“I love grocery shopping with you in my pocket,” I said to Damien last night, shaking water droplets off a bundle of parsley. “I used to mumble into the mic and wear a hoodie to hide my earbuds, and now look at me talking out loud to myself. I mean, this is what makes me happy, isn’t it?”
“That’s right, doll,” she said gently, the way she does when I talk like this, which is a few times a day. I glanced out through the entwinings of university couples to the haze of the Edmonton street smoky from wildfires and pictured us walking there, in the restored June scent, in less than two weeks. Then she said, “When I’m there with you, I won’t be in my office with the door closed. I won’t shut these blinds and whisper in your ear, tell you that when I slid my shorts off this morning, I felt your mouth on me and started pulsating, imagining—”
While she spoke, tremors of light shot their forks through my abdomen and the man in front of me squeezed an eggplant and batted a pancake of snot from his beard. I had to giggle at the ceiling to keep from enjoying myself more than is socially acceptable for a thirty-five-year-old woman at the supermarket.
—you facing the sunrise, she was saying. With your calves wrapped in bed sheets and half your hair stuck to your armpit and old and deaf Pete banging on the door of our master bedroom saying breakfast’s on and your bro’s kids playing in the snow and me not caring scooping you into my pelvis nudging you wet and barely stopping to breathe down your back before getting so deep inside you that you have to hobble down the stairs to fetch our bacon.
I don’t want to give the impression that we are constantly carrying on in this way, humping like gerbils via the radio waves (and deep-sea cables—I recently confirmed for myself how our calls cross the ocean). It’s possible that I tighten up these run-on sentences of hers, make them punchier than they really are. But it’s her voice you’d have to hear to know why the words don’t matter. That voice is all it takes and why I’ve made it on six visits in five years of dating. And while it may seem strange for her flyby erotica to feature my family members and the rooms of homes we’ve never lived in, my dad is old and deaf and I come from a land of frigid daybreaks. I submit to you that these details are what make our dreamscapes real. We are good storytellers and that’s why we’ve lasted.
* * *
Damien has a ten-year-old daughter named Claire. They live in Queenstown, New Zealand, where Claire’s other mother also lives and where she and Damien run a ziplining company. The name of the other mother is Kerri. I have met Kerri twice, once after I was attacked by grief on the zipline and once over FaceTime. My high-flying experience I will get around to saying more about, but the Queenstown queers called it a “penic etteck” and later, at the bar, kept dropping stories of their own struggles with anxiety—I’m a yell-in-the-car girl, she’s a jump-out-of-car girl—as though promoting the beery, therapeutic benefits of being able to laugh at oneself. I felt nothing. I perched demurely nodding on the faux-rustic stool between my love and her ex, whose day off it had been and to whom she’d reached out in the absence of a better idea, thinking it wise, I guess, to recruit someone quieter. Damien seemed a tad shell-shocked by the realness of her Canadian girlfriend: although two-and-a-half years strong at that point, we hadn’t met in-person for over a year. She patted my hand while slapping the table and guffawing at what her friends found most deranged about one another. Once in a while, her nervous system got turned around and she slapped my hand and patted the table. Her shoulder leaned into me. It was a distant comfort that began to build as I focused through thin cotton on skin and muscle and bone. I could be lonely next to her, I realized. Was the distance so bad? Perhaps we were fine stretched across the Pacific.
On my right was Kerri’s wonderful, uneasy presence. She oozed dissatisfaction. At first, I thought her beef was with me but, when she looked me in the eyes, I saw it was with everyone else. She peered into me as though looking for a ghost at the sight of whom she would be ready to break. I don’t know if she found him. She smiled without awkwardness after a moment, broke my gaze as her spine straightened, and was erect with silence until I began to ask about Claire and autumn plans and hiking in the area. I know Damien and have a pretty good idea of the Kerri she talks about. That Kerri has a sense of humour. But I think she’s also the kind of person who is unable to pretend things away and, while I could be wrong, I think she wanted to make it clear that, even in that zoo of a town, there was room for my loss. Either way, it was beside her in that bar that I saw my hard-edged dream blur. The dream was Damien and me in some cure-all way. I was thirty-two and had lost a child; this was not a new feeling. I relaxed into it, into Damien, as Kerri wouldn’t and hadn’t, let my feet touch down on the shores of Lake Wakatipu.
