Rosalie

A blue hole in a red sea. It’s the best place to revel in the untamed beauty and might of nature, but perhaps not to be having second thoughts. I’m getting jitters crowding in at the periphery of my mind, and I don’t know how long I can hold them at bay. I’d also be sweating bullets if I didn’t happen to be swimming in the bowels of a sunken ship at this very moment.

My mind claws desperately at the sun-bleached memory of the world above sea level. Everything up there is a feast of life. Tanned boys and girls casually posing like Greek statues, all laughing near a juice bar. Bright sails fluttering gentle applause at the wind and waves. Crabs racing one another to the safety of the rocks near the shoreline.

So, what in the hell am I doing down here?

Let’s face it. Emotional blackmail works very well with me. If not for my manipulating boyfriend, I don’t think I’d ever have come to this part of the world at all. I would have stayed at home with a mountain of books, curled up on an armchair by a roaring fire with a nice cup of tea, reading and sipping until the eventual heat death of the universe.

But instead of that, I’m pretending that I’m Queen Mera cleaning up another of Aquaman’s stupid mistakes. And once this minor miracle is achieved, I’m to flick my defiantly red mane in a display of female empowerment. I’m to snort disdainfully at the admiring, slack-jawed loafers and tourists huddling beneath their parasols. And I’m to extract the string of this tiny green bikini from between my arse cheeks whenever no one’s looking.

There’s nothing down here in this submerged wreck. It feels like there ought to be abundant sea life all around. Shoals of pretty fish. Vibrant coral reefs. Seaweed swaying in the undercurrents. Just something. But it’s as if everything got spooked and relocated itself to another area code. Fucking creepy if you ask me.

A phone rings. Say… what?

I turn my head, though perhaps it’s not the best idea when your breathing is literally hanging by a slender thread—or, rather, thin tubes. It wouldn’t bode well if I were to get those tangled or twisted. I’m not about to give my boyfriend the satisfaction of seeing me screw up something so basic as using breathing apparatus underwater!

Another ring.

Where the hell is that coming from? How am I even hearing a phone right now? It shouldn’t be possible. I arc my arms through the water, carefully pivoting myself until I face what I think is the correct direction. It seems to be coming from just through a doorway over there. It’s at a forty-five degree angle to the ocean floor, and pitch black in the room beyond. Thinking about going inside is giving me the chills.

One more ring.

Muffled though it is, the sound is definitely there. I have to see. Feeling like Alice about to jump down the rabbit hole, I swim up to that dark, ominous spot. All around is suddenly quiet. There is no phone. Only my heart is thrumming—as if to remind me that my life continuing beyond this point is a fragile prospect at best.

“Is anybody there?”

Of course, I don’t say it—only think. But even in my head the question sounds absurd. What am I expecting to happen? Will a voice emanate from the doorway, telling me that yes indeed somebody is there? And to come on in for a nice pot of tea and a plate of scones? Jeez.

Anyway, I’m not so sure that I want a response. After all, it could just be a wrong number. And who’d be calling a wrecked ship anyway? A cheap dry cleaner saying they can’t get those ketchup stains out of Jeffrey Dahmer’s long johns? A board of trustees gathering signatures against owners who won’t pick up their dogs’ shit at the entrance to Trump Tower? David Miscavige demanding to know why Tom Cruise won’t return his calls?

And what if it’s so much worse than that? What if really there’s some unnameable horror lurking in there? Something deep down that makes sounds of ringing phones to draw in confused, unsuspecting divers? That reaches up with Lovecraftian tentacles and rips the will to live from helpless stomachs and wobbling knees? But, of course, such things couldn’t possibly exist…

Did I really just wet my already wet wetsuit?

Suddenly, I notice the source of the sound. It is indeed a phone, and it’s not inside the ominous doorway. Rather, it’s hanging on the outside wall right next to the doorway, covered with barnacles and seaweed. I am riveted to the spot, my eyes glued to this new piece of information. Now I can’t decide whether the existence of an actual phone ringing underwater is less or more disturbing.

