I wish I could sketch but my hands are mere dullards when put to test. Her visage begs for capture, not in facsimile or rendered pixel, but in seasoned illustration, fine dripping watercolour and thick oils sensually applied. I want to tear charcoal from the earth’s ash and smear it over canvas busts built in her image. Ten thousand hours per honed craft could never account for the sheer art of her existence. I want to dedicate myself to learning expression, pure, masterful, and crafted, focused on the labour of acknowledging that her crystalline beauty is irreplicable and unique.
I can’t even remember my order, just her smooth black contour semi-crouched in the brazier lit courtyard and the mallow whites of her eyes attacking a wall of soft chocolate pupils. She could have said, I’ll kill the animal myself, bared teeth and claw, smiling panther wild in the urban jungle. I would have said, yes, certainly, animal cowed and agape. Either way, what’s on my plate is far beyond me and her only a glance away, eager, fleet, and sharp. My throat becomes horse and she’s there with canines and water, enamel begging lamb to the slaughter.
We’re different ends of a watch spring. Where she coils tighter with actions and purpose, I grow slack to yield tension. I tick away and she tocks towards, holding taut equilibrium in the void. Calculated to equalise flaws, wound precisely together, we are honed to count on each other. It’s a wonderful way to spend time and oddly efficient, flying fast in the way of these things. No matter how much has passed it always feels fuller, flowing with the potential of a bottomless hourglass. We go on this way forever, forging past and future while enjoying our present.
I find myself again in that dreamless place, looking for sweet annihilation under the full moon. I place the weight of her head on my shoulder, imprecisely imagined and heavier with absence. My feet tread water under sheets and keep me just above the surface of sleep where the cold is all that fits between my fingers and my body longs for pins and needle numbness. I wrap myself in the last of her smell and tell campfire stories to the comforter. Tomorrow’s morning will break upon me like a hammer and she will spill out to challenge it.
I fell for her first in a darkened driveway, drunk on hard cider and the prospects of life. We chatted briskly in broad stroke motifs with incidental familiarity. For five minutes we’d known each other for years, shared space with an ease that tends only to come after erosion is done with defence. When she left I fell hardest, like watching sunlight pass across prison bars, I felt burgled and bereft. I stood in that darkened drive with the shape of love depressed in my hand and the knowledge that nothing felt so right as her by my side.
Everyone keeps telling me how hard it’s going to be but nobody asks me whether it’s difficult. I take their words and staple them to my coat like a wall of lost things made from budget flyer prints. I’m uncertain of the shape beneath the collage now, been a framework for so long I could very well be hollow. I peel off a sheet and write a plea on it, try and disseminate it on the street. Everyone keeps walking by with swift feet and assent, saying, it must be hard standing there, but nobody asks me to move.
I watch him thinking about dressing, sorting shirts with languid but strangely staccato grace, muscles and mindset in checkerboard accord. You’re beautiful, I tell him, the word settling on his shoulders as dust might. He doesn’t flinch but contracts bodily, a movement between sigh and shudder, almost imperceptibly fine except for the slightest shift of the eye. ‘Thank you,’ he says, stretching a shirt over his frame. You are, though, so beautiful, and you don’t get told enough. ‘Honey,’ he says, ‘knowing you believe it is more than enough.’ I see him dressed, a clash of reality and perception.
We festoon ourselves with curios cut from catalogues and call it chic — shorthand for happiness. Urbane couches in faux country fabrics. Modern apparatus for minimalist meals. Serving sets for absentee guests. Overblown glassware and unhandled mugs. Gewgaws that seesaw on surrealist values — some even with sentiment — where sat amongst these trappings we fete our taste. Haven’t we made something for ourselves, we say, believing an idiosyncratic arrangement of items is unique amongst others. We bury ourselves as pharaohs surrounded by worldly goods and social ills in a kingdom of kitsch and clutter, ourselves becoming as dust on the shelf.
Arris lives at a mayfly pace, breakneck into life unto death. We fell in love within days, as is her way, married in spirit scarce weeks after, thereupon mated soul to soul. Now I watch her flit to task at a ferocious clip, my mind in the slovenly slow motion of an astute sloth awed at progress. I sometimes struggle to keep up, making my way sluggishly to her markers to pause and comment while she calls from the next. ‘Keep up,’ she shouts from the future, patience stretched far as ambition, ‘I can’t wait to have you here.’
Jonah looks away while he’s talking, as though his answers must be recalled from the horizon. ‘It’s like living next to a lake that sometimes floods,’ he says. ‘Some people are never bothered, others are over prepared, and some just get inundated.’ I put my hand on his cheek and turn it towards me. ‘Which are you?’ His eyes stay far away. ‘I suppose I’m the lake, or the fear of the flood.’ I place my lips against his, tasting the salt and tremble that lives there. When I pull away his eyes bore into mine, looking for answers.
Vignettes at the intersection of poetry and prose, the second collection of Hundreds is one hundred stories written in exactly one hundred words and accompanied by one hundred images. Connections exist between them all, they can be found or discarded as you please, but the links aren’t as imperative as the instances depicted, and won’t please any sensible chronology. Otherwise, just enjoy the moments.
I’m lonely the instant she leaves and beat myself about the head with all the things I should have done or said. Like shouting, I love you, louder in increments, a dozen times or more. Like sweeping her in my arms, lifting her high as I can and making the sun jealous with her shine. Like shedding my armour, being truly vulnerable beneath it all and saying, I need you, really need not want, require, or desire. All the things I should have done and nothing wasn’t one of them, like seeing your own shadow and turning it away.
Both of us wear splinters shaped by other people in the layers of our skin. We take turns removing some, examining others, and guarding the rest. This one, I say, goes pretty deep, it’s shaped like a betrayal of trust. ‘Fascinating,’ she says, pulling it gingerly from my heart. ‘I got this one when realising they didn’t see the world like me.’ I pluck it tenderly from her eye and toss it on the pile. When we are done we talk about the absence of pain, wondering how we could have lived for so long with such prickling discomfort.
When the nightmares wake me I turn to Arris and place my hand on her chest, falling into the space between breaths. Sleeping still, she lays her hand over mine and mewls softly at the dark, unconscious signals that need no dream reader to untangle. No light and no life show beyond the bounds of our room. We are all that there is. I move closer for my skin to know hers. Chest to toe my body warms with an inner glow. I turn to face sleep again, knowing whatever waits beyond, I will be safe when I return.
‘Tenderly but with a firm sense of ownership,’ she says, when I lay my hands upon her. I play my fingers down her spine and beneath the panty line, there I trade my tenderness, pound for pound per square inch upon her buttocks. ‘My body is yours,’ she says, but it’s my skin on fire, my lips melting upon contact, my senses subsumed, my heart quickening her veins. I place my tongue upon her neck and eat her pulse, soft chewing toffee relished for its texture. You are everything to me, I say, and her body says, I know.