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

Women like me

Well-behaved women seldom make history – but they make for lovely girlfriends and wives, wouldn’t you say? Forgive me. There’s something bitter on my tongue today – in my fingers too. The burnt taste and feel of men like you. Wanting a piece of women like me (but never the whole) …

So many times I’ve apologised (even now!) for resisting the border of how much I should be. So many times I’ve nearly believed your limitations. It can drive a person crazy, you know. Being wanted in parts like that. Reflecting another’s need to see in the dark. Never once being seen (loved) as you are.

A reminder: I am light, bright, blinding. We all are, women like me. So keep your shadows, and the length of your arms. You have nothing more to offer a woman like me. Drunk, sober (mostly somewhere in between), I am now solely concerned with what I see.

Aphrodite at body, remember

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 …