This looks like one of those payphones from the seventies, the kind you’d see in a cloud of cigarette smoke at the back of a seedy bar—only this one is on a boat. I gaze at it in stupor. Were payphones on luxury ocean liners even a thing? This feels like something I should know.

And then it rings again.

If I could jump out of my skin into a less spooky scenario, I would—preferably one involving a sun lounger, a suitably trashy novel and a nice cappucino. That phone really is ringing! Underwater! On a ship that sank nearly fifty years ago! Unbelievable! And now what am I supposed to do? Why the hell don’t I feel safe? And again, what am I expecting to happen? All of this is beginning to make the skin on my back crawl to China—or somewhere far away at the very least.

Almost against my will, I draw closer. My hand reaches out…

“Hallo?”

Of course, I meant to say ‘hello’. And, of course, I can’t actually say ‘hello’ with my mouth stuffed full of breathing apparatus. So, naturally, I do the completely nonsensical thing of saying ‘hallo’ into the receiver of a decades old phone that shouldn’t be ringing underwater while next to a bowel-emptyingly dark doorway that leads down into the ocean floor to… well, I really don’t want to think about that.

“Don’t do this to me, Rosalie! Come on!”

Now that’s about all the blood-curdling bullshit I’m prepared to take. I squeal a rather unconvincing “Fuck off!” into the receiver then let it go. It continues to yell back at me as it drifts down on its tethered trajectory, thudding dully against the wall. I twist away, determined to put as much distance between me and it as possible…

“Wake up, Rosalie! Come on!”

I’m convulsing on my boyfriend’s boat. Water spews from my mouth, slicking over the deck and squelching between his toes. He’s crouched beside me, all white-face and crazed eyes, trying to slap some sense into my cheeksHow… romantic? I splutter and cough some more before pushing his hands away.

“Holy Christ, you had me worried there!”

I look up at him. Our eyes lock. I’m about to say something… but I can’t.

So, I sit up instead, bent forward so that my head hangs between my knees. That’s when I see it. The phone. Or, more correctly, the receiver. A piece of the cord is still attached, though frayed at the other end. There are barnacles and some pieces of seaweed all over it. And I’m gripping it so hard that my knuckles feel like they’ll burst through my skin.

The phone rings.

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2021

TATI’s & TONY’s DEAD POET TOUR // At Sea by Sara Teasdale

In the pull of the wind I stand, lonely,
On the deck of a ship, rising, falling,
Wild night around me, wild water under me,
Whipped by the storm, screaming and calling.

Earth is hostile and the sea hostile,
Why do I look for a place to rest?
I must fight always and die fighting
With fear an unhealing wound in my breast.

by SARA TEASDALE (1884-1933)
Public Domain Poetry

the oblivion amnesty

as the eviscerated fish fries in its milt
so too i self-immolate in feculent guilt
my thoughts are sharper than a castrating knife
looking to cradle song to pity my lawless life

hush, little baby, don’t say a word
you’ll die soon enough, and shame ungird
just look at yourself one last time
as you flop and gasp before your last crime

as the desiccated slug becomes shriveled and pruned
so too i rub salt into this black pudding wound
my memories are more bitter than jesuit’s bark
looking to burial song to absolve myself in the dark

cry, little baby, let everyone hear
you’ll rot soon enough, in soil and fear
just look at yourself one last time
as you drop and rasp after your last crime

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2020

whale the moon

there’s a whale in the sky
blocking the suns of joon
and pale people from the moon
sharpening a big harpoon

the whale’s shadow sighs
over the fairy floss plains
fountaining dead candy canes
through gravity shields and drains

none on the moon remember
why there’s such dread for the whale
why they persist to regale
each other with horror tales

the whale howls frantically
troubles sky with fluke and flick
but moon folk have judged too quick
got the wrong end of the stick

if only they’d understand
its song of despair and love
warning them of doom above
the coming killer space dove

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2019

Slut & Sensitivity (That Idiot Heart)

The first time I masturbated, it was a revelation.

