by Dash Owens
I remember. I – the boldest word in a sentence. No one bothers to ask: which me am I? Not you. I’m not you, yet.
I remember you. I saw you behind the bar with a long tangled side braid resting on the curves of your chest. Your black t-shirt rode up your back when you reached for the top shelf whiskey my father ordered, and your jeans slid further down your hips. I came back the next day. You changed your shirt, but you still wore those jeans; dark washed bootcuts, gold-stitched back pockets. In the gap between the waistband and your stomach I imagined my hands. My teeth bit off the buttons of your henley top as I opened you up – your breasts, your mouth, your legs. I sat at the table by the window under the longhorns with a sprite and I hoped you would see me too.
Later you slunk into that seat across from me and slipped one finger under the red and yellow friendship bracelet on my left wrist. (“Cute,” you said.) We tingled to our toes.
You told me about the rusty truck – the one you bought for five hundred dollars to cross ten states to see Big Sur. When it broke down near Cody, Wyoming, you found a job at this watering hole and a long-term stay at the motel down the street. Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid. Those gorgeous sounds seduced with the crook of your knee locked over mine under the table. I, you: we understand what they mean now. The heat of your breath on my ear throbs through time: “Let’s go somewhere a little less old-fashioned.”
We (I) lay on a patch of green along the Shoshone in the mid-summer dark. Pants off, you ran your tongue along my inner thigh. Burning, I pulled your hand between my legs while you mounted my thigh and rocked back and forth in rhythm with your hand. Sitting up and lifting off shirts; tossing bras; licking nipples until we moan. You, I remember counting the mosquito bites in the dim motel bathroom; red, puckered bumps along the rib cage brushed over by soft lips humming the itsy-bitsy spider.
You were leaving soon. That’s when you told me about the gift you were given with the obligation to keep moving. A gift of money? No. A gift of perspective. The gift of eternal life. Hands clasped around your neck, I sensed the strange ripples quiver under your skin. “Come with me. Big Sur then Yosemite. Come with me.” What kind of gift leaves someone broke? “Money is the concern of a short-life.” Seventeen and summer was almost over. I remember you were going to leave without me.
I stayed one night to help you close the bar when two men came in with masks. You pulled a shotgun from under the counter and I dove behind you. Shots fired. And there we were, lying beside each other with blood on the floor. The men ran and I screamed for help. The cook in the back was calling for an ambulance. You gripped our arm and forced us close. You wanted me to take your gift. You begged for eternal life.
I remember cutting along the base of the neck and seeing you: half a foot long, flat and translucent; no eyes, appendages like frayed fringe off a segmented abdomen. You crawled up my arm, neck, chin, and entered my mouth. I remember the pitter patter of your, our tiny legs across the tongue. I collapsed beside the lifeless body and seized. It took only a minute until I was no longer just me.
I recall the taste of salt on my skin and the fragrance of my hair; a man, once my father, on a ladder picking an orange; then her, our wife, Mimi, on all fours straddled by a midwife, dripping with fear, pain, and sweat; numbing pain in my stomach but my hands find no wounds; the weight of the small wooden box that we carried two miles because the only horse didn’t survive the winter; that old horse who I helped birth, my first foal; my child, my first child, dead; we decide to stay young, remain children; you again, not us but in time, repeating the words in the book cradled in your mother’s lap, bouncing with their meter, sliding a finger over pictures of waves, and then (where were you?) standing over her body, slicing her neck, and meeting me — no, children are too young for the precious burden of other lifetimes; reflections in mirrors that I know, that I remember, are me. I’m us.
A week later, I took the repaired, rusty truck and drove to the ocean.