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.”
Feedback Welcome– very early draft
I am standing in a garden. The grass under my feet is cold and wet, like the shock of the dew on my feet would never feel normal. Every new footfall had the cold contact of that water on my heels again. Behind me, where I came from, the long blades of grass laid down with the outline of my feet, thick blades of grass with their iridescent droplets of water magnifying veined stalks. They lay like drawings there, in the dark earth.
In the garden, there are trees. Huge trees, so high I can’t see the first branches, reaching up past where I knew the sky should be. Perspective forcing me to lean back, further and further, up, up, up, to see where these trunks reached, but it was just more and more green. Dark emerald green, like postcards of Irish islands, dark green velvets. Everything contained so completely within canopies and vines, all locking me in my forest-garden.
To my right, a small knoll was capped by a wall, I’m certain the wall must have been brick once, but now it’s just built of moss. The only parts of this portrait around me that aren’t some shade of green are the small flowers, speckled within the lawns ahead of me, surrounded by tiny bits of the rock and bricks that make up the earthly confines of my garden, and straight ahead, a large grey stone fountain.
On my left, huge shrubs, woven together so tightly no animal could squeeze through, let alone me. They towered over me, five and six feet high. Their front a flat screen of leaves and gnarled branches. The shrubs were one long wall, each one stood like soldiers, shoulder to shoulder, lined up all the way towards that fountain. The resevoir perfectly centered there between my soldier-shrubs and that moss wall.
I can hear a voice behind the fountain. It sounds like my grandmother, her strong German accent making it harder to hear, over the sound of the water in the fountain. It sounds like she is saying, ‘come to Oma’, ‘Oma’ is ‘grandmother’ in German, as we’ve always called her. ‘Come to Oma. I love you Oma’, and it makes me happy.
I walk towards the fountain, the air thick with cool humidity; the mist splits behind me as if I were wearing a cloak made of this garden’s atmosphere. Life surrounds me in this path; lightning bugs illuminate and flicker in the distance, yellow-green beacons beyond the towers of vegetation. Glowworms sway, pale blue and white in the darkest of far corners. They remind me of car lights from a tall building, staring out into a sea of darkness with just tiny spots in pairs moving around invisible lanes. To my left, the greenest frog in the whole world begrudgingly hops out of the way of my approaching steps.
I reach my fountain, its cool clear water should be blue, like my glow worms and the sky I can’t see from here; but in the twilight of my garden, it has the deepest black reflection I’ve ever seen, mirroring the floor of the basin the water pours into. The fountain is so large, and I am so small I have to perch up on my tippy toes to dip my hand into the pool. The water is snow-cold, impossibly cold; as soon as my skin breaks the surface, my garden is gone, and I’m awake, back at home, warm in my bed. I can’t be back in my garden again, not until I fall asleep, and only then if I wish and pray, only if I’m really lucky, maybe I’ll get to visit my garden again.
It must have been weeks; I’ve been out here. My eyes open, fluttering, slowly stretching more and more until they’re open completely, and I’m staring at a dragonfly. Slowly opening his clear stained glass wings, just like my eyelids. I focused on him and he’s staring back with huge domed eyes, resting on my hand. His name is Carson; he tells me. I know I’m back in my garden again, and it’s darker now. My hand is cold, like my dragonfly is made of the cold; his pinpoint legs on my thumb pouring ice water into my skin. Stretching up over my elbow, into my shoulder. I’m lying in a blue chair, its dark blues a harsh contrast to my garden.
I’m thirsty, my dry riverbed tongue heavy in my mouth, like paste as I try to swallow, and I see my fountain ahead. Closer now than it was before. I remember where I am, and the moisture that hung heavy before is not here anymore. I could never imagine drying out in this place, but I am paper and chalk, and all I want is that fountain.
I stand, my legs stiff and my stomach uneasy, my arm aches. All that cold makes me crumble, rusty, as I pull my elbow to my body, rubbing it warm. Still Carson stands defiantly on the back of my hand. Freezing me from the inside, and I don’t want to let him go; so I take it. I’m strong, I know I can be strong; Mom says I’ll be strong, so I will be.
As I walk for my fountain, I think ‘I can play here today’. I can be here as long as I want to be. Those other places are broken, and I don’t want to play. I want to dance in my garden where I don’t need other kids. They look, they think things about me, all I need is here, there’s always something interesting in the grasses. The air is fresh and filling. I could run forever here.
The other kids have to go to school. They have to learn math and science and how to play basketball. I get to play in my garden and they’ll never get to know about it. Mom thinks I’d be sad that the other kids don’t play with me, but I’m not. They don’t get to see what I get to see, they’ll never know a color as green as this. Where they play, dogs bite and the mosquitoes make little itchy bumps that get red during the summer. The ground is hard, and there are rocks and pebbles, and blacktop. In my garden, it’s soft, I could fall from a million miles up, and it wouldn’t hurt at all.
Here, there are flowers, and fresh little puddles. Its never too hot, or sticky, or snowy, and the bugs never bite and Carson stares from the back of my hand and the fountain is always cold.
I’m thirsty, I pull away from that chair. As I walk towards that fountain, it feels like Carson is pulling me back. He sits heavy on my hand and wants met to stay in my chair. I don’t want blue today, I only want that cold water. The air around me is stirring as I stand and try to reach. I’m sitting in the grass now, my dragonfly anchoring me to that ugly chair. I hate that chair, and how far it keeps me from my fountain. This is my garden, who is this little bug to keep me from going where I want? He’s stinging my hand now, his cold toes biting into me, wings pulling at my skin, and I hate him.
