20 Across the street, waiting people wait for the bus. Buses come every ten minutes. People appear without a plan and wait for zero to nine minutes—a brief purgatory between the stretches of real life. On this side of the street, I also wait for the waiting peoples’ bus. The gas station’s stucco sides spur my spine. I try to relax in my slouched excuse of a body. I am emptied; a pudding cup squeezed out and tossed aside. I had not planned for this. Across the street, Dakota’s shoulders hunch; my shoulders hunch. I can’t tell if she is crying or if it’s just the rain; I am crying and I am in the rain. Surely it must be zero to eight minutes by now, maybe even seven. I pray to the bus gods to bring us to zero. I finger the pack of Belmonts. Plastic slides off its corners almost too smoothly, reminding me of times I’ve been overeager and slutty. Naked, it seems small and vulnerable in my palm. I quickly pull a smoke and tuck the pack inside my coat. A pigeon stands guard on the other side’s shelter’s roof, grey and white, a balled up Kleenex against the cloudy backdrop of grey and grey. My pocket buzzes, my phone reads 15:57, November 25. Where are you? Rebecca texts. I brace my smoke between my knuckles. Got dumped. Curling my torso to create a cave inside my coat, I open the pack again. Two rows. A hole in the left corner of the top row, where I’d already pulled one. I slide out the bottom right smoke and mark the paper, March 25. Come eat. Not hungry. I tear the top off a bag of popcorn—also from the gas station—make my hand a spade and shovel my mouth full. The sensation of a stuffed mouth is almost erotic. I close my eyes and count my chews. My mother taught me to chew thirty times before swallowing. Usually, I don’t even have to swallow; the food is there, and then it isn’t. By the time I open my eyes, the pigeon across the street is still there, but the bus shelter beneath it has emptied. Dakota is gone, joining all the other things that are simply not here. The pigeon takes off, revealing a second, smaller pigeon that has been standing behind it this whole time.
19 I suck in cold air through the cracked kitchen window, baring my teeth, letting them chill all the way through. They cool and feel wet and smooth against my tongue. The sudden change gives the impression that I have someone else’s mouth. This is a relief. Forehead resigned against window glass, I try to feel sunlight on my face, try to convince my body of daytime. My roommates are out for the weekend, so I spread the windows all the way open and spark up right there in the kitchen. The Bialetti heats on the stove, its warmth radiating like a campfire. The Bialetti was Dakota’s favourite way to make coffee, so I had bought one, of course. The vessel holds enough for two espressos, and we would water them down to make something akin to an Americano. Before this, I had used a pour over, courtesy of a previous ex. We would reuse the same filter all day, piling on spoonful after spoonful of grounds, until they melded in a 3 soupy mire. The girlfriend before that introduced me to the French press. The Bialetti, pour over and press sit side by side in the cupboard like museum artifacts. Looking around, I can’t say what’s mine and what are relics of relationships’ past. Even Sterling, the dog curled into the couch corner one room over, was originally a lovechild. There’s a certain sense of commitment it takes to move on from someone, to break away from old life towards a new, alone one. The decision takes effort: a choice in the brain that instructs the neurons that move the muscles, which are being asked to work against comfortable memory. There’s a shift in patterns: the habitual motions moving through a room; instincts about how much coffee to make; the kitchen’s arrangement, a palimpsest. My brain is stubborn. It still lights up at the thought of pressing into Dakota’s body, waiting for coffee to ready. The memory of something creates the same emotional experience as the experience itself. So, for all practical purposes, I am still partnered, both in the dance of my life and the neuro-understanding of it. I make coffee in the Bialetti and dodge invisible bodies in the kitchen. I continue in the choreography of dating.
Rebecca should arrive shortly.
