written by Michelle Spokes | illustrated by Kim Herbst
when we were at a fetish party watching the man who used to be your dom demonstrating how to snap a whip, you pulled me onto your lap — as a statement. your arms wrapped around my ribs so tightly i could only take shallow breaths. my heart beat. my pussy pulsed. you held me there, making your claim, until we left mid demo, your hand holding mine.
the first time we held hands in public, walking across a parking lot, i hoped someone i knew drove by and saw us.
your finger stroking from the bridge of my nose to the tip and back up again, a trick to help me fall asleep. worked every time.
the backs of your thighs resting on the fronts of mine when i spooned you and the tops of your thighs tucked behind mine when you spooned me.
the smack of your hand, the red welt shape of it on my ass. the circular warmth of your palm smoothing away the sting.
your eyes looking into my eyes. my eyes deferring, looking down. my eyes diverting to your mouth. your mouth directing vibrations of gratitude and devotion into the canals of my ears. the buzz of your words moving in tune with my myocardium.
when your mouth overlapped mine and your tongue exchanged the taste of cheap wine with mine.
when the sweet smoke in your throat exited your lips and rose to the roof of my mouth then settled in my lungs. because i declined a hit, you became a bong.
your tough, mischievous, uneven smile. your mouth opening as you laugh. my palm cupping your shoulder, your elbow. us with our jokes snapping like rubber bands, talking at the same time and still understanding each other’s fast minds.
the mascara wand between your thumb and forefinger, gently tugging my eyelashes. when you exhale, your breath soft on my face. the playful swish of the blush brush over my cheekbones. you saying, ‘now look at me,’ and biting your lip as you assess.
the day you decided it was time to instruct me. handing me the mascara. demonstrating. taking turns with me in the mirror, in a tiny public bathroom, laughing.
my foot on the carpet and the little brush between your fingers painting my toenails red.
every week, new colors on your nails, even yellow one time, one time blue, seasonal colors for holidays. rainbow for a trip to cherry grove. the pad of my index finger tapping the new color scheme to acknowledge. smooth nail polish or a slight texture to an overlay of sparkles.
your skin smooth as satin, as baby powder, against any part of my body. you slather lotion on after every shower, free samples lifted from where you work. there are boxes you’ve given me, tiny bottles of aveeno, cerave, neutrogena and so on in my linen closet. i’ve made the post-shower routine a habit, too, but my skin isn’t as silky.
your arm through the crook of mine; my stride awkward, syncopated, trying to match your natural rhythm, swagger and sway.
the hum and purr in my elbow when my phone’s on the desk at work and a text comes through. the thrill in my veins when i see your name on the screen. every time. my thumbs tapping letters, punctuation marks, spelling out our own version of shorthand, scrolling for bitmojis, and gifs, racing with yours. messages whisking through intangible space like dragonflies on certain summer days.
flannel sheet under us, portable speaker playing “no place i’d rather be,’ a jones beach bass boom behind that, my head on your lap. my face looking up at the underside of your chin, at the blue blue sky. you leaning forward and me in the perfect spot for that.
your tongue sucking tequila from my belly button.
while you drive, your right hand on my inner thigh.
all the times you’ve headed south, and peeked north from between my knees.
the vacuum in my stomach when i need to hear from you and don’t.
the birthday you wanted to be alone and didn’t even want me to visit, and i drove to your rented room anyway and wiped your snot with my sleeve, pulled you close, kissed you all over your face, and your tears wet my lips, and your lips were puffy against mine.
when the hinge of my hips balanced on your windowsill, hands bracing forward motion, feet out in the night. you’d called repeatedly and told devastating secrets in a strange voice, then hung up. i found you asleep. you woke up groggy from sleeping pills that shouldn’t have mixed with your meds. the next day you denied calling. the list of recent calls on your phone proved you did.
the time you arrived at my house on a cold winter night as i finished a shower. each of your hands landing on each of my breasts, so pink from the hot water. a reversal, since i’m the one with cold hands and yours are small furnaces. somehow these lyrics spin into that moment: ‘story of my life… i drive all night… i spend her love, until she’s broke, inside.’
my body hiccupping with sobs and your voice. my body seizing with orgasm and your voice. my denials, my confessions, my stories and your ears, your interruptions, your questions.
my temple against your shoulder blade as we sleep.
some months after you found your man, i sat on a rocking chair watching you on top. i fixated on his pale, narrow, nervous feet and how they didn’t move.
when you and i lay down on your bed, equally ready, our eyes, lips and legs locked. we intensified. he left the room.
when a flattened silence lay in my throat the whole week you two were gone on the road trip. you met his family, envisioned life there instead of here, and began planning for that. the hollow crackle of those summer nights.
your flattery, his happy blush, my lungs filling with air.
the other night, my own man hit a spot inside that hurt, that your knuckle, when you’d wriggled your fist into me, had also hurt, and in a burst of pain, quick as strobe lights, i was with you, then back with him.
at your place, content, present, snuggled next to you on the couch, my cheek against your swollen breast and my forearm resting across your round belly.
in my backyard, springtime sun on our faces. my daughter talking to your belly button, introducing herself.
at my house, your hips between my knees. the heels of my hands massaging your back. this body of yours, wider now, speaks of change. we already know how to work around a baby’s life, finding time for just us. already know how to walk beside a child, each of us holding a hand, counting to three, then swinging the light body up into her own laughter. already, we can imagine my daughter holding your newborn in her arms. not sisters, but just about, for a little while.
your back to me as you sleep in your bed. my arm slung around the width of you, my hand wide on the warm, taut skin. i feel movement. my eyes brim. the motion, however, is rhythmic. it isn’t the baby. it’s the effort of your breathing. a week from now, your hand will tug mine, press it low against your belly, and there, a hello, swift as a fish, will find my palm. in the meantime, my forehead finds a resting spot against your shoulder blade for the night.
for a time we will have a brief island of balance before you leave what has been us, to reside further than a day’s drive away from me, and slip out of reach, maybe fall out of touch.
Michelle Spokes’ piece surfaced during yoga practice. The study and teaching of both yoga and writing have revealed to her that not only the mind, but the body, too, can carry memories, often in a symbolic way. Her work appears in the Oyez Review; siren; Fireweed; BellyDance.One; the anthology, A Wake Up Call, edited by Jan Phillips; and 7 Veils, from Hay House press.
Kim Herbst is a half-Chinese freelance illustrator who spent time in Taipei, Tokyo, New Jersey, Baltimore, and Brooklyn before heading out to reside in San Francisco. Her work has been featured in newspapers, magazines, children’s educational materials, and gallery shows.