By Kristen Muir
I had searched the hotel for hours to find him sleeping by the cratered pool. In the backseat of the car, he waved toward his chest, an invitation to rest my head. Out of the view of the people around us, somehow. I leaned into the scent I’d longed for: snowy pine and vanilla. He unwound his neck to bend his lips to mine: powder soft. He flexed those muscles so slightly. I wondered if there was any way to misconstrue his intentions. Not this time. I tried to kiss him. I tried. But if I’d ever known how, I’d forgotten.
We slipped into the warehouse where we were not alone but had not forgotten the secret we almost created. He said he knew a perfect kiss, though he had never felt one. He wanted to teach me. “But if you are always teaching me, how will I know how to kiss you in return?” The ocean is always in the act of defining the ocean.
Then I found the book of his travels. Pages hollowed to hold a ring with three silver keys, an elephant carved of resin, a plastic lighter, and a pockmarked shell. Some hollows were empty. I read out loud until I reached a name.
“Everyone is like this, but not _______. No. She perceives the world with such temerity.” Through the greasy window, I could see him back in the car with the others. Laughing and starting the engine. I could not reach the warehouse exit. Not without dropping something.
At the lounge, we did not speak. The silence was not the bulk of unspoken things. All those vipers and thieves; in my head I begged him not to belong to them. She spoke his name as if connecting the syllables to something in another country. His laugh bubbled into a grin baring incisor, cuspid: saliva gloss, bright white. They skipped stones on the air. I swiveled my stool and our knees knocked; molecules stiffened. He drank his beer, pretended not to notice, or no, he was not pretending. I walked away clenching and releasing my hands, steady grind of mechanized waves.
The bodies’ heat fogged the windows, but through the windshield the ocean loomed, bleached and riving. When the bus slowed on the icy approach to the beach, they all started to wake, but I’d been up the whole time. He sat next to me on the cracked vinyl. We dipped our hands into our chests and said “I’m here;” we reached our hands toward the other without touching and said “to here.” “But not further.” This was a question. “Not further. But I am here.” “No, I don’t have you.” “Yes, you do. I’m right here.” Even there, I would think only of the amber city in which we lived and nothing happened. The ocean hemorrhaged across bone white sand.