Chessboard and Tequila – 2016
This story first appeared in Issue 10 of Prick of the Spindle. You can purchase the print edition here: https://prickofthespindle.org/product/print-edition-issue-10/.
When I answer the phone she says “I’m moving.” Then there’s a pause – a not too long pause – and she says “I’ve still got your grandfather’s chess set.”
It’s five minutes past eleven and I’ve spent the morning cleaning. I’ve wiped down dishes from the sink, stuffed trash-bags full of unopened envelopes and unread magazines; the vacuum cleaner is on the living room carpet plugged in but flat on its side: an old gray dog in the morning. Her call catches me on a break. I’m staring flat forward at the coffee pot – watching the black nozzle drip into the carafe – and the phone is in my right hand and now it’s pressing against my right ear. I answered on instinct without checking the contact. The coffee pot is maybe half-full and I’m trying to add up all the days and months since I last heard this pinched, small, azalea voice through the phone.
L says “Hey, can you hear me? I’ve got his old chessboard and all the pieces. I’d like to know what to do with it.”
I look outside. There are great, volumed gusts of summer already blowing at the windows and glass porch-door, the blinds drawn back. I consider the question while watching greens and yellows around the parking lot. Then I look around the apartment. The coffee will be ready soon. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had any caffeine this morning or maybe it’s fatigue from all the cleaning that I only see the carpet; the beige walls; the coffee table I’ve been meaning to replace for at least a year; and the whole vibrating world of outside through the windows but nowhere – neither to the front or back or deep down in my memory – a chess set. So I hold the phone a little tighter without saying anything. Eventually I hear her sigh.
“Okay, I’m hanging up.”
“My grandfather’s chess set?”
L says “Mm” into the line. I try again.
“So you have my grandfather’s chess set?”
“Yes, that’s what I’ve been saying.”
“Like, one that he used to own or what?”
“I don’t understand.” We pause. I agree but don’t say so. “Your grandfather used to make things, right? Out of wood?”
My grandfather died in the springtime when I was seven years old. I remember the corners of the small annex where he did his woodworking. Paper wasps had made a nest in the rafters: burrowing their black bodies into soft wood above carvings of trains and butterflies. I was standing in the annex and staring at unfinished insects when my mother called through the open hallway – sobbing but trying not to – to say that my grandfather had passed away. I try to remember what I felt at the time but nothing comes to me. After the news, I stayed in the annex and stared at the hive bubbling up along the ceiling. The shed always smelled like bruised fruit and charcoal, before and after his death.
“He did do woodworking, yeah. But nothing like a chess set.” I wait and listen but L doesn’t say anything. “Like: he would only make this and that. Wall hangings or little ornaments and stuff. I seriously don’t remember him making a chess set.”
The coffee is ready and I look around the counter for the mug. I hear the dishwasher click. Then I remember squeezing the mug between a dirty white plate and an orange pint glass an hour ago. I bite my lip and look at the percolator again. I toss around logistics and decide there’s no reason I can’t drink coffee straight from the pot – but with my hand already around the handle I hear L again:
“I get what you’re saying but it has to be yours. I even kind of remember when you brought it over.”
“At the old apartment?” I put the pot back down.
“Yeah, when we lived together.”
Two and a half years, now three years removed. There was a wraparound counter between the living room and the kitchen. There were lots of open spaces where we talked about (only ever talked about) setting furniture.
“I really don’t remember, sorry. Are you sure it wasn’t somebody else’s?”
“No,” she says. “I know that it’s yours.”
I go back to looking out the window. There’s a bit of wind today, enough to toss the pine trees together and drift pollen across the cars. It’s probably cool for the summer, probably early enough too that the sun hasn’t had time to bake everything into a flat, sticky tallow. From the deck-doors I can almost see my car but it’s cropped by an edge of the nearest apartment building. I parked near a scraggle of ginkgoes; there must be a bit of shade over the dashboard. It wouldn’t be an awful day for a drive.
“So I promise, it really is yours. Now what do you want me to do with it?”
“When are you moving? Like, how long will you still be at that address?”
I can hear her pick something up and put it back down over the phone. Behind that, I hear something like a buzz-saw.
“Well, today, actually. I’m moving out today.”
“Okay,” I say. My keys are already in my pocket and I’m thinking about toothpaste and cologne. Her apartment is three towns and almost an hour away. A shower will add another twenty minutes to that. “I guess I’ll swing by and get it.”
