Jacob made the same woman audition over and over until she pulled down the vanity mirror. She had a tattoo of a stiletto fly on her thigh. She showed him photos on her iPhone of spider parasites, wood soldiers—conjoined, flowing through a tank like living ink.
“Xylomyidae,” she said and spelled out each letter into the blank camera.
In a past life, she thought of the lens as a cherry red vivisection, but since attending Burning Man she learned that every atom is an actress. She described termite mounds splitting through the canvas tent flooring like church spires coming up for air. She spoke about her brother who had been sent to prison in Maplehurst. He’d set fire to their father on a February morning whilst she was taking a shower. He told her that he should never have used a white lighter, explained to the judge that he didn’t think it was possible for a person to burn up in a snowstorm. Now every time she steps into a bathtub, it feels she is being abducted by the ceiling vent. I went over to the computer and put on a lo-fi hip hop mix on YouTube. An anime girl on the blinking monitor who looked a little bit like my mom sat in a soaked Lycra thong, her tropospheric arms looped in Matsumoto lace. A keyboard pushed through the broken qwerty head covered in Japanese hornets. Jacob folded a five-dollar bill in a way that morphed a blue Wilfrid Laurier into a silverfish, he chewed the whip scorpion hung around his neck inside a gobbet of clear crystal resin. We watched a documentary on Netflix about silver men living in Arizona. You could tell them apart from their vocal cords, the permanent subglottic stenosis causing the voice to rasp.
Jacob undressed with his eyes fixed on the empty curtain rod whilst I scrolled through an article explaining why Wes Anderson movies looked the way they do. Jacob repeated planimetric composition over and over again under his breath. We sat in dim rooms and heard the traffic swell to its daily cadence, afternoon sky shifted from amber into brown. They came up from the dirt and the sky swarming, darting. His knee joints looked like squash balls. His collarbones forced their way through the honey brown skin and looked like handlebars. I used to ride down street-lit side roads, dark clouds of infestation following me to the riverside. I would lean my bike against cattails and lay in the spongey marsh, reach into my knapsack for the all-purpose insect pheromone that I bought in bulk from online wholesalers. I would lather my body as if it were SPF50+ and fall asleep inside a nest of red moths, their crescents caught and thrashed beneath half-moons.
I daydreamed Jacob skipping through white cedar bogland with his terrarium briefcase. Bedbugs his open hand. Dressed in a beige safari vest, his national park badges corroborated the stories of portaging across provincial lakes. His pockets filled with the necessary contraptions for a junior entomologist: aspirator, inhaler, pitfall traps. An itinerary of bone-house and paper wasps, spittlebugs submerged in anal fluid, a cocktail ant with its heart-shaped abdomen raised like a shield of love. I remained silent as his forceps clasped around my neck. I could feel one hundred little legs inching eye-ward. Caddisflies, damselflies, appeared above the water like glistening orbs, their thin wings wet with blisters. I watched them form a solid shape. I wished I had known him for longer, his Spotify playlist, the lime green bastille of King Louis XIV.
Breathing through tiny holes in their bodies, is how the tattooed girl described her parents. She said her ex-girlfriend had won a scholarship to Madrid. She showed us a scene from David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, Julianne Moore straining into the toilet bowl. We watched it eighteen times. I hoped enough of me would remain to pin on a block and hang in the vitrine, purple entrails sprawled amongst the basketball and hockey trophies, the victories of vertical youth. In the bible, we learned that Jacob had a dream in which he saw a ladder covered in angels. They came up from the dirt and from the sky swarming, darting. Earwigs sleuthed and fed inside my tonsils. A shape… bustling, buzzing, vibrating. I started to get goosebumps.
The communication of butterflies in the dark, headbutting against the outside wall. A can of Axe deodorant on the windowsill, Ice Chill scrawled on the side in bright blue font. Jacob remained very still. His sleeves hung low. His shirt was plain cotton linen. He had inexpensive taste. I once saw him rise from the bathtub like Terminator 2, back upright amongst strips of fly paper spiralled around his nakedness. The night was quiet but for the shrimp crawling in its aquarium. Ten legs: five for land, five for water. Marijuana smoke swimming through its blue-green rostrum, its thin pinched beak. She had doubled her freckles on Pixelmator, used a monthly $18 trial. She spoke about a UFO sighting in the Great Plains, white spacecraft videoed above the prairies. She showed us a drawing from her daughter taken into care. Figure of a purple infant crayoned on the paper with its head torn off, thorax replaced with a dragonfly.
I grabbed Jacob’s phone from a frayed charger under his pillow. He asked me what I was doing. I told him that deleting his notifications calmed me when I got too high. He asked me to stop. I told him it was unhealthy to have hundreds of anything. He gave me a look but I couldn’t meet his eyes. I stared just below and noticed how much his sockets bulged like stag beetle sacs. I watched them burst shining silk down his cheeks. His eyeballs like eggs prone to eat the other, she called it sibling egg cannibalism. She was still sat in the corner. She asked about laminae in the spinal cord and TRP channels, if insects could process pain. I tried to reach for him but I couldn’t force through the weight of it. It spoke to her from behind the camera. The orange wings of a monarch butterfly are filled with toxins. It manufactures itself into poison. It reached from around the lens and fed inside my tonsils. It spoke of a new opportunity for the species. I embraced the shape. Jacob is kind. Jacob is strong. Jacob takes kodoku, sometimes called kodō, courses through a Yokohama forum. A jpeg on the monitor of a Shinto tombstone, blue-grey obelisk. A black rope covered in lavender flies, its murasaki skull. She told him her favourite song was by The Pussycat Dolls and it pulled her into the wall.
“We all wanna be famous so go ahead and say what you wanna say,” she sang, her false eyelashes shivering on the grainy laptop screen, “You don’t know what it’s like to be nameless.”
Bill Atmoran is an Ontarian therapist living in Glasgow. He has work published in Tragickal and Back Patio Press.
Matthew Kinlin lives and writes in Glasgow. His novels Teenage Hallucination (Orbis Tertius Press) and Curse Red, Curse Blue, Curse Green (Sweat Drenched Press) were released this year.
*Artwork: A 2021 piece by Elytron Frass.