It is the morning after and the scent of pine is in my hair, strewn across the pillows and winding its way around the door. In a state of sublime disorientation, I at first believe that I have awoken in the forest and expect prickly evergreen needles under my fingers, not tangled sheets, trunks and branches, not beams.
We were out late, a perception of time acutely skewed by long nights, short days. The winter contorts reality. The moon was out, slyly tracking us across the sky and casting everything in stark, silvery shadows. On the dunes, each pock in the sand appeared as an abyss, every shrub a peculiar monster twisting to watch us pass. The grasses soughed in the wind, a Greek chorus to comment on our progress, frost rimed the puddles and the stagehand who sets the stars each night positioned them with care and turned them on all at once, a glowing river strewn across the skies.
I could drown in it.
The ocean was curiously subdued, the delicate white foam dancing on the top of each wave gleaming in the night to betray its presence, while the water slipped away into glossy blackness. From the right angle, the ocean looked like a scattering of stars itself, faint dots of white sparkling in the blackness,a continuation trapping us inside a ball of night. An unusual loudness marked the distinct crunching of our feet, grains of sand embedded between our toes, cold and stiff and blunt-edged in the night.
It is not that we have escaped, precisely, more than we have found something else to do. This is the secret to slipping out: You must look like you are not doing it, haven’t the faintest plan in the world of doing it, you must fade away rather than whipping sneakily out the back door. You drift further and further away, dwindling in size, until you wink out altogether, and then you are free. There are people somewhere else, in a distant parallel place, they are laughing and drinking their wine but you are in a secret space where you both exist and do not exist, where you are there and not there at all. Schrödinger’s party guest, I like to call it.
No one will notice. Try it sometime. Smile over the cheese platter and say something indistinct while you turn as though you are looking at the cookie selection and then just…fade…away…When you get artful at it, you can vanish in plain sight. Everyone will remember that you were there even when you were not. It’s the perfect alibi and days later people will not believe you when you say no, no, I didn’t see that, I wasn’t there. They remember you standing by the window, cracking it open for fresh air, they have constructed an entire false memory around a person who was long gone by then, stealing across the slopes of shifting sand and giggling while juggling bright red fruits you long to string like pearls.
There is a deep pleasure in conspiracy, in silent signals sent over bobbing heads, in sparkling eyes looming in the darkness. We do not need to speak or touch to know where we are going, the stand of trees with their warped and twisted shapes from the wind, where we drape ourselves on the branches like odalisques, gritty bark catching our clothes and twisting them with vicious pinches that will leave small snarls in the fabric. I will not notice them until I am doing the laundry and they are firmly pressed into the warp and the weft, along with flakes of pomegranate skin and sand and something else indefinable that slips out with a sigh when I snap the crisp weave in the eerie silence of the laundromat in the small hours of the morning.
Invisible chains connect us, each link a singularity. I can run them through my fingers like worry beads and tell you the meaning of each, but only if you know that, here, up is down. Down is up. I am shivering with something more than cold and something less than anticipatory dread. I would call it waiting for the other shoe to drop but, of course, I have no shoes, and my kicking feet whisk across the succulents tangled in the sand, where they will pick up dots of sticky plant essence that release a bitter scent later.
Where are you going?
The night swallows us up whole and does not let go. We tumble through a dark place together. We pull at the chains that bind us and retool them. We become something larger than ourselves, pitted wormholed wood crumbles away around us and leaves something stronger behind.
It is the morning after and all of this is in the past. It is cold and I can read a fine tracery of last night in my skin.