It was raining heavily. The wind shattered any and all hopes that they would leave today. Jeffrey was an idiot and had left their last pack of Marlboros outside, they were now soaked. There is little you can do with soaked tobacco, but it honestly didn’t matter because they had run out of lighter fluid last week. That didn’t matter though, they still had hung on to the hope that maybe they’d find more in the wreckage somewhere. They had hope that their last puff, outside of what used to be Bricktown Pub, wouldn’t be their last, but it was now. There is something about lost hopes that stays with people, the kind of thing that sours all moods and covers an entire room in red. Michael had a thick skull and beefy neck that brightened when irritated. Ever since the realization that Jeffrey had left the cigarettes on the picnic table, his neck resembled a steady sunburn. Blistering.
“I’m really sorry, okay? I forgot, you know me, I’ve always been forgetful. I’m JUST as upset as you are, trust me. You think I want to be all alone in the world without any cigarettes? No, but it was going to happen eventually, anyway. I just sped up the process.” Jeffrey was rambling in an attempt to reach Michael. Michael had a way about him, he drifted. He was never right in front of you but never necessarily away, either. He’d always been that way, but Jeffrey could ignore it before. Before the Woods Jeffrey was able to ignore a lot of things about Michael. The way he drifted, how his ears were physically there but not functioning, the way he laughed when he was angry, how much it resembled a snarling wolf. Michael couldn’t help but ruminate on how everyone used to fantasize and sing songs and write poetry about being alone with your partner at the end of the world. They never ask if they would actually like their partner that much when they’re the only person you have to tell a joke to.
White flowers were blooming in the trees, small and delicate. Michael enjoyed staring at them, he could see them at night in the dark almost as bright as the moon or the stars, but they were impermanent. Flowers are only a reminder that things come and go yet are still beautiful. Michael could hear Jeffrey chattering, was it to him? Was it to himself? Michael never knew nor did he really care to. Sometimes it was better to just let Jeffrey go on and on until he exhausted himself. Then he would be comatose, he’d fall asleep in the shared bed they had in the cabin. Michael then would spend thirty minutes watching the flowers grow slowly until he was overcome with the desire to feel body warmth against his own. It would hit him suddenly, this longing. Since he was a child he always craved the subtle reassurance of touch. His mother’s hand while walking across a busy road, the soft touch of a lover on his body, the rough reassurance that he was necessary. The fleshy warmth he had while he made love was unlike any other warmth he could or would ever experience. In these moments of longing, he used to find any body that would do. The cute girl who worked at the grocers, the man who lived two doors down with the stern jawline, and eventually Jeffrey. Jeffrey cared greatly for everything and nothing simultaneously. Michael cared for being felt, little else. They were not a great match but they were a match. Once you reach thirty, you stop being picky about who shares your life. When you’re younger, you have this impression that there will be so many great loves in your life. You let go of people who love you in the hopes of finding people who could love you better, it’s not till later that you realize they don’t always come.
“You’re not listening to me at all, are you? You always do this. You always fucking do this. I am trying to apologize, I fucking love you, you know? That’s why I asked you to come to the Woods with me. That’s why we’re here together or possibly the whole reason we’re even together in the first place. After all, you wouldn’t even have approached me if I hadn’t approached you. You just let things happen to you, you know that? That’s your fucking problem. That’s why we’re here.” Jeffrey was fuming. He was screaming into the Woods by himself or he might as well have been.
“I love you too.” Jeffrey heard Michael mumble as he continued to stare at the trees. What was with the trees? They had been here five days and within the five days the trees had all taken on their own shapes, their own personalities. Maybe trees are one of those things you don’t really notice until you’re forced to. Jeffrey was all about finding motifs in his own life. He was one of those big picture people, always thinking in long term plans, grand scales. Michael was the exact opposite, he barely knew what he was doing in an hour let alone in five years. Hell when Jeffrey asked Michael out, Michael said yes seemingly just because it was the nice thing to do, not out of any general desire. Three years down the line, Michael had continued to just go along with Jeffrey’s schemes, whether that be something like going to the little Italian deli in Tulsa or moving into a flat together. Jeffrey was headstrong and in love. Michael was apathetic and said “I love you” back.
