Mike Sauve

 

A graduate of Ryerson Journalism, Mike Sauve has written non-fiction for The National Post, The Toronto International Film Festival Group, Exclaim Magazine and other publications.  His fiction has appeared online in Rivets Literary Magazine, Forge Journal, Candlelight Stories, Straitjackets Magazine, Eastown Fiction, the humour journal Feathertale and elsewhere.  Upcoming stories will appear in print in Palimpsest and Infinity’s Kitchen.

 

Visions of Emily (January 20, 2011. Issue 24.)

My pretty cousin Emily was approaching. I hadn’t seen her in person for nearly a decade, now here she was on Michigan Avenue. I wasn’t sure she’d remember me. She was with a friend. I stopped right in front of her, “Well hello!” I said boisterously.

Emily and her friend exchanged confused glances. “Leave us alone,” the friend said.

“Wait, Emily...” I said.

They rushed off, and Emily looked back in my direction, confused. I gave her a wide-eyed look, as though this might remind her of some moment from our shared history. We were the same age and used to run around her parents pool, perilously, as kids do. She used to whine and complain a lot. She was always very charming, and could get away with murder. I saw her rarely because she lived on the other side of Illinois. It was fun until we got old enough that it became awkward.

When we were 11 I once asked her to go outside and play. She looked at me like I was a real fool, and just sat still in cold silence. She was already posturing towards high school maturity. Playing was out of the question. The adults stood around dumb-struck. I hurried out the door. I probably sat on the swing or ran around in a circle or something.

“She’s going to be a heartbreaker,” the adults said about her.

When I was four my mom used to help me change out of my bathing suit—perhaps why I was still so un cool at 11. Emily had asked me, “Do you really need your mom to help you, let’s do it together.” So we had changed in each other’s company then. Perhaps, now, as she walked away forever, I should have yelled out, “But Emily, we’ve seen each other in the nude!”

I didn’t have much contact with my extended family and that was fine with me. I had gotten weird; they had become more staid and suburban. The common ground diminished with each passing season. Still, I dreamt of Emily a few times a year, and it was always memorable. Some early connection must have been forged in my subconscious, some dichotomy of desire and rejection that was the fundament of my current sexual predicament. The dreams were often sweeping and romantic, if not quite erotic.

It should be noted that (1) I was adopted, and (2) even if I were biologically tied to the family, Emily and I would share no blood. No, given these parameters, cousin lust never seemed wrong to me. Perhaps those who were closer to their cousins may find this atrocious. Judge though they might—they didn’t have to face cousins desirable as Emily.

When I was 18 I attended my great uncle’s funeral. The reception was held at Emily’s home. The men sat downstairs watching a Blackhawks playoff game. At this point in my life I had a working knowledge of all sports. It was a necessity, though I was more into William S. Burroughs books and the nascent cinema of Harmony Korine. I was offered a beer. They must have thought I was man enough by then, even if I weighed about 110 pounds.

Conflicting with this image of beer-drinking, hockey-watching manhood, I wore an ostentatious pair of fuzzy, woolen dress pants. Emily came downstairs. She hadn’t said one word to me the whole time. She was always shy, which made her that much more alluring. She ran her index finger up my thigh and said,
“Oh I like these pants.” Back at the hotel I thought of her while administering my personal hygiene regimen.

Once, during an early sexual experience on marijuana, bored with the girl I was with, I began to picture Emily’s face. I pictured us stealing some moment together after school in backwoods Carbdondale—all forbidden, tragic, woebegone. It became exceptionally exciting.

“I love you Emily.”

“Who is Emily?” the girl asked.

“My cousin.”

“You’re weird,” the girl said, hoping I was joking.

I projected these visions on the walk home. I should have just said, “Hey Emily, it’s me, your cousin Marc.” But then what? An awkward hug at most? An increased frequency in my number of dreams about her? I wasn’t sure why I still dreamt of Emily.

At home I made tea and sat in the living room. Several utensils fell off the kitchen counter and crashed loudly. This wouldn’t be so alarming if it didn’t happen all the time lately. Nothing could stay on the counter; things were always shifting, breathing, influenced without my touch.

I was too old for the retarded rave scene, but I was also bored, so I accepted an invitation to an event called “Slide Room.” This was yet another return to youth that would no doubt involve bubbles, soaked men and women high on ecstasy tablets, and craven sexuality.

I went with my usual crew, all north of 30-years-old, but not feeling so despicable in this room of damp youth because of the high quality MDMA we’d ingested. I mostly sat on a couch talking to whoever came by. I am a great conversationalist on MDMA. I can have dozens of ten minute convos with a string of different individuals. When I was younger I would feel a real bond with these people and sometimes commit to shared lives together, dinner parties, or other bondages that were broke soon as the drugs wore off, if they were even remembered.

A giant rubber slide went from the second floor to the first. At the bottom was a pool of grimy looking bubbles. That’s why the place was called Slide Room, instead of Bubble Room, which would have seemed so infantile. Sliding at least had a dance connotation—the promoters knew to steer clear of names indicating a Return to Pre-School that would hit too close to home.

