Hello, my dear. I am your vice.
Do you hear that? That is my siren song, arising from the cavity like the inviting swell of an orchestra. May I have this dance? Oh, you say no now, but I can see you’re awfully curious. Once you say yes, I know you won’t stop at one. Shh, sweetheart, don’t ask how I know—just close your eyes and listen to my song. Isn’t it a mesmerizing melody? Don’t you find it entrancing? I see you eyeing me with delicious curiosity. Come, won’t you? Let me show you what I can give you.
Please—don’t be shy. Take me in your hands. We’ll just stand here and sway. Wrap your arms around me, feel my warmth embrace your entire being. Isn’t this nice?
The longer we dance, the warmer you feel—dizzyingly warm—until, startled, you push yourself away from me. That glimmer of guilty pleasure alone gives me life. So I’ll stay where I am, because you’ll come back to me. Tick, tick, swings the metronomic pendulum as our budding relationship slips into a caesura.
I wait, but not for long. When you feel bored, you’ll remember me. When you feel cold, when you feel alone, when you feel weak, you’ll seek me out. You’ll find me waiting patiently, loyal as a lover. No need for formalities, just take my hand again, as familiar as falling asleep. I’ll lull you out of the realm of reality, numb the awfulness you don’t want to feel anymore. Watch the world spin into a blur as we dance the time away. You’ll hold me closer, murmur precious little excuses for why you’re back in my arms. When you leave again, you tell me good-bye, thanks for the fun, but it was a one-time escape.
One time becomes two times becomes just one more time—ever one more. Now, now. Wipe that frown off your face. You should know by now that I don’t go looking for you; I never have. I only wait here. For you. Only you. Surely, you can’t blame me for just sitting around for you.
As time passes, your motives for falling into my arms get flimsier. You’re so cute, the way you mumble, “I promise, last time,” as I lift you up and spin you round. Each time, you swear you’re done, we’re done, but we know you don’t mean it. You close your eyes and surrender yourself to me, feeble as I twirl you around and around and around.
You tell yourself: one last drink—one last hit—one last binge—one last high—one last dance, one last time, one last. You foolishly overlook: as long as you ask me for one more, we will keep going in this circle. I don’t go looking for you, oh dear heavens, no. You come looking for me. I give you all you seek: intoxication, validation, confirmation, elation, sanity, a weight to fill the hole I’ve punctured in your heart. I give you all but love.
There will come a time when you’ll come to me, and you won’t make excuses. You’ll run right into my waiting arms to dance the night into the next night. Our dance consumes you. My siren song becomes your soundtrack. I become your lifeline.
So when you let go, it is with hurried reluctance. Your circadian interactions are humdrum compared to my nectarous song. Ah, and the fêtes you attend, you know they can’t hold a candle to our nightly waltzes. Excuses are no longer made to me or you—they are for everyone else. You rush off to find me, to pirouette under the shelter of dimmed lights over unwatched stages; the foot of your bed, your car hidden in the far side of the parking garage, the coffeeshop bathroom, anywhere you can find us privacy. I look forward to the day when your desire for our pas de deux overwhelms your need for secrecy, when you’ll daringly sneak me in while you’re with your friends and family. I’ll happily follow you through the back door, my pet. How I revel in our trysts.
Your yearning for me gives me life.
We will dance away your time, your health, your friends, family, life. They don’t exist anymore. The more life you feed into me, the stronger I grow; the stronger I feed on you, my sweet. Your only truth and motivation and existence is me.
But… as you rest your head on my shoulder and lean your body into mine, I can see an incongruence in the crinkle between your eyes, in the way your hands quake as you hold me—the discomfort. I do my best to lead you, shelter you from the rest of the world, but there is a small, ungrateful part of you that will forever fight against me. I may not be able to win you over completely, but know this: now that you’ve let me into your life, you’ll never let me go. Your loved ones may try to intervene, but my pull on you is stronger than their love. In fear, you might tell people—friends, professionals, strangers—about me, asking for help to tie you to the mast, but you’ll give in to my call eventually. Their knots can’t keep you from me. Even if hours become days become weeks become months become years, you can never go back to when we never met. Even if you avoided everything that once brought you to me, you’ll always wonder, what if, just one more? Memories of us will linger in your dreams, our ballroom vivid and fantastical and tinged with the muffled shades of euphoria. You will always crave that euphoria, and nothing else you do can bring the same great joy that I brought you.
The day you relapse will be the day you come straight for me. You’ll find me like always, hand extended in invitation, ready for our next dance.
Darling, I own you.
Alice Phung received a Bachelor’s of Science in Biochemistry from UCLA and is currently a Chemistry graduate student at University of California, Davis. She was previously published in the Chicago Quarterly Review and has contributed to the blogs Spoonwiz, Inc. and Science and Food at UCLA.
This is the author’s first literary award.
This is the author’s first work of fiction to appear in print.
DECEMBER 18, 2019 / MUSEPAPER STORY PRIZE #41 / FEAR AND FANTASY