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.’
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.
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.
We are so porous now that our moods break the skin without even touching. Are you ok, I say, and she tells me not to say it, which I understand but do anyway, wanting to help. She sees me struggling like this and asks, is there anything I can do? I tell her not to worry and worry myself with her concerns. Of course, the happiness filters through too, the joy and love and revelries. This feels amazing, she says, and I don’t respond, she knows full well what happens when we’re near. We fill each other so completely.
Stuart lifts the metre lid and reveals a writhing pile of pupae. I watch them swarm and undulate while he takes the measure. ‘They don’t bite,’ or sting? ‘Natives are nice,’ he tells me. I wonder what it’s like to be a hive mind, would you even know you were dissatisfied unless the overbrain told you so? ‘The workers are all women,’ he says, finishing up, ‘and all the men are slaves.’ Stuart slides the lid in place amidst a cloud of buzzing curiosity. ‘I feel sorry for the queen though, all that control without the ability to abdicate.’
Sometimes I put on old ensembles and dance in front of her. Do I look miserable, I ask. ‘No,’ she says, ‘just a bit ridiculous.’ She’s right, of course, and means so well, these items no longer fit me, probably never did, and certainly don’t look as fetching as I ever believed. We go together now and I pick new things to pull over my skin. I hold them up in front of me and ask, do you like the way this makes me look? ‘Honey,’ she says, ‘I think you look best when you don’t cover yourself up.’
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.
I get more paint on my hands than the canvas and look upon myself with reckless appreciation. ‘I can’t make art,’ I tell the walls, but the inside voice tells me otherwise. What if, it says, what if you were the art? Imagine the entirety of space, the unlikelihood of earth, billions of compositions in fleshy permutation, vying and dying, striving and thriving, conniving against infinitesimal odds to exist in improbable events. Existence, then, must be art. I put down my paints and look at myself again through this new lens. Beauty lies in the I of the beholder.
‘You always write me laughing,’ she says, smiling. ‘I don’t think I laugh that much, do I?’ Maybe that’s how I like to think of you, I say, maybe that’s how I always think of you, full of the joy that you give me. Arris lays her hand over mine and kisses me swiftly on the cheek. ‘I’m sad sometimes too,’ she says, ‘or angry, preoccupied, tired.’ Her face shifts through emotions like sunlight moves through leaves and breaks a frown with a laugh. ‘You’re going to write this down aren’t you?’ I tell her, this life writes itself.
We take each other’s stories and retell them as our own. ‘Did you know,’ she will say, and I’ll smile while listening to her iterate. For giggles I unwrap her anecdotes and place myself inside, she takes them back as gifts and brags to everyone. I make copious notes which she files smiling. ‘I’m compiling our lives,’ she tells me. I place this info on index, later she will read it back as hard reflex in passionate rote. Making no amendments, I’ll say I love what she wrote. She will tell me, ‘Honey, I couldn’t have done it alone.’
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 treat my fingers as nascent nomads trekking between oases. Their journey of enlightenment is never ending. They move constantly, treading sensuous landmarks and soaking in the succour of skin. Swami of sensation still reticent to teach, they learn all they can reach, locusts swarming a beach, rampant yet methodical, their knowledge poised beneath thin dermal frocking, never frolicking but at peace with the pace they keep. Their journey has been steep, moving from sleep to the summit of a third eye’s awakening, quaking with philosophy. I treat my fingers better than myself, offering them only to the worthy.