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.
Just in case, she keeps a catalogue of smiles at the corners of her mouth. I break the seal with my lunacy and unleash them regularly. She says, ‘I love you,’ through her laughter and it takes the corrugated cadence of a car on cattle bars. So I fling myself again and again at the furthest reaches of mania, wondering how much joy I can inject in her life. The answer is infinite, the industry of amusement set to pace with the manufacture of happiness. We have become a self-feeding machine, the product of the product of pleasure.
The moon sits on its empty throne pouring silver into the river like a forge disgorging purpose. The water accepts and spins its winnings into rippling silk that flows from bank to bank. Upon the shores the huddled masses lap their zees, feeding the night’s currency into tomorrow’s activities. Out of sight the curlews cry in mournful account. The night, they say, is fleet and fierce and makes the cost of living great. From the comforts of their black morass the stars record these tender exchanges, charged with value of an incredible order their bid for life never depreciates.
I have too many feelings, they overflow and pour onto the ground muddying the feet of those closest to me. I collect the runoff in little jars and ferment them in the dark. People invited into my life will often rifle through my closet, searching for warmth or skeletons, and stumble upon these bitter preserves. Why do you keep such things, they say, and I tell them I was raised not to waste. It’s no wonder that you’re sick, they say, leaving me to marinate. One day I will have collected all I can and never feel empty again.
I keep thinking that I matter and get devastated when I don’t. I look at the stars and they say nothing to me, barely twinkle, and I realise I’m just as dead to them as their light to me. Years before I was nothing but genetic potential, years hence I’ll be naught but dust, lucky to be growing flowers from a grave. What is the use of feeling futility, why experience it or anything at all if we are simply the universe’s iterative expression of self. I keep thinking that I matter and it’s this that brings me pain.
The kissing bristles of the toothbrushes gets me, says more than I can when telling her. I love the unity formed by merging symmetries in odd arrangements. She’d call it tesselation and I’d say fate. We’re both correct in our ways and compliment each other. I find a thousand tiny reconstructions of my self in her patterns, as I’m sure she does in mine, each one slightly planar as a spiral wrapping our lives in expansion from the focal point. So, the kissing bristles get me in their bed, saying what I can’t before they pass across my teeth.
Her breath feels like a pollinated breeze, rustling sunflowers. It gives goosebumps and shivers, brings growth and joy. She seems too alive for her skin, more than an auras ostentation, a potential explosion calculated but barely demarcated. It’s almost unbalanced, tilt shift technicolour on a greyscale backdrop, she pops out and drowns the world. The whirlwind whipping round the eye, stillness in chaotic check. Her presence expands beyond bounds, the paint on the brush, the stroke on the canvas and the easel itself. She is pure life, elemental and unbridled. How the world copes with it is a mystery.
I find her reading palms by the light of a thousand paper candles. ‘Give me your past,’ she says, ‘and I will offer you a future.’ I take my place among the silk and linen trappings that furnish the floor. Her eyes absorb all that is about us yet hold no reflection nor judgement. I lay out my life in fitful spurts of recollection and scaled memory. She listens in patience and stillness while a warm autumn breeze licks at the canvas tenting. When I am done she smiles and says, ‘There now, you have years ahead for lightness.’
Stood by the river with clasped hands and the high tide begging for our feet. I thought for the longest time that I could never live, I said. I’d come to accept that happiness was something other people felt. Arris pulled herself into the furrow beneath my arm and constricted my chest. ‘I thought I knew what happiness was,’ she said, ‘that I was living and had lived a life as happy as I might.’ I pulled her close about the shoulder and listened to the lapping water. We are always more together, I said, watching sadness float away.
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.
I find myself staring at her dresses in the closet, her books on the shelf, her washing in the hamper, her signs of life in every space. I find myself smiling, thinking how well she occupies the emptiness, thinking of the little absences I allowed for so long, thinking of the tiny ways she fits my every day, thinking of the fullness I now feel. I find myself aware for once, as though I’d been witnessing my life through one eye, oblivious of the depth I was missing. I find myself staring at the world, awestruck by its clarity.
She took the longest rope she could find and thrust herself headlong into the morass of my mind. Deep into mine eye she dived, calling echos that reverberate still inside. What might she find but she had time? Deep into my core she burrowed, cracked through crusts and subsurface furrows, foraging for diamonds developed under pressure, rent from my soul and brought to light. She went all the way to the bottom of my life, climbed out clean, proud, and satisfied that she alone had ventured there. ‘It is beautiful,’ she said, displaying the very nature of my being.
I read omens in everything now, so desperate am I to cling to her love. What portents might the weather tell? What aching in my bones belies our fates? I find myself steering clear of minor obstacles, around a ladder or opting out of mirrors, and lately, wondering when might a black cat cross me. I was never superstitious, now I am become unilaterally suspicious. Life, you see, has been recently quite good to me. While not uncommon in circumstance, my own awareness of such happenstance is frightening, a little enlightening, and idiosyncratically contrived. I’ll take mine with salt.
‘Like eighty percent of what I say just comes out as ash and lands at my feet so you can kick it around and complain about choking on the dust.’ Sometimes while Jo yells I like to trace the path of my life. I picture little stones placed on a sea of fog and I tiptoe over them, making light little leaps where necessary and cooing at the ruined splendour lurking in the haze. Nothing we tell each other will build me a stable path. ‘Well fuck that,’ he says, ‘don’t light a fire and bitch about the heat.’
Honestly, sometimes I don’t know what’s real, not in a wanky hypothetical way, just straight up. The problem with life is that it’s anecdotal. I see things that aren’t there, I’m told I’m sane because I know they’re not real. I’m told the sky is blue because light particles react with molecules in our atmosphere, because blue waves bounce and violet sinks. I have proof of none of this. When a minor disparity can totally revise reality, I often find the truth more malleable than my imagination. You can drown in a puddle but you can’t unthink an idea.