There were a half dozen people in that small apartment, I knew only one of them; but that wasn’t the one to hand me that red cup. I looked up to follow the arm of the person handing me my drink. He smiled shyly behind dark curls, and at once I was completely aware that his finger touched mine as I closed my hand around the ridges of the shiny cup. That one digit that brushed against my fingertip, cooling my nail as it released that one subtle drink into my hand.
The party happens around us, as if we’re locked in that time. Ocean currents rise and fall around me. We don’t sit together, but all I can see is his movements; so slow and fluid in that dirty apartment around the blur of those other people. I can hear the sounds of people singing. In the kitchen, there’s a dirty metal cage with a small animal, we laugh drunkenly at its little hands as our host hand food off to it; its small eyes staring out at us at it feeds, watching us precipitously.
The night passed, the attendance thinned. We each found our little section of floor to sleep; I can remember how cold it was, there on that bare floor, my coat failing miserably as a pillow. He had a giant sleeping bag, and he promised to be a gentleman. I was so cold I bundled into that huge bag. I turned my back towards him and curled into a ball, as small as I could. He extended his arms above his head, careful not to touch me uninvited. He had a pillow he had procured from the couch; it smelled of time, and parties that had come before I had been here, and he shared that square with me as I fell asleep, I could feel his breath on my neck, my hair sticking to his lips. So small, this sleeping bag, but he made sure there was me an gulf between us.
Our apartment is a large version of that floor at that party, so far away now. We don’t speak to the hosts of that party anymore, it feels like we only talk to each other. Our sleeping bag has evolved into a mattress in the bedroom of our studio; it rests on the floor in the far corner, no frame or box spring. We are the frames here. Our furniture is sparse, most of it imaginary utilities from shipping crates and boxes. We have a table made out of television cable spools, and duct tape secures everything. The door to our bedroom is a blanket, pinned to the door frame, and that seals us from the outside, but it was ours; it blocked the them from the us in here.
Everything is held together, so much work to make things feel like home. When the days wind down, and we sleep, he always turns towards the wall. How such a tall, long frame can fold itself, like origami, into such a small supine child-fetal and hugging into the wall, an abandoned body in a blizzard, trying to keep warm; bristling that spine against the world. I lay on my back, with an ocean between us.
I wonder what is the matter, why he pulls so far away. Our home is an open island, they could hear us have sex through that blanket door, but we haven’t done that in ages. I lay there with all that distance and all these seas, and I couldn’t love him any more than I do. I wonder have we met the worse before the better? My hand creeps slowly towards his shoulder, but I stop before I touch that skin, as if his skin would wake me from the dream I’m in. I would have held him, if only he’d let me.
The years have passed, and we’ve grown up from those adults we were. We have gifted ourselves into this flat that we live in. One day, I walk slowly up those stairs; even with the carpet of our condo, I still feel the cold wooden hallway of that apartment, and the stark floor from our party and the flesh of our sleeping bag that held so many oceans at bay.
As I turn the corner into our bedroom, where we’ve always been since the day we met, I see the vast expanse of mattress that wasn’t there before. He’s had a mattress delivered, it’s like a new home, new banks to our ocean and my heart fills like piano notes on marble floors. I slowly wrap my arms around myself; I spin, letting my chin fall into my shoulder imagining he was there with me, with that spinning and that piano, his imaginary lapel at my cheek.
He enters the room, and all I can feel is my heartbeat. He straightens the covers on our new bed, his blanket, and my sheets.
And all I can wonder is what is the matter; what has always been the matter, and I finally say those words that must be the true, they could only be true.
“I would still love you”
His hands brush out a wave “What’s that?”
“I would still love you, if you wanted someone else, someone other than me”
He folds down the top of the comforter, his long fingers brushing away imaginary whitecaps and imperfections. His blue eyes analyzing me, drawing me, I imagine he’s brushing away my imperfections. Then he speaks:
“All the money in the world wont buy a bed so big and wide to guarantee that I wont ‘accidently’ touch you in the night”
The piano in my mind rises, and I smile, I want to spin and dance; the piano dances and spins like I did, and the piano, and the piano…
It’s been so long since that flat, since that new bed. Our bodies have started to fail, stairs are even a challenge to us, I couldn’t imagine walking down that long hallway to see that giant white bed; and we spend so much time in our ocean now with our familiar grooves, shaped like us, so much distance between us.
I don’t want to move, I don’t want to get out of that bed. He come’s triumphantly into the room, slowly; and his long fingers turn off the light. Pulling those forever legs into our bed, he lies down next to me, so long and thin, those black curls that hid those ice eyes from me so long ago fall onto the pillow- such a full ocean away from me. Such a fulfilling life we’ve had, with our seas and the closest distances anyone will ever feel. I start to reach for his shoulder, and he rolls away without seeing, rolling that frame into such a small boy that once laid on that filthy mattress, and that young man that handed me such a shiny red cup, who offered me a warm sleeping bag that I never ever got out of.
‘Don’t worry my love, I’ll take the cancer; you take the heart failure.’ So stiff and cold we lay. I still wonder what’s the matter. Surely this must be a matter of having the worse before the better. I wrap myself up, my arms wrapped tightly around myself, as I feel the cold shores of that ocean between us, and the cold air that draws us here.
Look how full a life we’ve lived. We’re not our own stories anymore; we’re a giant stone, right under a massive pink-blossomed tree. Our names carved for the next hundred years, showing where our newest ocean finds shore, and the piano…
My hair could never reach his lips anymore. We’re sleeping like we always did, how we’ve been comfortable, apart and cold, afraid to move but to only disturb the other. There he lay, right next to me; his back like the walls of a great cliff, smashing those waves between us. I can still feel the seawater in my eyes as I turn and look at him. I wonder, like I’ve always wondered, and I finally say it:
“What’s the matter? Was it always the worse before the better?”
Like the tree growing, he rolls; stretching those long limbs forever above, it’s that first night. So careful to be a gentleman, to not invade my area, the area I only want him in. His blue eyes drawing me, I have to force myself to keep watching him, staring at him through his study. He’s finally facing me…
He said, “You never asked.”