Protein Dreams of a New Flesh

I began collecting Genevieve’s hair shortly after she left me. There were of course other traces left behind – poems of faithful love, clothing of sizes that foresaw my loss of appetite, romance novels inscribed with her girlish pink curves, photographs of her brightly painted lips smiling into a blind periphery of my eye. But since all of these devotional gifts had been transformed into antagonizing lies, I found them remarkably easy to toss into the boiler room furnace. The hair, however, seemed more innocent than all those other things which had connected us together. Each sliver of protein I came across, each genetic stitch bearing the entire design of all that she was and all that she consumed, had been a part of her that she once cared for but was now abandoned and forgotten in the corners and shadows of my empty apartment. There seemed to be nowhere that she had not left a dark and discreet part of herself. The long black hairs clung to my entire wardrobe and all of my furniture. They hid in the cracks and grains of the floorboards. They wrapped around the sink and shower drains. A pair of contorted strands were even hibernating at the bottom of the vegetable cooler, which Genevieve used to keep fully stocked in her attempt to sway me toward her own dietary habits. I sifted for her hairs in the dustpan. I combed for them through the hand towels. I peeled them off the adhesive tape that I had carefully dragged across every fabric surface. All this I did until nothing turned up but pubic springs and other pitiful fibers that had escaped my thinning flesh.

With a single hairpin I kept the long strands banded together so that all the follicles were perfectly lined up with each other. Before leaving in the early afternoon to the supermarket, where I worked as a meat cutter, I would leave the tremendous lock of hair curled up like a soft, black snake in the top drawer of my nightstand. When I returned after midnight, I would take out the hair and gently stroke it like a delicate and beloved pet. Often I would fall asleep with the hair lying beside me on the other pillow, where Genevieve used to moan in and out of her dreams.

It was while caressing the hair late one night that I noticed the first change. As I ran my fingers through the thick lock, as I had done so many other times, I discovered that some of the follicles were stuck together. Dismissing this occurrence as residual adhesive from the tape I had used to gather some of the hairs, I simply pulled the ends apart and lay the lock down upon its pillow before falling asleep with my hand resting upon the hair. That same night I had a dream that some serpentine entity crawled onto my bed. Its long body slid against the woolen blanket under which I had buried myself. I felt its head moving toward my face like a wave as I pulled the blanket more tightly around my head. The blanket began slipping from my grip as it pushed its way beneath the edge of my flimsy shelter. Then, just as I covered my eyes with one hand, I felt something like a pair of electrified needles pierce the palm of my other hand. The pain immediately awakened me.

I clicked on the bedside lamp to examine my throbbing hand. The upper palm appeared inflamed and a patch of skin was missing, as if it had been eaten away. But this was not so uncommon, as my hands bore the brunt of deboning and filleting cold and frozen meat all evening. I returned to the bed to examine the lock of hair. Lying limp across the tangle of bed sheets, the hair appeared as innocent as before. But when I picked up the dark mane and stroked it for consolation, my hand instinctively jumped back as if I had been bitten. What I had actually felt, though, was that some of the roots were not only together again but had become somewhat more solidified. And when I touched the hair again, this time rubbing the follicles between my forefinger and thumb, a few white flakes, not unlike dandruff, sprinkled onto my hand. I returned the hair to the nightstand drawer and ambled to the bathroom to wash away the sweat and confusion before beginning another evening in the walk-in freezer.

The following night I removed the hairpin, as all the roots were now tightly fused together. Then I layed back on my bed with the conjoined hair comfortingly resting against my bare chest. That night I dreamed that my bedroom was submerged in a thick but breathable liquid. My blanket drifted away from my body, and then an elongated cloud of black ink floated through the doorway. It slowly swam toward me like a giant eel, its body gradually appearing more fibrous as it approached. Just as the entity was close enough for me to notice that it was in fact a waving bundle of hair, a mouth of sharp teeth, punctuated on either side by a pair of long fangs, opened at the roots and bit into my chest. Awaked by the pain, I sat up in the bed, feeling the lock of hair slide off my wet torso. Then I stumbled to the bathroom and switched on the light to examine my aching chest in the medicine cabinet mirror. The hair, I assumed, had given me an awful rash. Like all hair, it needed to be cared for.

