Anton Chekhov Award for Very Short Fiction 2019 – Second Prize
More Than Sex
by Carmen Thompson
Good hurt. Wake up in well danced bones hurt. Wake up in last night’s clothes hurt. Wake up in your clothes. I wear the pieces of you that you never use so that we are always the same though I am always a season behind you. I take off your skirt, the one with the missing button. The mirror in here takes up a whole wall, it could almost be your side of our room – but the woman pulling a t-shirt over her head is just me trespassing. This hurt is not good hurt. I put on the papery gown, and climb onto the narrow bed.
Dr Jones prods my back. Dr Jones is so ruddy and happy. Every time he speaks I can taste his childhood; the outdoors of it; the mud and wellies, the sticks and dogs of it. You’d definitely flirt with him. “Are you pregnant?” I laugh. You got all of the desire, like it was something expensive Mum couldn’t afford for both of us. You hit fourteen and every boy we’d ever thrown stones at was buzzing around you wanting more scars. “I don’t really do sex.” You say “liar”. Dr Jones doesn’t believe me either.
Honestly, I think I’ve forgotten why it seemed so important. I’ve forgotten so much about him, why I wanted him and only remember now that you really didn’t want me to cut my hair like yours. I’m sorry. I really wanted to. There are so many things I want now more than sex. I made a list for you.
Don’t hate me.
Don’t laugh at me.
- I want dancing more than sex. I want you to bring the dance floor back to our room in the fumes of Blue Curaçao and dance with you.
- I want Shakespeare more than sex. Yeah. I know. I’m the swot. It’s not like that. I want to open the little doors of footnotes into Hades and other places that are easier to believe in when you’ve hurt someone you love.
- I want clothes more than sex. I want your indigo jeans, your glass beads, your top with tie-dyed angel sleeves. I want to know why, even though we are the same, I can’t wear blue the way you do.
- I want walking more than sex. I want to climb the dune slacks with you, double back along the pig-path where you let the calves suck your fingers, to the woods, our long skirts catching needles, yew and pine. As far as it takes for you to stop not talking to me.
- I want to listen to birds more than sex. I want to hear the radio whistle of a starling on a warm, snowless Christmas Day before we open our presents, you know, before the disappointment sinks in.
- I want to drink more than sex. I want to get so drunk that you’re spinning too.
- I want snow more than sex. I want the snow cats that linger in wall shadows when all of the other snow has gone. The way I’d wait for you to come home.
- I want baths more than sex. I want an early morning bath, the lemon-sugar sun through the window pane on the water and the ‘it’s all okay’ feeling of you still sleeping. Do you still sleep much more than I do?
- I want music more than sex. I want that stupid song – the one we sang on ‘spent our busfare on chips’ walk-homes – to always be starting in my head so that when I walk home on my own I’m only walking behind you.
“Have you kept a record of the pain?” His office is full of pictures of his healthy brothers. We would have thrown stones at them. They would have cried.
“Is it a dull or stabbing pain?” “The floor is made of knives.” “Pardon?”
Stabbing stabbing stabbing.
“Lets take a look at your legs?”
Dr Jones looks like he wants to cry and I haven’t thrown anything. Promise. His ruddy cheeks go pale. I am the bad snow.
“Did you do this to yourself?”
I used to believe, because you used to tell me, that if I hurt you then something bad would happen to me. If I hurt you it was the same as hurting myself.
I know you’ll be really angry with me for getting my haircut the same as yours, if it’s still the same. You might have changed. But I want you to know. There’s no way someone couldn’t tell us apart now.
Carmen Marcus is a writer and performance poet from Saltburn on the wild North East coast. As the daughter of a Yorkshire fisherman and Irish chef her writing brings together the practical and the magical. Her debut novel How Saints Die was published with Harvill Secker in 2017. She was selected as a BBC Verb New Voice for her poetry project The Book of Godless Verse. She is an activist for underrepresented voices in writing and founded The Writer’s Plan to support emerging Writers.
You can find out more at
And follow her @Kalamene