Behind the Fireplace

by Aimee Parkison


Summering at a derelict Beverly Hills mansion, I wore white butterflies in overgrown gardens because we were high all the time, so happy we didn’t know how it would go. Your touch was as soft as pale wings landing on my sweaty skin. You taught me a gentle lover is like white butterflies descending from trees like snow. Now, there’s only me. I never forget. I never stopped missing you, wanting you, especially in summer. 



You taught me Hollywood snow could be cotton, asbestos for Glinda the Good Witch in a field of fake poppies, white butterflies fluttering from trees, my lover descending, cocaine, cold water over hot wax sprinkled with marble dust glistening, salt and styrofoam, paper blizzard so beautiful it should have been real, pale drifts filling the mansion where movies were made, ghost actors dancing with ghost directors in rooms of industrial-grade chrysotile, the quiet flurry of foamite used in fire extinguishers.



Me in the clothes of dead women, you in the clothes of dead women. Icons with no running water, we bathed in ponds and fountains, or in gas stations, where we stole cookies for dinner. It was the most romantic life I’ve ever lived, sleeping inside crumbling walls, searching for messages in graffiti painted in the empty swimming pool then whispering those communications disappearing inside you. 



Plaster falls from the ceiling, holes in the walls. I eye your body stretched out on carpets aged to dust the color of wine. I kiss your squalor, old bicycles, trash on the floor, names spray-painted on mirrors, and yet the fainting couch remains unbroken near televisions, refrigerators. Inside the marble bathtubs where we once slept, I keep waiting for you to wake near the fire extinguishers. I don’t want to burn this place, so I leave it covered in Hollywood snow. 



Behind the fireplace, reflected in walls of dirty mirrored glass, you become the skeleton in the mirror. Unknown man decaying on a lurid couch beneath a missing ceiling, since the city won’t allow the owners to demolish this storied mansion, you become its end. Lately, has anyone gazed inside the windows or broken in boarded doors? Peak inside: you used to mesmerize with your body. 

Aimee Parkison’s Refrigerated Music for a Gleaming Woman won the FC2 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize and named one of Brooklyn Rails Best Books of the year. Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals, in translation in Italian, and in the Best Small Fictions anthology series. Her fiction has won awards, including a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship, the Kurt Vonnegut Prize from North American Review, the Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction, the Jack Dyer Prize from Crab Orchard Review, a North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship, a Writers at Work Fellowship, a Puffin Foundation Fellowship, an American Antiquarian Society William Randolph Hearst Creative Artist Fellowship, and a William Faulkner Literary Competition Prize for the Novel. She teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Oklahoma State University.  More information is available at


Photography by: Dan Seddon