What if I walked up to your front door again. What if, at the sight of me on the front porch, the same front porch with so many stale memories, instead of laughing at my patheticness, you smiled with surprising relief. What if you had gained a little weight, the weight symbolic of your settling into something, and that something surrounding you, cushioning you. What if this physical and symbolic fatness made it easier for me to love you, to not fume with jealousy and rage. What if you told me, “God, you look great! Are you seeing someone?” and instead of saying something like, “No, unlike some people on this porch I don’t need a dick in my ass to feel good about myself and appear radiant,” I said, “Not right now.” What if you said nothing but just looked at me and what if the look said without words, “God, that sounds nice.” What if you invited me inside.
What if the house was dark except for the natural light coming hesitantly through the windows, as if the light regarded this house as a sort of unpleasant guest it has to oblige but doesn’t care to indulge, only slightly peeking through, providing light for sight but not ambience or mood or good photos. What if, as I scanned the rooms for his presence, I saw him nowhere, but everywhere in the nowhere. What if, instead of saying “Where is he?” I said, “So what are you up to today?” What if, at this moment, as if in reply to my question, I heard the cry of a baby. What if this was your baby. What if you said to me, in a mix of fatigue and humor, “There’s your answer.” What if I followed you upstairs, toward the sound of the crying baby.
What if the baby room was a small fevery space, thick and sweet as a rainforest, or a rainforest room in a zoo in the midwest. What if your phone buzzed and you ignored it like you know exactly what it was and whom it was from, as if the sound and feeling of the buzz sounded and felt exactly like HIMMM. HIM HIIIM HIMMM. What if you looked at me, suddenly excited, and said “You wanna go outside?” as if my presence allowed you to finally leave this house, or as if my presence reminded you of being outside. What if you asked me, “Do you wanna walk by the river?” and I said yes, and by saying yes I realized I was letting you guide me in a way I never had when we were friends—because I was, too untrusting? Too full of myself and my wants? Too envious of your beauty and your love so I took it out by seizing control of any aspect of our relationship that I could?
What if we walked across the street, leaving the house behind us, the house a pale and pallid green, looking as if it were becoming more colorless over time like dying grass, up the stone stairs that lead to the raised sidewalk that curves around the river like a hand cupping something warm. What if looking out at the river was like looking at an old photo of us, like proof of our jumping through time, proof of the incomprehensible mess of it all. What if, looking at the dirty water I was assailed by a memory of you in this same place, your face younger, more receptive looking, more spacious and eager to fill the space, your body more tense with inexperience, but a tenseness that energizes, that suffuses.
What if the memory was this: the two of us sitting on the ledge between the curving sidewalk and the river, our legs dangling like wild things unmoored. What if the water was dirty as it is now, but what if I don’t remember it being dirty; what if my memory is simply that I was a young body floating like a pendulum between sun-baked land and water, looking at my friend—my friend. What if the memory was soaked in something like a hungover sheen of foggy gratitude. What if I remembered how our bodies felt somehow more like bodies because of the drinking we must have put them through the night prior, the memory of that night already in our skin like a scrubbing; what if I remembered the roughly feminine smell of you like a dank beach, how I knew the specialness of this moment meant something vast and unavoidable was approaching—time, with its muddy water, its huge dark invisible hand that hovers then carries us without consent, turns us into strangers, into enemies with no memory.
What if you saw me see this memory, as if I became a mirror reflecting the image of the lake. What if, upon seeing myself as a reflection of the lake and the muddy history of us, you asked me, “Was there a reason you came here today? Was there something you wanted to say?” and what if, instead of going into the long diatribe I had been saving for this very moment, my rehearsed diatribe listing all the ways you drove me to insanity, drove me to his house which soon became your house too, over and over, drove me with empty hands and empty pockets, oh, empty everything, drove me to that house as if it would fill me with something I needed, as if it weren’t just as empty as I felt, as if I didn’t realize both the house and I were not in fact empty but too full, too full of the wrong things, or, at least, not the things that were supposed to be there, then, as if I truly had no idea how to empty myself of anything, only fill up with more, more, more, and how I wanted to overstuff everyone around me too—you, him, the house—or else I wanted to take from it, and fill myself up more. What if instead of going into that diatribe, I simply said, “I was in pain. Pain distorts everything. I’m sorry.”
What if you looked at me, and in your face I saw the burning and languorous death of summer—oh, summer!—and in that death I saw our death, and in our death I saw arms floating, as if they reached too far, too desperately, that they detached from the body they grew from. What if these floating arms reached out from your face and hit me like a heat wave. What if the light from the sky was now slipping under us, but of course it has been slipping all along. What if the sky was suddenly purple, deep at the bottom of the horizon, turning light and wispy and pinkish above it. What if the presence of the new sky was like a sound, like a voice. What if the sky’s voice said to both of us “you are free,” for we could never say such words, not with these bodies, not in this world with our histories, out loud to each other.
What if I asked you, “Shouldn’t we go back to your baby? Is someone there to look after it? Him, her? What’s your baby’s name again?”
What if you said to me, “Josh. That was Josh.”
“The baby was Josh?”
“Yeah, well, I guess he’s changed a little since you last saw him.”
“Well, should you go back to him?”
What if your phone buzzed now, like an answer to my question, HIM HIMMMM HIIIIIIMMM. What if you took your phone out from your pocket and threw it out into the brown water. What if you smiled at me and in your smile I saw the girl I fell in love with so many years ago, when we were children and summer was still alive. What if you said to me, “He’ll be fine.” What if I threw my phone into the water too, in solidarity, and told you about the time I threw an empty wine bottle into a different river, a wine bottle I had kept because it reminded me of him, and threw into the water for the same reason.
What if the world began darkening now, the purple sky waning like something dying up there. What if another memory came to me: another summer, the first summer we met (summer—what did it mean? It meant the world where you came from, where we first met, where you were younger than I was which meant that by being with you I could go back in time a little, if peripherally) our young tense bodies on top of my old car in the vast and vacant parking lot where we worked in some building that was behind us; in front of us, the sun setting, turning the world into a glowy hopeful thing, the sun red and burning as it sunk into the place where all things vanish. What if I remembered the question: are you my friend? I would always ask you without speaking. What if you looked at me now with a face that said I carry that summer with me all the time. What if we took the memory of the summers and held them close to our chests like lockets, like parts of ourselves we could forget while keeping close. What if I looked up at the hundreds of entangled branches above our heads, how they stretched out like arms reviving themselves, against the black blanket of the sky, the sky which was now filled with stars glittering their bright deadness, like faraway things remembered, and seen
What if this was the end. What if I was ever satisfied with any ending. What if, instead of banging on doors, screaming, breaking into locked houses to drag out all the dead things forcing them to stay in my life, forcing the ending away, prolonging everything to a point of absurdity, what if I knew how to end a story.
What if I accepted nothing, wrote my own multiple endings, created another you, another me, another us in another world where an us could exist. What if you read this ending one day and didn’t think I was a pathetic crazy person. What if you read it and didn’t accept my false ending, didn’t reach out to me, didn’t forgive me, but smiled just slightly, and in that smile was a smaller version of you, the living summer, the red and dying sun, legs dangling over water, arms floating, our purest selves saved and acknowledged, for a moment we would remember or forget with time.
Matthew Meriwether is a writer and performer currently living in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He writes and performs music under the name Fresh Tar, and is recently the author of Knock Knock (The Dandelion Review, 2018), a chapbook of narrative prose.