They hire him to take up gravestones in old cemetery grounds. Pay him by the hour, to tease out lichen lost names, note them, in neat, thin rows of records only his eyes will read, and murmur each syllable into the fresh split of dark soil before the groundsman comes with his sack of grass seed, already whistling to no one at all.
The fridge stinks again, the thing lolling at the back, sweating, sickly sweet, cling film wrapped and taunting as if to say ‘this is just your desert for peeling me down till we both cried shameless, and you held a knife like a question.’
Why do that to yourself? Play around with perfection, even if it was only skin deep, and the smoothness of these curves turned your stomach at night, when dusk settles its hands either side of your hips, presses into the grooves where his tools worked you into beauty. Mounted you his sculpture for all men to see. Do you not appreciate how his love made you into a woman worth seeing?
Last night I dreamed you real. Felt you within the softness of my belly. Loved you an existence. Broke my heart open, when this dream came loose. Woke to pre-dawn, a sleeping husband, a house just the same, and an ache too close to grief for someone not quite here yet.
She call them lollygagger, adjusted the folds of her scarf, let them watch her fingers trace the sweep of her collarbone like a wink but not an invitation. Clutched at the other hand with smaller, damp digits unsure eyes flickered from her to the jackal-backed boys circling their cigarettes, tongues dragging across their teeth. Nothing to be afraid of dear.
One of the men lifted his head and looked at me as we sloped past the ash fields, and rows of toilers like grey bamboo canes if bamboo was stooped and bent with brittle hands knuckle white against the plastic handled hoes. Her hands, smaller, firmer, sure, came down on my shoulders shadowed his face with fear. An explanation in a classroom pretending it isn’t an excuse claims to be progress, claims to be a new world built on the broken bones of the last. Mothers scream during childbirth. There is blood and pain and sometimes death. We are lucky we are not all toiling. If the old world had their way who knows what would have happened? We are smarter these days we can laugh at the facts that shattered when the world changed. Who know what will happen at the next night rise.
Stung between garden fences twilight coaxed you outside, to the square of wilding lawn uncut from summer’s end, the coils of wood smoke streaked with petrol rising above an evening glow of light behind closed panes as one by one they too flickered out.
You. It’s burnt into my memory that open mouthed gape swallowing my words, and the back turned mid-sentence on an answer to a question you had asked only for the slow spin, arm triangled over your head as you scratched your scalp, and those frown scrunched nostrils somehow still flared in a state of confusion when I refused to speak to a man not facing me.
And I wondered if the sight of me wavering excited you. Like a candle flame dancing, your palm held just inside the heat. Contemplating the risk of snuffing me out altogether. Extinguishing that light with one blow one fist closing tight. Did I excite? Not the exact word for tonight’s Quadrille prompt, but a form of it is there, and according to the rules that’s alright.
I’m very English sometimes, apologising to the stranger staggering by, shoulder swung into mine, sorry caught in the air with the dust cloud he trails. So I’ll repeat in case repetition makes up for distance, for an inability to find fire until much later on when I am a city or more away and still thinking about bone and muscle and a sharp snap of ‘move now!’ No please.