Not All The Ways I Will Be Scared by Emily Manno
You are one year too late. You must have known this because even from miles away, the lit coal in my stomach that continuously glows must have warmed the walls of your bedroom as you stare at your ceiling remembering me. It’s easy to hold my hand when the drawstring of your stomach pulls tight, when were you thinking of untying mine? I guess I shouldn’t have held my breath for so long.
I sat at the bow as my oar sliced the lake in half and didn’t think about failure. Bug clouds are only the sum of their parts. Real clouds are swollen, distended bellies leaking their juices at the wrong time. You think I’m gross, I can feel your thinking in my small intestine like the stick of gum I chewed last year. You remind me that this is an urban myth. You remind me that this is why I shouldn’t want a lakeside house, the bugs would never leave me and I’d carry them with me to your coffee shop and exhale.
I can be brave and write about spreading a plague unto your place of business, placing a pox on your mother’s chickens. I can furnish my living room with plush, overstuffed excuses. My stomach is charred, my drawstrings so tight they could strangle a thick-necked bear, and I’ve had this dream so many times I could recite it on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. This time last year, they put a camera inside me to see the damage done, turns out the walls were coated in cave drawings telling our future. I’ve never been good at endings, never have been able to feel the bottom with my toes.
Colors exist that we can never see, no matter the time of day. Perception is a selfish concept, how many names for shades of blue does it take before we realize they’re all just tricks of the sun? Schizophrenia has a smell, vinegar rising up out of the body and onto the walls, into the talking doors. She wants to be a marine biologist, under water the sun shatters and stripes in three dimensions. When they appear in schools, mahi-mahi swallow the sun in pieces. If excited, shining back. Dying mahi-mahi fade to black. Her doctor would recommend draining the fish for their oils. What does she think I smell like?
Was he always like this, or rather, when I sat next to him on that bench did he form in my gustatory cortex fully formed, a bad taste I can’t spit out? I could eat lemon sorbet until we meet again. I could. I only used to eat the color orange, stained into noodles or cut into crackers. I’d leave trails of smudges along the walls, around picture books in little half-moons. Two weeks before I met him, I liked the mouthfeel of yellow, he didn’t survive the life cycle of my taste buds.
We are spinning in one direction until our shadow shifts. This is the new we, the new optical illusion. When I see we in the morning, I see only shades of skin with light veins around the edges. We are still in a morning phase, the sun illuminates our face so forcefully our craters are blinded. When I see her next, I will practice her breathing exercises until she tells me they aren’t working.
I dreamed about you five times this week. Once, you were standing behind me in line waiting to check out, I didn’t know where we were and couldn’t tell by the items in your basket. Once, you surprised me right before a storm, you learned my new address and stood staring up at me as the clouds rolled in and I woke up staring back. Once, it was you who forgave me, and I crawled behind you at your heels with my mouth open. Twice, I don’t remember, but twice, I had to scrub my tongue for a full minute before I felt the morning breath leave me.
I can only talk about two things: what can’t be fixed and what I can’t fix. I can pin you by your arms and legs and speak softly, louder if I need to, and tell you this is all a dream and where you are and what your name is today. I can teach you which worms are flavored best, what fish will eat which flesh. If I show you how to fish, you’ll eat until the river runs dry, sometime next year, and you’ll ask me for rivers with more water. If I can’t find them with my fingers in the dirt, it means the worms aren’t yet fat enough and should be thrown back.
I can’t make you ask me, but I will ask you this: why am I asking you anything?
I’ve been eating cilantro for breakfast. Every day I wake up at 5 and crush the leaves between my fingers, green shreds beneath my nails and sprinkled in my hair. I can’t taste the aldehyde, the earthy cleanliness squeaking through the stems that get stuck in my teeth. It always tasted sweet to me.
I knew a man who would wander the halls of the hospital with his tongue between his teeth searching for deer. His brother told me that when he was home he would go missing for days, making his home in the woods behind their trailer and returning with deer soap operas. Dancer has been sleeping with Vixen’s wife, nobody wants to tell Donner he’s Cupid’s father. The kinds of stories that would break your heart.
When you finally told me what you did, it drowned me. When we were on the rooftop of that apartment over the coffee shop in June, we were oversaturated, the air diluted our colors and protected our features. I could feel every beading drop of air combing against my scalp as you fed me a beer and told me a joke about polar bears. Once again, we all watched you laugh to yourself as the joke exhaled helium and fell wrinkled and pale against the concrete. I drove you home, opened all of my windows and tried to recognize us.
“I’m tired of mourning people who are still alive.” I’m tired of mourning intimate strangers. When I lay in bed that night, I thought of all the times I laughed at jokes that weren’t, of all the times I waved at people who weren’t greeting me. I wonder why it always feels like this.
Emily Manno is a resident of Pittsburgh working in an inpatient mental health facility and writing poetry in her spare time. Her work focuses on her experiences on the job, her personal relationships (romantic and otherwise), and imagery that ties these together.
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