By Antony Buonomo
My body loves playing tricks on me. Just loves it. I have to keep a really close eye on him.
It. Him. It. I’m never sure.
Actually a close eye is not enough, I really need eyes in the back of my head. I’m tired of the constant need for alertness, my ability to rationally analyse each situation has gone. Has my leg always hurt in that position? How long have I had trouble holding a book? I am bleary. It’s possible that I just haven’t noticed. I can’t tell anymore.
I close my eyes and listen hard to my body. I listen so hard I can hear my heart crying.
Sometimes it’s weeks before I realise I’ve been had, but when finally the penny drops I find myself wracking breath, blinking eyes and sick smile smeared over my face. Pathetically grateful that it turned out to be a vicious practical joke. Very funny, I twitch; thanks. Very funny. But you won’t catch me again I say nervously; looking over my shoulder.
I know that’s not true. It’s been years and I never learn. My arms feel like two bags of cold wet sand.
Deep in the night I wake, gasping. In stricken panic and with bulging eyes I over-react wildly to a full-frontal alert which turns out to be just a distraction. Eventually fatigue takes me and I sleep again. The next morning I find a silent incursion has robbed me of a wrist movement.
I should marvel at my body’s ingenuity and cunning. Like a well-trained guerrilla fighter he senses soft, neglected or poorly defended targets; a seldom used finger perhaps, or an already weak neck muscle. He thinks nothing of hiding in wait, just out of my perception, peering through the undergrowth, hunched, living on grubs and berries, silently noting the security lapses; formulating strategies for months on end. I think of his malevolent chuckling when the plan is conceived and he imagines the impending havoc. My body’s body is muscle and sinew. Nothing like mine. It is a picture of gleaming firmness. Gliding, precise movements. Total control.
When he does strike I am reeling. After a raid I patrol the perimeter with feverish vigour. I assess the condition of the crumbling compound and post more sentries but the relentless vigilance and the repelling of continuous diversionary attacks has induced paranoia.
My body exploits this fully, he delights in combining the feigned assault with the genuine attack. While he’s working on fooling me into thinking I am losing the use of my thumb, he hits a small jaw muscle with a precise, ninja-like strike. The assassin has rejoined the bush shadows before the poor, stupid muscle has stopped twitching on the ground.
Some of my body’s more exquisite pranks rely on psych-ops so he head-hunts an accomplice, the best he can find; no messing, he goes straight to the top. I’ve seen him out there, deep in the gloom, conspiring, recruiting my mind. I thought my mind would be stronger, but it doesn’t take long before I see him fogging over, dumb and suggestible.
With a charming grin (he has great teeth) my body bends close to my mind and starts whispering; slyly coercing, cajoling, seducing, offering… What? I don’t know. I can’t hear. My ears are jokers. They are usually reliable and too dumb to stab me in the back (my back and I respect each other, he is weak but loyal) but they love practical jokes. Random hisses and pops just when I need them most.
I see confusion passing over my mind’s face, then a half-hearted defiance. But my body’s mind is stronger than my mind’s mind and I see the resistance waning. It’s not long before I see the bewilderment return and then my mind meekly agrees to go along with the plan. My body gives a small triumphant smile. It’s frustrating. I know my mind is not really that stupid, but possibly he’s just bored and needs the perverted exercise. Or maybe he’s scared.
So now, with mind and body working together, the game becomes more elaborate and complicated. Strangely, I seem to be able to cope with this more easily, at least initially. Over the years I have developed some neat counter-moves and the opening exchanges are swift and usually they leave us slightly breathless, but equal. The game could be something to do with dangling a job prospect or a promise of money, but these are mundane examples and, to be honest, I don’t even play any more when it’s stuff like this. I barely engage, I can’t muster the enthusiasm for these small temptations. Too much work for meaningless reward.
No, the real plan is to get me to begin playing without realising it. I know I will have a moment of clarity, but by then it will be too late and suddenly I will be standing in a clearing with the game already begun.
It’s a woman. It’s always a woman. Of course it is. They have chosen her well, they nearly always do.
I try to focus. I drop into a relaxed but wary stance, balanced and ready to strike in any direction. For a moment, she looks at me, confused. But then we open with pleasantries and I counter her slight unease with jokey charm and politeness and she responds well. I glance around nervously for hidden traps or blindside attacks.
She stars to speak and I employ the listening strategy, it works and before I know it the first phase is over. At this stage my manoeuvering is smooth and automatic but from the shadows I feel my body and mind watching, their eyes bright with repressed glee and anticipation. My mind is fully on board now, any hesitancy is long gone. So full of spite that even my body is surprised. Pleasantly surprised, obviously.
