In the mauve haze of summer humidity it’s difficult to sleep, and so I lie there, speculating on the time: is it one am? Two am? Perhaps earlier. Your body heat makes the bed insufferably warm, but I won’t kick off the blanket, even though I feel as though I’m about to combust. A breeze from outside wafts humidity and exhaust fumes with the smell of night blooming jasmine- your favourite plant- and does little to cool the room. Sounds of the city seem far off here, in this concrete box. I think it’s the white noise of civilisation that keeps me conscious. That, or the feel of your skin so close to mine.
I know you’re awake.
If I rolled over now, would you be looking at me? Would your eyes paint the canvas of my face, the threaded angles of my hips? Perhaps your lips would remember that dusty smile I fell in love with, that dusty smile like a phantom now, a ghost beneath your sad blue eyes.
No, you would be watching the ceiling, if your eyes were even open. You know I’m restless and you pretend to sleep. I know the sound of your breathing when you sleep, love, I know when you are tricking me. Trickster, my carnival clown, my harlequin. Pin your heart to my door, Harlequin. Am I your Columbine?
I turn the words over in my mouth and my body follows suit, twisting me, twirling me in the sweat-slick that was once your bed. I find myself facing you. I find myself dreaming of kissing you; kissing you, your scarred shoulders, your hidden collarbones, tracing silver stretch-marks and olivine tan lines. In my dream I find your skin clammy and cold, hot beneath the blanket, wet with sweat. I slide against you like a fish, my hand skating across the expanse of your belly, latching beneath your far hip to pull myself close despite the stagnant heat. I rest my head on your chest and feel the weight of your hand settle on my head. I hear your heartbeat! It still beats for me, relentless, inexhaustible.
“My Harlequin.” I whisper before I can catch the worlds, tumbling from me like jumbled confessions. I love you, they sing, I love you, I love you. You read my voice and I feel your hesitation through your fingertips in my hair.
“My Columbine.” Mechanical. The response comes so swiftly and so naturally that the words should shine, polished with constant use. Instead they fall dull, slabs of fat slipping from the lips of a glutton. I clutch to you and feel you slipping away, never moving. Black dog, they call it. The deepening dark. Come death or dark water, we used to say in secret behind cupboard doors and backyard bushes. To the end of time, forever and ever. This the dark water, your wretchedness and mine.
The dream breaks. I’m on my side still, hands tucked close. I have become my own cocoon. You gaze at the ceiling unaware that I watch you, your fingers scratching unconsciously at the blanket above your breast. You seem so sad.
I want to tell you how today the Earth pounded with billions of feet, dancing to a rhythm we can’t quite feel. A billion voices cried out in song, a billion hearts beat a bloody beat like a billion meaty drums. Within a billion chests, behind a billion ribs, between a billion lungs blossomed life and memory and old quiet joy. Here bloomed humankind, flowers at once brilliant and beautiful and excellently lethal. Here groaned the weight of time, the airy pull of the future. Here, a string to tug you from your shade, as if that could return you to me, bring you to me.
I hear you blinking.
“I don’t think this is ever going to end.” Your voice startles me and for a moment I want to shuffle closer, feeling an unexpected agony. The finality in your voice echoes with defeat, a desire to give up. It’s the worst thing of all about the darkness. A disease came one day and took your joy and left you empty. I find most days that I miss you, even in your company.
Your hand slithers from the blanket to touch my fringe. You stroke my hair- once, twice- and tilt your face to the lavender light seeping through the curtains, your own hair mussed and unwashed upon a flat pillow. I half expect you to say something more, as if that fragment of conversation weren’t all you could offer up. Your body slumps in exhaustion just with that one confession. I’m left drifting. Unbidden, a torrent of thoughts cascade through my mind: a funeral, stumbling across your body hanging purple-faced from your bedroom cupboard, the feeling of living a life where I don’t wake to you every morning and fall asleep to your breath every night. This life, this life forever. Waking one day too late to tell you the truth, my truth. Terror takes the place of dull longing for a moment and you remain silent, unknowing.
It has to end. It has to. “It has to end.” I don’t know if I’m saying the words for you or for me, but I say them anyway, whispering them against your palm like a mantra. “You’ll come out the other side, my love.”
You give a short, curt nod and close your eyes.
How many times have I dreamt of kissing you? Of sleeping in this bed, waking to you, lying drowsy beside you on a Saturday morning, avoiding your cold feet and your hands smelling like rosemary. I’d like to help you with your braid every night and to kiss your forehead before our morning coffee.
Children. I’d like to have children. With you.
The night drags on in silence and sleep doesn’t come. You are finally heavy and still, truly sleeping. I can prop myself up on one elbow and watch you, like protagonists in cliché romance movies do: eyeing lustfully the faces of their desired in the half-light, the twilight of an unknown hour. Is there an hour, a specific hour, for romance? This could be it! An hour of unexpected courage. An hour of foolish courage. I can almost see it! If I lean here and kiss you while you sleep, our worlds will change. Your eyes flutter open as you are, I’m sure, a light sleeper; however, I daren’t guess your thoughts. You grow pink, your lips will fill and shift beneath mine to form a kiss or a curse. We stay awake through sunrise and birdsong. I confess my love, a heavy burden finally set upon another’s shoulders. You whisper to me of confusion. Whore! You spit. Freak! You scream. You chase me from the sheets, you throw me against a wall, you kiss me with the passion of the horrified and the joyous.
You love me too. You sing it beneath the cries of I hate you and how could you.
Your rage abates. We curl together, new, gentled, loving. I hold your hands in mine and breathe against your fingertips. Your dusty smile returns and the rising dark finally breaks, leaving you forever.
We live happily ever after.
It is a nice dream. I could make it happen. I could act on it now and bring our fairytale to light! My heart skips a beat at the thought. Oh, to kiss you, to have you as mine! It seems almost too good to be true.
My courage falters. What if it is too good to be true?
What if your cries of hatred and disgust are genuine?
I must take a chance. I must! Your life could be at stake. If I find one day that the world is without the glory of you because of a lack of love, I could never forgive myself. The world would be worse for wear in your absence. I must tell you! I must give you this gift, if not for your sake then for the continued health of our little planet.
Nerves steeled and trembling, I slide closer to you. I daren’t breathe. Your face is lavender in the filtered light of the moon, your lips a darker purple, your eyelashes like ash upon your cheeks. Beneath your eyelids tiny mounds shiver and twitch- you dream! I think of how I will tell you that I watched you dreaming, or perhaps I won’t, perhaps I will allow the kiss to be the center of attention for tonight.
I hover for a moment, doubting. I take a breath.
I deliver my one, perfect kiss to your sleeping mouth. Your lips are cold and your teeth are hard behind them. Oh Harlequin, my beautiful Harlequin.
Your brows furrow and I withdraw, awaiting your awakening, awaiting your delighted recognition of my love.
You rub your eyes.
You roll over, and continue to sleep.