The Egoist

By Rhian Sasseen

We burn paper, not skin.

In Central Square a solider checks my handbag. On the train I unfold a copy of the New York Review of Books. Since Monday the station’s loudspeaker has repeated, if you see something, say something . . . I read, “Above the age of five we are probably too old for happiness.” Carefully, I underline it.

“The weather doesn’t change,” K. remarked the evening of the bombing. We sat with E. and ate ice cream, the spoon cool against the tongue. On the news they had no answers, only a video of the Back Bay’s bloodied sidewalks. We would soon find out that the perpetrators were brothers. “But this never happens here.” We wondered what was next.

When I was an undergraduate I assumed that I would be dead by age thirty. Why thirty? I used to stand near the edge of Paradise Pond and imagine myself floating: not a stone, not a rock: a piece of paper. Once, upon returning to a party, a friend’s girlfriend, a Republican, noticed that I had been crying. “You look good,” she told me.

I had not been invited to my cousin’s wedding. The absence of an invitation stung; he had attended my father’s funeral. Since my father’s death, a marked lack of invitations became, in fact, how my family best communicated. Things fall apart: Sasseen, you Sassanid. I don’t know my own blood.

We heard the gunshots, or thought we did.

In the corner of his room, D. stands naked and cocks his head. Click. My desire slides into place. We were supposed to be in New York this weekend, a few days after the bombing; we were supposed to be visiting the journalism program to which I have been accepted. But this, as it turns out, is journalism enough: the heat of his body, pressing into mine. Another bomb went off, or was meant to; the brothers now have guns. We stay inside, unwashed and half-asleep, and when we cannot bear to watch the news any longer we return to his bedroom and make love seven times.

“Her hair gave off a strong smell, sharp as an animal’s.” There are no more helicopters overhead. To celebrate the lockdown’s end, D. and I decide to bake a cake. They found the bomber in Watertown, bloody and beneath a boat. When I open the oven, my hand slides too quickly; I burn my finger.

Who is to say that we’re not guilty, that we have not metaphorically done the same? Night falls in Cambridge. In my lover’s bed I consider the day gone by and an abstract darkness, an unstructured fear, begins to percolate in the corners of my mind. I can’t remember if I said “hello.” All greetings merge; “goodbye,” too, is colorless, like the dawn.

Rhian Sasseen is a Massachusetts-based writer, whose work has appeared in Al Jazeera America, Salon, and Bitch. More can be found at her website,

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