The Green-Eyed Monster
By Aunna Beranek
Somewhere deep inside me dwells a green-eyed monster. He makes his home in the pit of my stomach, building himself a nest within my very soul. I do not know where he came from because he has always been there. Maybe that means he came from me, or maybe that means I came from him. I have never seen him, yet he is my constant companion. He occupies my body, using my arms and legs as if they were his own. When he wants to hear something, his ears grow from the sides of my head; when he wants to see something, his green eyes replace my brown ones. More often than not, they hate what they see.
I stare at the water under my feet. The wind is strong today, sending wave after wave of violent water crashing around my ankles. It seeps through my shoes and into my socks, soaking into my bones. Like everything else in the gloom of winter, the water is cold. A shiver runs down my spine, and I push out a breath; it clouds in front of my eyes before drifting out over the water, mingling with the fog settled low over the lake. Usually, the path that follows the west side the lake is crowded with people, but today I’m alone. The chill must have kept everyone home this morning. Part of me wishes to be back in my apartment too; at least there I would be warm. But the monster told me something important would happen today, so I followed him.
I don’t know why he brought me here, but I’ve found it’s usually best to listen to the monster. When I don’t, he lashes out at the people closest to me. One time, I was out painting with a friend in the park. I had thought I was doing well before I looked over at her work. Where mine was just lines and a few splotches of color, she had painted a picture with acrylics. Look how talented she is, the monster said; you’re pathetic, he said. And I was. But more than that, I was also angry. So, when my friend wasn’t looking, the monster dumped an entire bottle of red paint on her landscape. She was devastated when she saw: “How could you?” she asked me. I didn’t have an answer for her because I didn’t do it; it was the monster. He took control of my body and made me pour the paint over her canvas. My hands might be the ones covered in red, but it’s not my fault. I tried to explain that to her, to tell her I was not the one to blame, but she didn’t understand. She just shook her head at me and walked away, and I never heard from her again.
I have no control over the monster inside me: I am a puppet, and he is the one holding the strings. Sometimes I wish I could make him stop, but truth be told, I’m not sure what I would do without the green-eyed monster. I can’t picture my life without him. His anger is destructive, but it’s all I have. That fire long ago burned away all my other reasons to live.
The air is colder now, despite the rising sun. Though it’s no longer raining, the combination of last night’s storm and this morning’s fog left a trail of puddles across the concrete. I advance a few steps, moving closer towards the lake. The water is not peaceful, but it’s inviting all the same. I dip my toe in. I wonder what I’d find down there if I swam deep enough. Would the water still churn beneath the waves?
Small splashes sound from behind me, feet wading through the puddles on the pathway. I turn around to find a young woman standing a few feet behind me. She tugs on the edges of her coat and pulls them tighter around her body, shivering in the icy air. I’m not sure why she’s out here in this weather. I have half a mind to ask her, but I clamp down on the thought before I can open my mouth; after everything she’s done to me, she deserves to freeze.
Even shaking in the sharp wind, she looks the same as always: well-dressed in a gray overcoat and pants, she looks more put together than any nineteen-year-old has the right to be. Even her hair, red like the flaming sun without a strand out of place, looks perfect. Perfect is the only way Emily knows how to be.
But there–the way her shoulders are pushed back just an inch too far, and the way her lips are pursed instead of pouty––something is wrong. Her eyes flicker between me and the lake at my back, worry pressed into the lines of her face. She takes a step closer, staring at the space between my feet and the water. I follow her gaze down to the concrete, but nothing is there. When I lift my eyes back to hers, she is close enough I can see the goosebumps peppered across her skin. In her indigo eyes, I see my own reflected back. Fear glimmers there, but I don’t know if it belongs to her or me.
“Good morning,” she says through chattering teeth. When I don’t respond, she only smiles at me. “I’m Emily, remember? From your illustration class.” I roll my eyes. Of course, I remember her.
I turn my back on the girl and face the water, watching as the waves blow steel across the surface. I can’t let Emily distract me; I need to focus on what I came here to do.
Every morning for the past eighteen years, the monster has woken me with some criticism or another about how ugly or desperate or useless I am, but today his voice was silent. When I rolled over in my bed, I was surprised to hear my alarm instead of his words. I looked for the monster, searching the corners of my mind where he usually hides, but he wasn’t there. I made it all the way through breakfast and still he hadn’t spoken to me. So, I did the only thing I could think of to make him come out: I stood in front of my bathroom mirror. With the lights on and the door closed, I combed my appearance, looking for flaws the way the monster taught me. Surely this will wake him up, make him talk to me; surely this will make him happy. I felt him scratch at the corners of my mind like the claws of a cat stretching after sleep. The feeling was painful, but I was so relieved I hardly noticed. He blinked one eye open, then another, and my brown eyes had disappeared once more. Bright green irises stared back at me from the mirror, and my lips pursed into a wicked smile.
