Shadows and Flames and Paper-thin Glass

June 27, 2010
Too loud voices absorbed in darkness that was heavy and still that night, like stagnant water over the floor of the deepest oceans. Shadows made, the pressing of hands and legs near the thrashing of flames in the fire pit. Smoke of mottled coals burning and eager, salt-crusted skin, ashen sausages and sticky blackened s’mores and wire hangers melting. These were the things I was aware of when I saw you, bare feet over the rising tide.

Looking out at something nobody could see in the darkness pricked with the only stars we’d ever known. Razor blade eyes cutting through blackness, like for once in your life you weren’t scared of anything. And I remembered the way you cried next to me on the sofa when your father died, when your shoulders felt so weak and your skin felt like glass, and I pretended not to notice because I knew you and I knew that was what you needed. I remembered that, and saw you didn’t need it anymore, you were good at this. Pretended by yourself.

I sat beside you. You smelled like laundry detergent and old carpet, watched me as I stretched my feet over the water. Leaned back on your hands, then leaned forward, like you were going to fall in, but I knew you better than that. Always on the edge, never over the cliff. Cutting the tips of your fingers because you were scared of the temptation at the wrist. Both of us watching the tide rise and lick the soles of our feet. Our toes glowed blue-white and fluorescent in the light of the moon reflected on the waves, made us look fragile, made us feel like paper-thin glass.

I could tell you wanted a cigarette. Felt the weight of a pack of Marlboros in the pocket of my windbreaker, stolen off of my dad. Two left, you took out one and I pressed the lighter in your hand, fluorescent yellow on your pale skin. The quick sloshing of fluid, the linear way you lit the tip dull rust-red, brought it to your lips, inhaled, shoulders slumped like you could finally breathe again. You never used to smoke like that, like it was something you needed for survival. Before, it was leaning back against car seats at midnight and talking about death, how it should scare us more. Cigarette passed back and forth, till the paper was soft and wrinkled from the damp of our mouths. And I was about to cry because I remembered what you said in that car once, that even knowing how awful we are, you’d like to be human again, in another life. That it was all worth it. That it wasn’t a waste of time.

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