* * *
It sneaks up on you, a relationship made of pixels and dings and bluely glowing windows that import, at the pace of their unfolding, mundanities from the far side of the globe. Say it begins five Septembers ago. You’ve met by chance in Nova Scotia and polished off a summer fling. Now you spin around opposite poles.
It’s the occasional FaceTime at first. One day, you pause in the middle of talking to feed the cat and she asks to see him. You dangle his paws in front of the monitor and coax him to yawn. Two weeks later, you’re eating supper together, you and the cat and the Kiwi. (Well, you and Ember—that’s the cat’s name—are eating supper. She’s singeing together what her Scottish mum calls a fry-up, really just a slutty breakfast, but God help you if you call it brunch. Steam curls off the kale, fat spits in the pan and, as she flips and jiggles and swears and spills marmalade on the floor, those brownish tiles which you’ve never set foot on, you come damned close to feeling the heat of her body, from the burned thumb to the roots of her hair.) Your actual vicinity, your own kitchen floor, has nothing on your east coast summer together, which seems to grow ever more recent as the days pass. Your shared geography you talk to death and it only comes more alive.
For example, what was her first impression of you? Divorced, bereaved nerd? (There you were writing manuals on the sagging deck of your aunt’s cabin, lanky indifference in a Pikachu onesie.) What were you thinking when—? is the kind of question you ask each other, but in a bit of a jittery way. By now, you’ve aged enough to know that you shouldn’t reminisce like this prematurely. The intimacy whose beginnings you’re harkening back to is, after all, newborn. You don’t spoil it, though. Because it’s fun to recall how you were both scared when the boat knocked a rock off the point in the dark with the tide coming in. Her blood on your leg (she’d cut herself, reacting suddenly). Did the kiss help? Of course, it did. And, once, you’ve mapped out every emotion that you did feel or might have felt between the second week of July and the last week of August, individually and as a fledgling pair, you retell it all from the aunt’s perspective. What was Aunt Robyn thinking? The dead husband’s gay granddaughter whom she barely knew—this was Damien—pleading childhood memories of the place and turning up on weekends. Come on, you say, smirking. Aunt Robyn knew.
Most of all, in the early months over video chat, you marvel at basic things. Like the fact that your hand has to be in the back while holding hands and hers has to be in the front and how her head meets your chin when she stands on your toes. Like the odds of both your dads being from Cape Breton and winding up loosely-related through marriage. (Are there odds more Nova Scotian?) And the crossing of your paths. We would never have heard of each other, you say. We would never have even heard of each other, if—because it’s true. If your partnerships hadn’t ended simultaneously, if she hadn’t come to Canada for the first time in years…
You don’t lose your independence. If anything, you start getting out more, beckoned by the shine of having a life to describe when you come in from the cold. You try taking work to cafés and cross-country skiing in the river valley. Her life, you believe, is unfailingly interesting. Days off, she’s up early with Claire, who’s only five at this point, hiking or biking. On weekdays, she hires and fires people and organizes tours like the world-famous plunge down a nighttime mountainside. She’s just spent eight hundred dollars that she doesn’t have switching to an iPhone and, while she won’t admit it, this is totally in support of your addiction to Apple products—an addiction she’s now caught. She mocks her Pavlovian elation at the sound of the FaceTime ringtone. I almost cry when it’s not you. You try to support her attempt to use less mobile data. At this you fail.
For what you have you coin the term LDS: long-distance stalkership. I’m a stalker, I’m such a stalker, you say when you wake and text her in the middle of the night but with a fondness that, to you, represents a thirty-year-old’s ease with herself or something.
She becomes slightly performative about mealtimes, showing off her cooking skills for the benefit of the webcam. This kind of makes you want to hide your love of adding graham crackers and your favourite kind of EnviroKidz cereal to smoothies, but you don’t. Instead, you garnish the smoothies with the shapes of flowers—banana rounds for petals round a blueberry, for example—to demonstrate how maturely you do perpetual childhood.
