The smallest shadows all sleep like salamanders under dust like rocks Rosa lifts quietly, searching with tiny microscopes, microscopes too small to look through.
Almost dark blue, soft streaks of black, how underwater must feel with Merrill's eyes open. The sky's the color of an ashtray his dad used to have.
Merrill forgot he remembered that. Also, his keys. He has to catch his breath, the asthma pump in his coat pocket. It's cold, the horizon like a popped bicycle chain.
If wind exists it doesn't breathe. There are other climates to ignore. Other songs we will not hear. Without us, wind touches nothing. There is no need for wind, no need for us. We make music so we don't have to hear ourselves breathing. We are so loud, we want to be heard while we ignore the wind we touch. We want to be the nothing wind cannot ignore while we sing.
The locksmith doesn't knock first before coming in, completely defeating the purpose of a lock. Merrill isn't home anyway.
Rosa calls. She says, "Are you there," into the answering machine. Rosa comes home. Her day existed. Speechlessly. She curls up beside Merrill on the couch. There are dark footprints smeared into the living room carpet. Rosa says, "Locksmith." Merrill kisses Rosa's neck.
"Someone, at some point, had to've seen a real stick figure walking around," Merrill says, "hunting trees for fruit, teaching its children to swim. Someone, at some point in history had to've seen this creature, to depict it so accurately. No way humans still draw them today because they don't identify with them somehow, or simply because they're easier to."
Merrill has arms and legs, a torso and a head on a neck. Rosa closes one eye and draws a small self-portrait of Merrill. It looks like the shadow of a stick figure. "I look fat," Merrill says.
Outside there are rumors. They spread like sheets across the Earth's mutable mattress of fertile hours. If not feral, infected. Still, some say there is a god. That sunsets don't need disclaimers. Wind exists.
Merrill counts on clocks to measure how young he'll never be again. "You're too patient," he waits years for Rosa to say.
"Never," she promises.
In the morning, life begins. Merrill stretches, holds his breath, imagines his skin peeling like an apple. Merrill's brain drags its body out of bed.
Merrill tapes a picture of himself as a boy over the bathroom mirror. He looks at the picture, looks at himself, looks at the picture. He looks happy in the picture. The picture was taken when Merrill was a child.
"Rearrange the pages in every book on the shelf," Rosa screams.
"They belong together that way," Merrill cries, "like you and me." There is no you and me, Merrill thinks. There is only books.
Merrill, like his picture, was taken when he was a child.
Books about what.
Merrill reads in the bathtub, wet from the outside in and gleaned from Rosa's breath, where the air is a mirror.
"Rosa's body is air," Merrill sobs. "Move through me and take me with you."
"I've already gone," Rosa hears faintly, fading. The bathtub is empty.
Merrill makes his hands into ducks and one of the ducks eats the other duck with the beak of its hand. Merrill does this so Rosa can dream, the only place she knows how to laugh from. Her absence explains nothing. Not all doors lock.
"Quiet," Merrill quacks.
How Merrill doesn't know he's never been hypnotized. "You're lying in bed," Merrill tells himself. "You're lying, I don't believe you." He turns his head, looks at the bed beneath him, believes it. Get up.
Merrill thinks about his life. He thinks about all life. The words infinitely ephemeral cross his mind.
There's a clock on the wall. "Is this the right time," Merrill says.
Rosa says, "No, it's an hour ahead." Merrill sighs explosively. "Jesus," he says.
Rosa says, "It'll be right again by November." Merrill is upset. He doesn't want to exist an hour ahead of himself, of his life. He doesn't want to exist any closer to the end of his life than necessary.
In the morning, they go for coffee. Merrill lets Rosa use his umbrella. Rosa's body. Rosa's body hasn't happened yet. There is a window in the café. Rosa looks at it. She sees only the window, as if there is nothing on the other side. She sees the window looking back at her in the shape of her body, looking. Rosa looks like a building after an earthquake, all those epileptic bricks.
Rosa's body, happening to be a body which hasn't happened yet. If that's true, there is no window,. There is no there. She decides today she will believe in god. She thinks the thought of god—the thought of god, scratching its big head.
All Merrill thinks about is how the end is getting younger. If the clock is off, he's afraid he won't have enough time to set it back.
We haunt ourselves with all we love, mispronouncing our own fears.
There are so many people alive. So many people who want things. Who need things they will never have. Why does need exist? Why should this not be enough?
In the afternoon, Merrill takes Rosa to buy matching tombstones. He cuts his thumb on the lease agreement for the plot they'd be buried in.
"Do you have anything smaller," Merrill says to the clerk, feeling inside his pockets for his keys.
"You flirt with death," Rosa says.
"Do not," Merrill says, licking his thumb.
Some blood drips on the tombstone he picked out.
"Do, too," Rosa says. "Look, even your tombstone is blushing."
Copyright©2011 Eric Beeny
Eric Beeny (b. 1981) is the author of THE DYING BLOOM (Pangur Ban Party, 2009), SNOWING FIREFLIES (Folded Word Press, 2010), OF CREATURES (Gold Wake Press, 2010), PSEUDO-MASOCHISM (Medulla Publishing, 2011), MILK LIKE A MELTED GHOST (Thumbscrews Press, 2011), and some other things. He blogs at Dead End on Progressive Ave.