I feel her most just as I’m getting in the bath. When the water first scalds my clammy skin, before I can get used to it. That instant when fire cracks open ice, steaming, hissing, snapping—that’s her. Then I sit down and the water’s at my chin and her hands are at my back. She kisses my freckles in that way she always knew how. Those same calluses and knuckles, those fingerprints I know by heart. There they all are again, just over my shoulder, just out of my line of sight. I close my eyes and breathe her in, find her perfume in the steam. I catch it for a moment, but it dissolves back into the air. The water seeps into me and her grasp softens, then slips away. I try to call her back, but the water cools and I’m cold again.
The way a frozen peach i packed away last summer softens into a rosy mass that still tastes like august. the way it steams and hisses at first before melting into warm mushiness. the way it smelled when i first picked it and thought of how much she’d like it. the way it sat on my counter for a week, dejected.
She fades away so quickly now. She’s there for a moment when I’m stepping in, steam meeting ice, but the sooner my body adjusts, the sooner she’s gone again. The colder I am, the hotter she burns and the longer her marks last. So I keep the windows open all day now, even when it snows, and I’ve put away the heaters. It helps a little. I hold my head in the freezer and that helps a little more. But she needs me. I can feel how she clings to me while she’s there. Sometimes, in between the bubbling and the steaming, I can hear her speak, too.
look at me,
i miss you,
do you miss me?
They echo in my mind, again and again, all too familiar. But it’s different this time. This time, I’m trying. This time, I’ll fix it.
I slip on my boots and step outside. I inhale my first breath of the winter around me. Thrilled and shivering, I stretch out my bare fingers and run them against a snow-topped bush as I walk. They come back red and numb.
The sky darkens as I walk on, bringing with it a jagged snowfall. Wind whips through. I stumble, but keep on. I relish in the way it digs into my skin and clamps down around my lungs. The way it turns my bones into ice and glazes my eyes over with frost. All around me twists white and grey and green, and as my head rocks back and forth I can’t remember which way I’m going. Snow pounds inside my head and I fall.
when she first looked at me, i suddenly felt real. the way she whispered pretty things and i believed them. those days started and ended with her, sun-dappled and smiling and soft. she’d ask me about my day and i’d tell her it was good. I always forgot to ask about her’s.
My palms and knees are in the iced over mud. I claw my hands out and rub the snow off of them. It scrapes. Red dashes appear on my already-pink hands and fall with the snow. I begin to stand, my legs shaking into place, when a wind dives down my throat and throws me back down. On my back, I try to push myself up, but I’m pinned. I clench my bloodied hands and squint my eyes shut. I wait for it to end.
how she laughed and flowed like sugar syrup over fruit, like sunshine over fingertips, blush over freckled cheeks. how she poured herself out and into the world around her, into me. how i laid before her and soaked in the summer light, more than i could ever need. how i took that sun for granted. i hadn’t thought of winter yet.
The wailing blizzard rescinds into a distant murmur beyond my eyelids. Snow folds over me in layers. It weighs on my chest as I labor to take slow, steady breaths. It’s dark. I’m cold. Frozen deeper than I thought I ever could. It hurts. Burns. Hot. All at once, she’s there: Her hands are holding my wrists down and her lips are at my nose.
“You’re here,” I whisper.
i’m here, she whispers back.
“Do you forgive me?”
She kisses my collar, cold and wet.
“Do you forgive me?” I repeat.
oh darling…, she breathes into my ear.
I open my eyes.
It’s all snow.