You Know Better: Issue Four

April 2010. This is for you.

Read on for a taste of this issue. To get a copy, stop by Bluestockings or email isabel at isabelsparkle dot com.


Last month in neurology we learned about cell membranes. The teacher talked for hours and gave us diagrams, made us explain it back to him so he knew we understood -- about the times they're permeable and the times they're not, the brilliant design and the proteins that lie in wait for the perfect moment to push their way out. They've got microscopic gates, these membranes, that stay closed most of the time to keep things consistent, inside the cell and around. They can only be opened when the right neurotransmitter comes along, sent by a stimulus elsewhere in the body, to unlock it.

I'm on my back on the hard wood floor. She's playing her guitar and singing, with that deep laugh like smoke, low and warm in the dark room. It's too much -- her notes and her breath, the easy strum of her fingers, fierce yet tempered, even and endless. Something deflates in my chest. I can't breathe right. I've known her two weeks and already she makes me nostalgic for things I've never had. Suddenly I'm crying and I don't want her to notice, so I stare at the ceiling, then steady my voice and ask after the song. Whose music is it, where did she find it. Maybe I should look it up. There's a pause, then that quiet squeak as her fingers slide back up the strings. Not a song, she says and laughs, pulling her hat low over her eyes. This is when I know she wrote it. This is when I know nothing will ever be the same again.

It's called action potential, when a cell gate senses the exact electrochemical impulse it needs. Now the megahertz climb, and the charge of the membrane reverses in an attempt to reach threshold. Here a law is engaged; it states that such impulses, once facilitated, will always be conducted at consistent and maximum speed. This law is called the All-or-Nothing Principle. There is no halfway, no going back. This is when neurons fire, muscles contract, brains arrive at decisions and anything can change. It happens in fractions of a second, faster than we can ever count.

She draws me into a dance, slow and tuneless; her fingers light on my back, her left foot leading my right. We're hardly moving. I can feel her heart banging against my breast. There is no sound, no time. She pushes me across the room, backwards, until we reach wall. There's a bicycle behind me; its seat pokes into my ribs and its handlebars collide with my elbow. Her hands grip the backs of my thighs, her lips pull at mine -- she is hungry, insistent, pacing herself, sweeping deeper. Her body is small and strong, sinking into the spaces mine leaves open. This isn't the first kiss, but also, it is. I can already tell that this is where she will live. The guitar falls facedown with a clang. No one picks it up.