18 The garbage bins overflow like an infant spitting up after one too many spoonfuls of applesauce. Rebecca surveys the scene and mimes dusting her hands in the air—a job well done. She grins. “So much better!” “I feel sick,” I hunch over. “Maybe don’t smoke right now?” She rubs my back and I roll my eyes and my nausea swirls. The newly-appointed trash includes: Dakota’s toothbrush, pyjama shirt and spare boxers, matching-outfit polaroids from a summer wedding we had attended, notes, a birthday card—old words that had lost their luster. And, on Rebecca’s insistence, all my coffee makers. She promises to buy me an aeropress. She yanks me towards the house, but my body sticks. Apprehension looms. Walk away from the pile of items? Unthinkable. It would require the nerve, precision and delicacy of fileting a fish. My shoulders brace as a phantom paring knife presses to my chest, threatening to slice clean and peel the skin down, down to stay here with the rest of the trash, leaving my muscles cold, exposed. “You need to rip off the bandaid.” She pauses, and then picks up the French press. With a dare in her eyes, she jerks the cylinder from its handle and pushes the frigid glass into my chest. I had always marvelled at how glass is made—innumerable, tiny pieces of sand, heated under pressure, fuzed into a clear, smooth, perfect shape. Tiny specks of dirt, merged into pure possibility. She gives a little shove and I stumble forward, glass falling from my hands. It hits the ground, but doesn’t shatter—just earns a long, smooth crack up the side. I pick it up, tracing my thumb along the break. Ouch, a nick! A red thumbprint clouds the perfect glass, my thumb pulsing with heat, my heartbeat pounding where the two meet. The heat expands like smoke breathing, rising through my arm, blooming in my chest, the feelings WARM and RED a flush in my cheeks a tingle down my midline swirling sensations of anger and sex breath sped short and hot skin meets cool rain 5 makes steam rise and my whole hand fogs the glass more RED and my arm tenses and shoots up in a directive that feels foreign and exciting my hand squeezes to an almost-fist and flings forward and down and my hand cracks open and my breath flies through the air and the sound of glass cracking and my chest cracking and I hear Rebecca yelling, “Woooo!” and wait no that was ME! My own mouth, hot and wet and laughing. The cylinder disperses into so many pieces, the ground is thick with it. It used to be one thing, and now it is many things, and my arm trembled with the thrill of doing something new.
17 Walking home from the cafe, the aeropress bounces against my hip. Paper is not enough to protect the soft part of my hand from the burn and broil of coffee. My stomach swirls empty. I inhale, and the cigarette smoke moves in arabesques, licking the inner walls of my stomach. A thick ashy tongue, licking me. Alone, I can’t contain it. I round a corner, step into the alley, brace myself against grey brick, and puke.
16 On the stickyhot shingles just beyond my bedroom window, a brazen mound of cigarette butts, complete with a rainbow of lipstick colours, torments me. Haunted memorial, disgusting yet beautiful, and the intersection between beautiful and grotesque feels like the closest thing to the truth. I lean into the exterior panelling of the house, feeling my feet press against the downward slope of the roof. The butts with the dark stains are from the last day Karelia stayed over the previous winter. The pinks and oranges were from the summer, which means they were after Misty. The cigarette currently smoldering between my fingers burns fire-engine red. This is my third pack since moving into this place two years ago, and I am four in after two weeks. Soon the box will be more empty and soon more time will have passed. One day, it will all be over.
