“Kiss me first, but open your mouth.”
Today is Marianne’s nineteenth birthday. This is the way the day begins, with her tan body wrapped in my sheets. She is propped up on one arm, elbow locked, her free hand wiping at her eyes. I am taken by the shape of her legs, the yellowed bruises on her shins, scrapes on her knees. I want to run my tongue over the brown scabs there, taste the taste of old blood and new skin forming, dirty metal and salt. I want to taste her, everything she’s got for me.
I spent the night on the couch, my fingers through the holes in the afghan, wearing its yarn like a ring on every finger, like textured brass knuckles. My apartment was hot, but I needed its weight on me to sleep. But it was hard to do that with her in my bed, knowing she was there, sweating, no doubt, on my sheets.
And when what I wanted came, when she made her way from the bedroom down the hallway to the living room where I was, waiting for this but dreading the pull I knew would come with it, I kept my eyes on the television until she spoke. I was watching the last guest on the late, late show—a young sitcom actress I didn’t recognize, but I like the way she smiled at the host’s jokes. She didn’t laugh, only smiled, and this alone aged her by decades, I thought. But Marianne stood there, watching the light from the television add colors to my face, the white wall behind me, and she said, “It’s so hot.”
I asked, “Did this wake you?” I meant the television.
And she said, “No. It’s this heat.” The ice pack had slid from her knee to her ankle, but the muscles were still swollen, I could tell, her skin in the TV’s light where the pack had been a rosy pink. Condensation ran down her shin. She leaned against the wall in the hallway, favoring that leg, watching me like I watched her, discomforted and exhausted. She did not put her heel to the floor.
When I got up from the couch, pushing the afghan aside, she said, “How can you even let that touch you?”
I said, “It’s the weight. I need it to sleep.”
With my arm around her waist, she pressed against me and the heat from her body was different from that of the afghan, or the sofa cushions, or my hair against my neck. She could move fairly well despite the swelling, but for support she put her hand on my back between my shoulder blades anyway and said, “You’re hot as hell.”
She sat on the bed and I kneeled before her, working the ice pack over her foot, her toes pointed. She said, “It’s like you’re fitting me for shoes.”
I went to the kitchen and got her another ice pack. Stiff and frosty, it showed my mark when I placed it on her knee: my handprint melted through to the plastic.
I said, “You don’t need a towel?”
She shook her head, pressed the pack so that it curved over her kneecap.
I pushed the bedroom closet doors open, surprised by their stubbornness, their stickiness in this humidity. I didn’t need the light. I knew the box fan was in the far right corner, behind my suitcase and beneath the toolbox that I’ve never used, had no use for. Except for its box cutter. But the hammer, the wrench, the tape measure are still beneath a thin protective plastic covering.
I never take the fan out because it is the only thing I have left from Amber.