Jeffrey was worn out. There’s only so much emotional labor one can put themselves through before they just decide to sleep for a day. It’s not like he had any responsibilities either, eventually they’d have to leave the Woods in search of food in the wreckage, but that day wasn’t today.
“I just love you and if we’re going to survive this, we need to communicate, okay?” he put forth his final efforts, his last hurrah before sleeping away the day.
“I know, Jeff. I am listening, I promise, I am listening.”
“You’re never really here though, are you? You’re always looking off or looking through me. I feel so fucking alone, Mike.” Michael knew this. Michael knew that he had isolated himself and in turn isolated Jeffrey. He just didn’t know what to do at this point. You can build gaps between yourself and others that feel too far to reach across. It didn’t help that lately, Michael did prefer his own head to anyone else’s company. Luckily the only person to keep him company in the whole world was Jeffrey and even if Jeffrey was angry at Michael, even if Michael spent the whole day spaced out, Jeffrey would accept Michael into his bed at night. Michael would never have to be alone except when he wanted to be and he took full advantage of this fact.
Jeffrey fell onto the rough bed, even in its roughest form a bed is the most comfortable place in the world. Often as a teenager he would spend hours of his time lying in bed when things got bad. It didn’t help his attachment to any and all beds, that Michael seemed to only interact with Jeffrey in them. Their love was born and existed in between sheets and a mattress. In the beginning he’d feel the absence of Michael’s body on his body, his touch, and his lingering hands up and down the curve of his back. It was like a domino effect, the moment he laid in bed the timer started, five minutes later Michael would be there slowly etching his hand along his abdomen. It was as if neither really existed unless they were touching each other.
Just as expected, Michael was next to Jeffrey five minutes later. They fell asleep entangled in sheets. The night overtook the day as quickly as the day had overtaken the night that morning. Time had no meaning in the Woods. Nothing had meaning in the Woods.
Michael woke up. It must have been around one am, the rain had stopped. He went outside. The moon was broken up in pieces in the sky and the flowers had turned a dark pink. He didn’t question it, he had learned long ago to stop questioning the processes of the world. The moon’s pieces were floating close to the Woods, they looked softer than you would expect. Everything is softer than you would expect. Michael wanted to touch them but he knew that some things were too beautiful and fragile to really be touched. Some things just had to be enjoyed from far away, even if they wanted to be closer to you. Michael felt the Emptiness again. He had felt it sporadically over the past five days, it came when he became completely aware of himself, which luckily hadn’t been happening often. He did love Jeffrey. The first time Michael had seen Jeffrey, he held hello in the back of his throat for the entire night. He was shy though, he did not know how to greet his future. He did not know how to do a lot of things. He knew they would eventually run out of food. He had known this since they left, since they had entered the Woods, but he had been holding onto this idea that he would make it work. He would find berries, he’d learn to hunt, they’d revert back to hunters and gatherers. He would provide. They would make love in every position in their shoddy cabin and they would love each other. They’d be alone but it would be enough. But it wasn’t enough and it’s always too late when you find out. He started thinking it was better that they hadn’t come to the Woods, that they had died with everyone else. At least he wouldn’t feel Jeffrey being far away. The flowers had started growing larger and more vibrant, they seemed to be reaching out just as much as the moon was reaching out. Everything was reaching out yet Michael felt nothing. He walked back into the cabin, Jeffrey was sleeping peacefully naked. He only ever seemed at peace when he was naked or when he was asleep. Michael loved watching Jeffrey sleep. In silence, all was understood and easy to grasp. His hands felt tense and without all at once. He looked at his pillow and he looked at Jeffrey, so peaceful. He could see the moon through the window.
Erin Taylor is made of feelings and often writes about them. Her feelings can be read in her chapbook of poetry OOOO (Bottlecap Press 2016).