When She Pets the Back of My Neck I Can Be An Animal

Richard Chiem

Richard Chiem

She says I looked alive, to me in the mirror slowly raising her arms and then allowing me to pull her shirt over her head. In the shower she thinks about unfinished business with a very serious face; she is conscious of the water flowing over her body and we take turns underneath the showerhead. This is an awkward dance. I don’t ever ask her if she wants to shower with me. But sometimes she surprises me unlocking the bathroom door and she sneaks in the tub with me without a word when I am already soapy and entranced. In the dark she finds a new and interesting swagger. She shudders adjusting to the new perfect water temperature. She drives me mad with decisions. Yet I really enjoy being bewildered with all of her decisions watching her now playing with soap along her curves. Her hair clings around her forehead. She contemplates my mouth then kisses me in the shower. She says Sometimes I get a little flagrant. She says Don’t ever tell anyone.

We eat Mexican rice and beans and remember all the things we’ve ever said. Sometimes she is very upset with me. Sometimes we revisit the first day we met or became aware of the other, reliving the memory like a silent movie, us ourselves still acting in the same movie still going on, sometimes narrating out loud. These are funny scenes together. It’s like we’re performing for the other person because we might get bored again. She makes a popping sound with her mouth. She steals another scoop of rice from my plate and I realize we have changed so much. The way we talk now and apologize to each other resembles dancing. She squeezes her eyes shut. She says, It’s so bright out. In the sunlight along the couch in the living room I watch her shut her eyes more.

Suddenly we know we will live for a long time and survive everything. This calm happens while watching television or listening to a record lying on the wooden floorboards with sweaters on. Usually one of us is aroused by the other at all times. Where we put our hands is a game we play unacknowledged but we know we know. She likes my hand anywhere on her leg especially inside her thigh. When she pets the back of my neck I can be an animal. She mentions her sister coming into town to visit. I ask her if she is tired and she says No, not really. Shadows give the living room an aquarium and mysterious feel from the walls. There is always something I forget I should be doing right about now I think I say out loud. She says Check out how blue the sky is outside. She says When I say blue you say sky. She says Blue.

Becca passes me on the way to the garage in the hallway. She looks at me sideways readjusting the bag on her back mentioning something again about her sister coming to visit. Getting into the car to go pick up her twin sister, she watches the garage door slowly open, she watches a few cars pass on the road before merging. Traffic passes in glimmers and sound tunnels. I can hear birds returning. Sometimes she looks out the window and thinks very negative thoughts about people; she says No one really knows how to be happy or live. Things like sparrows tiny leaves and debris in the wind and couples walking on the sidewalk pass in and out of her line of vision while we remember our way to the airport. Heat ribbons move in the air off the pavement and white lines. Exiting off the highway, she makes a contemplative yet happy face, taking off her sunglasses. Her eyes turn hazel from hazel. She says she felt really safe earlier when our arms touched each other in public and we made eye contact standing next to a fat man in the elevator in parking garage where we first met casually. For fun she drives backwards on the 405.


Richard Chiem is co-founder and the editor of Vertebrae, a literary poetry and comics journal. He is the winner of the UCSD Stewart Award prize for poetry in 2009 and the DimeStories Competition 2009. His work has been published in Metazen, for every year, forthcoming in PANGUR BAN PARTY, for every year, and on Linh Dinh’s serial blog site, Detainees.



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