Fiction by Jessie Lifton

The Loser

I am giving up on hope. In my ears there’s beating. I haven’t spoken to another human being in two weeks. My skin is bleached pale blue. The periphery of my vision is blurry. All that exists is the screen in front of me. The numbers flash by bright, without stopping. A dog is barking.

Try again?

Life is a game of survival. And like with any game worth playing, there are winners and there are losers. The losers are the babies that sit in the trash cans, their bodies turning blue. The winners are the mothers who put them there. The winners live. The winners never cry. The winners do not kill in self defense, because they never need to defend themselves.

I leave the house only when I have to. I live in the fourth room on the basement floor. There is a ramp that leads from the street to my door in case you can’t walk. I leave my room only when I start to burn with pain from hunger. And it does. After a while, if you don’t see to it, and your body begins to shake, it starts lighting up. You’re burning, but not with heat, begging God for a miracle, lying in your own sweat, drowning.

When I was a kid I scratched the fur out of my knees by hand, meticulously. People don’t say things, not when they need to. They don’t see the place where claws used to keep. When I was a kid I used to play dice games in the street. And sometimes you’d know that you were going to lose from the beginning, like an angel had come from on high to whisper to you that it was better to quit while you were ahead. But you’d still be determined to try, and the dice would go flying. And the way they would look, like a couple of little shining rocks from a river bed, sparkling and diving. Like a puppy’s eyes, black and full of life.

I beg. And I plead. It’s my bad habit, my mother once told me, that I beg like a kicked dog for an ounce of affection. She told me this with her hand in my hair, my body lying on the floor, twisted, trying to stop the movement of her arm. In response I opened my mouth and I began to bark. She laid another gash at me and I barked louder. And all you could hear in the whole house right then was her screaming, and me barking, and the sound of skin. And me laughing in her face as she wailed on me. And it was worth it, to laugh in her face. It was worth it because when you’re laughing and they’re screaming it doesn’t matter how badly you get beaten. You lose, but you’re still in the fucking game. Liars I can make of both of us, even here.

I call the sports betting companies, I call the online poker companies. I call the cash in my hand. I call the American Dollar. I call commerce, and industry, and the internal rules of communication. I call them all. One after the other. I have a noose tied around my wrist ready. I looked up how to do it on the internet. For five pages I scrolled through pleas from my screen to call the number on the line if I needed assistance. WE’RE HERE FOR YOU. If you need help, call. Please. Please. Again and again and I keep scrolling. But the words rework themselves into more of the same. Don’t die. But you want me to so Badly! You just don’t know it yet.

I call the customer service line. And I beg to be let off the hook. I ask them. If you ban me. Please ban me. I have a problem. I’ve lost all my money. I need help, and I can’t do it if you let me stay registered. I need you to help me. Something. Something. Something. ex-se-tee-rah.

Like a dog on its knees I’ve been praying my whole life to collapse into the arms of someone who gives a damn. It’s like you ask to live and you get a gun shoved into the inside of your fucking mouth, cocked and ready. You’re a valued customer. WE’RE HERE FOR YOU.

They are relishing in the process that is my slow death. The words rework themselves. WE ARE HERE FOR YOU, again, and again and it’s echoing in my broken eardrums with my eyes on my screen and I want to laugh so badly my chest starts to ache. It doesn’t work that way.

I feel the woman’s eyes watching me. I feel the quality of her sight. The way she can hear more of my true nature from my gasping breaths than I ever could. Even if I stared inside myself for hours and hours without moving or breathing or hearing any of the noise that rings from the white light back into my brain I’d never see myself the way she is able to. She is seeing from miles and miles away, she is noticing the fact that she is not talking to a human being. She is waiting for the other shoe to drop. She is waiting to hear the noises, the real noises I make when no one looks. She is waiting to hear me barking, whining. She scoffs. She sees nothing inside of me that she recognizes. The feeling rings through me, the familiarity of it.

I can tell you what it looks like to lose, I can tell you what it smells like. Good dogs don’t forget. The best of them don’t ever want to.

I let my phone fall from the side of the bridge a mile from my house, when the word begins to haunt me. Nothing. I don’t hear it reach the bottom, because the sound of people walking and talking and breathing behind me drowns out everything that matters. And when I walk home I feel so empty it’s like I’m just a shadow. I’m just a shadow walking behind this husk of wood which calls itself… And nothing is real because it’s all under a layer of mist. Nothing is funny anymore, not in the way it used to be. Not in a way that matters. And on the wall by my house some asshole has written Free Palestine, like it matters to me. I put my fist through the letters but my hand does nothing to the wall. Instead it comes back broken, and bloody, and smelling like nothing, again. I fall to the ground dry heaving from the pain. The word won’t leave me alone. I’ve stopped thinking like a person and started to think like an animal. If the thoughts come fast and common enough they won’t amount to anything but lost change.

I sat on the train yesterday at five in the morning to go to my great aunt’s house. The back door is wide open, waiting for me.

There’s a second before you win or lose, when all your money is on the line, and the wheels are spinning, and the dealer is flipping his hand. And that one second can stretch out into infinity if you want it bad enough. That one second is a rough hand on your arm without anyone on the other side of the palm. It is my owner holding me, his hand in my hair, closer, closer, but not ever close enough for a fist to land.

The screen in front of me is so bright it makes the rest of the room look like the back end of the night. It has died my brain is dyed neon pink. It has rendered the walls of my brain completely smooth. Now there is no rockface for me to hold onto inside of myself.

She has twenty rolls of hundred dollar bills beneath her mattress.

I go home, but I don’t turn the lights on anymore.

The way it feels is indescribable, because it doesn’t feel like anything. That’s the point. It’s a branding on that point of your skull where the icepick goes. My skin, it grows atop my skin. The brightness. It holds me, the place between two atoms, the place where objects aren’t allowed to meet. I have eighty lives left.

And then you look up and it’s like you don’t know where you are. Or when you are. You’ve lost time, it’s now five hours later. The computer screen has eaten you into a blank space. The sky is dark where it was once light. God has turned his face away while I wasn’t looking. Dogs don’t ask if they’re going to be destroyed. Or whether or not they will do it to themselves.

I have learned that failure is a stepping stone for ceaselessness. I’ve barked, and I’ve howled, and I’ve redownloaded the only thing that I’ve ever really loved. And when you love, really love, it’s always a sort of death. Real love is the tears that go down but never out. It is babies in dirty clothes waiting for the sound of feet on the floor that they would recognize even in death. It is the backhand of a clenched fist. It is the wheel spinning, spinning, spinning. It is landing on RED. BLACK. 32. 25.

It doesn’t matter to me whether I win or lose. That’s not what it’s about. I’m always losing. I was born to it. I was born to lose it all and fuck off and die and draw down into the ground like a piece of trash. Like a dog beneath the house, who crawls into the dark to lick its wounds and expire silently.

My head hurts so bad I could pound it against the wall. Take my anger and make it me. What I mean is take my anger and put it inside the fucking computer where I live now and make it so bright that the light of heaven itself can’t compare. The sun is rising. The colors are dull.

Strength is not relative. I just don’t have it. Only human beings are entitled to rights. Only the strong, only the winners, deserve dignity. And I am not strong. And I am not a winner.

Jessie Lifton

Twitter: @jessiechrxst

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