One Last Night

As we sat on the yellowed grass next to the crumbling remains of your childhood home, you with your fishnets and Converse, me with my combat boots and rolled-up jeans, both of us with our shades on against the setting sun, we both took in this time we had together, this one last night before you’d move several states away to go off to art school.

They’d fenced off the house to keep mischievous kids from getting in and having the place collapse on them. They’d been planning on knocking down the house and building an apartment complex in its place, but they’d run out of money during the demolition, and so there it sat, half-crumbled, waiting for someone to put it out of its misery. We made so many memories in that house–hide and seek in the dark, laser tag with flashlights, sledding down the stairs on pillows–and here we were now, watching the light go out from the sky like a campfire that’d reached the end of its life, knowing that soon I’d have to go home and you’d have to go out on the road.

I couldn’t afford art school, not even with financial aid, but you could. I tried to stay cool about it, but I knew you could tell I was at least a little jealous. I tried to be happy for you, tried to smile and get excited in all the right places, but it was more than a little forced.

Our art grew along with us, everything from doodles and comics to portraits and landscapes. You always said I was better than you, and I always disagreed. Now, just to make myself feel better, I let myself agree in my head.

“So you’re all packed to go and everything?”

“Yep. Roscoe totally knows something is up. He keeps whining and pawing at the boxes. It’s funny.”

I pictured Roscoe fussing like that, your big orange tabby perennially looking to me like a kitten even though he was thirteen years old.

“Is your mom still giving you shit?”

“Of course. You know her. She and dad are still trying to get me to reconsider. Stay home, go to community college, go into business, something. They keep telling me there’s no money in art, as if I was doing this for money in the first place.”

“That’s shitty.”

“Yeah, I know. Whatever. It is what it is. And I don’t give a shit, I’m going.”

We both shared a laugh, and it got sad at the end of it when we both remembered that this was our one last night, when we realized this could be one of the last laughs we’d share together.

“Have you gotten your schedule already?”

“Yeah. I’m taking mostly gen eds to get them out of the way, but I’ve got a couple of figure drawing and art theory classes, and I’m taking a class on sexuality.”

We looked at each other and shared an awkward smile. There was a silence that was midway between comfortable and uncomfortable.

“I bet your mom loves that.”

You laughed.

“She doesn’t know, and she’s not going to find out.”

“I could just imagine her turning red and telling you that the Lord is watching.”

You laughed again.

“Yeah, she’d have to do a dozen Hail Marys just to get the impure thoughts out of her head.”

We shared another awkward smile, made eye contact that went on a little too long. I broke the silence:

“Do you remember when we used to play spin the bottle out here at night when your parents were asleep?”

“Yeah, and that one time I had to kiss Robbie Stevenson. Dude was all tongue and mouth, I thought he was gonna eat my face. Freaking gross.”

“Yeah, I remember. I like to think I was the best kisser. No big deal.”

You laughed. I thought I saw your cheeks get red, but it could’ve just been the rosy sunset.

“Yeah. You totally were.”

It got quiet again. The sun was past the trees now, nearly below the horizon.

There was no way of knowing who initiated the kiss. It just sort of happened. When it was over, you scooted over and rested your head on my shoulder. I reached over and started stroking your hair. The neighborhood looked to me like it was coming through a fishbowl on account of the tears that were forming. I closed my eyes and smiled.

Taking in Cadillac

First thing Cadillac told me, first time we met, before hello, was that courage is a choice. I’d been marathoning some show on Netflix, swiping through my feed, eating something that could be construed as dinner. He wore a winter jacket that oozed stuffing out of cigarette holes. Tufts of hair did the same out of his holy hat. Sneakers more duct tape than shoe, pants with “juicy” on the ass.

For five dollars he collected my leaves into a McDonald’s bag he brought with him. And the name? That tended to stick when you only slept in unlocked Caddies through the winter. No point in settling for less if you’ve got the choice. And you’ve always got the choice.

He said the leaves had a way of teaching you things if you let them. Everything’s a lesson if you’re ready to hear it. Told me to bless myself. No one else could do it for me.

Came again the week after, same time, in the middle of some movie I had on as background noise. My gutters needed cleaning. I offered my ladder, but he Spider-manned it onto the roof instead. It was good exercise. He plucked a tree branch, collected fall mush, dropped it into paper bags on my driveway. Stared at me when he was through, mush hands dripping, 747 slicing pepto sky overhead. Birds were involved. Asked me what I was waiting for. I said for him to get down, tacked on a question mark at the end. No. What was I waiting for to start living?

Every week he found a new task I’d been neglecting. Got cold enough for hot soup eaten over the counter, cans of some microbrew he always turned down. He’d play with my alphabet magnets as we ate, rearrange them into poems by Keats, Shelley, Frost. Each week a new poem. When I asked why, he’d just point to them. One night I withheld soup. He smiled. Said I could keep the soup. He taught poetry. Community college. A lifetime ago. The poems went up on the blackboard. The lesson isn’t always in the lecture. And all that. We ate our soup in silence.