“Alright,” she says. “See you soon.”
I drive ten-over along the interstate thinking about summer. I think about summer because there are so many other things I could think about – probably should think about – but those sorts of things are packed as full as baggage claims at international airports. The countryside is rolling across my windshield: roadsides burgeoned with treestands and grown-over curbs. I try to name the passing plants because my mother was an armchair botanist. I name violets (local); oaks and maples and pines (all local); a margarine sort of flower that grows in patches around the taller, unmowed rubs of grass (don’t know its name); and kudzu roaming everywhere, touching everything, maybe choking the smaller trees but doing it lovingly (not local). The words are an endless collage. Even though I know better, it’s easy to believe the illusion that the growths of border forests map away from the interstate for miles.
When her exit is three miles away, I roll down the window and stick my arm out. It swings around and tingles, blown back by the drive. The sun is a little hotter than it was before. I leave my arm dangling the whole way down the exit-ramp but pull it back at the stoplight where two red trucks wait to turn in different directions. The trucks are different makes and models but I can tell from the back windows that both drivers are tall men wearing ballcaps. The left machine is loud and spitting sulfur; stinking; sputtering; giving a bad impression of both trucks and big-rim red trucks in general. I roll up the window and stare hard at the tail-pipes. With the AC set to circulate, I tap my fingers on the wheel to a pop song and wait for the light to change.
Like an omen, I turn behind the foul truck and follow it a long way. We ride together through suburban byways – past developed crossings and gas stations; avenues named for flora that rumor away into cul-de-sacs – while I knob over radio stations and try not to breathe too much of the exhaust. The truck is driving faster than I am but always brakes hard enough at curves for me to catch up. I feel like I’m dancing with a partner – a skilled partner – but one who refuses showers on principle and always smiles when I trip.
Past a boardwalk where geese are loitering, I start thinking about the dishwasher. I have small shocks of panic that I might not have turned it on; bits of memory assuring me that I did turn it on; and finally the throbbing, gut-bound realization that ‘Maybe it doesn’t matter either way.’ The geese scatter in my rearview; I recognize the next turn. I’ve been to her apartment four times, memorized the route after the second, and know that in a few minutes the street will broaden to two lanes and pass by a gauntlet of student housing. Then the trees will thin away: lampposts will start to dot the sidewalks and the turn will split off at a crossing between Dubey’s Hardware and a CVS. After that, L’s only a half-mile more down Ferry Street.
I pass the first of the student apartments. It’s brick, cubical, and monitors a bleached square of parking lot. The truck turns at the gateway and takes the first open space. I roll down the window again and stop for the red-light blinking, blinking, blinking above the road.
The painting we bought four years ago is propped against a maple tree: on its side, on the lawn, in the dirt. There are couches and chairs around the sidewalk nearby – some I recognize, most I don’t – but the painting is the only thing wedged out on the mulchy, brown-black soil. It’s really an awful painting. Seeing it now reminds me of old reservations about having an ‘eye for design;’ the word ‘homey;’ a stray odor of cheap macaroni boiling for minutes or hours, always hard to tell the difference. “Still, it’s something to put on the wall.” Our apartment had nice windows with an innocent view of the brook that circled through the complex; there were good things about the place but we never had good things to say about it.
A door bangs loud three floors above. I look up at the door and I see L leaving through it. She’s everything I remember her to be: matte colors; sweat through a t-shirt; thighs that used to fit like ripe fruit in my hands. I stand and watch L talk to the blankness of an emptying apartment (and maybe someone inside the apartment) while I smell pine needles and the grass nearby. I look at her tight t-shirt and again at the legs beneath her shorts. I start to smell her just-dry skin and the salt stuck beneath her clothing. The scent is languid. It finds every open crevice inside me.
On the landing, the door closes again and L has found a large box to hold in her hands. I shake my head. I try to shrug away the beginnings of a boner – more routine than embarrassing – and squeeze my legs together hard while I wait for L to come down the stairs.
By now I’ve noticed the U-Haul nearby. Its trunk is open and crowded full of furniture that I recognize. I’ve also noticed that L has noticed me. She stops at the second-floor switchback and looks down. She doesn’t wave or shift the box around (she isn’t smiling either, though her lips are parted) but I can tell her eyes are seeing me. Then she turns around and keeps walking. The moment is brief and gone and when she’s out of sight behind the looping stairwell I start to think again about coffee. It’s a hot day, a hard day to feel fully awake. I scratch the back of my scalp and make sure my shirt-collar is straight. I slap my cheeks a few times before she walks all the way down.