I pull myself back into my chair, and my hand hurts less. He’s still staring at me, those big stained glass wings making fun of my tired eyes, open-close-open-close as I sit back down. I notice warm hands holding my left hand, rubbing my palm. I can smell my mother’s perfume as she tells me it will be Ok. This will pass. She must be right. She knows better than Carson does, she’ll give me water and make me warm again. She’s talking to someone else too, I’m not sure who, but they’re talking about Oma. Oma wont take someone, but I can’t hear, and it isn’t water anyway.
There are other voices too. Sounds, tones, clicks, and words like a foreign language. They are addressing people that aren’t me. I can’t see them, just hear them noisying up my garden. Just Mom’s voice, my dragonfly and my fountain in my garden; these are the things I hear, and see, and smell, and that’s fine by me. I’m tired, and I’m cold, and I’m still thirsty, and Mom is quietly crying. These voices are upsetting her, and I want her to come to my garden; then she wouldn’t have to listen to them anymore, and people wouldn’t have to look at us anymore, and she could sit on the grass with me and talk about ice cream and icicles and dragonflies.
I’m in my bedroom now. I can hear Mom in the kitchen. I’m still cold, but now it’s all over me. I look for Carson, but there’s only a bit of tape where he sat. A heavy bit of white tape and cotton where he was perched, and there’s the red outline where his stained glass wings touched my hand. My forehead is cold, so I nuzzle into my pillow and pull my blankets up high and think about my garden. What I’ll do next time I’m there. That silly dragonfly won’t hold me back anymore, and that fountain won’t wake me up. I’ll try to find the sky next time. There must be some break in the trees where I can see a little clouds or rain, and Oma will help me find them, while we walk over the buttercups and daisies.
I’m lying in a bed. It’s not my bed, not my comfy cloud bed from home with the pillows that smell like me, and the four walls I know. This bed is all white, and the room is all white, and the metal is all silver, and I’m cold. My bed has arms like a chair, tall bars that stand above the edges where I lay. When I touch it, its always chilly; I reach out and wrap my fingers around the bars next to me.
It’s never quiet here. There are rhythmic beeps and clicks, like a space movie, there’s always someone else coming in, and they’re always writing things or talking to people when I’m trying to get back to my garden. I close my eyes and things go all shiny and I’m almost asleep, but someone always says something in a funny language and it wakes me up.
They know about my garden. They talk about Carson when they talk in their complicated speak. I’m sure I’m starting to understand them now, but I wont tell them.
It’s dark. So dark, a thick soupy dark that I could mold in front of me, if there were only contrast around it, but there isn’t. Just dark. I can hear my mother, out there in all that dark. I know I’m in my garden but I don’t know what told me this. I just know I must be.
The other voices are out in the darkness too, talking about me, they tell each other times and dates, something with Oma. Something is wrong, the words they use are long and complicated, and they don’t know I can still hear them, but I can.
They’re talking about time, my time; all I care about is my time in my garden, but it’s so dark, I can’t see the fountain, or my soldier-shrubs or my frogs or anything. One of them says I’m strong, I fight, but I don’t remember fighting. The ground is soft, so I sit down. I just want to see them, I don’t want to keep secrets from them, and I want Mom to see my garden. She’d love my garden, and how I built it. But I’m alone, and I cry.
They keep talking about Carson, and Oma, that they’re taking me somewhere, I hear their names over and over, so many people talking about Carson, Oma, and when I’ll be going; It’s like these people are right with me, but its so black, I can’t find them. I feel like waking, feeling the grass on my feet again, but I don’t feel anything anymore.
Then, in the darkness, I hear my mother. She’s talking to the voices, asking them questions, about my garden. She knows! I knew she was there, holding my hand, and warming my skin. I try to speak, but its like the darkness has filled my mouth and my lungs and I can’t form words. They reason with her, they tell her that some people see things, that it can affect the brain, they give it a name, in their long, complicated language, what happens to the mind, the chemicals they use to fight with me, to fight the thyroid carson-oma. But its like they’re a million miles away, past the fountain, and the wall, and the glowworms. They couldn’t hear me anymore, even if I could tell them about my garden.
It’s bright now. So bright and warm and quiet, I have to struggle to open my eyes, the light warm, but making it hard for me to focus. When they do open, I can see the impossible rays of white sunlight breaking the canopy over my fountain. I can see over my wall now, there’s a huge field I’ve never taken notice of before, it stretches forever, out and away from the forest, away from the thick trees and away from that cold fountain.
I stand; it feels so effortless now, standing in that warm sunlight. Raising my face and my arms up, I’m not tired anymore. Checking my hand slowly, I look for Carson, but he’s not here either. The little red outlines of his wings are gone, and I’m free to walk, to feel that grass under my feet again, not wet or stinging, it stands now, dry and soft.
As I reach the fountain, the water is cool, not the sharp cold awakening as before, I take a long sip from my cupped palm, and look out, over the wall and into the vast open sea of flowers. I think I’ll visit them today.
I’d love to say you cant have me anymore. But I wasn’t strong enough to take me away the first time. I’m still missing that part of me, almost as much as I miss you.
Hollow bits I forgot to pack up, leaving drops of myself like breadcrumbs to that place I promised Id never go back to. I’ll find my way along that bright red path; shining black in the moonlight, like that rain falling under the greyscale skies that can never wash it away.
Those ashen skies appeared like a movie reel, framing my hemorrhaging- writing my dramas in a script no one would believe the details of, but too perfect to forget.
My life isn’t for me anymore, and it probably never was. Our lives are simple, to find someone else to gift them to. Polish them to a shine until we find someone else strong enough to contain them. Our injuries earned through a life poorly lived; a tapestry no one else can recreate.
But then, why would they want to, when they see how beautiful you have woven it?
Passion is never calm.
Passion is never relaxed.