The second I asked it, his tears stopped and I began to sob regret.
He had come over the previous evening (today and the night before had woven together, thick as rope). I met him at the station and together we’d bought cheap spirits and he mocked me for it and asked why I didn’t drink wine. I could tell he was uneasy and the alcohol fought to loosen him up. We swigged it as we walked and I longed to touch him but I was gripped by so much fear.
When we got back to mine, the minutes waddled like a pack-mule up and up a steep hill. I wanted the right time (the night time), when I could take him to bed and not have him think me forward and I could take his fragile virgin wrists between my hands and pin them to my headboard and touch his own stigmata.
We watched some television I loved and I noticed how urgently and fervently he kept moving his hands awkwardly over my body, like a child greedy for attention, discovering something that enraged the grown-ups. I kept drinking to blur everything and I think he had stopped because he was drunk on the anxiety and the anticipation.
Then it was late enough to turn off the lights. I found his body- but he lay stiff with nerves, though he kept kissing and moving. It was like a smile through pain. I impressed him but I felt apathy to the whole thing and I think I just gnawed and played occasionally out of duty and not because I was really present in the moment. I came four times. I had not satisfied him once. We fell asleep.
The next day I felt lost. We went in together and I ached and I felt as if wandering a vast desert. We didn’t speak all day, though we glanced at each other readily. I didn’t want anyone to know and the secret had an unpleasant taste to it.
We spoke a little on the way home.
“My friend is having a leaving party tonight. You’d be welcome to come.”
“Okay,” I had mumbled.
“I’d like you to meet my friends.”
My stomach knotted with fright at this proposal.
This time, he met me at the station and he walked me to the party. I felt manipulated- a great marionette. My feelings were a ribbon and the ribbon was tangled and the ends of the ribbon were tucked inside the knot- so I didn’t know where my feelings started and when they stopped. Really, I didn’t know what I felt at all.
Inside, his friends intimidated me with how rapidly they spoke and what they spoke about. I told him this.
“They make me feel stupid,” I explained.
He laughed it off and the flippancy of his regard for my comment angered me. It made the fracture between us more evident.
I had bought the unfinished bottle from the night before. It had been a gesture- that I would drink my own and not take from the host, but he glared at me when I swigged from it and he turned his shoulder away from me and towards his friends. I noticed everybody else drinking grain or grape. The fracture grew larger now and darker.
I tried to talk to him, tell him what I felt. I began to untangle the ribbon. At first I was repentant of what had passed between us.
“We rushed into things,” I urged. “I didn’t want us to go so far.”
He blinked and his eyes took on a pearly shine while the outdoor lights haloed his hair. Then blame was loosed from the knotted ribbon.
“You forced me into it. I wanted your company.”
Each word, I could see, was a lash to his body. He winced at each blow and I punished him. The ribbon was untangling between and yet none of my fears, my grievings felt assuaged. The ribbon was longer than ever and still unravelling and now tears curled from his eyes. His friends looked concerned and I winced with shame, like a dog that has soiled a new carpet in front of an angry crowd. His bottom lip jutted out and I hated him for this cliché.
I realised then that the ribbon of tangled emotions I felt was the selfsame fracture I saw spreading between us. Now our fingertips scraped as our arms stretched desperately. The hellfire from beneath seared us, ablaze with the energy of severance. And then I saw the solution. Rather than stop grasping for his hand in the heat, I poured mud into the fracture- mounds of plaster and clay, tumbling into the rift.
“Let’s make it official.” I smiled through the pain as he had with his body.