I sit by your side watching worlds slide by. They appear and vanish on your skin, invisible to the eye, but I feel their passage in my chest. In my mind. I watch your eyelashes flutter, watch the rise and fall of your breasts. I press your warm hand between my cold palms. You look so peaceful, but appearances can lie. I know because to the outward eye I’m awake and alive.
The air in here is tepid. Fluorescent lights spasm above your bed. I click them off for a while, listen to the machinery hum, watch the little lights flicker. But none of this holds my attention. It’s you I watch, so still, so pale. I wish your eyes would open so I could see the worlds in them. Instead, I hold your hands, I feel the warmth of your skin, I remember the worlds that have been. The days and hours by your side. So fleeting now. Lost and gone, yet held. This is a world too, another tale we’ve lived. You there, me here. I pray and pray that this will not be the last world, the last tale. A story ended and closed. Will you go your separate way? Will you leave me in tears?
Think back, if you can hear me. Remember how it started? Our friend group, the meadow picnic. A stream ran by, thick with Cala lilies and watercress. We waded across, the lot of us, but you slipped on a stone and fell flat. You came up soaking wet and laughing. Then you grabbed my hand and pulled me in too. We got the rest wet, dragging them in one by one. Then we all lay belly-up, our shirts drifting around us like seaweed. You bumped my side with your elbow, grinning.
The world shifted again, grew colder and more harried, weighted down with cares and studies. I caught a greyhound bus. You met me at the station in a red scarf, hair blowing. We walked to the quay, watched the waves toss gray and green. We pressed close together, shivering. A bird pooped on your head. We cried laughing, then smeared it all over trying to blot it off with notebook paper. I tried to kiss you, but you weren’t ready. Later, I watched you grow smaller in the greyhound window. Your face tense and blue-lipped. Mine full of longing and self-loathing.
For a while I saw only words in black lines, bending and curving. Your writing became a different way of knowing you. The forward stab of the letter k, the arch and hook of each f, the flamboyant sweep of the a’s and e’s. These were the lift of your eyebrows, your laugh, your wry humor. But pages are not human beings. I ruffled through the sheets, kept them by my bedside. I woke from sleep to stare at them and wonder if the world they came from, and mine, could coincide.
You came to see me on the longest night of the year. A surprise, waiting for me in lamplight, frosted with snow. I took you in my arms gently, like a book, like onion-skinned pages. We bought steaming tea and walked in the snow, and inhabited a different story for a while. The two of us making someplace new, an Everest of joy. Before you left you tilted your face up to mine and told me you were ready this time.
I could go on forever, recounting the past. Living in memories of vanished days, vanished thoughts. But those times and places are gone. I don’t need them back. It’s you I want. You and me. Now. Will you open your eyes? Will you smile at me? Will you scoff at the spasm of fluorescent lights, the beep of machines? I’m holding your hands. I’ll hold them forever. I’ll sit here with you and watch the worlds we’ve lived appear and vanish on your skin. They’ve left a mark. I can still see the meadow-stream grin at the corners of your lips. I see the wind in your face, the scum in your hair, the tense and the cold and the kiss. You’re writing me letters again, only not with words. Not this time. Your breath is a soft s. The shift of your shoulders is a v. I’m here in the dark, desolate and flooded. I’m on the greyhound. But I can wait. I’ll stay. I’ll hang on to your hand until I look up with open eyes and see that you’ve come, like a snow-dusted surprise.