I remember the textures of your clothing; the smell of your neck and my spit wetly kissing there; the scent of it mixed with fingertips scraping synthetic material; until a gust of fragrance and your warm flesh closer biting; your tangled hair between my fingers; eyes each clouded, cleft by dim light, your vacant hazel and my cold granite.
Now she regrets having told them all her cherished things. The ghosts of memory diminish the longer they linger, so the freshness of her pain was past bleeding, scarred in her speech, white where it should have been gushing crimson for him. But he had done the same and now checked his tongue in these later years, these mid-twenties. The women he had bled for before he could scarcely remember.
It is true that the more you tell the story, the less real the story becomes.
She would use his tatters to make dresses. He’d use hers as a tourniquet. They wore each other until they were each other, and they felt nothing but the other’s smile and dancing eyes. Later, when she would sleep with other men, the vividness of their bliss would cause her stomach to drop, and she might whimper in the breathing darkness.
You were always the same but in moments. A few frames ring out in that stillness. Well, what was done off-camera can only remain unexposed. But the moments remain, those few frames.
He doubted that he would ever cry over another girl as much before sleeping with her. Or after. In these mid-twenties he found tenderness only through himself, he found others only through himself, yet he found love offered everywhere and planted kisses on shoulders, kisses that should have been hers.
“I couldn’t breathe, and my doctor was in Atlantic City—“
He kissed that one’s shoulder when the story was done. (“She filled the bath with steam…”) He would feel uneasy and sad, having shared it with her. A precious moment, less real now, a sliver. And his kiss on that shoulder would be the same as every other kiss on every other shoulder, fleeing outward, as long ripples toward the edge of a puddle.
Before those shoulder kisses and dainty projections he saw the way she looked at him through the fire, and just as easily saw her gaze turn, saw her walk away, while he rummaged through his pockets for a pen.
I wrote on every dollar in your purse. The only paper he could find. So you would know that I loved you.
Before the fire, before her eyes, what was there?
“If you think about it: Dogs barks, cats meow, humans laugh! It’s that simple.” And she began the laughter mockingly, looking into his serious eyes. “No? You are not human? Then bark for me. Meow for me. Bite me—“
She liked the way his hands felt on her, the way they clawed at her ribs and held her hips. His body communicated with her better than his voice did.
Yet occasionally she felt so alone with him that she could scream, and her mind filled the space between them with frantic thought. She wondered if he could feel her heart beating faster. She decided he was a bastard for having to feel her heart beat to know she was desperate and frightened. She knew she would wake up and love him. She hated that about him.
Much later, she would say: “Don’t say you’re sorry to me while you’re fucking smiling.” She would think back on all of the moments of him smiling and arrange them in such a way as to not want to lose them. He could never quite figure out where the pieces fit in himself. He could never meet her at a café and not feel the same ten thousand inexpressible sadnesses.
Repression was his curse, at odds with her inquisitory nature, her way of parsing things into definites. What was it like? It was nothing to him anymore. I’m sorry for forgetting. He wanted to forget with her. Do you want to forget? Don’t forget. Talk to me.
Until what lurked beneath began to burrow further. The words were crushing him, her words, he was afraid to become her words. His own had failed him enough times. When he was with her, he lost every last one.
I think about this. When you’re not here. It’s all I think about. Is you being inside of me. And us doing this. We just fit together so well. And everything is so perfect. All I want is—
“Don’t be sweet with me.”
“I tried being bitter.”
How could he have lied to those eyes then? Her eyes were the only things that made his lungs suck in air. His serious face must have been easier to lie to. A blank stare, revealing little.
“There’s plenty guys who’d like my sweet words better than you,” she’d said.
I think about this.
He would think about it, too. It made him want to die. But time kept moving until that feeling, too, rippled outward, and disappeared, rippled outward, and disappeared, and rippled outward. Each wave weaker than the last.
Afterward, every new interaction became a reinvention for her. The reinvention became an addiction. She never realized how much she was discarding, peeling away the details of their time together, paring the happy times to splice them with the sad times. The past became beyond recollection, a pastiche of words and eyes and hands.
“You remind me of someone I knew,” she’d said. “He died. Left this world. But you remind me of him, there’s something about you.”
Perhaps I’m fading. Where she had words, he had silence.
“I used to tell myself, always, ‘I am transient.’” Looking into him: “‘I am transient, this is washing over me—‘”
She played out their memories on those words of hers. And she remembered doing the same, before him, and wondered if the person he knew her as would always be someone other than who she was. I am transient—
Moments of lucid lust replaced his love for her. As their distance became greater and he left her behind he could still conjure his wordless yearning. The night was like her eyes, slowly picking him apart before enveloping him. And in the morning, her eyes were gone.
I remember the textures of your clothing—
Published in Lovers & Other Strangers, Summer 2014. Image courtesy of Lovers & Other Strangers. Purchase the issue with this story here. Also available at Forbidden Planet NYC and Barnes & Noble Union Square.