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After Instalove

Phoebe has an MFA in poetry from the University of Florida and has attended the Viable Paradise Workshop and the Books with Bite Workshop at the Highlights Foundation. Her novels, Starglass and Starbreak, were published by Simon & Schuster. Another is forthcoming from HarperCollins in 2020.
1. It's been two years since you met, eighteen months since you defeated Thanatos. You expected something bigger. Europe, maybe. Instead, 28 days out of 30, you're doing the same shit that the other kids from your high school do: community college, shows at the VFW, making out in the backseat of his mom's Volvo. It felt special once, magical. Not anymore. Not after you've saved the world.
Those other two days, you don't talk about. Not at first.
2. You transfer and you and your roommate have a sit-down chat about how your half-dead boyfriend can only visit on Tuesdays and Thursdays when she has late night comp. You don't tell her about the nights you hunger deep and yawning. You just ask if you can have the bed by the window. She says okay, she won't smoke in your room anyway. By mid-November, all of your clothes smell like Parliament Lights.
3. In an extra long twin bed, you cling to him. He pins you down, gripping your scruff in his teeth. Your eyes go big and wide. Feral. He has you caught.
4. You decide to go on the pill. Maybe that will Fix This. But now, instead of being mostly girl, and sometimes monster, you're one quarter monster all the time. You don't want him to touch you. The taste of blood is always in your mouth. When he takes off your mittens in the middle of the quad at night, he sees the fur on the backs of your hands, coiled, like the springs of a watch ticking down the seconds until your alarm goes off.
5. That summer, you try to ask your mom about it, your little sister. But you find yourself dancing around the question. It's like when you and your friends used to talk about touching yourselves. Do you--?" "I don't--?" Naming it with a pause, a lick of the lips. But they don't get it. It hasn't happened to them. When they bleed, they only bleed. They don't shed fistfuls of fur, dapple grey. They don't wake up with the smell of a dog's body tangled up with their fabric softener. They don't wake with someone else's flesh between their teeth.
But they never saved the world, either. There are benefits to being different, too.
6. Papu dies and you go up into his attic and poke through the dirty letters Memaw wrote him during the war. I want you so bad I could tear your skin off in long strips and slurp them up, but that can't be what she wrote, you have to be reading it wrong, her handwriting is so awful. You and cousin Jayne laugh about it but all you can think is, fuck, it skips a generation. And something solidifies in your mind. It's time to get off the pill.
7. He doesn't like using condoms, but he's glad the animal is back inside you. Claw marks. Growling. Tracy walks in on you guys. You forgot to put the scrunchy on the door knob.
8. You decide to try talk therapy. You decide to try CBT. "I change into another person at night," you say, even though person isn't the right word, not really.
"Maybe you can try not doing that," is what your therapist says.
9. The fighting starts again, the shattered lamp on the floor again. It's like he knows all your secrets now, like the myths you shared are dead. Sometimes you wake up in the night and remember Thanatos, the cold clutch of his hands around your throat. It thrilled you more than you cared to admit. There's a half-dead boy in the apartment bed beside you. No, he's a man now. He wears a mustache. He breathes easily, uncomplicated. If you press yourself into him, he'll wake up and bury his face in your fur.
10. It'll be another decade before you figure it out. Pup on one breast, baby on the other, milk streaming down onto the autumn leaves below. You're crying, but not really crying. It's like joy is splitting your rib cage in two. Just last week, when you were still round with babies, Adam read you something off google news: a football field in Zarephath was found blanketed in dead crows. Thanatos is returning. Those cold hands shiver close.
But if he touches your babies, goddess help him, you'll tear out his throat with your teeth. You'll eat his liver for breakfast. The moon is full overhead. It's a sane moon, steady and bright.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, December 24th, 2018

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