after Tracey Slaughter
And the quarto salt-stiff winedarkdarkdarkdark drunks ... the darkdarkdarkdark lake ice crack ... back ... wet split black blonde unblooming below the surface unblooming ... Look ... Narcissus paused ... the dusty blue ... unblooming. Like ... hyacinths. Here. And here. And here. And here. And you, there you are among the quartos of cider, the coke and vodka half-castes abandoned on formica for a lounge of body heat and bassline hips; there you are in the slow gravity of ozone and coconut oil, sunpink shoulder blade flex, hair salt-stiff and teased into heaps, hoops; there in the winedark splotches like Rorschach tests for drunks and lovers.
Hyacinth. Demeter. Narcissus. The hiss of gauze and stainless steel, plastic slap, subterranean thunk of the shut-off valve, your arm brushing his back as you retract from the tap. There, always, illuminated by sixty watts of mint cabinets and the bleed of sodium through spider-frosted glass, the easy rise of crawlspace cool drifting between the floorboards like the stream of pearls bursting in his bottle green. Offer a wet plastic salutation; assent to a smile. Watch the rise of his sand-polished cheekbones, the harmonics of crooked teeth, the smoker’s split along his bottom lip flattening with the diphthongs of pleasure as he tells you he loves your outfit. He doesn’t see the milky smear of deodorant pits, the sprawl of overlocked hemlines, the zips that jam. He’s taking a step back to better understand the calculus of your waist, your hips, tits. Lie to yourself; he believes he’s appreciating your cotton. Black is always the new black, he’ll say. Try to read the topology of his sins etched into his irises and the faultlines that cup his eyelids, the weight of his chest, digit ratios, bicep flex. He’ll flick blonde from his brow, offer a name and an open hand; move drink left and return the favour, palm tilted up to meet his. Promise some collection of letters etched over a weak-willed snapshot, plasticbound in your back pocket and wrapped in hide.
Compare referents. His is a handwave towards the lounge mass and an appeal to receding high school years; we’ve all known each other forever. I can introduce you. And you give some version of your truth, that you’re new to the cobblestones and elms of the city, hunting places to earn brass, to haunt, pollen to breathe. This morning you paused at the smell of coffee and bookdust, wandered the foxleaved pages; you hummed something made sad by Billie Holiday -- a detail you’ll omit -- when a pixie cut floated across shelves. Then That one’s great. We don’t often get copies in appeared behind you, a blue strand tucked behind an ear, the triple-pierced lobe. And look -- it’s a second edition. She brushes your fingers as she offers to cradle the dusty blue of the jacket, turn once to the corner clipped where the price used to be, one over, the paper tender, inviting, to the fineprint of second edition. You can taste each wet fingertip corner, the first spine crackle, the dog-ear abandon, and you tell her it’s beautiful, the book, and you haven’t seen one like it for an age. Stud-ripped ridgeline of her incisors, a pierced upper frenum when she smiles. A quip on the author, and if that’s your style -- oh you’ve read this too? How about Kafka? Vonnegut? Joyce? Double-check the weight of bronze in your pocket. And the lake ice cracks, breaks; there’s the Sorry, I get the feeling we’ve met?, the faint pull of memory, her plunging amber eyes. You’ve practiced your lines so many times you believe them now -- new to town, looking for work, fresh faces. A moment’s hesitation. You’re lonely and magnetic so she opens the doors to her party, a sort-of-New-Years’-thing, insists on the company of your loveliness. An invitation full of simply musts and can’t nots, unpredicted, even by you. A restrained squeal at the counter when you assent. Place-stroke-time on the back of the receipt. Bring a bottle. See you there.
There’s a lifetime here, just below the surface, if you behave.
And here you are between the dying Sauv and the greasy chip bowl, repeating. Pixiecut’s in her flatmate’s bedroom, varnishing nails, so you feel a little untethered with six feet of blonde. He rasps a thumb across his chin, smiles, tells you the town’s nice enough, thinks it’s a city. But you like that.
