1600 c/o Rachel Lieberman

Steps for Demagnetization

William Gilbert's girlfriend contemplates distance.

Fact: When the opposite poles of two lodestones are brought together, they are attracted as if the space between them is so unforgivable they can't abide it.

William Gilbert used to pull grapes from a bowl and pop them between his girlfriend's lips, allowing his fingers to linger in the moistness a bit longer than necessary.

William Gilbert's girlfriend notices distance often lately.

She notices the distance between them increasing. When they sleep together, she swears he lies farther and farther away from her on the mattress. When they go out together, he stands farther away from her, sometimes hesitating to even touch her fingertips with his.

So she begins sneaking into his office. Even when he isn't there, it is comforting to know that there is some closeness between the two of them. By reading his notes, she absorbs his knowledge, and through that there will never be infinite distance. Over time, she notices the shrinking distance of the words and lines in his notes.

Fact: There is a natural position under which two lodestones will attract each other, and an unnatural position under which they will repel.

Through her secret office affairs, she comes to realize that “natural position” means the exact distance of two objects most preferable for favorable conditions, including the distances of all of their appendages. She sets about rearranging the furniture in the house day after day while he locks himself in his study, desperate to find the perfect positions for each and every object, including herself. Including William. She pushes the armoire to the left and turns every object on it counter-clockwise. She rearranges all of the dishes and utensils in the kitchen, stacking them in different sequences. Every day, the foyer rug moves an inch or two north.

There is a pull that she feels from the man, and yet the distance continues to expand at an exponential rate.

In bed, there is a universe between them. No body parts or clothing touch. Even their pillows remain completely separate of each other. She dresses in increasingly thinner garments, but it does not make him feel any more attraction to her. In fact, he seems further away. She reaches out for him in the dark, but her hand falls onto nothing but the cushioning. She hears him move, but it might as well be in the house next door, it seems so far away. She can't even feel him when his body shifts.

She continues to reposition the chairs at odd angles, which become increasingly bizarre every day. He does not seem to notice them. The loudest noise she hears from him is when he slurps his soup during dinner, which is in fact maddeningly loud. She makes the soup herself, in the hopes that it will create a theoretical closeness in the absence of physical closeness, but it has not helped. She taps her fingernails on the table. Every time they come in contact with the wood there is a satisfying clack. It is the closest she has come to any sort of satisfaction in some time.

Fact: Magnetic pole shifts can occur spontaneously.

How many times a day can it happen? Can you be sitting around, reading a book, and suddenly be propelled upside down because the poles have shifted? Is it a more subtle change? Could it be happening right now? Could it be happening all the time?

She finally decides to bring her own work to his attention. “I've rearranged things a bit.”

“Oh?” He looks up from his soup and glances around the room. “Oh, yes. Lovely.”

“What do you think?”

“Lovely.” There is a slight smile. His ears must be trying to attract the corner of his lips.

“How does it make you feel?” she presses.

A shrug. A mere raising of the shoulders. Then the slurping. Again.

The pole shifts could be happening when he's locked in his study. She could have found the natural position dozens of times, and she would never know it because it shifts before he comes out for the evening. She taps her nails.

After all, there had been natural positions before. Attractions so deep that he could scarcely stand to be away from her for a moment. Times when his hands couldn't decide which part of her to spend the most time on. She remembered being tantric with him; they might make love for days at a time.

Fact: Demagnetization is entirely possible.

If that is the case, she realizes, then there is an unmistakable loss and tragedy to it.

Fact: One way to demagnetize a lodestone is to heat it at an extreme temperature.

There was heat. More than a few times, when they would entangle limbs and her obsession was with how things would bend. She learned much about the flexibility of herself, of William, of objects. Perhaps her obsession should have been with temperature instead, so she would know to keep track of it, to make sure they did not overload themselves. But she hadn't.

His office is a sanctuary, and she has never thought to disturb the sanctity of it while he is there, but she must know now. Without knowing for the rest of the day, she doesn't know how she can bear it.

She opens the door without knocking. A sin in itself. Flesh touching metal instead of wood.

She peeks her head through the door. She tries to say his name, but the word gets lost in her throat. He hears the clearing of it instead and turns around.

“What are you doing in here?” he demands.

She walks towards him, and with every step, he looks more confused. It's as if the shrinking distance between them troubles him to his deepest point. Her confidence wavers.

“I asked you, what were you--” In infinite boldness, she kisses him, grabbing the front of his shirt so tightly she thinks that the fabric might have fused to her hand. She tries to force her tongue through her lips and then through his own, the way the grapes used to move so effortlessly. There is a barrier now. He shoves her away, and she struggles to maintain her balance before righting herself, trying to pretend like none of it had just happened.

He is speechless. She thinks, he might at least say something, might at least just turn around and we can forget about all this.

Then he wipes his mouth. He wipes all traces of her from his lips.

Fact: A demagnetized lodestone cannot be restored to its magnetized state.