Ariane Gélinas reads “Chlorosis” in the original French.
The afternoon sun shines through the only window in the room. Its beams caress Marvin’s skin as he lounges on the bed that takes up a quarter of the space. Completely nude and hairless, my partner looks at me, apathetic. The sheets are still impregnated with our musk. Beside a pillow, a drop of cum glistens in the light. A few minutes before, Marvin shot a load on my face while his hand jerked me vigorously. Clearly, though, my partner found that our romps weren’t creative enough, not chlorotic enough. It’s a recurring theme lately. It wasn’t eight months ago when we first got together. Hanging out with Anélie every day, as he has for the last three months, fills his head with all sorts of whims. As if being unemployed didn’t give him enough time to ruminate…
I sit down in our only proper chair near the floating kitchen table. I brush a long blond lock out of my eyes, one of many that escaped my ponytail amid the passion. Marvin casually massages his semi, his thumb missing the tip. My eyes fixate on his newly cut dick; he opted for the procedure three weeks ago.
“Your operation was so recent, are you sure it doesn’t hurt?”
My lover furrows his practically nonexistent brow. He glares at me, his eyes gray like the steel crossbeams that lie just beyond the window. A trellis of labyrinthine passages superimposed over Montreal’s myriad skyscrapers. I imagine infinite couples, families, and roommates crammed into these dizzying studios.
“And that’s not all. Taking painkillers is for cowards. It’s time for you to think about your first extraction, Clément. At thirty-four years old, it’s getting embarrassing.”
My muscles tense. The same recurring topic. Always ripe for conflict. Turning my head toward the bare copper walls of our home, I murmur:
“I’ll get there…”
“I hope so. It’s the best way to overcome the feelings of chlorosis.”
This depression, a sense of melancholy and uncertainty about the future, has haunted Marvin since his layoff from the fermentation plant three months ago.
“But Marv, I’ve never felt that emptiness, that ennui. The sort of tædium vitæ you and Anélie always describe in the poems you share on your channels.”
Marvin scowls and pulls the beige blankets over his silky chest, still glimmering with sweat. His skin, the exact same shade as the sheets, blends into his fabric cocoon.
“That can’t be. There’s been some research coming out about it. You’re not paying enough attention to the decline that’s oozing all around us. Everyone has this feeling of being drained of life, deprived of color. Monochromatic. Chlorotic. I’ll say it again, the best way to tame the void is to create it inside yourself. By extracting…”
“Couldn’t I get a tattoo? Something with weapons? Boxing gloves? On my bicep?”
My lover sighs.
“You know I like your beefy physique. But tattoos and piercings were all the rage a hundred years ago. People thought they’d feel less empty by adding implants or colors to their skin. But that’s not the case. You have to remove something to feel light, to understand the emptiness that surrounds you.”
“You’re spending too much time with Anélie. Chlorotics are less common than you think, I’m sure of it, studies or not. Maybe spending your weeks at the factory, smelling the dead rot, did some damage to your neurons…”
My partner flinches then purses his full lips sulkily. Seconds tick by.
“Did you go to the recruiting office today?”
“Marvin. You promised me. It’s not easy making enough money for both of us. You can’t spend your time on the windowsill of the thirty-first floor.”
My lover grabs the water glass on the nightstand. Thousands of tiny bubbles are ready to burst like the sparkles in his eyes. Marvin empties the glass before replying.
“You always win your matches, Clé; we’re good for now. Anyway, I’m planning to do what Anélie did, have a kidney removed and save the money for other extractions. And I’ll give you some of it to pay my half of the rent. If I want, I can have an appointment with Anélie’s surgeon next week.”
Not even a real doctor. A butcher who would do anything for money.
“Anélie, always Anélie. If you keep this up, I’m going to start thinking you’re into women.”
“Anélie transcends the very notion of gender. Her body keeps getting lighter. Impersonal. But seriously, Clé, you should think about your first extraction; it would do you a world of good. It would help you understand what I feel. It would be the most beautiful way to show me your love. And with my birthday coming up…”
My heart wrenches. Marvin looks at me tenderly, his lashes bathed in the light.
“I could… I could have my wisdom teeth removed. I heard I could get an appointment the day after tomorrow.”
“That would be a start,” Marvin affirms after a moment of surprise. “Even if it’s a bit retro. But it only counts if the extraction isn’t necessary.”
I bite the inside of my cheeks. I’ve always hated lying to my lover. The extraction is far from elective, as my dentist reminded me two days ago after my weekly lunch with Mother Sam. But I can feel Marvin pulling away, and I have to at least try to do something about it. Even if it means shrouding my actions in lies.
Satisfied by my silence, which he interprets as he pleases, Marvin continues:
“Under local anesthesia, I hope? In your thirties, the experience is all the more challenging when you’re conscious. You feel the tube in your nostril as it slithers down into your throat.”
“I’ll do it under… under general anesthesia. You know, that way, there’s a chance I won’t wake up. Being in the void for a prolonged period is one way to flirt with it, right?”
“Anélie would almost certainly agree with that. I’m proud of you, Clé. As long as you don’t take any painkillers after. You’ll see, the experience will be unforgettable.”
