In the morning we will tiptoe through wet grass that clings to our ankles like stitches, while the sun opens in the sky, a yellow mouth, bleeding canary. The sun will slide against us like light does, its scoops thick as cream, soft as sunflower petals. You will hold my hand walking in front of me, say, “We are almost there,” and point to an invisible horizon, and a tree or your arm or the wind will block it from me, and I’ll laugh at you for seeing too far ahead.
We will fall asleep next to each other just the once and it will be like we are twin sisters. The quilt will spread over our bodies in a silence black enough to force us into whisper. You will run your hand through my hair and we will fall asleep staring at the ceiling. Our eyes will remain open for a very long time.
Eventually the A-frame will not need anything else except furniture and people to live there. We will decide that we must sell the house.
You will hammer the sign into the ground with thunder, then pull out your lungs and lay them on the floor in the doorway. I will peel my eyelids and toenails and leave them in the upstairs closet with a note. Someone will know we have been there. Before we leave we will stare at the A-frame and its lonely blue paint, the spiral staircase inside gleaming through a front window. The river will become a hush.
I will look at you and see the tears you will have told me existed and I won’t believe it. “Is it really ending?” I will say and you will nod. This is how I will know that this is it and that I should have fallen in love with you all the way. I will want to press my palm to yours, but we will not be able to touch in the electric heat with our sweat steaming from our skin.
“One more night, then,” I will say. And the colors of the A-frame will melt, the heat swarming and bleeding its parts in a slimy waver of air.
We will go back inside and run our fingers over dried paint. You will turn on the faucet in the kitchen and leave it running. I will pick up your lungs, dust them off and give them back to you, making sure to etch my initials on the back of one for you to find later. You will sweep my toenails into the trash and later, as you sleep, I will sprinkle them out the window over the rose bush, pretending they are your ashes.
Mid-summer, the river will rush back into our lives, dragging fish carcasses to the ocean where they belong. We will begin to fight. You will ask me to move my shoes to the other side of the room, saying to keep them on the rug. “After all, we have spent so much time staining the floor,” you will say. And I will move my shoes and not think too much of it, until a few days later when you ask me to stop wearing my white dress because you find it too girly, and you tell me I need to worry more about what I look like. You will ask me to do all kinds of things: to paint from left to right, to wash my hair every other day, to rub grass on my knees so I know what stains feel like on skin, to lie awake and hold my breath as long as I can in order to induce a certain color in my dreams. When I ask you what colors, you will tell me it depends on how long I can hold the air in my lungs.
I will thrust these moments into me, rub them against my throat and my ribs and they will taste like vinegar. They will stain something between us, and you will not think that this is fighting. But I will start looking at your feet when we speak or I will start putting things in places just to annoy you or I will do nothing and you won’t even notice. We will fight because it’s too hot, because we are almost finished fixing the house. By now, all that will remain will be glosses, more painting, cleaning. The house will always smell like ammonia.
One night, we will get so drunk we will have to stay the night in the A-frame. Our boyfriends will be playing pool or video games or darts and we will joke about the way they look at women. We will drink all the beer in the cooler in a matter of hours and chase each other around outside, watching fireflies arrange themselves into different constellations. Capricorn, you will say, and they will move, transforming into Orion—or at least we will say so.
You will pull a star chart from your purse and admit your secret passion for mysteries, and I will show you how your moles are the same size as the holes in the star chart, which we will decide blows our minds, so we will fall in the grass laughing. Only the chiggers biting our ankles will rush us back indoors, where we will light the candles for the first time and sit against the wall, our legs touching. You will say, “All this space in this house and we have to sit right next to each other,” and I will put my arm over your shoulder, stare at the space between your hair and your neck, the darkness that lies against you. It will be okay, I will think, and I will almost think to lean into you, to kiss you, but something about the thought will feel like fiction, so instead we will sit there staring as the shadows flicker on the wall trying to find bodies to land on.
The river will crust and become an empty bowl, and you will want to take the dead fish and put them in buckets to carry to a shallow hole near the house. We will discover there are so many fish we can only make paths to walk across the river, and the rest of the summer the fish will rot, a sweet scent of decay misting over our skin, our words, the floorboards. Down river there will still be water and the mosquitoes will leave us for it. We will finally know a different kind of silence when we don’t have to stand beneath the lace of the moon with our arms moving and waving about, loud smacks echoing our conversation, this thunder of our movements, how we stand there reaching to touch ourselves but not once reaching for each other.
