One afternoon, the friend across the cafe table leans on an elbow to chat about dress shoes and you recount a catalogue of textures as though unspooling a beloved story. Suede. I want patent leather. Black, no doubt! Brown, maybe. I like shiny things.
Tuck the scuffed sneaker feet beneath the chair, don’t kick them. Move the dark ribbon of hair that swings into your face.
Sling back. Heel strap. So glad we got to catch up. Polish your laugh.
What it feels like between your legs the next day
after he rambled home and what is it
that’s so unsettling in your relief at his departure, what knocks
inside the silence bumping around in your head, the quiet
like a thin breath, the yellow crinkle of bathroom light, caught
by his used condom in the trash can, why you felt like throwing
up for a sec when you saw it, what is surging through this quiet
You do not ask those questions
Get a nice haircut. Do not tangle your mind in thoughts without clean end points.
You tend to wander inside feelings like unwrapping a whole bolt of blue silk. People think it’s odd. It makes them nervous. Keep it to yourself.
Here comes the Beloved Boyfriend’s predictable embrace, clutching his own elbows around the back of your shoulderblades to pull you in tight.
You put on the fancy lace underwear. It doesn’t make you too itchy. You look pretty.
Everything in its rightful place.
He shows up suddenly, in your apartment doorway, fidgeting; or, crowding
your path across campus, bumping your backpack; or, his crew cut bobbing
beneath the cobwebs on your parents’ porch, leaning in to kiss.
You ignore the sour way his mustache smells.
He will fit his wants inside you as though they had a place waiting, carved
and marked with his name. Let his hands peel
and wander. Breathe like it feels good. Squeeze your eyes
shut when it hurts or squint into the bedsheets
or toss a glance past his frown when he insists
that you look at him.
Tell yourself this is love: Every thing in its rightful place.)
Everyone adores the Beloved Boyfriend. Here he is again, fingers fluttering the back of your shirt, a single black hair dropping from his neck to the crack in your kitchen counter. The house smells of ginger, and steam. He is teaching you to cook his mother’s fish.
You float the idea that your mother loves you. Your father loves your mother. Every affectionate couple is in love. The Beloved Boyfriend, of course, loves you.
All of it is good enough.
Each night, fall asleep like a block of stone and awake
like surfacing, eyes closed, from the depth of a swimming pool.
will muddle themselves
in the blackhole-darkness,
then cease to arrive.
Tell yourself that love is the peace in the wordless quiet that balloons in your mind. Almost emptied of feelings. You smile out from this lie you’ve slipped into, like a creamy, satin-lined coat that won’t quite fit but everyone loves on you. How dreamy, how lucky. He loves you.
When the dream crashes in through the murky meander of your sleep: the Beloved Boyfriend cold-faced, swinging an ax, raging. stone-
mouthed, eyes set in a clamped
determination, swinging to chip your shoulder, staggering,
chopping you, your arms
and legs ripped open, again, and again, your stumbling, broken scramb-
ling. Again. Again. Each time you stand up and face him
renewed, and you look for him in his eyes, for
a kindness melting into his
cheekbones, and instead the hard pupils locking death in on your thin body.
Again. Again. Ax
blade hungering and arcing for your skin, him stumble-lunging and nothing, nothing,
nothing in his face that looks like love.
When you awake, one
knee thumping off your narrow mattress, he’s on his back beside you, snoring into the ceiling. The room is cold and damp. Your chest is pounding and
you have nowhere else to go.
When the dream comes you have nowhere to go.)
Breathe in quiet. Keep breathing.
Turn your back. Sit up. He sprawls and clicks his teeth, habit of sleep.
You put on socks in the blue-dark
and shuffle past the mouth of closet, glint of
squeak of bedroom doorway.
Stalk across the shadowed apartment.
Pace the hallway. What you want is
Fingertips brush front door. You slip on his jumble of sneakers. Shit.
He will wake
and where in the night could you go? Outside, wind and dirty streetlights.
Every window dark. Hold still. Tell the legs they don’t feel like kicking. Everyone loves the Beloved Boyfriend. Tell yourself that dreams and life are separate.
Your knees twitch. A midnight wilderness unfurls itself into the dark of the hall. Like a hole punched in you, like an ocean breaking its boats, like a whole roll of silk, recklessly unwound and flapping behind you as you gasp this night quiet in and out of your lungs. What you want is
what you want is,
what you want is to want what you want, what you want, what you want, what you want—
What you want is to Run.
Sarah Dayley is a midwest-based Californian and recent Hambidge Fellow, whose work can be found in the Berkeley Poetry Review, West Trade Review, and Interdisciplinary Writer's Lab anthology.