A pretty brunette came down the slide, squealing with mock, girl-enthusiasm. I saw her sharp little cheekbones, her bright brown eyes. “Emily,” I called from the couch, and nearly ran to where she landed in the bubble pit. I did not notice her boyfriend, a chubby, upwardly-mobile type, waiting like an expectant father at the bottom of the slide.

We hugged with such an enthusiasm that I nearly slipped on some wayward bubbles. I barely caught my balance before nearly sending us both into the bubble pit. She looked pleasantly high, filled with affection and good spirit. “Marc!” she cried. I rubbed at her back a little too fondly, and held her tiny neck firmly in my right hand. This sort of behavior is frequent at ecstasy parties.

The boyfriend now entered my field of vision, looking accordingly nonplussed. “This is my cousin Marc,” she explained, now wrapping a wet arm around my waist. We’d never hugged before, but I was happy to go along with it.

“Oh, nice to meet you,” the guy said, sizing me up.

I figured light petting was a practical goal. It would be hard for the boyfriend to distinguish familial affection from the carnal variety. You could caress your cousin on E without her having to feel guilty the next day, couldn’t you? Me, I wasn’t worried about the guilt. I was prepared to act recklessly.

“Let’s go sit down,” Emily said. Then to her boyfriend, “Baby, go get us two martinis.” She was always adorably bossy. She knew how cute she was. His brow furrowed and he shot me a skeptical look. I slowly reached for my wallet, hoping he would decline my offer of cash. As a yuppy, he of course did. Yuppies love to establish themselves by throwing twenties and fifties away at the bar. I grinned when I noticed the tremendously long line.

At the couch she fell into my arms, lying across me, smiling her gorgeous, tiny-toothed smile. What is it about a long row of tiny white teeth? “You know
I saw you earlier today...” I said.

“I know,” she said. “But you didn’t look so cute then....” She paused. “And I heard you were weird now, but you don’t look so weird.”

Her head was on my lap and her face was very close to mine. I leaned down and kissed her. It was risky, and definitely belonged in the ‘weird’ category, but she reciprocated hungrily. It was very soft, much like when I’d imagined that other girl in the Emily role a few years earlier. We continued kissing while I kept one eye on the bar line. We were low enough the boyfriend couldn’t see us if he looked back.

We stopped kissing with only seconds to spare. We held hands all night while the boyfriend looked consummately pissed. Every once in a while, she’d throw out an, “I can’t believe I ran into my cousin!” for good measure. The whole time I wondered how to get her back to my place. The boyfriend didn’t appear to be on any drug other than the depressant alcohol, which he was consuming at a breakneck pace.

It was only a matter of time until he became too hateful to deal with. I knew his kind; the ugliness would soon emerge. I introduced some flimsy discussion of family photos. Emily caught on, and insisted on seeing them. The boyfriend grudgingly offered to accompany us back to my apartment.

“I might get too emotional, they are family photos. I need to be around family, when I see them,” she said, an even bolder lie. Clearly, no pictures existed. Pictures were nearly exclusive to the Facebook realm among our age-group; we destroy all remaining color prints once they have been uploaded. The boyfriend must have been aware of this.

The boyfriend stormed off. The picture falsehood, not very strong in the first place, died then having served its purpose.

I had won the battle, and feeling verbose, on E, I recited (with some power I might add), “The gypsy undertaker sighs, the lonesome organ grinder cries, the silver saxophone says I should refuse you. The cracked bells and washed-out horn, they blow into my face with scorn, but it’s not that way, I wasn’t born to lose you.”

“What are you talking about?” she said, annoyed, already pouting now that she was mine.

“Bob Dylan song—it’s called I Want You.”

“Let’s go,” she said.

The morning after we were both bleary-eyed and serotonin-dry. The sheets were on the floor. A full beer had spilled and a stale smelled permeated my tiny bedroom. I noticed my apartment wasn’t very clean. Last night had the soft mystery of candlelight, magic lighting. This morning the sun shone in bright and terrible on the previous night’s debauch.

We’d gushed out our reserves of goodwill and enthusiasm thanks to last night’s drugs, and now we had a severe deficit. We also had some serious rationalizing to do. By the letter of the law, we had committed incest. Neither of us were ready for that. I just held her for a while. She looked less comfortable with each passing moment.

“You better not come to the big family reunion this summer,” she said. “That would be weird. I think my fiancée was on to us.”

“You know, I used to have dreams about you. I never knew why.”

She looked serious, “I used to have dreams about you too.”

“Do you think we had them on the same night?”

“No, I think maybe they were, like, predicting this.” Then the rational, the fear, struck her. “I would never do something like this...I mean, you are my cousin...”

“You did do it Emily. I had fun. I don’t regret it.”

She said nothing. The tension grew until it was unbearable. We exchanged a stilted goodbye as she all but ran for the door.

“Pleasant dreams,” I said.

“You are fucking weird,” she said from the hall, half-joking, half angry. “Don’t ever tell anyone about this.”