Art by Grace Chu
Issue: Kalopsia (Spring 2017)
I suppose it’s after a while, when the streets are dressed in blueberry shadows, that you notice me, standing near that faded toothpaste ad next to the new noodle shop. Or perhaps I’m all wrong, as you like to say, and I notice you first, a quivering thing with a nose too pointy for such a round face.
Either way, you slip on a crack in the cement and I end up catching coffee stains, an apology, but not your name. The streetlamps glow red as you pitter away, tracing the curve of the streets with the ends of your corduroy jacket, warm wind twirling your hair into brown ribbons. I go to bed hungry, with rosy knuckles and ruddy cheeks, soapsuds and nothing better to show from it.
The shirt goes into the trash.
“You owe me.”
I decide that food is the best reparation for a botched top, and you’re in no mood to argue amidst the flutter of vendors haggling with customers nearby and the starchy cast of the sun on our skin. You amble along, scrunching your nose at the bistro, at the seafood restaurant teeming with noise, at the flower shop—for God’s sake—before you suggest a café. I snort, you huff, and we get cajoled into buying a pair of loafers three sizes too big for my feet.
“I’m afraid, as mature, respectable people, we’re gonna have to do this the hard way.”
“Yup. Rock, paper, scissors?”
“You ready, honey?”
I win the first round, you the second, and by the time we get to the third, I realize that you shouldn’t be so choosy about paying me back. Or paying you later. We settle with sandwiches, and we sandwich ourselves between a twenty-something with a loud, peppery dog and a stubby loaf of a kid with his music turned up too high. You flinch when the former leans a little back, the dog yipping about your feet. Bending down to straighten your mismatched socks, you glance at the desperate creature, its pink tongue lolled out. I tilt my head as you reach out, gingerly patting brown curls and squeaking when the dog licks a wet trail up your palm. You stumble back and bump into the kid, sheepishly grinning apologies to the cashier, who just shakes her head. I laugh and laugh, the sound spurting like a fizzled soda can, and you smack me with your damp hand.
“Here it is.”
“Wait what? This isn’t a house.”
“Well, yeah. It isn’t. But you can drop me off right here.”
“We’re on a bridge.”
“So drop me off at the bridge, sweet.”
“I’ll park here.”
“You don’t need to—”
“I’ll park. Right here.”
You’re stiff as you slide out, the evening air full of ashes and oil, and the smell sinks into the edges of my leather seats when you slam the door shut with a sharp crack. Pausing at the ledge, you swivel around, crossing your ankles, playing with the hem of your sweater. You wait, but I don’t leave.
The clear plastic of the passenger window makes you look softer somehow, amber lamps melting into butter and mixing with the gold of your skin. You’ve pushed your hair back, exposing your round cheeks to the hum of the wind rapping on glass. Even your scowl yields to the hazy stars of the city, full of purring cars and roaring scars. I cough. Oh.
Your hand is cold and calloused as you take the money and the large shoes, and your lips sting blue when you lean down to kiss me. I turn away.
The engine starts much more easily than I thought it would, and I pull out, the cables on the bridge blinking white, bright, and then white again. I spot you in the corner of the rear view mirror. Your figure wavers, wiggles, hisses, and then slips into butterscotch pools.
“I can’t believe you’re scared of dogs—how can you be scared of a tiny dog?”
“Sure you’re not. You just happen to enjoy overreacting to things. To the ground. To the sky. To poor puppies.”
“You’re the one overreacting right now.”
“Sure, you’re not.”
“There’s nothing to stop, cutie.”
“Stop that. Yes, that. You’re smirking.”
“Ugh, never mind.”
“What were you going to say?”
“I hate you.”
“That’s too bad, sweetie—no—that’s too bad, because I feel quite the contrary right now.”
“Yeah. I just-”
“That’s not want we planned.”
“Right. Right, sweet thing. What do you wanna do next?”
I come home to an empty house with all the lights turned off, shards of emerald glass littering the countertop. There’s some soup still left in the fridge, so I heat that up and curl up on the coach, sifting through late night talk shows and infomercials with smiling women and white countertops.
Buy one, get one free! Restrictions apply. Buy two and get twenty percent off! Shipping not included. Restrictions apply. Buy a watch, buy a bracelet, buy love! Restrictions apply. Buy love! Restri—
My eyes slip shut as they start to grow frantic, piling on another scarf, another pretty face.
“How long are you here for?”
“You’ve asked that already, sweet.”
“I know. Tell me anyway.”
“Which answer do you want this time?”
“Oh. Uh, well—I don’t know. Temporarily, I guess.”
“How long is temporarily?”
“However long you will have me, honey.”
“What does that—“
“Look, can we not talk about that right now? Let’s go to the ice cream shop, okay? Or, we could go catch a movie somewhere? You scheduled a kiss there so we can get that off the list as soon as we can—not that I don’t like the thought of it, of course. Or-or—“
“Is this about the money? You don’t actually have to pay me for the shirt—it was an accident, really. We’re here anyway.”
“I know, but it’s just that—“
“Oh, is this about your money? I can pay more later, if you’d just stay.”
“No. It’s never been about that. Not with—how could you think—”
“That. Is that real? Or are you just saying that?”
“What does it matter? You—you’ll never believe it, darling. No one ever does.”
“Then make me.”
“What’s the point? Alright. I love you, honey.”
“Okay. Say it again.”
“I love you, darling.”
“I love you.”
“I’m tired, and I love you—I love you so much. Now drive me home.”
I dream tentatively, of skies bleeding violet-red and of sea-green stars that weave into your long hair. You come out of the ocean dressed in crisp silk, with soft words and warm fingers that intertwine with mine. This time, you wrap your arms around me, and the ground thrums with squelch of honey, with the hiss of smoky nights, with the drag of your voice as you whisper:
“I love you-I’ll stay-I love you-I’ll stay.”
Somehow, even in my mind, it still sounds like a record playing the wrong song, catching on the right vowels and squishing them until they’re nothing but stains on my blue shirt, puppy drool on your fingertips, coins clattering into your hands as you tell me the words you would have said if you hadn’t been so malleable and foolish, foolish, foolish.
I avoid the city after that.