I put the cask on the counter and the clerk says nothing. I’m making punch, my anxiety says, sangria. The clerk doesn’t care, simply pronounces the price while I collate the cost. I offer thanks and get paid with a nod that haunts me out the door, down the street, and into my first glass. I can hear the ice cracking against the suburban stillness. My thirst never makes a sound. By my last I’m no longer dry and ready to drown. I nod at the walls. It’s a punch, I tell them, but you can’t see the bruise.
The cold realities have started seeping in and scare me more than the nightmares ever did. I see her now, looking sometimes at the mask hung in the closet and wondering if she didn’t like me better that way. ‘Do you have to be sad?’ Syllables soft and sharp. ‘Can’t you just… can’t you be happy?’ I tell her it’s not about joy or despair but honesty measured empirically, I won’t hide anymore. We go to sleep with the monster under the bed half discussed and wake in fragmentation. I tell her I’m trying and she nods, ‘I know.’
I’m not cold until she goes, then my heart slows, the blood I’d grown used to gushing pumps a flaccid pace. I leave the lights out and wrap the dark around my skin in honorific absence, telling the night that light has left with her. Outside, the clouds muster, obscuring the stars and severing our celestial connection. Muddied by the river’s black eddy, the city’s busy sheen gloats with life. The wind whips past me on its way to the horizon and leaves me frigid in its passing. I’m not cold until she goes, then I burn with longing.
I woke up moaning in despair, separated from you by inches, infinite neurons, and the wilds of sleep. I’d dreamt I was a cuckoo’s cuckold. Another shape moved in my place to drank my fill of you. I begged, pleaded, and performed the menial while your love for me evaporated. ‘Don’t do this,’ you said, regret and contempt so vivid and visceral it tore the dreams from my head. Brutally aware of mixed realities, I lay in the dark listening to the night birds sing the world awake, weeping for myself and a life that is and never was.
Everybody always asks after Arris. Not a soul seems to go unimpressed in her presence. Even my parents call to ask after her now, saying, so charming—what an absolute pleasure. They all think she’s the best thing about me. It makes me want to want to argue sometimes but they’re probably right, and honestly, what a delight to be on this side of that. Knowing their subject objectifies me is a solipsistic bliss. Still, as much as I love her love, I do find I side with the world, it’s in my devotion to her that I’m happiest.
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.