“I love you,” she whispered to him from the safety of the dark as he held her against his chest. He felt her words against his skin, alive in her breath. He felt them against his heart and in how his stomach fluttered. He felt them in the way the blood ran electric through his bones. He traced his fingers across her, pulled her closer, pressed her into him, as if he did not trust his words, as if to send the signal back within her, that she might feel him and understand. She moved her head against him and in the darkness he could not see her face, but he thought he felt her smile.
When I wake up, the world is black and my first thought is that I am falling.
I wake this way again and again until
I first form thoughts, I form myself, I touch my body and remember,
Try not to remember,
try to push it away, turn again and again
to this black, and drift.
First there was blackness and silence and the thick of the air about him.
Like a newborn, he was an idea alone, with no memory, no sense of self, no awareness other than the darkness. This darkness was not an absence of light. It was a thing itself, and it pressed against his open eye sockets and under his eyelids and into his nose and mouth and lungs with each breath until it met with a darkness already inside him, where there was only vast emptiness unseen by the light.
The blackness tasted like smoke.
He knew the word and the idea behind it and grunted. So there was something.
His anger tasted like smoke too, and it melded with the darkness in the air around him, giving, taking, Symbian, harmonizing, a chorus of breath before him the way lovers’ breath entangles, the savior and the victim, CPR, in and out, an exchange, a conversation. He did not know where this anger came from but only that it was there, a kind of rage that seethed below his skin and pushed the idea of teardrops to his ducts. The smoke tasted harsher and hurt the inside of his throat.
At first he did not know hurt as any different than the feel of his fingertips against his skin, but when he bit his lip he tasted copper–
Copper. So there was that, too.
And with the copper came the pain and the blood and he realized he could control this.
He touched the ground. There was at first a softness, featureless, a stone surface. As he ran his fingers across it, the surface became rougher and the shards tore at his fingertips. These shards gave way to a crumbling, a dirt, a soil, ancient leaves and twigs. Something wet and sticky. Sap, perhaps. They scratched at his fingers and his palms but he didn’t mind.
He followed the twigs and branches and stones, moving his hands in a wide fashion, pushing and spreading, crawling forward. Hard, knotted wood here, vines and tangled weeds there, a root system leading to a trunk. His fingers followed this weaving pattern as if they were doing the weaving, tracing backward from ends to beginnings, root work, build a tree from the ground up, grip tight and pull.
When his hands met a leg, he stopped.
Jeans, it felt like. Tight against skin. A kneecap, thigh. Hip bone and wider. With both hands, he traced them further up the body, along an arm and the torso, chest, breasts, the neck of her shirt and her throat. He moved more delicately as he went, as a strange kind of nostalgia fell over him, a questioning, a concern, a memory deeply buried like a pain untreated, an itch below the surface that you can only pound with your fists, hoping some tremor will shake it loose.
Her face, then. Smooth. Hot breath against his hands, her hair dangling, unkempt and knotted in places. He made a move to brush it behind her ear but stopped. He wasn’t sure he should do that. He wasn’t sure he should do any of this. General notions of personal space and comfort came back to him. Privacy clashed with objectification, a confusion resounding in his mind. His mind pushed him in one direction, away from her skin, away from her space, but then again in another direction: That this was okay; that he should be able to touch her in the same way that he touched himself; that he should know how her body turned and changed and moved in the way he knew himself. As if he owned her? That wasn’t right. As if he had power over her? Not quite. But close.
He scooted away, afraid to stand, afraid of cracking his head on some ceiling or branch from above, afraid that there might be something there in the dark. Tired of exploration already. Confused.
Shit, he thought.
He gathered himself again, sitting cross-legged on the ground. He could back up until he hit a tree, until he found a more comfortable resting place, but in the dark he could move backward forever, across a clearing, an open space, forever skate between the trees into what? More nothingness? An unknown deeper and thicker than this? He almost laughed at the idea, but the idea scared him.
It was her face that he saw first in the gloom. Her curves had taken on a dull glow, highlighting those places near enough to grasp the light.
She was beautiful. And she was watching him.
Her eyes were direct, unflinching, either watching him without a care or a memory or an understanding in the same way he watched her, or watching him with an unseeing, as if she was staring into the dark without expecting to see anything back. He wasn’t sure that there was a difference.
He was afraid to speak. He didn’t want to break this silence. There was no sound. He’d built something fragile from the darkness and he was afraid that if he said
then the sound might resonate, send vibrations away that might shatter the world, snap twigs, fall through, the stones and ground giving way to a darkness again, as before, floating, embryonic, lost again. He was afraid the sound might shatter her
calm, her reverie. Scare her, snap her, break her.
The ground began to come into focus too, catching that same sourceless, dull, pre-dawn glow that highlighted the angles and edges around him.
No, he would not speak. He would wait and watch the world dissolve or construct or appear. His anger ebbed with his fear and he wasn’t sure or concerned about where to draw his lines. He barely even breathed.