One day he took me to the backyard. Took off his coat, gloves, hat. Arranged them at my feet. Only the vapor of his breath moving. Night. Air heavy. My insistence turned to begging, but he left his clothes on the ground. Told me to join him. That I could grow or be comfortable, not both. My hat hit snow. His son must’ve made a sound when he felt the barrel touch the back of his head. Must’ve formed words before the shot, but they wouldn’t come to Cadillac. Stayed at the tip of his tongue. Oh, they came later. Set aside, in verse, turning the past into something it wasn’t, something it could never be. Tears tracked icicle rivers down my face. I put Cadillac’s clothes back on him.

We went inside.

Unplugged routers, tore out cables, collected cable boxes and remote controls. Laid them out in the snow without a word. I showed Cadillac to his room.

Most of my clothes were too big for him, but we made do with what we had. He went in to shave, wouldn’t let me see till it was done. Like a magic trick. Like a bride on her day. He came out with two piles behind him: hair and clothes. His eyes had a shine I’d never seen before. A glint. I tried to say something, but he asked for pen and paper. While he wrote I ran, into the night, laying tracks on untouched snow, flakes like infinite diamonds shining in streetlamp haze. Drifts of it on car mirrors, hoods, powder-falling off the branches of trees.

When I got back I could taste blood, cough silence. Fell onto the couch and compared ceiling to sky outside the window. Half-moon sliced by window frame, incomplete or whole depending on which eye I closed, which one I opened. Cadillac came in with his pad, sat down on the floor beside me, laid his words at my feet and breathed. Each of them filled with verses, lines, quotes, prose, doodles.

Cadillac was there, at the top of the first page: faded, smeared. Erased. A palimpsest over it, printed neatly. His name.


What We Found at the Bottom of the Pool

For some reason I keep thinking I’ll find you at the bottom of the pool, maybe down a sandal like I was that day, picking at the algae that the sun baked into the deep end, kicking over last season’s leaves so they can look new again.

It’s all the same, if you’re wondering. The snapped diving board still covers the drain, fiberglass forked at the split like a giant snake’s severed tongue set to blanch in the sunlight. The ladder’s still busted, bolts jutting out like chipped teeth, and I can climb out now without his boots on my fingers, liberating nails from skin.

I can see his approach again, when our legs dangled perilously over the edge and he came over and smiled that smile of his, the one that could win scholarships. I don’t remember what he said, but we laughed cause he laughed and it had that way of worming into you and bringing it out against your will.

So we laughed.

He asked us why we were wearing our swimsuits when there was nothing to swim in. I remember that. And the baggy white tee you wore in place of a bikini top, the one that gave away areola contours. And the way he looked and smiled and passed off peeking down your shirt as gauging pool depth. And how he asked for a hug, where were our manners?

And we could hug each other too.

And we should hug each other too.

Now. Good.

Your heart in my chest was a watch’s spring wound too tight. An old model; obsolete; ticking the way it wanted to but not the way it should. He said he wanted to greet us like they do in Europe, and he kissed both cheeks. We were to do this too. I’m sure you remember.

His finger could be a magic finger. Wherever he pointed got a kiss.

My lips on your cheek. Ta-da. Yours on my neck. Presto. Mine on the corner where yours met. Voila. Your eyes were the clouds shifting past pepto pink sky and I asked the clouds if this was for him or for me. I didn’t say it. I didn’t have to. Our touch was a haze he spooned around and around till he wasn’t present for what we were doing. He was there, but he wasn’t present. You know what I mean.

The sandal slipped my toes and tumbled in like those cars you’ll see in B action movies, end over end. I almost expected it to explode at the bottom. I don’t know if you kicked it. I don’t know if he kicked it. I know I dangled, weightless, from his hand, to extricate sandal by toe, wiggling piggies he called it, and I was so close when I fell in. When he dropped me in. I saw the clouds swimming in your eyes, your shirt pricked by vertices just out of sight and your hands too. You didn’t know what to do with your hands. My foot got cut on the glass of a busted Heineken; red mingled with green. Your voice asked if I was okay. Your voice came from the bottom of a well dug past bedrock, and the vertices fell, and you were somewhere far away, right in front of me. There was dirt in his nails and he got it in your hair when he grabbed you.

You were to take him in and I was to watch.

He was to hurt me if you didn’t do it.

And I went to climb and he liberated the nails from my skin and the world had no sound in it. No sound, only heat and light, and you did that thing to save me. That’s what you said when he left, when you pulled me from this pool, this hole, the one I’m in right now, and you said it with your eyes that were the clouds and not with the mouth I kissed.

It’s still there, again, now, as you come over to pull me out. Like no time has passed at all. So I dangle, from your hand, weightless, and I wonder if I’ll ever go in again.