She’s singing again. I can hear her through the walls, notes wearing away at the sheetrock as the melody mingles with the dust in the air. I can’t sleep through the heat, can’t seem to find a chill dream to lure me into slumber when the sweat running between my breasts and dampening the sheets feels as warm as my own body. Lying awake to her singing, the only company tonight, and all I can think of is how tired I’ll be in the sap-sticky light of morning.Don’t you know where the rain goes, Don’t you know where the snow blows, darling? All the sleet’s been a fleeing While the world’s lost in dreaming…
Over and over like the rain that won’t come as we watch the crops wilt and the animals pant in wheezes. No one bathes anymore, not when water’s so scarce the cattle are dying, and our fug rises like incense to some flaking god of drought, rises to further thicken the air until our lungs have to labor against the smell. I hear her voice crack on these thoughts and stutter in a cough that only ceases when I pound the wall with knuckles scarred from nights of this. Months of nights. And finally, a sob and a whimper and I can’t stand it any longer. The boards are warm against my heels, the door opens into a (fucking yes it is) warmer hallway inspiring a fresh coat of sweat on my salt-crusted skin. Her door creaks open and there she is, huddled with her face to the wall, but my dry, keen eyes can spot the glisten of tears against her cheeks in the lamplight. She doesn’t turn as the bed sags with my weight, so I push her thin shoulder down into the mattress and as she lies there, eyes closed and on her back, I bend down, not to kiss her, but to lick the tears from her cheeks, to savor the salty moisture that soothes my throat and, as she sobs still, I begin to sing.
He wakes again, his hands in aching fists, the sweat still damp against his back and it’s like he never slept at all. He turns, sees her curled away with furrowed brow and dream-crusted lashes and strokes her side, once, twice, three times before she stirs and murmurs, her lips now a movement against his shoulder, and he can barely catch the words.
I can’t find it.
Years of this and one bed traded for another, each lost in another’s dreams, each night a drowsing failure and home a little more distant and just as painfully extant. They’d lost their way hunting, and here they were again, as together as time and space could make it so and they knew each other by likeness. He could feel his heart shifting in his chest at the familiar in her face, old lineaments and age an overlay, an illusion. The same. The same and he was just as caught, just as reminded of the music they were born knowing and following like two besotted pilgrims half-dead and stumbling. A bitter union this, when it’s the longing that first brings people together.
Covered and catalogued, and no two shrinks agree on what disorder best inspires it, he knows. Some mass delusion surviving hundreds, perhaps thousands of years of living and looking and dying, largely benign, like the conviction that it’s the talking spiders and not your mother making you eat breakfast. Breakfast is good, right? So the spiders can’t be a bad thing. They never seem to say much else. Nothing to do with the Illuminati, nothing paranoid, really, and it’s somehow better, locking eyes with some stranger knowing you’ll share the same fuck and the same story later that night. Brothers. Sisters. Lovers and lost, recognized and united in a confused haze of displacement and lust.
He slides out of bed and into the cold, regretting the ease of leaving her like this. The ease of not having to watch her face mirror his as they dress for waking hours, more empty stretches between their occasional and unplanned meeting. The ease of spending most of their time asleep and undreaming, unstirred and untroubled like some kid wandering around with her eyes shut cause she knows she’s fucking invincible.
The box sits on her doorstep, brown papered and twined and a little crushed at the edges. She nudges it with her foot, listening for the odd ticking, a packaged rattle. Nothing, and she picks it up with her fingertips, takes it inside. The twine is rough against her skin as she saws at it with a rust-scarred kitchen knife and her hands slip against the waxed surface of the wrapping. Dotted with blood now as she sucks on a cut with a frown, the knife clattering to the floor. She kicks it under the table and worries away at the tape holding the paper in place, finally ripping away at it to reveal a plain white shoebox. When she lifts the top she gasps a little– despite the dim light in the room the pair of red shoes glistens like her mangled finger and she traces the long curve of an arch as if it were some living thing blinking up at her. They fit, snug and flexing, and the straps lie across her foot like hands. A few experimental steps and she’s dancing like she used to, like the wings on her ankles never shriveled and fell away, like she’d never caged herself, bar by bar and finally lock with the key buried and forgotten.
She dances and the door opens for her, the path unrolls itself step by scarlet step and she doesn’t hear the voices behind her asking her to stay, telling her that this exit will close her past like a vault and make her a stranger. And she dances down the street and through alleys and the occasional crowd, along highways and bridges and wilderness roads till there’s nothing left of her toes and her insteps and ankles, till it’s the shoes and the wave of her truncated legs, till it’s the shoes and the glimmer of her smile, till it’s the shoes and her ghost and everything else forgotten.