And then she’s there in front of me. Like a ship anchored in port, L is almost reachable.
“That was fast,”
“Hello to you too. What was fast?”
“You got here a lot sooner than I thought you would. Here,” she says. She hands me the large cardboard box. It’s heavier than I expected. The thing falls in my arms but I shift the weight against my hips. I look at her: she holds both hands at her waist; elbows out at angles; hair tied back in a ponytail bouncing behind her. This should remind me of something, but right now I can’t remember what.
“What’s this? The chess set?”
“No, silly,” (and now she’s laughing) “what kind of chess set would fit in a box that big?”
“Pretty much any one, I’d imagine.”
“You know what I mean.”
We’re walking now to the U-Haul where I slide the box over metal flooring; it gets stuck on a bolt-head and then another bolt-head; I settle the thing in a corner made by an old couch we bought together at a yard sale and two end-tables that are tied against each other. When I lean back out of the compartment, the hot sun and traveling shadows seem terribly natural. The parking lot smells like lawn-mowers and baked tar; an anorexic breeze is blowing weak through L’s hair; I’m sweating and wiping that sweat on my jeans. There are surely more boxes and more things to move, things on the lawn or up the stairs. L is heading to the patch of shade under the maple and I’m following three steps behind. I’m not thinking much about where I’m going, just watching her walk a bit ahead of me and following automatically, attached by a string. All of this feels terribly, weakly natural.
“My brother is helping with upstairs. You’ve met him, right? Oh yeah, of course you have. Can you take that end? Thanks,”
“Sure. Not a problem.”
“So, how was the drive?”
“Same as ever.” I think about the red trucks, about the radio, about an urgent kind of feeling. “Not short and not long. It was just fine.”
“That’s good. I’m happy -” one, two and we lift a deck-swing into the truck-bed, “- to hear that.”
I help her move the sidewalk menagerie into the U-Haul and the whole business takes a loose twenty minutes. We move the painting last: she says she wanted to wrap it, preserve it, but couldn’t find anything suitable to pack it in. When I hold up the bottom, I see three straight scuffs of dirt that have taken over the corners. With the job all done, L stretches out her arms and looks at the stairs behind her shoulder. I’m careful to pay attention now to inanimate things: the U-Haul; the scant clover flowers in the medians; the hazy border-trees. Helpless, though, I see her two covered breasts pulling up, up, up along with her shoulders – but only in periphery.
“Thanks for your help today. Really, I mean it. I feel like I kind of roped you into something here,”
“No, it’s not a problem. You haven’t roped me into anything.” I was tied up to begin with.
“Good, I’m glad. Well, let’s go get your chess set then.” I’d forgotten about the chess set. When I realize I’d forgotten about the chess set I taste something guilty and sour. I shake my head and follow L up the stairs. The stairwell is still cool despite the afternoon, full of its own shade. The steps aren’t very old – all of them painted – but they creak anyway, some more than others. I think harder about the chess set – wooden, carved, mine by heritage – and I try to find the pieces in memories of crowded boxes and empty car-seats. (L is in front of me now and her calves are naked and she’s wearing clean white tennis shoes that I haven’t seen before. She looks like a runner primed to shoot off anywhere). I search urgently for a king, bishop, anything: sniffing through upholstery and damp closets, old annex sheds. All I find are empty spaces. As we’re finishing the last flight to the third floor, I feel like I’ve forgotten a birthday, missed the anniversary, or shown up late and barely invited.
Her apartment is the first on the third floor and the door is open again when we get there. I hear a vacuum through the walls but don’t see the machine. L hasn’t stopped walking and she disappears through the door-frame. Instead of following her inside, I stand for awhile and take in the landing: smelling the air (it smells like salt), stretching out my shoulders beneath the rounded, bowl ceiling. The landing sucks in enough of a breeze that it’s almost as cool here as the covered stairwell. I throw my arms on the white railing. There’s a wide view below of the parking lot and I see the U-Haul. It can’t hold much more; odds and angles are already poking out its back-end. She must be almost gone.
