FICTION | The Body Does Not Lie
I went to the doctor yesterday. He told me I had a love and Vitamin D deficiency. According to him, he’d never seen such pasty skin on a human being before. “An old bar of soap would look better in a bikini than you these days.” Make of that what you will.
And what did I think of that? Well, I’ll tell you.
But before that, a little background – I’d gone to the doctor because it had become increasingly hard to write anything recently. And no, I don’t want you to think that I had some “writer’s block” or any of that rubbish. I’ll have you know that I can write easier than I can excrete. Quite literally, in fact, it requires more energy for me to walk to the bathroom, pull down my shorts, squeeze with adequate force and wipe (yes, and wash my hands, mother) than it does for me to plop out an interesting story. And I always finish what I start.
As far as I’m concerned, those suffering from so-called “writer’s block” simply either don’t squeeze hard enough, or fear that if they do, they’ll discover that all they’re capable of is a lot of hot air. It is this fear that traps them, in my opinion.
No, the issue for me is a purely physical one – in recent weeks, it’s simply become too painful for me to write. As soon as I grip the pen, my head pulses, my arm aches, my fingers wobble like underset jelly and I can barely write a line before I start feeling faint. Needless to say, this is a problem for me.
The doctor took one look at me and told me this was all because I don’t spend enough time “basking in the nourishing light of the sun and cocooning oneself within the soft blanket of love.” He said, “the sun is nature’s best medicine, whilst love is nature’s best toilet paper,” or something along those lines.
So anyway, I concluded I had to try something, for you see, writing for me literally is like going to the bathroom. If I don’t do it regularly, I’m in trouble. I start feeling nauseous, I can barely breathe, I sweat profusely, and before long the only thing that matters in the world to me is that urgent release. It’s not even that I enjoy it – I have to do it, or I’ll explode (or get kidney-stones).
That’s why today, I’m sat on this bench by a fountain in the middle of a park, trying my best to enjoy the summer sunshine. And you know what? For a while, it’s almost enjoyable. My skin seems to suck up all the sunlight like a dry sponge dropped into a vat of grease, and if I listen closely enough, I can almost hear it breathing.
Pretty soon, though, enough is enough. I can’t take it anymore, my body having a mind of its own. As far as I’m concerned, I tell my body when to breathe, I tell my body when it’s tired, and if it doesn’t listen, I scribble it into submission (in fact – some of my most successful writing submissions have come from this willful habit).
I pull out my notebook and my fountain pen, and I start to write.
Here’s the trick – it’s all about motion over emotion. If you only write when you’re inspired, you’ll never get anywhere, but thrust vigorously enough and you’re bound to find adequate sensation in even the roughest of crevices. That’s my motto anyway.
Anyway, I write about the trees surrounding the park, how they seem to sway gently to some ancient ballroom song that only they can hear (they don’t, really, it just reads better to write like that), how the birds seem to gossip to each other, the magpies in particular being the class clowns (there aren’t actually any magpies here, just dirty, mute pigeons), and how as I’m sat here, a beautiful girl walks past me and sits on a bench to my left, looking terribly sad.
But here’s the funny thing. As I write this part, I look up from my notebook and she really does appear. She really does walk with such grace that it seems like the trees sway to her rhythm. She really does sit so utterly still on the bench, back perfectly upright, hands nestled comfortably on top of each other on her lap like the last two Pringles on Earth, that she and the bench become one, a new object created in the universe. And (sadly) she really does seem sad, her melancholy only serving to heighten her beauty.
She really does walk with such grace that it seems like the trees sway to her rhythm.
And as I write that she brings her right hand to her face, so does she. Her hand pauses by a lock of jet-black hair near her ear just as my pen pauses mid-sentence, and as I write that she pushes the lock of hair behind her ear, she does just that.
This, I’m sure you’ll agree, is interesting.
To tell you the truth, occasionally I worry that I write to escape the real world, but clearly today this isn’t the case. Today, the barrier separating my imagination, my pen, and the real world seems to have evaporated.
But why is she so sad? I hear you ask.
That’s the thing – I decide! Perhaps she is like me, a human being in need of love and Vitamin D. Perhaps I can help her. Romantic fiction isn’t my strong suit, but today I’m confident I can spin a compelling enough love story.
I look at her. There she is, hand still cupped behind her ear, her entire body delicately poised like a still-life photo.
I write: As her hands came to rest delicately on her lap again, she turned slowly to her right and locked eyes with a man. The smile she gave, one would have thought she knew this man her entire life. For it was a smile so beautiful it could have turned stone boulders into soft Victoria sponge, so pure it could have transformed rotten old men back into smiling babies, so utterly arresting that it brought everything around her into a high-definition focus, sharpened by the lens of love at first sight.
