FICTION: Philomela

She says she recognises my capacity for love. I feel hunger, the body’s expression of hope.

Showing off her dimples, one canine protruded from her gums. She showed me around her old neighborhood and I let her take my hand and guide me like a child. “Rarely does a man allow himself to be self-indulgent or sexually passive, letting the woman make love to him”, my father wrote.


Magnificent, somehow. To give in. Wreck yourself so completely. That was her thing. She would tell me jokes, and I loved it but I didn’t exactly know what to do about it and just smiled back at her and felt slow next to her, just not quick enough. I always liked to arrange things. ‘Honey’ was what she called me. I felt it was dismissive.


A cheap fan whirs pointlessly. She is fur. She is leather. She is gold. She is someone else’s property. In a dingy room on dirty sheets. Not caring at all about those things. Need each other as much as you can bear. I consented to become a weaker person.

Making love only made it worse. Suffering is the highest form of information.


Everything was either raw concrete or painted a shade of dirty pink. I closed my eyes and tried not to mind about the pleasure. Things happen in the free world that you cannot control. That day I was fucked by a cannibal. I wanted to obtain more than I was promised to begin with. Staying alive was the first part of the penance.


Her voice as it sounded over the phone, always more distinctive than in person. She knew that I had suffered sufficiently to begin asking certain questions. I sat in the plastic chair for more than three hours. The era of me, the phase of me, really, had ended for me and her both. When she spoke it was like she was trailing the tips of her fingers across the surface of a swimming pool, no gloomy sentences or deep breaths before saying something truly hideous. There is nothing to make you feel foolish like someone telling you your greatest secret is hardly a surprise.


People don’t outright lie. They take their very best day ever, their most outstandingly lucrative shift, historically, and tell you it is what they average. She laughed faintly, as if there was nothing she wouldn’t do, as if limits and boundaries no longer held any meaning for her. Or else, as if in quiet mockery.

‘Can I make myself up like you?’

Everybody’s face was serious.


But power is not brutality – there’s a big difference. Lying in bed you’d cradle my skull as if there were a soft spot there that needed to be protected.


Her voice was gentle. Rain does this to voices. It make them intimate and suggestive. Other things are flat, lifeless, vulgarly realistic. It seemed that everyone who walked by was eating. I am so hypnotised by her that I miss the receding footsteps, the crack of the slamming door.

‘Why do you hide it from me’, I had said.

‘I’m not hiding it. It just isn’t yours.’

All of eternity seemed to be laid out in front of me, and there was nothing but the couch and the chair and the radiator.


She said ‘Sleeping with me did you feel yourself grow old? You measured death by my ass, by how once it was firm and what is it now?’ If I were honest, or if I were to bump into the limits of honesty, I would have to admit that I knew exactly how this love would end from the moment it began. She acquired a drinker’s face before she drank. Drinking only confirmed it. I didn’t really smoke. I just lit cigarettes and carried them around.


The sun was an incitement, collapsing day into night. A rumble of voices from inside the tavern, wind livening the buildings, a muffled animal encounter in an alley: pleasure or fear; it was all the same noise. We are both not from here but still it is for us. She said that she wanted to be hurt. I suspected she didn’t know what that meant. But she eats with appetite. That she is a carnivore pleases me.

‘It’s not rape’, she said, ‘but seduction I fear. The loss of self in participating.’

‘Whatever day suits you’, I said.


The air is humid, the light bright and fluorescent, the carpet grey and stained. Discomforts and displeasure distend time, allow us to focus. For a long time she remained the queen of my desire, my personal link with emotion, with the immensity of tenderness, the dark and terrible depths of the flesh. Without my consent, time passed. The tables are clawed with knife marks, the french fries large and damp.

This piece is made up solely of sentences I read or misread in the pages of Mary Gaitskill, Deborah Levy, Carmen Maria Machado, Angela Carter, Lydia Davis, Miranda July, Rachel Cusk, Joanna Walsh, Jenny Offill, Elena Ferrante, Fleur Jaeggy, Svetlana Alexievich, Han Kang, Eimear Mcbride, Catherine Millet, Clarice Lispector, Virginie Despentes, Molly McCloskey, Zadie Smith, Maggie Nelson, Marguerite Duras, Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen Myles and Anais Nin.

Andy West has written for 3AM, Unbound, Storgy, The Guardian, tes, The Millions, Open Democracy, Bloomsbury and other publications. He lives in London where he teaches philosophy in prisons. Find him on twitter @AndyWPhilosophy

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