I will be struck by lightning on July 13. I know this because I saw a unicorn in the desert sky earlier tonight. Its cockroach body and feathered wings cast shadows on the ground. Lightning forked from its horn, like decisions in my life. Decision to move to Phoenix: fork. Decision to finish my degree: fork. Decision to date Maddoc: fork. All the lives I rejected flash across the sky and are gone, except the one that will strike me. In two days, on a Thursday. Thursday the Thirteenth.
I saw the unicorn only briefly before it vanished. Maddoc doubts me, as we sit on the floor and eat Chinese takeout. “You said it had wings?”
“Dove wings, gray and feathered. And a cockroach body.”
Maddoc sets down his chopsticks. “What?”
“Blood-red. The size of a bus.”
“So it’s a cockroach-dove thing?”
“With hooves. On hairy roach legs.”
“What makes you think it’s a unicorn?”
“It has a horn,” I say, pushing my plate aside. “That makes it a unicorn.” I go to the window and stare at the sky. It smells like a storm. Clouds stack on top of each other in thick blankets. Lightning flashes in the west. It fires an electrical impulse into my body, and I push the window open. I’m on the fourth floor. “Hello!” I call out the window, leaning forward into the hundred-degree heat. The blast of hot air buoys me up like boiling water, burning me but supporting me, and I’m sure I can fly away if I just let go.
Maddoc hauls me back in the window. “Are you crazy? Get back in here. You’ll fall and kill yourself.” It’s like Maddoc, to make sure everyone and everything is safe.
I lean against the wall. I savor the storm front of heat that rolls over my naked arms and legs, invading the thin fabric of my sundress. “Kiss me,” I say. “Kiss me as if you’d seen it too. As if it were real.” I don’t tell him that it is real, that I will be struck by lightning in two days. I love Maddoc, but he can’t always keep me safe.
Maddoc obeys. He pushes his open mouth against mine. Our tongues fight wetly, writhing in the caves of our throats. His fingers twist my hair into knots and my nails rut into his back. He pulls away suddenly and fumbles at my dress. He tugs the strap off my shoulder with one hand as the other dives to my bare breast beneath. Heat rises where he touches me.
I roll onto the floor and pull him with me. Maddoc lands on top of me, smelling of arousal. His hips meet mine, chaperoned by two layers of fabric. If we were not clothed, we would be fucking. The hardness inside his gym shorts wants entrance. I push him off me, and he slides to the floor like a discarded silk dress.
He wipes his mouth and looks at me. “I wish you’d let me.”
“I love you. I’ll be careful,” he says gently, touching my arm.
I stand and adjust the straps of my dress. “I’m a virgin. It’s going to hurt no matter what. I’ve heard it feels like being murdered.”
“I promise I’ll be careful. My first was a virgin too. She said it didn’t hurt so much.”
“How would she know? What could she compare it to?”
He sighs. “I respect your choice. I’m serious. I love you more than anyone I’ve ever met, and I’ll wait as long as you like.”
“I want it to be special. I’ll do it when I’m ready. And I know when that will be,” I say.
I stare out the window. “Two days.”
He stands behind me and strokes my shoulders. The room is hot, like a unicorn’s breath. In two days I will be struck by lightning: fork. I will give Maddoc this gift because I love him: fork. I will let him inside me. I take his hand and squeeze it. The heat reminds me that this is my choice.
I’m sitting in my summer geology seminar at Arizona State University, and it’s hot in here. I’m sticking to my seat and thinking about unicorns. I could capture the unicorn. If I sat in the woods and played a lute, the unicorn would rest its head in my lap. There aren’t any woods near Phoenix, so a mountain will have to do. I know which one to use. I’m not thinking about lightning, though I should be. I’m also not thinking about the index cards that I shuffle in front of me, or the boy up front who’s giving his presentation.
“Lightning,” he says, and I look up at him. He’s rocking back and forth on his feet like a bad slow dance in middle school. He speaks quickly. “Lightning is another unusual method through which rock can be transformed. When lightning strikes certain types of rock or sand, electricity transforms the strike area into a narrow tube of glass. This substance is called fulgurite.”