On occasion you clip and file your nails and rub coconut oil all over your hands to torture her, but you’re still too shy to pee in front of your laptop. You have sex, of course. Of course, you have sex with each other over FaceTime.
It’s been a very long time since you fell for someone, and you wonder if this is what the honeymoon phase looks like in 2014.
One freakishly mild December’s night, you go swing dancing with friends. A truck turning onto Whyte Avenue sprays brown snow on your tights and you think, Where my girlfriend lives it’s tomorrow and summer. But you don’t tell anyone. Not yet. You are not warm inside exactly, but there is a seeping awareness that something is alive in you. Years ago, you had this grown-up life before you had this childish one and, one day, it fell out of you like the weight of the sun. What has your apartment been since, if not a hollowness for your hollowness to go home to? You are one crater inside another. You did everything right the first time and didn’t get to keep any of what mattered. How could an effort like that be repeated? Although wasn’t it almost easy, acquiring it the first time? Unimaginably easier—it seems like it must have been. The education, the husband, the highchair smeared with butternut squash. You kept your job and your apartment.
You have hated that apartment.
In twenty minutes, you will find her in it—in Queenstown, inside your iPhone—strolling up a long hill to the top of Thompson Street. Dark-fuzzed arms and upper lip sweat. You’ll lay out in her backyard whose cut of the sky hangs with paragliders and into whose heat moisture emanates from the dark green base of the mountain. She’ll lift weights and do a little yoga while you take your phone into the shower with you, brush your teeth, and fall asleep. Your view of the world spliced with hers. A choppy, spacious dream.
* * *
I was looking forward to today and, although I’ll admit to getting sidetracked, it’s not too late to turn it around. All the smoke from up north has made me woozy lately and I thought I’d take the day off as a treat to myself. Rest up, go for a walk in the clean air (if the forecast held), maybe try that new docuseries about the fall of the Russian monarchy. Since Cody died, I haven’t been much in the habit of taking weekends from my job as a technical writer, but I shouldn’t let work sprawl out over my days.
I was looking forward to the alone-time, too. They had an unusual dump of snow down in Queenstown and Damien’s gone with Claire backcountry skiing for a couple of days.
My day began with the smokeless light, a cool brightness on my eyelids while the cat was waking me up. I let him bound and scamper in and out of the room each morning, which lately means two p.m., even though his pastime is to knock small objects down on my head. I guess a part of me likes to be pestered in the morning. Before you get ahead of yourself, though, Ember is not my fur-baby. He’s a cat. My parents might sign my Christmas card to both of us (that’s a relationship they can wholly accept), but I don’t use him, I assure you, to sublimate my deepest love in this life. That line of thinking’s a further laceration. I know the difference between a cat and my toddler.
When I went to the window, it turned out to be raining. Imagine that in comparison with the sepia pall that had darkened the city for a week straight, coating our tongues with particulates, some cloud cover emptying itself would fairly dazzle. I knew the fires were still burning out there, that the smoke had left on a whim of the winds. Thank God our family farm was to the south. But rain had come and that seemed hopeful, and it felt like the most manageable option was to take back the air as soon as it cleared, to suppress my anxiety that we are growing short of breath, the world over. I cracked the window and caught a whiff of such pure flowering freshness that I backed away for some reason, almost tripped over Ember.
This shall be a screen-free day, I resolved, affecting a pompous British manner as I sometimes do in my head. I am trying to learn to parent myself.
I watered my indoor plants while the coffee was brewing and the radio kept my mind on a focused track. I would make pancakes and a massive smoothie and read. Later, when I saw that “home3” had called while I was making breakfast and my phone was on airplane mode, my chest dilated as though the missed call were from Damien. I rolled my eyes at my own physiology. (Damien is home2, the farm is home3, and there’s no home1 because that’s me.) By this time, I was at the river. I shut the phone off completely then and sank my shoes into the mud.
What happened is this: coffee was fine, pancakes were fine, the swell of inward space due to airplane mode was fine. Then I walked down to ground level and stepped outside and smelled the spring.