Laugh at his quips; he’ll laugh at yours. The eccentricities of your accent come from the tans and snowglobes and gilded leaf trinkets of 747s and homeschooling, you say; your vowels well-travelled, your consonants balanced. Compare field notes on pub leaners, the temperature of late-night pavements, fountains at Venice street corners, drying ridges of linseed and cadmium. Beer cap psst ting wobble, green cool and heavy in your hand. Did you know. You’ve got to climb Ex. You really should see Wye. Another. Replace all punctuation with the interrobangs of enthusiasm. A waterfall of red hair exposes a part of you on Polaroid, the only transcription of the fading night. It makes its way into his back pocket, rubs denim, memento. Look for the pulse of his Adam’s apple as he finishes his beer.
He’ll check the tension on your bra clips as he leads you out the back door and down the concrete steps, palm dropping down the curve of your spine to the small of your back, pencil lead against a sheet of paper, the cartography of friction. He’s passing you his hip flask, whiskey torso warm, nightwarm, bringing it to his mouth. You’ll walk-stumble together to the forest at the edge of a park while he lights a rollie, passes it to you, your lips touching his impression in the filter. On the other side there’s the river. You can just make out statues. Chloride patina on felt brims, folds of wool. Another tip, another pull. There’s the deep itch in your chest, the electricity on your tongue. In the streetlights he glows amber; in the shadow of ash his lips will be lavender. You’ll pause, drop the smile, jaw relaxed, the cars on hold off; tilt your head.
He kisses you once, unflourished, and again with his hands cupping your face, like he’s found someone worth aching for. Then hard with your back to the bark, ember falling to the roots, your arms gripping bunches of skin through the cotton of his shirt. Wonder what it would be like to have his bitter tang of hops, honey, tobacco in the still-warm folds of your sheets. Lick. Suck. He’s long Sunday afternoons, your hair trailing the narrow of your waist, the tacking of soles against a cool floor. This is good. You’ll drink coffee and surround yourselves with first editions, grow herbs on the kitchen windowsill, ask questions of the dead. Bite. Forever. He’s lowering you onto the soil, arm around the small of your back, gentle. He’s found a way under your shirt, he’s undoing buttons, zips, he’s shucking his hand into you, clumsy, all spit and nail scratch, his breath acid hot, the yellow prick-curl of his beard in your jugular. Tilt. He’s pressing you back to earth, and your neck is infant, lolling, and you’re using your no and he’s full of shush and baby and ohmygod and yes and fuck, and it’s not enough to push back so the dull of your nails are for his chest, his neck, falling away at the basket weave of cotton, the scrag on his cheeks, and your larynx still holds, so you try a scream but his hand is over your mouth bite and taste the earth and grass and taste your wet and you bitch and your cheekbone is hot so you scream again something primal but both hands are on your throat and his hips are still beating and the light from the streetlamp by the road narrows to a whisper, by degrees, a flower unblooming.
* * *
Wake, cough; vomit on the yellow grass. There are fingerprints on your throat already, delicate night petals, hyacinth-blue. The air still, cooling. Fragments of Orion, Taurus, Perseus’ heel through the branches. Tender situp, cum dirt-congealing. There are still firsts for anything.
Cry while the earth turns without you.
Something whispers to you of his path back to the party; how he’s brushed past the apple tree, what’d I miss?, taken his time on the spliff when it’s passed beneath the ribs of the clothesline. Until he next takes a piss the only reminder of you will be the tired feeling at the base of his spine and the sticky pink mess of his cock rubbing against satin. He’d gone out for a walk, needed air. Wash it off. Pass. He’ll balance his own scales of need and want, peek through the blindfold, forget. And while you lay in the soil you see how he pumps his neck, burns his throat on an unguarded vodka bottle, slurs through to the lounge; there’s Pixiecut, laughing over the amps, knees soft, the division of her thighs, a scar where a fencenail caught, cup empty. Hey, he sloshes from the bottle. Great party. He’s breathing into her ear; he wants to talk alone, to the back step, rolls fibres, pass to ash, confesses a history of desire by a shy and practiced smile. I’m drunk so I’m not afraid to tell you. More hands, more lips, let’s go inside to the grey duvet, photo wall, pewter necklaces the mirror frame; they’re lying on the bed, palms and ribcages and thighs, a sunhat on the door handle, the tide of his hip flask going out.
