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We Are All Stories

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The bus stinks of sweat and sunscreen. The shaft of sun through the window burns the color out of the seats and I grip the handle thinking about art.

I don't know why but you make me think about art. You make me think we are all artists. You make me wonder about the value of the graffiti, the meaning behind the tinny music leaking out from so many earbud-blocked ears.

You make me think in the abstract. The five-dollar note I exchanged for the coffee I'm sipping, bitter and over-milked as it is, was worthless until it materialized into caffeine. Something to carry me over the turbulent waters of the end. To prop me up in the face of your mother's polite smile, as she erases our life together, signing her name on the Next of Kin line.

The bus stops for an old woman; she clambers on, cramped and bent over. I watch seagulls squabbling over discarded bag of chips and think of your family. A grotesque carnival, a game: who loved you more, who loved you first. But animals live in the present tense. It is only us, you and I, who can hold each other close, and whisper about things that haven't been, that never were, but that are somehow deeply representative of all of us. We are all storytellers. I'm sorry, my love, but our story will never be told.

I wonder why you didn't write yourself down. Is it because we live in a world of so many selves? Perhaps to commit ourselves to the page fixes them, makes them too permanent, in a way our marriage certificate failed to do. I wonder this, as I leave you propped up on too many pillows: why so few of us commit the sin of text. Why, even when we do, at the end it seems too little. Always too few words.

You'll die tonight. The knowledge has a finality that seems familiar, as though it was something I had already known but forgotten. Our forever parting, always just beyond the curvature of time, suddenly stark and clear and right in front of us.

You will die. You will be gone.

Your family will find a picture of you, one from years ago, one from when they knew you. They'll prop it up and remember a woman who didn't marry a woman. The woman they knew. I can see it already, your rouged cheeks, lipstick from some university formal event. They will make you into the sad, painted clown of their carnival. And I will have no part in it.

The bus, the scratched windows, the coast all stark blues and whites, it still holds part of you. You are still in it. I cannot imagine a world without you but there will come a time when you will be nowhere, when no one will remember you but me and even then I will grow hazy on the details of your face, your hands.

So know this: there was once a woman who was adrift in this world and you found her. You found and held her and you told her that the waves crashing into the beach made terrifying music. You told her that the atmosphere was fuel for love, you told her that graffiti made you think of loneliness. And together the two of you wrote new stories about loneliness, or happiness, about art, about carnivals, and about seagulls. One time you fought and even when you fought you both stood outside yourselves and watched the passion boil over into anger and condense back into love and afterwards, after you had made love, you wondered together why anger and love were held apart as though they were different things when there is nothing on earth that is separate from love. You collected feathers and stones of interesting shapes from the beach and the parks and brought them home and said they were proto-works. Objects of intrigue that the right hands would make into art. Sometimes your hands were the right hands. And this woman, this woman who was lost and who you found, your hands were the right hands for her, they had the right strength and the right care and the right honesty and she was made into a being of creation and her soul grew broad and focused at the same time. And she was me.

And you will die tonight. You will be gone. But I will know your hands were the right hands. Even as the present forgets you, even as the world moves on from your touch, I will not forget your hands.

I blink and look around and realize that a drunk man, talking to himself quietly, and I are the only passengers left on the bus. The sun has disappeared and I have missed my stop.

The light is grainy now, the shadows are deep.

First appeared in Island 145
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