They Come to Me at Night
by Kate Hill Cantrill
They come to me at night. I have to cash my check; I see their bodies next to yours; I see the rent is due; I see you holding them inside your arms.
I’m out of stamps. I think of how you wanted me at every moment when we met—outside a tom cat screams into the window—as I wanted you; I hate to think you wanted them, their skinny bodies, whatever minds. I smell the spray; my roommate died but before she did she said the cats would come; I know you keep in touch with them; I wonder what they say to you and how you speak to them of me.
I can’t forget to pay the gas bill. Do they talk to you as if they know something more of you than me? I know something but not everything not nothing from those years you hardly talk about; that smell will stain my place and then more cats will come; I know you burned yourself; I know you brought to bed a lot of girls; I know I should to be concerned about the scars but they don’t come to me at night.
My roommate died on the West End Highway; it was awful and she keeps getting bills sent from the hospital although she’s dead. The ones you say were toxic I assume you mean real sexual and then they come to me at night; I see their sweated bodies wrapped with yours.
I have an appointment set for the day after next; you said you thought you might be firing blanks and then I feel a kick into my chest—two kicks, three, seven at least—my cat is going crazy at the stinky tom outside the window and the birds are waking, screaming: I’m not dead! You say you want my babies but well, just no, not now, just no not yet.
They come to me at night; I’m more beautiful I know you love me; my roommate’s family threw her things out in the trash and left me with her furniture I didn’t want; you helped me deal with all of that; I need some envelopes as well; I’ll get them when I get the stamps; you are a Nine One One Man for all the planet, for all the women you once held in bed and said those things you say to me only this I know—only this I think I know—that we will last.
The birds make sleep prohibitive; the tom cat stink sits on my tongue; in just two days I’ll start to bleed; I know you love me; there’s no comparing still they come to me at night, at nights like this that turn to mornings when I turn to you and curse the birds—I curse the birds!—the ones who made it through this night; they made it through this God-long night.
For me to say that They Come To Me At Night came out of an intellectual consciousness about story or literature or genre, would be a lie. The original draft came out of nothing beyond anxiety, and an insane-making, repetitive phrase thumping through my head: they come to me at night, they come to me at night, they come to me at night.
In revision, however, I was more conscious of trying to do something with these words, so as to not spill them simply onto the page as stream of consciousness. I love when form follows function in writing, and I wanted my story to convey anxiety—and particularly that wild anxiety that wakes one in a sweat at 3am—and I wanted the structure of the story to be as impactful as the words within it, more so, even.
I have a background in visual arts, and I hear this concept discussed much more in that world—the meaning and the medium and the technique are all inseparable. I don’t hear this talk so much in the fiction writing world. I hear a lot about narrative, and character development, and for me the most moving narratives are crafted through repetition, cadence, sound, poetry. I tend to think that the most internal narrative creates the most global recognition. Not certain if that makes sense outside of my head, but inside of my head I’m a true believer!
Kate Hill Cantrill’s writing has appeared in various literary publications, including Mississippi Review, StoryQuarterly, Salt Hill, Quick Fiction, Blackbird, Del Sol Review, Swink, Pindeldyboz, Smokelong Quarterly, The Believer, Quick Fiction, and others. She has been awarded fellowships from the Corporation of Yaddo, the Jentel Artists Residency, the Virgina Center for Creative Arts, and the James A. Michener Fund. Cantrill teaches flash fiction for the Sackett Street Workshop in Brooklyn.