Neither of us cries and the air grows thick with precipitation. In times of drought, I tell her, people of the Balkans would pray to Perperuna, a ceremony and god, Pagan in principal. She was the goddess of rain. A little smile breaks, as sunlight does, and penetrates the cloud. ‘Does this mean you would dance for me?’ For you, yes, but not for rain, I say. Naša dodo Boga moli, my aim would be to stave the storm. ‘Then start,’ she tells me, ‘and let us both enjoy the sun.’ We hold hands and move to warmer climes.
I buried my face in your pillow till I’d nearly suffocated with your scent. Parts of the house move on their own without you. I’d not realised how full your stewardship was, how your body kept the creak and decay away. I breathe you in again and talk to the fibres. All they tell are ghost stories and promises, richly woven but lacking comfort. The nightbirds skylark and the panes rattle; midnight sounds abound. I am deaf, I tell them, and dream of losing myself in your memory. In some other elsewhere I know you smile upon the world.
I perform a thousand compulsions every day, inexplicable obligations to unnecessary notions. My mind forces me into tired retreads of circular ruts, fourth, fifth, and sixth repetitions, wanting to assuaged suspicions in the wake of existing confirmation. I know what I know doesn’t go anywhere, but certainty fades to febrile dusk and shimmers painfully on the fringes of ephemera and unlikelihood. I close my eyes, open my mind, and dive. Deep inside the world swirls and I, lost to potential, die a little as everything that never was and everything that could ever be roils away inside of me.
She falls asleep while I talk about my issues and I keep going because I can’t afford therapy. I wish I had more happiness to share, I say, but I can’t remember anything. She growls softly from beyond and I stroke her hair. Everything nice includes you now and the other things are someone else’s life, like episodes from an out of syndication show. I can’t hold on to the past anymore. I know it’s time to stop when she shifts and nuzzles into me, so I put out the light and try to meet her there in dreams.
The front of my head is a dam for tears and the stress is intense. When I move my skull I can feel the pressure shift and slosh and threaten to spill. I struggle desperately to quell the flow, thinking of the runoff and overflow. All those wet inhabitants dealing with the collateral. Why should they suffer because I wasn’t able? So I shore myself up, constantly building bricks out of vice and mortar in pestilent habits between so the cracks stay unseen and the rocky foundations seem stable when viewed from afar. I keep it together for them.
I don’t know if it’s universal but her love for me feels unique. Certainly my situation is idiosyncratic. You see, historically I’ve always paid for love — one way or another, up front or in arrears, I always get given the cheque. Love meant pain, time and again, but, like air, I needed it to live. Though I didn’t live well. Breathing in a smoggy hell made from human machination, I never knew what purity was or that it only cost more love. Now I am spoilt, Midas in perpetuity surrounded by wealth I have to learn that I deserve.
I grab my towel before turning off the shower and make fully one sweep before realising I’m not dry. There’ve been a lot of these off key incidents lately, miniature self-sabotages that must surely be a result of absent mindedness if not just metaphysically pimpled manifestations of a clenched inner discord. Clumsy volcanos erupting in stubbed toes and throes of heroic social misconduct through semiotic mistranslation. The whole thing reeks of a vaudeville vortex with no comedic payoff. So I turn off the shower and shiver, waiting for the air to dry me like some kind of jerky.
Six stories up in the middle of the night there’s an owl in my house. ‘It’s actually a frogmouth,’ Arris says, ‘tawny.’ Sat at the head of the dining table, still as old growth in variegated shades of eucalypt bark. It stares at us with deep amber jewels, calculating our worth from its strange stoic perch. A partner waits from the balcony, on guard for prospects and threats. ‘They mate for life,’ I hear. Arris takes my hand and we breathe in the night together. I want this to be good luck, I tell her, reading signs of life.
I went to an art gallery today. I rode under two bridges on a graffiti camouflaged ferry to get there. I saw an island of monuments, built for art and half sunk in the ground. Concrete slabs and improbable grasses jutting into modernist glasses. Floor to ceiling oils draped on cavern walls where soft curatorial faces in corners peer eagerly between branded tee shirts and headsets. Nude photography and raw sculpture; ropes that represented shackles and a noose that was; girded metals and unfettered expression. I was told I’d see art today in situ, but I didn’t see you.
Arris puts her device down and looks at me. ‘Do you miss how we were in the beginning?’ I pause my game and hold her hand. We always will be what we were, I tell her. She shapes a doubtful sound in the back of her throat. ‘But don’t you miss the excitement? That new frisson feeling?’ I catch her eye and ask, Do you think the butterfly misses the caterpillar? Maybe the energy is different, but it was poured into forces necessary for flight. The excitement has changed, I say, but every day with you makes me soar.
I look beyond the balcony to the storm clouds floating harmlessly over the horizon and think about cutting myself. ‘It doesn’t matter,’ Sarah says, ‘we choose our leaders and we should pay them accordingly — in money and respect.’ The group moves its head discordantly, nods and shakes and partly gaping mouths full with words there’s no room to utter, opinions stuck between their teeth. I think, someone says, but Sarah shushes sharply so the statement sits stillborn on the floor. ‘You don’t know, though,’ she says, ‘because you don’t listen.’ I look to the storm, longing for a change.
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.’
At some point in the night she finds a frown and pulls it over her face. It doesn’t sit right in sleep. Lain like that, with her arms above her head and her breasts exposed in Venus pose, the scowl seems a Janus dream. There are lies the mind won’t tell the body, they simmer in subconscious and tic away. Her expression is a pocket of this fight, gloriously honest and more marvellous for its telling presence than the supine splendour of her body and its beauty rendered limp. How I long to kiss her there, beyond the veil.