We will spend most of the summer in the A-frame, to get away. We will spend days sweeping flies into black trash bags and emptying their bodies into the river, watching them scatter over the water like glitter. The heat will blister against us and we will spend much of our time sitting on the floor painting. You will comment about black paint staining my hands, saying, “You make such a mess,” and you will have no paint on your skin at all, because you take soft strokes with the brush and hold the canvas far away from your body. You will show control, perfection, even your paintings revealing straight lines, circles and lots of white space. Clean and crisp. My paintings will flash and wave, the colors blending into swirls with texture from a paintbrush, revealing nothing to you but mess.
The river will swell and contract and we will tie a rope to a tree and pretend we are children again. You will go without shoes. I will ask you to paint my toenails while we sit in the shade of a pin oak, the sun sparkling through the leaves. We will laugh and laugh. It is here I will begin to fall in love with you in ways I never knew I could. The sight of you on the rope swinging out over the water will do something to my breath that I will not be able to describe, and I will realize my boyfriend never stunned me this way. I will not tell you I love you because the word feels bruised and swollen, but I will sleep at night imagining us in a tent beneath the stars, breathing next to one another.
We will work together on projects in the A-frame house with a spiral staircase, paint splattered on our jean shorts, scrapings of wallpaper clinging to walls with a wrinkled hope. The river will have drained the home of its glow, painting it in the mudded colors of water, many floods having passed through the walls before. We will not talk of future flooding. We will find a fish in the empty upstairs closet and I will thrust it in your face until you slap it from my hands, poke me in the rib, and I will feel as though no one has ever touched that place on my body before. I will want you to do it again, but instead we will watch the fish land on the hardwood, its scales almost ripping with splinters as it slides across the floor. You will look out the window and mention light, saying something about how fast summer shifts into fall, and I will follow you down the stairs again as if we are painting the floor with our feet and I am picking up specs of gravel, light, paint behind you.
When we first enter the A-frame, there will be so many flies we will have to run back outside. We will realize we don’t have masks and we will enter again, shielding our bodies and faces with our hands. The flies will crowd against us, and we will walk through walls of them, spitting flies from our mouths, flicking them from our ears, smacking the ones that crawl up our legs. We will find nothing but flies that first day, and imagine a body in one of the empty rooms swollen and blue, skin melting in the sweat of the summer heat. We will laugh at our imaginations, say we watch too many television shows. We will not find a body, just curtains of flies, and the drone of their voices will be so loud it burrows beneath our fingernails and we will back outside again, where the crisp, empty air will welcome us like lovers. The silence will be so overwhelming at first that we will not be able to hear each other. But then the mist-hum will lift and we will call the exterminator to spend the rest of the evening picking dead flies out of each other’s hair.
When we pull up to the first garage sale that summer, it will be on the side of a highway with dangerous parking, cars flashing past us at sixty miles an hour. We will sit in the truck for a few minutes. Both of us will be nervous, as though people are watching. You will say, “Why can’t we just do it?” And I will say nothing because I will not have an answer. I will want you to be the brave one and walk in first, but you will want me to do the same. This is where we will realize we are alike and that we have similar fears. Together we will run across the highway and fondle glass figurines and ceramics, the pig salt and pepper shakers especially intriguing.
We will not buy a single thing and at the last garage sale a man will chase us down the driveway as we back up the truck, trying to get out of there after seeing nothing but wrenches, saws, and leaf blowers hanging in the garage, and you will be laughing so hard I have to pull over and take a breath. Breathing will remind us of margaritas, the big fish bowl ones, and how much we need one.
It will be an hour before we will be able to decide on a place to go. We will realize we have lost the ability to make decisions because of our relationships. You will remind me how your boyfriend always chooses where to eat and how it’s easier that way. I will realize my relationship is the same way. We will take forever deciding if we should go inside. In the parking lot of a Mexican restaurant, I will say, “We can always just leave if we don’t like it.” You will watch the cars driving by and say, “This is so dumb.” And I will say, “At least we have each other,” and we will go inside and drink till the tingles come and we will plan big things, like buying a house by the river to fix up, like going on canoe trips as couples, and we will imagine the moon in our mouths, the kind of light that paints air into swollen lungs.