Manzano Mountain Review is an online New Mexico literary journal affiliated with UNM-Valencia.

Then Rise

by Toti O'Brien 

Let me start right there, on the sofa. Meaning closer to the end than to the beginning. But it seems a good place—though the adjective is off, for it isn’t a good story I’m about to tell. So I assume there isn’t a good starting place. The sofa might do.
He almost worshipped the old burgundy relic. Nothing wrong, intimacy between people and couches is common. It belonged to him, even transplanted into my house, which was now morphing into his house, because of how he placed the furniture. He meticulously reproduced the plan of his bachelor flat, only prototype—he believed—of decent habitat, even for a family of three (I, the owner of the premises, had a child).
Not a problem who owned or who assumed architectural leadership. Such details play a minor role, though his increasingly bossy attitude in determining what rooms should contain—why my stuff should be thrown away—set the tone for further incomprehension.
A tone… how should I call it? Of invasion? Exile maybe? House detention? The prisoner in my own place, alas, being me. Isn’t it just what happened that night on the sofa? A scenario of invasion, evasion, exile.

It was his birthday, and the second anniversary of our encounter. I mean virtual acquaintance, for we had met online. He had subscribed to the dating site as a self-given present. Then I became the gift, for I appeared on screen the same evening. And I worked out—slowly for his taste. Very rapidly, in fact. At the point we could celebrate our anniversary on the day of the initial discovery, without much adjustment.
So we had celebrated. He had chosen a restaurant where he had been on business related occasions. Perfect place for business. Impersonal and chaotic. Wide and crowded. Quite ugly, but does beauty matter?
The restaurant had an eat-all-you-can buffet for a fixed price. Exactly what he was looking for. He first apologized for being a pig, then lightheartedly applied himself to the task. He pigged out at the buffet, drank a lot, then we went to the balcony for a breather. It was under construction, dusty, obstructed by scaffolding. The reduced view hovered above two freeways crossing.
I tried to find something to look at in that squalor. A slant of surrealism? Something comical, something to make me laugh. I’m not sure I found it. He didn’t help. He was opaque, distracted… he had a thought in the back of his mind.
He had decided to visit the other side of the restaurant—the “ethnic” one—where a different eat-all-you-can buffet could be enjoyed. I accompanied him. Again he piled a mound on his plate then he munched on, ecstatic and wordless. I had never seen him so greedy, he was usually more contained. But tonight was a treat. A true one.


I understand the hour we spent on the sofa, then, was kind of concave. Devoted to digestion for him. For me already belonging to the night, to silence. Nothing was said I should remember.
At the moment to get up and transfer to bed, his hand motioned towards the lamp to turn the switch off. The gesture set his body off balance. I saw him lose control, then start falling with a long twist, a strange torsion. Something inside me yelled: “No!” but I didn’t make a sound. I was between him and the floor.
While he had reached for the switch he had come on top of me. Maybe he didn’t want to get up after all. Maybe he wanted to make love. I didn’t realize. Or did I. Maybe I wished not to guess, or to allow, or to respond. Not sure. My reaction might have been incongruous. I might have hinted at turning. I might have shifted instead of welcoming him. I don’t truly recall: it all went too fast… a matter of inches, of seconds.
But it also went slow—don’t ask me how it is possible. We fell slowly, like astronauts walking on the moon. I remember the two of us suspended, levitating between the couch and the carpet—a prodigy. And the scream buried inside me, imploring but hopeless.
He fell heavily—the food and drink suddenly a dead burden. Under him I kept twisting, as if trying to look elsewhere, run away. I heard the crack. I saw my foot dangling at the weirdest angle.


In bed, where I dragged myself, I started shivering. The fracture must have caused an immediate fever. My teeth clattered. I shook all about, my head burning. With a glass of water in hand, he forced me to swallow painkillers—I never did, but tonight I should make an exception. My ankle ached acutely. It throbbed.
For some reason we didn’t go to the hospital. I was scared, and he wasn’t lucid enough to persuade me. This could wait until morning, we assumed. I calmed down. I breathed in and out, in and out. The pills helped. I welcomed sleep.
I woke up in the dark, my chest oppressed by discomfort. Consciousness surfaced after a short delay. My eyes opened wide but I remained motionless, limp.
We had discussed the issue before, many times and (I had hoped) ultimately. I had asked him to stop. He had promised. I had asked him to stop for he had done it profusely—with me awakening in terror each time. I could take it no more.
Strange… it hadn’t been the case in the past. I had liked half-conscious lovemaking—a common occurrence. Falling asleep at some point, waking up to realize my partner had started, glad to take it from there. Not with him. Why? Was it an age-related phenomenon? Was I getting old? Was it something in his attitude? Something furtive. As if (in fact) he didn’t want me to wake up.
But I did each time, without recognizing him. Strenuously fighting sleep, because of the awareness someone was fucking me who shouldn’t. I felt panicked. I rushed towards the edge of the mattress. I put my feet on the floor. The cold tiles sort of pulled me together. Again I breathed in and out.
“Don’t,” I whispered. “Please, don’t. Not when I’m fully asleep. Not when I’m unconscious. I don’t know it is you. You scare me to death. I am sorry.” For months I apologized. His persistency, false acquiescence, his carelessness, hardened me in the end.
Why did he? Prostate problems. It took him longer to come. Way too long. Sometimes he just couldn’t—he got stuck. Then, in the depth of night, something unglued itself, something got untied. Because I was gone, disappeared into sleep? Did he like it best? Maybe so.
Also, if I was asleep, he could take my ass without asking. He knew that after delivery it had become painful. I could give it—not daily, not in massive portions. But if I was asleep he could self-serve. All you can eat. On both sides.
There he was now. Well, it was his birthday. Why did I find it more hurtful than ever? For he had broken my bones—unintentionally, of course—and I throbbed with fever and pain? Did he give me pills on that purpose? For me to be that sleepy, that numb? I couldn't help such conclusion.

I had the impulse of rolling away, putting my feet on tiles. But my ankle was killing me and I didn’t move. Couldn’t truly. Frantically, he was screwing my ass… not sure if it hurt and how much—pain was too spread for me to discriminate. And it didn’t matter. I wanted to go through the ritual, understand how it felt.
How was it—how is it—to fuck something unaware, inanimate, absent? How did it feel for him? Of course I’d never know. How did it feel for me? I looked into that squalor, seeking something my attention could grab. Something worth to be learned, something comical maybe. Or surreal, why not? But I could grasp nothing because—at the speed of light—I ceased being.
I was out of there, period. The condition for this thing to occur was my nullity. Could it have been clearer? I doubt it. Every inch of me was vacuumed out. Voided. It was humbling, and extremely quiet. It was ugly, but does beauty matter?
I’m not sure I was breathing. If yes, very lightly. I wondered if I’d reappear at some point. Wake up. Limp away.

Toti O'Brien is the Italian Accordionist with the Irish Last Name. She was born in Rome then moved to Los Angeles, where she makes a living as a self-employed artist, performing musician and professional dancer. Her work has most recently appeared in DIN Magazine, Panoplyzine, Courtship of Wind, and Colorado Boulevard.