S.; or, a Retrospection by Travis Chi Wing Lau
“How wonderful it was this coming to know, certain of the knowing to come. Every word was weighted and every glance an inquiry. Each gesture gave just that little too much away.”
We met when the prosecco still had its bite. Under the auspices of Santa Monica still wintering, still bathing in its cold stars that cooled the roar of lapping sea salt tongues. I could only toast to him with eye and lash before I shivered from the falling sun and giggling fizz. Then, his jacket. Draped about my shoulders like a skin I never knew but yearned to feel again. Next, his arm. And before I knew it, my breath, now hovering before us in white butterflies, disintegrated into the hushed mires of the night.
I made lips to the steam curling from the jasmine pearls. He, with two hands around his paper cup, told me of his pins and needles, and how broken men could be made to walk upright. I responded in bad metaphors about how my spine had taken to wandering, assuming the shape of shedding snakes. Yes, we were both somehow upright, after he had dropped out of school and burnt copies of la bohème at the stake, while I ghosted my way from coast to coast, letting all the right candle flames slow-burn beneath my skin.
My legs yawned, so I treated us both to a walk among the giants. We mimicked the strides of the Rodin, steps he studied like the short bridge of my nose and the teeter totter of my hips, and the nip of the night seemed to laugh along with us. I would later learn his love for parallelism–the two of us in tandem: line by line, side by side, yet never intersecting despite the numerous collisions we had made before he left me glowing at the keypad that never worked on the first try.
For once, I did not mind. I could let the shabby red of his Honda dissolve on my tongue just this once.
We met again in bouquets of proseccos, but this time with fingers doing the talking. Dates, he called them. These gourmet collisions, of which he loved to don the debonair in spades. I sipped on. But he would sip from me that same evening, half-reclined in the passenger seat. I learned what drove a man to want to kill his breath, a dreaded after-inspiration. I learned of sighs that would one day need to die.
He clasped my hand around the stick shift because I never learned to drive. But what of flight? That of fancy that I had at every stoplight, where I knew jouissance came in pairs of lips. What of those?
Those that would fly.
In my hand was a ballpoint pen, stolen from some headquarters 498 miles away. This was my gift at 2:37 AM that morning given to the tune of earthy pu-erh and chamomile trickling down chins. I drowned myself in the dregs of that mug, where he plunged himself to find me, fingers against breast until I came up gasping for him and for mischievous minutes dressed like Hermes.
The rental car door sounded different as it slammed shut.
Boxed with the trigger to my heart was a powdered chocolate fondant cake. We shuffled over the mound of kicks and high heels into my own little shoebox, where we untied. He joked about the silver screen, but he felt the heat of our reels and the stories we fed to shadows knifed along the cream of my wall.
I felt my pulse strobe, for he was pressing. Dire, so dire, at every point. And I flushed with his urgency, pins and needles again: ripping, firing into the witching ebony like chasms in the facades. He then let me falter into his broadness, and I remained only as the kiss lettered into his thousand-folding envelope to be sealed and delivered with exalted tongue tips.
The morning began with another alarming gasp. I’m alive, I reminded myself, with him shuffling about next to me for his jeans a size too big. My hands needed breakfast, so I found the small of his back, warm from the closeness. How I’ve learned to like the taste even sardined in a twin bed.
But we were late. No, I was late. For seminar again on the first one hundred and twenty-six sonnets. We made the faintly lit walk to the car by the cemetery, where I always hold my breath in case the ghosts find my mouth. He made me a quick round of kisses with a side of Earl Grey and peeled tangerine. I wrapped around his arm like I am wont to do, but he stopped to photograph the white stars in the bushes. About the only stars we could ever see in this city.
The tragedy then was and always will be that we were only halfway to campus before he ever decided to walk back.
Travis Chi Wing Lau is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania Department of English. His research interests include long eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British literature, the history of medicine, disability studies, body studies, and gender and sexuality studies. His creative writing has appeared in Atomic, Feminine Inquiry, Wordgathering, Synaesthesia, Assaracus, and QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology (Handtype Press, 2015).