That same week, I bought the same brand of shampoo and conditioner that Genevieve used, the kind that had once left my shoulder and her pillow always smelling of peach soap and mint custard. I was worried that the hair might come apart as I rinsed and lathered it over the bathtub. However the strands were now more tightly bonded than before. In fact while combing through the wet hair, I noticed that all the roots were now embedded in a somewhat elastic substance that I could not yet identify. But what captured most of my attention that night was how sweetly the hair now smelled and how silken it felt. I could not help but to fall asleep with it resting against my cheek. Then I found myself in a cramped, pitch dark place. I wriggled my body, and the space constricted further. I found a foothold behind me, and though it was soft and wet, I managed to slide my body a little ways forward. Then a slowly widening aperture of light appeared before me. Encouraged by the expanding light, I squirmed myself further toward a silhouette of what looked like icicles at the mouth of a narrow cave. Then the mouth began to close, and I realized that I was facing the backside of a creature’s pointed teeth. Its inner body squeezed tighter and digestive acid poured over my face just before I awoke.

I rolled my burning face off the perfumed hair and stumbled bleary-eyed to the bathroom. After turning on the light I startled back from the medicine cabinet mirror, as if someone other than myself had suddenly appeared before me. One side of my face was slightly disfigured by what looked like small ruptured boils. I washed my face with soap and discolored half of it with iodine. Then I returned to the bedroom and clicked on the bedside lamp to examine the hair. The substance at the roots now clearly formed a more skin-like appearance. I looked more closely at the patch of tissue and touched the outer pores. There was no mistaking what tickled the underside of my finger. New hairs had begun to grow.

After that morning I began to feed what was growing in my drawer. At first I cultivated it like a plant, setting the roots into a steel bowl of animal fat that I had trimmed away from various cuts of meat. Every few days the fat needed to be replenished, as the black hair grew in both length and number, spilling profusely over the brim of the bowl and across the pale green counter. Meanwhile the tissue beneath the hair was also continuing to develop. In the early stages the cross-section of the scalp was clearly visible. Through the gelatinous film on the underside of the hair, I observed the skin slowly thicken, followed by a layer of calcification that condensed into bone. Then soft gray bumps, which I initially mistook for mold, gradually bloomed into a soft coral mass. But it was not until the eyes formed that I knew the brain was conscious.

The two small orbs had taken almost a month to swell out from under the frontal lobe. When I held up the lamp to closer exam the new formation, I saw the pupils contract. And when I moved the light away, not only did the pupils dilate, but they aligned themselves in the direction of the lamp. Then they were staring directly into my own fixated eyes. While peering into those naked spheres, into the black holes that pulled me so deeply through blazing irises of hazel green, I felt an intimate familiarity. I had seen such eyes before. They were identical to the eyes of Genevieve.

Believing it irresponsible to continue burying such delicate seeing eyes in a vessel of dark and dense tissue, I soon prepared the next medium of my charge. I bought a cube-shaped acrylic aquarium at the pet shop, and at work I filled two large garbage bags with bones, gristle and any other pieces of animal waste that I could find at the end of the night. At home I set the aquarium on a coffee table beside a window, boiled all the bones and other scraps in large pot of waters, strained the gallons of broth into the aquarium through cheesecloth and then mixed gelatin powder into the consommé. Next I carefully tied the ends of the long black hair to one arm of an adjustable aluminum coat rack so that the half-formed cranium hung in the top part of the aquarium. Then I opened the window to let in the winter chill. Hours later, I placed a lamp on the edge of the coffee table to illuminate the cube of transparent aspic jelly in which was suspended the staring eyes of Genevieve.

Night after night I observed how much further the spinal cord stretched down from the brainstem. I attentively watched the muscles slowly thread together the skull before being so tediously upholstered with the skin of a face that resembled Genevieve in every minute detail. Meanwhile I replenished the aspic whenever the level sunk low, and I gradually raised the adjustable coat rack arm to which the hair had to remain tied in order to support the growing weight of anatomical expansion. Only the exposed entrails—the bulging organs, the branching veins and nerves, the scaffolding bones—would remain submerged in the almost invisible but nourishing aspic. Thus as soon as the vocal chords had finished being strung, I heard the voice of the hanging face:

“Hello, darling.”

It had simply echoed my own words. Though in time I taught it how to speak for itself:

You,” I pointed, “are Genevieve. Ge-ne-vieve. Say ‘I am Genevieve.'”

“I am Ge-ne-vieve.”

Genevieve had the insatiable curiosity of a child:

“But then where does the hair come from?” she asked.

“That is the real mystery,” I admitted.

Yet she also possessed the maturity and sophistication of an adult, so that within only two months I had gone from teaching her nursery rhymes to reading her the tomes of Eastern novelists, Western essayists, and Romantic poets. All the while she listened with great intensity, her knitted brows and pursed lips yielding only to sudden gasps of revelation and excitement.

