If This Is What Love Is
by halle charlton

This is what love looks like, I’ve been told.

“Try it.” I nudge the plate towards him, “Please”. I breaded it this time to mask the earthiness—or if I’m being really honest, the fear. But I had spent 3 hours in that ill-lit, untouched kitchen, slicing it thinly so it would fry evenly, sweating into the pan, making the mash, simmering the jus. I wasn’t gonna have him back out now. “Luke, please, just try it.”

He looks at me, his face drained.

“Just one bite”. A small grin. A plea.

“Why are you bleeding,” Luke sighs, grabbing his knife.

Fuck, am I seeping through my gauze? I look down at my shirt. Nothing. Thank god.

He taps my arm. “See?” His finger lingering on my wrist, petting scarred skin. Tracing the small cut that lines my arm. I shake him off.

“Nicked myself, I guess. Tried to get the perfect cut.” He smiles.

Friday nights are our “shake it up nights,” which inevitably means I cook something new, and he eats it, and then he tries some weird sex thing, while the dog whines at the door. Last month, he wanted me to be a tree nymph, and him the satyr.

Tragically, it’s more suspicious to be single in Trotwood, Ohio than to settle down with a man you have grown to despise. Hadn’t you heard about the missing girls? What a deal we struck, him unknowingly.

Now here comes the classic line: it wasn’t all bad. Our first year, I thought, okay I can do this. If this is what love is, then fine. We had nothing to talk about, but our silences felt oppressive in the way a weighted blanket does. Heavy, and slowed my breathing, but then I didn’t think about anything. There was a nirvana to the sheer totality of mindlessness I experienced. The chattering was gone, the overwhelming lust for more was numbed. Normal enough. I was content with nothing.

My mother used to go on about how desperate she was for me to find someone who understood my quirks, someone to live my life with. How worried she was, because did I remember all the dead animals I courted when I was 7, and my fascination with death, and how I used to write letters to serial killers in prison? Luke knows none of this, by the way. Nor will he ever.

But I figured out shortly thereafter that in order to keep doing what I wanted, I needed to maintain a normalcy. An acceptable face. Which meant making friends, embracing the absolute stupidity of boy bands, having a boyfriend, dreaming of a future I never believed in. I graduated from Ohio State with a degree in forensic science, and then I met Luke. He looked dumb and pliable, standing at the end of Snicker’s bar, sipping his beer, staring at the TV as his friends smacked each other’s asses for sport and pretended not to be into it. Here was normal. Here was boring and quaint. I made him buy me a drink. He woke up the next morning, naked in my apartment, and in love.

The fighting started 2 years in; the long, drawn out, tear filled confessionals of “Amanda, I don’t know you. We’ve been together for 2 years, and I still don’t have you. I still don’t know your heart.” Always asking for more and more and more. It is exhausting. I have nothing that I am willing to give. Except I’m incredibly good at pretending to cry--I'm not a monster, I'll throw a dog a bone. I can watch someone’s eyes fill with tears, and tell my body to copy it. It’s a fantastic party trick. So when he cries, stuttering out some pathetic prose about love, I’ll usher tears out of my eyes, and beg, “I’m trying, Luke. I’m trying so hard. You know how hard it is for me to open up. I love you. I really do. I’m trying. I’m trying.”

I’m actually really fantastic at acting. Lately I’ve been falling to my knees, as his calloused hands reach down and cup my face, and he forces us to look into each other’s eyes while he feels me up, and I whisper “more” as I imagine the basement, where they all lay, skin splayed open, waiting to be harvested. If this is what love takes, then I can do this. And now we’re living in a bigger house, with a bigger commitment (marriage--the sacrifices I make) and a bigger basement that is all mine. Luke is scared of underground places. I am not. I am invisible here. Normal. A demure soon-to-be wife, small and unnoticeable, hidden behind the broadness of a good family man.

I watch the clump of breaded meat disappear into his wide set mouth. His teeth clamping down on it. His jaw straining to tear through the chewiness of it. This is where I really get off. The muscle he consumes slides down his esophagus, planting itself in him for a while. Hearty, and filling.

My watch beeps.

“What is this again? I like this one.” He asks through a mouthful.

“A Bulgarian dish.” I get up, pet his head, “I have to go check on the dessert.”

I rush down to the basement. The light seeping out from under a padlocked door. The faint humming of lungs being forced to breathe. My skin vibrates as I slip in.


There she is. The next one. She put up such a fight. It took three hours to get her down, and she had grabbed one of my knives and slashed through my stomach. Maybe we could have been friends under other circumstances. She looks at me—well her eyes move in my direction, but her head is strapped down, her arms splayed. The look of disgust makes me laugh.

She opens her mouth, but the poor girl’s mouth is so dry that all I hear is her choking on her own tongue.

The ExtraCorporeal Membrane Oxygenation machine works overtime.

“Luke really liked your friend. I’m thinking breading and then frying it is the way to go. It makes it crispy, but keeps the meatiness.” I pat the body next to her. I had sliced him open, and made my way through. The lungs were not as flavorful as I would have hoped though. They can’t all be it. I have to dispose of him tonight, but I’ll wait until Luke is asleep. I can’t get cute about it now. She moans, and I turn.

“Oh don’t worry. I’m not a monster. We’ll start with something small, like your pancreas. Get rid of the things you can live without. Plus I always feed him the hearts last, when he’s his neediest. Tides him over for a month, at least. You and I are just getting started.”

If this is what love is, then I can do this.

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