by Sionnain Buckley
After Aiden moves their things into my apartment, lines up their collection of plants on the windowsill and adds their pile of sweaters to the shelf in the closet, once all of their suitcases are emptied and the cardboard boxes are flattened and resting on the curb, they walk me back to my bedroom (our bedroom now) and ask me if I want them—not in so many words, but with a sleepy grin, an arm around my waist, thumbs grazing against skin like a question. Before this, before they lived with me (yesterday, this morning, but gone already), there were no begging fingers in the bedroom, no beloved face breathing next to me, wanting, and wanting me to want. Curry, I say, let’s have curry for dinner—a pivot, Aiden knows it, knows that no sometimes comes out like can we eat now, can we watch a comedy tonight, can we talk about something else, anything, please, so that my no feels easier, cleaner—and they follow me down to the kitchen (our kitchen) and we stand beside each other at the counter, at the matching rainbow cutting boards, chop carrots and cauliflower and bell peppers, chop the onions into crescent moons and laugh as our eyes burn, laugh as we cry.
During the day when we disappear to work, I almost forget they are here in this city, until my stomach starts aching around lunchtime and I think about dinner, about not having enough vegetables in the house, and isn’t their new office closer to the good supermarket—what a novel thing to offhandedly text them the grocery list instead of blocking in time to talk on the phone across time zones and state lines and conflicting schedules; instead of running our data plans into the ground with hours of FaceTime calls we can just go home. Each evening Aiden returns home on the 88 bus a half hour after me, and I have to remind myself they are not an intruder unlocking the door and edging up the steps. First, before they do anything else, even untie their shoes or hook their keys onto the nail by the landing, they peek around the fridge into the kitchen, step forward, wait for me to wrap my arms around them and remember they are here. Gently they give me the reins because they know I have been afraid of this: this single set of rooms, this growing into one another, this never being gone—Aiden, I repeated in whispered phone calls before, what if I can’t give you what you want, what if we’re too close, what if we run out of air? Here was the predicament: we had perfected how to live hundreds of miles away from each other, and I had settled safely into the long stretches where I didn’t have to think of their body, their hands always reaching, their mouth full of hunger, their heart a tangible mound of flesh instead of a word typed into a screen (my heart, my heart). I take Aiden into my arms, I tell them I brought ice cream home from their favorite shop, I already started the mashed potatoes for dinner, I’d been dreaming about some baking we could do this weekend, and they only laugh—more food, always more food, they say, before we’ve even eaten dinner you’re onto dessert, and the next meal and the next.
June sneaks up on us like it’s playing a joke: Aiden’s been here two weeks and the sun shines the whole time, until the first comes with rain and a damp chill that fills the apartment, makes us jump from toe to toe on the cold bathroom tiles in the morning, shiver as we take turns hovering over the ceramic toilet seat. Kiss me, Aiden whispers from behind me as I wash my hands, and I catch their eyes in the mirror, their face a round frowning plea—it will warm us both, I think, and press them up against the towel rack, lean into the tender opening of their mouth, lips I’d forgotten, tongue I hadn’t tasted since they’d arrived, and aren’t they warm, isn’t there something inching up the center of me: bile or desire, it takes too long to tell.
Like that, it’s over, and I step away from them, fingers lingering down their arm like an apology, leaving them to shower while I dress in the half-lit bedroom, mouth buzzing, licking the sweet remnants of toothpaste from the corners of my lips. Maybe I could’ve kept kissing them, maybe I kissed them too long to politely stop, maybe they are under the hot water now thinking of my mouth, frustrated, wet fingers finding themself, shoulder blades pressing against the cold tile wall, maybe—I button my shirt, tuck it into my slacks with careful hands, then go out to the kitchen to make us both some breakfast.