I shudder with emotion at my own brilliant words and it takes me a moment to recover. This often happens. Soon though, I’m curious to see who has made her smile like this. I look up from the notebook, but it doesn’t prepare me for the shock – the one she stares at is me, the one she smiles at is me.
I glance behind to make sure it’s really me she’s staring at, but there’s no one else there. My pen quivers in my hand, and I write the next few lines:
She walked over to the man handsome man, whose heart began to flutter faster than a hummingbird’s wings, and sat beside him on his bench. He looked up from his notebook to find her…
Sat beside me, still smiling at me. At me!
Whilst I am truly stunned by the smile (my first female attention in months, I must regrettably add), for any truly serious writer the jaws of curiosity must clamp harder than those of love, forcing me back to the page.
“Hi,” she says.
“Hi,” I hear.
I have to say, I am slightly disappointed at the blandness of her name. Perhaps nerves have got the better of me. Not a problem, though.
“I’m Sarah Felicia Applegate III.”
“I’m Felicia Applegate III.” That’s better.
I write: In the silence that followed, I hoped to God she wouldn’t ask my name, for I was so nervous that if she did, I would have had to introduce myself as “dry croak.” Love at first sight, disappointment at first croak, I’m sure you’d agree. But alas, she asked anyway.
“What’s your name?” I hear.
I pause and look at her. There she is, inches away, keenly anticipating my response. She’s so beautiful it almost hurts to look directly at her. But as I look into her eyes, I see something in them that makes me retreat to my notebook in fear. Momentarily, I can no longer focus. I know it’s not just her beauty that paralyses me. It’s something deeper than that, something I don’t quite understand.
When I look at her, I feel something twisting in my gut, as if some beast were trapped there, a beast that had known nothing but cold, dark solitude its entire life. Felicia’s smile is like a beam of light bursting through the cracks, a light so brilliant it blinds and scorches, and my beast, poor beast, so entranced by it that it welcomes its own obliteration.
I shake my head vigorously, grip my pen tighter, and trust in the only virile aspect of my personality. If I am to make this work, if I am to finally succeed in the game of love, I must transform myself into a man who can handle the pressure. I breathe deeply, finally mustering up the courage to write:
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“General Waterford, 6th Regiment,” I said with manly vigor.
“I’ve always wanted to meet a general,” she exclaimed, her easy smile almost turning me and my twenty-three years of military experience to jelly. “A general of what, though?”
“I’m a General of the Written Word,” I replied.
I write: She peered at my notebook and gasped. “Wow, you’re such a fantastic writer. You should be published all over the world. You’re even better than Ernest Hemingway.”
I’ve always secretly thought so, but of course you can never openly say that. I don’t want to come across as arrogant, you see. I’d always heard that what women love even more than a modest man is a modest genius, so I must play it cool.
“You’re really too kind,” I replied. “But as long as just a few earnest souls read my work and feel a tad less alone, a tad wiser about life, I’ll be happy.”
“So brilliant, and yet so modest,” Felicia replied, putting her hand to her heart and sighing with admiration.
I look up at her. It strikes me that the action of placing her hand to her heart and sighing is so unlifelike when seen in the flesh that it lowers Felicia in my eyes somewhat, just to the point where I can look at her without fear. It also helps that she leans ever closer towards me, smiling at me as if only I exist for her in this moment. Whilst I am flattered by her attention, I cannot help but notice that her smile remains frozen in place (along with every part of her for that matter – I’m not even sure she’s breathing), which I find a little disconcerting. But I brush this discomfort aside and focus on what’s really important here – the seed of this story, my story. I turn back to the page, trust in the pen and the moral character of General Waterford, a man I hope can make me all that I am not.
I write: If there is one thing I have learned in my twenty-three years of battle, having won great victories, suffered terrible losses, it is that one must seize the moment when it arises, to have faith in yourself, for if your aim is true, the gods will reward your courage. And so I leapt the great chasm, and spoke: “Felicia, may I ask you for a kiss?”
I write that General Waterford waits patiently, stoically accepting whatever fate the gods have in store for him. Head buried in my notebook, the silence seems to stretch an eternity when suddenly I feel her lips brush my cheek.
If you told me I was legally dead prior to this moment, I would not have disagreed. Like a rotten tree struck by a bolt of lightning, the kiss ignites my dull soul and fills me with the fiery heat of desire.
