The Intimacy of Objects
It was only in the leaving that I began to see the spaces he had carved into the apartment. It would be a week to put everything in boxes, to label them and sort through my life for the move. I thought I had proofed myself of any trace of him, after he was gone. As if I could save myself through forgetting, as if it was as easy as that. But he filled the place in quiet ways, like how blood in water disperses further than we can see.
Packing up the living room, there was the first time he’d slid his hand up my thigh, as we sat on the couch, how he’d paused at the very edge of my skirt before slipping his fingers under. We’d been watching a scary movie and on the screen a woman was screaming. My body was tucked next to his, tense. And then his hand, when his fingers got to my panties, I’d let out a huff of breath, bit my lip, waiting for more. He’d lingered for a long moment before his fingers moved in and I’d leaned into him, leaned into the feeling of him.
In the back of the fridge, as I’m tossing things out that won’t survive a move and that I don’t want to eat before I go, I find a jar of jam that must have been sitting there for a year. Gooseberry, a flavor I’d never been able to eat because I hated the color, and which he loved, would slather onto toast with too much butter. Sometimes I’d pause on my way through, kiss him and taste the sour sweet on his mouth. Remembering his mouth takes me to his tongue, to the way he’d push me up against the wall sometimes, after he’d been away for a while. How as he pushed my skirt up, before he’d start, he’d always say “I missed you” and I’d always fight back the urge to ask why he went, then, even though I knew why. He’d told me once, on an early date, that all he’d ever wanted to do was explore, that he loved the rush of it — of finding new spaces. I had made the joke “finding new spaces in space”. And he’d just smiled. He had such a smile.
In the bathroom, I clean out the medicine cabinet, by sweeping my hands across the shelves and knocking products into a bag: tampons and aspirin bottles and expired medication that I really should have thrown out and chapsticks and moisturizers. I swing the door closed and see my reflection in the mirror, think of him standing behind me. How in the mornings he’d walk up behind me, press his body against me for a moment, sometimes an arm around my waist, sometimes kissing my neck. He had a birthmark on his rib, in the shape of a comet. Or that’s what I thought. He told me, “I guess I was marked to be an astronaut then, huh?” And I’d wondered if it was so easy for the universe to choose our paths for us. Maybe I should have thought about how comets were always falling.
In the bedroom, the closets are emptied, so I sit on the edge of the bed until I can remember what was next in my order of things to pack. The first time we’d had sex, as we moved from the living room to the bedroom, clothes marking our path like bread crumbs on the way to getting lost, we’d kissed fast and hard. I didn’t know what to expect from his body and mine together, I thought it would be fast, hungry. But he moved slow, matching his rhythm to my gasps and hitches of breath, only toward the end did he move faster, push deeper. Afterwards, as we lay side by side, he drew shapes in the air with his hand, showed me where constellations and planets fell in relation to one another. I had never been concerned with the sky, but when he described it I could understand how people would want to get lost into the stars.
When the apartment is empty, the furniture moved, I go room by room to make sure there is nothing I am leaving behind. In the living room, something shines up from the carpet, and I get down on my knees, to comb my fingers through it to find the object. On the night before he left for the mission that he wouldn’t come back from, we tried to avoid arguing, though we’d done it so much in the weeks leading up to his leaving. I wanted him to stop, to stay home for longer, to work on missions from Earth, from the safety of the solid ground. I could tell I wanted to say something, so instead I’d begun kissing him. I’d unbuttoned his shirt, kissed down the length of his chest, undid his belt, his zipper, kissed him everywhere I could, wanting to taste every part of him. I stroked his thighs with my hands as I took him in my mouth. I thought if I could keep some part of him inside me, swallow him up, then he’d have to come back to me. Like some kind of promise known deep in our flesh.
My fingers find the object and it’s a glass bead, something from the hem of some dress I sometimes wore. I rub it between my fingers, though it’s broken and sharp, I press harder, feel it breaking more. When they notified me, they didn’t say he was dead, they said he was lost. Such a difference between two words, because one implies that there can be a finding. The glass cuts into my skin and I watch the red blossom out of my thumb. I let a drop hit the floor, hope it stains, leaves some part of me to haunt the space with him.
Chloe N. Clark’s poems and fiction appear in Booth, Glass, Hobart, Little Fiction, Uncanny, and more. She is co-EIC of Cotton Xenomorph, writes for Nerds of a Feather, and teaches at Iowa State University. Her debut chapbook, The Science of Unvanishing Objects, is out from Finishing Line Press and she can be found on Twitter @PintsNCupcakes.
Also by Chloe N. Clark They Are Coming for You, So You Better Run, You Better Run, So You Can Hide
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Image (cropped): NASA Public Domain