I can’t wait.
You know I can’t.
Laughter. The sound is distant—secondhand. I roll onto my side. Turn to face where she should be.
Tell me about it.
What did I say when she left? He scratches the underside of his jaw, turns to look across the channel. He shrugs as if the memory is inconsequential. For a moment, Crow regrets this line of inquiry.
Until he speaks, I told her I’d come back. I said The Oasis was my home. I couldn’t ever forget that.
I think about it. The place before. He waves a hand and Crow shifts to cross her legs. Her hands spread over the wooden armrests of her chair. She runs her fingers up and down the length, gathering every splinter and unfinished edge.
His eyes are amber now, a warm, rich brown paler than chocolate, but deeper than gold. Jakey shakes his head, It was a long time ago, though. That life seems so foreign, so out of place to me. Like a dream that won’t go away. He looks down at the calloused pads of his fingers. A thumb brushes from pink palm to the tip of a square-tipped finger.
You would have made a good farmer. Or a smith. If there were still woods, you’d make a woodsman, too. Crow offers. She needs him to say it aloud, but she knows already.
Maybe, he smiles. Such a strained thing, as if he’s looking into a high desert sun. But it’s comforting. Human, the word comes to her. She regrets it. As if sensing her thought, he rolls a shoulder, one hand rising to knead the muscle as he considers her.
She smiles back.
Alice in Wonderland, 1915. Dir. W.W. Young.
He had hours to kill and little money. The walk to the train wasn’t near so cold as he’d counted on. Even so, he was glad for his heavy coat. The beacon lights burned across the river. A pale glimmer reminding him of nothing so much as sunlight reflected in dirty ice.
Sweat had begun to gather between his shoulders. If not for the persistent breeze swirling along the river and sweeping over the shore he’d have cursed himself for wearing the coat. Waiting for the train, he noticed the fog thickening further up river and tried to imagine travel as it had been. The water, murky, thick with sediment, and with the look of congealed fat hid tumbled rocks and branches. That had famously snagged and clawed after passing boats and the occasional merchant ship.
When the whistle and draft of the train announced its arrival, he flicked his cigarette at the water and gathering gulls. The stub tumbled end over end, arcing high and seeming to linger in the air. Transfixed, focused on the still-burning cherry, to the point that when the train slid between the river and the platform, he struggled to put the steel into focus.
The machine seemed to sweat as well. Where the paint had not already sloughed off, exposed steel blossomed into rust, layers of orange fading into concentric rings of a paling red that percolated and peeled the remaining paint.
Like everything else, these blooms had a beauty to them.
Though consistent, the river breeze only served to muddle the fog, rather than disperse it.
On board the train, he scanned for a free seat. It seemed all the other passengers had thought to do the same. Here and there were free seats, but each came accompanied with a stranger. Where two people shared a seat, it was only at three-seater benches designed in facing pairs and meant for six sitters. He felt a smile curling his lips at the sight of an empty dual-seat and planted himself there.
Outside his window, the fog massed and relented—a grey corps of soldiers on the parade grounds. The occasional ship would send it shuddering across a massive bow to ripple along its body and cohere over the wake. Under the dim glow of the beacon lights, cliffs rose as an ephemeral monstrosity behind the scrim of fog. A reasonable facsimile of the edge of everything.
And why not, he mused. An end to everything right in my backyard.
Pylons sat sunk or sinking in the river, more than half-forgotten. Their sides worn and withering, marking the height of the river over their lifespans. From his pocket, Lad retrieved a journal and pen to hack away at the thoughts settling somewhere in the back of his mind. Along the ride his saw mountains of fog, or perhaps mounds would be more accurate, seemingly rise from nothing and settle into the center of the river.
He was somewhere North, the train’s population thinning as they departed at their paces of work or rest, when his thoughts were interrupted by a waft of something curious. A floral scent, though not the usual soft, unobtrusive stuff he was accustomed to. He couldn’t place the name of it, but it came on anyhow. Across the aisle had sat a woman. Not far older than himself, but certainly no youth. Lines creased her face at the corners of her lips and eyes, and a series of deep trenches had been etched across her brow. The color of her skin was somewhere between the robust, red-tinged ochre of a mature lobster mushroom and walnut polished to a high sheen. Though he dared not speak to her, he attempted to observe her manner, surprising himself with how blatantly he watched her.
She was not stiff, but there was some rigidity to how she held herself. Tight, dark curls were kept back from her face in a loose bun, and she dressed casually, carpenter’s jeans stained at knees and cuffs; a heavy canvas jacket of the type worn by construction workers sat loosely on her, obscuring most of her body. She looked out the window, facing road ways and stoney outcroppings as if she were waiting for someone to appear alongside the train.
She turned and tilted her head, and he was left disarmed by a half smile that revealed a chipped tooth and preceded an arching of one eyebrow and query, “Excuse me?”
“Sorry?” Lad’s throat felt dry and he could sense the oncoming of a deep flush to his cheeks as it crept upward from his neck.
“You said something?” Her smile broadened and he found himself oddly off put by it. He felt sure he had said nothing, but there was nothing to say he hadn’t spoken. She seemed convinced that he had, so best to follow through.
“A cigarette? Ehm, would you like one?” From another pocket he fetched a crumpled pack of Luckies and a much used and dinted Zippo bound to it by a rubberband.
“I’d love one,” she nodded and reached across the aisle without moving from her seat. It was clear by her reach she was much taller than him. And as she leaned across to meet his outstretched pack, he gauged her to be somewhere in the upper range of average, a powerful build that most might observe as too-heavy, but seemed to suit her fine. She took the cigarette and lighter without another word and was soon issuing a cloud of smoke to rival the roiling banks of fog over the river.
Bronze pair of ivies,
Rodin among emeralds,
Kellys and Hunters.
They learned that traveling monumental distances required a lack of energy. Don’t fall asleep on the current, but course through it.
A mild trope, the gliding beast. Wings for naught when buoyancy will do.
The shame is loss of plumage.
On the fire escape she slips behind me. Hands quickly chilled run under my shirt, over my back. A shudder ripples over my skin, I can feel the tightening of goose flesh. Her hands move forward, pulling me into her shape and I feel easy.
My eyes close, the view of nothing changes into the memory of her. I turn into a sleepy kiss.
I’ve been adopting a new habit. It starts with the night. Stay up ‘til sunrise, let my mind get full on anxiety. Dream about things that used to be, things that will never be. In my mouth the words are false, staged by some off screen hand.
Feeling like this is unreal. It is clumsy, daft, even. In the dreams I see any number of faces, but never yours. That would be easy. In an effort to remember what I should never forget I wake up and look at your photos, detritus of a life I will never have with you.
You’re smiling with another.