Nightself

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We are spooning, you behind me, when I slip out of myself. I climb up and out of my mouth, pushing the jaw down and the lips apart. Sliding myself over the tongue, straining, gasping the first breath. It happens slowly and wetly, and then I am out, and I stand there moist and glistening and breathing in the moonlight like a newly-birthed calf. Look silently down at you holding my other body, the one you know. My features slack. My day body seeming somehow smaller, now, like a balloon that has begun to deflate.

I pad around the shape of our bed. Wet footprints on the floorboards. I wonder what you would say if you woke, and I realise that part of me wants you to.

Down the stairs. The silent hallway, photos on the pale walls of you and me and friends and family. A painted seascape you loved and I hated and still do.

Through the kitchen, out on to the veranda. The fat round moon with all her imperfections. The trees like blown ink, scratching at sky the colour of deep water. Cool night air on my skin, drying me.

I smell of copper and meat and damp.

I sit on the lattice chair and look at the town below, the twinkling orange lights. The black roofs slanting over the homes of other people, other dreamers. No one here to witness it but me and a cat the colour of ash, perched on the wall. Watching me with eyes that either catch the moonlight or aren’t there at all.

The night breathes and I sigh with it.

The cat slides like liquid behind the wall.

How I envy her.

Maybe tonight.

I stand and stretch and go to the low railing at the edge of the veranda. Extend a leg over. A strip of moonlight streaking down my damp thigh, over the knot of my knee, along the ridge of my shin.

Over I go.

Down the slope to the road, the grass slick with dew beneath my feet. Everything shines. The wind blows. The wet and quivering world.

Tarmac still warm from the day. I crouch, kneel as if in prayer. Put my ear to the road and hear the ghosts of cars.

Up.

Go.

Step silent through the dark world.

Maybe tonight.

In the empty roads, the alleyways, the house-lined side streets. The gardens, the copses, the wooded places. The empty park, swings still as though the seats weigh tonnes. Car park of the fast-food restaurant. Dancing not-quite-weightless over the litter-snow. The riverbank, the water flowing endlessly, a rushing sound like applause.

Nowhere.

I remain alone.

I slink away from the running water, drift through the empty night. Through trees between and beneath which other wild things roam. The road glimpsed between the trunks and —

There.

There.

I crash through the final bushy space, ignore the thorns clawing my tender skin, leap down on to the road, staggering, arms flailing, steady myself.

Look at her.

Staring.

Her just as shocked as I.

In the road we both stand. Our breath trailing up from our parted lips into the night above our heads.

See the streaks on her body, the bloody smears. How her forearms glisten. Her dark and matted hair. The aliveness in her eyes. Like this is the only time for her. As it is for me.

We are like reflections.

Imagine her empty body somewhere, beside a man or a woman or no one at all.

Like empty clothes.

Imagine her crawling out of that day body, each night. Treading through the sleeping quiet world, the empty streets and moonlit gardens.

Searching.

She takes my hand.

In the darkness we move against each other.

Tangle ourselves together. Push our bodies against each other, taste, enter each other. Merging. Becoming. Breathing deeply each other’s breath. Faster.

Everything is sensitive and alive.

We are strong and fragile and real and not.

In time we peel ourselves apart.

We will meet again, we say with our eyes.

Our fingertips linger.

She recedes into the dark, and like oil on water I slip through the streets, the gardens.

The road. Up the slick grassy slope. The veranda, the kitchen.

Drift up the stairs. The vacant smiling faces on the walls.

Over the bedroom floorboards. My wet footprints gone, as though I have never been.

Look down at my day body, encased in your thick and hairy arms.

Push my fingers into the mouth. Part the lips.

Pull the jaw wide.

Take a breath.

Climb in.