The King of Unrequited Love
Not so long ago, on our Island of Epidemics, there was an epidemic of unrequited love. All the men and lesbians fell in love with one woman, and all the women and gay men fell in love with different men, except for the loved woman, who was asexual and fell in love with a rock carved in the shape of a god. The loved woman had a best friend whom we named King of Unrequited Love. He'd been in love with her since even before the epidemic and he told us all about her.
Her name was Samantha, Sam for short. She'd grown up on the east side of the island, where no one went anymore, farming dragonfruit. She'd loved the dragonfruit, even when they wriggled in her hand and beat their wings and occasionally bit her down to the bone, and had hated to watch her father sell them. She imagined their tails slurped up like spaghetti and the aftertaste of fire.
The King of Unrequited Love met her after she burned the farm to the ground in a gesture of loyalty that cruelly backfired--ironically the dragonfruit couldn't take the flames. She ran over the hills to our west side of the island and when he found her she cried little tears of ash that burned holes in his shirt and he fell in love with the smell of wet fire and heartbreak.
We'd never known about her smell and we tried to make her cry for us.
The King of Unrequited Love told us he'd helped her rent an apartment over the wine and cheese shop on Strawberry Street, and she'd been so innocent she'd let him undress her and put her to bed in his arms, her breasts like two hills flattened by the sky, and she'd let him inside her where it was warm and wet, and we knew this was a lie but we didn't care, we wanted to imagine the requiting.
He gave her a job secretarying for him, firing his old secretary, at the company where he worked. We asked which company it was and he wisely kept quiet (some of us tried to follow him but he was quickened with the secrets of love). She filed his files and he unfiled and smelled their crisped edges where she'd touched them, and we smelled this in our minds and asked to smell his hands and he let us. She wrote his letters and put them in envelopes, and he tore open the envelopes and licked where she'd licked and read his own words that now seemed different in her script, and some of us even asked to taste her licks off his tongue. It was an epidemic.
She liked to walk around a pond that we called a lake because our island was small and sometimes we saw her there and we knew the King of Unrequited Love was telling the truth, to an extent. She looked out over the water to the other side and shook her head as if angry that it wasn't so far, and we wondered why she didn't go and stand at the edge of the ocean and look for the outside world, but maybe she didn't because it couldn't be seen at all. She held that longing stare for hours, then dipped her hand into the water and pulled up pond weeds, and we pulled up the same pond weeds, and the King of Unrequited Love said he'd pulled up those pond weeds, too, and even tasted them, and we ate them together, we and the King of Unrequited Love.
He said she herself had made the statue she was in love with. Carved it out of rock in her free time at the office and hauled it up to her apartment above the wine and cheese shop and settled it by her bed. He'd asked what it was and she'd said, "This is God." At first he'd worshiped it, too, as we were thinking of doing, but then he realized he couldn't worship it because he hated it, and we realized we hated it, too, and you couldn't hate God. And you couldn't feel unrequited love for God, either, we realized. And then we knew it wasn't God but someone else, an image she still carried in her heart, and we crept into her room and examined the statue until we saw the tail the King of Unrequited Love had convinced himself, out of love, was never there.
It was an epidemic.
And we hated her and loved and pitied our King until the epidemic passed.
About the author:
Matthew Salesses holds an MFA from Emerson, where he edited Redivider. He is the author of We Will Take What We Can Get and stories in or soon to be in Glimmer Train, Witness, American Short Fiction, and elsewhere. Other short shorts in this sequence about an island of epidemics have or will appear in Hobart, Cavalier Literary Couture, PANK, Wigleaf, Word Riot, Kitty Snacks, Corium, Thieves Jargon, and Necessary Fiction.