There you are, he said. Miss me already?
“Where did you go?” My eyes flashed back to brown as my own voice passed through my lips, but his features quickly engulfed mine once more.
Trying to get some beauty sleep. Living in your body is tiring. It takes work to keep myself from becoming ugly like you.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper, eyes turned down from his reflection.
Don’t waste your breath, he says, jerking my eyes back up to meet his. I have a solution to this little problem of ours, and I won’t let your self-pity ruin my plans.
“What are you talking about?” Usually I can sense his thoughts–his feelings and motivations–but he’s closed himself off from me.
The lake, of course. We’re going to the lake today.
Are you not listening, girl? I’m going to solve all our problems.
From behind me, Emily says something over the roaring wind. I had forgotten she was there. “You’re really good,” she says. “Your work, I mean. I’ve seen some of the things you’ve done in class. They’re great.”
Great? the monster snickers. You have no talent. Don’t let her lie to you. You’re horrible. You’re nothing.
“Do you want to go grab a coffee? We could go right now.” Her words sound urgent, like she’s racing against some sort of clock. I hear her shoes against the wet pavement as she takes another step closer to me.
“I can’t,” I say. “I’m busy.”
Footsteps shuffle again. “It’s really cold out here. We should probably get inside.”
Get rid of her, the monster growls.
“I’m good,” I say. Now it’s my turn to sound urgent. If she doesn’t get out of here soon, who knows what will happen, what the monster will make me do.
Emily reaches out her arm, and it grazes my elbow. “We could go somewhere else instead,” she suggests, “if you don’t like coffee.”
“I don’t like you!” I snap, spinning on my heels to face the girl. Water sprays beneath my feet, soaking us both to the knees. I hardly notice the ice forming on our clothes or the shock flooding her eyes. “I see you in class, with your perfect drawings and perfect paintings. Your life is perfectly fine without me. Why the sudden interest? Why now do you decide to care?!” The words tumble out of me like rushing water–violently and without control. I’m not sure if they belong to me or the monster, but he likes them either way.
Keep going, he urges me on. Don’t stop now. I can feel his pleasure building in my body. It tasks like sour apples.
“I hate how you never sketch any of your drawings, and how all of your paintings look so lifelike, and how the professor always pulls you aside to praise you.” My fury sends her retreating backward, but I follow her. “I hate how you never need extra time on your assignments, and how your work is always selected for some magazine or another, and how never once in your life have you failed at something!” We turn so that her back is to the water now, my body the only thing between her and freedom. “What’s your secret then? There has to be one, some reason you’re so much better than me. How did you get to be so damn good at everything you do?!” I take a step closer, and she takes a step back. The girl looks around, but the path is as desolate as when she arrived. Her feet slip against the edge of the concrete, only the wind keeping her on the path now.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” she says, her arms raised in defense. Fear coats her face, but the green eyes in my skull don’t notice. All I can see is another enemy who has everything I’ve ever wanted. Emily whimpers but says, “It just comes naturally to me, I guess.”
Her words light me on fire, and every hateful thought I’ve ever had rushes up to the surface all at once. Do it, the monster says. You know you want to. And I do. I’ve never wanted anything more in my entire life. How can she be so beautiful, so talented, so perfect when I’m so horrible at everything? It’s not fair.
So, I rest my hands on her shoulders and push with all my might. The girl falls over the edge and into the dark water. I watch as she sinks to the bottom of the lake, her red hair the only thing visible beneath the surface. I wait until it’s gone, until the only thing I can see in the water is the reflection of my own green eyes, before turning on my heels and heading home.
I wonder what everyone will think of the girl who drowned today. Will she be missed enough to be remembered, or will everyone forget about her too? She wasn’t the one who was supposed to go in the water today, but I don’t think the monster minds; he knows he will get another chance at me. I still can’t sense his thoughts in my mind, but, in the pit of my stomach, I feel the green-eyed monster smile.
Biographical Note: Aunna Beranek is a freshman at Columbia College Chicago pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English, and she soon plans to declare Creative Writing as a minor. From a young age, she has marveled over the experience of literature, though she has only recently begun to explore how she might contribute to the industry as a writer herself. While this is her first publication in a literary magazine, she hopes it will not be her last.