Hanged Man

Photo by Erin Notarthomas : Story by Kayla King

Continued from Three of Swords

I try to hold the sun inside the same way your mother did, like a talisman. I see her squeezing that ball of light so tight that it oozed over every inch of your childhood home; an aura of habitual happiness.

I kept your old dresser from 2nd St. and now it’s painted like Lemon Meringue. I know you’d hate it. But Shaw doesn’t seem to mind. He leaves little things for me to find: yellow pieces of paper with other people’s song lyrics, daffodils in wine bottles emptied the night before. He wants them to speak sweet things to me when he can’t write the words himself.

This morning we find each other in silence, watching the sunrise.

“It’s lovely,” I say. But the way that gold glitters reminds me how you’d always quote that book to explain tragedy. The guilt tastes like dust now, so dry and decayed. It makes me think about the moment of evaporation and dehydration; the moment a person becomes a husk.

Shaw drinks his coffee from a tall green mug. I stare until it blurs and quakes and sprouts like grass. When I blink, it’s the color of your eyes. But Shaw doesn’t look into the dark surface of his coffee like you did. His eyes bring me back.“

Just a few hours there and home later tonight,” I say, taking a sip of his coffee.

“Stay,” Shaw says. I know he means it like a promise, not a command. I smile and kiss him on the cheek. I don’t ask him to come with me. A new cd starts playing when I start the car and I look up at Shaw on the balcony. When he waves and smiles, I know he knows I’ve found his new mix.

From the interstate, the green exit signs remind me how close I am to you. It has been two years since we were here together. I remember that last time, the dark sky tinged with lights from the city; acid washed. I wore your old Syracuse University sweatshirt with the hole in the left sleeve, wrapped up in your dreams.

When I pull into the parking lot, the sky is bright and the breeze is cool. I wish I still had your sweatshirt now. But standing in front of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, I fall in line with everyone else. The church is old, built from beautiful stones, and the burdens of sinners. I stay to the left to avoid the arms of those I know best.

“May we be blessed in remembering,” the priest says.

You grab my hand and lead me from the churchyard, distancing us from headstones and mourners. Smoke dances as you light a cigarette, trying to tweak the tines of my shipwrecked soul; a petite pallograph.

“Tell me a story?” I ask and you smile.

“Lost my first tooth in first grade and it was brilliant. Really, it was,” you say. “I was chewing a cherry gum ball and it happened just like that, just like us.” You kiss me and I bite your lip to stop you. But I taste metallic bits, drinking you in to bring myself back to life.

“Look at them all,” you say. I’m not sure if you mean the people surrounding that distant grave or the tiny blue flowers that grow in this part of the cemetery. They make me think of that summer we spent blanketed in blue, surrounded by sky and chicory blossoms; believing in perfection. Because you were perfect then, even if you didn’t know it. Moss eyes. Dusk hair. Skin like spiced vinegar. You reminded me of the earth and the beginning of time.

“There’s falling from stupid shit,” you say. “Like bike seats and bed frames and billiard tables. And then, there’s this.”

“I know, Jess.”

You don’t need to tell me about the way you love me. I see it in the way you pick up a penny and flip it luck-side up in my hand. I squeeze it tight, trying to absorb you.

“Just in case,” you say. I know what you mean, even if I don’t say it back. For the moment, you are made of stories and secrets and simple things. You are mine again. This time, when you kiss me, I let you. Our lips crush the distance of the last two years. We are closer than we ever were.

“Nothing gold,” I say when you pull away.

“It’s already happened.”

“But what about us? What about falling? What about — ”

I imagine you explaining in a letter, maybe writing through the back of my black dress: Love. You. Can’t. Couldn’t. Me. Sorry. Love. Love. Love. But you leave because you were never one for words.

I walk back for the rest of the service. They lower your body into the earth and they pray: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I make the sign of the cross. The memories fade, and with them, so do you.

Your mother stands beside your casket, so soft, ready to melt. She bears the marks of loss in tired eyes and slumped shoulders. She talks about the way you used to swing from boyhood branches and I taste her guilt like mine; pure and pungent. I think about what I would say to her, praying that a tight-lipped I’m sorry might grow to encompass everything I felt for you. But I know I am not the person your mother wants to hear those words from.

I call Shaw from the car. I wait for him to pick up the phone. You whisper, I miss you, from the backseat.

“He’s gone, you know? And I wrote this fucking thing, this letter, for him, and didn’t even read it. So he won’t know, because I never sent it. I — ”

“I’m sure he knew, Gray,” Shaw says.

But I don’t. The not knowing fills the space between the three of us equilaterally.

“I wrote you something,” he says.Shaw recites his haiku over and over like the chorus of a song:

Light burns from gold to
silver. It can’t stay. But I’ll
seal you in stardust.

On my way back to your grave, I fold the letter until I can’t anymore. I send my thoughts somewhere gold so they won’t live inside me. I leave them here with you.

Originally published at www.oneforonethousand.com on May 21, 2015.