I wondered how the diner table, wobbly and bent with age, could possibly hold up his massive, leathery, tattooed forearms crisscrossed with veins like dime rolls. His left hand wrapped easily around his coffee mug, it look dainty, miniature almost, and the right cupped his forehead while he stared through the steam rising from his first cup of the day.
It was still grey and cold outside the window, framed with condensation. We were cozy and warmly lit and I felt camouflaged in my high-backed leather booth. He looked out and got lost in the fog that barricaded the streets. Not being able to see past his waist, I imagined him in jeans and work boots spattered in drywall mud and dusty with cement.
Even the mop water steamed up from the floor. Everything was warmer than we were.
Everything was warmer than we were.
I sit, heart rattling against my ribs without the proper tools to offset the doubt placed there.
A vacuum blows through my chest, straightens my spine and makes me breathe deeply but never deeply enough.
I could fill my lungs with the sky.
And so I sit, eyes closed, posture perfect, breathing through my nose. Tiptoeing through a series of worst case scenarios. Justifying one, outraged by the next, but well past the point of no return.
There is nothing for me to do but inch my hope away from the black hole in my heart ever time I exhale.
his photo lay on the floor
I lose things.
Pens, bras, important paper work.
It has been a defining characteristic of my life.
I am a loser.
Likely, I will be vacuuming and I will move the couch just slightly or a pair of shoes and there it will be, whatever happens to be missing. Because I never find things by looking for them; they turn up on their own, in their own time.
So, two weekends ago when I couldn’t find my keys, instead of panicking I called my sister. She is one of a half dozen people who have a spare set for just such an occasion, and I got another set made. And everything was fine because my keys would eventually either turn up or not but only at the very back of my mind was I worried.
Still, though, I took precautions. It’s better to know. I let the stopper down on my front door and placed my work boots on the mat so if someone managed to force their way in I’d at least be able to tell.
It was just past two on a Sunday morning and I had my head down, mixing cookie batter or making pancakes, as one does. I had Firefly playing on Netflix in the background, as one does. When amidst a gun fight everything went quiet. At first I didn’t notice. I was mixing in raisins or blueberries or something but around minute three when I began to feel the fatigue in my shoulder I realized how it was too quiet even for two o’clock in the morning.
I looked up through the pass through from the kitchen to the living room and there he was sitting on the couch with a PBR in one hand and scrolling through my the recently addeds with the blue PS3 controller in the other the other.
He’d left the screen door open which, during mosquito season, was what I found most annoying at the time.
On the coffee table in front of him, placed neatly on a coaster, were my keys.
His name was Nathan. He was an old friend. Was being the operative word. Years of casual friendship had eroded into unhealthy obsession and I’d tried to distance myself after a couple of hot dates and a few heated phone calls, or missed calls, that followed.
When did you take them? I asked from the kitchen, knowing the answer.
That night you had another girl in your bed, he said.
My best friend had spent the night a while back after we were out late and I had drunkenly forgotten to barricade the patio doors shut.
I live three floors up and I trust my neighbours. It’s paranoia that had me blocking the doors with scraps of plywood and old vacuum hoses every night before sleep or work. It’s paranoia that had been keeping me safe. There were few nights I forgot to lock up but most days I left everything open, assuming no one would have the balls to climb the three floors up the outside of my building to my patio in daylight.
And I guess I could have been wrong.
Why would you go through the trouble of stealing my keys only to keep sneaking in through the patio doors? I asked him.
I’m used to it now, he told me.
And just out of view I quietly slid open the top drawer and pulled out my very favourite knife.
Words can be a struggle, like inventing new ways to tell someone you love them. Actions are often a more widely accepted currency of affection. Though, five thousand kilometers can make just being there when needed impossible.
So, I am stranded in a desert of gestures, desperately questing. Hoping over the peak of the very next dune is the oasis of words I’m thirsting for.
There are only so many ways I can say, I think you’re wonderful before the heat gets the best of me and my legs give out. After sandstorms, I lay entombed in all the things I will never get to do for you.
But then maybe it rains and I manage another day, another conversation.
And it would be the best day of my life.
There’s a fire burning almost as brightly as we are.
The sand beneath me is a welcome cradle into the night.
Warm and heavy, the air moves around us, a tired dancer gone barefoot long ago.
The bonfire, the slow salty breeze off the tide and the cheap beer in my hand smell like summer.
And you are just a silhouette against the huge black sky, daring the moon to swallow us up.
Your voice carries and even though you’re nothing but a shadow before the fire, I see your words and the way your face forms around them. The way you speak with your whole body and pace as if the world below teeters too quickly to keep up with. It’s easy to get lost in your speeches, these conversations with yourself: an argument with some invisible opponent.
These nights we are philosophers: euphoric in our youth, big plans, and whatever stimulants we can afford after rent. We dream and preach to no one but ourselves, almost ashamed; these ideas and nights will do nothing to change the world, only lend breaks in time to remember when motivation included hopes for those other than ourselves. When we realize that work is what keeps us from doing what we really want to with our time and that dreams are what help us survive this realization.
But these thoughts are far away from the warm fire and the salty air and your voice that carries me. Back and forth, you cross the blazing background, I watch, dizzied, from behind my eyelids. It’s only right now when you make sense, the kind of sense you begin to forget as the years go by. Tonight, with tomorrow so fresh, I understand what it is to want.
The moon looks down on us with some kind of pride, as if she herself forgets her weights watching our light from her perch. I smile back at her, you in her freckled face. Tonight she shares the sky with you.
And your words carry me away under the gaze of the tired moon.
The days of free love are over.
The humid nights of August have lost their magic because no one makes love in the grass behind the stadium anymore. No one makes love at all.
Car rides with the windows down to the beach to watch the sun set won’t ever be as romantic as you think they should be. There’s no more time to fall into anything, now it’s a matter of choice, whatever we can fit in our schedule. We’ve given up on our search because good sex with someone who laughs at our stupid jokes is just easier.
You’ve learned to quiet those urges to run away. They start rumbling loud enough to keep you up at night. You spend the hours imagining your life away from all of this: if i just had the balls. Days in paradise, nights in the arms of someone who you could really love. The kind of love you can throw yourself into head first because it’s the only thing that matters: not just fucking.
Not just fucked.
More than two naked bodies pressed against one another, with hearts beating so hard you can feel the heat pulsing off of each others’ skin. Soft and warm and wrapping around you.
More than just close; a connection. Bodies slick and fitting together as if they were meant for nothing but these moments. But that’s never how it is. There’s always too much of this and not enough of that. Instead of ignoring our wants, we tell ourselves that we’re really happier the way things are. We’re above having what we want.
We can admit that we’ll always be asking, is this it? But we sit in silence watching the sun set, hanging on tightly to the hand of our young lover like when you feel them about to trip so grip harder: half stopping the fall, half willing to go down with them.
Gripping on to the hope that there will be more nights like this. Hoping one day it will feel the way it should. All the while knowing summer comes and goes much too quickly and never leaves us the same.