15 I am drunk, drunk enough to be slipping on the wet dirt outside the bar. My phone reads 1:07, December 16. “December 16. Three weeks.” “A birthday party is a terrible time to dump someone,” Rebecca scoffs. “We were gonna come here—” “But started fighting on the way to dinner,” Rebecca recited. She’d heard the spiel many times over the past 21 days. I lean back against the dirty brick wall, eying up the other queers stumbling around the smoking area and swaying in line for the port-a-potty. “Last time I was here, the person in front of me dropped their phone in the port-a-potty.” I hiccuped a laugh, which turned into a big breath which turned into a slow, sad sigh. “This is where we met. In June?” I remembered the feeling right before our first kiss, like a meteor barreling towards the earth. It made me dizzy with desire. “Fuck, they were so hot.” “Fuck you, you’re hot!” Rebecca was drunk too. “And you’re too nostalgic for your own good.” “The memory of a thing creates the same neurological experience—” “—of the thing itself,” Rebecca joins. “That doesn’t make it better, you know. It literally makes it worse.” “I know.” I rub my hand over my face, trying to wipe the memory away, frustrated by the pain of building new thought processes, closing the doors to certain memories and fantasies. Rebecca pauses, assessing the moment and its unique needs for comfort. “Last year, at Sundance,” she begins, “this elder said to me, ‘The moon changes its face every three days.’” I wait for my brain to put together the meaning, spinning in an alcohol-and-tobacco head rush. Rebecca explains, “The moon is your emotions. It changes faces—it moves to the next moon phase—every three days. So, your feelings will change, too. Quickly.” I can’t imagine feeling any different. I try to recall a time when I felt different, when I felt anything besides the dragging weight of anger or sadness. “If your feelings don’t change—if they’re stuck—you’re out of balance. You need to do something about it.” Rebecca toes the still-smoking ember from the cigarette I had dropped on the ground. It fizzles from red to black. Rebecca rips open the paper of her roach, crumbling the charred, unsmoked weed between her thumb and forefinger, watching it drift across the fenced-off concrete lot. The wind picks it up into a lift and a twirl. She tears the remaining rolling paper into a bunch of little pieces, and lets it float off, too. She squats, gives me a little peck on the cheek. “Full moon tomorrow,” she says.
14 + 13 + 12 I’d managed to avoid them all night, but at 2 a.m., they had pulled me into a dim, back room of the club. “I really miss you.” Dakota’s voice was leather-soft. It was the anticipation of running to jump off the tallest diving board at the pool, the shocking smack of body pummeling against water-as-wall, and the first breath after submersion all at once. It was almost as intoxicating as the bottle of gin I had already drank, my mouth still wet as they landed their lips on my own. But now, a red notification dot roars like a fire alarm from the top corner of my messages. I hide inside my hood, re-lighting my cigarette, greying and damp from the drizzle. The heat of the lighter on my palm is comforting, and I rub my warmed hand over my face, displacing the raindrops gathering there. They had pushed my hips against the doorframe with the urgency of lightning hitting earth. The fervour of kissing someone you might love or you might hate—an indistinguishable fire. I could feel the memory slowly embedding itself in my mind, where it would stay, further confusing the line between pleasure and danger. The nicotine, wrapping its arms around me, let the memory thicken as a comfortable fantasy on my tongue.
About last night—we probably shouldn’t do that again. Please don’t text me.
I read the words, still feeling their tongue snake through my mouth. “Hey.” I re-read the words. I wipe more water off my face. My fingertips feel suddenly foreign, numb— “Hey?” The pressure of their pelvis against mine— “Hey!” I open my eyes to find a woman huddling beside me. “Do you have any change?” she asks, palm extended. I shake my head, but I offer a cigarette. “They’re mentol,” I apologize. She shrugs, accepts. “Thanks.” I hold out a second before stepping out into the rain.
11 The first time I tasted somebody else's spit I had a coughing fit…
The Lucy Dacus song reaches around from inside the karaoke bar. I listen, smoke lit, leaning against the brick. The first time they spit in my mouth, they had been propped on elbows above me and I pulled their face close, grasping their ear and neck like a rugby player in a scrum. I had whispered, would you spit in my mouth? They looked surprised, but nodded. A moment of wait as they let themself salivate, still holding eye contact. Slowly, they opened their lips. I let my own jaw fall open, tilted my head back. Gravity did most of the work. The spit just kind of 10 slipped out of their mouth, hanging in the air a moment before truly letting go. A languid, drooly drop. One second of free fall—a moment of weight—followed by a warm grunt of receival. Instinctively, they pressed their pelvis into mine, and again, my warm grunt.
Cherry turns ash. I drop it in the trash, spit on the sidewalk, and am pulled back inside by the last trailing notes of Dacus’ lament.