The pen wobbles in my hand, my vision blurs, and I can no longer see the words on the page. My mind tells me to focus, that if I give in to this desire I risk losing the grip of the story and losing her forever. But a primal urge, like an ancient dragon roused from a thousand-year-long slumber, wakes in me, screams at me to return her kiss. I have no choice – my body is in control now. I turn and plant my lips on hers and feel a pleasure beyond my powers of description to express.
I open my eyes, and there she is, still smiling at me.
As the tremors of the kiss reverberate through my body in ecstatic waves, I realize I’ve been a fool my entire life. And to think I once dreamed of being a brain in a vat, detached from the demands of the body. Such a hollow existence! It’s time for a change – enough with the pen. As Ivan Karamazov once said: “I want to live from the belly!” Why imagine this story when I can live it?
But as I prepare to speak true words and finally leave the shelter of the page, something strange happens – my hand moves of its own volition. I watch it move across the page all by itself.
My hand moves of its own volition. I watch it move across the page all by itself.
“Do you love me?” Felicia says.
I want to scream “Yes!” at the top of my lungs, but, try as I might, I’m unable to. I have no control over my body anymore. I look at the page as my hand writes:
“Yes,” I said. If she were a slice of toast, my heart would have melted all over her by now. I was hers.
“Do you trust me?” she asks.
The hand writes: “Of course.”
I turn back to Felicia. She grins at me. I prepare to smile back, but for some reason her grin unnerves me, and as I look closer I understand why: it’s the grin of someone who knows all your most shameful secrets.
The hand moves again. I look down at the page. It writes, in slow, jagged movements as if trying to carve the words into the page:
THE BODY DOES NOT LIE
THE BODY DOES NOT LIE
THE BODY DOES NOT LIE.
I then watch the pen attack the page, as if possessed. Before I can make out what is being written, a soft thud distracts me – something has fallen from the sky into Felicia’s cupped hands. It is a shiny green apple.
“There you are!” she says, speaking to the apple as if it is a previously lost pet. She doesn’t seem surprised by any of this as she brings the apple to her mouth and takes a large bite. The loud crunch, the red lipstick stains left on the surface, arouse me slightly.
“I love apples,” she says, juice moistening her lips. “Do you want to share one with me?”
The hand continues to scribble furiously as Felicia brings the apple to my mouth.
“Go on, take a bite,” she says.
Here lies an issue. I despise apples, and any fruit for that matter. Until now, I have survived quite well on a diet of butter sandwiches and Coca-Cola. But I don’t have a choice. I watch myself lean over and take a bite. The sour juice might as well be battery acid, the way it burns a hole in my insides. My arm begins to hurt now, but the hand continues writing with the ceaseless motivation of a zombie. I find myself smiling, the most unnatural smile of my life, for it feels as if someone is literally forcing my lips apart.
“Delicious,” I hear myself say, disguising a deep inward shudder like an earthquake inside a snow globe.
She grins another terrible grin, then daintily makes her way through the rest of the apple, eating all of it except the stalk, before flicking it onto a nearby pigeon, which flutters away into a nearby tree. I feel deserted by the pigeon, terribly alone.
Felicia begins to laugh maniacally. For such a petite woman, her lungs must be huge, for she laughs for minutes without pausing for breath. The remaining pigeons scatter in fear and other people in the park stare at us. My arm still moves, but it’s not until I steal a quick glance at the notebook that I realise I have run out of space on the page, the pen-hand scribbling in the air like a blind baby searching for its mother’s teat. I turn over the page with my free hand and my pen-hand stops writing and lowers itself into my lap, causing the laughter to stop as suddenly as it began. A silence descends over the park like an ominous storm cloud.
Felicia turns to me. “Men are so easy,” she whispers. “You’ll do as I say now, won’t you?”
“Men are so easy,” she whispers. “You’ll do as I say now, won’t you?”
My head nods obediently.
“Good,” she purrs. “Now, if I feel hungry, you feed me. If I feel sleepy, you rock me to sleep. If I ask you to steal that old lady’s Zimmer frame just because I like its simple shade of violet, you take it without a second’s thought, grateful for the chance to serve your queen.”
On the other side of the fountain, an old lady slowly shuffles along, holding onto her Zimmer frame (I would have described it as dull lilac, personally) so tightly I worry she might slip right beneath the surface of the Earth if she were to let go.
“You would even go so far as to break her little, brittle, metal hips to show your love for me. Wouldn’t you?”
My head nods again.
“Not good enough. Let me ask you again. You’d do that for me, wouldn’t you?”