These were undoubtedly our most pleasant of times, when Genevieve had little more than a sweet voice and a beating heart. So warmly that angelic bust floating atop an aquarium of aspic would smile at me through the shadows of the living room when I returned home from work. So contentedly she would hang from the coat rack, turning away from me only to gaze with vast wonder and appreciation at the sunrise that gilded her downy cheek. So often I would speak with her all through the night, revealing to her the most intimate details of my life before kissing her on the forehead and wishing us pleasant dreams. I told her about how my father used to beat me with his heavy fists upon the rooftop of the apartment building in which I was raised, and about how I never could tell whether he inflicted such punishment there to keep me from running away or in the secret hope that I would jump over the parapet. I spoke about how years later and still sickened by heights, Genevieve coerced me one evening to the rooftop of her apartment building. After climbing the last stairwell and buckling open the door, I stepped into the most wonderful surprise of my life: The parapet had been lined all around with lit candles, and in the center of the tarpaper lie a satin blanket set with a bottle of red wine and plates of sliced produce. I explained to the new Genevieve how all the candle light had turned to silent fireworks as my eyes glazed over with tears. I explained how this had been the beauty of Genevieve: her ability to turn even a trap into an escape. And I described to her how helpless and hopeless I had felt when she told me that she was leaving me, how she suddenly appeared to no longer have been in my life to redeem the wretchedness but to worsen it by abandoning me to a world that I would no longer be able to bear. When I told such things to the new Genevieve, she would let out a sigh of sympathy and call me over to rest her lovely chin on my shoulder in consolation. With her gentle affection and curious innocence, she had returned to me all the salvation that I thought I had forever lost. Then the new Genevieve grew a stomach.

It was a sickly organ, resembling a grossly bloated abscess and prone to sudden spasms that collapsed the aspic into a hideous distortion of biology. At first I regarded the stomach as only a superficial interference between me and my immovable beloved. Then one night, after unlocking and opening the door to my apartment, the hanging bust of Genevieve and her benevolent greeting was missing from its place. The aluminum coat rack had been tipped over, and the floor was profusely spattered and smeared with aspic jelly. An angry groan and scrapping sound came from the direction of the kitchen. I unnervingly followed the winding gelatin trail until the new Genevieve appeared. What had thus far formed of her naked back arched up from the floor as she dragged stumps of her incomplete arms against the bottom of the refrigerator door. All the while her exposed and spasmodic stomach flailed against the faded linoleum like a fish out of water.

“Genevieve,” I called out quietly.

Her head whipped around through a tattered curtain of black hair, exposing a face red and wet with tearful rage. “I’m hungry, goddamnit!”

I picked Genevieve up from the floor and tied her back in place as she screamed and thrashed her head and arms about. The old Genevieve had been a devout vegetarian, so I took out whatever produce I could find in the vegetable cooler. But every piece of fruit and vegetable that I tried to feed her she quickly spit out into my face. And while trying to fit an apple into her gaping mouth, her teeth clamped down so hard on my finger that my blood began running across her lips and down her chin. After I managed to pull my hand free, she licked her lips clean and rolled her hazel eyes up before letting out a long sigh of pleasure.

“I’ll cook you a hamburger,” I offered.

Genevieve’s eyes rolled back down and glazed over in distress. “Please don’t make me wait for it,” she cried.

I took out a plate of ground sirloin that I had defrosted for dinner, sprinkled some salt and pepper onto the meat and kneaded a raw egg into it. Then I pulled up a chair before Genevieve and sat across from her with the steak tartare in one hand and a fork in the other. She groaned and whimpered with each bite I gave here and let out a muffled, “Thank you, darling” before presenting an empty mouth for more. And when the dish was gone, I did as she requested and tilted the plate toward her face so she could lick it clean.

I began feeding Genevieve like this every day, shoveling some quickly prepared dish of raw meat into her salivating mouth shortly before I left for work and as soon as I returned. Sometimes, after opening the door, I would find her writhing across the floor on her growling belly, the coat rack dragging behind her while she sniffed about as if in search of some small prey. And whenever I lifted her up, I would notice how much heavier she was than the last time I had carried her back to her place by the window. It was apparent that since she began eating with her mouth, she had begun growing much faster than before. She soon developed a torso, not unlike that of the Venus de Milo, as well as slender hands with which she quickly learned to feed herself whatever I held up to her face.

