His fingers twitch on my right thigh. The mattress creaks as he shifts to accommodate my head more comfortably in the crook of his shoulder. I count the warm bursts of garlic-riddled air from the slightly parted lips.
Then I go backward. Twenty-nine—twenty-eight—twenty-seven. Till one, and start again. He hems the blanket around us – cocooning me to him.

Our room is in shadows except for the halo upon the paper-strewn desk and empty chair through the window from the security beacon. Gently, I run my fingers lightly across his face: the forehead creases when thoughts snowball – a pencil clenched between teeth, hand turning leaves on the music shelf above the piano – a question in his eyes; the mole above his right eye; the cheeks deep dive into dimples when smiling, the once supple, turgid skin now flaccid and overrun with coarse hair where black curls once stood proud.

His fingers twitch again, and briefly, his breath hangs on twenty-nine. I bite my lower lip till I taste blood; I search for a buoy in the swirl, something sturdy to keep me afloat. Beethoven’s Symphony 5. His slim, tapered fingers dance on the white and black keys of the baby grand piano – the first notes ramp to a fevered pitch, and the roller-coaster implodes my anxiety. His fingers are lacquered in dark soil, potting petunias and hibiscus, pulling weeds in the garden. They are wrapped in white gold rings, plucking his bass guitar, shimmering in sweat; they run a terry towel over his lean, shining torso on the peloton.

I crash into the present.

The piano is under a dusty tent in the corner of the sunroom, and the guitar is suspended on the north wall in the basement. His fingers aren’t twitching now but playfully digging between my thighs.
‘Why aren’t you asleep?’
‘How can you tell?’
His chest quivers with suppressed laughter. ‘You are my body.’ I clasp his wandering hand and trace the wrist to the smooth, now brightly colored, varnished nails; painting our nails was a new preoccupation.
‘I prefer yours… what do you think? His splayed fingers held up when he was done, snaggle tooth peeking forth, mischief dancing eyes daring me to say otherwise.

The cool of dawn pushes through the window net, causing a percussion of vertical blinds against the glass pane. I shiver, and he pulls me closer. For a moment, I’m not drowning in doctor appointments. I’m not drowning in the aftermath of procedures, each offering an elusive respite. I’m not drowning in cabinets and countertops overrun with pillboxes. I latch onto his hope momentarily, and my head bops above the raging waters. His lips brush my temple, his breath becomes mine, and the waves abate. I’m traveling in uncharted waters, praying for pearls, not a kiss from the stingray.

I count to thirty and start again.














Photo by Tobias Tullius on Unsplash