Nights, I think, are blooming and ashen things. They whisper like the flickering flame of a match, or are miraculous and booming, rinsing the edges off the city lights to reveal a star-struck sky.
When we first find out we pace the kitchen, not knowing what to do with ourselves. We keep laughing for no reason, and then you cry and shake and I pull you close and you say: “I’m scared. I’m so scared.”
You say: “Darling let’s ride our bikes down to the lake”, but instead we drive your light-blue Käfer up and down high street in the quiet of the changing lights and I murmur, slowly half awake, my thoughts drown but the sea is sweet. We park next to something bright and neon, the cars drip by, and our fingers shiver as we gingerly lay them onto your belly, and listen to your crystalline heartbeat. My arm slips around your shoulder, we fold our seats backward, and tell each other stories from our childhood.
The summer night is alive with people. Tourists stagger through the streets drinking beer. Cigarette butts and empty bottles sprinkle the side walk. Music splashes out from bars and apartments. I open the window. The air feels heavy and smells like smoke and sweat but the breeze is cool. The sky emanates a dark blue light as a last orange smudge withers from it. A family crosses the street right in front of us. One boy and one little girl. Both have dark brown hair and hold hands. The little girl whispers something into her brother’s ear and he looks at her, disbelieving. Solemnly she nods at him. Then cracks, under his stare, and erupts in giggles. I switch on the radio and change stations until I come across a song I like. We continue to sit in silence while the streets empty of cars and the bars and restaurants swell with people. Your hair falls into your face and you bite your nails.
“I wish I could see the forest from my bed, to watch the roots weft and weave into the wet earth and the branches blanket the night, to hear the leaves whistle in the wind und irgendwie, irgendwie duftet es nach Kindheit. Somewhere not far, I think, someone walks barefoot across a pavement warmed by the sun, and over here a blue jay sings in the dusk and we ponder, whether to be swallowed by the dark eyes of the night, or to glitter in a fine comb sun. Visions of Louise, my playground love, flicker in my mind. Her pale neck, her bark coloured hair. Small hands slip in and out of mine. My knees bloodied, shoes caked with mud. I yearn to skip across the playground, to whisper into her ear in the shade of the red plastic slide. And she says gift me a thousand lilies and I’ll give you my world and I begin picking.”
“What about you?” I say.
“I thumb through books, comics, magazines, scribble stars into my notebook. Candle smoke rises towards the ceiling and dissipates. In my dreams I surf petals beneath a purple gash in the sky. Waiting is the hardest part. I skip above the gaps between sidewalk tiles, stand outside the pet store, my raspberry ice cream melts down my hand, and I watch family after family gush out the front door, a furry miracle in their midst. And I stand and I watch and break my own heart. In the bright TV light, my half-sister half banishes me to her shadow and her friends come to sleep over and howl all through the evening. Their voices seep through the wall while my gaze scratches it. I stare at the ceiling, at the glowing plastic stars above me. At the face in the moon. My heart, its heart made up, urges me to pack a bag with my favourite books and chocolates and I steal down the stairs at night. As I pass through the kitchen I catch my mother’s eye in the framed family photo and stand still and bite my lip.”
You stir. Sit back upright. Brush your hair from your forehead. “Let’s drive around for a while,” you say and press my hand. I start the car and we slide back into the street. We are quiet for a while. You wipe sweat from your brow. I turn up the AC. Then and again we look at each other and giggle. Then and again we exchange nervous looks and you breathe heavily.
We get out the car and haunt through empty alleyways and back streets. You push me playfully and I smile and push you back. I hold your hand, whisper into your ear. You punch my shoulder then lean on it. The city’s lights leak onto the ground and we crisscross light and shadow, skipping from one to the other. An old woman sits on a wooden stool outside an open front door. Her white dress blooms with bright red stains. In the valley of her dress she holds a bundle of strawberries. Expertly, she frees them from their stem with a swift tug of her knife and drops them into a glass bowl beside her. The stems pile up below her stool or topple off the sidewalk and into the narrow street. As we walk past her she rises, wipes her hand on the linen of her dress, calls something to someone inside, and walks through the open door. The back of her dress is clean and white. Tired we head back. We enter and start the car. It begins to rain so I turn on the windshield wipers.
“What do you think it’ll be like?” You ask me.
“I want books everywhere. Gushing out of every corner. I want to stumble over them, tiptoe round them, and slide my hand across them absentmindedly when I walk past. I want a stack on every step of the stairs. I want little reading nooks with blankets and warm beverages. And you’ll say, ‘Honey, let’s be quiet and perfect, let’s hang out in street corners and fill our pockets with each other’s hands.’ I want the smell of freshly baked cookies. Clutter and warmth. I want to listen to rain glistening off the windows.”
“How about you?” I say.
“I want a space of my own. I want a dog whose scalp I can scratch, who I can chase around the house, who I can bury in kisses. A cat that ignores my beckoning call and eats and sleeps all day but comes to sit in my lap when I’m tired, when I’m slow. I want a kitchen to myself where I can cook whatever I want. The sound of laughter when I return from work, my friends piling on steps, the carpet and chairs even. I want my own things and a place where I belong. A place I call home. I want comfort and peace. I want structure and certainty. I want to listen to rain glistening off the windows.”
At home we have a large drawer full of broken teapots and cups. Two decades worth of shards in all different colours. Now as we reach home, after you sink into a cup of coffee, radiant with quiet terror, you fret along the borders of the kitchen, opening drawers, and closing them. You pull out the teapot drawer; with a screech it comes to rest on the floor. In moments we are outside in the garden and I watch you spill the shards into our flowerbed. Just beneath the arching chestnut tree. They gleam in the dying light. I walk up to you. Wrap my arms around you. “It looks pretty,” I say. “Everything is going to change,” you whisper. After a pause I say: “Let’s go back inside, it’s getting cold.”
Later I hear you draw a bath. I push open the bathroom door and sit next to you on the bathtub rim. I kiss your shoulder and look at my hands. You turn off the tap, stand as I sit, kiss my forehead, unconsciously place your hand on your stomach, undress, slip into the steaming water and all the flowers (milk-white, baby-blue, lipstick red) once bedded into our flowerbed, gently make way for your legs, your torso, your arms, as you elapse below them and close your eyes. I shut the door behind me. Careful not to make a sound.
Around two, as you sleep soundly beside me, I crawl out of bed and steal down the stairs. Step into the garden and look up at the moon then down at the coloured fragments in the earth. A cool breeze blows across my brow. I murmur, slowly half asleep, my thoughts drown but the sea is sweet. I hold still and breathe in and out. Walk barefoot across the shards towards the chestnut tree. Feel the brittle earth beneath my feet. I grab hold of a low-hanging branch, heave myself up, and scratch my hand on the rough bark as I do so. I sit still and close my eyes. Smell pine, earth and resin. It is as if the world empties, stands still and I am reminded of another night tousled by summer rain. Upstairs in my room, in my parent’s house, we’re home for a birthday, we squeeze into the open window our feet dangle outside, and you light two cigarettes and pass me one. Water splashes onto our knees and runs down our legs. Smoke filters through your hair and inside. The rain collapses through the trees and drums the earth below us, dulling, and yet I can hear your heart beat beside mine. I can hear your breath rattle. We sit still and listen.