by Kayla King
I imagine she is in two places at once. She walks through the door of her favourite coffee shop, and the shadow from the words Something Brewed on the window hits her face just right. She looks like the Grayson from six years ago.
But this is now.
Even as she sits across from me, I picture her somewhere else. She’s in our apartment, drinks from her favourite green mug, which once belonged to me. I never leave her then, and even as she shifts in her chair in this new place, she’s still there in the past.
‘I guess our coffee preferences haven’t changed.’ She responds to some unasked question. Maybe she sees it in the way I stare into my cup of black coffee, instead of at her. Maybe she sees me the same way; a double-exposure.
‘You changed your hair,’ I say, and she tucks a short strand behind her ear.
I want to say juxtaposition because it was always one of her favorite words. And even now, her hair can’t distract from the way she traces a finger around the rim of her coffee mug, weighed down by something I might never understand.
Maybe she is still broken.
I show her the current cover of Spine Magazine with the skeletal tree limbs extended toward the sky. She flips through the pages, but stops when she gets to my poem. ‘Amphora.’ She smiles and shows me a picture of her three-year-old daughter playing in a pile of leaves at her father’s house. ‘Tennyson loved it there.’
And I remember that she doesn’t have an empty spot beside her in bed anymore.
I order a second cup of coffee, trying not to watch as she reads my poem. Grayson begins to seep into the past the longer I look at her, and my chest tightens.
I want to tell her how much I loved her new book, no trace of us on its pages.
I want to say I’ve missed her.
I know she’s finished reading when she says, ‘I always loved the way you’d bring me coffee in that green mug of yours.’
‘Because it was your favourite.’ I sip from my coffee now to keep me in the moment.
‘So if you’re the constellation in this poem, does that mean I’m Zeus?’ She laughs.
I love that she knows I wrote about us. And the stars. And the Aquarius constellation.
“She twists her new ring from her new love around her finger. Too much time has passed since then. Maybe she’s succeeded at putting herself back together.”
‘I can’t believe you’re turning thirty-five, Shaw. Tomorrow.’ She shows me what the constellation looks like from the app on her phone. ‘Big plans?’
Grayson must know I’m only here to see her, despite what I wrote in my last letter about interviewing writers from the Outer Banks for the magazine.
‘You should check out Corolla’s lighthouse while you’re there.’ She points beyond the window.
‘Maybe I’ll be inspired to write a story about a lighthouse that everyone thinks is a star. Or maybe the other way around, a star that is a lighthouse.’ I trace a finger over the tabletop, finding words.
‘I miss this,’ Grayson says.
At first I think she mean she misses me.
‘I miss having someone to talk to about writing.’ She sips her coffee before continuing. ‘I’m actually in the middle of starting a new collection.’
Her first collection was about me, which is the great paradox of our unravelling, as she once wrote. Because Grayson always hated when I wrote about us, and I wonder if that is why I can’t write anything new.
She tells me certain things sound strange now. And when she talks about the way her daughter mumbles in her sleep, I imagine the way our child might have one day sounded like a poet.
It doesn’t beat, wilts.
Shrivels to its silkened shape.
Curled up in your hand.
I write the haiku on a napkin, and pass it to her. She smiles, starts writing on her receipt: Take that crumpled valentine, stretch the valves, and twirl the veins into words you can understand.
We feel like us again.
‘Have you played Exquisite Corpse since—?’ I remember the way we used to trade single sentences back and forth to build an entire story. It’s how I’d proposed, and she’d loved this, because it seemed so us. Until it wasn’t. Because we didn’t.
She twists her new ring from her new love around her finger. Too much time has passed since then. Maybe she’s succeeded at putting herself back together.
But maybe, wholeness means being alone with a perfect heart and an empty soul and no one to make eggs the way she likes.
She drinks from her coffee, puts her other hand over the mark the cup has left behind on the table. It resembles the stain from her coffee cup on the desk we once shared. I wrote about the mark in my collection, and she wrote about the way she broke that green mug in hers, and those words destroyed me.
But I recall that moment in her recent magazine interview where she mentioned her desk with a mark that looked like the moon. I smile at the memory. ‘I’m happy you still have the desk.’
‘It’s a good desk,’ she says.
I ask her about the moon on its surface, wondering if it is whole, and she just smiles. And I want to tell her that I won’t let anything more than that moon between us now. But instead, I finish my coffee and smile and tell her I’ll buy the next round.
Kayla King | @KaylaMKing
Kayla King is a graduate of Buffalo State College’s B.A. in Writing (2013), and the Mountainview MFA (2016). She is an editor and contributing writer for One For One Thousand, an online magazine dedicated to the profundity of flash fiction. Kayla is the Blog Manager and Staff Reviewer at Young Adult Books Central. Her work has been published by or is forthcoming from One For One Thousand, Germ Magazine, Five 2 One Magazine, Plath Poetry Project, Cat on a Leash Review, MockingHeart Review, Figroot Press, Souvenir Lit Journal, Dear Damsels, The Mystic Blue Review, The Green Light, Ink In Thirds Magazine, Firewords Magazine and Twelve Winters Press. You can find more about Kayla King at her website and blog: kaylakingbooks.com.