Cynicism and Hope were entwined. They’d just made love. Cynicism lay a hand upon Hope’s breastplate, feeling the delicate web of nerve and bone that cage a heart. Each placid thump sent a wave of terrifying euphoria up Cynicism’s arm, pumping not blood but life through strange osmotic channels. I don’t want to hurt you, Cynicism said. Hope lay a hand to Cynicism’s cheek, grounding a circuit that fed warmth and light to each of them. ‘You could never hurt me,’ Hope said, ‘even with pain.’ They saw each other as though seeing themselves and said, ‘I need you.’
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 can’t remember what it feels like to want to love you. The yearning vice that clamps a heart. The penetrating gaze that dissects a mind. The casual touch that quakes a body. The balm that soothes a soul. The libidinous tide of lust. I can remember what it feels like to want to hate you. The smell of burning flesh and ash. The sandpaper rasp of an out screamed oesophagus. The unshakable tremors and knotted muscles. The deep and unabiding rage and confusion. The nightmares and exhaustion. The barren sensation of evaporated tears. The salted wounds. The fears.
Nearly dead with the effort of saying nothing, I tell her, you are one gram of exotic spice in a time of cartography when a dozen lives would have ended at sea fetching favour for a queen. You are the cutting need for chisels, the impulse to etch, and the pull to put pigment to canvas. You are the stars under glass in magnified incandescence. You are sonnets, scores, and combustion engines, literature, plays, the mother of invention. You are the explorer in every heart and the dream dwelling in every mind. You are all that and evermore besides.
I stand outside, watching her move through the mesh screen guarding the kitchen. It’s not our home, we’re dwelling. Sparsely furnished, fully occupied, the owners lives present from board to mortar. Watching her wearing it, an adult playing dress up. One day, I say, I will build this for you. Brick by brick in deed and metaphor. ‘My love,’ she says, a smile’s softness severing all my muscles. ‘As is proper, we’ll build it together.’ Watching her form through the gauze, the house lights define her filigree. You are my heart, I say. ‘Then we already have a foundation.’
It’s reverse mummification. She put my brain back in first, then my heart, and my lungs, then all of the essentials in sequential. Consequently, I began to think again, to love, and breathe, and fill myself once more with life. Slowly she unraveled the bandages that had bound my aggrievances and grievous insecurities. I was administered to with purpose, poise, and passion. I was looked upon and told, ‘These are not wounds, these are birthrights, birthmarks, and merits. They will be seen and gleam. Each one a story told in discreet cellular makeup.’ I was not exonerated but exhumed.
In one moment more than half a century of cumulative living condenses into a heartbeat. There is no separation despite the space. Two humans, yards of skin, miles of intestine, feet of clay, a neural net as wide as two lives cast upon the spirit of the times. No need to even touch, though touching it is. Parity and intensity, serendipity and certainty, fear and elation, cellular rejuvenation, something shed and something borne, two things, now one, then something more. A vast divining sigh that constellates the sky, a moment spanning the entire breadth of time. You then I.
She pours thoughts upon me in the morning like sweet molasses creeping in the sun. I grow sticky with her residue. ‘I want to make the world beautiful,’ she says, not realising her presence is a progenitor of belief. ‘I want the world to be better, so badly,’ she says. ‘Why don’t people understand that the world can be art?’ I place my hand over her heart, breast adjacent with no connotation, and misuse her borrowed words. People don’t want more than they can understand. Pure beauty, as you want, as you are, is more than most can take.
I tell her I might be dead or merely unreal. She doesn’t balk, quiver or condescend as others might. ‘I understand,’ she says, even though I myself am just feeling out the edges. ‘It’s too good somehow,’ conveniently perfect, ‘or perfectly convenient.’ She places her hand on my heart and listens for a beat. ‘If you are dead then I must be too because this is heavenly and I couldn’t create that alone.’ We sit for a while in hand clasped silence staring at fixed points in space. I tell her, I am glad my old life has ended.
Lost as usual, or found again, in lionised eyes. Time passes. Thirteen point eight billion years theorised, over a dozen epochs subdivided across eras then in turn divided by ages. Pupils dilate. Four hundred milliseconds to blink. Barely the length of a Planck between us when one arcsecond ticks a parsec. Lips part. Seventeen muscles to smile, they say, and seventy two beats for one to pump blood, unless it’s in love. Vows are exchanged. Nine billion, one hundred ninety-two million, six hundred thirty-one thousand, seven hundred seventy transitions cross a caesium atom. An eternity is spent.
Over unsweetened coffee and sweetly unexpurgated company, she asks me, ‘If I could grant you any wish, what would it be?’ I wonder if I should tell her my heart’s tacit part in this pact. My desire’s been given to me already, in fact, I asked for her and payed my price in full the minute she materialised. My soul in whole laid at her feet like some chivalrous throwback aimed at spare her spirit from the muck of the world. I smirk and tell her, maybe I’d like to be invisible, but she already sees right through me.
Arris lays her head on my chest and sighs lightly, like tulip dew dropping on grass. ‘I can hear your heart,’ she says. I wonder out loud, is it too fast? ‘Steady,’ she says, ‘I’m surprised.’ I am too, living as I’ve been with the thump-pause-thump-thump-triple pause-triple thump-pause-thump pumping like a morse operator jumping at the lines. Yet, I feel unshakeably calm. ‘I feel so safe in your arms.’ I slip my hand to the nape beneath soft linen curls and massage ventricular messages into her mind, finally having found my calling.
It’s always the same. She asks me to come and I tell her maybe, knowing that I will. I waited once, for almost the passing of the sun, for her to come to me and she never did. As I sat there, waiting, I thought about her eyes and the softness of her skin. I go to her, labeling my feet betrayers as they move, though they follow my command. My sins coalesce into shadows, tethered stalkers closing the gap as the day wears on. I weigh my heart in her hands and find them wanting for its weight.