She has a long-standing love affair with memory.
It comes to her bed between the lovers who find her in the corners of this city; in cafes and clubs, under streetlights. Men with broad shoulders and scarred hands, rough jaw lines and bedroom eyes – they seek her out subconsciously and find themselves entangled; heart-deep in damp sheets and raspberry hairstrands. They lick chocolate from her fingers in the half-light, and kiss that place behind her ear where her neck smells like cinnamon. In the mornings they wake, sated, enamored with the sight of her in nothing more than a button-down shirt -- too big, picked up off the floor. She is making coffee in the kitchen, hair swinging loose and heavy to her waist in blushing ropes. They kiss her good morning and linger over steaming mugs, poured to overflowing and sweet with crated milk. Hoping perhaps, in the bluesy light that's cat-footing through the windows, they can persuade her to make love again.
Usually, she allows them only one night. The lucky ones return to court her slowly, with recklessness trapped in wine bottles and promises made in fistfuls of flowers; asters (for patience), snapdragons (for desire). She is heightened by their fearlessness, their confidence – she will keep them until she looks into their eyes and sees the beginnings of love; their masculinity made vulnerable. On those nights, she sleeps with memory.
It curls around her like a man, its breath on her neck, its warmth fitting into her every curve. She inhales its scent (august and attics and brown sugar) and closes her summerblue eyes to the darkened room. These nights are her favorites; richer, in their colors and textures, than chocolate. More intimate than sex.
When she is with memory she is cradled in that twilit place between sleeping and waking, resting in the cupped palms of all there ever was in her life, and all that could be. Some nights, she travels backward. She becomes herself at two, at five, at sixteen.
She is so, so small now – being lifted up in strong arms, swinging through the air. Her mother's voice blends with her father's, the record player spinning out a melody into the dusty room, boxes half-open in the corners, books and coffee cups spilling from their flaps. Her parents are waltzing slowly and she is aloft between them, eyes wide, astonished in the glow of their newlywed intoxication.
The scene folds in on itself between breaths, flowering into another. She is with her sister, near the stream that danced through the woods behind their childhood home – they're making paper boats and fairy houses, counting wishes on the petals of wild daisies and kicking their shoes off; water splashes like light around their ankles and their laughter catches, innocent and infectious, in the leaves overhead.
And the moment collapses, reborn—she is with friends, settled around a campfire high in the mountains, wrapped in quilts and newfound independence. They are drinking flat beer and playing truth or dare and browning marshmallows over the open flames; she's sharing a green folding chair with her first love, his hand is on her waist, his lips at her neck. She kisses him under the vast and endless sky, and he tastes of graham crackers and melted chocolate and possibilities.
On other nights, she looks beyond herself; forward. There are threads of light trailing from her sleeping fingertips, and they stretch in all directions; each one a path that she could take.
She sees herself settling for one of the men with the bedroom eyes, leaving the city for a sprawling white farmhouse with sun-buttered siding and dogs in the yard, living a summersoft life of homemade spaghetti sauce and pickup trucks and towheaded children. Life would dissolve into an endless string of mornings and evenings, the rich damp smell of an herb garden, the heavy warmth of a child in her arms, the quiet creakings of the house as she reads a paperback novel by lamplight -- her husband's tired smile when he comes in from the fields, smoothing his hand over her hair. She would be happy there, growing old in the cradle of the barley fields, heady with the love of an ever-growing family. She would teach her granddaughters to make chocolate chip cookies; she would teach her sons how to listen. Life would fade, gradually, into a sunlit quiet.
Another thread, glowing softly, could lead her to a different man – he would have clean-cut nails instead of calloused hands, blue silk ties and suits that melted perfectly across his shoulders. Their wedding would be polished and extravagant, their life together more so. They would live as though on a perpetual honeymoon, in penthouse apartments with views into the windows of a thousand others; at night they would make love suspended over the city, one star among millions in a brilliant, manmade constellation. She would throw parties and have them catered, and her guests would dine on caviar and lobster tails and blue fin tuna, their decorous laughter mingling with the subtle clink of wine glasses. She would bear one son, and raise him to be his father in miniature; a steel core of ruthlessness and ambition hidden behind moonstone eyes and a cocky half-smile. She would leave this world with every comfort that money could buy, wrapped in subtle love and Egyptian cotton sheets.
As that thread fades, another leads off in a new direction; pulling her farther into herself. She could sell her apartment in a fit of wanderlust, giving away her furniture and condensing her belongings down to one battered suitcase, spending her pennies on plane tickets and bus passes. She would travel the rougher edges of the world, discovering herself in rainforests and war zones, in market places filled with diamond-hawkers and rugs, lifting fresh produce from baskets, caught up in a swirl of unintelligible conversation. She could settle as a spinster in France and write her life story from behind garret walls, drinking red wine on her terrace and buying a different kind of bread for every meal. She could learn how to cook, walking the streets like Julia Child; greeting old friends, making new ones, filling her basket with artichokes and onions, clusters of bay leaves and fragrant links of saucisson. She would have affairs with leonine Frenchmen, slipping them Bouillabaisse and Mousse au Chocolat before leading them to bed. Age would come to her slowly, slipping its fingers inside her like a lover – in Paris, even a final breath can be misconstrued as something romantic.
In some uncatchable moment, the threads always vanish; she wakes unwrapped, memory lifted from her bed like some phantasm of humanity. But it's there in every movement, created in the friction of air on skin, in the soft thud of feet slipping into boots, in each facet of the day. And damn it, she wants them all – wants every thread that's wrapped around her fingers, wants every man on every street corner, wants every child that's waiting -- deep inside of her -- to bloom. She wants more than one lifetime, wants them all. She simply wants, and cannot have.