One more time
Every single man and woman here is a target. A woman stands at the bar in a blazer, white shirt and jeans that last forever. Her hair is red, straight, sharp. The ache begins in my hands and I stretch them and there is nothing but air.
Later, I follow a man, Ben, and we leave the bar.
“Do you want to get out of here and come home with me?” Ben had said into my ear.
“Yes,” I said.
His dark head is bent as he stops, then moves again through the crowded bar towards the door, and instead it is you that I see walking into the field, into the dam, and you are carrying a shotgun over your shoulder. I reach forward and take two of his fingers.
Outside, I drop Ben’s hand. There is so much light here, or there was none in the bar. He is about five years younger than me. His gaze falls down my body, head to toe.
“You’re changing your mind,” I say.
“No, I’m not.” He smiles. “Let’s go. It’s this way.”
We begin to walk. He shoves his hands into the pockets of his jeans.
“How far?” I say.
“Five minutes. Tops.”
I stop and point at my shoes — nude patent heels that I would not usually wear but bought today. “Should we cab it?”
Ben extends his elbow. “We’ll go slower.”
I slide my arm through his and hold his elbow. You and I used to walk like this, after dinner, after the late session at the cinema.
Tonight is already a memory. When I am an old woman, I will remember there was no moon. I will remember the cool April air sweeping across my bare legs and arms, the pepper-spice of his cologne and the warmth of him under my hand. He is searing. I will remember him as you.
We walk up the stairs to his flat, side by side.
“Are you always so direct?” I say. “Like you were at the bar?”
He shakes his head. “No.”
Don’t say it, I think, but he does — “Life is short.”
“And sometimes it is so long,” he says. “Like this walk back to my place.”
He runs ahead, taking the stairs two at a time.
“Come on,” he calls down the stairwell, and his boyish impatience, the laugh hidden in his voice, reminds me of you.
I reach him and he opens a front door with a grand sweep of his arm. I stay on the landing. I cannot move.
He hesitates. He pulls a face and I tell myself that he understands, he has a heart, compassion, eyes.
He steps forward and puts a hand on my cheek. “Let me,” he says, and I don’t know whether it is an unfinished sentence or if this is all there is.
I can barely speak — “Please be ever fucking gentle with me.”
He wraps his arms around my shoulders, pulls me against him, and says, “Meg. Baby girl.”
It should feel condescending, patronising. It doesn’t. Instead, it is soft, glowing warmth, spreading up and spreading down.
You used to call me names too. Made-up-obscure-silly-sugar-sweet names no one else will ever call me.
Ben’s flat is a studio. Here is the bed, already. It is covered with a thick green blanket, the colour of the deep inner of a pine tree, of a forest, of peace. Outside, a bottle smashes in the street.
I am so close to saying it — do you believe in God? Do you think it would help to pray?
“Drink?” Ben says.
He grimaces and gets me a glass. He returns the bottle of Absolut to the freezer and gets water for himself too.
“I’m not scared. Nope. Not at all,” he says, and smiles.
I begin to sway in these heels. Down she goes. There is nowhere to sit — only the bed or a desk chair piled with books.
“I am going to need music,” I say.
He searches his phone. “What do you like?”
The question burns a hole clear through my chest.
You and I used to lie on the floor in the dark, the music vibrating the speakers, the floorboards, our ribs. Leonard Cohen’s New Skin for the Old Ceremony from “Is This What You Wanted”, via “Why Don’t You Try”, to “Take This Longing”.
“What music do I like?” I say. “I don’t know where to begin.”
Ben says, “Let’s not overthink it.”
A song starts on a speaker beside his bed.
“Sufjan Stevens,” he says. “How’s that?”
“You’re too cool for me.”
He moves closer, but doesn’t touch me. I want him to say he isn’t cooler than me, to laugh as if the idea is ridiculous.
The music is even, a heartbeat, and Sufjan sings that we’re all going to die.
In our bed, you were inside me, still. You pressed your forehead to mine and said, “Is this alright?”
I tell myself to be here in the middle of Ben’s half-dark studio, to hear the branches scrape against the window, feel my chest rise and fall, taste the water in my mouth.
Yes yes yes it is alright.
I pull off my shoes. I am no longer the same height as him, now reaching his chin, and it is the same as it was with you.
“The music isn’t too sad?” he says. “Too bleak?”
“No. I can’t do this unless I feel it.”
Anything — I don’t say it. Instead I say, “All of it. Everything. You.”
“Alright, then,” he says.
He bends his head and kisses my neck — solitary, incendiary. I want his teeth. He kisses my mouth. I push my tongue harder against his and pull him tight to me and he moans and I feel him shift gears, catch up, take over, and I am running downhill and I am flying.
Melissa Goode’s work has appeared in Wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly, WhiskeyPaper, Split Lip Magazine, Forge Literary Magazine, FRiGG and matchbook, among others. Her story “It falls” (Jellyfish Review) was recently chosen by Aimee Bender for Best Small Fictions 2018 (Braddock Avenue Books). She lives in Australia. You can find her here: www.melissagoode.com and at twitter.com/melgoodewriter
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