You are not the only one

Last night I slept with a man I met at the hotel bar. A Sailor visiting dry land for the holidays. He told me he lives weeks at a time aboard his submarine. Submerged in the deep and the dark. His world is a place most of us would do anything to avoid.

My God your body is beautiful, he said when we lay down on the bed, and I thought – living under the sea must do strange things to a man.

But I looked to see, just the same. I lifted the sheets to make a coy appraisal of my flesh, marinated in the salt and oil of summer, this skin that I will peel and shed back home. I took in the chipped red of holiday nails, the grains of sand in the curve of my foot, and the nerves still pulsing in my flexing toes. I looked at my pliant muscles, and the startling white of my hidden parts. I could see all of the ways the ocean had left its mark on me, too.

This man tasted of rum and cherries. And when he kissed me again I wanted to say –You are not the only one who has emerged from the deep.

Last night we both looked beautiful when held up to the light.

~ Lucy, LOVED

I posted an early version of this exactly five years ago. Like so many of my musings here, the scene found a perfect place in my novel. Eventually. Funny reminder today that you never know where you’ll end up. You. Just. Keep. Going. Here’s to an exciting second half of the year …

I am not allowed to forget

Is he dead?

I can see now that it’s a boy. He is lying on his back and his shirt is open, exposing a smooth, impassive chest that I see in glimpses between arms, legs, shopping bags, coats. I push through the crowd of people, going sideways against the throng, and then I’m standing right in front of him. Over him. I can’t tell if he’s breathing. His eyes are closed and his lips are pressed together. They’re not blue – I want to lean down and put my hand to his mouth to feel for air, just in case, but I can’t make my arm move. It’s as if my body wants to obey the same laws that keeps everyone else walking. Danger! Stay away! This is not safe for you! But up close, he looks like a child. If my arms won’t move toward him, then my feet won’t let me walk away.

And now it’s just the two of us. A young man laid out on his back, and me, hovering over his body, unsure what to do next. His feet are bare, dusky pink soles caked in mud. He must be freezing, I think this at the same time that I reach down, remove my sneakers, then my socks. They’re white, sporty, and now I’m thinking of Walter, of the way he tipped his hat at me when he first opened his front door, and how I knew I was going to be alright, even before he welcomed me in. I’m thinking of this gesture as I wrestle one sock, then the other, onto this young man’s feet. He doesn’t stir, but I can feel the warmth of his skin. I know what dead bodies feel like. Not like this. Emboldened, I kneel down and pull his shirt closed, fumble with a middle button to fasten the threadbare material across his chest. And then I lean back on my now-bare heels and start to cry. Is this all I can do? Give him my socks, cover his chest?

This is somebody’s baby.

Someday soon – it’s coming – I’ll think, doesn’t he know I’m somebody’s baby? Doesn’t he know that I was once loved? But right now I’m crying for this passed out boy, lying on a slab of concrete, halfway underground, that I can’t do much else for. I take the $10 emergency note out of my jacket pocket and gently tuck it into pocket of his shirt, and then I turn, run up the stairs and out onto the street, as if I am being chased. It’s dark, but you wouldn’t know it from how illuminated it is up here, above all of that grey below. It hurts my eyes. I walk a block with my hand up to both, trying to push back my tears.

I need to go home.

I don’t want to be in this world tonight. Not when it has revealed the true ugliness of itself so clearly. As if there are some things I am not allowed to forget.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

Subway

Real life. Spun into fiction. We are all better there. Right?

I will remember what it means

The day I die.

Where do you want to start? What would you like to look at first? I get up, I have sleep in my eye. I make a bad pot of coffee, the water hisses over onto the element, spits at me. I can’t get the water temperature right in the shower. Sometimes I think the faucets are switched from day to day, just to confuse me. I eat a banana, the texture struggling in my mouth. I step around dog toys, kick them into the corner of the living room, and open the window to the day. The street is its usual mix of bloated rubbish bags and scaffold frames. You could swing down them, if they didn’t always seem on the verge of collapse. The sky is blue, there is dog hair creeping across my big toe. The day is light, bright, ordinary.

I get up. I have sleep in my eye. Bad coffee, water hissing. Temperature wrong. Banana slick on my tongue, and the squeak of a rubber bone. Rubbish bags and metal and blue, blue sky. Dog hair itching my toe. The day is light, bright, extraordinary.

The morning passes. I make a cheese sandwich, leave the plate and knife in the sink next to my coffee mug. I should do more to help Carl, I think. Thinking too, I have forgotten how grateful I was. I am. I press down on another post-it note and write the word Help, before a large bang outside startles me. My ‘p’ wobbles, shoots off the yellow paper as I drop my pen. I had intended to write this: Help more around the apartment but the pen has rolled under the dining table now, and I don’t want to reach down to find it. Help will do, I think, sure I will remember what it means, as I place my last fluttering debt on Carl’s fridge door.

I do not realise, could not have realised, I have just left my first clue.

I have made a mistake, by the way. This isn’t the day I die. Not really. But it is the last light, bright morning of my life.

~  Alice, What We Have Left

NYC Morning

A quick bit of novel-ling before bed. It’s good to be back. If only in this way.

The way she does it

It is not an easy love, the way she does it. It reminds me – vividly, oddly – of the shocking red of a determined flower. A flower that lasts the winter, when everything else goes to grey around it. Is this you, Ben, over my shoulder right now? Sending me the image of a flower, when I think of Maggie? Because that’s not what I see for myself when I look at her, here beside me. I see something so much stronger than that.