One early afternoon, after devouring the beef carpaccio that I had prepared for her, she delicately lay down her fork and knife on the empty plate and said she had something else to ask of me but was somewhat embarrassed to say it aloud.

“Perhaps, I’d feel comfortable whispering it to you like a secret?” Genevieve suggested.

I set the empty plate down on the coffee table. “Whatever pleases you,” I assured her.

She gently pulled me against her naked bosom, and in a soft and long exhale, she whispered, “Fuck me.” Then she suddenly clamped her teeth so tightly on my ear that I was not able free myself without losing a bit of flesh. New restraints would now be needed.

That same I night, after leaving work, I drove to a shop I had never entered before but knew would still be open. While browsing in vain through the candy-colored toys on the wall, a leather-bound salesman with a studded face and an abstractly sculpted coif asked me if I needed help finding anything in particular. I explained my situation as accurately as I could:

“I don’t want to hurt her. I just need to keep her both suspended and properly restrained. Also she bites.”

The salesman was very understanding and had me follow him through a velvet curtain that hid a showroom for my “kind of needs.” Pushing aside the assortment of chains that hung like moss from the ceiling and pulling at some of the buckles and straps that sat angled upon the glass shelves like monstrous jewelry made for aggressive humanoids, the salesman gave me a detailed tour of his boutique dungeon. With his expert advice, I picked out everything I needed; and with his help, I carried it all to the car.

With squinted eyes and a mischievous smile slanting her moist lips, Genevieve closely watched as I assembled her new accommodations. First I erected a rectangular piece of construction in the center of the parlor. To this I attached three lengths of heavy chain—one for each flank and another hanging down from the center of the suspension beam. I then fitted Genevieve with a harness and a pair of cuffs, lacing and adjusting the web of black leather around her torso and wrists until it felt both comfortable and secure. When the ends of the chains were clipped onto the steel ring that fastened Genevieve’s hands to the small of her back, she hung between the wooden boards like a vision appearing in a doorway to nowhere. In this position I placed a silicone ball gag in her mouth and clasped it in place with a thin belt that encircled her lower head. Finally I undressed and let her widened eyes pull me until my body was pressed against her girded flesh. Hot breath sighed from her nose as I entered inside of her. The wooden frame creaked, the chains rattled and stifled moans resounded loudly in her throat. When it was over I hung upon her hanging body as if the world beneath me had disappeared.

During the time that Genevieve’s legs were growing, she remained chained to the suspension beam with both hands cuffed behind her back. But while she was in bondage, I was her slave. I catered to her insatiable hungers, feeding her the choicest cuts of raw meat she now asked for before replacing the gag between her teeth so I could please her in other ways. Nevertheless whenever I took the fork or silicone ball out of her mouth, she would say with mocking confidence, “You really don’t have anything else, do you?” I would simply turn away from her smirking lips only to hear a disparaging laughter behind my back.

However just when I thought Genevieve had lost all affection for me, she suddenly appeared gentle again. Her chin was resting over my naked shoulder, and I felt something other than sweat pouring down the side of my neck. When I turned to her eyes I saw, for the first time, that she was crying. I loosened the clasp at the back of her head and pulled down the ball gag.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“I have feet,” she quietly sobbed.

I looked down at the small toes that shyly curled inward in a soft punctuation of the graceful slopes of her bare legs. “They’re lovely,” I said.

“Then won’t you let me use them?” she asked.

I looked into her melting eyes and then lowered my own.

“I want to walk to bed,” she cried. “I want to lie down with you.”

“But you bite.” My own eyes began welling up, and I tightly embraced Genevieve as if the chains that held her in place had suddenly snapped.

“I would never hurt you,” she wept.

When I returned home from work the following night, Genevieve appeared as if she were hanging from the gallows. Only when I presented her with an uncooked filet mignon did she finally acknowledge my presence, meekly shaking her head and quietly uttering that she was not hungry. After putting her uneaten dinner away, I ran my finger down her naked thigh in vain. For some time afterward I sat and stared at her silent and bound form, taking in the curves of flesh, the downward pointing toes that hovered just above the floor and the long black hair that hid her downturned face. Then I approached her and began unfastening the leather cuffs. When her hands were free, they circled around the back of my neck, embracing me with all her weight as I undid the last restraints. She continued holding me tightly as I slowly lowered her down onto her tender feet. With one slender arm across my back and my tense fingers pressed into the soft crescent of her waist, I carefully guided her to the bedroom. As soon as she was seated on the woolen edge of the mattress, she began undressing me, delicately plucking out the buttons and stripping away my blood-clouded uniform with her patient hands. Then she gently lay my submitting flesh beside her before bringing down upon me her parting lips.

