Beautiful
Martin Bush

She shifts, and breathes, quicker now than a moment ago. There is a little movement, and then a little more. Lids crack, and pupils dilate. The lamp clicks harshly and light trickles in along with thought and memory. A person emerges from the twilight depths, shining in twin orbs there, ephemeral. Faces align and we look, and I see her looking at me looking at her. I try to wear my emotion on my face, project it to her, and crack the mask that I placed there long ago. As always, I fail, but hope still. Hope that she feels my regard and the soft tenderness inside, hidden but nurtured, treasured, a warm glow. I know she doesn’t. I think she knows it’s there, fears it, but fights it, yet needs to hear it. I can say nothing.
We rise and the chance is lost. The day takes over, mundane tasks are managed with intense indifference. We don our armor. Mine is sharp, thick, and strong. Cast from quips and snappy replies, spines that look deadly, but bend when pressed. Her mail is soft and silent, made of powders and cloth, with scents like flowers. It gives under strain, flexes and deflects rather than resists. She feels every probe but nothing makes it through. I feel little until mine is sundered, and the soft, pink chunks spill out to glimmer wetly in the harsh light. Sometimes she picks them up and puts them back, other times I must do it. I wish I could reciprocate.
It’s a wonder that our orbits coincide, with such phantom failures between us, such misperceptions, miscommunication, misinterpretation, unpleasant disarticulation. In the car I try again. I modulate tone and choose terms with a clockmaker’s care. The mechanical grammar of a water pump, sucking at the heart of the earth. I avoid expression in favor of accuracy, but the emotion is lost and the words are cheap. Dry. The failure is felt in the gut. Time is insufficient. We part.
The day moves without us. We meet, briefly, in the middle, in the harsh light, and roughly synchronize our experiences, then part again.
The stars are dim and cool when the armor is finally removed, layer by layer, like skin. The windings are unwound in preparation for oblivion, racing minds are forced, carefully, to stillness. Here, now, another few moments. Faces align and we look. I try emotion now, letting words flow unchecked. They quiver in stillness, abortive, crude, graceless; no match for our finely honed cynicism. Laughter saves the moment, changes the context. The attempt is set aside. The lamp clicks, she breathes, she shifts. She sleeps.