Brain Strings and Concrete Pavers | Lydia Trethewey

We all have strange habits.


Brain Strings and Concrete Pavers

By Lydia Trethewey

For the DUETS & DUVETS Award


I lie in bed, face in the pillow.

Henry strips off behind me, steps into his boxers. Plonks down on the mattress and wriggles close for a cuddle.

I tense.

“Joanna? You tired?”

I make a small noise indicating yes. My husband rubs my back and switches off the lamp. I shut my eyes and Lance’s face appears.

When I was a kid I always had this feeling, not quite a belief and not as solid as an idea, but some kind of innate visceral intuition that if somebody touched me they’d be able to see my thoughts. Like the physical connection of their fingertips on my body would open up a psychical passageway, and I’d become transparent. My brain knew this made no sense, but my skin believed it.

This feeling also extended out through my feet, and through the back of my head in brain-strings that trailed behind me as I walked, becoming tangled in the landscape. I had to walk in certain patterns so as to not feel anxious or uncomfortable. If someone was standing on the same concrete paver as me, I felt that they too could sense my thoughts, via my feet.

I always monitored my thoughts. There’s a touch of the religious in it; don’t think the wrong thing because somebody is watching. Be faithful, even in your mind. The feeling’s not as present now, aged twenty-six, but sometimes it creeps up.

When I’m with Lance though, all that unease melts away. He makes the world more real.

I don’t remember when I first met Lance, but he comforted me, reassured me. Somehow he understood all the small compulsions I tried to hide, and it didn’t bother him.

I’d always liked the name Lance, which seemed like a meaningful coincidence. I started seeing him every day; he’d meet me when I went for walks, stepping out unexpectedly from behind a tree. It was frightening, but thrilling.

Henry’s deep breathing fills the room, faint lung music.

I imagine Lance’s body, fantasize we’re together. I’m wet. I blush with guilt.

Henry can’t be allowed to touch me, because he’ll see Lance inside my head. He’ll know that I’m a cheater.

Henry rolls over. The image of Lance flees to the edges of my consciousness, like some sick adult version of an imaginary friend, startled by reality. I feel ashamed. I can’t wait to see him again.