Don’t leave! cries the one always leaving. I say it over and over in my mind even as your fingers skim the skin of my back, sacrum, thighs. Your lips on mine. Later the airplane will be cold, its forced air empty. My lungs won’t recognize it, can’t live on it. A man on the tarmac will wave his neon baton and pull his jacket over his boulder-sized belly like it’s a baby never to be born. Soon I’ll be in the sky, your house and bed and truck completely vanished. I’ll have new places to land my feet, my voice. Don’t leave! says every old skin cell. But I’ve already gone, haven’t I? You can’t fill the void of my mouth, throat, torso. I’ve been alone too long, too often. When the plane ascends, I’ll think of my mother. How she used to play the same VHS tape when I’d try to fall asleep on her sofa bed, a weekend visit, that five-year-old child with insomnia, comforted by Voyaging with the Whales. Unnarrated, just the sound of whale boats splashing down on swollen waves, the burst of a blowhole, steaming, and then the slapping of an enormous tail against the cold, cold sea.
The plane points upwards, all of us slapped back against our seats, and I can still feel your tongue in my ear, hear the music of whales underwater, their singing like spaceships clicking and beeping, moaning for each other across miles of black sea space. Don’t leave, you murmured, in the way men will when they’re almost asleep. I could almost taste it: another day, another week? You off to work in the mornings and me reading your old journals, lifting each one from the cardboard box in your closet. What do you think about your mother? Your ex-wife? The plane reaches cruising altitude and the seatbelt signs ping red, twice, then off. I’ve memorized your handwriting, the tiny punctuation marks in your poems, and now I blow hot breath on the airplane window and try to write like you, something clever and sweet, hurtling myself five hundred and fifty miles per hour away from your truck door slamming shut, your squeezing my fingers. You think of your mother like a child. When you were twelve years old you stood against the fridge door, laughing, and she threw a knife at you so sharply and directly that you asked if she’d been practicing, stepping to the side just in time to get nicked on the shoulder, the knife bouncing off the fridge and dying on the floor. You stepped on it and your mother yelled, Leave! but you did not. You still do not. My memories of knives are too much to tell you, and when you run your fingernails up my ribs and poke one, two, three, into the crevices, it’s like you are slicing bread and I am so, so hungry. The stewardess hands out a tray with peanuts and orange juice. A napkin square and bottled water. The airplane smells of rancid stale chewing, crinkly packaged snacks, grimy exhalations. My fingers are cold but I write poetry on the tiny window anyway; outside is darkness and we could be anywhere. Don’t leave, please, is what I wanted to tell my mother every single day, what I never said, what I still cannot say. Something I’ve never told anyone is how when I was twelve years old I found a teacher’s prescription bottle of sleeping pills in the parking lot of my school. I swallowed them. And maybe I use you like a sleeping pill. When you rub your thumb against my cheek it’s like an anchor dragging sand. My mother also gave me a little bell to ring when I was sick in bed with a fever, watching television. Ring! Please bring juice. Ring! Please bring cookies. Ring! Please just bring. Do you want to watch the whales with me? Listen. Click, hum, boing.
An hour passes. Two. I have slept and drooled down my chin like sea foam. The plane is starting a slow descent; my ears swell with pressure like we’re underwater, like we’ve crashed, like we’ve left the normal world and instead of screaming we just close our eyes and wait. One day, you will meet my mother for fifteen minutes and the only thing she will say about you is, Good teeth. She will go outside for a cigarette and you will take me to the bathroom at the back of the cafe and lock the door, lift my skirt and push your fingers beneath my underwear, kiss my mouth aggressively. Eventually we will land on real concrete, and maybe we’ll skid or rumble a bit too much and the lady sitting next to me will grip my arm and say, I’m so ready to get off this plane, and then maybe I will cry, because I want to stay on. I want to stay. You’re probably writing a new song about me on your guitar and calling your mother to say goodnight. You’ll stay up late watching your breath hang off the crescent moon. I’m walking through the arrivals gate and crossing right back over to departures. The lineups, the ticketing. Don’t leave! I want to say to everyone collecting their boarding passes. No one notices me, so I drop my bag and take off my shoes. The thin blue carpet that’s been traversed by a million people. I dig in my toes like it’s sand. There’s a mural of humpback whales and a carved marble statue of a beluga. I’m back in my own country. Whales measure distances by the size of an echo, bouncing their voices off of unseen objects in the dark. They find each other by singing. Where are you? Is anyone looking for me? I still miss my mother. I open my mouth. I sing.
Candice May is a writer from British Columbia, Canada. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Best Small Fictions 2022, Pleiades, December, Epiphany, PRISM International, Carve, SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, and elsewhere, and has twice been nominated for ‘Best of the Net.’ She is currently working on a collection of short stories.
Photography by: Phoebe Dill