by Emily Hunt
My memory has changed everything about you. It thinks you’re perfect. I buckle under the druggy weight of the lie, sometimes. Press awkwardly against the ground, happy and stupid beneath it. It thinks that when you first walked into my shop—collapsing your umbrella between us in slow revelation, careful amongst the worthless antiques—it was love at first sight and not, in fact, aversion. My memory forgets that. Forgets that I tried to resist, first. So unlikely, your gunshot taking of my world. Your bedraggled red dress with the little flowers; it dwells on that, my memory. Perpetually recreates the still, in which you’re soaked and sultry and—the tell-tale forgery—shy.
Under the magnifying glass, you were not many of the things I wanted you to be. Your actions not innocent. Your movements not quaint. I spend time with the truth of you and remember again the duplicity in it all. The craft. You were only world weary. And quiet, and sometimes the deadliest things are the things that approach quietly.
The urge of your pianist’s hand closing the shop door behind you, containing us both. The speculative descent down three stone steps to my sub-street level. The running of the palm down the flank of your damp body as if there was enough water to shed, only making me aware of the beginnings and endings of your frame. The tussle of your hair as if it had a breath to hold until then. The lifting of the clinging fabric from your legs, only to bare the goose flesh beneath. The hunter’s mope along the gangway towards me, your flat shoes treading wood pockmarked by the era of stilettos. I tried to move and speak but instead looked back to the open book on my desk, its words the same blur as the cacophonous layer of spray on the pavement outside.
My mother told me something awful when I was old enough to hear it: the nature of a first encounter is predictive of the nature of that relationship. It haunts me, that knowing. Troubles me as if I’d not been spared the knowledge of the circumstances surrounding my own death. Some futures ought to be left unknown, no? Sacred things. Life, death, and relationships. And then I knew about ours. And because the nature of ours came with the feel of one dainty hand around my throat and another around my balls, you batting your doe eyes, I tried to hate you quickly—for my own well-being.
I turned my thoughts to small things. Unbecoming things. The treachery behind your eyes. The print on your dress. Whoever had sat down and imagined those dull designs. Whoever had drawn a flower like that. A ludicrous little flower that has nothing on a real one. And I pasted those little flowers all over your face and compared them to you, watched them come up equal. I needed you to be dull, for how my heart hammered in your approach and how loud the instinctual sirens wailed.
My memory would have me believe that a real flower had nothing on you. And I think, in that, my memory holds true. You were unfortunately lovely.
And you just kept approaching. Slowly, without apparent aim. Sheltering amongst the antiquated from the turning world outside, your eyes dotting over the curiosities. My curiosities. Exposing me. Towards me. Why towards me. What unquiet game did you have in your head. How resounding the unsaid hello rang in the air. And when you were upon me, stopped short a foot from my desk, I pulled my face from that insensible book and braced for all the things you’d have me believe you were. All the things my memory tells me you were. Red on sepia. A quick, mythic thing at the bottom of a murky lake, a thing grandfathers tell their grandsons about.
“It’s raining,” you said. Your pianist’s fingers found the antler magnifying glass between us; they traced its tarnished silver rim, full circle. “Quite a lot.”
“Yes,” I whispered unintentionally.
I’d caused you to wonder what I’d really meant, if not quite yes. I could tell, because at last you smiled like you’d understood the other thing, without really understanding it. Without there being another thing. It didn’t matter that there was no other thing inside my whisper because then we were smiling at one another, about things we hadn’t spoken of. You dripped on the floorboards and traced the tarnished silver, smiling coy and bold at once—practiced. I went quickly back to hating you because you presumed too much and caught me out.
My memory has changed all that. It thinks I took less control. I remember a seamless succumbing. No need to resist: You enter; I fall. And there in the shop, I leave my old self folded neatly and empty on the floor against the wall, like a shed skin I no longer fit into, set between the gramophone and chess table, gathering dust and telling stories like everything else in there.
You took me home to my flat and put me in the Bergère walnut armchair, poured me a Scotch, and dropped the needle onto “Sinnerman.” You sat in the fauteuil across from me, sipping from your glass to calm the goose flesh inside a sheepskin coat I hadn’t worn in twenty years. “Oh sinnerman, where you gonna run to?” And you cooked for us in my tiny kitchen, danced with me amidst the detritus of a lonely man’s life, and slept in my bed. “Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?”
In the morning you moaned in your sleep, and I caught your feline smile before it disappeared beneath your rolling form, imprinting against my sheets. You pressed your body into all my nooks, brought me into all of yours. Pulled up the quilt around us, its print white with the blue flowers that someone else had imagined, and there you stayed a year.
But then you died, didn’t you. And took me with you, so that another skin was left folded and empty, this time at the foot of our bed—more than a skin, a man. And what am I after you but a scaffold of memories, all toppling and reworked, toppling and reworked.
I sit on the edge of the bed now, cup of coffee cold in my hands, and remember. Then I sit at my desk in the shop and stare at the three stone steps and the pockmarked gangway leading towards me, coffee cold again, and remember. I trace the silver rim of the antler handle magnifying glass as dust motes fill my shop, hanging inert in suspension.
My memory has changed you from selfish to selfless. It thinks you lied to me to protect my feelings, rather than to use up my heart without tainting your last year with my sadness. I remember you as funny and smart, not jaded with dark wit, scorning a world that wouldn’t keep you in it. I remember you as unbound, not cut loose and forsaken as you saw yourself and expressed. And when I do remember the truth of you, I forgive you your deception. Your thievery. I gladly receive the insurmountable pain you bequeathed me. I keep the hate to the first minute we met and not the last days we had when you didn’t say goodbye but left me with your wasted shell as if there were more days to come.
I get lost amongst my antiques, as still and patient as any of them, drugged by my memory. I watch you walk in every day, collapsing your umbrella and dripping onto the floor, becoming more and more perfect each time you do. I remember all the things you really meant when you said, “It’s raining.” You meant the tumour you’d hide from me until you withered and re-entered the ground. You meant you’d not been spared the knowledge of the circumstances surrounding your death. You meant you’d needed something to bury the knowledge beneath—me.
And I remember what I really meant when I whispered, “Yes.” Yes, it’s raining. Yes, quite a lot. Yes, you’re worth it. Yes, I’d do it again.
I do it again and again.