In Which We Retreat To The Apex Of Our Animal Self

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Hill Church

by CEILIDH BARLOW CASH

My office is on the first floor, fourth window in from the left. I have an aloe plant in the window that I watered for the first time in weeks today. I wasn’t intentionally neglecting it, I think it’s more accurate to say that I was waiting to see if it would eventually wilt and beg for water. It never seemed to change, although I think it’s fair to say that changes of that variety are often imperceptible. That is, it’s not hard to overlook the things start hurting around you if you go fast enough. And as I breeze in and out of this office, riding highs and lows (think weather fronts, pressure systems, wind and rain) I know I sometimes miss the things that aren’t moving as forcefully as I am.

The last few months have been a balancing act between “I have adequate skills and real goals” and “I would like to throw it all out the window to find an apartment in Montreal.” I’m thinking the Mile End, something with enough windows to hold a few more aloe plants, and maybe a cactus. Sometimes I’m not sure I want to be responsible for myself, but I think I could handle watering a few plants through the winter  especially the cactus, which I’m told is a lazy person’s plant. I don’t care. I would arrange them on the sill to admire as a testament to my adult self.

He lived in Montreal for a while too  graduated from the same school my best friend is now attending. I think they would approve of one another, and I would smile coyly knowing each had seen me naked, and approved of that too. That’s the trouble with me these days: I’m not sure how to reconcile the part of me that wants to curl my lip and say I win when someone lusts after me. It’s not a game, but I will play you. I’ve boiled it down (because rationalize would be too strong a word) to animal instinct. I figure I’m about eight percent animal. The kind with docile eyes and fangs that I’ll flash if you look at me the wrong way. Watch out, I bite. That’s usually the way I approach these matters  I’ll smile pretty just so long as you know that I could have your head if I wanted it. I’ve thought about sharpening my nails into claws more than once.

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Things didn’t unfold in that way with him though. It all unraveled in the most dangerous and subtle way: with immediate trust. I emerged from a drunken stupor when he first padded towards me, offering a hug and calm eyes. If I was an animal in that moment, I was wounded and sulking on my way home. There was a distinct moment of clarity when I first saw his face, then wrapped my heavy limbs around his and collapsed. He didn’t catch me (that would be too poetic) but I remember looking up to his lips as he said “I would very much like to kiss you.” Yes. Yes, I want to kiss you too. I bit my lip and nodded my head so furiously I’m not sure how he slowed me down enough to catch my mouth.

Mid-kiss, a new character swooped in, screeching and crowing about our matching hair colour, which was either a spectacle or an insult, I couldn’t tell. In those moments, as he lashed out at her and I reined him back in, I decided we were a team. A friend once told me the best way to make friends is to declare that the friendship already exists. I’m not sure it works the same way with lovers, or if I could have just told him: You’re mine. He might have believed me. I wanted him to.

I learned he was an actor. A talented one. One whose act I couldn’t outperform, and so I abandoned mine  the Bio-Medical sciences major who was too sophisticated for medical school, or the poet with a dangerous mouth. These things are all true, but they’re embellished, shiny. Not the things that really matter about me. That’s the thing with actors  they know when you’re acting, too. So I sat in the vulnerability of my particular self, thinking about the definition of serendipity. I decided it wasn’t a pretty enough word for what this felt like.

He was carefully handsome. I remember clearly the pale geography of his shoulders, dappled in the same freckles that dance across my cheeks in July. I think there’s a direct correlation between sunshine and my happiness which you can measure by counting the freckles on my face at any given time. I’m good at math it’s called a linear relationship. But it was October and my freckles, like most other things, felt like they were fading from me.

I slipped on his plaid shirt after I’d taken mine off. It was soft and rolled carefully to the elbows. It fit me well. He began picking up my things as I tossed them on the floor one by one  my scarf, my bra, my watch. I was recklessly losing all important belongings that night  including my phone, a single sock and maybe the idea that I had to protect myself with claws and teeth. Maybe I could sit still and not have to rely on them anymore. Trust, like serendipity, just isn’t a pretty enough word for it.

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The rest of the night was still and warm. We slept under hotel sheets that were insincerely soft for how much we paid for the room. He told me the names of his parents, which I was dead-set on knowing, and I told him that I was very particular about my coffee. I admitted that I wasn’t sure if I could survive in Montreal without country roads and large animals. I also admitted that I wanted to go right now because there was no right time to do something that scared the shit out of you. Go now, shoot it all.

The next morning was loud as we tumbled into breakfast alongside ten other hungover twenty-somethings. They’d picked the venue: a classic diner with linoleum tables and ketchup on the table, even at breakfast. I sat between him and a boy with a ponytail who looked startlingly similar to my best friend. It felt like a family affair: ten siblings arguing, negotiating and outlining the merits and pitfalls of eggs benny versus breakfast poutine for a hangover. I ordered French toast. When I discovered he was left-handed I nearly dropped my fork on the table. It was a strange quirk, that every boy I categorically decided I loved was left-handed. If the prevalence of left-handedness is high, I don’t want to know  I like to consider it a rare trait associated with boys who can handle me.

So far I’ve left out that he was in a band. The lead singer of a band who was in town for one night on their tour  which was for charity, I might add. So yes, I may have been a groupie that morning, but I definitely wasn’t the only one. And even so, I didn’t feel like an addendum to his trip. I didn’t feel as though he had sat beside a new girl at breakfast all week.  I felt like I had walked on stage right on cue, as if he and I were expecting each other.

The reality that it was late-October and I was only wearing a thin (albeit fabulously stylish) leather jacket crept up as we left the diner. I’m Canadian, but I am not designed for the cold. The rest of the band wanted to examine the massive church on top of the hill, which they thought was the only interesting thing in this town (they’re wrong, but that’s beside the point). So I left. I could have lingered, but I wanted to leave just as elegantly as I had entered. Lingering is never elegant. He kissed me goodbye, looked at me earnestly and I walked away.

I scampered back to my bed, hazy from the hangover and hoping more sleep would ease his storyline into mine. I wanted to stay very still, not risk another move that would rearrange the potential we’d pushed together in the past twelve hours. I wasn’t sure what it would be, but I didn’t want it to disappear. I’m not very good at staying still though, and I found myself smiling as I washed my hands that night  his phone number on one palm and his email address on the other. He wrote in purple ink. I don’t know if I was smiling because his handwriting was there, or because it wouldn’t be tomorrow. Some things can go away so easily, so unnoticeably. I doubted he would be one of those things.

He hasn’t reappeared in my life since. I bite at my fingertips occasionally to see if I can taste him anymore. I can’t. It hurt for a while, the silence between us that felt void, unexplained and inflating. Not all silences are like that. It still feels absurd that he could waltz into and out of my life so effortlessly, when everything else I do is so deliberate. I’m the kind of girl who intentionally doesn’t water my aloe plant for three weeks to see what happens. Maybe he’s that kind of guy  maybe he’s doing the same thing to me. Maybe he doesn’t even notice that I’m wilting, I’m such a small a plant sitting in the windowsill of his office. Except I doubt he has an office, or that he spends his afternoons staring out the window  first floor, fourth one in from the left  lusting after the sunshine. But I swear I’m not a plant  I’m eight percent animal. And all eight percent of my animal self is still thinking about his flesh between my teeth.

Ceilidh Barlow Cash is a contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Guelph, Ontario. She tumbls here

Photographs by Amardeep S

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“Clotheslines” – Andrea Gibson & Gregory Alan Isakov (mp3)

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