up Coke can, next with a knife. Dr. C., you wouldn’t understand. How the pressure in my chest just grew and grew until I couldn’t take a breath? You ever suffocated under the weight of how terrible you are, your life is, and the only thing that saves you is seeing your skin split in two? A line, separating yourself, and then the blood comes, big fat ruby beads that swell and swell until they reach across the white fatty tissue and run like weeping rivers?
And oh, Dr. C., how fear and joy get wound up inside your soul when the bleeding won’t stop.
“Want to tell me how many sexual partners you’ve had?” I snap at him. Quid pro quo, motherfucker. Show me your scars too.
“Is it about sex, Kaylie? Or love?” he asks.
Isn’t it always about that?
Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s about fathers and mothers and unloved children.
“No,” I say. I’m thinking about the Texas lake that soothed me like a mother’s tit in her baby’s mouth. But I can only base that on seeing a squalling baby latch on to a nipple and suck away. My mother was never a mother. She handed me over to Nana and Dad and disappeared.
“I know you hurt,” he says.
I stare at my eyelids. I think about lakes and cities and swallowing them whole. From Dodge City to the Texas coast is gone, inside me to somewhere else or just blanked out. Maybe I’m God’s eraser, clean slating this shithole world. Really, though, if that were true, we’d have started with Indiana.
“Kaylie, I don’t think people have been very kind to you,” he says.
People can really fuck you up, you know. They can open old wounds with a word.
My dad, he remarried. I remember the wedding. White dress, fancy church, the look she gave me when she removed my grubby hand from her dress. You know how someone can look at you like you’re dogshit? I guess I didn’t catch it for what it is, or maybe I thought I should try harder. I reached out with grubby dogshit hands on clean dresses, until my hand was red as a fresh sunburn, raw and oozing with rejection.
“Go away,” I say. “I don’t want to hurt you, Dr. C.”
“I don’t think you want to hurt anyone,” he says.
But God, I do. I turn toward him, but then I can’t take looking at him being sucked into me, so I eat most of the Gulf of Mexico. Just like drinking too much on an empty stomach, it rolls around inside me, making me seasick.
They were keeping me doped up, but I kept gobbling up cities and towns while I was asleep. They tried a lot of tests and medications and even giving me electric shocks. After the Gulf of Mexico incident, they come with long needles they jab into me. Whatever it is they have in those cylinders, it burns like fire. My body rejects it. My body says NO. It jets right back out of me, and with it comes some sort of shimmering clear substance. As it shoots out it begins to separate into silken strings, a spiderweb net cast over my bed.
I don’t know what I’m supposed to become. I feel my skin tight around me, snug on my skeleton.
My skin is more scar than flesh. I wear the past tattooed all around me like a secret language. No one cared about my scars until I started eating the world, but now they care. Now they want to know where it hurts, who I am, what I feel.
Who am I?
I don’t know.
I’m not much more than bitterness with a side of hunger, or maybe it’s the other way around.
They brought Daddy today. He pressed his fingers to the cocoon, the pads of his fingers embedded in the transparent membrane. I never looked but I register the things happening outside my sight. I feel them in space and time sliding around me.
I scored 146 on an IQ test once.
In school, they talked about that kind of thing. About my ability. I couldn’t explain it to them either, how my brain was exposed and quivering underneath their good intentions and good will.
Good intentions, those will fuck you up every time.
“May I come in, Kaylie?”
Dr. C., of course.
You know, I’ve gotten so good at not asking questions that show the little grubby piece of dogshit I am, but I want to ask him—
In a different life, would you love me? Would you, could you, love someone as scarred as me? But I can never ask. Questions like that are what makes you red and raw inside.
I must decide to let him in, because the cocoon splits to make a door, and he steps inside. It seals behind him with the sound of wet lips kissing.
I can’t see him, because my eyes only see the world ahead of me, but I can feel the sadness in his eyes. He doesn’t sit this time.
“How are you?” he asks.
I know they were trying to kill me. Bitter is my heart, hollow my ache.
Hungry, hungry, hungry.
He reaches out and touches my arm, and my scars light up. They sizzle and snap and it’s been so long since anyone’s touched me.
There’s a high-pitched whine and then I realize it’s me.
“Can you stop this, Kaylie?”
My dad liked to drink. A lot. I asked him for a ride to the movies once. I was going to meet Jack, the first boy who ever asked me out, and he told me to get out of his face. “You’re so goddamn needy,” he said. “No one’s ever going to love you.”
Then he sat on the couch and got drunker and drunker until I gave up and went down to the Smith house. They were two boys always partying in the little garage behind their house. I drank my first hard liquor that night and woke up with blood staining my thighs.
Jack didn’t ask me out ever again.
I don’t think I can stop.
Dr. C. sits with me all the time now. He doesn’t have anywhere to go. I’ve consumed North America. This cocoon we float in is all that’s left, suspended in the sky. He’s getting skinny, pale flesh hanging off his skeleton. Sometimes he strokes me the way you’d stroke a dying pet, but I don’t know if it’s for his comfort or mine. Rest of the time, he just stares through the cocoon, at what lies before us, South America, being devoured countries at a time.
My jaw has been hinged open for days. I think. I can’t really tell time anymore. The pain takes me sometimes, though I never know for how long.
The hunger keeps growing.
I think I could stop if I let myself get swallowed up. Just stick a hand in my mouth and get sucked away, collapse like the stars in the sky, those dead shining bright things. Maybe I’d turn into another sun, maybe I’d matter somehow.
There are billions of people on this planet and not one person came to my hospital room who wasn’t paid to.
Is this what you wanted? I should to get to ask that, before everyone’s dead. Did you have to be fuckin’ indifferent? You thought I was nothing, but look at me now.
Look at me now.
Tears burn webs over my eyes.
Kaylie, Dr. C. says. I only mean to ask him what he wants but he disappears into my mouth. I try to grab him, but I miss. I can feel the hole sucking at me, and I jerk it back, let it have him instead.
I would have loved you, Kaylie, Dr. C. says in my head. Scars and all.
He’s not real. I know that.
He still talks to me. I had to pick someone and he was nice to me.
Loving me back, I tell him, was all I wanted.
Earth has become a semicircle. No one’s going to be moving down there much more anyway, since they launched nuclear weapons at me. Mushroom clouds I ate like fresh-spun cotton candy, flames licking my insides.
And yet, the hunger remains.
It’s so dark here. I thought the stars would be brighter.