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The sky is vampiric photo

In the train carriage, we’re hot in our furs, brooding and half-drunk. Your makeup is lovely and sharp and I feel envious and in love. You’re a little bear against my shoulder. It’s a Saturday night in Central London but it could be the end of the world for all the people. We’re good at moving fast in our huge boots, shoulders uneven beneath the weight of our handbags filled with cigarettes and keys.

We link arms up the escalators and walk out into the dark of Oxford Circus. You’re smaller than me so I feel like the more dangerous one. It’s addictive, this feeling, I want to stand over your body on all fours.

The sky is vampiric tonight, stars like a thousand bared fangs. You say you remember where the gallery is. A few more streets away, past smoldering storefronts and people dressed up like artists on the steps holding beers. Everyone’s hair is purple right now. It’s cool to not wear a coat.

Your boyfriend is outside waiting for us. I look at him and remember when we were last together, on a street corner waiting for you outside a bar, he watching girls walk past us and calling out to them. I keep thinking that soon you will know that he’s unfaithful, that he’s ugly underneath his slim bones. Osmosis these thoughts from my forehead to yours during the nights you stay at my apartment. He asks if you want a beer. I follow you both inside. A heart-thrum of base plays through speakers somewhere. It’s an open-plan gallery space with two levels, people above and below. Your boyfriend’s photos are on the wall. He shows me his favorite, a photograph of a giant eel in the middle of a cobbled street, somewhere by the docks in the East. The eel’s body is silver and wet, out of place and dying. I look at the weapon of its mouth.

The river flooded, so it got washed up, he tells me.

I don’t want to engage with him. I don’t like the intimacy of his eyes, the human of me recognizing the human of him. I want to keep hating him.

What happened to it? I ask. I sip my beer.

He looks at the photo and traces the eel’s body with his finger.

It died. I reckon a restaurant collected the body. People ate it.

I think then of a life beneath water, of fluidity, and a powerful jaw. I think of disaster and the inevitability of storms. How easily we are lifted into hardship.

That’s a shame, I say. They’re really interesting creatures. No one can even figure out how they breed. Some process that keeps them magical.

He shrugs.

They’re just fish.

You are watching us, sitting on a bench with your fur across your lap. You hold up your hand.

It’s a good one, isn't it?

You call to me across the crowds of twosomes or more, people chatting loudly. Your boyfriend looks smug, his eyes on his eel.

Years later, you invite me to your daughter’s first birthday. The invitation has a baby rabbit on the front and I imagine you young- formless and soft in that coat. I tell myself that the train fare isn’t worth the trip, and the hours from where I am in the world to your apartment by the water are too long. But I buy a ticket regardless. We haven’t seen each other in five years but we send each other photos that define our lives- pictures of your baby when she is first born, liver-colored and faultless, the flowers I’ve managed to keep alive in my garden. Small animals we come across on the road, and screenshots of dresses we would both like to buy. Extraordinary sunsets. Our closeness was like a bomb; then it was dust and rotten air. We were and then we weren’t. One day we just stopped meeting up. Stopped hanging around subway platforms for each other. We didn’t mind walking alone in the dark without the other urging encouraging thoughts down the phone. How many more streets away are you? I’ll be here until you open your front door.

I’d seen your boyfriend’s name mentioned in magazines, credited for his work capturing edgy musicians, topless models with wing bone shoulders, and ordinary-looking older men in colorful suits. I tried to feel happy for you and was disturbed by my own bitterness. Perhaps because I was alone, but I told myself it was better to be single than with a man like yours. A man who wrote all the details of his affairs down in his diary, (you had found it once under a stack of video game cases and we had read it, passing it back and forth silently behind him as he bashed away at his console). I persuaded myself I was transcending need like a spirit. Our habit of each other was curing itself by absence. Still, we were gently connected. Noncommittal texts, a short updating photo dump of a new apartment, or a wordless video of a vacation somewhere with the caption You’d love it here! And now, your growing child, the extension of you I felt proprietorial over because I had loved you so fiercely. I never told you that I had wanted to.

I take a cab from the train station to your apartment, a townhome at the end of a little street within a gated courtyard, its left side bare to the water. You answer the door with your daughter in your arms. There are lines on your forehead but you are still wonderful. I want to cry when I look at her, as you pass her into my arms as if you saw me yesterday. There are people in the kitchen, children avoiding legs and chasing each other into a living room filled with balloons.

Her cousins, you say.

I hold your child in my arms and follow you to the fridge.

Beer? You ask.

I look around the room, looking for him. I’ve never asked how he is, I’ve never even asked if you two ever spoke of marriage. But there is your child. So there must be a father.

Where’s Daniel? I ask.

You look down at your daughter in my arms.

We split up a few years back, it’s just easier this way, you know?

Sure, I say. I’m sorry to hear that.

You’re measuring me with your gold eyes. I feel on fire, I feel delivered.

You’re not sorry, you say.

I shift the baby against my chest. I want to stand over her like a wolf mother. I want both of you behind me as the storm comes.

I’m not sorry, I agree.

You smile.

I follow you into the living room. I can hear rain starting to volley against the windows, against the roof.

I know the river will rise. That the shore will change. That it will still be there when the water is gone. There are some things that just continue.

image: Dean Chalkley