★ ★ ★ ★
By Joey Bahlsen
My body was aflame with his memory – Marguerite Duras
This is the time, remember, when all of the oceans, with their rolling waves, their ever-blue swarms of thunder, grow roots overnight and the world awakes to ever-green seas.
Before you there is Ada.
I turn 24 and marry her. She has eyes pale as straw. Features sharp, her face all dramatic angles.
Ada. Just when I thought I had her figured out. I win her and lose her.
Ada is endless mornings. The smell of cherries. A soft smile, eyes alight. Nails bitten short, fingers tasting of coffee. Ada is endless talks, always hushed and accented with staccato giggling. Ada is my stomach twisting with desire. Legs dangling in the air. Sam Cooke and Jim Croce. Piles of unwashed laundry and Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Ada is croissant flakes in our bed. Ada is a single line of black mascara.
Saturdays we hang around in our underwear, smoking. I watch her write while I fiddle with my pen, read Carson McCullers and occasionally scribble down a few thoughts. She’s working on her third or fourth poetry collection. If the writing goes well we have sex. Even if it doesn’t we usually do. We air the room and go bathe. We sit and edit her poems until the water cools and single ink drops trickle down the side of the tub.
Later we go out. In bars we hang by the corners, drink Moscow Mules. On the way home she leans on my shoulder as I look out the bus window. See a sky set adrift. Clouds like a jagged shore, the breeze like waves. The moon delicately poised between today and tomorrow. Hair falls into her face. A strand of it sticks to her lips. What is it about connection, I wonder? These frail moments, instances of intimacy, few and far between: patterns of constellations that are stitched into the fabric of our lives, reverberating like murmurations of the heart.
I’ve been having this recurring dream.
I dream of warmth. Her smile so bright, memories lit like a cigarette. I was ember, I am dust. I sink into bed and memories afterglow.
i’ve got it all worked out. the trick is –
I wake and hear crows scuttling across the roof.
In the morning as I leave for my morning run she catapults her bra at me. Bring back some cake or something, she mumbles. When I come back she’s in the shower. Run away with me, I write on the clouded mirror with my finger and drag my hand across.
She bites into the chocolate cake, smudges her lips. This is the stuff, she says and smiles. I put the kettle on. Trees darken in the rain.
When we break up we laugh and kiss and she plays with my hair.
What the fuck am I going to do now, I ask?
She shrugs, smiles and says, you’ll find someone better. I’m sure of it.
Who would want to be with someone who spends half the day crying?
Well. Maybe don’t lead with that, she jokes and we laugh.
She looks at me. Never settle for anyone less than amazing ok?
You sound like a fortune cookie, I say.
I see you, she whispers.
I see you, I reply.
I’ve got it all worked out.
The clouds come alive, sun slits the sky’s skin, perfumes my dreams.
The trick is, I think.
The trick is.
I sink into bed and memories afterglow.
I move out into a new place, a different part of town. The house is small and cheap. The bedroom is up top. A ladder leads to the roof and there is a patio out back with a couple of plastic chairs and a table. I paint all the walls myself. Build shelves. Buy some new furniture to replace the plastic. There is a damp smell in the bed room, and an unexplained draft but it is a home of a kind. My own place.
There’s a bus stop across. I can see it from the kitchen, at night, when I wash the dishes. It sits beneath a canopy of arching elms with light dripping from a nearby street light. That’s where I first see them. The crows. Stalking the bushes behind. Some nights I stay awake to hear the rain wash the roof. Some mornings I wake to hear crows scuttle across.
I go up to the roof to investigate. I feel uneasy. Look, I say to myself. Amidst the pine cones and branches I see bones picked bare by crows. I poke them with a fork.
After a month there are twice as many bones. All different shapes and clean like porcelain. I gather them up with cleaning gloves and a spatula. Into a bin bag they go. As do the gloves and the spatula. In the bushes behind the bus stop I dig a small hole and bury the bag.
I am in the bathroom, running the taps and washing my hands and wonder what’s going on my roof as I sleep.
There is nothing like the night. I walk to the bus stop, look at the remnants of the summer night, the last few stars in the sky and wonder what she’s done with her day, her night? Who she’s spent it with. I used to make her put her hand on my chest or my forehead, to soothe my heart, calm my thoughts.
In therapy I talk of rivers and seas, of roots, of kites, flying free but with a string leading home.
I’m having this recurring dream, I say.
This is the time, remember, when all of the oceans, with their rolling waves, their ever-blue swarms of thunder, grow roots overnight and the world awakes to ever-green seas. Rockets are sent out into the night, searching for water. It’s all anyone talks about.
I run into her a couple of years later, months before she commits suicide. We order some shots at a bar. Talk about therapists, she bitches about her agent. Says her writing has become more restraint and clinical. Tells me the love of her life is leaving for New York with a fellowship. Says she’s sick of the city, wants to move to the country side. To learn how to garden and to adopt three cats and a dog. The open window is reflected in the dark of her eyes. We promise to stay in touch.
naked lightbulbs, slim glasses. Lips darkened with wine. Conversations swelling deep into the morning. Her place. My place. Her place. Our place. Lips tasting of wine, of coffee, of her and me. Mascara stains on my pillow. Wet bathroom tiles. Hair ribbons lying in caked soap on the sink’s rim. We live in bed. Brush our teeth together.
Memories of her fade into the night, like leaves that were once green and now wither. I sink into bed and memories afterglow.
Image by Graham Hains