I don’t remember how old I was or how I knew to do it, but it happened in the middle of the night. Between the delicious folds of blanket and darkness, I learned that a body could make itself feel good. A body could experience relief.

Growing up, I was never told that it was okay for me to be me. I was spoken at but never with. And although I was deaf, it seemed like I was making more of an effort to listen in than those much vaunted hearers around me. They required zero hearing devices in order to hear, but they also gave zero fucks about what anybody else was saying, least of all me.

That was how I learned to save my breath. If none could be bothered to listen, then it was pointless to speak. So I became proficient in the art of passive observation, dwelling deferentially at the fringes of social interaction. I’d close my mouth and lean in, vainly trying to discern individual voices within the cacophony, and reading body language for further clues as to what was being said. I learned to react to mannerisms, facial cues and perceived emotional states with little more than inference and favour currying nods. But really, I had no part to play in any of it. I might as well have been a no-show, for I was invisible.

And so it was that I became the unseen fluffer at the gloryhole of egos. I made myself utterly compliant, inoffensive—bland even. However, being so attentive and doggedly amenable meant that I was only hurting myself in the end. I was enabling others to self-medicate and preen at my expense. I ‘gave good head’, but I was also complicit in losing track of who I was and could have become. Still, none of this prevented me from feeling inside. And I would continue to feel everything.

I felt so much that I learned to hide it out of shame. I hid my face which is horribly asymmetric—that’s why I grew my hair long. I also learned to hide my deformed hands—that’s what pockets are for. Then I learned to hide my voice in silence. And if I absolutely had to speak, I made sure to drape that in shame too. On no account was I ever to feel good about me. And nothing was about me unless others deigned it so. If I wasn’t outright ignored, I was bullied, pitied or used, and tossed aside.

This made me a prime candidate for religious conversion, I think. When I was willingly recruited into the christian subculture, I thought I’d finally found my tribe. I hadn’t, after all, found it anywhere else, not even within the relative normalcy of my own family. I’d made myself complaisant in the extreme for anyone who’d stop and take notice, but this hardly mattered when all was said and done, and it hardly improved my lot. I still simply could not manage to fit in—not anywhere—to find a meaningful foothold within the swell of humanity to which I was desperate to belong. No wonder I was drawn to christianity’s promises of unconditional love and acceptance!

But even in church I’d not belong, for the qualities that supposedly made me special soon became sin that had to be rooted out. It was classic bait and switch. Reel me in with what I’d hoped was real only to find that I was inhabiting the worst place possible for dignity to thrive. I wasn’t to have long hair. Black clothes were an issue, as was my taste in heavy metal music. Oh, and no more wallowing in depression for I had nothing to be legitimately sad about. Salvation was mine, so what exactly was the problem?

I became painfully aware that my innermost thoughts and feelings were nothing more than a nest of demons to my better brethren. And my desires? They were a definitive no-no. I was allowed to be everybody else’s fluffer, but no masturbation for me. I could literally gag for christ’s coming but I wasn’t permitted to seek relief at my own hands. Feel good and burn in hell, or be in emotional agony and somehow ascend to heaven. The choice was mine.

So, like the dutiful fluffer I was, I knowingly participated in this dehumanising game of being shammed and shamed. I dropped to my knees and gave them my all. It was more than mere lip service. It was the full performance. I even spoke in tongues for them. I swallowed absolutely everything—not a dribble or drop was lost—but when it became clear that I wasn’t working out, the true believers zipped themselves up and ditched me on the side of a road less travelled.

It feels like I’ve been hungry since the dawn of time, gobbling to be seen, wanted, explored. But none can keep up with this voracious appetite for connection. It isn’t possible. For as long as I can remember, I’ve necessarily been made an option at best, a non entity at worst, but usually something to be avoided somewhere between. It’s had to be this way. People simply don’t last long in my presence. How could they?