A blue SUV with clean tires breaks from a line of trees, drives up the steep driveway, then disappears behind another building. I look back to the U-Haul then to my own car: its roof is scuffed and covered in pollen. I parked at an angle a few spaces from the moving van and now I notice that the back tire clips just over the dividing line. A new sort of guilt starts swimming around inside me. Freshly anxious, I blink twice and chew on my lip and leave the bannister to finally walk through the door of L’s near-empty apartment.
L is in the kitchen pouring tequila.
“Hey! What took you so long, I though you were right behind me?”
The tequila bottle is white and silver. There’s a large clear skull and half a bottle’s liquor left inside. She pours two glasses, one on the counter and one hidden behind it. I look at the bottle and at the skull. Its eyes are diamonds, teeth are diamonds, cheeks are flowers; everything has a bold outline and the bottle is familiar. After an uncertain three steps into the apartment, I remember buying the thing at a tax-free in Cozumel. She thought the bottle was pretty. We were on a cruise. But she’s a daiquiri girl and I’ve come around to whiskey. Finished, L corks the lip and leaves the kitchen with both glasses. Unwanted pretty things can last for years and years.
“I thought, you know – I found this anyway – and well, want some? To finish it?”
“Great, thanks, I’d never get rid of it on my own.” I take a glass and hold it under my nose. Tequila all smells the same to me: dirt after heavy rain.
“So where’s your brother?” The vacuum that had been humming around somewhere has stopped; I hear a clock on the wall and the stillness of walking aimless around the living room. L is a step beside me.
“Oh, you know, I think he’s probably cleaning up in the bathroom right now. He’s a huge help.” We’re beside the oversized window-sill, big enough for a cat to lie down all morning. I sip the liquor. My lips feel hot and oily. She hasn’t taken a drink. We put our glasses down and I’m looking at the tops of pine trees. They’re too far off to be anything but categories. I look sideways at L. She isn’t saying anything, just standing, just standing and not drinking. If I were to lean closer our arms, elbows and faces would smear together, smudge and pool like a poorly planned finger-painting. I notice a scabbed-up scratch to the back of her neck. It approaches her hairline then secrets away. Now that I’ve seen the scratch I can’t stop looking at it. No telling when or where the thing came from, just that it transpired beyond me: that I’ve never seen this part of her before. I drink a round mouth of tequila and feel proud to be a whiskey man.
“Do you remember Mexico at all?”
The apartment is all sweat and summer. I roll my shoulders. She must have cut the AC, maybe today or even yesterday. Has she already moved out? Is she sleeping nights on Tate Street upstairs of her father? Or does she have some dim room and a dim bed to sleep in beside anyone else but me? I remember I’ll have to drive again soon. I remember I’ll never be here – standing right here in the sunlight with windows packed free of curtains, three stories up, nothing interesting to look at outside and too much to look at beside me – again. I shot the rest of the glass. We only spent an afternoon on Cozumel. Black things in the rafters and fat men in unbuttoned shirts.
“Yeah, I remember some things. A few things, here or there.”
“That’s good,” she breathes out; almost spits the air. “That’s really good, you know?” And then for a small time she’s smiling: lips closed but curving, something weightless and lost in her eyes. I look at her and see the cruise ship anchored out in port. There’s a gulf of sand-tides and foam broken up around it; placid water trapped coast-side. We’re together on the pier now and it’s still morning, still five hours off from departure. I’m pointing at something in a storefront and she’s still staring at the ship. She starts talking: quietly. When I hear her, I turn around to listen but her voice has already closed up: I never catch the words.
And then she’s gone. A quick happening of turned heels and “I’ll go grab it for you now” – she slips around a hallway corner – and I’m left warm and alone with an empty, wet glass. I look at the window sill. There aren’t any shadows right now, only banana light. The glasses catch the light and twirl it across plaster; wood; mots of paint-chips and dust. I lean in close until my eyes are level with the sill, stare hard at my glass and then hers. Her drink is full – completely full – and I consider drowning down inside of it. I finger the glass. It’s cheap, probably from a department store. I lift the thing and put it back down. I remember again that I’ll be driving soon and then I remember something else – something vague and uncomfortable – so I leave the glass alone.
