Beyond weak, she was now spelling it out for him, like a mother – holding the small fat hand of her first born, pushing the stubborn fingers around, as they clutched a pencil to shape the letters of his own name.
How many times had she said it now? Could she count how many times she had laughed it, asked it, stuttered and moaned it and even once – in the vacancy of quiet hours – called for it, loudly across an ocean of silence.
As they sat in the garden with sun on their shoulders, they saw two moths mating: Elephant Hawks, enormous, olive winged and brightly tipped – pink as a kiss, their bodies tail-pinned in a union older than them. Both gawped and tutted at the audacious clasp. This is a family neighbourhood, he said, smirking, and they left the Fornicators to it.
What she didn’t tell him though was that, later that same night as she went out to lock the gate she saw them again – still stuck together, one dead, the other not, but flying low, unable to breach the garden wall or free itself from bondage as, in frantic flutter, it dragged its cold mate through the blue light of summer night.
do you remember when we had to cancel our very first date because I had a last minute shift at the bar, but you came to see me anyway and asked me about the movies I love and drank gin and winked when I walked back and forth past you serving other people but how I’d always circle back
and another time you asked me to get free drinks for you and your mates, got hammered hogged the juke box broke the top button on your shirt and called someone a fucking rat lost a tooth threw a glass and got kicked out and I had to quit later that week standing up for you
I just remember that’s all and wondered if you might too
The other night I dreamt you came into my house and wouldn’t leave. At first, I didn’t mind – we were just sitting together in my kitchen – but as I neared the dregs of my second cup of tea, I started to wonder when you planned to go. When I woke, I considered the parallel universe where we now somehow coexist: your keys in my fruit bowl; your hands on my bath taps; your feet on my couch. And in the haze of my morning I wasn’t sure what it had meant or whether it had even been a dream at all, and half expected to see you pass by, step-less and slight, like a ghost on the landing.
Finally! A good one. Can’t remember who asked. Who knows how these things come up, just go with it fast. Which creature would you least like to be killed by? If you had to. If you just had to. Doesn’t matter why. We dipped into silence, underwater in thought, each seeking an answer in the fashion we’d wrought. The lot of us sat in a circle of green bottles and spent ends, barely friends in a debauched fairy’s ring – and, for a second, not saying a thing. Godzilla doesn’t count. Then one spoke out. A grizzly bear. Why? You could just run. From a bear? You’re fucking joking, son. A few others offered and we talked through the zoo. But I didn’t have to think – I already knew. How, being frozen in the deep, I’d die thinking of you, as it swam, torpedoed steel, and took what it wanted. It’s eyes gloss and haunted. I wondered if you’d feel it burst you apart. Turn your organs to mulch. Teeth through the heart. After a while, we spilled beer, and turned to something new, but I sat for a while, and thought of the blue, of the dark and of death, and of it, and of you.
Later on, as I’m walking back to the station, I remembered when she used to do her lists. They started years back, before she started ditching mass, before she started pinching things – even before Nan. She would spend hours somewhere secret, because I never saw her do it, writing list after list of all the families we knew – our neighbours’ families, our teachers’ families, our friends, their mothers and fathers, families off the telly, their names, their ages, aunties, uncles, cousins – all the many ways in which they belonged to one another. All the families we had ever known, all but our own, hidden away in drawers and under mattresses for years. In that quiet house, I always found them, and when she didn’t think I was in, or if she didn’t think I could hear her, she would cry, and no one ever came.