Plain China

Salt

by Greg Duffy · Notre Dame
Rain Room, Shana Joseph · Muhlenberg College

Winter 1

              Wake up. Freezing. Groggy eyes. Roll over. A fog of ice crystal formed on the window last night. It is wide open. Shiver. Something is wrong. I can’t remember what, but the pit in my stomach pulls. I reach for the fleece blanket but it is across the room. The sheets are no longer on the bed. I roll off the side and fall to the floor. You moan. You fell off before me in some shared nightmare. The sheet is wrapped across the lower half of your body. I trace the goose bumps across your torso. The white smoke of my exhale clouds your face. I stare through you, my naked body draped over yours. You lean in for a kiss and your sandpaper tongue wraps itself around mine. I explore the caverns of your mouth tasting last night’s cigarettes and stale beer. Everything is so dry. Your fingernail drags from the small of my back all the way to the top of my spine. I can’t feel it, but I used to, and we never change. I can’t feel you under me.

Spring 1

             If I have to listen to your brother’s band’s song one more time I will chuck the speaker system out the window. You say it makes you happy, but when I feel sad I put it on just so I can feel worse. Bathe in it. Soak it up. Feel so satisfyingly unhappy that I play it again. I lie on the hardwood floor and make myself as small as I possibly can and shut my eyes tight and feel every corner of sadness. One day I think I’ll drown in it. Just dissolve.

             Whitney Houston died so young. She just up and died, maybe because she wanted to. Did she think about me when she died? They said it was the drugs but I think she was just sad. Did anybody ever dance with her? Would I be happy if someone danced with me? Would you dance with me? I don’t like to dance. I think dancing to this damn song would make me die on the spot. Let’s try it, let’s see. You could murder me just by dancing. Maybe that’s how Whitney Houston died, death by dance partner. Would they arrest you? Would you go to jail? You told me no, you wouldn’t go to jail. You would be sad though. If you were sad, maybe then someone would play a song so sickeningly happy and twirl you in circles until you were drowning in sadness. Maybe that’s how everyone dies. We dance and we dance and we die.

             I don’t like to dance, but maybe I could learn.

Summer 1

             Ocean storm. Every time you dip below the surface you make the choice to live or die. I descend and open my eyes to the opaque green nothing. Salt burns them but I keep them open. Heavy rain penetrates the water like tiny bullet holes. I surface and stare at you. Your hair is glued to your face in rivulets. You pull it out of your eyes and mouth and smile. Kiss me, you say, and I do. Salt fills my mouth. Your seaweed tongue finds its way to mine. They intertwine and I worry they might get stuck. A wave crashes over our heads but our mouths remain attached. I can’t breathe but it doesn’t matter. We’ll create an underwater world where no one can find us.

Fall 1

               Standing behind you, I trace the lines of your sweater and say something that makes you laugh. You sink deep into the fleece fabric. You put your index fingers in my belt loops and pull me toward you. I brush a stray hair behind your ear and wrap my arms around your lower back. I kiss your cheek. Your eyes plead with me.

Winter 2

                Blurry blue skylines. Learning how to live. Knowing strangers better than friends. Naked bodies. Walking on water. Want. Blue veins and knit mittens and gravity.

Spring 2

               Sunrise. We lie in the grass behind your mother’s house. We confess our sins, even though we’ll never change. I feel every blade of grass softly stabbing my bare back. Your head is on my chest. Every breath I take I watch your head rise and fall so I hold my breath for as long as I can. I am acutely aware of my own heartbeat and wonder if it is pounding in your ears. One last star disappears from existence.

               You ask if I would ever run away. Through the thicket beyond the grass, past Mitch’s Corner Café, across the interstate, and into the nothingness. I tell you I already have. Rolling over onto your back you shut your eyes as tight as you can and begin to glow.

Summer 2

              I forgot your birthday.