There is nothing delicate to the way she loves, Ben. But as your mistress cries in my arms, I suddenly understand that this red flower of yours is something the fading flowers – the grey people, like you and me – have always wanted as our own.

~ Lucy, LOVED

“The world is little, people are little, human life is little. There is only one big thing – desire.” ~ Willa Cather

Beautiful stories

I used to try so hard to find the right words to reach you, Mack. Always searching out the perfect metaphor. So many love letters typed out, all of the things I couldn’t say directly. My mouth used to fill up with everything unspoken, sometimes there were so many words crowding my tongue that the only way not to choke was to spit them out, to siphon them through my fingers, and down through the computer keys toward you.

What did you do with all of those midnight emails I sent you? Did you print them out, did you return to them when you came close to forgetting? Did you ever slide my confessions between the pages of your favourite book, keeping my words with other words, too? Did you ever do that, Mack – to keep me close to you?

M, your Valentine.

My sign-off, always. When I wrote out all of the things I couldn’t say. When I tried to resurrect streets and temples for you. Trying so hard to make it all rise up around you after you went back to that other world. Words as breadcrumbs, leading you back to the bars and parks, and hotel rooms that were our altars. Those places of worship and exaltation, covered in cigarette burns and red velvet, and so much better in the dark.

The myth of us, Mack. I laid it out for you as if it were historical fact.

You said once – You write beautiful stories, Maggie.

History is written by the victors, I replied, too softly for you to hear.

~ Maggie Valentine , Loved

AnaisWords

… and then comes the hangover …

Of sticks and stones

The other woman, too many birthdays, opportunities closing one after the other around me. I have to admit that none of these would have been enough to keep me away. The desire to be good would not have won out – I would have come back to that twice next month. Eventually. In the end, we were always going to survive a metaphor.

It was only ever going to be reality. In the end.

The last time I ever saw you – turns out, I lied to us both. This is what I have learned since then, what I now know better: the body has been much maligned by the idea that words are more honest than a beating heart. My body always knew better.  Every confession it ever made, those trembling revelations in your arms – that was the most honest I’ve ever been.

Ignore my words, Mack. I was afraid of sticks and stones back then. But I once wrote the truth across your skin, and I need to believe you can feel it now. I need to believe that even when we re-write the story, our bodies remember. That leap of faith made when hands reach across the widest of chasms.

And how sometimes, Mack, we nearly make it.

We can dress up in someone else’s clothes, we can recite lines fashioned from other mouths, and decorate our promises with beads and silk, but these offerings only last until the candles burn down. Love is what the body remembers.

Love.

(Oh, how I loved you)

2017

Now the words are memories too. Embellished, redacted, turned about. Which is more real? Knowing what to say, or how to say it? Was the story better then, or now? All I know is it never really ends … #Loved

The narrowing of distance

I mean, can you imagine? That a place can feel like a person? That a place can talk and sing, and make you feel that same bubbling under the skin that a lover can when you’re just one corner away from meeting? I love that feeling. That sort of pleasurable terror at what’s to come. He made me feel like that. Like this. But! This is a city of sensation, and I can push away those sad feelings, those reminder feelings, just by going for a walk somewhere new. I walk like some people drink, I suppose. Too early, too late, until my head is spinning with everything I’m forgetting.

I never expected to be happy.

Carl bought me a pair of sneakers. I came home and they were there in a box on my bed, the sticker with the price scratched off, so only the .99 part was left. Purple, thick-soled, smelling of rubber and dye, and so much newness. My size, too. It was like sliding my feet into the future. Into all the possibility ahead. That’s what I felt, and I may have cried a little, but I didn’t tell Carl that, or say thank you, because I’m learning he doesn’t like that kind of thing. I just wrote out another I.O.U on our post-it pad, and stuck it on the fridge door. They’re layered on top of each other now, all the little notes, and I don’t know if he ever looks, but there are a couple I’ve snuck into the pile that just say – Friendship. Or Loyalty. Things like that.

The things I can pay back sometime.

I’ll be 25 one day. And 30 and 40. By then I will have accumulated so much, and I’ll buy Carl a farm, or an animal shelter, or a farm that is an animal shelter, somewhere in upstate New York, where I’ve never been, but people go, and I think it must be beautiful there. I haven’t put that on a post-it note, though. I’ll keep it as a surprise for Carl one day.

I have Carl, and I have my sneakers, and my camera. And I have this place. This city that runs in straight lines and sprawls, so you can’t ever get too comfortable with one or the other. Sometimes, when I’m crossing the street up here, I stop in the middle and look both ways, just to see the avenues run on in either direction. I love the perfect lines they make, the narrowing of distance to something you can see, understand. But I ventured further south yesterday, and one street turned into another, right under my feet, no warning, just a little veer to the right, and I wasn’t where I was before. That happens a lot, too.

It’s amazing how little I mind getting lost.

I’ve been taking a lot of pictures on my walks. People sometimes, but the city mostly. Like I said, a place can feel like a person. Sometimes more like a person than the strangers blurring past in their sneakers and suits. I do not like this by the way. The quick legs and stiff arms of people in a hurry. I do not like the way they look unfinished. When I am 25 and 30 and 40, I will not wear a pencil skirt and sneakers. I will learn to stride along in lovely heels, or maybe never wear pencil skirts at all. This is something I haven’t yet decided.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

Just 500 words, someone reminded me. So I wrote these 580 or so before breakfast. I may even keep a sentence or two, ha.

nychome