A Struggle – B. Zapata

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“Oh come on, it’s really not that bad.”

“I already told you. I don’t like these kinds of movies.” She was sitting cross-legged on the couch, huddled under a big pink blanket, tapping away on her laptop.

“But it’s not even that scary.”

“Maybe not to you, but I don’t like it.”

On the TV, a knife-wielding psychopath stalked nubile coeds through the woods. Whenever he stabbed one, his knife made absurd squishing noises like someone stepping on a plastic bag full of mayonnaise.

“It’s not even realistic! I’m sure you’ve seen worse in the ER.”

“That’s different. By the time they get to me all the horrible stuff has already happened. I just have to patch them up and make them better. If I had to imagine all the gruesome details of how they got that way, I’d probably lose my mind.”

“But that’s the whole point of horror movies. They let you experience your fears without having to worry about the consequences. It’s supposed to be cathartic.”

“Sorry, but I’d rather just pretend the world isn’t as awful as it is.”

“Seriously, it’s more like a parody than anything else. Look, the worst part is over. Just watch a little; you’ll see it’s actually pretty funny.”

“Ugh!” she slammed her laptop shut, “Fine, if it’ll get you off my back!” She went to pull off the blanket but it got stuck under her leg. She wriggled around, trying to pull it off from behind, but she was sitting on that end.

“What the hell are you doing?” I laughed, mocking her good-naturedly.

“This stupid thing is stuck!” She struggled some more, trying to find an opening in the blanket.

“Stuck?!” I said, fighting off giggles, “Really, you’re the only person I know who could get stuck in a blanket. Don’t you need to be somewhat coordinated to be a surgeon?”

“Stop being a jerk; just help me out of here!” She was laughing, but there was a slightly frantic tone creeping into her voice.

It reminded me of when I used to play cave explorer under the covers when I was a kid. I’d try to get all twisted up in the sheets, pretending that I was lost underground, but every once in a while I would get so turned around that I really couldn’t find my way out. I remembered that little thrill of panic, dancing on the edge of excitement and terror as I rolled around on the bed, the sheets tightening around me, my breath growing hot and moist, smothering me, until, at the last possible moment I would push my head out through an opening and feel the cool rush of outside air on my damp forehead. I would lay there for a while, entirely enveloped in the sheets with just my head sticking out, laughing hysterically.

At any moment I expected her to emerge red-faced and giggling, and we’d both laugh about how ridiculous the whole thing had been, but she just kept wriggling around under the blanket. She started kicking out with her legs, rocking back and forth frantically trying to feel her way out, but just getting more and more tangled up in the process.

“Josh!” she yelled, “come on, help me out of here!”

I got up to pull the blanket off, but found myself paralyzed at the edge of my chair. I wanted to reach out to her, but something weighed me down and for a moment I was rooted to the spot, mesmerized by her movement beneath the blanket, violently pulsating but singularly focused, like a butterfly trying to break free from its cocoon. What was that story about the lepidopterist? He had tried to help his butterflies escape by slitting open their cocoons, but they had emerged with stunted wings and died soon after. The struggle, it seemed, was necessary…

“Josh!” All the residual humor had drained from her voice. It was raw and quaked with desperation.

“Oh, right, sorry,” I said, “Just calm down, you’re freaking out over nothing!” I stood up, grabbed the blanket, and tore it away. She was gone. Only the laptop sat on the couch, its fan whirring softly.

“Come on, Lisa, this isn’t funny!” I looked behind the couch and under the coffee table, but she was nowhere to be found. I ran to the bathroom, looked behind the shower curtain, in the closet, under the bed, in the laundry hamper, under the sink. I went outside and walked around the apartment building calling her name, but still nothing. Porch lights flicked on; neighbors looking down suspiciously. Suddenly ashamed, I ran back upstairs to the apartment.

“Lisa!” I called. Silence. I sat down on the couch where she had been. On the TV, a teddy bear slowly fell into a pile of impossibly soft towels. I grabbed the blanket and threw it over my head. I don’t know what I had expected to happen, but nothing did. I sat there, my breath hot and moist against my face, pink light filtering through the fabric of the blanket. It still smelled like her. I closed my eyes and breathed in the delicate musky smell. It felt safe, like home. I imagined myself as a baby resting my head between her soft breasts, drinking in the scent of her: Sweet floral body spray, soap residue, sweat, dead skin cells, and heat, radiating heat welling up from the swelling boiling blood just beneath the surface, the tumbling ocean of her that came and went in steady rhythmic waves, wub-wubwub-wubwub-wub, crashing over me, washing me away until nothing remained.

In the morning, I threw the blanket off and stretched out my arms and legs. The muscles shuddered pleasantly with the rush of fresh blood. I stepped out onto the porch and drank in the cool refreshing air. The sun had risen just above the distant hills and it bathed everything in a pure golden light. Birds twittered in the trees and car engines turned over in the parking lot. The world was awake and pulsing with life, and I was so struck by the beauty of it all that I couldn’t help but laugh.

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