RACHEL LASTRA

Decay

There is a myth floating around out there that if you kiss a banana slug, it will bring you good luck. This myth led me down a long trail of banana slug facts, from which this story was born. (Note: Please don’t lick banana slugs, it’s bad for them, and you!)

Don’t marry a banana slug, my mother said. No good can come of it, she said. But I was young and in love with the way his flaxen body glistened in the sun.

I met him while hiking in the woods just north of the city. I had just lost another temp job I thought might go permanent, and my mom had called to tell me my dad’s cancer had returned but not to worry, he was responding to the chemo. 

I needed to clear my head. 

The trail was slick with rain, the ground squelching here and there underfoot. Eyes and thoughts unfocused, accompanied only by the sound of my well-worn boots on wet debris, I rounded a bend and nearly stepped on him. I would have if he hadn’t yelled, Hey!

I looked down and there he was, his optical tentacles quivering in my direction. I apologized for nearly flattening him, and he told me no harm done. He introduced himself as A. dolichophallus but said I could call him A. I introduced myself as Beatrice and said he could call me B. His body rippled, but I couldn’t tell if he’d gotten the joke. He asked what I was doing in his neck of the woods and said the rhythm of my footsteps, which he’d felt through the ground, seemed somber. He was sensitive to those kinds of things. I found myself spilling my heart onto the forest floor. He seemed a most attentive listener, though he had no face for me to read. He asked follow-up questions, and we talked for a long time. 

When the light through the canopy of trees grew dim, I told him I had to go, and he said he hoped our paths might cross again. I continued my damp trek toward civilization feeling lighter.

I came back the next day to find A perched on a rotting log a few feet from where I’d left him, a sticky, luminescent trail in his wake. He was happy to see me, he said. I went back every day after that.

On drier days, I would often find A submerged in a mound of dead leaves, spots of yellow peeking through the brown foliage. Sometimes he asked me to bring him treats, and I would grab whatever aspirational produce was decomposing in my crisper—moldy strawberries, slimy mushrooms, wilted lettuce. He could turn decay into rich soil just by eating it, he said. A little, breathing compost bin. He nibbled slowly on my offerings with his microscopic teeth while I lay on my back on the moldering ground watching the light filter through the trees, content to just be with him. When he finished whatever I had brought him, he would always ask for more. I felt the rasp of his long, tooth-covered tongue exploring my elbow, my neck, the back of my knee. Looking for a taste of me.

We couldn’t have sex in a human way. Banana slugs are a hermaphroditic species and can self-fertilize when they need to, so he was pretty self-sufficient in that respect, A said. I said I was pretty self-sufficient too, that I’d been masturbating a long time, but that I wanted to be close to him. He suggested that we rub up against each other, so I lay down on the dank earth and tried to make my right hand as slug-like as possible. He rubbed his sensory tentacles and then his body against my cupped palm, back and forth in an undulating, muculent dance that lasted hours. I grew heady from his moans, dizzy from his scent. Pheromones, he moaned, as I slid my left hand beneath the waistband of my leggings. When it was over, I gently peeled his small body from my own, the slime almost an adhesive between us. He asked if he could eat my penis, and I explained that I didn’t have one. How curious, he said.

A liked the feel of my tongue, and I spent long afternoons licking the mucus along his back, tonguing his shuddering pneumostome until my mouth numbed and he absorbed all its moisture. He needed my moisture to make more mucus, he said, the one time I complained through desiccated lips. The taste was bitter, but I liked making him happy, loved feeling valuable. Afterward, I’d replenish with a yellow Gatorade, imagining I was drinking his essence.

After several weeks, he proposed. When I told my mom the news, she cried and hung up on me.

A and I married in a quiet ceremony in the woods as near as we could remember to the spot where I’d almost trampled him. I found a guy on Craigslist who’d been ordained online and was willing to perform the ceremony in exchange for leaving him in the woods with two cases of light beer, which seemed like a bargain.

After the ceremony, I placed A in the back of my old station wagon, in the terrarium I had made, and drove to my apartment. We decided to split our time between the city and the forest. He curiously absorbed all the new sights and sounds, but when we got to my studio he seemed vaguely disappointed, slowly turning his ocular tentacles around to take in the small space. 

Is this all there is? he asked. 

Yes, I said. This is all there is.

Things changed. He grew distant, stopped listening, and constantly criticized my terrarium-keeping skills. But I longed to please him, to feel again that sticky pull between us. I still licked him, sometimes multiple times a day, though now he preferred for me to do it from behind him while he watched videos of banana slugs on my propped-up cell phone. I licked until my breath grew sour. Until my teeth began to rot.

We are back in the forest now, and my body has grown parched, skin shriveled all over like the pad of a finger left too long in the bath. 

Perhaps, like my mother, you are thinking I should have seen it sooner, that it is A’s nature to long for my decay. And perhaps you are right. 

When I speak, which isn’t often now, my voice crackles like dead leaves, and my tongue is a chip of bark inside my mouth. If you asked me a question, you’d have to lean in close to hear the answer, close enough to smell moldering flesh, the hint of sweetness underneath. You’d have to put your ear right up to my dry, cracked lips. You’d have to listen very carefully. Maybe then you would hear me tell you that I wouldn’t change a thing.

Rachel Lastra is a writer and editor currently based in the Pacific Northwest. Her work has also appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly and MoonPark Review. She is a student in the MA in Writing program at Johns Hopkins University.

MORE FROM AUTUMN 2022 (4:2)

INTERVIEW

A Conversation with Seif-Eldeine Och, Poetry Chapbook Winner, Mark Blackford, Chapbook Editor

PROSE

An LSAT of Culture, Mike Yunxuan Li
Chichi and I, Noel Cheruto
Sudden Evolution, Eileen Tomarchio
Paying for It, Lana Hall
Decay, Rachel Lastra

POETRY

do you see me, Maya Hersh
Delineation of a Woman’s First Child as Her True Religion, Abduljalal Musa Aliyu
Busted Cantaloupe: Pilgrim, Isibeal Owens
Pray the Elegy, Njoku Nonso
Semper Augustus, Jessie Zechnowitz Lim
THE SEA SQUIRT LOSES ITS MIND, Claire Scott
The Long Call of Yearning, Guy D’Annolfo
Djinn and Men, Biswadarshan Mohanty
Last Communion, Joan Kwon Glass