I dreamed that night of being on a rooftop with Genevieve. We were formally dressed in black and sitting cross-legged on opposite sides of a white cloth, upon which had been set stemmed glasses of blood and silver plates of raw meat. Red candles stood nearby, their perfectly still flames tearing small holes in the unfathomable darkness that surrounded us. Genevieve took up her glass and tipped it toward her mouth. The blood poured dark crimson over her lips and chin and down her black dress until the white cloth between us was entirely submerged. When she finally straightened the glass, her bloody lips bent into a sympathetic smile that faded away as she spoke: “How one escapes when in the belly of the beast.” She lowered her pensive eyes, and a gust of wind blew her hair across her face as the candle flames fluttered away. I stood up and began frantically searching for Genevieve through the darkness, calling out her name without any response and blindly running across the rooftop until I suddenly stepped off the edge. Then I awoke to find myself alone in the bed.

I immediately got out of bed and began to search for Genevieve through the apartment, calling out her name without any response and running from one empty space to another. After finding no one in any of the rooms, closets or cabinets, it occurred to me that there was only one other place for Genevieve to go. I quickly dressed and hurried to where Genevieve lived.

There was no response when I knocked on the door to Genevieve’s apartment. For some time afterward, I paced up and down the empty hallway. Then I knocked on the door in vain again. Finally I returned to elevator. But when the steel doors buckled open, what looked like the old Genevieve appeared in the car. Her arms were laden with two full paper bags, and her curvaceous body, adorned in chocolate brown pumps, a long black skirt, and an emerald green satin blouse, served as a stark reminder of how lovely Genevieve looked with clothes on. A slightly troubled demeanor warped her brow as she noticed me.

“I wanted to know if you were okay,” I said.

“Okay,” she said, stepping out of the elevator and slowly making her way through the dim light of the corridor.

“May I help you carry your groceries?” I asked, following alongside of her.

“Okay,” she repeated, looking straight ahead and away from my eyes.

I pulled one of the bags from her arm and waited as she unlocked the door. Then I followed her inside, closing the door behind me. Genevieve set down her bag on the pale yellow kitchen table, where we used to eat melon slices around a pair of freshly cut flowers.

“May I help you put your groceries away?” I asked, walking toward the refrigerator.

“That’s okay,” said Genevieve, taking the bag from me.

“I want to help you,” I said, grabbing the bag again.

“I’m okay,” she said, pulling the bag from my hands.

“But I can help you,” I insisted, reaching for the bag again.

As Genevieve jerked the bag from my fingers again, it fell from her own hands and onto the floor. Both of us watched in dismay as cellophane wrapped packages of raw meat, along with other supermarket products, spilled past our leather shoes.

“I can explain,” said Genevieve, looking up into my widened eyes.

A wave of hot blood rushed to my head and melted away all thoughts as my hands suddenly lunged toward Genevieve and tightened around her slender neck. Then my entire weight collapsed her body down beside the fallen meat.

“You left me, you fucking bitch!” I shouted, my thumbs squeezing harder into her shrinking throat.

Genevieve’s mouth opened in vain as tears streamed out the corners of her eyes and across her reddening face. Then the tears stopped, as if the bulging hazel eyes had been squeezed dry, and her stare turned blind. Finally I loosened my hands, and her heavy head turned upon a shroud of black hair. As if practicing a role I had already performed, I quickly put on a pair of leather gloves that were in my coat pocket and took out from the closet in the bedroom the largest piece of luggage with wheels. Contorting all her dead weight into a fetal position, I managed to neatly enclose Genevieve into the suitcase. Then I put all the groceries away and wheeled her out of the apartment, setting the lock and wiping the knobs clean before closing the door behind me.

Upon returning to my own apartment building, I disassembled and rearranged the suspension beam into a funeral pyre upon which I set the lifeless Genevieve before slowly feeding her into the boiler room furnace. I watched the hungry flames rise up all around her supine body until the long black hair finally crumbled entirely into bright embers that disappeared like silent fireworks into the darkness above. Then I returned to my apartment to bury myself in slumber. But just as I was leaning over the unmade bed, I noticed a long sliver of Genevieve’s black hair lying, as if asleep, upon one of the pillows. I carefully picked up the hair and placed it in the top drawer of the nightstand before crawling upon my hands and knees, continuing again to collect across the haunted corners and shadows of the aging floorboards and empty rooms the last traces of our innocent remains.

by Elahzar Rao

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