“Kissing you is like new paint and old pain. It is like coffee and car alarms and a dim stairway and a stain and it’s like smoke.”
The bed no longer smells like cinnamon and salt—and a little of sweat—like you. People say you never speak of me, but I’m always speaking of us. Though these people stop really listening after a year. You look softer now, blurrier, though I still think of you in the backs of my knees, the way your arms—Rev-white, teenage skinny—held onto me in the night. But you’re softer all over now. I know this because there are photos online of you in the too-big blue shirts I bought you and the duffel coat we once shared. You’re always smiling, not calmly but desperately—like everything’s a laugh. I’m eating Vegemite toast for dinner, buying outdated creamy soda from the fading general store. I see you out one night, warm, in Collingwood. It’s raining, making the coconut cream run from my legs and washing the smell of cars from the road. You have a new girlfriend. I do too. “Hey,” you say, like it’s nothing–nothing at all. It’s then that you take my hand—just quickly and just like you used to—and I suddenly recall aniseed, artichoke plants, and cappuccino-colored teeth. “Hey,” I say. I wanted to say something about your heart, how it blinked—uneven, like airplane lights.
She eats boiled eggs for dinner now, peeling the pale shells and salting the bright yolks with Himalayan salt. There are no more polyester dresses scrunched in her draws; her uniform is just a white t-shirt, leggings, and sometimes a windcheater—if it’s June and the sky is the color of washing machine water, maybe the sky laced with morning fog. She doesn’t coat her lashes in mascara clag or blanket her skin in clay-colored creams. Her shoes, heeled, have been swapped for Blundstones and basic lace-ups. Or sandals in the summer, worn over cotton socks. “Elsie,” her new friend says, “you’re shining.” And she is. See her walking down Lygon Street—the Brunswick end–with a good gold dog at her heels. See her drinking a single whiskey in the bar’s leafy courtyard, girls around her in tight, high-waisted blues. She doesn’t pluck her eyebrows now or wax the sometimes-luminescent fur of her upper-lip. She wakes up early, alone, and in sheets smelling of lemon oil—not cigarettes. She takes her pancakes alone, the Sylvan berries slowly turning her finger-pads pink.