Smiling, Marvin climbs onto the windowsill, a blanket on his lap.
I open my professional wrestling channel, @Beau_Demon, and tap away for a moment. On a whim, I make another; this one public. @Alacrité. The opposite of chlorosis, of ennui. As a subheading, I write: The cult of happy heaviness. And for the description: Let us celebrate the opposite of the void, the state of gaiety and joy that anchors earthly happiness to the ground.
What garbage. Just like Marvin and Anélie’s whim. Still, I add some images and fake heartbreaking testimonials.
A voice interrupts me as I choose the color settings for my new channel. Anélie, again. I disconnect before placing the heated pillows behind my back. In the image projected onto the floating table, a copper-skinned woman speaks to Marvin. She has a spooky look to her: missing lower lip, bare gums, earlobes hollowed out in the middle. But the most frightening is her missing right eyelid. Does she sleep half-blinded by insomnia? Already petite and lean before she started rallying the chlorotics, Anélie is a flawless disciple, without hair, eyebrows, or nails. She’s even had some vertebrae extracted, according to what my partner tells me. She’s had her breasts and butt shaved down… And Anélie has no intention of ceasing to pursue the void that she grasps and feels more and more with each extraction, or so she keeps repeating. Every gram counts: her weight, always declining, is displayed in real time on her channel.
“I’m proud of what Clément is about to do,” she says to my lover. “It was time for him to take the plunge. It was getting concerning.”
I suddenly want to rip out her tongue: this propensity to violence outside of matches isn’t like me. I convert my anger into dark humor.
“Hi, Anélie. When are you due for a tongue extraction?”
Her face crumples like paper in a fist.
“Hi, Clément. Not quite yet. I need it for my channel.”
Anélie has an ego that her quest for the void will never manage to amputate.
“You could learn sign language. Oh, right, sorry, you’re missing fingers. You had them removed at the same time that Marvin had his thumbs removed.”
“The tips of my thumbs,” he interrupts. “And you seemed to like it when I stroked you earlier.”
“I have no choice but to make do; they won’t grow back. But I liked it better before.”
An uneasiness permeates the room, extending over the chair, table, and sliding window with the silver reflections. I hear the distant hissing of the cable cars that constantly pass behind Anélie’s house in the industrial area in the north of the island. My lover clears his throat.
“What’s important,” he says to Anélie, “is that Clément will soon understand. After his extraction. He’s going to start off slow by getting a few teeth pulled, and that’ll just be a start.”
Marvin looks at me with a touching glow. Just like at the beginning of our relationship, when he came to cheer me on at the Pie-IX stadium, when he bet on me and complimented me on my lively, tailored costumes. My heart shrivels. I bite my lip, trying to see Anélie’s excised beauty. After some effort, I can. A bit.
Pain abolishes the world. My nerves, my thoughts, my dreams. It’s impossible to sleep in the cool armchair. The only horizon is the suffering that emerges from my jaw. Swelling. It spreads into my skull, my throat. Thirty hours after the extraction, without painkillers, I’m nothing but agony. Whimpers.
Marvin lovingly encourages me, seated on the windowsill above the bed, his feet dangling. He must be taking in the skyscrapers of Montréal-Est on the other side of the silver trellis. I feel like I’ve been butchered by a pair of metal pliers. Like my wounds have been stretched out before being sewn shut with barbed wire. But I know that the procedure was conducted by the book in a certified clinic.
As soon as we returned to the apartment, blood still dripping down my chin, Marvin tossed my painkillers into the table’s built-in grinder; I pictured a white powder becoming finer and finer.
My gums feel thick to the point of choking me. It hurts to speak even a few words. Nevertheless, I must:
“It’s horrible… Marvin. Go… go get me some painkillers at the pharmacy.”
My lover turns toward me at the same time as does the video projection in front of him. Anélie, who else? I recognize the golden palette of her channel. She’s probably getting ready to reveal her next extraction to her thousands of subscribers. How many grams will she lose after this stupid surgical intervention?
“No. It’s good for you. So you understand. The first forty-eight hours after an operation are hell. I know what I’m talking about. You’re already more than halfway there. I know you can do it, Clé. I believe in you. Have faith.”
After a sly wink, Marvin returns to his initial position, his eyes fixed on the projected image that dances above the abyss of buildings. I feel as if I’m being drilled into by mining bores. Steel bits spin endlessly in my jaw.
I won’t let this continue. The times I was injured in fights, I was nursed normally. I didn’t feel so miserable. Near-death. I don’t know what grand revelation I’m supposed to be having right now. It’s incredibly lucky that I haven’t been hospitalized in the last three months, aside from a brief visit to the clinic for a sliced eyebrow. My chlorosis-obsessed lover would have voluntarily prolonged my convalescence. And I don’t get into the ring every day.
Mother Sam will help me, just like they always have. They aren’t like Daddy Alex, who I wouldn’t even recognize.