I look out the window again. The sky has darkened in the last five minutes. The gray clouds in the west have turned to charcoal, an angry grade-school scribble of lines on faded paper. I don’t see the unicorn, but I know it’s waiting behind the storm. It drinks lightning and rolls in thunder, its cockroach body wallowing in energy like filth. I will be struck by lightning, and transformed to glass: exposed and breakable.
I remember my recurring dream, where my body is transparent except for the street map of veins. My red heart pulses in the center of my chest, vulnerable and naked for everyone to see. I’m nailed to a mountain by my hands and feet. Then invisible forces stretch my body and yank me into the sky. I’m still nailed to the ground but I stretch like clear rubber, unable to fly and unable to rest. I’ve had this same dream since I was thirteen. I wonder if the dream is about fulgurite. Maybe instead of bending, I will break like glass.
Now it’s my turn to speak. I stand and walk to the front of the classroom. If I’m to be transformed to fulgurite, then I must be stone at this moment. I am bloodstone, with dark red veins through a muddy greenish rock. My veins pulse through my core. As I face the class, I’m not afraid, but the words of an old drama coach are still habit. The audience is naked before me.
I do not know what I speak about. I read the index cards mechanically, but keep glancing at the naked restless bodies before me. Nipple eyes watch me–alert male ones and softer, thoughtful female ones. There’s a pierced punk girl in the front row, and she watches me with a slitted metal gaze on small bright breasts. All the belly buttons are small o’s of surprise, startled to be looking at each other, seeing the other faces for the first time. Pink faces, brown, peach, amber–the chins obscured behind desks, the full expressions masked.
Class ends as I’m speaking. The faces rise in unison, revealing their true mouths hidden in dark curly beards. The women are mysterious in their closed-mouth shyness, but the men wag their tongues everywhere. I grab my bookbag before I’m crushed in a mass of bodies, a bloodstone wrapped in skin, a rock buried in flesh.
The halls smell of sweat and sex as the body-faces press forward. The eyes of the women and the tongues of the men jiggle as they walk. Here I see a female face touching a male face–eyes pressed together briefly, then separated. A male face sticks out his tongue at a pretty female as he passes, then he quickly turns away from her. I’m bumped on the sides by leering faces, grinning, mocking the veins in my body–mocking my heart. I wish they would stop touching me, but there are too many people everywhere. I’m a rocky island in a sea of flesh.
I run out the front door of the building and throw my books to the ground. “I am not afraid!” I scream at the sky. Lightning flashes. The unicorn heard me and doesn’t believe me.
Maddoc and I are walking up A Mountain. It’s the one with the large white A for Arizona on the side, where teenagers go to make out. It’s just before sunset, and still over a hundred degrees as we hike up the trail. The storm’s humidity makes sweat pool beneath my breasts. Lightning crackles overhead.
“Shouldn’t we go up here another night?” asks Maddoc.
“No. I want this to be special.” I’m trying to remember that this is my choice. It feels more like fate. I am destined for pain, with this body I was born into, where I must allow Maddoc inside me.
He glances at the sky. “I’ve got condoms, just so you know.”
I don’t respond. The unicorn is circling the mountain, its thick roach body and feathered wings silhouetted on the clouds. It watches us walk up the hill, tilting its horn at me like a rapier. The wind picks up. It’s not raining, not yet. Arizona storms are like storms nowhere else. Here we have desert monsoons–strong enough to knock down fences, or flood a street in two minutes. My skirt billows away from my body and into Maddoc’s legs, tangling him as he walks. I’m wearing only the thin white dress and sandals. Maddoc wears his favorite red shirt and shorts, and cologne that isn’t his usual.
