by Rylee Thomas
I am wandering by the side of the highway.
Mist curls around my neck. Wetness clings to my hair, which hangs limp, lifeless. It isn’t raining, but somehow, the sky is damp. Empty streets. No cars.
This is the most haunted place in the gray midwestern landscape. The woods, too, loom close. The woods are vast and unknowing. I am unknowing.
I am missing him, I think. I am missing him like a cloud passing through my skin. I miss the sharpness of my memories of him, which used to exist. I miss his laughing eyes; I miss running my fingers through his dark hair, the sunlight crowning his forehead in a sweeping halo.
Was there a lover? Was there a sun?
It’s hard to remember. Minutes run into hours, on the side of a highway. This is a highway. Or a mirage, maybe.
I stumble, my toe caught on a rock—I’m always stumbling, now—as I think I hear his laugh, but no—
It’s a group, a group of them. Leading the huddle, a boy and girl walk together, hands swinging, entwined. Guns, strapped to their backs, crisscrossing behind weather-beaten jackets. Had there been weather? Had we been beaten?
Their bruised knuckles wrap in holy palmers’ kiss, sanctified by the outward stain of the blood that runs through their veins. I wonder if I have any blood left in me. The couple is laughing, smiling. He presses his lips to her forehead. He gives her the sweetest kind of kiss, the kind that someone used to give to me, with lips so pink and clean and whole. I miss those moments of intense feeling. I miss trembling for someone’s touch. I think. Am I capable of missing? Everything used to move me. Every day, I feel less.
Is it death?
It is not death. It is something worse.
From the shadows, from the woods of writhing tendrils, from the deep trenches of darkness—
A presence lies in wait. For them. Not for me. These newcomers are like me. Capulets and Montagues, both alike in dignity. Funny how the pursuit of lovers on the run makes comrades of us all. They are hissing, past rows of rotten, worm-eaten teeth.
They stagger forward, eyes mulled over with gray. There is much screaming, screaming, from the group of survivors. The girl pulls away from the boy, jerking, her face filthy with desperation, with already flowing tears. Take him instead. Take him first.
This is what I try to say to them:
Lovers are capable of madness. Everyone is capable of madness. Civil blood makes civil hands unclean. And no one is capable of permanent death. No one.
But, of course, it comes out in a garbled moan, through a rotting jaw.
I’m not really saying anything, am I? I am gaping and wondering, mute. My brain is no longer a brain. No one is saying anything. There are no poets, now.
Rylee Thomas is a student at the University of Connecticut.