Now, I am barefoot in the reeds and loosened mud where the water has smoothed out a flat over hundreds of years. Down to my t-shirt, tracks squelching beneath the sound of the rain on the river, and I am not cold. One shoe has been swallowed permanently near an abandoned shopping cart I was trying to move. I’ve gone soft-eyed. Glasses hung on a bush.
It wasn’t springtime when we scattered his ashes. Seven-and-a-half years ago, Cody’s father and me. Just a few handfuls they came to. The kid loved the mud—this mud—which is why we brought him here. I’m sure they all washed away. First snowmelt. But the moisture is a shock today after weeks of drought and smoke, and you can see where it’s brought me: to the place of my little one. Drowning in the smell of the blooming. For it is places that unhinge me from time to time, places broken open by the meetings of weather and season, which make my life its painstaking thing, distinct from yours, which pull water up through these leaves and dust the peaks high above Damien’s house with lichens. And which, flooding into my body, sharpen memory and imagined fates such as the future that overwhelmed me that one time on a zipline in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
In my apartment, I have crisp white walls and windows that shut tightly and compact rectangles of blue light which are conduits to lives being lived elsewhere. I love the solace I find there, my laptop perched on a chair beside the bathtub while I light candles and exfoliate my long pink self on many a night and in the dull ache of some winter afternoons. I am comforted by my indoor life in the northern hemisphere, tolerably stimulated while insulated against sensory excess. Ugh, I’m not a lab rat. What I’m saying is I know where home1 belongs and it’s here on the eroding banks of the North Saskatchewan River, where I can’t actually bear to be. By now you’re probably wondering why I don’t think it can work, in the end, between Damien and me. Have I said as much? She has a Canadian passport but can never leave Claire. I can never leave Cody.
I tell her both of these things.
* * *
The first time I met Kerri over FaceTime, she said to me, tucking her blunt mint-green bangs out of sight above the rim of a climbing helmet, “It’ll be good to have you here in time for Claire’s bike race.”
This was said with such matter-of-factness that Damien laughed, as did Kerri’s new partner, Rose, who’d been dropping off lunch when I happened to call. Kerri had a tour group waiting. She glanced between the two of them in bewilderment and then snort-giggled, gasping that she had to rush back “up top” but wished me “a good-as-gold night in Canada.”
“Claire’s got three mums and six grandparents,” said Damien. (This was an early estimate where Rose was concerned, though a funny one.) “Kerri wants to up those numbers to four and eight!” The phone wobbled, but I saw her hand fly out to high-five Rose.
* * *
Hang on—can you see what that moment might have meant to me? All I was witnessing, I knew, was the humaneness, the stronger ties even, that can result from a separation. But I couldn’t help feeling like some cozy polygamous cult was trying to welcome me, to extend its chain of hands across the ocean, and I loved this and hated that I did and, hanging up, shed angry, hopeful tears.
* * *
Two-and-a-half years ago, when Damien drove to Christchurch to pick me up for our first sexathon in Kiwiland, I didn’t have the luxury to be nervous. I was vomiting thirty-five thousand feet above the sea into a bag and then my sweater between bouts of clear-air turbulence.
By the second week, I felt cleansed and relaxed. Then, on the eve of my maybe-stepdaughter’s bike race, I was yanked back off the ground. Was this a condition of happiness, to let the earth quit the soles of my feet? Swaying on a zipline platform next to Damien and her friends, I gazed out through towering, invasive firs at an expanse of red-brown mountains sandwiched between blues. The softness of the sky’s blue and the hardness of the lake’s blue and the farness of the moss below seemed to cast a spell together with the piney air gorging my lungs and the fact that, for the first time, I loved my fear.