10 I want to send you photos. Nude photos. Mesh black lingerie, the one with the straps, we only ever fucked in it once. Today I’ll wear it to work, under my clothes. I’m getting ready for work, shaving my legs in the bath, shimmering my eyelids, and I want to show you. I want to videotape myself shaving my legs, hand slip slick between thighs, touching myself under the water. I nick myself but I don’t care; it’s sexy. A small drip of blood trails my calf. The colour pops against the cloudy white.
I want to send you nudes that make you close your eyes, make you jerk off, make you wish you weren’t such a fuck up. I want you to save them on your phone, even though you won’t admit it to me. I want you to remember the feeling of your entire hand, balled and wet, inside of me. I want to hold your hand forever.
I want to send you nudes even when you don’t want me to. Especially when you don’t want me to. I want to force them upon you, make you whimper, make you look at me, remember my body, muscular, soft. I want to hear the sounds you make when you feel regret.
9 I slam my feet down so hard they hit the concrete like thunder. My shins splint, but my body is so starved for sensation that I like it. I imagine my bones cracking, laying me out in bed for weeks. I imagine smoking till my lungs char, and then dying of lung cancer in a thin hospital bed. I write in my phone notes, You’re so hot you make me want to die. You’re so hot you make my skin melt off, piling like clothing at the foot of my bed. I imagine tripping on the sidewalk and cracking my skull like an egg, yolk spilling out on the concrete to bake in the sun.
8 Rebecca gives me an intimacy workbook, which says humans need four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance, and twelve for growth. So, I pet Sterling every morning. I put on a facemask to feel the intimacy between my own fingertips and my cheek, cheekbone, jawline. I trace the line of my own lips in the mirror. I get a massage and cry into the headpiece, so relieved to feel someone else’s bare skin on my own. I walk home. I smoke.
7 I find a full length mirror in the back lane and bring it into the backyard, to the little alcove under the deck where I sometimes sit to smoke, sheltered from the rain. I lean the mirror on its side, opposite myself, and kick off my pants. I look at myself and wonder if this is what I looked like to them. Slowly, I trace my collarbone, ribs, hips with one hand, still smoking with the other. I unbutton my jeans, pulling them off gracelessly. I look. I had never really looked at myself before, and the unveiling felt like relief, like proving there are no monsters under the bed only by looking. I am not a monster, and I keep looking.
6 bananas, cherries, frozen berries almond milk and chocolate Silk cheese, peas, herbal teas epsom salts and batteries.
5 + 4 “Sing that song,” the new girl demands, the cherry illuminating her face in the otherwise dark street. “Which one,” I feign, though I have a good idea. “The love song to the dark.” I examine my hands on my lap as the sides of my mouth twitch up. I look around again—still no one. To go in the dark with the light is to know the light My voice wavers a little at first, hitting the melody a little flat. It doesn’t matter. I can feel my body ignite with the familiarity of the song. My spine lifts, ribs tuck in, confidence growing, voice rising to hit the next floating notes. To know the dark, go dark, go without sight I had been singing this song almost daily, trying to make a little meaning of the pain of waiting. Everything had felt so dark, like I couldn’t see myself, couldn’t even find my own limbs in the night. Flailing, stumbling, uncertain. And find that the dark too blooms and sings This woman, sitting next to me on this garbage couch, is anything but uncertain. She is not quiet or timid or earnest. She laughs so! loud! She would kiss you anywhere, anytime. She is a walking, talking, “kill the cop inside your head.” She blockades Commercial Drive at 4 a.m. with a couch pulled from the trash into a domesticity role play on a third date. And is travelled by dark hooves and dark wings The original, a poem by Wendell Berry, ends with “dark feet and dark wings,” but I’ve sung it as “hooves” for years. It made me think of mischief, like it could connect me to the mystery of the world. Like, I had never really known what was going on anyways, so might as well just accept that I have hooves or something. Even if I can’t see them. I take a breath to start singing the song again, but my inspiration is cut by a shock of lips planted on my face. Surprising! Nice. It is nice, but it is also … normal? It is shocking, but it isn’t lightning. It isn’t a meteor. But, I can feel the pressure on my lips, and it is nice. Our cigarettes, not quite ash, fall to the ground still burning.