I recall a childhood friend telling me one time—outside the main school gate—just where on his impossibly long list of buddies I fell. Towards the end as it happened. That wasn’t good enough for me, and so we never spoke again after that, opting instead to occupy different parts of the playground at recess. Everyone leaves. Or I leave first so I won’t be the one who gets hurt. But this never works. I’m always getting myself hurt, and I’m always hurting others. I don’t mean to.

I desperately wanted to date, but never did. I didn’t have the balls. I wasn’t a real man; my face was all wrong, and I had nothing else with which to impress the girls. Youth and possibility were flowering everywhere I looked, damn them, and I was a withered old bud before my time. I was going nowhere fast. So, I learned to stand still and be alone, and loneliness would become the theme that underpinned my life. I was never an introvert by choice. Genetics and circumstance forced me into that mould. It’s one that I’ve tried—unsuccessfully—to break out of since.

This is why I’ve had to discover pleasure on my own. I never did quite understand what it was I was feeling. No one guided me through this. I only knew that it felt good, that it made me feel human, and that I shouldn’t be doing it. For reasons that no one ever adequately explained, masturbation was branded a highly transgressive act, and yet… I couldn’t stop. Not even when my mother caught me in bed making love to my pillow. She never could look at me the same after that, and we sure as hell never talked about it. I wish we had. I might have found some answers. Some guidance perhaps. And I possibly wouldn’t be so fucked up now.

So, I grew up, a burning hot hormonal mess that wanted to fuck every girl in every room. But suicidal ideation, unrequited horniness and acne would be my only bedfellows. I never got used to girls, and I became the teen that time forgot. It was left to me to make myself feel good, to do more of the thing that only I could do on my own, to self-medicate. The world outside would make me feel truly utterly awful, and when I finally couldn’t take any more, I’d retreat to my room and masturbate. And then the shame. And then the crying. Where did I learn that seeking relief was so bad? Why was it such a crime? Why did I always have to feel like shit? Why was that the law?

The number of women I’ve been with can be counted on the hand with no thumb, with fingers to spare. I know well enough to be grateful to them. They were loving, sensitive, and they took great care with me. I, unfortunately, was crap and needy. I just wanted to feel good, and I wanted them to feel good so that I wouldn’t feel like I was just taking. I hope they felt good. I’m not adept at feeling pleasure—sexual or otherwise—in the company of others, so it can be extremely confronting when I see others sharing pleasure so freely.

The sad truth is, I fail at lovemaking. There is no getting around that. One of the most intimate connections I could ever share in life quickly becomes an onerous task that I simply cannot deal with. When the women I worship most willingly open themselves to me, I can scarcely believe it. My mind simply will not accept that this good thing is happening. I cannot possibly deserve this, so I choke up, I go numb, and my dick goes down. And they’re left genuinely wondering if the fault lies with them. (Is this why I prefer foreplay?)

Neediness is the engine that drives me. I’m empty on my own. I need other egos around me, spilling themselves over me, filling me up like I’m a one dollar whore. Hell, they can degrade me if it means I’ll have their attention for a while. (Can you see how fucked up I am?) Show me a little kindness and I’m tempted to fall in love with you, for mine is not a monogamous heart. Nope, my heart is a glutton and an idiot. It’s a total starving slut. And I will be your slut… if you let me.

I still masturbate, though this no longer enchants as it once did. The shininess has rubbed off, one could say, and relief has left the room. I’m not permitted to be a burden on others, but I am required to be the graveyard for all that imbues me, for I am a dead end. That is my function. Naturally, my idiot heart doesn’t comprehend this—or desperately doesn’t want to—and so it continues to inhabit the fringes, waiting, hoping, hungry for a tidbit of connection.

I’m ashamed of my emotions. I’m ashamed of the things they make me want to do just to connect. I’m ashamed of being a fluffer and a slut. A sexless masturbator. An echo of a dream. Am I just a thing pretending to be human?

Idiot heart, your narrative needs to change.

by TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2019