We pass couples walking down the trail, holding hands. Maddoc’s hand snakes into my own. I look ahead to the radio tower on the mountaintop, blinking red and erect against the sunset. The top of my dress is sticky and clings to my breasts like plastic wrap. I pull the fabric away from my skin, wondering when I changed back to flesh. It must have happened when Maddoc touched me. I wonder if I have caught fleshiness from him, like leprosy.
The last few feet of the mountain are steep. I hike up them carefully, with Maddoc behind me. I know he can see up my skirt. I struggle to the top and look up at the radio tower. A strong wind blows, knocking me back a step and scattering a family of owls from the tower. Lightning forks in the sky, none of it towards me, not yet.
The unicorn circles overhead. It lands on the radio tower. Sparks fly from the tangled metal where the creature touches down. Everything is aligned, like iron filings to a magnet. I turn to face Maddoc. “Here,” I say. “This is where I want us to be.”
The wind blows his hair as he holds me in his arms. “You’re so wild,” he says, his fingers seeking my hair. “I can’t understand it. There’s something incredible about you.”
“Kiss me,” I say. Before he can respond, I stand on tiptoe and plant my mouth on his. Maddoc kisses me fiercely. I dig my fingers into his clothes. The buttons pop off his shirt as I tear it away. I let the shirt fly, and the wind carries it partway down the mountain before it catches on a rock. Maddoc doesn’t seem to notice. He’s unbuttoning my dress clumsily, his tongue still locked with mine. I tear off my dress too. The flimsy fabric gives before the buttons do, and the dress shreds under my fingers.
I hear a shriek, and I turn my head. Behind me, the unicorn has thrown its head back and screamed. I spin around to face it, dragging Maddoc with me. I’m naked except for my sandals. Maddoc’s body shields me as I scream back. “I’m ready. I want you.”
The unicorn snorts. Lightning crackles off its horn. Maddoc moans and bites my neck lightly. I claw into his back and pull him to the ground on top of me. Electricity rages through me. Maddoc fumbles at his shorts. I spread my arms and legs like a starfish. The unicorn swoops down and nails me to the ground with its hooves, stomping on my hands and feet. Each touch is a shock. Every sense is alive. Today I will be struck by lightning.
I arch my back. I wonder what happens if a unicorn lays its head in a maiden’s lap, but misses her lap and instead it… but there’s no time to figure that out. I stretch towards the sky: my face in the clouds, my hands and feet on the ground, my limbs like mile-long parachute strings. The unicorn circles me, its wings flapping a storm wind in my eyes. Lightning crackles around me, forking with choices. The unicorn lands on a stormcloud near my feet. I lift my head to see it, smelling ozone in the air.
The unicorn scrapes its hooves against the cloud and lowers its horn. Up close, I can see the horn is the color of blood–grooved, with tiny sparks flickering against it. I stare at the beast, my arms and legs straining with agony. Unable to fly, unable to rest.
“I know what you want,” I whisper. “I want it too. This is my choice.”
The unicorn plunges toward me like a charging bull. Lightning strikes me. My whole body bursts with energy. I howl as power flows through me, through my infinitely long arms and legs, through my hands and feet into the rock below me. The radio tower explodes in shards of metal. I look downwards. The mountain is shaking. A snowflake of glass appears beneath me and spreads like frost across a window. The red stone of the mountain blurs to glass, revealing the heart of the giant rock. The transparent mountain shatters. Shards of glass fly like bullets away from the sound. I fall towards the explosion and close my eyes. I am flying and resting, both at once.
When I open my eyes, Maddoc is stroking my cheek. “Oh God,” he whispers, “Oh, God.” It’s raining on us. He kisses me and moves wet hair out of my eyes.
“Did I bleed?” I whisper.
“Not much.” He kisses me. “Did it hurt?”
“Not much.” Not like I had feared. I look at his face, his naked body next to mine. He looks so vulnerable. I glance down between his legs, where his penis rests limply on his scrotum. Such a delicate thing, so strange but no longer foreign to me. I touch it lightly, and he shivers.
“I love you so much,” he says. “Thank you. Thank you.”
I kiss him gently, on the lips. The unicorn is gone.