3 Rebecca texts me a poem, saying it reminds her of me. “You claim your distrust of the ocean is a matter of principle, that it’s unwise to stake so much on something always ready to pull away.”* Facing the Pacific, my ribs rise and fall in rhythm with the water waving up and down the beach. I can’t help but disagree. The water isn’t constantly retreating—it is constantly coming back.
2 I take Sterling outside. We walk south. I had never noticed, this street goes uphill. It feels nice to notice, to feel the grade challenging my quads to tense, wake up, become a little more alive. She stops to smell everything, making the walk a slow burn. “Come on, girl,” I coax, noticing the trees for the first time. Noticing the different types of trees alternating along the sidewalk. I don’t know their names, but one of them has deeply cracked bark whose crevices and shadows make it look old, especially in comparison to the nearby smooth, flat, harder-looking ones. The grass is bright, green from all the rain. People complain about the rain, but it makes everything so lush. There’s a mural near the old house--there are no flowers without rain. My eyes follow the dog’s sniffing snout, scanning the earth. There are already little buds rising out of the ground, white and purple and yellow. I don’t know their names either, but I want to. I vow to look it up once we return home. Usually we walk down back alleys. I relish in the urban feel of it: the unabashed trash, the abandoned look of the backside of all the houses. But today, we stick to the sidewalk, hungry for the green. The grass, the moss on the trees. Flowers are budding, but I notice the piles of brown, sopping rot still on the ground from fall. Over the winter, leaves decompose and send nutrients back into the earth, promising future growth. Sterling squats and I pause, pick up the poo, wrap the top of the bag around my knuckles. Her leash wraps itself around my other hand and I sway side to side as she zigzags around me. I admonish her, step over the leash, and do a little twirl, dancing the sidewalk dance. I study each place she stops to sniff, her nose oscillating like a metal detector. One house has a little garden along the walk, with the shiny side of CDs pointing up towards the sky to ward off birds. Good boundaries. Another grows a row of rose bushes. Thorns: also good boundaries. “C’mon, girl.” The cigarette is cashed, so I wipe the ember on the sidewalk and drop the butt into the still-open shit bag. Up ahead, there is some other dog’s abandoned shit. I pick that up too, twisting the bag into a final knot. Back at home, Sterling rushes to the couch to reclaim her place. I wash the smell of the smoke off my hands, brush it off my teeth. In the mirror, my face looks beautiful—shining smooth skin, aquiline nose. I look myself in the eye and step back out into my home. Curling around the dog, I lay my cheek on her furry back. I can feel the pulsing of her breath, her torso rising and falling, the warm pelt pushing into my cheek. I can feel my own ribs moving. I think of waves lapping the shore. I think of how, in the wind, aspen leaves sound like waves. I fill my lungs, close my eyes, and wait to wake again.
1 It is overcast, but not raining. High in the sky, the clouds are more translucent than usual, letting brightness from the sun shine through. It is March 25, the final smoke in the pack a dazzling reminder in my hand. The bus stop number feels like a good omen—41344. Four had been my lucky number in the softball batting order as a kid, and 13 as a favourite number had always felt like righteous rebellion. I finish blowing smoke, toss the butt in the trash and spit on the ground. Even without anyone around, I want to call out “it’s not gross!” To spit on something—or someone—is to offer a blessing, good luck. Every time I spit, I hear my yiayia’s ftoo! ftoo! in my ear, warding away evil spirits. The spit blob darkening the concrete resembles tea leaves tossed on the earth. It shapes itself like a bird, mid-flight. Its head turns back, still moving forward as it looks back at what it’s flying away from. I raise my head just in time to see the bus arrive, and I step on.
jaz papadopoulos is a queer first-gen/settler writer and multimedia artist, and a recent MFA graduate. They are a Lambda Literary Fellow, with work published in The Uniter, PRISM Magazine, Sad Mag, and more. jaz is from Treaty 1 territory and currently resides on Coast Salish land.