by Vanessa Sweet
Here I am, three years later: returned to the place of my death.
I unlatch the old wooden gate and slip through the overgrown garden, past the peeling shed that housed fat carpenter bees that one summer, over the stone path thick with dandelions. The air is cool and green, the smell of night and flowers that bloom only in darkness. The moon watches, full but not sated. We have a deal, she and I, and if she could feel— if she could fear, the way I once feared dark garages and empty lots, the way I once feared men with harsh voices and sharp shoes— she might fear that I will change my mind, this time.
I no longer fear any of the usual things. I am dead, and no one can hurt me anymore.
Being dead changed my life less than you might think. My family never talks about it, as we never talk about so many other things. I call them once a week, as a dutiful daughter, but our conversations are short and inconsequential. My parents can go out to dinner, each with their own book, place their orders, and sit quietly reading until the food arrives.
Perhaps that is why I speak so little.
My memory blurs like water; does a snake ever return to the skin it sheds? I forget if I heard it as fact or fiction, via late-night documentary or regurgitated myth. Technology offers so many ways to be alone, to distance myself behind glass and screens. It’s one of the reasons I work graveyards at the hospital, buried in the basement beneath miles of white tile and whistling pneumatic tubes. I have minimal patient contact, isolated as I mix IVs and pack unit-dose medications. I am a hard worker, so they forgive my eccentricities.
But fact or fiction, this is something I heard: a snake will eat its own skin, cannibalize its dead shed for calcium, phosphorus. It recovers what it can, builds itself new with what it once discarded.
So too, I shed my skin. My solitude is a choice, not a default, and I enjoy things that require no company. I take my baths hot, bubbles up to my chin, and an audiobook playing as I sink beneath the water. I sample luxury bars of chocolate, now that I no longer need to eat, and keep meticulous notebooks comparing their texture and aroma, the crisp snap or the dull break as I open the bars. I go to movie theaters by myself and with no plans of meeting anyone, and do not move from my center row seat if others ask. If a stranger meets my eyes with invitation, I smile with all my teeth and no longer worry about being polite in my refusal. These are what define me, more than clothes or hair or anything I might ink across my form.
I could stop any time. The moon is harsh, but I chose my death, and continue choosing it each year.
I finish undressing and the moon falls on me like a hunger. She sips greedy over my flesh, silver tongue and starry teeth on my shoulder, the bones of my collar, the flat brown swell of areola. I bite my wrist to stay silent, licking where the pulse would be if my heart still beat. Bone on skin, my own cool breath stirring as the dark delves between my legs. We do not mark our contract in blood or salt, only a promise renewed. I live my life of isolated sweetness, trapped like honey in the comb, and the moon drinks that essence, a deep and dazzling dark that fills my veins like wine-drenched song. My shoulders heave, my breath fogs cold, and the moon torments, slips herself inside— cool tendrils parting my folds, a dry-grass whisper over my pubic hair, and my own need spills sweet and musky in the air. Deeper than skin now, filling me with radiance and reflected glory. My hips stutter, quake, but she drinks more deeply, her silver shadow shaped to mouth, tongue, fingers. She does not stop until I am empty, blown hollow as an eggshell, limp in the grass in this silent garden where no crickets dare sing.
Even at the moment of ecstasy, know this: my heart won’t beat, my skin won’t sweat, my breath won’t burn.
But in orgasm, I am deathless.
Vanessa Sweet is a California native that may be summoned under the cover of night with offerings of chocolate and erotica. She enjoys negotiated kink, amorous endeavors, and safely exploring fantasies through fiction.