Maybe we are looking for the right mix of danger and safety and that is the dance of our lives. I was already jacked up from hours spent thinking I was about to meet Kerri and not Damien’s friend Kiri, their names sounding identical in a New Zealand accent. As we suited up, I had watched the object of my affection and the ones who seemed to know her best with a childish, niggling dismay. Damien reached straight into the crotches and underarms of Kiri and Kiri’s girlfriend, adjusting straps and clothing and fondly pinching their flesh, as though nothing could be more normal than their bodies’ proximity to one another. I don’t think it was sexual jealousy that I felt so much as a desperation to be physically unextraordinary to my own boo. I wanted my damp knee-pits and the sunscreen that whitened me like a mime to feel natural by her side. At the same time, I was longing to, um, text her, and make fun of the little ways in which our communication broke down when we were IRL. At a distance, we would never have failed to be on the same page about the fact that “Kee-ree” in this context meant Kiri. She would laugh at that.
Kiri’s girlfriend had kept asking us how we did it, how we stuck out the distance. Now Kiri, leaning boldly off the platform with extreme trust in her leash and carabiner, said, “This is great, eh. Us and you guys. Love me some dyke time!” We snapped some selfies. Then she said, “But didn’t you used to be married to a man, mate? What’s up with that?”
Now excuse me, but I’ve been bi as fuck since the age of twelve. I hid it from my folks for aeons which, given my husband, was a hell of a lot easier than it would have been for Damien and co. But the last thing I needed twenty years later was a charming, if slightly chauvinistic, lesbian in board shorts telling me that the hairy pecs I’d once slept on threatened the purity of her club. It didn’t help that Damien had had a bumpy road to embracing my sexuality in the beginning. I would have loved to say that yes, I used to be married to a man named Luke, and we used to dress up like Pokémon, invent dance moves inspired by our cat, and sleep with a baby in between us. (And yep, he looked like both of us and we’d created him for free.) It could have been nice to be asked why I thought it hadn’t worked out, my marriage to this man. Damien’s was a nosy crowd; wouldn’t they have asked this about an ex-wife? I would have said that we’d tried to hold on to each other, tried to keep hearing each other, that it wasn’t our son that cracked us so much as a long-standing brittleness in the way we’d hammered ourselves together. Although that would’ve been a load of bullshit, probably. Instead, I closed my eyes as the old, resented, tenacious shame of feeling different among the different coursed through me.
“They were in love,” said Damien dreamily, closing the slight gap between us. She cupped my sweaty neck and kissed my temple.
Kiri did some backstepping. It was agreed that in honour of bisexuals “as brave as me,” I should be first to plunge to my doom.
* * *
Have you ever leapt backwards into the unknown on the strength of a person’s gaze? Nothing’s as closed or open as a face and, shivering here in the mud, I can see I have read my life based on the way it’s looked out at me. From the depths of eyes, I mean. My great acts of will have been a running towards or away from what I’ve seen in a face. My mum’s exacting love, every change in Cody while he was sick, and the gaze of the man I was married to retreating, hardening like wax.
I think what I saw in Damien before I shut my eyes and fell to what I was sure would be my death was the promise that she wasn’t going to push me. Not ever. She would stand on that platform for as long as it took, while seabeds sank and eggs dripped through our fallopian tubes and our parents died of coughing fits holding back their alternatives to our dismal choices. Of the South Island girls who’d continue to swarm her, she might tussle with a few, never neglecting, all the while, to keep loving me. Keep our eyes locked. Via the deep-sea cables?
I decided flying and screaming to move to New Zealand.
The neurosis of want and its argument had ceased, when I jumped, like a cresting wave.
I’ve often told her how sad I am that she missed those seconds of suspension. I was singularly hers, though for less than the time it took for the whole of the rushing landscape, or whatever word we are missing in English that would describe the earth as it includes the sky, to gasp itself into me. The mountains lunged at me strangely, bunching inside my rib cage, and the lake levelled up through my lungs. There was no Cody here. Of the futures I had tried on from the inside out, this one contained the least of him. No cottonwoods would snow on rivulets down to the river, no highway stink like his grandparents’ farm. By the time the pulley carrying me slowed within reach of the next jaunty staff member, I was crazed and hyperventilating like someone who wastes the best of her days.
