Oranges at half-time
split like suns between our hands
under your leather jacket.
Longwall St. on a bicycle made almost for
two except with handlebars across which we
slung our indecision. We hadn’t quite worked
out how to play at love like grown-ups
but we talked Philosophy all the same, in your room
at St Catherine’s College with its monk’s bed and annexe of ‘80s vinyls,
the photograph of your ex in your bedside drawer. A curled lock of hair.
We slept, ringed by a moat
and the protection of our blindness. We lasted
barely a year before everything came away at the seams
but not before you’d planted a flag, carefully, with pride
in the ocean between us that we mistook for land.
I was yours then. You were my first.
A condom packet slipped under the door of your van
between the girls cutting cocaine off a rearview mirror in the back
and the two of us pressed close in the close heat of the front seats.
I’d smashed three cups against a wall earlier that night,
smoked my first cigarette on a balcony under a foreign sky heavy with rain,
and trailed my fingers in glasses bright with alcohol in a dive called Rivers
where we danced salsa and I flirted with a guy at the bar before hooking
a finger over the lapel of your T-shirt. ‘You’re coming home with me,’
I said, and you did. I asked you to keep your baseball cap on
because I couldn’t look you in the eye. I had a boyfriend back home
with curled hair I thought of as I gripped yours; browner, flatter.
Unfamiliar as your surfer’s body I couldn’t bring myself to be turned on by.
Somewhere in a tumble of sky
something broke like glass. Somewhere between
a station platform, a spill of photographs across bedsheets,
a broken curtain rail and a shaft of sunlight, a pack of international call cards,
a cast iron bedframe too small for the sound of you, or me. I forget which.
This is what I write about when I write about anything.
This is what I write.
You would shout down the phone receiver, years later,
as I lay crying on the worn green sofa at my parents’ house,
‘You think I don’t remember? Of course I remember. I remember
my right hand holding your left. I remember the sounds you
made. How you felt. How you smelled. What you looked like.
I remember everything. Everything.’
It started on a sun-splashed day
on a corner of grass where water lapped at
our feet. I was wearing a purple bikini,
and shaded my eyes to see you. To let you see me.
We walked along the canal; you pointed out
graffiti your friend had left tacked to the crumbled walls.
You took my clothes off as your mum vacuumed the hall outside.
The tennis was on: Wimbledon. You cranked open the window
before spreading me out on the bed. You started there, with your tongue
and I pressed my hands over my eyes, before saying, ‘Just get up here.’
It was over quickly. We walked back along the canal and laughed. ‘Did we just do that?’
You told me the best you’d had
was with a girl whose hair fell in ringlets. You used to like to
watch her as she gave you head. You’d also fucked a girl
in a Wendy House once, on a stretch of beach in Italy near San Marino.
I was jealous, though you kissed my forehead and said,
‘You don’t need to be. It’s you now. You’re the best I’ve had.’
I didn’t believe you. I practised, and practised, made you promise
you weren’t lying. You liked it when I was on top; when I stretched up so
you could see my ribs move as my breathing quickened. Could grip my
hips with both hands. You said you loved me but you tired quickly
of our arguments late at night outside pubs in Brixton, when I would hit you and
scream at you to promise you loved me more than anything in the world. You
said you did. I poured your words away with your morning whiskey, and left.
You swore you weren’t lying. You swore on your dead father’s life. I didn’t come back.
In the ring you moved with all the force
of an animal. You tore through walls with your fists, shoulders
wound up tight, always on the blunt edge of control. The
bedroom was the same deal. A barely suppressed anger
but also a tenderness that swallowed me whole. I was weak for you.
You brought me to orgasm for the first time. The second. The third.
I learned that forgiveness is not easily granted.
I waited in a hotel foyer, hands clasped, whitewater knuckles, whilst somewhere above the eaves
On the journey back to London, my body fell away from me. By the time we
arrived, my body was a thing
that did not belong to me.
You talked in metaphors
and I understood your language. We were
easy in the mornings, waking to your iPod, hands
moving over skin to find the parts that ached and smooth them.
Dinner with your housemates on the sofa. Reality TV in the living room, dirty
talk in the bedroom where I dressed up in outfits taken from magazines
we’d look at together, flicking through the pages before switching on the laptop, to
find a video we both liked.
We spoke harsh words about our exes, crushed them into
harmless shapes we softened between our lips. It was a casual thing, to love without
loving. We did in our own way, and said so.
I promised to love you till you were OK.
You’re doing better than that now, and I’m glad.
We strung Christmas markets together
on a ribbon of almost-kisses till I was so nervous
I invited myself to Oxford for a weekend. ‘To stay?’ you asked
with a kind of wonderment that took my breath away.
The first time, it was awkward. You couldn’t find your glasses.
You woke me to try again. We found each other’s bodies with our mouths
and I wanted to break every kiss like a wave against you.
We talked about the jungle. About humans. About civilisations
moving through ages and how forward progress is not the same as evolution.
About life and death. You see angels, you said to me, gently, I see graves. I shook my
head. You knew bird names and sang with your head cocked, like a bird perched
on the swinging stool in your room filled with books whose names I did not recognise. I
wrote about you, night after night. You told me you thought me beautiful. Just once.
The rains came, and the floodwaters rose. We watched geese and ducks slide into the water
from the mist of your kitchen window. On the coach, I cried because you didn’t understand
that I understood more than you thought. I fell through the sky just before Valentine’s Day
and broke my neck on the way down. You didn’t notice. You didn’t say goodbye.
Your broad hands are rough
as the paper you write on and I want to kiss
each knuckle, soften it out like the knuckles of the quarrelling lover
in the poem you puzzled over, sitting on my bed, frowning at the words
on my laptop screen. I measure each response carefully; refuse to ask questions
like ‘when’, ‘how long’ or ‘with whom’. Draw lines around these with chalk.
You dance with me in a room with blue painted walls, then later, in your room
scattered with books and bedsheets; the connection between your laptop
and the speakers faulty, so it feels like you are writing emails in a storm.
The volume kicks in, then cuts out. You kiss me with a hungry mouth and
I spread my legs beneath you. We laugh after you orgasm and I want to
pull you closer to me, but don’t want you to worry about me loving you.
We walk through streets lit up with roses, under a smatter of rain.
Tomorrow I will rewrite this in the
Tomorrow has already arrived and
is waiting for me to catch up.
But today is today is now. And now is as good a time as ever. To have a lover. To love. To count, eyes closed, up to ten. Then count back down again.
Aki Schilz's poetry and short stories have been published online and in print including in Popshot Magazine, Bare Fiction, And Other Poems, CHEAP POP, and An Unreliable Guide to London. She is the co-founder of the LossLit digital literature project. Twitter: @AkiSchilz