I prefer to misremember how we met. At parties, I say that we stumbled into each other on the beach and you drank two plastic water bottles full of wine before you admitted you didn’t know how to swim. Your skin was just beginning to peel and there was a permanent marker tucked into the waistband of your cut-off shorts: you used this to scribble your phone number on the back of my hand, right across the knuckles. We make plans to meet up later at a beach-side bar: you never show, but I wait for you until the ice in my glass melts down. In other stories, you are this: a tourist standing next to a monument, rolling their eyes; a patron at the restaurant who draws an absurd rendering of George Washington on the napkin left next to the tip; another grad student enthusiastically defending their thesis to the bartender and the wait staff; a person that I see walking on the street from the desk by the library window and then think about for weeks afterwards. You are a cat-eyed gallery visitor, another would-be swimmer climbing over the locked gate of the town pool, a beekeeper at the farmer’s market with pentagrams you’d drawn, laboriously, on the labels of your jars. In every rendering, you are someone who manages to get away. This is as genteel as I have ever known myself to be. Across the dining table, your mother spoons squash onto the good china and asks if we met through a friend, somebody named Clara from the insurance company you worked at in ‘09 or Jason from college. I nod at her. I compliment her collection of vases and the portrait of you staring sullenly at the photographer, a viola propped lazily against your hip. At a wedding, we dance cheek to cheek, pressed close and with our nails digging into each other. People stop to tell us how happy and in love we look: I laugh in all the right places and you bare your teeth. It is less of a smile and more like something that you have bought, found ill-fitting, and kept anyways. When my cousin asks, curious, at a barbeque, how people so dissimilar managed to run into each other, you take the easy way out. You wrap your fingers around my wrist and hold it onto the picnic table and say, “Oh, I wouldn’t say we’re as different as all that.” I look at you out of the corner for my eye and catalog the practiced laziness of your posture, the dimple in your cheek. More often than I would like, I realize we are the same sort of animal. The night I broke all of the bowls in our kitchen, you calmly packed away and sold my favorite records. I came home to you holding a yard-sale, selling the Otis Redding vinyl my father had given to me before he died. “It’s half-price,” I heard you tell a buyer politely, “go on, try it out. It works perfectly.” I tell your grandmother that I would appreciate it if she could pray for you at mass next weekend; you tell me that you dream about me becoming a carton of Parliaments that you drive a sewing needle into over and over again. “And you never bleed,” you say, appreciatively, “I’ve always liked that about you.” After we’ve turned out all the lights, you crowd me into our bed and close your eyes. On another person, this would seem gentle. You only ever look like you are preparing yourself. “Tell me how we met,” you say. It’s as close to pleading as you ever get. When we met, I say, we were both two starving and wild things. We would devour each other if we ever got the chance. I say, you’ve been hungry, but I’ve been hungry longer. I say, we’re both animals that shouldn’t be allowed anywhere but in fables to warn people off. I say, “The best thing would be for someone to put us down and then study for a way that wouldn’t let us come back.” You laugh like an omen and when you put your arms around me, it feels like two voids greeting: two spaces that only serve to pull from each other without compunction.
Imaani Cain lives in the Boston area. Her work has previously appeared in Gone Lawn Journal, Bird's Thumb, and other publications.