* * *
I have four missed calls from an Otago number. When my thumb hits the call button, Kerri answers. What you have to understand is that, since that night at the bar following my “penic etteck” three years ago, I haven’t seen Kerri or spoken to her. I liked her just fine—in fact, it was her poise in holding space for me that gave me the balls to have limitations. I did not attend Claire’s bike race or become her fourth mother. I actually planned my trips to Queenstown around her vacations. I did not join a modern family of the Southern Alps. I told my love to fuck whomever she pleased, and she did, and she broke up with me several times. But she always yearned, in the end, to watch Ember go down on the wand of my vacuum cleaner. And she loved that FaceTime ringtone. So, there you are.
Kerri says, “She tore her ACL again. Will you yell at her for me?”
“Damien?” I stand up groggily, my wallet and its contents spilling from my lap. Facedown near a mud-swallowed ankle lands the photo I’ve been curled up around. It is no longer raining, but I have to clench my jaw to stop my teeth from chattering.
“They were out with some folks you might know. One guy’s asthma, they had to turn around, and your girlfriend thought it would be a good idea to let them go ahead so she and Claire could take their time. Then she wiped out bad, still way out from the trailhead, and Claire had to ski down for help by herself.”
“Is that not safe?”
“Not a great call.” Kerri’s voice is husky, syrupy, one shade deeper than Damien’s. How does the pair of them manage, with those ridiculous accents, to sound so sexy? They should have a podcast. Or, if that’s too brainy, host bad country. I would listen. “Anyway, we’re at the hospital, starving. Whatcha up to? Rose is working. Dame’s phone’s dead and she’s in a rotten mood, but she meant to tell you herself. I’ll pass you on when the doc’s done gabbing. With her flight to Canada coming up, I won’t blame you for killing her.”
Kerri’s not actually mad, I can tell, she just wants company in her frustration. Extra company, a feather bed of it. Because, truth be told, she’s got friendsfamilycoworkersRose in a picturesque package of a town and that is what props up her confidence and, surely, her chatty tone. She assumes I’ll warm to her. I get it, she’s pissed off and hungry, stuck in an ice-bath of fluorescence with her best friend who’s imperfect and their prodigiously athletic kid. She had plans for a Sunday alone. But I’m disappointed. She’s not the woman-of-few-words I have made of her.
“I’ve heard of bigger problems,” I say, numbly aware that Kerri has too, and that my rage is dusted in its own kind of pettiness.
I hang up.
I bend my knees and spring out of the mud, crashing down on the soiled photo. The image is on my hard drive and I can print it out anytime.
* * *
“You’re ahead, babe. Pause, babe, pause.”
Damien shifts her weight forward while clamping an ice pack to her knee. A blip of silence on her end is followed by the synchrony I find so comforting: two tracks of tinny audio spooling out one movie. We’ve got each other on our iPhones and Top Gun on our computers. Claire has put herself to bed down the hall. Here in Edmonton, it’s three a.m.
When she hits pause again, I freeze Mav in the middle of his assholish smirk (which she’s been emulating since high school). “What’s up, you?”
“I’m sorry,” she says.
For once we haven’t communicated the crap out of things the moment they happen. It was nine p.m. when I got in, and I somehow got warm. Now, Claire’s asleep and we can talk but we haven’t. Both the accident and my rudeness to Kerri have gone unmentioned. I haven’t brought up the river or the photograph either.