It’s ten minutes before L comes back. I spend the time looking around the apartment. Unfortunately, there’s nothing much left of the place to look at. I find an old pack of gum discarded on the carpet and throw it away. There’s still a trashbin in the kitchen – in-use and half-full – but the rest of the room is stripped bare. I open the fridge, fumble with a knife-drawer, pace the living room, then sit with my back against the outer wall and close my eyes. The room smells like the parking lot: heavy grass and the briny punch of new-paved tar. I picture a whirlwind spinning near the U-Haul. It sucks up all sorts of dirt and colors, shaping each addition into wobbly arms and legs. Eventually, when the thing is twice the height of the van and nearly as long, it marches awkward up the stairs and stops at every landing: planting down pieces here and there – a foot or finger of ‘oak-leaves,’ ‘sulfur fumes’ – until finally the ridiculous monster reaches the third floor. By this point, what started as a mangled hodgepodge has only become more mangled and more hodgepodged: diminished in the most uneven and pitiful sorts of ways. Its colors are mushed together and its limbs have gotten confused. Still, at the open apartment door the beast trickles in dutifully and heaves down what’s left – what’s managed to survive – of its load before lumbering away to finish the landing. I sniff the air again and find a finger or two of daffodils. It’s a small, innocent smell buried beneath everything else. I sit up and open my eyes. The tequila might be getting to me; I shake my head and slap my cheeks a few times.
L comes back wearing something different with a small, brown box in her hand.
“I went ahead and got changed,” she says.
I look first at the box (it’s wooden, square, one blonde streak through the center like a racing stripe) then down at the skirt hitting just above her knees; then somewhere up and past her along the ceiling. She walks a little closer and I stand up to meet her – still staring up, looking sideways from time to time over her outfit (like a parrot that’s seen something bright beyond its cage) until we’re too close for me to look anywhere but her. She put on make-up too: just a bit around the eyes; cheeks; gloss-pink lipstick. But maybe her lips were always this pink.
“I’ll be leaving in just a bit. My brother is almost done with the bathroom. He’s driving the U-Haul for me. Then we’ll – you know – go to dinner.”
“Sounds nice,” I say. The box is in my hands now. It’s a small, light thing: soft and old but the wood still looks new. I turn the box in a circle and see two hinges and a latch on the other side. At first I don’t know what I’m holding – maybe a jewelry box, a coin collection – but the longer it sits in my hands I realize that this is the chess set. I hear L say something. Then she says, louder: “Open it.” I turn the box on-end and fiddle with the latch. It’s locked tight over a small, metal nub. With three tries of rough prying I manage to get the lock undone.
Brown felt and colored pieces.
“I told you,” she says. “This is your grandfather’s chess set.”
It’s a travel board: pegs and tiny holes. White is tan and black is brown; everything is wood; the pieces are matte with rough edges but the board itself has been treated with varnish. I pick out a black pawn and pinch it. L takes a white knight.
“Do you recognize it now?” she says. I look across the board and she’s holding the knight and squinting: the light from the window has overwhelmed the tiny thing. Even this close, it’s hard to tell what sort of piece it is. “I don’t remember why you brought it over. I just remember you telling me that he made it.” She pegs the piece into the board. “I wanted to make sure you got it back.”
The pawn is still a nub in my fingertips. I look at it for awhile then at her knight fitted on the set. I nudge the pawn three spaces past the knight, close to the border. “You’ll have to queen me soon.” She smiles and I close the board again.
We talk for awhile as the day gets hotter. She tells me about her brother – what sort of work he’s doing, how happy (or unhappy) he’s been – and we trade stories about movies we’ve seen and books we’ve read. Eventually, L opens her eyes wide, pulls back her shoulders and says “The laundry! Damnit, I forgot to put it in the dryer.” I laugh – she laughs too – and when I suggest tying off the load in a trashbag she shakes her head but agrees. We shake hands. Then we hug – briefly – and I smell something like rose-oil or nutmeg in her hair. It’s a simple, good smell; it doesn’t linger when she pulls away.
With only a bit of effort, I fit the chessboard in a back pocket. L waves me goodbye when I walk out the door.
The parking lot is the same as ever – bright, hot, and quiet – with all the same cars still parked in all the same spaces. When I come down from the stairwell, my eyes don’t adjust. For a second I only see whites and greens; blotches across the complex. It’s a fuzzy image and reminds me of waking up before the alarm clock: everything normal is suddenly surprising again. I rub my eyes beneath the maple and don’t think about anything while the old world gradually drips back in.
