The first time I dreamt of you I was in a ballroom with vaulted ceilings, something I had seen in a movie sometime long ago. I danced with a man too tall for comprehension; I was at eye level with his knees and when I tilted my head upwards I could see his chest fading off into the distance. I hooked my arms around the backs of his legs and tried to keep in step with him as well as I could, but it was hard to tell what direction he was going to move in next.
A large hand descended from the sky and twirled my body, once, twice, too many times to count, until I felt sick, until I felt as though if the world did not stop spinning around me I would drop to the ground.
Eventually I slowed to a stop facing away from the man, and that’s when I saw the
shimmering back of you. You were so like a dream in yourself, insubstantial, fleeting, moving from once dancing partner to the next with a smoothness that defied logic. You dipped and you shimmied. Your skirts swirled around you one moment, then fell from you entirely the next, revealing slacks and a white button-up shirt, slicked back hair and a devilish smile.
You ping-ponged to the man and he released me. When I found my footing you were
there, grinning. One hand extended, the other pressed to the small of your back. Folding myself into your arms was like coming home, coming to bed, coming. You pressed your lips against my hair and laughed, laughed. I choked on the sudden surge of feelings in my throat like smoke. The skirts were back and when I tripped on them and fell forward into the ocean of fabric, it felt as if I was drowning.
You were in my bed. Skin like paper, thin and fragile. Your thumb rubbed the spot above my eyebrow where a headache was beginning to form. You kissed me soft as air. And then you were gone.
Our courtship was meteoric. Down dusty canal trails, in fields fenced with barbed wire, in the middle of pockmarked back roads, you held my hand and your lips traveled the expanse of my body and when your fingers slipped lower I held my breath. Counted. Released.
Once, we chased the sunset. You were melancholy, pensive. You seemed supremely out of place in my shitty car, biting your nails and leaning your head as far out of the open window as you could. Still, there was something soft about you, the edges of you blurred and ran together, sinuous, loose. Tenuously held between the night and reality. The seatbelt I insisted you wear beating gravity at keeping you grounded.
I only tasted you once. Your eyes remained open, your expression inscrutable and
unchanging. I longed to resemble those masculine women I imagined when I was alone at night, all force and energy and beauty and demand, like David but drenched in sweat. You placated me by humming pleasantly and running your fingers through my short hair as if distracted.
Later you sat in the brush, pulling wings from butterflies, the petals from sunflowers. I
don’t know where you acquired either metaphor, but it seemed like a very natural progression of events at the time.
I can’t pinpoint when it began, but eventually you became cruel so that the rest of the
world didn’t have to. The stares of the after-school program boys, working on trucks or feeding pigs or smoking cigarettes, told me that I would not have had to wait long for them to do it themselves.
It was not a gradual progression.
It was burning flesh and irritable pinches and a hot, cutting voice that melted through my joy like butter. You would appear briefly to me or not at all. The dreams became tedious, frightening, dark. The ballroom became an attic where I walked along a hallway lined with coffins. Some of them were as short as the length between my wrist and my elbow. I crouched down, read the inscription on one, and immediately woke and vomited across my own blanket covered lap.
I have always been a firm believer in magic.
Scary magic. Love magic. Nature magic. Magic to curdle your blood and drain the blood from your face. Magic that illuminated the beauty of all things. You were both. You were all. You were everything and nothing, nothing I could name, nothing I could touch, nothing I could keep. A faerie, a shooting star, otherworldly. The moon reflected in the sluggish canal water. The setting sun. The trees, the breeze. I could not place you. You were everything.
I was not your first. I would not be your last. Spirits are fickle like that, I know. I wasn’t
offended. I was wounded deeply, before and after the fact. The cool touch of you healed some and created them anew, gashes that festered and would never scab over as long as I lived.
I loved you. And I suppose you loved me enough to let me love something real, a real, living, breathing, fucking human.
And I still do. I miss conversations we never had. Words you were never able to say. For magic or curse or what, I never knew. You were silent and enigmatic, always, even the last time you came to see me. Years, years, years later, far from the valley that you had made your home so long ago.
Your hands grazed my shoulder blades. Tearing the wings from butterflies, the petals
from sunflowers, pain for sake of it. I was trembling. You smiled, the dazzling smile that made me weak at all my joints and pulled my heart up through my throat and into my mouth and past my lips.
“I hate you.”
Your smile never faltered, never faded. Your nails elongated, dragged down the length of my back to my tailbone. Your teeth grew large and bloody. Your pupils dilated until all the color in your eyes disappeared and you were just the night, the night all along, the night above the dry, barren land that housed my childhood.
No one ever asks about my scars when they tenderly pull the clothes from my body, now thick and ropy. I think it’s because they are afraid of breaking the spell of me, the magic in me, the part of me that refuses to be seen.
The part of you that is left in me.
Csilla Richmond grew up in Modesto, California and got her BA in English Literary Studies at Humboldt State University in Arcata. She's been published in Lavender Review and Calliope, the literary magazine of University of the Pacific. She has work forthcoming in the debut issue of the Hellebore, scheduled to appear in December.
She currently lives in Sacramento with her beautiful wife-to-be, two dogs, and cat. She spends most of her days reading or writing and works at a used bookstore on the side.