In my first year at university, I became obsessed with my lab partner. Johnno had snowy-blonde hair and skin so pale he looked as though he’d been dipped in milk. He wore black jeans, and black t-shirts emblazoned with album covers from obscure bands: Jellyfish, Torment, Cataclysm.

Our lab was at five PM on Fridays. Through the window, I’d wistfully watch the other students streaming towards the pub like tadpoles. When the autumn trees blazed red-orange, Johnno asked that the formaldehyde-imbued curtains be drawn. But when winter arrived, he pressed his fingers against the foggy glass, drinking in the darkness like Guinness.

“Do you sleep in a coffin?” I asked, taking in his mascara-laden eyelashes, and black fingernails.

Johnno laughed. “I’m a collector of the absence of light,” he said, and offered me a licorice stick.

One day, we found a thigh in our dissection tray, of the Homo sapiens variety.

“Surely this was meant for the medical students,” I said. Johnno parted the leathery skin with his scalpel, his face moon-smooth with delight.

“Nerve, artery, vein,” he recited. Next, we isolated the muscles—vastus lateralis, vastus medius, sartorius. When I inserted my finger into the inguinal canal, Johnno’s licorice-and-Coke breath curled into my cochlea: “I want more.”

The following evening, I followed my albino goth around the back of the medical school, where he hoisted me through the window. We gazed at the rows of draped cadavers, laid out like sardines in a can. Johnno pulled back a sheet, reverently gazing at the body beneath.

I set the video on my phone to record. Johnno picked up his scalpel, reciting: temporalis, parotid, sternomastoid foramen. Later, the cranium, and a saw.

“Behold the brain,” Johnno said, in hushed tones. With gloved hands, I explored the sulci and gyri, the crests and valleys of a forbidden kingdom.

Afterwards, we went back to my flat, the bedroom curtains open to the moonlit night. Johnno ran his tapered fingers down my eyelids, skirting the angles of my jaw, over my erect nipples, across the plane of my stomach and into the curve of my hips.

His fingers settled on my groin, nerve-artery-vein—my life pulsing beneath his hand, my heart spinning. He lowered his head, pressing his lips to my winter-cool skin. I tipped my head back, and as he entered me, ever so gently, his teeth grazed my neck.

Epidermis, dermis, jugular vein, his seed spilling into me, my blood spilling into his mouth, blood on snow. Oh.

“That was my first time,” he said. And then he left.

The following Friday, the seat beside mine was empty.

I still have the recording of my albino goth and I, in the dissection room. In my video, Johnno is milky and beautiful, his movements fluid. In my video, Johnno is luminous, like the moon on the night he loved me.

I sense him, often, in the photo-negative of shadows. In my dreams, his fingers flow into my veins, chasing the absence of light.

Eileen Merriman

Eileen Merriman

Eileen Merriman’s debut young adult novel, Pieces of You, was published in June 2017 (Penguin). Her second YA novel, Catch Me When You Fall, will be published in January 2018. Her awards include three times third place winner in the 2014- 2016 Sunday Star Times Short Story competitions, second in the 2015 Bath Flash Fiction Award, and commended in the 2015 Bath Short Story Competition. Her work has previously appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including the Sunday Star Times, Smokelong Quarterly, The Island Review, Literary Orphans, the Bath Short Story Anthology, the Bath Flash Fiction Anthology, F(r)iction, Takahe, Headland, and Flash Frontier.
Eileen Merriman

Latest posts by Eileen Merriman (see all)