You need water, the river over the rise. So you hand-knee, hand-bark up, inhale sharp, wince across the green, across the arching bridge, blind to the fullbeams, down the steps to the river, danger: no swimming, through reeds and weeds, the water taking the gravity of your hips. Breathe; there is peace in the drift.
You sing, punctuated at first, something sad and ancient, his name rolling around the bruises on your skull, your feet in the silt, just for him. And he feels it across a patchwork of eighth-acres and ex-state housing: the grip on his throat, a distant I’d better go drawn from his tongue, sill stumble, Pixiecut left marooned on the duvet, and he’s drunk off double-exposure shadows, the pavement to the water; you’re casting ripples on the other side, a shadow downstream. He’s never been so thirsty, so hard, so he runs to you, scrambles across the berm, knees knocking rocks, and he’s thrashing the water, gasping, shuddering, the midstream fast, his denim heavy, he’s struggling to keep afloat, and when he tips past the point of no return do you stop singing, and in the fall he sees everything in the blacks of your eyes.
There was something buried in his gloaming; you felt it, like a child discovering fire. Drag him to the bank. Reach in, clumsy, unsure. Pull at tendon, cartilage, sinus, sticky fat, liver, pulpy heart; hot, smooth organs the colour of leather. Eat the unyellowed parts of his lungs, cochlea crunch, kidney tang as they slide past some sacred, unnamable palate. And then buried deeper, the alchemy of youth, the verb made flesh, light and sibilants and seasons of sound and colour coming from each turn of his flesh. The high-school biro tattoos, grinding gears in his first car, orange butts mashed into cobblestone moss behind the bike sheds, the electricity of his cum; he’s walking across the park, checking the hip flask slosh, the bedroom, the river, and you.
Give something back -- the tearing of flesh, the untouchable aches, the tar in your lungs, a pound of December flesh, the slurry of sodium and beer spume in your gut, every monoxide and e-number; hide the hyacinths somewhere fleshy, succulent. Commit his body to the tangled downstream and a few pitying words of newsink, a promising young man.
* * *
And here I am, the eclipse finally broken, light pouring from behind the shadows. There are things I must ask about the undeveloping depth of the present, the secrets hidden from pith and soot, the permanence of light; questions dreamed long ago in the dying, plumsoaked summer, bathing with my mother and sisters, black hair loose and drifting in the stream. And it will be a voice of pitch and fury.
You’ve seen me in the water; when you could have sworn some pheromone lingered in a doorway, some laugh in the street, a denimed arse in the wine aisle belonged to someone you used to know, there I am. Like stained glass. You can find me whenever there are the bile-and-tears cowards; I fade into Pall Malls and gin breath and phosphorescent bursts, into side-eyes for lonely girls, waiting. And later, I’ll have what burned your tongues, your first heartaches, the colours of childhood. Look for me in those slow February days, dandelion wine, the phonics of the seabreeze tipping the candle flames; or the snowboot slush and brandy tulip tears, pearls and paper stars collecting on the windowsills; the sawdust of this nightclub, the knotted pine of that bar; the ice melting in my glass, stool aching across polished concrete for another glass bouquet. I might have your niece’s smile, the cadence of your last boyfriend’s step, the lilt and drawl of your ex-wife’s hips; she’s opening the ranch slider and throwing toast at the starlings and the nine-to-fivers’ crawl; there’s the blackcurrant meniscus of the bathwater on your first girlfriend’s cheeks, eyelashes behind folds of blue cotton; there’s the slap of the high jump mat, the sinew of an electric blanket; there’s your first guitar-string callous, waxy and white, your palms hot and metallic from the jungle gym, you’re running over the copper bark, breathless and pink, and there’s the November breeze, the static of the sunyellow slide; there’s the back seat of Dad’s Cortina, the sticky lemon slurp and popsicle wrap hush; there’s the ping and tug of your first snapper, the black and white rod bowing to the sea; a coin tossed in a fountain, fading, and you.