Two CNFs by Sam Moe
I don’t get out of bed until I become so sick of researching jellyfish stings that the navy comforter starts to feel like a sea and I am scared my imagination will harness electricity beneath the sheets. And why don’t we get horror films about how haunted the ocean is? Wet house of crabs and snakes, warm salt house, faded coral house, I-miss-you-New-England house, is not the ocean floor covered in ghosts, I don’t just mean skeletons of the past, or glowing buds that might be fish, might be something I haven’t learned a name for. Perhaps all the ghosts have left the ocean house because there is nothing to hide behind.
House, she’s left again and this time I think it’s for good. So let’s turn the picture frames on their stomachs, drape sheets over clocks and knobs, seal off the tub, set fire to the curtains. My bed doesn’t provide enough space beneath it to house a ghost but I check anyway. She has never been here yet I find myself wanting to lie, to gesture as if to say, she was here, knocked over stale popcorn and swept it beneath my bed, helped me paint the desk blue, preyed beneath the porch while I, upstairs and unsuspecting, smoked a joint and started making a smoothie of half-bruised apples. But I was alone throughout all of that, and pretending I wasn’t only makes it feel worse.
Baby, did you know that harp seals don’t actually play music, that they are born on ice, that after they’re older they return to molt? You’ve been gone for quite some time, will you return to me when the roads have iced over, a new person? Or will I have to wait for winter to thaw, perhaps then in spring you and I will be beneath the crabapple trees again. No? Then please throw out every confetti bit and paper scrap I gave to you, please unknit the sweaters, push water back up the drain, press your fences into the earth so we will not only allow red birds in trees but deer and moose, though not the wolves, because I’m lonelier than you are and I invited them all into my bed.
I imagine if we were still talking you would ask if these were arctic wolves but no, these are just house wolves, these are love wolves and cabinet wolves, no I would never lie to you, yes I am still capable of love, and who do you think you are? Of course I have not emptied out. Oh, how I have become an expert at twisting my loneliness into psalms and songs that get me through the you-less nights.
I guess I did lie to you. I said you could do whatever you wanted, I just never thought what you wanted was to leave me. I’m oversaturated with loss, I eat loss for breakfast yet am never full after I put the dishes away. I start making lists of loss so I can figure out if I am human fungus or mold, or maybe I’m just not someone meant to be adored. Who wants the latter? That’s what I thought—let’s make a list.
Time starts when I am nine. I didn’t have any friends when I was eight either, though I only seem to recall the loss from third grade onwards.
I am alone as peers run away from me in a field, only gift each other fake flowers in a gymnasium that smells like honey and sweat.
I am kissing my best friend in the basement, amongst aqua streamers and crumpled invitations. At school the next day everyone knows: I am alone.
I am sixteen and learning my friends have been whispering about me behind my back.
I am twenty-one and eating cake alone in my house.
At twenty-eight I give up and call the wolves back home.
This isn’t how I wanted to tell you I was mold. What happened to the sea? Come, pull up a chair and watch as I crawl across the apartment complex, sobbing the rest of the list into the carpet, these blank spaces aren’t for art or pause, they are weighted with bitter history but I am running out of space to tell you what happened. So watch me as I pull on my midnight blue sweater and climb back into bed. I want to check on how the jellyfish are doing.
Listen closely, I can make crashing wave sounds with my mouth, the pillows can be sea foam, let’s see if the water will give birth to something strong enough to stop gap my faded heart. Wait, go back. Did do you see her? It looks like a woman in white, trailing a lacy gold-grey cape, shimmering with water. What’s that? You’re telling me I can barely perceive true life anymore, only meaningless script? Well, you’re right because upon closer inspection I see it’s not a woman after all, but one half of a great whale jaw, its shadow snapping shut on hundreds of fish bodies, body crashing beneath the surface of the water so it can eat in private.
Maybe you’re right, every time I write about the sea I am writing to you.
Maybe a hungry whale jaw is just another way of looking at you when you walk away.
Maybe you should leave the door open on your way out.
Maybe this time, if you return, I’ll leave.
And for once I won’t be blue but gone, which always sounded like a green word to me. No need to explain yourself—I am merely an untethered spore hoping to affect the breads.
We can only make it in the middle of the night. We both have to sneak out of our houses and meet at a mutual location. The house that has multiple kitchens, bowls of soft candy that get stuck between your teeth, the curve of your lips turning upwards ever so slightly when you catch me looking at you. Coffee? I nod, yes, because you can never have too much coffee, and even though I know that’s probably untrue because later I’ll be biting my heart between my teeth, in this moment I want you to make something for me.
You make me toast and I can taste the remnants of a last cigarette you had a few minutes ago, told me I didn’t have to go outside with you but I did anyway, because I want to be near the snow and I want to be near you. The backyard is frosted blue beneath the moon, the willows leaping out of their bark to brush the tops of our heads. I don’t know where you’ve been but I know that we’re alone in this pocket of evening and I get to spend some time with you for once. You’ve been waking up early but tonight you’re up late and we get to tumble into bed, apologies and all, side- by-side.
Back inside, everything smells of apples and clove. You rest familiar, like home, and your sweatshirt is old, full of holes and burn marks when you got caught on a candle, I’d been teasing you across the table and you had lost your focus, burning deep green into fringes.
Told me my hands were soft and my attitude was terrible, told me I had too many requirements, ridiculous amounts of treasure in my pockets, told me I was a warm bath, a fight between two birds, a spark from the sun catching your eye.
I wonder why you’re not thinking about me in this moment when I realize you’re looking at me.
I ask what, and you smirk. Nothing, what could you possibly need right now? Besides my warm hands around your neck, my tongue down the sides of your collarbone, that tattoo that you keep trying to hide on your back left shoulder, the one with the purple coils that turn into purple birds, you know I saw it and you know that I know you got it after the first night we slept together and I couldn’t stop eating all of the grapes that were hidden in the fridge, you told me they were going out of season and I laughed, I wanted to remember the taste of that evening, the way everything cracked, was moonshine, cigarette butts, blankets your sister knit with the holes from the moths, that good coffee you made just for me, those glances I’ve come to anticipate. When you and I don’t catch eyes I become a storm.
Outside, the ice has begun. The coffee tastes good, smells of hazelnut and January haze.
Sam Moe (she/her) is a queer writer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. She is pursuing a PhD in creative writing at Illinois State University. Her work has appeared in Overheard Lit Mag and Cypress Press. She received an Author Fellowship from Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing in June, 2021.