Balm

On the deck of a ship made of stars and woven by the magic of dreams, you and I stood together. It was a cruise ship, and we were surrounded by other people. I always start conversations about important things when there are other people around. I wondered whether he actually listened anymore. Whether it mattered at all, that there were others there to hear. Maybe I created them as witnesses to my downfall, to my humiliation.

“It’s his birthday,” I told you. You nodded, and you smiled.
“He would have been sixty-six,” I told you. You bowed your head, and frowned.
“Yeah,” I said. You rubbed my arm a bit, a cursory gesture, a symbolic one with nothing behind it except the weight of a history that I remembered and you didn’t.

There was a cord tied around my chest, making it hard to breathe. It was tied to your wrist. I remembered how, when I was little, my parents would tie balloon strings to my wrist so that I wouldn’t let go and lose them and cry. But they’d tie them tightly, making a red stripe in my flesh. The cord on your wrist was so loose that it was almost falling off. Had it ever been tied tightly? I couldn’t remember anymore.

A wave rocked the ship, making me jump. You stayed calm, collected, cool, even though there were tears in your eyes. You said there weren’t. But there were. I wished they were there because of me, but I knew they weren’t. They never had been, even though once, a long time ago, I had convinced myself that they were.

When I woke up from the dream, I found that I had wet the bed. There were still strangers all around me. They were asleep, thankfully. I was on the bottom bunk, and I got up and stripped the sheet as quietly as I could. I hadn’t done anything like that since I was five or six years old. The smell of urine was as familiar as your scent but far less pleasant. I tip-toed out of the twelve-bed room, into the hallway, down to the back and out the hostel door to the courtyard. I threw the sheet in the industrial-sized garbage cans there. I was too embarrassed to leave it on the bed to be stripped and washed. I decided I’d rather be charged an extra four euros for stealing it.

The night was balmier in this foreign country full of guttural voices. Barefoot, I stretched out my arms and felt the wind cool the sweat on my body. It was the nicest thing I had felt on my skin ever since your fingertips had traveled the same soothing route when I used to have bad dreams.

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4 thoughts on “Balm

  1. yetanothersinglegal says:

    Great imagery. “There was a cord tied around my chest, making it hard to breathe.” A lot in that line. I am left wondering, though, the age and locale of the narrator. Perhaps, the reference to “He would have been 66” makes me think that the speaker is an elderly woman mourning her husband to her current lover? So, when she wakes up in a youth hostel, I am like: Sounds like a college student, then. Minor confusion…althought that might be your intent!

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