The chairs creak, creak like they always do. There’s a body in the chair now. Makes the chair creak louder, the legs digging themselves into the floor like they can’t handle your weight. You weigh next to nothing. One more creak and there’ll be a body on the ground. Digging itself into the floor like it was too polite to let someone else take a shovel to the earth. Too polite to let a shovel pierce the earth.
There is a cup in front of me. It is filled with water that has yet to become tea. I drag the tea bag up by its string and notice it is a man. The mug is a lake, and he is swimming. The water is warm, it’s a good day for swimming. I dunk the man halfway under and he is treading water furiously. I drag him up by his hair and he is standing on a rock he’s found.
I let him go. He is diving, sinking, drowning.
He’s dead. His blood colors the water in waves until it's sunset red.
“Drink your tea.”
I lift the mug to my lips, wondering if this makes me a vampire. Does it matter that his blood’s diluted with lake water? Dissolved bits of limestone? Limestone contains calcium. Perhaps this makes his blood more nutritious.
I look up and there you are, teacup perched delicately in porcelain hand. Pinky tilted up, a forty-five-degree angle. Like a bird’s tail. All you ever drink is tea. Tea and tea and tea and waterthatmightaswellbetea. You dip your tea bag into your water and it’s a ballerina, hands fixed together atop her fragile head, eyes uplifted as she floats into a plié. She’s like you. Ever looking up. Like you can see heaven. I tell myself I’d take advantage of the view too, if I could see it.
“Faith, look at me.”
“I am looking.”
You narrow your eyes, and your ballerina bends lower, ducking her head in an arabesque. Does she realize she’s on a puppet string? I wonder if it would make a difference if she knew. Would it affect her dancing? Her eyes are still lowered, but I think I see a tear fall out of the left one. Maybe she knows the water’s too deep. Maybe she knows she’s on a string and if it snapped, she’d die.
Your face is made up of thousands of tiny gnats, flying synchronized as they gossip with each other. You clear your throat. They assemble themselves into your face. I blink.
You have a habit of trailing your words, sending them off on long, lavish journeys they seldom come back from. I wonder if we’d find them all if we ever went looking for them. Some in Bermuda, some lying cursed at the bottom of a lake. I try to envision their bodies, H’s curled into themselves at unnatural angles, C’s stretched into I’s. Blood in the water. Sunset colored blood wafting in ribbons like kites.
“If I went to St. Louis for a week…”
Your words board a plane to Antarctica, wringing their hands, weeping as they stare out the windows and into the eyes of loved ones. A flight attendant feigns sympathy as she guides them through safety procedures. Just in case the plane nose-dives into the sea. In the event of inevitable disaster. Some of them probably wish they could fall into the sea. Some of them probably wouldn’t try to save themselves, and so stop their ears with handkerchiefs as the attendant drones in her sing-song voice. She is like a thousand gossiping gnats, vying for their attention. They hope she never materializes into the woman who could save them.
“…would you be fine at Grandma’s?”
I blink and try to think if I’ve heard you right. You never go anywhere that isn’t your ballet studio or the grocery store.
“Faith, I asked if-”
“Why? Where are you going?”
Your pinky droops, just for a second, but I’ve seen it and you know I’ve seen it. You cover your mouth with the back of your hand as you clutch your tea tightly with the other. The ballerina is long forgotten, twirling alone on an empty stage.
“There’s a place...”
I wonder if this is the same place your missing words go. I wonder if it’s a special cemetery for that sort of thing. I wonder if you’re going to visit them, all the innocent articles and verbs and prepositions you’ve banished to another life. I wonder if they’ve found life after death, purpose after being extinguished so abruptly.
“It’s a type of- “
This time your words are hacked off. There is no coming back from what has been done to them now. They are no longer themselves, no longer afforded the luxury of being buried in one piece. Appendages are scattered everywhere, the aftermath of a train wreck. Here, an arm; here, a head with still-blinking eyes. Over there beside the tracks- a mouth bemoaning its unfortunate end.
“Here is the sandwich you asked for. Turkey and cheese?”
“Yes, thank you, it’s for her.”
You smile with your eye teeth instead of your eyes as the waiter clears a space in front of me for my plate. I help him by piling condiments and a jar of syrup to the side of our tiny table. Our waiter asks with his eyes if everything’s there and you nod to signal his departure.
I busy myself with my sandwich, creating a landscape: a mountain, a valley, a stream. The stream I create by tipping my water glass over my plate, letting just enough leak before I hear your throat clear. It carves its own path in rivulets, traveling dangerously close to the whole-wheat bread and baby carrots. It looks like a slug’s trail, I think. All streams resemble slug’s trails, water reminiscent of mucus as it shimmers current-less in the sun. The carrots I make trees, and the sandwich a mountain. The trees are thin here, in the alpine region. They are the only trees that can grow this high up. Some of them are cut down, their corpses lying ridged on their sides. There has been a forest fire here. It was dry season and the woods forgot to warn the people about what fire can do. Many died. Many injured. I hear a popping noise and look up to find you with gum in your mouth.
“It’s a place to help me get better.”
I wait for the gnats to assemble. You’ve blown a giant pink bubble and it looks like a fishbowl hanging from your face. I think of the goldfish I used to have that died. I went to visit it one morning and it had disintegrated. I think it had grown envious of the way water can be in all places at once. The bubble pops and your lips are covered in pink string. Stitched closed.
“From what? Are you sick?”
You raise your teacup to your lips again, but don’t try to unstitch them. You look up, probably locking eyes with an angel. Your neck is as thin as a stork’s.