Kirby Wright’s work appeared in three prior issues of The Conium Review, and he has been published in numerous other literary magazines, including Pithead Chapel, Calliope, Drunken Boat, Monkey Puzzle, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and others. He is the author of several books, most recently Hong Kong Man (Lemon Shark Press, 2015).
It was back when we were kids, when I used to spend weekends at Taylor’s. Those days we would meet you in the mornings out by the single oak, where your yard met his, and work the day from our bones, get lost beyond belief. Those nights Taylor and I would imagine you and Kristen naked. We talked out the arcs of your skin, the way our bodies would meet and move and shudder, someday. But it happened on the afternoon Taylor found his father’s bow and arrow. We sat, you and I, on the fence beneath the heavy leaves and watched—sick to our stomachs—as he launched arrows straight into the blue, never knowing which to focus on: the femur-thin boy hopping circles or the arrow slithering earthward. You leaned into me that afternoon, I remember—so close feathers of your hair stuck to the wet of my lips—and whispered, weightless, That’s the sort of man I want to marry.
I don’t remember whose dog it was that got pinned beneath the bookcase. It was that 4th of July barbecue the first summer we drove home. He was a lab mix of some sort and flattened across the stomach. You were there before your niece started screaming, dropping to your knees and folding his wild head into your lap. And the two of you curled together, your hair and his fur tangling, your fire lipstick staining his ears. I couldn’t make out what you said, but I could hear the softness over everything else in the room. And I remember thinking I’d never heard you sing like that to me.
When my kid sister gave birth we were stuck in an airport in Chicago because we were trying to save and you’d decided the nonstop was too expensive. I remember saying I’d never forgive you.
In college we took Greek Mythology together and made faces at all the foolish stories the world had built itself upon. Years later, after a week of sour silence, I felt a guilty hope in the way that your voice fractured around breaths. You were calling from the side of the road, your car lifeless, you: tired and angry. Can you just come get me? Neither of us knew the language of apology, but this plea loosened something in my chest; there was an uncoiling in my body. But then, in the emptiness before you ended the call, I heard you cry soft that you were pathetic, nothing more than that spited goddess.
It was just after your birthday the last year you lived in Clinton Hill; when I was still looking for work in the city; when there was still cake in your fridge and bottles in the trash; when your roommate was still out of town and insisting we needed the space; when there were still flowers in the blue vase by your bed; when those words still crowded your shelves; when, still, we made love only when we couldn’t sleep; when that BMW skipped the curb and crumple into that apartment across the street. We stood together at your window and watched until the ambulance finally came, silent, blue and red. I remember the way you said it, like you felt it coming: Thank God we haven’t been in an accident like that.
You weren’t there when your father died. He was two months into it and I had insisted that you needed a break. We can’t refund the tickets anyways—and eventually you agreed. So we went and spent a half a week toeing eggshells in our hotel room, afraid to go out, afraid to laugh, before the sick finally took him and the call came. At the airport my relief was embarrassing; on the plane I apologized—for the way it happened, for the people we’d become, and for not stopping any of it. Then, I remember, after they dimmed the cabin lights, you, your hair, leaning to the window, quiet for so long I was sure you were sleeping.
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