The Swamp

Can we speak for a moment? Lucas asks as we settle into bed.

Hope it’s nothing serious, I mutter, face down under the blanket. Raising my head and seeing his face from below, I’m suddenly scared. He is sitting up, against the wall, head bent towards me. I’d never looked at him from this angle, nor seen a face carrying gloom and conceit at the same time. I'm even more scared when he starts speaking.

I’m sorry Nick, I just can’t picture this. You don’t question anything, even yourself.

He pauses, waiting for a response. My widened eyes urge him to continue.

The more I get to know you, the less I understand, and this isn’t really what I’d imagined. I don’t know what to say.

Lucas has always been disapproving of my lack of self-awareness. Of course I didn’t see this coming either.

The room starts to feel waterlogged, his presence on the bed replaced by a thick pool of mud—reeds reaching up from the carpet. Others had brought me to this swamp before.

Fuck I’m stupid, I think, my head swarmed by flies. My body becomes sticky as it slowly sinks, languishing in the noxious silt, worms squirming between my toes.

On the train home, my head is clear but my back aches from lifting people in and out of wheelchairs all week. The school provides a crane, but I can’t help scoop up some of my students when I can. Tonight will be like any other school night: go to the gym, tidy the apartment, make a cup of soup, have a bath, and then bedtime. Life is easier during the school term, when I don’t have to think too much.

Glancing up from my phone, I spot someone across the carriage who looks just like Lucas. The jawline, the stupidly-sculpted eyebrows. He was a dick, that guy is a dick, they’re all dicks, I think to myself, trying not to wince.

He peers back across the train, eyes not settling anywhere, then returns to his phone. I’m suddenly aware of my awful posture, my body submerged in the seat.

The day after Lucas dumped me, I dropped him home in silence. My rage, self-directed, was only just contained by the oppressive air of another rejection. I'll be okay, trying to convince myself while I clutched the steering wheel, everything outside the car evaporating into a stagnant stillness.

Getting off the train, I pull my shoulders back and pretend to be invisible. The air outside is colder and wetter than in the city an hour ago, I can feel it seep through my parka. Pretty sure I can smell mud too.

What if I inhale it? Will it flood my lungs? Will some bacteria enter my bloodstream and turn my skin green? Maybe I’ll become deranged before then.

How far will these vines climb? They’ve already reached the foot of the bed.

Walking from the station, I message Max, he’s probably finished work by now. We’d been chatting for a few days, jokey flirting disguised as ‘being probed by aliens’.

just got a fright from my own reflection
good to know you have a powerful reflection? He replied.
powerful/ugly, same thing I guess
you can’t think that
maybe, not having the best day
tomorrow you'll have a better one
that’s true

Finally home and in the bath, I towel off my hand to pick up the phone.

I send Max a photo of a slumped frog on a log, with a caption: ‘me sitting on the bed after taking a shower looking @ myself in the mirror & wondering how I was ever able to trick anyone into having sex with me’.

I have no idea. I have no idea how I could ever do this again, I think, getting into my damp bed.

The vibration interrupts the increasing weight of my body. It is a photo from Max of a brooding 17th Century man in low light, head propped up by his hand with the caption: ‘sex is cool but have u ever sat in darkness wondering why ur not good enough?’.

More messages come through right as the vines reach my feet.

hard to tell if you’re joking or actually depressed?
hey, next time, maybe I could stay the night?

Is that a breeze? The smell of the room crisper than before, tiny daisies sprouting at the foot of the bed.

The Swamp was written by Jack Loel.
View of the Bridge is another story by Jack, and here are some poems.