Sienna’s boyfriend started to disintegrate. It was her 37th birthday. She had only wanted him to tell her something nice. When his body pixelated as he cut the cake, candle wax melting on the frosting, she reached for a knife on the table. “It’s okay,” he said, “One minute you’re here, the next you’re anywhere else.”

She was older and was finding pieces of him around their house, in the backyard, on trailheads and in dumpsters. The sonic etching of his voice in the halls. His Cubs baseball cap on a strange woman’s head at the farmer’s market. “Do you know Hank?” Sienna asked and the woman pressed her lips to Sienna’s. She pulled back and Sienna reached for her. Collapse, she thought. “Expand,” she said.

Sienna was being followed in the night by her boyfriend. He wanted her to feel his presence, but not to look to find him. She knew if she turned, she would see him as spheres of light, or as a murmuration of starlings clumped together to form a body unwhole. She went into their doorway, left the door open as an offering. She stood naked in the doorway, cutting her hair. He was outside, he was a shattering of glass, refracting. She promised him undoing.

Sienna asked a doctor to tell her it wasn’t cancer. He found a tiny koi swimming inside her. He told her it wasn’t cancer. They had a weeklong affair. At the end, they sat on a beach at the ocean. The doctor went into the water and emerged utterly changed. “What did you see?” Sienna asked. He couldn’t say. She left him at the water, unable to explain. Defining her condition felt too much like apology. She cut the koi out herself, left it on the shore just out of reach of the tide.

She started a blog where others could post sightings of Hank. He was a rumor in Austin, a blurry lake monster in Kansas. She bought plane tickets to places she might find him. In each place, she left him a voicemail to let him know he wasn’t where she thought he’d be. In Arizona, she pressed her fingers into her flesh, trying to make sure her heart was in the right place.

She found her boyfriend’s doppelgänger in their bed. She undressed him; bit his ear the way the boyfriend liked. When he was inside her, he said, “This isn’t the same,” and she agreed. She tried to walk through the house unnoticed. She kept the house dark in the daytime. Neighbors stood on the lawn asking if anyone had seen her. They sent in a search party.The double was too depressed to tell them anything. He drank her whiskey and could not remember how to eat, had to relearn the inhalation of air.

She went missing on purpose. A detective was on the case. It was ritual, he said. It was meant to be. It was a cult or any deranged man. He interviewed the doppelgänger, asked him for proof. She watched people search for her at a distance. She waited for her boyfriend to show up, his body particles of dust scattering and dancing on wind. She left clues to her whereabouts. They were always finding traces of her where men wanted her to be found. The detective collected the notes she left for him and folded them into animal shapes. He swallowed each one with a bottle of cheap beer. She led him to a forest. The search party followed. She immolated the trees, made it clear enough for them. The detective said, “This isn’t right, not at all.” He tried to turn back the tide of searchers. They had become predatory. The detective tried to contain them and they bared their teeth. She stood at the fire, licked by its edges. She searched the crowd for Hank, but he wasn’t there. Sienna said, “It’s better this way.” The searchers pushed past the detective and his flailing arms. They ignored his pleas and some hoisted him in the air and carried him to the flames.

Hank was sound waves and contours. He tried to tell her something nice. She asked him to speak up. He melted away. Her disintegrating boy, her missing piece of cake. She was older now and knew where to look to find herself.

The crowd passed Sienna and the flames and came out on the other side. She heard the detective: “You won’t find her,” he said, and she knew this was true, they all wanted something, but they weren’t looking for her.

She gathered the parts of herself together, her body sliced through the night.

Justin Lawrence Daugherty

Justin Lawrence Daugherty

Justin Lawrence Daugherty lives in Atlanta. His novel, You Are Alive, is forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms in 2018. He is the Co-Publisher at Jellyfish Highway Press.
Justin Lawrence Daugherty

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