She was the type of woman who collected other people’s impressions the way hungry men collected food stamps. She said she was fashioning a blueprint, she needed an outline of things. She didn’t make sense to him. He said, ‘Every time the world turns into a Chet Baker song you’re sifting through sounds and words and meanings to find the exact fit for the absence of what came before as if the world were a giant jigsaw you were trying to breathe through your memories and skin.’ He said, ‘You’re going to get lost in this.’ He said, ‘You’re going to drown in innocuous and dapple and moonlight and languid and within.’
And she understood why it didn’t make sense to him; he was a thesaurus, he had an answer for everything, he had options running through him like creeks. But she was a dictionary, and she could see things. She knew about categories and families and groups, and she knew that you couldn’t always live a nice ending, but you could dismantle a bad one, find the roots and trace backwards with your fingertips.
But this was not the sort of answer he was looking for, it was not neat or tidy or replaceable with similarly detached nouns or adjectives. It was drunk on the breath of her, it was carved from that place at the back of her neck that he knew about, the exact shape of her baby finger curled under his chin. She wanted to say, ‘I have gathered these moments like a bushel of roses, I have lain them in all the places you had not thought to guard your skin.’ But he was counting things off on his fingers so she did not say anything, dipped her hands back in the river, for a bit.
And it reminded her of the time he took her for a ride on his friend’s motorcycle , and she leaned too far into the turns, nearly toppled them. How she wrote a poem about it, how the wind chill snap licked at your neckline, the crevices filled with adrenaline, but he wouldn’t read it because he was mad at her, he didn’t understand why she did things. And when he gave her back the poem and a part of her was happy, she wondered if she wasn’t more in love with the words than the people who were attached to them, and why she always leaned into the curve of a bad decision.
And when he finished speaking it was like the sound of wings folding, it was like her breath in grade three when that boy used to chase her at recess, when she ran and ran for what it felt like to be just ahead of the hands that were reaching for her, when she knew the point of the game was to let yourself get caught but she ran anyway because why would you ever give up on that feeling?
And when he asked her if she felt responsible for any of this, she wanted to say ‘I will climb back down the bank and I will wade in past what is acceptable for lifeguards and young mothers and I will bathe our memories in words like supple and lavender and lit. I will lay them out on the shoreline, end to end, until they are soft like lily petals and warm like the sun on your skin.’ But she did not say these things because although they were beautiful she was not entirely sure if they were true, and what she really wanted to say was, ‘Don’t you ever want to run around at recess?’