I lay out the cork pieces, a timeline of reception, a forced exercise in the art of exorcise. The cork is the opposite of self; I will pierce and remove, and no one will be the wiser, so unlike my heart. I lay parchment on the cork, pulp over pulp, reminder that I can still be marked, still be punctured and pierced. I plot this course in written discourse: I am the lost and wounded traveler, and he, silent, distant and beautiful, observing my stumbling with no interest, is the mapmaker. I was always on his path; he always traced my wake and now he will know that my indifference to what almost happened was not at all indifference. It was self-defense.
He was all that life slapped my hand away from, the thing that I could not deserve. He, a dark kind of intensity, a poet with no paper. He splattered his words the living, on those that surrounded him. A lasso of throaty laughter and full-lipped smiles hung like a noose around my neck. It was, in retrospect, a leash, and I the stray dog, happy with the scraps that he would toss to me unwittingly. I was his confidant, his sounding wall, his best friend. And I was in love with him. Not enamored, not fascinated; it was a love that usurped any kind of sense or explanation. He chose me because, as he explained: you are different, he proclaimed one night as we sat above the river, you are not impressed or scared of me. You would never love me because you know how I am. If you did not love me like I was your dumb brother, you would hate me, wouldn’t you? I remember absorbing that lie in the pulp of my heart, weighing the shrewdness of playing along and being near you, or telling you the truth and having you discard me. I chose poorly.
I punch the pin through the pulpy cork; the slight give of the paper is satisfying under the piercing tack; a subtle pft, the sound of solitude, different from loneliness in that I am not lonely. I chart your memory as it manifests in my heart. Places where he and I were almost “us.” An emergent constellation of sadness, stars are churning forges of energy, reminder that everything bright and beautiful consumes itself, a flame under pensive thumb and finger, fearing its own darkness. Proximity is half the battle of forbidden love. I chose poorly. Point A. Artifice.
I punch the pin through the pulpy cork and the slight give of the paper is terrifying under the piercing tack; a hollow scream emerges from the place where he and i attempted “us,” now merely altered energy and lingering molecules. High above the Mississippi River, your whisper drowned by the creaking of the bridge opening to allow passage. I denied passage, fearful that one taste of his mouth, one moment with my mouth on his… the fear of osmosis, that the softness of him would absorb the nebulous of truth. Now I string the yarn, crimson and rough-hewn, from point A to point B. Betrayal.
I punch the pin through the pulpy cork and the slight give of the paper is a moan under the piercing tack… and the river knows. She knows and she opens to receive the secret that my body screams into the warm December night. His hands on my knees, my back to the river, his mouth, waves of heat on my neck, and we burrow into one another, a spiral of mistaken ownership, me winding around his waist, his chest, and he, twirling into my brain. For a moment, the river beneath us becomes the sky above us and my unspoken love becomes a circular horizon, a reasonable destination. The yarn digs into my index finger, still numb 25 years later with the feel of his finger-laced grip. Point C. Carnality.
I punch the pin through the pulpy cork and the slight give of the paper is a strangled cry of anguish under the piercing tack. The river flows north, gravity drops the sky straight into her belly; we are the Walls of Jericho, weeping bricks that skip down the rocky cliff into the waiting river. They plash as every tear my body will ever produce is swallowed in indignance and subterfuge. I am brackish; he is the debris floating to the top of the heady whitecaps that toss me to the riverbank. Love, so proximal to anger, two faces on one head. A woman can be a stupid thing, hiding desire with anger, so adept in her assault; I am gluttonous of darkness as I am left, high above the river, absent of him. The crimson yarn winds around Point D, a bobbin threaded with continuous sorrow. Point D. Departure.
There are no more pins; there is no point. Our journey, brief in retrospect, collapses onto my brain so often I laugh at the enormity of it all. I can never place a pin and draw tight the yarn to the last point. I confessed it all to him, but not upon the river, not above her. I did not send my shame down the bank; it is mine to keep. It is a desperate thing to desire, to love a best friend and I, so reckless with caution, tossed it over into the river, following the tumbling bricks, betraying my betrayal. Him, his jaw set to the side, green eyes forging energy as the night knelt down, hand opening as I explained my love for him, my understanding that a beautiful creature, he, cannot reciprocate the love of anything less, me. If he had any softness left in his heart, he would never speak another word to me. I breathe in your words, I said to him, I have so much of you in my lungs, I am suffocating. I am so sorry.
Journeys do not always end; he and I are a figure-eight. Stand on any point of this infiniteness that pinches my vocal chords and the distance of 25 years lifts like gravity in a vise grip and I arrive. I mourn an “us” that never existed. I spill words, wreaths of flowers lain at a memorial for a love that never died simply because it never lived. This is the part of me that forever belongs to him; the fog over the river that no sunlight can disperse. When I go quiet after a whiskey or two, he is breathing on my neck. When I drive at night, with no destination, I am reasoning him out of my present. When I stop walking, forgetting where I was going, he has turned to face me, accuse me, weep for me, pity me. I am not complicated. I am not mysterious. I am haunted by the mapmaker, still drawing lines on my parchment, unaware that there is no point.
Jami Williams is a candidate in the MFA Writing program at Lindenwood University. She is an English, broadcast and publications teacher at Mexico High School in Mexico, Missouri, where she lives with her husband and her son. Williams' work has been accepted for publication by Wingless Dreamer and Crack the Spine.