Fall 2

               Every night I reach for your hand. I tell you not to pity me but you do anyway. We sit by the fire pit near the lake and you pull your rain jacket tight across your shoulders. The fire dances in your eyes as I inhale you. I swallow the rest of my beer in one swig and pull you to your feet. You scream in feigned distress. We dance and we dance and we dance. In this moment we are gods. We own everything that ever was.

               The skies open and torrents drown us. I pull off your jacket and you tear away my shirt. The fire flickers. Steam rises above the shrinking flames. I can’t see you anymore but I feel every inch of your being. Thunder cracks and I push the hair out of your eyes. Your whole body glows. You are our only light as the dying fire breathes its last breath. I slowly pull your shirt over your shoulders and you stare into me. Every inch of you emits light. It engulfs us. We stand naked facing each other. I feel every raindrop bullet puncturing my skin and start to wonder if you see every color I do and if you feel lonely on Sundays and if you know that 107 people die every minute.

               You take my hand and lead me to the edge of the water and pull me to the dirt. You glue your lips to mine. I let the lake blanket engulf us and we sink into the depths. I breathe through your lungs and you breathe through mine and we fall asleep in the murky abyss in sheets of dead leaves.

Winter 3

                We drive to your father’s house upstate. It’s 6 in the morning and I sit in your passenger seat exploring every bump of your scalp with my fingertips. Your heat broke last week so we shiver together under a fleece blanket. You tell me it’s hard to drive because you only want to look at me. I clutch your knee, sending tremors up your spine. Miles of interstate stretch before us.

               “Have you ever thought about dying?” you ask me. I tell you yes, everyday. You ask me what I think it is. I say I think it is like falling asleep forever. Everyone spends life awake, hustling, bustling, pushing, pulling, growing, shrinking, breathing, drowning. Death frees you. Everything becomes nothing. Or, nothing is everything. You shiver.

               We arrive in Poughkeepsie at 11am. You pull into the short driveway and we sit next to your Dad’s split-level for an hour before going inside. The windows fog and we only talk about how cold it is outside and how anybody really knows if every snowflake is unique. You take a deep breath and without a word open the car door. As we step toward the front door, I pull you into me, tripping over a chunk of cardboard along the walkway. I’ve never met your father. He probably won’t like me but I don’t care. Standing in front of the door, you take a deep breath and kiss me, hard. Your tongue is made of ice, and I worry I might get frostbite. I pull but my tongue is stuck. The door swings open and you rip it from mine, taking a piece of me with you. Standing at the threshold is a woman who must have dumped an entire bottle of bleach into her parched fray of hair. She either lives in a Pilate’s class or doesn’t eat. She seems a little put out by the situation but her face quickly morphs into feigned excitement. Pushing past me, she puts her hands around your cheeks and shouts in an ungodly pitch about how grown up you look. You push past her. I follow.

               Inside I see the man who must be your father. He’s slouched drunk in a lumpy green armchair. His gray pajama suit hugs every protrusion of his lumpier body. He gives you a surprised smile. You don’t return it but grasp an empty wine bottle from the shelf. You feel it in your hands and look up from it and stare at the alcoholic in the chair. Your eyes narrow and you lift your arm. The bottle whizzes by me toward his head. It narrowly misses and smashes against the fireplace, shattering into kaleidoscope pieces that scatter, shining and beautiful in the light of early afternoon. Someone shrieks. You walk out. I follow.

Spring 3

               We stay in bed for 3 days. You say you don’t need to eat because I am everything you need. A diet of kisses and saltwater. We lie in our own filth of yellowed sheets and morning breath. You pick my brain about the meaning of life. You ask if anyone can really be sure the earth isn’t flat. I say people have seen it from space. But how can we know? I tell you I don’t know.

Summer 3

              Numbness. Pushing and pulling. Flowers in June. Snow in July. Emptiness in August.

              I had a dream that I was inside your ribcage. I swam in your blood and climbed the inside of your skin. I watched your heart beat. I tell you hearts don’t look like we think. They are green and they glow.