I look at my notebook. It reads:
“Yes, My Righteous Queen Felicia, Goddess in Human Form,” I said. “I will serve you until the trees turn to ash, the moon to stinky cheese, my blood to dust. My love for you burns with the passion of the Earth’s fiery core – it is yours forever.”
“Good,” she purrs.
That she says this same thing twice (with the exact same intonation both times, I sadly add), does not reflect well on my writing abilities. But I can’t take responsibility for this story now, anyway. The body has taken over now. And remember, real life isn’t like fiction. It’s far stranger, riddled with awkwardness, repetition, and cliches.
“Is there anything else you’d like to add?” she asks.
I look to my hand, wait for its answer. But a minute passes, and still it doesn’t move. I tentatively try to move it myself, but it doesn’t budge.
All of a sudden, my entire body starts to violently shake, causing teeth to chatter, joints to pop. It sounds strange to say, but it feels as if my body is trying to shake me out of itself, and it briefly succeeds, for I lose consciousness for a moment.
When I awake, there is a deep stillness within me. Though my arm is sore, my mind is clear. I glance at the page, where a final paragraph has been added. It reads:
But all this love simply wasn’t enough. I had lied to her. What is the passion of love without the strength of devotion and duty tied to it? All lofty dreams require an equally long and sturdy ladder if we are to reach them. As soon as I gave her my vow, I knew I had betrayed both her and myself. I was no general. I was no twenty-three-year war veteran. I was merely a lousy, hack writer. And it took true love for me to finally admit it to myself. How can one make such claims of devotion when one knows that truly, underneath it all, there lies not a battle-hardened soldier, worn steely with honor and sacrifice, but merely a scared little boy, rendered flaccid by his own cowardice? I could not lie.
THE BODY DOES NOT LIE
That was as painful as it was beautiful to read. But Felicia seems unimpressed.
“Is that it?” she snaps. “Is that all you have to say?”
I turn back to the notebook and focus on the page, but no matter how hard I try, my hand won’t move – I can’t write another word.
The story surely can’t end here. What kind of ending is this? I need to write a better one; I have a reputation to maintain. Suddenly, I know what to do. Holding my notebook and pen to my chest, I rise from the bench. I look at Felicia and feel the strength of General Waterford within me. It gives me the courage to speak.
“Felicia,” I say, forcing the lump in my throat back down into my belly. “I have not been completely honest with you today. I am, as yet, a man inexperienced in the treacherous game of love. I can promise to try my best to give you all I have, but I cannot promise that I will be successful. Whilst I know little of the battlefield, I carry deep scars. Who can say that those same wounds will not end up hurting you? Do you still accept my love, imperfect as it is?”
I place my notebook and pen on the floor, kneel in front of her, and wait for her response.
“Not good enough,” Felicia replies, crossing her arms. “You’ll have to be more poetic than that. Too soppy, too sentimental, too many low-calorie words. Don’t you think I deserve better than this?”
The line: My heart could have bled a thousand rivers and it would have been but a drop in the ocean of pain I drown in floats through my mind in response.
Not bad at all, if you ask me. If this isn’t good enough for her, nothing else will be.
I reach for my pen and notebook to write this, but something stops me: I no longer even like her. For someone so beautiful, someone so smart, someone created by me, she is awfully judgmental of me, especially my work.
For someone so beautiful, someone so smart, someone created by me, she is awfully judgmental of me, especially my work.
Perhaps she senses this, for her eyes narrow with malice. “If you can’t even seduce me with that pencil, I can’t imagine how useless your other one will be,” she sneers. “The closest you’ll ever get to touching me is if you’re lucky enough to use the same toilet seat after I’m done.”
She stands on the bench and cries out to the rest of the park: “Are there no real writers anymore? Surely there exists even one man who is better than this?” she says, pointing at me like I am a snotty used tissue that doesn’t even belong to her.
That does it. Insulting my literary ability to my face is bad enough, but broadcasting that insult to others is a sin I can never forgive. Love story or not, I know how to finish this one.
“Sorry Felicia, this won’t work out,” I say. “We’re simply not right for each other. I place my heart in your hands, and what do you do with it? You squeeze, squeeze, squeeze until I’m bleeding all over the floor! I can’t take it anymore. It’s not me, it’s you. The End.”
“The End?” she says. “You call this the end? Even your stories finish prematurely! You disgust me.”
In a fit of anger, I grab my notebook and pen and throw them in a nearby bin. As I leave the park, I look up at the sun, the hate in my glare so strong I hope it burns a hole through that great flaming fart.