I think things are going well but I know better than to lose concentration. I almost miss her smile and question because at one point I’m sure I see them arguing over tactics. I can’t concentrate. I hear them giggling childishly. Something is going wrong, but I don’t know what.
Then, helplessly, behind her, and almost out of sight, I see my tongue being tied. I start sweating. She watches politely as my foot makes its way into my mouth. I try and convince her it’s actually my tongue nestled in my cheek, but it’s quite obvious to both of us it’s my foot.
She smiles sympathetically, and I watch her walk away.
Later, as I lie in the darkness, curled in bitterness and self-hate, I think I can hear my mind watching me from the corner. I sense his shame, he wants to help me, but he doesn’t know how. He resorts to indifference. We can both hear my body outside, confidently strutting, occasionally peeping in to look at me. For a second I see one eye and a sliver of a crazy smile. Then it’s gone.
These are the worst moments.
I cry. I cry my heart out. Then I stop crying and just look at my heart, there, lying on the ground. It’s a little larger than I remember and is bleeding slightly. At that moment it occurs to me that I may have been doing something wrong all this time. I pick up my heart and put it on my arm. Wiping away tears I go outside into the sunshine. In my wheelchair I pick a spot, sit and wait. I try not to look at my body.
But he comes and stands over me and for the first time I see uncertainty in my body’s eyes. Some suspicion that something may have changed. He stares at me, head cocked; his mouth smiles, but his eyes don’t. He doesn’t blink. He is calculating something, a new game possibly.
After a minute he strides away. Making sure I can see him, he grabs my stomach and starts filling it with butterflies. As soon as I see this, I know what’s coming. Not a new game, an old one. But I feel ready now. I close my eyes and as the warm sunshine hits my eyelids they make a contented murmur.
She steps out of the shadows and asks to sit down. I open my eyes and smile. I don’t bother looking for traps. My body is doing press ups quite near us, but I don’t think she glances over there once. I try to apologise for his behaviour, but she just laughs a little when I open my mouth and a couple of small butterflies flutter out. She looks down at the heart on my sleeve and she says it’s quite big. I’m not sure, even though I really want to believe her.
We look at each other for a long moment. My eyes are me. I feel she is looking at me. Out of the corner of my vision I can see my body doing a one-armed handstand. If I didn’t hate him I’d be very impressed. But somehow I can feel his desperation, I can hear him panting. She doesn’t look, she just smiles at me, and I smile back. When I look down my mind is in the crook of her elbow and she is gently stroking him. He looks more peaceful than I can remember. Playfully, she starts twisting him around her little finger and we laugh.
I want to reach up and touch her cheek, push her hair behind her ear, trace the outlines of her lips with my finger but my body immediately stops his bodybuilding poses, leaps over to me and grabs my wrists and forces them down. For a moment his leering face is all I can see, it fills my vision. I’ve never seen him this angry before. His (perfect) teeth are going for my throat.
But suddenly he is knocked back and goes sprawling. It’s my mind. I hardly recognise him. He looks bulky, like he means business.
My body just sits there in the dirt. Rage and frustration run to him from the shadows and help him up. He still looks unsteady though. He sees my mind standing guard in front of me, then makes a big show of ignoring us and starts doing jumping jacks.
For the first time I see how pathetic he looks. He looks obsessed. Empty and desperate.
I feel beautiful fingers caress my face. The fingers move gently through my hair and in front of me I can hear a purring sound coming from my mind. I close my eyes. When I open them she is looking quizzically at the palm of her hand. She has found a small key on a chain around my neck that I had no idea existed. I try to speak. More butterflies.
She removes the key and looks closely at my heart. For a second it stops beating. We look closely and right in the centre is a tiny keyhole. I can’t believe I’ve never seen it before. She inserts the key and turns. My heart opens and inside I can see another heart. It starts to glow. For a moment I am just staring into my heart of hearts.
Our heads are close together now and she gives me a soft kiss on the lips.
Suddenly I find myself toppling, my head falling forwards over my heels, I don’t really understand what’s happening. My body has stopped cavorting and is just looking at me, confused, breathing heavily.
Then I feel her hand on my shoulder, pushing me upright again. She looks at me, and gives me a sweet shake of the head, smiling.
“Not yet.” She says.
I nod. But over her shoulder I can see my ears lolling around in the sun. Her words go in one and come out the other.