The Imaginary Lover Toxicity Scale
1. Lover is harmless. Nameless and faceless, a composite rockstar with Adam Levine’s forearms and young Bono’s dark hair. In your indulgent loneliness, you stare at the light on your ceiling—its frosted globe and pewter nipple—thinking you feel that sturdy, that luminous, that electric when he’s inside you, thinking you can hit the switch at any time.
2. Lover always calls in his lunch order. You dread the phone but hope for his voice every time it rings. Sometimes you think he’s flirting with you when he says, kale salad, lightly dressed.
3. Lover is too cool for school. How could he love a moderately attractive girl like you? To get his attention, you put your fist through the boob light. You nearly drip to death before he binds your ragged flesh. Sorry, clumsy, you mutter, burning to punch it again.
4. Lover has considerable virtuosity in the culinary arts. (One year he was even a Chopped champion). You wear a dress the jelly-jewel red of raw tuna, and he feeds you sashimi straight off the knife.
5. Lover approves of your haircut, though he secretly wishes you’d gone blonde. Over white wine and crab dip, you tell him he’s imaginary. He looks at you like you’re a canvas covered in paint balloons, like the only way he knows how to create is to destroy.
6. Lover gets into your bloodstream, and it feels like being hit in the head with a flower mallet. You wake up and daisies are rioting on the ceiling. You wake up and you’re naked, spooning a dog. You wake up with super-vision; you can see beads of blood travel through his veins. You wake up with a devastating headache. You wake up cackling and speaking calmly at the same time, and you’re not sure which voice is yours.
7. Lover hides a pea under your mattress. You are hysterical. You can’t find it and you can’t sleep. Friends and family won’t say the pain you’re feeling isn’t real. Instead they will say, I believe that you believe.
To Break the Curse
Hold him as a millipede, shiny and striated
and wrapping itself up your arm. Hold him
as a glutinous pink squid with snapping beak
and flailing tentacles, as it spurts warm ink
on your face and clothes. Hold him as a hyena
foaming with fleas, a quenchless vampire bat,
a swarm of hornets. Hold him as nameless
atrocities, creatures you shouldn’t be able to see
without a microscope. Hold him between
your knees as a bucking horse, as he grows
iron plating and leathery wings
and lungs that spew acrid yellow smoke.
Hold him as a dragon, as he shatters
a stand of sequoias with one sweep
of his studded tail. Between his scales, a dark,
smoldering mass like a bed of coals.
Hot to the touch—hold him as your palms blister
and the blisters burst. Hold him as he trips
over his own thrashing weight and into
the deep end of the lake. Hold him
as you’re engulfed in steam, as his scales cool
and crumble like charcoal. Hold him till you feel
human fingers intertwine with your own.
Bob to the surface together in a cloud of debris.
Hold him knowing some sorceress somewhere
is very angry, that you’ve stolen what was hers.
Rita Feinstein is an MFA candidate at Oregon State University. Her work has appeared in Menacing Hedge, The Cossack Review, and Hypertrophic Literary, among other publications. She would like to be a dragon when she grows up.