by Joel Kopplin
|She leans into you and places a hand on the side of your face, just below the ear and along the jaw. Her slender fingers trace circles over your skin. She makes a passing comment about the length of your hair, and you reply with something dry, offhanded. She laughs and leans her head back against the white plaster wall, closing her eyes, taking a drag off of the Marlboro cigarette that smolders between her fingers. You admire the shape of her lips, the soft white of her countenance. You remove your camera from the small canvas bag at your feet and you hold it in front of you about six inches, trying to steady your hands without much effect. Her upper torso, shoulders, and face are positioned in the cropping margins of the LCD screen. The flash blinks and she laughs. She holds her eyes still. She smiles. You tell her that you hope to be a poet someday. If that fails you’re going to be a chanteuse. She tells you that she never considered trying heroin until her best friend did. She tells you that she had to try to understand. “I had to know what he felt.”The music pulses through your head like a throbbing bruise. The room is crowded. Crude oil paintings of distorted still life and nudes hang from the walls or lay propped against various tables and chairs. Everything spins when you close your eyes, so you steady yourself with your hands, palms down on the mattress, your elbows stiff, and your back straight. Jared is across the room moving his hips and his hands. He seems to nod in constant affirmation, occasionally changing it up with a denial, his head moving to the left and then the right. To the left and then the right. The guy next to him, you don’t know his name, moves closer and begins to undo the buttons on Jared’s maroon collared shirt. His skin is flushed underneath.
She reaches a hand underneath your cardigan sweater, setting gentle fingers on the small of your back. You clench your hands around the fabric of your skirt and you tug, trying to adjust some vague, euphoric discomfort. You close your eyes and the world turns on its end. You experience the rushing feeling of free-fall and you can’t help but wonder where you will land. You turn your head in time to see her leaning in toward your lips and you wonder where you will land. She turns and whispers into your ear as she places her other hand on your side. “We’re going to be great together.” You can’t help but wonder where you will land.
You run a hand through your hair and press the call button on your phone. It rings once, twice, three times as you look down the street, watching the passing traffic turn onto Franklin in the receding daylight. The air is cold and wet and you pull up the hood of your wool-lined jacket to cover your head. The emerging smell of spring accosts you and you think of wet earth, the melting snow. You wonder if you left your chapstick at the coffee shop on 26th. You hold the phone in the crook between your shoulder and neck as your fingers rummage through your canvas bag.
An automated, disinterested voice picks up on the other end. “You have reached…320…313…6715…record your message after—” You snap the phone shut and you place it in the torn lining of your coat pocket. You step back up the steps of the three-tiered brick apartment complex and you hit the buzzer to apartment 315. You know this is the place. You know because you’ve been here before. You know because she let you inside, out of the cold, harsh darkness of a February evening. You know because you remember the soft light of the red ceramic lamp that sat on the end table next to her couch and the smell of Ka-Fuh lavender burning on the bookshelf in her bedroom. You remember the worn, dog-eared copy of Sula that sat on the edge of her bed. You remember how the linen sheets felt against your bare legs. You know because you remember. You remember that you were supposed to be great together.
You come across the stolen image. It looks washed out, faded, as if someone has left it on a windowsill. She sits on the mattress. She leans with her back against the white plaster wall. Her head is turned, facing the camera, exposing the delicate angle of her neck, which is partially covered by a long red and blue scarf. A small cloud of smoke escapes her parted lips, between her teeth, an evanescent apparition forever trapped by this ephemeral moment in time. Her elbow is propped on a raised knee. The Marlboro cigarette smolders between two pointed fingers. Her dark eyes are half open, but her eyebrows are raised, suggesting the potential of something that will never come to pass.
Within her gaze you see an unfulfilled promise. You see the apartment overlooking the river, the bicycle trail moist and glistening in the early morning sun. You see this shelf of shared books: Foucault, Judith Butler, Nabokov, Kay Ryan, W. H. Auden, Simone de Beauvoir. You see the kitchen with mismatched china and the trips to Scotland in the spring. You see her parents, divorced but mutually supportive, visiting on separate occasions for birthdays or unprompted trips to the city. You see the evenings in small bistros and the eventual move to the country. You see the house, modest but serviceable, with large windows and white shutters and a deck that needs repainting every five years. You see the inevitable but graceful descent into old age and the comforts of temperance. You see the crows feet when she smiles.
You were going to be great together.