Fall 3

              Ripped jeans, cable sweaters, salty tears.

              In October I ask you if it’s possible to miss someone even if you are with them in that moment. You tell me yes, that every moment we spend together makes you miss me more.

Winter 4

              I am writing you a letter. In it I ask if you think fire could ever be made of ice. Then if you think heaven is real. And what your first memory is. And can anyone really know anyone else? Do you remember the color of the walls in your childhood room? Do you believe in love at first sight?  When did you first realize you were going to die? When is the most you have ever cried? Do you want to dance? What did you dream about last night? What are you most afraid of? Then I ask if you want to drive to the convenience store to pick up Q-tips and cigarettes. You tell me how romantic that sounds.

Spring 4

               I wonder if love can run out. We light a match and it burns and burns but one day we’ll wake up and realize it went out. You don’t even notice it is burning low in its last moments of warmth and light and intensity. Then darkness. The only trace is a smoke trail but even that disappears. You’re left with the charred remains of something that used to be beautiful but is now unrecognizable, useless, sad.

               You tell me love is an ocean. You drink and drink from the salty fabric of the sea but never get enough. You don’t realize it is dehydrating you, you just realize you’re thirstier and thirstier so you keep drinking to satisfy the need. But you could never drink the whole ocean, you say. You die before that. You inhale the ocean and it slowly kills you. That’s love, you say. Drowning.

Summer 4

               We sit at the crest of Rosemont Cliff overlooking the stretching cityscape. Our feet hang over the edge and I wonder if a strong gust of wind could carry us over. I wonder if dying would be worth a moment of flying.

               You ask if people know how small they are. They look like worker ants pushing along, covered in suits and paperwork. The sun slowly submerges into the ocean on the canvas horizon. You pull me to my feet. You interlock each of your fingers with mine and squeeze tightly. We dance and we dance and for a moment I think we could fly.

Fall 4

               We walk under canopies of twisted branches and I hear you breathing. I stop and, for a moment, take you in. You give me a shy smile and I keep staring. You brush a stray strand of hair behind your ear self-consciously. I see every freckle across the bridge of your nose, the tip of every eyelash as they flutter up and down, the tiny wrinkles that will be deep crevasses when you smile that smile in fifty years, your fingertips poking out of my sweatshirt that is two sizes too big for you, every indented line of thread down your corduroy pants. I pull you into me but I don’t kiss you. I want to see you up close. My eyes wide, I notice each hair of your eyebrow, each pore of your skin, your cinnamon breath. You rest your cheek on my chest, and I rest my chin on your head. We inhale the warm unspoken finality of the moment. I wonder if we are the only two people in the universe to ever experience it. Right now, I miss you most. I slip my hand from behind your back and rest it on the side of your neck and pull your face to mine. I kiss you with the weight of the world, with every sadness, every cry, every question, every happiness, every whisper, every answer. You pull away and touch your lips, as though you felt something different this time. You stare at me and a tear begins to form in your eye. You pull me toward you and hug me harder than you ever have. The rhythm of our breathing matches pace and I smell leaves and dirt and salt and air.

                When you let go we stare into each other. You drag my arm around your shoulder and we continue walking, through the thicket beyond the grass, past Mitch’s Corner Café, across the interstate, and into the nothingness.

 

 

About the Author

Greg Duffy · Notre Dame

Greg Duffy studied Economics at the University of Notre Dame. Now working in music in New York City, he is writing a dystopian novel because there aren't enough of those yet. He also enjoys the field of data journalism and traveling through Spain. "Salt" first appeared in Re:Visions.

About the Artist

Shana Joseph · Muhlenberg College

Shana Joseph is from Brooklyn, New York and studies Computer Science and Studio Art at Muhlenberg College. In her free time, she enjoyr photography, dancing and traveling. "Rain Room" first appeared in The Blueshift Journal