(An earlier version of this story appeared in Canvas: The Vellum Collective, a Madison-based zine.)
by Matt Athanasiou
Paulo pulled the lamp cord above the doorway, opening the darkness to a room tinted in brown lighting. The person tied to the chair, who looked neither boyish nor mannish but perpetually stuck somewhere between, sat motionless and faced away from Paulo, his head covered by a burlap sack with a pink heart and arrow painted on it. Paulo thought, This is a nightmare. None of this is real. Perhaps, it is his nightmare.
Last year, amidst a freezing February fourteenth, Paulo had a gold arrow protruding from his spine. Funny as it sounded, he had asked for it. He had wanted love, had needed the damn curse, but his hardened heart and inhuman critique of others kept his bed vacant. That was until that little prick, little prick and his scarlet linen and bow and golden ringlets showed up. Afterwards, Paulo’s bed remained empty, but his heart beat to the tune of a co-worker’s name.
He left her charming notes at first, on her food and drinks in the break room fridge, on her car windshield and in her coat pockets. She dismissed the messages as silly gestures, often replied with an uneasy smile or no response at all. But, as the notes went unanswered, they became personal, and when they became personal, she no longer thought them inane. She confronted Paulo with a man who claimed to be her boyfriend, who told him to keep his sicko thoughts to himself and leave her be. Paulo said he could not.
The tension climaxed when Paulo, stark naked, stalked her home. It was Friday night and she had gone out with friends. He followed her in his car, waiting in the dark without the heater on, his bare skin bloodless as the moon, his teeth chattering. Around two in the morning, she called a cab home from the club. He tailed the cabbie until they reached her street, a block he had come to know well over the previous weeks. He parked a few houses down from her apartment complex and watched her exit the car. Even the breath trailing from her lips hung about her head, unwilling to leave her beauty.
Paulo waited until she neared the entryway, and then stepped outside. Arms at his sides, a tune whistling between his lips, he walked down the sidewalk, as if there was nothing unusual about doing so naked and in twenty-degree weather. Her keys made a metallic clack against the wall, as she jerked around at Paulo’s reflection in the glass door.
Paulo yelled, “Love,” and her gears clicked back into motion. He ran towards her, sensed her urgency. The frost on the doorframe made the door open hard, and close even harder. She stepped back as Paulo practically smashed into the glass, pressed against it, banged his fist, called for his beloved.
She called the police. He punched and kicked the door, head-butted and shouldered it; the frame rattled and shook. A crowd of people wandered into the hallway, yelling at Paulo to shut his mouth and leave, none daring to venture outside. Some pointed cameras and laughed at his absurdness. His knee split on the doorframe.
The police arrived soon after, and he continued screaming about his heart inundated with her name and her name only. As the morning drew near, his yelling altered between confessing his love and cursing the one with arrows, the one he would kill for this. His court date arrived and passed, and he was admitted to the psychiatric ward. He kept to himself, realizing that mention of his love’s name only caused him trouble. Eight months, countless anger management sessions, drugs and a rimed heart later, Paulo was seen as fit for public life.
Now, Paulo wasn’t so sure as he stepped closer to the chair in his basement. He accidentally kicked the tarnished knife on the floor. It twirled into the corner. The man-boy’s limp body was beyond recognition; scarlet trickled from the arrow jammed into his spine; rills of blood streamed from his shoulder blades where Paulo had amputated his wings. What the wings looked like or where Paulo had put them eluded him at the moment, but they sure as hell weren’t on the bastard’s back anymore.
Paulo clenched the top of the sack, stared at the red and black hole in the man-boy’s chest, the aperture he had cut to remove the heart. His stomach churned and he retched, almost vomited at the memory of this. He placed his free hand on the man-boy’s shoulder and took a deep breath. He wondered if his psyche could handle whose face was beneath the sack, and then tore it off, oddly thinking, Be mine.