after Claudia Rankine
You perch at your kitchen table, a swell of distraction surrounding your screen: discarded wristwatch, stained cotton wipes full of thick black nailpolish, your third pot of bitter tea. You click between determination and avoidance, between the crushing metronome of your cursor and the irresistible evasion of reality television baking shows. Gulping breaks from what you do not want to write.
You always have nightmares when it gets hot out, and last night’s were unspeakable violations: a four letter word that begged your lover’s yawning arms around you like lifepreserver, like shipwreck. Today you cannot name the dreams that sank you, and you wonder when it was you first learned the language of secrets. Your nails are now warm butterscotch, coating your dirty cuticles.
The hushed blue of the walls offsets the indigo of his bedspread. You stand between his question and the door, body curled around the hope for his acceptance. Heedless that the substance of your skin will be distilled to the number of hands that touched it, you do not consider discounting the ones that did not ask first.
You do not think to lie, until you see his face. Acceptable revulsion. You wish you could swallow the truth, fold it in between the corners of you. You defend your arms around your belly, wrinkling into the carpet.
It’s mid-morning when your headache wakes you, the insides of your eyelids digging their heels in against the day. It takes six seconds for you to recognize the room of a friend, as you lay diagonal across the two dorm beds pushed together, naked overtop of the sheets. You peel on yesterday’s clothes, sagging with mournful remorse. Listening at the door you await an empty hallway to slink downstairs to your room, holding your breath the whole way.
After watching yesterday slip down the drain, you choose your faded black sweatshirt, lumpy and long-sleeved. You find him in his friend’s room, a look of concern when you ask to talk to him outside.
I don’t remember what happened last night, you say to your sneakers, tugging the hems at your wrists to three-times their size.
Oh is that all, he laughs, relieved. Don’t worry, you were into it I promise.
You don’t have words for why you still feel naked.
You’ve been in the argument for at least an hour: he’s angry and you’re trying to follow the eggshell crumbs to safety. Miles from where you started, the dialogue sits between you in the cold midnight grass, a desperation of answers he’s pulled from you and discarded at his feet. He fixates on the sliver you are not ready to tease out of you, tearing strips of confession from your bloody throat. Devouring your aborted words, he sits, engorged in the pride of his masterful debate.
Say it, he demands. Say the words out loud.
Your last breath surrenders from you.
I think… I think I’ve been… you choke on the last word. Well, he sings, you’ll have to deal with that on your own.
When you see the panties in the grass it is the second time you walked past them. Next to a cement pylon by the bramble bushes, pushed to the peripheral. Inside out. White and black lace with tiny dogs on them. A layer of cut grass hangs over them, city mown since they were “lost.” Your sticky fingers shift the bucket in your grip as you wince at your initial indifference.
You wonder her name. All her hypothetical faces look like you.
Sarah M. Wilson (she/they) is an award-winning poet and actor living on Coast Salish, Á,LEṈENEȻ ȽTE (W̱SÁNEĆ), and Te’mexw Treaty land. Their work centers around storytelling, vulnerability, and their experience living and working as a queer teacher and school counsellor. She lives with her partner and their tiny, loveable dog.