I activate the text mode of my channel. This communication style will worry Mother Sam, with whom I regularly have video chats. With my fingertips, I write, restarting several times: Mother Sam, come as soon as possible. Stop at the pharmacy on the way and pick up my prescription, I gave them your name. Marvin doesn’t want me to take painkillers. He’s one of those chlorotics (link to definition). Don’t let him see you. Drop the pills in my mailbox. I love you.
I immediately click send. I rest my throbbing head on the pillows that surround the sick-smelling chair. From his perch, Marvin shoots me a sly smile. I wait.
I had time to swallow two pills dry in front of the mailbox, prostrate in the hall of the thirty-first floor. Mother Sam left a moment ago; I heard their heavy footsteps against the concrete floor as they walked away. Then the door slid open. Marvin emerged, his face devastated.
“You’re so useless! I deserve better than you. You’re not willing to sacrifice anything to make me happy. Selfish ass!”
I absorb his insults like punches. Sometimes you have to take the blows before you can hit back. Fortunately, the painkillers, the strongest kind available, start to kick in. Finally.
“I’m sorry, Marv. I was in too much pain.”
My lover pierces me with his steely gaze, the prominent veins on his head throbbing. His silhouette looks larger, his slender muscles engorged by his irritation.
His voice comes out amid the spittle.
“I can’t believe this.”
I sniffle, forcing myself to lift my chin as I reply:
“I’ve never hidden the fact that I don’t feel this… this sort of ennui you’re constantly looking for.”
“You aren’t smart enough or sensitive enough.”
This cuts deep. It reminds me of the snide remarks of my childhood and school years. I was strong, well-built, able to fight if I wanted. But I was also an artist. I hear it a lot at the stadium about my footwork. Marvin knows good and well that it hurts me to be thought of as a meathead jock. He’s saying it on purpose, to weaken me.
My breathing speeds up to match the furious jolts of my heart. I don’t say anything in response. My numb legs carry me to the chair, where I collapse. An icy silence fills the space, expanding it.
I place my clammy hand on my eyelids, wiping the sweat from my brow, where my dirty locks cling. I hear Marvin climb on the bed, the frame creaking, then hoist himself onto the ledge of the open window. He turns on Anélie’s channel in private mode, with the background music characteristic of their regular conversations. The image projects onto the emptiness amid the skyscrapers.
My lover’s words gush out.
“Clément is incompetent. He won’t even try to understand the prevailing void. I’m so disappointed in him.”
Anger fills my chest. I imagine Anélie’s disgusted sneer. I get up from the chair to glimpse it. Softly, without a sound, like in my choreography, I move toward Marvin, a few centimeters behind the bed. Just like the cat I’d like to have if I didn’t fear that Marvin would rip out its claws and whiskers as part of his chlorosis experiments. He doesn’t notice me.
I see Anélie add, sneering:
“Clément is an idiot. You know it as well as I do.”
Marvin turns around, surprised, suddenly noticing my presence. Anélie’s projection falls on his bare feet.
All of a sudden, I want to see him disappear out the window. But I’m going to extract much more from him first. My feelings. A loving heart. I don’t know how much that’s worth in grams. Anélie’s channel would tell me.
I don’t give myself time to change my mind.
“We’re not together anymore. You need to leave the studio now.”
My jaw clenches painfully.
“When I leave the cleaning station, you need to be gone. You’ll have canceled Anélie’s network access to the thirty-first floor. Go live in the emptiness of the alleys that run between the skyscrapers. Merge with the void. After all, you’re looking so hard for it. Go lose your colors, your substance, even your chlorosis.”
I add, the anger’s accusing fervor rushing through my veins:
“You can finally be the ennui in all its lifeless splendor. Stop being its stupid reflection and wallowing in your ideologies. Get out, Marvin. This is the last time I’ll speak to you. I’m going to forget the very sound of your name. You should be happy: I’m extracting my love for you. It was weighing me down.”
He sniffles. I have the impression that he’s inhaling the ambient abyss, drinking it in.
I turn away.
Suddenly, the future seems better. Victorious. Abundant. Plentiful.
With a determined step, I walk toward the cleaning station, closing the silver sliding door. I sit on the toilet. Out of habit, I open my professional channel. In the top right corner, I notice hundreds of notifications on @Alacrité, the cult of happy heaviness. Already almost two thousand followers. In such a short time. Dozens of testimonials about the merits of my approach. Supporting images: people weighed down with jewels and accessories in pools, obese people devouring a protein-powder-seasoned feast, compulsive hoarders showing off the twelve coffee machines and just as many microwaves stored in their garage.
Let us celebrate the opposite of the void, the state of gaiety and joy that anchors earthly happiness to the ground.
It’s going to go viral.
A nervous laugh slips out.
I stand up and move to the jet to wash my hands. The outline of the mirror glistens and then lights up. My head tilts toward the tiny steel sink. A drop of scarlet spit appears between my swollen lips. A bloody line follows the thick liquid, bathed in a bit of smelly pus.
The last thing I needed was for it to get infected.
“Chlorose” copyright © by Ariane Gélinas. Translation © 2024 by Remy Attig. All rights reserved. French-language text first published in Mathieu Villeneuve, ed., Futurs (Montréal: Éditions Triptyque, 2020, in the Satellite coll.).