No one, I often say to myself, will ever touch me again—an interesting declaration when I know it isn’t true, but the sentiment remains, I remain, rooted in moments of not wanting, of never wanting, of nervous anticipation of those seconds when my body hoodwinks itself into wanting—Aiden whispers at a certain decibel into the curve of my ear and my muscles loosen (all of a sudden I realize they were tensed, for how long?), and I reach for their hips knowing full well where it will get me, where it will leave me, this something so basely good, and so agonizing.
Over dinner one Friday night—over our piles of roasted vegetables, our misshapen loaf of homemade rye bread—I watch Aiden drag their finger along the edge of their plate, snag a scatter of breadcrumbs and lick their finger clean: a simple gesture, a private one. Privacy is now something we reach for in stolen minutes alone in separate rooms, or else it’s something we’ve surrendered to allow for the other joy, that of witnessing—I watch them now: ripping off a crust of bread and wiping it along their plate, soaking up the olive oil and salt; pinching a broccoli floret between their fingers and taking it into their mouth in one bite, fingertips shining, lips shining; they watch me watching them, their eyes don’t leave mine, they eat, they chew slowly, they lick their hands clean. Quickly it comes, this desire to taste the rye on their tongue, the salt on their bottom lip, to take them into me, sate myself—they can see it too, they can tell, but all I can manage is to wrap my ankle around theirs under the table, press my heel against the curve of their calf and fill my mouth with bread.
Raspberry chip for Aiden and mint chip for me: we let ourselves digest our dinner, but soon enough we’re at it again, ice cream scooped into mismatched mugs and paired with a movie, something with a sex scene that leaves Aiden inching closer on the couch, reaching for me—this is where our nights end up, buzzing and resisting, allowing and withholding, the dance of it. Sideways on the couch they face me, the credits rolling, the mugs empty, the room dark, and I try to assess what they may want, what I may need, knowing that I might not know until we’ve already started, until we’re halfway done, until the crest rises painfully over the length of me and cannot be stopped.
This is what follows then: they take me up to bed, they try to touch me in the places it doesn’t hurt, and they let me touch them which has always been easier, but it doesn’t last long, we are too tired to take it as slow as I need, and so we settle, quiet but for our slowing breath. Under our blankets, under the quilt and the sheets ripe with drying sweat, they are soft against me, their leg hair catching in mine in that old familiar way—and under my skin, under the veins beneath it, there is a small hunger to reach for them again, to taste with tongue and fingers, and then lower, under that hunger, a sprawling desire to remain still. Very gently, as if it may break one of us, I run my thumb along the curve of Aiden’s jaw, rest it there in the divot below their lip—but they don’t react, they’ve fallen asleep, their breath steady and indifferent against my wrist.
When morning rises around us and we wake on opposite sides of the bed, we stretch our arms out with our eyes still closed and feel for skin, for something to wrap ourselves around—like this, pressed tight, we formulate plans for our day, make our grocery lists in the notes on our phones, recount our dreams in whispery snippets, and whine about how sunny it is and how far the coffeemaker is from our mouths. Xavier and Ari want to meet us for lunch, Aiden says, then buries their head farther into the mass of pillows and hair, maybe tacos, they add from some muffled place close to my ear. Yes to tacos, I say, and pull them from the bed, towards the coffee and the day, towards breakfast and thoughts of lunch, guacamole and oatmeal and black beans and berries and hot sauce tumbling together as we make our way to the kitchen to find what to eat. Zigzagging across the tile floor, still clumsy with sleep, we throw open the cabinets and the fridge and look at everything in front of us, all the bright things waiting—our stomachs growl like two animals recognizing each other, and we pause, catch eyes, and then step forward with ready hands.
Sionnain Buckley is a writer and visual artist based in Boston. Her work has appeared in Hobart, Winter Tangerine, Wigleaf, Strange Horizons, CutBank, and others. Her flash has been nominated for Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, and Best of the Net, and won first place in Exposition Review’s Flash 405 contest. She serves as Art and Prose Editor at 3Elements Review. More of her work can be found at sionnainbuckley.com.