The U-Haul is still open but will be closed soon. My car is still parked nearby – at a careless angle – but it will be gone soon too. Small, meaningless changes. I walk to the car – clicking the doors locked, unlocked, locked again – while wondering if anyone anywhere is watching all this happen. I can picture a young-looking woman in her fifties staring down from a window – maybe with binoculars – popping candy or cigarettes and letting this all transpire. She’s focused on the tires, the cracks in the tar, ready for the big movement when I start the engine. But I know that this is – really – a boring show. No-one will care when this back-town parking lot below rows of apartment buildings gets rearranged.
But that’s a small sort of lie. I will care. I’m the only one who will care.
I open the door and sit down on the carseat. Then I cough. Then I open the door wider because the interior is an oven and the air inside is broiling. I wipe new sweat off my forehead and start the car. Looking through the windshield, I notice the whips of heat rising from the hood. I hear the spick and sputter of mechanical things chugging. The air is on high already. The radio is on too but I turn the radio off. It’ll be a couple minutes before the car is comfortable enough to drive: there’s too much sweat and filth built up for it to flush away any easier. I resign my head into the seatback and stare not-too-hard at a scuffed spot on the roof’s upholstery.
The chess set is still in my pocket. Sitting down, I feel one of its corners pushing uncomfortably on my leg. I let the thing keep pushing for awhile – breathe the thick air, feel the nerves firing up and down my thigh – but eventually I reach down and take the chessboard out. It’s still wooden; two-toned; all shades of brown with a little metal latch that’s hard to open. I turn the board around again as I did in her apartment. I touch it with both hands and all ten fingers. Finally, I put the chess set to a comfortable spot on the seat beside me. I close my eyes. Seven again: I’m wandering my grandfather’s annex. Pink butterfly wings; saw shavings; that old burgundy smell of curing, aging, coming to life. I never knew my grandfather well but I know he was a woodworker. I know – also – that he never made a chess set.
The car is cool enough now to be tolerable so I close the door. It clamps shut with a thud. I leave the radio off and kick the shift into reverse. I pull back from the space then drive down the sloping hill that glances toward the apartments. In seconds, I’m back on Ferry Street and in minutes I’ve found the highway.
I think about a lot of things on the drive back home. Most of them are disconnected: I consider stopping for groceries; remember again that I set the dishwasher; I admire the sweeps of trees beside the road. When I pass an exit ten miles out from mine, an oily black crow rockets from the trees and flies only a foot or two above the car. I don’t hear its wings over the sounds of the interstate but I imagine them flapping the air like a seashore beating tides.
Maybe – in some other reality, similar but different from this one – my grandfather did make this tiny thing of a chessboard sitting in the seat beside me. Before he died, he strayed away from beautiful, natural things and worked his fingers and bones across blonde and dark woods: smoothing; cutting; varnishing; and somehow – in that same reality – he gave this chess set to me.
I can still taste a bit of the tequila on my throat and tongue. I see the mint-blue waters of port at Cozumel. L and I are talking – both staring at the water, at the cruise ship docked out in the bay – and while we’re talking I can feel the chess set in my pocket. It feels warm and comfortable beside me. Later, when the sun goes down and the waters are bold and dark, we’ll sit together, L and I, at a bar or cafe – drinking; smiling; talking – with the chessboard open between us. I’ll take a pawn, she’ll steal my rook. Neither of us will win and neither of us will care. We’ve let the ship go on without us. We’re here – together – and this is where we’ll stay.
An eighteen-wheeler swoops onto the highway fast and I switch lanes to avoid it. I say “Fuck,” and hit the steering wheel and then I’m back on the curving, monotone road: seven miles now til home. I shake my head and lean deeper into the seat. In this reality – the only reality – I’ll eat something unremarkable in a few hours, watch the day end quietly, and probably never see her again. I open my mouth and try to taste the tequila, try to follow it backwards to that other world: but the beach is sunny again and we’re standing exactly where we were. The chessboard is no longer in my pocket.
I’m driving a little too fast now but I don’t care. We’re still talking – and then for a small time she’s smiling: lips closed but curving, something weightless and lost in her eyes. I look at her and then at the cruise ship anchored out in port. There’s a gulf of sand-tides and foam broken up around it; placid water trapped coast-side. We’re together on the pier now and it’s still morning, still five hours off from departure. I’m pointing at something in a storefront and she’s still staring at the ship. She starts talking: quietly. When I hear her, I turn around to listen but her voice has already closed up: I never catch the words.
Gareth Livesay, 2016