By Jessie Carver
His voice sounds like sex to her, and the touch of his hand is thrilling when he extends it to introduce himself. Within minutes of meeting him, Alice knows how their story will play out. He will ricochet into her life and consume her like a fever. She can already feel the heat rise up around them, or maybe it’s coming from inside her.
She will start using lipstick, paint her lips the bruised red of a pomegranate. He will offer something resembling love but not love. Over the years, she will teach him the names of constellations—Cassiopeia, Perseus, Lyra, Cetus, Andromeda, the words tasting like exotic fruit in her mouth—and he will pretend to care.
He will sleep like a starfish in her bed, forcing her to the edges of the mattress, unless her body accepts his primacy and molds around him, a clinging but incidental barnacle. She will love him anyway, will trace the cursive lines of his name into the grass as she waits for him to meet her in the park. He will often leave her waiting. But when he does arrive, he will smile wide and say, “Hey, monkey,” in that voice of his, and he will hold her so tight that the world falls away and she feels safe for a moment.
Alice will pay $39.90 to name a star after him for his birthday, emailing him a link to the online certificate, and in response, he will send a link to the International Astronomical Union’s website that says: “As a scientific organization, the IAU dissociates itself entirely from the commercial practice of ‘selling’ fictitious star names or ‘real estate’ on other planets or moons in the Solar System.” Neither of them will mention this exchange again. She will stop pointing out constellations to him.
He will be moody and distant at times but will bring her back souvenirs when he travels—the tiny figurine of a swan from Alaska, cloying gardenia-scented soap from France. She will place the swan on her kitchen windowsill next to the trailing philodendron and the soap in the far corner of her hallway closet, behind the boxes of old college papers and childhood paraphernalia.
He will not notice when, occasionally, she retreats into her mind during sex and is present only in body, a receptacle for his pleasure. Afterwards, Alice will cry soundlessly in the bathroom behind a locked door until her shuddering chest ceases to feel like it will implode and her breath regains steadiness.
She will spend weeks knitting him a scarf made from the softest yarn she can find, carefully selecting the dark green 12-ply Mongolian cashmere. She will wonder if he understands this as a declaration of love, those stitches unraveled and reknit over and over until they march in exquisite lines. He will wear it once.
He will never ask her the right questions. He will ask, “Did you read the New Yorker article about Žižek?” or, “Why don’t you ever wear your hair down?” or even, “What made you decide to be a writer?” But he will not ask, “What do you imagine love tastes like?” or, “When you were little, what did you think about when your uncle would force his fingers inside you?” or, “Do you want to be alive?”
Some days, despite him, Alice will feel like the mountains, sturdy and strong and vast and pushing up into the sky with possibility, and other days, because of him, she will feel like a sapling, bending under the sheer force of him and susceptible to breaking, fragile but hopeful.
She will start smoking cigarettes again, in that hungry way that smokers do. When he is not there, she will chain smoke out on the fire escape by herself late at night and look up at the stars. And when he is sleeping deeply beside her in his starfish sprawl, she will whisper into the darkness answers to the unasked questions. Pomegranates and cayenne pepper. Swimming underwater, weightless and free, untethered to my body, watching the schools of fish morph into ever-changing constellations too fleeting to name. Most days.
Jessie Carver is a queer writer and editor who grew up on a farm in the borderlands of New Mexico. She currently lives with her partner and their dog in Portland, Oregon. Her short stories and poems have appeared in various literary journals and the anthology Love Is the Drug & Other Dark Poems: A Poetry Anthology, and she co-authored the book Rethinking Paper & Ink: The Sustainable Publishing Revolution. You can find her online at www.jessiecarver.com and she occasionally tweets at @Jessie__Paige.