The stress of lockdown was affecting Amber as much as anyone. She’d grown tired of Netflix, bored with baking bread, and was suffering alternating bouts of irrational anger and ecstasy over balls of metallic yarn, but she was sure her partner Brian had fallen in the deep end of self isolation madness.
“There’s something I never told you. Never told anyone.”
Brian looked so reluctant, so mortified. He was red in the face and he was looking down at her hands clenched within his in a clammy death grip. Amber could not begin to imagine what it might be. Probably not criminal, unless it was, like, going-on-a-register criminal. Eww. Was this where he asks her to participate in his secret, weird fetish? She hoped it was hygienic and didn’t involve her being hung from rafters. She’d beat him senseless with a sock full of quarters if that’s what he wanted, but she wasn’t going to put up with so much as a pinch.
The story that followed was short and anticlimactic. Basically, when he was eight, while his parents thought he was sleeping, he was under his bed sticking a toy car in his butt. He swore it never came back out.
“So, there’s a Hot Wheels lodged in your rectum?”
“And it was important, at this juncture in our relationship, in the middle of a pandemic, that I know this? Is it infected?”
“Yes. And it’s not infected as such. Listen.”
He looked across the living room, into the corner above the green leather club chair. The lockdown beard hid his chin, making his profile look stronger, more resolute. He opened his mouth and some very passable imitations of car noises came out.
“And look at this.”
He stood up and faced her with his arms out from his side, like he was about to perform a dive. Instead of launching outward he squatted down, rolled forward onto his knees so his chin was on the ground, and tucked in his arms in against his sides.
“You’re a Thanksgiving turkey?”
He glared at her without lifting his chin off the carpet.
“If I was a turkey I’d be on my back. Do you see what I’ve done?”
“What have you done?”
He made an outraged noise and stood up. “I haven’t transformed yet, not properly, but I think it’ll happen pretty soon.”
It took Amber a supreme amount of self control not to giggle or roll her eyes at first. Then she wondered if he needed to see a psychiatrist or a psychologist. Brian thought the toy car, after twenty years of illegal parking in his colon, had dissolved. Not dissolved as in digested, dissolved as in became some kind of magical car fluid circulating through his body, making changes to his brain (this she could get behind) and preparing him to become a man who can transform into a car.
“Is this a sex thing? Do I have to,” she made quote marks in the air, “change your oil?”
“This isn’t a sex thing. It’s serious.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Take it seriously and don’t tell anyone.”
“Who would I tell?”
On the zoom conference, Hannah thought it was some kind of weird mind-game to get her to break up with him. Whitney thought it was also a game, but probably had something to do with the internet, maybe a men’s rights group, and she should search the apartment for cameras. Jada agreed with Amber, he needed help. Alonzo just wanted them to shut up so they could get on with the meeting before the London, Paris and Lagos teams signed off.
She was sitting on the bed knitting when there was a crash in the kitchen-slash-dining room. Brian was under the table, two of the chairs knocked over, and the vase that had stood in the middle of the table had fallen, cracked and was spilling stale flower water across the tabletop and into Brian’s hair. He was wearing rollerblades.
“Were you skating inside?”
“I just want to be prepared for when I have wheels.”
“Can you do that outside? And I have someone I’d like you to call.”
Did he call the psychiatrist she found? No. Instead he sat in the living room watching stupid action movies about giant robots fighting each other while Amber worked, knitted, knitted while working. When he wasn’t watching tv he was doing figure eights around the dining table and kitchen island on his rollerblades. At night he had started sleeping on the floor of the hall closet, curled up like he had demonstrated when he had admitted to the madness. She worried about him, and missed his presence in the bed, but it meant she didn’t have to pack up her knitting each night.
Brian was standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom in just a pair of tighty whities when Amber walked by the door. He was pushing on his pecs and abs, scratching at his biceps.
“Have you lost weight?” she said.
He didn’t like that for some reason. “No. Have you gained weight?”
That hurt because she had. The lockdown pounds. Those smoothies. She couldn’t get enough of them. She was pretty sure it was anaemia, having always been pale and low energy. Googling had convinced her to try eating more liver. A boutique butcher that home-delivered organ meats and other non-traditional by-products, like goat kidneys, pig blood and lamb brains, had kept her supplied through the pandemic even when toilet paper was hard to get. Every week another foam box packed with dry ice would show up. A couple of rich, nourishing smoothies every day had to push her weight up. Who cares? She felt great and giant round butts were in.
She dropped chunks of liver into the dark red vortex of her second smoothie for the day. Brian was circling the dining table, waiting for her to leave the kitchen so he could return to figure eights.
“That looks disgusting!” he yelled over the noise of the blender.
“I could make you one! Do you want gasoline or motor oil?”
She turned off the blender in the middle of his fake laugh. It made him sound actually insane and he knew it.
“It’s going to happen. I feel it.”
Amber stuck a stainless steel straw in the smoothie and took a sip. Pity it was always so cold. She had tried microwaving one once, but just got lumps.
“I’m sure it will, honey.”
She went back to her knitting and her next zoom meeting.
Finally, well after midnight, Amber finished her knitting. It overflowed the queen-sized bed and was intricately patterned. She folded it carefully, gathered it in her arms and went to find Brian. He wasn’t parked in the closet. Or skating. The tv wasn’t on, so she nearly missed him in the dark. He was in that stupid crouch between the coffee table and the couch.
There was a groan. “It’s started,” he said. She stepped on the floor switch of the club lamp. His back was blue in the light. Patches of it glistened like polished enamel.
“Yes,” she agreed, “but it’s started too late.”
She threw the web she had knitted over him and dragged him out into the middle of the floor. He struggled, but the metallic thread was too strong for him to tear and the more he fought against it the tighter it closed around him.
“What are you doing?” he cried. “I’m not crazy. Look at my arms!”
It was obvious what she was doing, so she didn’t answer him. She left him trussed up and yelling while she went to the kitchen to fetch a straw.