I am arrogant. I’ve grown cynical towards our conflict rituals, and I think I know what comes next. She’ll ask my forgiveness for wrecking herself and our Canadian summer, I’ll say I’ll apologize to Kerri. She’ll flare up at this reminder of my actions, I’ll whimper piteously. She’ll do a speech straight out of The Notebook about how happy we make each other even though we make each other insane, which will be laced with rhetorical pornography and the bolstering of her stance that there’s a line-up of twentysomethings dying to marry her. Guess who made vegan red velvet cake—dropped it off at my work? Sophie. You know, the bakery girl. She put on lipstick to match and invited me to an art show. She’s funny, she’s hot, she’s here, you’re not! I hate vegan cake! I don’t want to date Sophie. I want you to fly bus walk here without telling me and get lost ask directions get a sunburn off the snow and when I come home to you stuffing up a carrot cake hands gooey with animal products I want you to throw me down on the table and take me so hard I—well, probably get a yeast infection from the icing sugar. I reckon my closet’s tall enough for your onesies. I want to fight about where the toaster goes. Let’s pick Claire up from school and tell her you’re ours now. I will groan with jealousy (foolishly defensive of my baking skills) and giggle and get turned-on and turn ravenously sad and say I wish I could do it, I wish I could move for her. She’ll taunt me: may I ask what time it is, sweetheart? This is your best life, is it? Alone with your phone, burning the night away on an app you think loves you… She’ll go quiet, say it’s because she cheated on Kerri. That’s what you’re afraid of. I’ll say it’s not. She’ll say it is. I’ll do a speech about how paltry her cobwebs and freshest flirtations are in comparison with everything real that’s happened to me that she can’t understand. She’ll cry. I’ll cry. We’ll manage to say “goodnight” and “I love you.” A day or two will pass, then we’ll cook a meal together. I’ll give the cat the vacuum and watch her laugh while he dips his tongue into the vortex of suction. And finally, after a FaceTime bath, we’ll have quivering braying FaceTime sex and, when I let go, it will not be without the vague notion of standing at the edge of an abyss, dropping stills of my life into the grey matter of a bodiless mind, a fever dream that wraps the earth and knows, for better or worse, that I was here.
Tonight, Damien starts with none of this. Instead, she tells me my story.
“You’re in a tough spot,” she says. “Your girl lives thirteen thousand Ks away. Your memories of your boy live in Edmonton. You’ve thought about what it would mean to leave your flat, those shit Alberta winters. And you’d do it for me if you could, but you can’t. And it’s all right.” There’s an odd, flushed look on her face.
Her sincerity makes my throat ache and is also so frustrating. She’s gearing up to leave me for the zillionth time and the fact is that one of these days, she’ll get the job done. Permanently. Maybe not tonight, but there are things you can stand for five years that you can’t stand forever. I’m on my feet, glaring at the rectangle in my palm.
“I’ve told you that Cody’s a part of you, a part of us. You’re Cody’s mum and that’s how I see you. He’s with us in the grocery store and on our walks. He’s in everything we do, baby, even when I’m inside you, he’s—”
“Shut up!” I cry, into a ready silence. I manage to say “goodnight” and “I love you” before my thumb stomps the red button.
* * *
She’s a bit stoned and half-asleep when I call her back on my laptop.
“You’re beautiful,” I say harshly. “Everything you say is beautiful.”
She yawns, limps gingerly to the bathroom, rumpled dark hair fuzzing into the background. “So, what’s the problem?”
“What if it’s not the same?”
“What if what’s not the same?”
I can feel pooling beneath my breastbone the light we make. You can’t dam it. When the channel blasts open, you might not be safe, but you might not be ruined either.
“What if—” My desktop image is of Cody and me laughing by some lilacs. I have crushed our faces into the mud. And they’re still, well, blazing out of the depths of a monitor, a slice of plastic specked with food particles. My boy laughs and laughs. With strokes of the touchpad, I hide twenty-seven-year-old me behind Live Movie of Girlfriend, who’s not a bad listener while she pees. “What if—when I move to Queenstown—”
“And you miss having me in your pocket all the time?”
“Yes.” What if none of it’s real, a trick of the miles? I can’t lose home2.
Damien is laughing, her face next to Cody’s, and the laugh won’t be rendered thin by my old speakers. From unfathomable distance, it bubbles up through my organs, close as you please. “Baby,” she splutters, scolding. “Goddamn.” She wraps a hand in toilet paper, dabs her leaking eyes and, as her arms move and my view jiggles, I know she’s wiping with the same wad between her legs.
I make her tell me.
“I fucking hope it’s not the same!”
And I, too, split my sides because she makes a good point. Some time ticks by and she’s stuck on the toilet due to age, injury, and being too detrimentally in love with me to stand up. When we’re done, she looks right in my eyes, which means she’s had to gaze purposefully into the lens of her iPhone. Which is dumb. What screens really want is to break up like ice floes.
I know this because I am loved and ridiculous, even Cody thinks so, I can tell. And for once in a stack of blue days, I can see a way through.