The sun lies, the sun lies as the breeze creeps up my legs, my thighs. It’s winter here, a sunny winter, and I’m both warm and cold inside.
“It’s mine, and you can’t have it,” I say.
He leans in, his elbow on the oily table, on the breadcrumbs.
“I feel so at home in my own skin,” I say.
He doesn’t try to fill the silence but watches me grapple with words in my head: a girl grasping at dandelion clocks.
“Es tan mía,” I say.
He smiles at this last part. I smile a closed smile in return; I smile because he does. It’s not a bad sign that he’s not my home; and he’s mature enough to be OK with that, secure enough that he needn’t constitute my entire world.
There’s chorizo between my back teeth; I stab at it, stab at it with my tongue, and Alex’s brows raise.
“I like that you’re independent,” he says.
Doesn’t it scare him? Doesn’t it scare him that I prefer my own company to his? that I don’t need him? that he will always be a choice, not a given? He’s the luxury I afford myself; he’s the diamond ring that sparkles on my thumb, index finger, pinkie: superfluous, really, and far from a promise.
The waiter collects our empty beer bottles. Four. I’ve one more, and it flows, we flow, this is flowing. Here, now, but not always.
People speak of a fluidity as though it were permanent, a steady stream, pipes that never clog; but ours do, sometimes, and we need plumbing before we flow once more. And it’s OK, it’s just a blockage, we’re not broken, I’m not broken. I’m not broken for dissociating, I’m not broken for seeing him as a stranger sometimes, I’m not broken for retaining my independence, for feeling more at home in my skin than in his. I am home, I have long been home, and he will always be a guest, welcome, but a guest all the same. And it’s comforting, it’s comforting to know that’s OK.
I lean across the oily table, the breadcrumbs, to caress his cheek and scratch his beard with my crooked fingernails; it pricks, it pricks like a rosebush.
“Bonito,” I say.
“Bonita,” says Alex.
Bonito, I always say. Bonito, guapo, precioso. I don’t tell him that I love him. I don’t tell him that I love him as he leans back in his chair, brushing breadcrumbs from his elbows; I don’t tell him that I love him as he orders another beer; I don’t tell him that I love him as he tilts his head and offers me the shy smile of a boy.
Alex is a boy, a peer, an equal; he’s a boy though he fills his chair, though his feet touch the ground, though his hands are hairy: dusted with flecks of the night sky.
I love his hands, I love his hair, but I don’t love the sunglasses he insists on wearing. I can’t see his eyes, I see only myself; and there’s a danger there, a danger in my jagged vanity, in my cutting egocentrism, in my glare.
He sips at his beer, a water droplet on his index finger, a fleck of dirt beneath his nail.
I don’t tell him to take off his glasses, I don’t tell him that I’m scared, I don’t tell him that I’m so self-sufficient that I could leave him tomorrow. I don’t tell him, though he knows. He knows I hurt though I’m numb, that a defence mechanism often manifests paradoxically, that self-preservation and self-sabotage are sisters. He knows that home, for me, means my own skin; it’s mine and you can’t have it.
“Are you alright with being a guest?” I ask.
I don’t see his eyes, but I see my forehead wrinkle up in his shades, see my brow waver like seaweed in a light current.
I’ve sought refuge in lovers like a hermit crab in shells. Shelter, shelter for a while, shelter which I always outgrow; they’re always temporary, never irreplaceable, shelter, never home. But Alex, Alex is different, Alex is welcome here.
“What do you mean?” he says. He was eyeing a cat, eyeing a cat in the park behind me.
“You’ll never be my home,” I say.
“But am I welcome?” he asks.
I nod like a woodpecker before taming my enthusiasm.
“Then that’s OK,” he assures me, reaching across the table to squeeze my wrist.
It’s OK. It’s OK to have spent seven years alone; it’s OK to dissociate; it’s OK to be self-reliant to the extent that nobody else exists, not really. And why? Why is it OK?
He takes my hand in his, signals the waiter with the other. He doesn’t mention my uneven nails, bleeding cuticles, chipped nail polish.
It’s OK because one day, when you least expect it, you stumble upon someone in silly sunglasses who understands your shine; someone who is happy to be a guest in your home, someone who doesn’t claim you, who rejoices in your independence, your humour, your intelligence, your strength, your courage, your weakness, your flaws, your prickly legs and ingrown hairs, the scab beside your nipple where you failed to remove the aforementioned flaw.
I’m not a Persian rug, not a leather couch, not an oak coffee table with a strategically placed book atop it; I’m not even a framed IKEA poster. If anything, I’m a tattered quilt, and Alex holds me as though I were his blankie. I’m not home, but I smell like it; I’m not home, but I’m familiar; I’m not home, but I’m there for all the road trips. I’m safe, soft, warm; I’m warmer than it is today.
The sun lies, the sun lies as the breeze creeps up my legs, my thighs. It’s winter here, a sunny winter, but I’m no longer cold inside. I could churn out a couple of metaphors, metaphors of melting ice (ugh), but suffice to say that I feel better now; I feel better knowing that I can be simultaneously independent and in love; I feel better knowing that my brilliance blinds only the ill-equipped. The plastic chairs grate against the concrete, concrete littered with candy wrappers and cigarette butts. That’s all, really, and we go home; we go home, wherever that is.