We don’t need to say it. Some things you just know, because you feel them, deep in your chest, in the quiet space behind your heart.
When you come in this time, you’re almost smiling. Maybe not for me. I smile back anyway. You’re different, as always, but I know what to look for. There’s a violence about you, a disarrangement of the underneath. The ‘Y’ tells the story. I know what they did. They opened you up, investigated your insides. Why? To determine how, of course. That which lived in darkness, dragged dead into the light. Weighed and measured. Dissected and curated. Stuffed back in and zipped back up. When I think of what you’ve been through…and still you smile, almost.
You wait while I file paperwork and tuck the others in for the night. I try not to rush, that’s how mistakes get made, but it’s been months and I ache with missing you, like my insides are all backwards and out of order. Still, I’m glad we have a few minutes to catch up before it’s time to go. I do the talking. That’s how well I know you. I don’t just finish your sentences; I start them too. There was a time – so long ago I hardly remember it – when you would speak and sing, and mouth the words of a book as you read them. Your mouth is closed now, but you’re here. And it’s enough.
I wheel you into to the garage. Are you self-conscious about your handicap? Surely you must know I don’t think of you any differently. In the car, you need your rest, so I leave you in peace as I drive us home. From one garage, into another.
Straight to bed we go. I adjust the pillow under your head until you look comfortable. No matter how cold you are, you’ll never ask for another blanket. Good thing I always know what you need. I open the chest at the foot of the bed and pull out a quilt. It’s blue, like a patch of sunny sky. You love the sun, though your skin won’t tolerate it for long. We learned that the hard way, didn’t we? Better to live in the dark than to die in the light.
The quilt helps, but there’s no substitute for body heat. I undress and slide under the covers next to you. The fit isn’t jigsaw puzzle perfect, but as I wedge myself under your arm and lay with my front pressed to your side, I find my head settles nicely in the hollow beneath your shoulder.
I do miss you. I hate that I’m so needy, that I can’t help what I want. Not much, just skin. That’s all. Is that so wrong? I want to be close to you. As close as I can get before you leave me again. I know you’ll come back – you’ll be different though. Sometimes better, sometimes worse. Looks aren’t everything, but certain faces are harder. Sometimes my eyes hardly recognize you. Thankfully, the dark space behind my heart always knows.
This time your face is easy and your body is beautiful. Young, smooth muscles. Skin, pale and hairless. A rare treat. I suck in my stomach and hook my leg over yours.
With my eyes and fingers, I learn the new you. Exploration and cartography. Science, but also ritual. I catalogue all your shapes and colors and bumps and dips. Finally I come to those familiar bloodless wounds, the ones you always carry no matter how your face changes. Why(Y)? Why is it never enough? My hands travel slow and quiet. Not so cold anymore. Sometimes I wish you’d be more aggressive. Just once, I wish you would kiss me. It’s all right. I understand your limitations.
A weary weight sinks into my bones, but we have to make the most of this time. They’ll be expecting you tomorrow. People coming to say goodbye and see you later.
For now, it’s only us. You’re warmer now. It’s my warmth, finding you the way you always find me.
Don’t worry about a thing. Don’t I always take care of you? I’ll make sure you’re ready. On time, dressed in your best, and more or less whole. No need to introduce me to your family, or your friends. Better for them to look through me. I’ll watch you go, and I’ll wait for you to come back. I’ll look for the incision, the Why(Y) carved in flesh.
Rest now. Lie with me. You don’t need to say a word.
Sarah L. Johnson lives in Calgary where she spends a lot of time untangling her earphones. Her short fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres, Room, Plenitude, and the Bram Stoker nominated Dark Visions 1. Her novel ‘Infractus’ is set for release in 2015 by Driven Press. This story was previously published in the Cucurbital 3 anthology.