Maybe it’s strange that I haven’t acknowledged my ex, but how can I after the nails, which are either about me or not about me, and which is worse?
“That’s the point,” my ex said. “What looks pretty to someone like you can be a threat to someone who looks like me.”
The more I look at the board and the embedded nails, the more I start to see a body in the contours of our campus, a body cut at the neck: Is the body his or mine?
“No flash, please,” my ex says. He’s speaking to Lauren, who’s taking pictures of the drone statue, who’s only doing her job (arts photographer). The way he says it makes me miss his quiet sincerity, how he’d look you in the eyes and even his most urgent demands had in their tenor an implied if that’s ok with you, which I never considered submission but compassion, a selflessness I admired.
Now he doesn’t look at me.
I feel both invisible and entirely seen—no, not seen, surveilled—like he’s making a tape of me in his peripheral vision. Later, he’ll fast forward to the unflattering scenes.
Creepcreepcreepcreepcreep, I whisper in the rhythm of a kid’s taunt while I wrap my fingers around the head of a nail. The first nail slides out easily. The second isn’t much tighter, but the third is stuck and rusty.
One time, he cried after sex and said, “I don’t feel entirely safe with you,” though he didn’t list any reasons why. This sent me unpleasantly inward, of course, because where else can you go when your body is a threat? When I left him a few days later, he didn’t want me to leave and said you’re taking part of me.
I pull and pull.
I ended the relationship as a Hot Pocket finished spinning in his microwave. He stood to get it.
I cut my fingers on the nail. My fingers bleed.
He burned his hand touching the food too fast—that’s how he grabbed a Hot Pocket, his whole hand around the sleeve it cooks in. I can’t be blamed for that.
Now he sips his wine, meets my gaze, and laughs as I wipe my bloody finger around the perimeter of his map.
Thomas Renjilian is a queer fiction writer and poet from Scranton, Pennsylvania. He received his BA from Vassar College and MFA from Oregon State University. He serves as an editor for Ricochet Editions and Joyland Magazine, and his writing appears or is forthcoming in Michigan Quarterly Review, Cimarron Review, Joyland, DIAGRAM, The Journal, Thrush, and elsewhere. He is a PhD student in Creative Writing and Literature at the University of Southern California, where he is a Dornsife Fellow. He lives in Los Angeles.